February Book Reviews

I’m still buried in editing, but I figured I’d better make an appearance on the old blog!  February was a fun month of reading. I hope you enjoy browsing my 4 and 5-star reviews. Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Life Lines by Sue Vincent

This collection of 52 poems by Sue Vincent is a gem. I’d give this book 6 stars if I could. It’s hard to put into words how moving I found Vincent’s poetry. The poems are free form reflections on the profound moments of life, the deep emotional wells of love, loss, and memories, the rhythms of nature reflected in our journeys, and the poignant journeys themselves.

It was almost impossible to pick out a few favorites, but I’m giving it a try: “I See You” is an exquisite poem about aging and the lasting echoes of youth that we carry inside our memories. “Flowers” (which makes me weepy just thinking about it) chronicles a woman’s life-stages in flowers from birth through death. Two touching poems are told from the point of view of someone watching a loved one sleep. They’re both gentle and heartachingly beautiful. “Just for a Moment” is a rare syllabic poem in the collection about the peace of love, and “Memory” about love lost.

Though the poems can be read in an hour or so, I would suggest savoring them. Highly recommended.

*****

Vanished by Mark Bierman

This story kicks off the action on page one and doesn’t let up. In fact, when I was about ¾ of the way through, I needed to sit back, take a deep breath, and work the tension out of my shoulders. Bierman’s ability to write non-stop, intense, dangerous action is noteworthy. And though in many ways, I’d characterize the story as plot-driven, there’s some deep emotion when it’s called for.

And the story isn’t a picnic. Though the author maintains that it’s fictional, he also states that it centers on a very real and tragic situation – child slavery. Tyler and John are two likable Americans who team up with an anti-hero in Haiti. The story follows their attempt to rescue a Haitian’s young child from a mine worked by kidnapped children. The difficulty of this plan is skillfully complicated by cultural barriers, corruption, poverty, and, of course, the ruthless adults who treat children like disposable tools – use them until they break and then throw them away.

Even though the book is plot-driven, I felt connected to Tyler and John. It was hard not to feel for them and root for them when things weren’t going well (which was the whole book). In a way, they are ordinary men who, as things got worse and worse, had to keep remaking decisions about what they’re willing to sacrifice, including their lives. They give it their all and it was very heroic. I’d read more about the characters and will read more of this author. Recommended for anyone who loves an intense action-packed adventure/thriller.

*****

Fiona Finch and the Pink Valentine by Teagan Geneviene

Fiona Finch and the Pink Valentine is a sweet short story set in the Victorian age with several steampunk gadgets, a mischievous pet duck, and a masquerade ball. What better way to spend an hour of reading? Fiona and her adopted brother Steele are delightful, and the duck steals the show as the ultimate matchmaker. As a short story, the pace is brisk, but not lacking in fun details. The mood is light and all ends well. Highly recommended.

*****

While the Bombs Fell by Roberta Cheadle & Elsie Hancy Eaton

This story reads like a memoir, and I loved it. It follows the daily life of Elsie, a 4-5-year-old growing up on a farm in England during World War II. The story starts with the family listening to an air-raid siren and climbing into their shelter beneath the garden. And though the war is the backdrop to the story and impacts daily life in significant ways, this isn’t really a story about war. At heart, this is a story about the resilient spirit of children growing up within a strong family.

The details of daily life are incredibly well-researched, and this book could almost serve as a guide to rural life in England in 1942 when rationing required adults to make some careful and creative choices. At the same time, the story is filled with delightful anecdotes of family life and the perspectives of a child, including a fear of Jack Frost, the trials of a stinky outhouse, and a trip to the movie theater to see the Three Stooges outwit the Germans.

The story unfolds in an omniscient point of view, and there’s not really a plot (thus the feeling of a memoir), but from beginning to end, the book is thoroughly engaging. I read it in one sitting. As an added bonus, the author included a few wartime recipes. Highly recommended to readers of memoirs, historical fiction, WWII fiction, and warm family stories.

*****

She Who Comes Forth by Audrey Driscoll

France Leighton and her beloved cello, Eudora, arrive in Luxor, Egypt to take part in an archeological dig. It’s not quite the adventure she expected, but she hangs in there. After a cello performance, she meets the mysterious Adam Dexter, who turns out to be far more than she expected, and not in a good way. Egyptian mythology comes alive as France must find a way to save the world from destruction.

This book is well written, the kind of writing that disappears into the background and therefore leaves the reader fully immersed in the story. I loved the setting, the details about Egypt and its mythology, the elements of the dig, and France’s interest and reverence for the magnificent tombs. In the afterword, Driscoll points out that she’s never been to Luxor, but as a reader, you’d never know it. Her research shines.

Told in first person, the story is wholly France’s. She’s a rich and thoroughly believable character, and her struggles were relatable to me. Secondary characters are beautifully three dimensional as seen through her eyes. I loved the advice of her “talking” cello and totally fell for the relationship.

The story moves at a moderate pace, a slow burn, with hints at something supernatural at play dropped here and there along the way. At the 75% mark, there’s a giant leap into the paranormal/occult that I wasn’t quite ready for, though in hindsight I could see the preparation. A compelling story that I highly recommend to readers of literary fiction and to those who enjoy a strong female protagonist.

*****

Wham! by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

This book has some fresh and unique worldbuilding that I thoroughly enjoyed. The story takes place in a dystopian future. The air is poisoned, the land withered, and there’s a clear sense of Big Brother ugliness about the place. The ruling class, a mega-powerful organization called the Alliance, controls the world and monitors everyone’s lives through surveillance orbs called Skinnies. The main character, Tess, is a disgruntled teen with a green-mohawk and combat boots. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s also a fairy with magical powers. Her barber is a troll, and her friend’s pet crow is a skinshifter.

The story starts with the government brutally whisking away Tess’s parents and sister, Nia. Nia is taken to the Capital and is forced to be a sex-worker for the Potentate (the main antagonist). Despite this role, there isn’t any explicit sex in the book, and her role quickly changes. Tess is assigned to live with a couple of mean-spirited derelicts, the Warrens. Book One focuses on Tess’s and Nia’s adjustment, as well as Tess’s discovery of her heritage and her attempt to rescue her parents with the help of the underground.

The characters all struck me as three-dimensional and authentic with full emotional lives and flaws. Maxi, the troll, has a unique way of speaking which I found incredibly creative. There is also some fairy-speak, which was difficult to read and understand, but short in duration (thank goodness). As part of the world-building, it was all a lot of fun.

Great pace and clever writing with vivid descriptions. The plausibility suffers a tiny bit when all the magical beings come together for the big showdown, but it’s well-down overall, and things don’t go magically well, of course. The book ends smack dab at the climax of the action. Be prepared to read the next book or you’ll be left hanging. If readers can deal with the abrupt end and plan to continue with the series, I can highly recommend this fantasy novel.

*****

Swords of Destiny by Sue Vincent

In this modern-day adventure, the world is in peril, and the immortal Merlin (of King Arthur fame) has gathered four ordinary people with extraordinary heart and courage to stand against the destructive forces. Their mission as the Champions of Light is to acquire the four swords of destiny and bring balance to the world.

The tale draws heavily on the legends and myths of the British Isles, the sacred places, and the beliefs of those who were intimately connected to the spirits of the land. The Fae are alive and well, trolls hide out in caves. There are unicorns, elves, and mountain giants. Most of the story unfolds in conversation/exposition, though it does have some action scenes that are quite intense and emotional. There is also quite a bit of romance, and some fun humor.

What I enjoyed most was the characters, not only the human champions, but Merlin, his brother Heilyn, and the fairy queen Mab. Point of view is shared by most of the main characters with pov shifts in the middle of scenes. The dialog is witty, including sections of clever banter. There’s mischief, for sure. Recommended for lovers of ancient British Isle mythology who will likely recognize some of the sacred places and characters.

*****

Mind-Shaft by S. Burke

This collection of six short stories focuses on the dark side of speculative fiction from paranormal romance and revenge to good old horror. Each of the stories is unique with a well-developed plot and engaging characters. My favorite was A Place So Cold which had me on the edge of my seat even though I could predict the ending. Other stories were less predictable with fun twists. Definitely bloody, evil, and entertaining. There are a few formatting particularities in kindle, but they don’t impact the reading so I’m going with 5 stars.

*****

Visitors by W. J. Scott

Brody and Tom are sent to live with their aunt by their ailing mom. Aunt Sally is a recluse in a town that doesn’t take well to visitors, at least to one kind of visitor. When the boys find out what’s really happening at the lake, they learn why everyone in town is so secretive. A sci-fi short story full of kindness and hope, and though predictable at its conclusion, a sweet read.

*****

Happy Reading!

Ritual #Tanka Tuesday

image copyright 2019 Willow Willers

Ritual

mehndi
love painted hands
palms offering the world
the beauty of hearts awakened
sacred

umber
scented color
my bridal ritual
bless me with joyful abundance
wisdom

sweet love
enchant my skin
butterflies transform me
lotus stirs my soul to flower
freedom

water
ripples of change
sunbirds carry my prayers
on gossamer dragonfly wings
reborn

guide me
auspicious art
drawn in ancient symbols
even the gods and goddesses
adorned

 

**

My first crown cinquain ever.
Written in response to Colleen Chesebro’s #Tanka Tuesday challenge.
The prompt this week was this beautiful photo by Willow Willers.

Lament

image from indiatimes.com

“Climate change.” My elderly father taps the newspaper. “What do they think? That we can just close down businesses? Give up our cars? Stop eating hamburgers? No one’s going to go along with that.”

I don’t respond, our perspectives so far apart, words can’t bridge the chasm.

“And why should I care?” he asks the paper. “I’m not going to be around when it all goes to hell.”

My grandson plays in front of the television, watching superhero cartoons. His great grandfather flicks the remote. The child stills, silent, stares. Silhouettes of kangaroos leap across the burning sky, a world on fire.

Lament your future
As we grant with apathy
A burned legacy
God bless the little children
We bequeath a blazing world

**

Note: Apologies to my father for the portrayal. This is so NOT him.
I can’t get the photos of Australia’s fires out of my head.
I’m heartbroken.

Perception #Tanka Tuesday

Pixabay image by Michael Seibt

Perception

“Cross the bridge.” The crone points her staff to a log spanning a luminous pool.

I squint at the strange collection of creatures impeding my way. I’ve been lost for days in the swamp’s wet greenness, breathing the emerald dew. So many moons that knobby horns sprout from my skull. Vines weave through the fibers of my clothes, and my skin grows iridescent scales in myriad hues of moss. I am hungry despite a bellyful of beetles.

Upon the bridge, a naiad plays her flute, the sound hypnotic though the melody unfurls backward. “Wayward magic,” mutter I, one wary soul who’s encountered these tricksters before. Does this one revel in opposites, mirrored reflections? Which is real, the opposite of whom? Is there any way to know what’s true? My ears droop at the bothersome riddle.

The pipe’s dulcet sound charms a viper, its crescent fangs smiling. Safeguarding or warning? Did the sprite awaken the snake, or does she lull it to sleep? Beneficent or Mischievous? I wrinkle my snout in study. And which of the two covet the poppy? All three could be lethal to me. Beautiful peril, perilous beauty. Or simply a flower?

“How am I to cross?” ask I, my jade whiskers twitching.

The faceless hag shrugs.

choose your poison, child
life implies no guarantees
forsake illusive
dreams of immortality
perception decides the truth

**

I had the privilege in September of choosing October’s mid-month photo image for Colleen’s #Tanka Tuesday. What fun to finally write for this fairytale image. If you enjoy syllabic poetry, visit her site and check out her fun prompts. Thanks, Colleen.

Empty Space #Tanka Tuesday

 

Rail against despair

When deceit inters the truth

When corruption shrieks

And Narcissus chokes the void

With yowls from a vacant heart

 

For Colleen’s #Tanka Tuesday #Poetry Challenge. We had to use synonyms for empty (vacant) and space (void).

Sorry about the politics. I couldn’t help it with those prompts.

Fades to Black

Pixabay image by Susan Cipriano

A double Etheree for Colleen’s mid-month poetry photo challenge. This month’s photo was selected by Jane Dougherty.

Fades to Black

white

ice melts

in trickles

etching gullies

calving blue glaciers

until oceans submerge

gray ashes of field and farm

when birds and butterflies succumb

will we bray for justice, thoughts and prayers

proclaim false innocence, righteous despair

or rue our excuses and pay our debts

spill tears for an absent tomorrow

bewildered as our children drown

between islands of lost trees

rooted in salt waters

among dying leaves

a wasted world

of green life

fades to

black