I know I just shared a bunch of book reviews, but with the holidays coming up, I’ll be taking some time off, and I didn’t want to end up with a huge pile of reviews in January. Only three books today and all of them are excellent!
December’s reviews include my 5-star reads of a poetry collection, a sci-fi thriller, and a coming-of-age novel.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
Sorrowful Soul (Book 3 in the Soul Poetry Series) by Harmony Kent
Grief is on my mind these days. It’s a solo journey, but this heartfelt book of poetry reminds me that there are common experiences along the road, and in that way, we don’t travel it quite so alone. In her forward (which I recommend reading), Kent offers some wisdom about the grieving process, and she highlights the stages of grief developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross so many years ago and still relevant today.
The poems are divided into sections based on Ross’s seven stages: Shock & Disbelief, Denial, Guilt, Anger, Depression, Working Through, and Acceptance. I read this book in one afternoon, and the poetry indeed felt like a journey from disbelief through acceptance. It’s an emotional collection, full of pain and longing, and at the end, a bit of sunshine glimmers through the trees. I highly recommend it.
This is free-form poetry, and about half of the offerings are rhyming verse. My favorites were among the less formal poems, and there were a lot of favorites. Below is an excerpt that captures the solemn tone of the section entitled Depression:
Winter of Discontent (an excerpt)
All the pretty birds have flown
Abandoned nests in skeletal trees
Frost rimmed dirt and weeds below
Cold, colourless uncaring sky above
It’s impossible life could ever return
To this barren, forsaken land
Where the grim reaper roams free
And winter berries litter the ground
Trampled beneath youthful feet
Too enamoured of life to notice
The carnage as red bleeds into white
As death mars the pristine snow
And invites the bereft with his gleaming scythe…
Are we Monsters? by Rollin Miller
Fans of sci-fi are in for a treat with this book. If you like a story that includes artificial intelligence, cloning, mad scientists, wily old sheriffs, genetically enhanced villains, and lots of action that reads like a movie, well look no further. This is one of those books that you might sneak into the supply closet at work to polish off another scene.
NeosGen is a secret underground facility in the Nevada desert whose founder is dedicated to discovering the keys to immortality through cloning and the transference of consciousness. When one of their modified assets goes missing, the organization’s fixer goes on the hunt. That asset, a girl with modified abilities, turns up in a diner and the local sheriff, a smart old coot, starts investigating while trying to protect her. In the meantime, NeosGen has a number of challenges within its walls as two employees go rogue, and the founder’s financial partner is starting to have second thoughts.
The pace of this book doesn’t stop for a second as the story pivots from one desperate situation to the next. I felt like I was watching an action movie. Not only are the descriptions well crafted, but the characters are vivid. There are a number of them, but I had no trouble differentiating between them (despite Tom and Tommy) because they’re so unique, and as real as characters can get, right down to the bit actors.
The POV is omniscient with a few noticeable shifts, but otherwise, the quality of the prose is excellent with some great lines. The story has several twists, including one at the end I didn’t see coming and found highly satisfying. Everything wraps up nicely. I highly recommend this book to sci-fi fans who love great characters and a lot of action.
Below Torrential Hill by Jonathan Koven
In this coming-of-age story, Tristan is fifteen, his life characterized by instability and abandonment, both physical and emotional. Years ago, his dad died in the woods on a drinking binge, and now his mother rides an emotional rollercoaster, professing love one moment, raving about voices the next, and then passing out on her own alcoholic benders. Unable to deal with Tristan’s mother, his stepfather abandoned them.
My heart went out to Tristan for his desperate search for meaning, his longing for love, and his choice to self-medicate with alcohol. Most of the story is told through his POV, and it generally takes place during times of physical isolation and alcohol-influenced dreams as he tries to figure out the point of his life. The narrative is reflective and dreamlike with amazing imagery. You’ll find beautiful writing such as this on every page:
“Ava carved into the shadow of the white streets, and the wind’s terrific belch mounted the sky. He stared absently at her—the girl he’d always known pinned to night’s curtain like a button.”
“Nothing ever ended, nothing new ever began. Everything was always stuck in the middle. He imagined the town fell off the earth. At the sidewalk’s edge, all the cosmos would spin silently, behaving in his presence, stoically turning without end. At the precipice of the relentless canyon of time, he easily wished to fall as a sunbeam against the vacuum.”
To me, this story spoke about every child’s need for stability, the immense vulnerability that arises from chaos, and the importance of having one dependable anchor in a child’s life, in this case, Tristan’s friend Ava. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy exquisite prose, dreamlike narratives, and coming-of-age stories about the search for identity, love, and wholeness in the midst of uncertainty.