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NEW BOOK REVIEWS
Totems: Tales from the Edge of the Woods
Author: Rachael Ikins, Central New York Branch
Reviewed by: Treanor Baring, Bayou City Branch II, Texas
If Rachael Ikins’ writing were music, it would be a cross between Debussy and the Rolling Stones. Like her poetry, “Totems: Tales from the Edge of the Woods” — the opening novel in a trilogy — contains impressionistic, flowing images interspersed with sonic boom. In her Debussy mode, Ikins’ words seem to swirl like stardust off a fairy’s wand until, well, the electric bass kicks in. Then they pack an emotional punch to the gut.
The prose is lyrical and heartrending. A cloud of dust swirls between a wizard’s feet. Seasons shift for a childless couple: “Springs rose from the ashes of winter and year after year, they waited for a baby.” Winter pulls “his blankets off the lazy land.” The gut-punches reverberate, softened by the progression of the novel form.
Ikins creates a unique world, fantastical but accessible, that outlives the plot’s ebb and flow. She expertly moves us through this world, the passage of time, and several interweaving tales. At the center of the tales is Moti, a human girl turned elf. Through her, the reader comes to understand that this make-believe world is deeply rooted in reality.
Ikins channels J.K. Rowling’s ability to frame the magical in recognizable contexts. Rather than a boarding school, her backdrop is nature itself. Dragon flight is described in Gerald Durrellian detail; there are descriptions of how to make keepsake pillows from dried petals for a “last goodbye ceremony,” and a recipe for bottled summer sauce. There’s a farmers market. This is also a dreamy, unpredictable place as nature becomes a metaphor for our truer, freer selves.
With this freedom comes peril. The forest isn’t an Enid Blyton-like world of cute fairies and acorn folk; there is real pain, loss, and regret here. But the shadows are overwhelmed by the melodic regeneration of nature itself. The characters are deeply connected to the natural world’s life-affirming processes and, most importantly, to its redemptive empathy. For those of us on the human side of the divide, recognizing the hope of recovery is the greatest gift this brush with the wild side can bestow.
2016, Log Cabin Books
Bringing Home the Moon
Author: Mary Lou Taylor, Santa Clara Branch, California
Reviewed by: Kathie Isaac-Luke, Modesto Branch, California
Mary Lou Taylor’s second poetry collection, “Bringing Home the Moon,” begins with a poem about a childhood wish for flight. It is an apt beginning for a book rich in experience and memory that glides gracefully across varied landscapes.
Her Chicago childhood is vividly recalled in the poems “Sunday in the Windy City” and “Winter Nights.” In “From the Penny Candy Store Behind the El,” she describes a child’s wonder. There are other reflective poems that touch on her relationship with her parents.
Taylor’s life included many moves, first when her father packed up and moved the family to California, and later, as a young bride, when her husband’s career required relocation. Each of these transitions is keenly observed and absorbed into her cache of memories. She and her family eventually settled in Silicon Valley and witnessed the many changes that took place there.
In “Heart’s Delight Turns Silicon,” we learn that whole orchards disappeared at night to make way for the burgeoning computer industry. In “The Valley of Heart’s Delight,” she references the transformations that led to the digital revolution.
This volume also contains gentle humor and generosity of spirit. “Drinks after Dinner, Osaka” and “Covering Bases” capture the revelations that often occur when visiting other cultures. Many gems illustrating Taylor’s travel experiences are sprinkled throughout the book.
Other poems, including “Wilbur to Orville” and “Endeavour, You’ve Arrived,” continue the motif of flight and exploration and provide the framework of this book. “Paper Bird,” a lovely poem celebrating the buoyancy of the wind, appears on the page in the shape of a kite. The final poem, “Boy with a Flute,” is a poignant meditation on loss and passage.
“Bringing Home the Moon” is filled with accessible poems written from the heart, teaching us the joys of discovery. By sharing with us her memories accumulated through an era of changing times, Taylor illuminates our shared histories and the many ways we adapt as the world around us transmutes again and again.
2015, Aldrich Press, $17
Never Really One of the Guys: The story of Minnesota’s first female Conservation Officer
Author: Capt. Cathy Hamm
Reviewed by: Bobbie Dumas Panek, Central New York Branch
Cathy Hamm grew up feeling empowered and capable. She was fortunate to have parents who filled her with unconditional love. Hamm enjoyed being a tomboy and doing outside chores.
It was while working at a movie theater that Hamm decided she never wanted to feel vulnerable again. “[I] remembered quite vividly the snub nose stainless steel .38 Smith and Wesson revolver that had been held on me for several minutes,” she wrote. That’s when she became interested in law enforcement.
Her first official job in the field of conservation came about by default. In high school, she was late to the table to pick up job placement opportunities and the only job left was working for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). This turned out to be serendipitous.
After four and a half years of working at the DNR Southern Service Station, Hamm took the written test to become a conservation officer. Out of the 3,000 people who took the written test, she scored in the top 50. She moved forward with strength, agility, medical, and psychological tests. On July 2, 1980, Hamm, another woman, and 15 men were sworn in as Minnesota conservation officers.
Hamm knew she was in a field dominated by men; however, she believed her abilities would quickly prove how capable she was. Sadly, quite a few men had a difficult time working with a capable woman. Some wives of male officers felt insecure about their husbands working with a female partner all day. So many hurdles.
Fortunately, Hamm also found many great male co-workers who were not intimidated by her abilities. These guys were encouraging, thoughtful, and respectful — all qualities you’d hope for in co-workers.
Many times when Hamm’s partners weren’t sure how to deal with a situation (a deer trapped in a church, an illegally possessed cougar, a beaver in a shopping area, a bear in a suburban back yard, a horned owl in a residence, or a snake under a bathroom sink), she figured out a way to quickly solve the problem.
Though some supervisors and partners created unnecessary struggles for Hamm, she continued to do the best job she could. Unfortunately, bias against women continues to exist.
Hamm was truly a trailblazer for women in the field of conservation. I’m hopeful my granddaughters and grandsons will live in a time of equality where everyone is judged solely by character and qualifications.
“Never Really One of the Guys” is a story of discrimination. It is also about keeping your chin up, knowing which battles are worth it, working hard, staying the course, and proving your worth. Sadly, inequality does exist, yet women like Capt. Cathy Hamm who are willing to share their stories do affect change.
2015 Cathy Hamm/Amazon, $15.99
ISBN 13: 9781515009245
See, I Can Do It!
Authors: Gloria Koehler and Donna Eastman, Daytona Beach Branch, Florida
Reviewed by: Kelly Ann Compton, Denver Branch, Colorado
“See, I Can Do It!” shares a universal message for children in elementary school and younger. Nature has given everyone their own gifts and skills and in “See, I Can Do It!” kids will delight in learning that success is theirs when they use their very own skill set.
Brenna, an almost-grown bluebird, gets knocked from her nest by Mr. Wind while her mother is out getting breakfast. Fearing the big yellow cat her mother had warned her about, Brenna cries out for help. Many creatures, from an ant to a cricket to a frog, hear her cries and show her how they can get to the nest.
The animals encourage Brenna to try out these skills, but with each attempt, she fails. Finally, just as Brenna is about to give up, Sally MacSquirrel excitedly tells her that she knows who can help — Belinda Butterflyer. With the butterfly’s help, Brenna learns to use her wings and makes it safely back to her nest.
With a fun story and colorful illustrations, “See, I Can Do It!” is sure to bring smiles to young readers.
2014, Taylor & Seale Publishing, $16.95
Previous book reviews:
My Rise To The Stars: How A Sharecropper’s Daughter Became An Army General
Author: Brig. Gen. Clara Adams-Ender, MAL
Reviewed by: Bobbie Dumas-Panek, Central New York Branch
I highly recommend “My Rise To The Stars: How A Sharecropper’s Daughter Became An Army General” by Pen Woman and Brigadier General Clara Adams-Ender. After reading about Clara’s 34-year career in the United States Army, I feel as though I know her. I have never met her, but I know I like her. I believe in her goodness, her truth, and her abilities.
Her memoir is honest and forthright, the portrayal of a girl taught values by her parents. Clara always believed in her abilities, her mind, and her personal power. She took her mother’s advice because it was simple, direct, and encouraging. Her parents told her that she was Somebody. That statement is beautiful in its simplicity. They let her know that she could achieve anything with hard work and perseverance.
At the age of 4, Clara learned to read. At that same age, she was given the daily chore to milk the family cow. Clara loved to learn. Her sharecropper father directed her to go to nursing college when she graduated from high school at the age of 16. She’d wanted to pursue law, but her father was footing the bill so she followed his directions. Nursing turned out to be her love. She later learned that joining the Army would pay for college, give her a monthly stipend, and allow her to travel. The decision for her was a no-brainer.
Adams-Ender writes honestly about her love life, her first sexual encounter, her friendships, the importance of loyalty, and the ability to discern. You don’t engage in every battle you’re invited to. For her, learning was an Olympic sport. She was determined to learn as much as possible.
Adams-Ender wrote, “Overcoming obstacles had been the story of my personal life and career. Obstacles had really been opportunities to excel.”
If you want to stay focused on your goals, while staying calm and working hard, plus learn more about the armed services, “My Rise To The Stars” is for you. I recommend it for students, book clubs, nurses, women, men, teenagers, teachers, and managers. This woman will motivate you while lifting you up.
2001, Cape Associates, $19.95
For Love of Country: Il. Risorgimento! A Patriot’s Passion
Author: Elizabeth Lenci-Downs, Scottsdale Branch, Arizona
Reviewed by: Andrea Antico, Denver Branch, Colorado
Elizabeth Lenci-Downs has written a suspenseful historic novel that depicts life in Italy in 1848-1860. It is the time when three foreign armies were fighting for control of the country: the French of Piedmont-Sardinia, the Austrian Hapsburgs, and the Spanish Bourbon. The Papacy, with the blessing of the Council of Vienna, continued to fight greedily and violently to reclaim its previously stolen Italian lands.
“The Love of Country: Il. Risorgimento!” is an extremely well-written story that retells the legend that was handed down to Lenci-Downs by the townspeople of Sassoferrato in the Apennines Mountains, where her father was born. She has woven an exciting tale that focuses on the passionate struggle between Italy’s red-shirted patriots and foreign despots.
The subtitle, “Risorgimento,” was the patriots’ cry for freedom as they struggled to liberate their people from 15 years of bloody battles. Rough and romantic, at times relentless, “For Love of Country” tells an unsettling tale of betrayal through the eyes, mouths, and tears of Italy’s countrymen and women, both civilian and military.
The skillful author sprinkles Italian words and phrases, “danato, Dannazionee, soldi” and descriptions and expressions in italics, “for sure he sensed danger,” “sweet Holy Mother…for how long?” throughout the story to instill fear and create tension and interest. The reader will meet a cast of savory and unsavory characters: Mazzini, Garibaldi, Camillo, Marsilio, Andreanna, and others.
The reader will join the courageous, disobedient Domenico on horseback and then on foot as he desperately searches for his father over hostile, uncharted territory. “For Love of Country” is fictional history at its finest. Both adults and young adults will be entertained and informed.
2015, Lenci Studios, $28
Dry Creek: Summer Song
Author: Linda Marie Prather, Modesto Branch, California
Reviewed by: Calder Lowe, Modesto Branch, California
In stepping over the threshold into Linda Prather’s poetic universe, we enter into the Mystic’s realm of Blake’s, “world in a grain of sand,” and Rumi’s “an early morning eye.” She knows the importance of observing the smallest creatures that animate our landscape and thereby make our own seemingly mundane lives, extraordinary.
More often than not, her poems are meditations on the cosmic mysteries of nature, particularly evidenced in “Summer, Ghosts, and Apparitions,” or prayers prompting us to practice mindfulness, to abandon our chaotic rush into the maelstrom that constitutes life in the day-to-day. Having happened upon her phrase “solitudinal synapse” in “Just Kicking Around,” I saw her wish to cultivate that state of calm more routinely. As a consequence of her insight, I embrace Prather’s necessity for quietude when she notes, “Silence might render something,/ cause information or an entity to squeeze past/ a tiny aperture to the other side.”
I also resonate with her poem “Under a Summer Moon,” where she states, “wish I had titles for the birds, could give names to each voice…/my need, like Adam’s to know the word.” As poets, we long to categorize,to “own” what our eyes light upon. Perhaps that is a reflection of our “divine, creative synapse”?
Prather references God with some frequency and acknowledges His desire for someone to meet His gaze, though we typically attempt to hide from it. That said, Prather decisively declares she “baptizes” her thoughts in water, co-exists “with dryness, heat, and thorn,” going so far as to take pleasure in it because she serves Yaweh, a desert God.
In “Values,” my favorite poem of the “Summer Song” collection, I clearly see the way in which Linda Prather’s work bestows upon us her steadfast search for purposefulness and wisdom reverently tended as well as her astute perceptions of the transitoriness of our collective journey.
2016, Pen Women Press, $15
Cat Tales: Kitty Capers And More
Author: LaVera Edick, Member-at-Large
Reviewed by: Kelly Ann Compton, Denver Branch, Colorado
“Charming” is the word that best describes LaVera Edick’s “Cat Tales: Kitty Capers And More.” Vignettes about pets and their humans are accompanied by artwork created by the author herself.
Written from the heart, “Kitty Capers” shares the delightful story of Ruth, a senior citizen who comes to adopt a family of cats — or did they adopt her? How the cats came into Ruth’s life is a sweet story that keeps the reader smiling. While Ruth may have saved the lives of these cats, she receives companionship and renewed purpose in return.
The “And More” section turns the focus to the many pets Edick and her family have had, including dogs, horses, a turtle, and a pig named Leadbelly. She shares the important role these animals had in the lives of her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren.
Included within the stories are the author’s insights and statistics on the positive effects pet ownership can have, both physical and mental. For example, having a pet can lower cortisol levels, which might reduce stress or ease pain.
Edick’s colorful and detailed paintings and photos add dimension to the tales shared. They allow the reader to see the personalities of the animals and the love shared between pets and their humans.
“Cat Tales: Kitty Capers And More” gives the reader much to enjoy and contemplate.
2016, Trafford Publishing, $26.22
Apple of Sodom
AUTHOR: Mary Hoffman
Central Ohio Branch
Reviewed by: Rosemary Barkes, Central Ohio Branch
Time marches on. Except when you are reading Mary Hoffman’s delicious book, “Apple of Sodom.” Then, time stands still. The book is an educational, eye-opening, heart-wrenching and exciting peek into the lives of those who deviate from the norm.
“Apple of Sodom” opens with American Emily Crawford and her three young children disembarking an aging Italian vessel in Beirut as they head to Jordan, where her husband, Philip, has lived for three months as a project engineer for a U.S. firm.
With trepidation, Emily braces herself for an encounter with a man who is a brilliant engineer, but an emotionally vacant, sometimes verbally abusive husband and father. With a different environment, she is hoping he will change.
The reader tags along with Emily as she adjusts, encountering drastic change and unsettling danger for herself and her children while living in Amman. She soon learns that few — Philip’s colleagues and servants among them — can be trusted. She wonders how she will survive.
The marital riffs are exquisitely balanced by numerous explorations of ancient cities in the Holy Land and beyond. Emily cherishes these lengthy excursions with friends and family and sees them as opportunities to minimize the differences between herself and Philip. With copious details and descriptions of each exploration, the readers feel as if they are part of the team.
When Philip’s job eventually takes a curious turn, the couple must face the agonizing decision of what to do with their lives. Emily believes she can hold her marriage together — especially for the sake of the children. But Philip’s dysfunctional past, loss of a high-profile job, impatience with Emily and the children, and lack of sensitivity to the needs of others take a toll.
An unbelievable set of circumstances brings this page turner to its uncanny conclusion. It is a must-read.
2015, Brick House Books, Inc., $20 ISBN: 978-1-938144-28-8
A Cruel Calm: Paris Between The Wars
AUTHOR: Patricia Daly-Lipe
Washington, D.C., Branch
Reviewed by: Lynne Eve Grossman, Washington, D.C., Branch
Patricia Daly-Lipe, prolific author of several acclaimed books, captivated me from the onset with “A Cruel Calm: Paris Between The Wars.” This is prime historical fiction from a highly personal viewpoint.
Patricia Daly-Lipe weaves quite a tale, which is based on the life of her mother. She cleverly uses first-person narrative to draw the reader further into the thoughts and feelings of the female protagonist, Elisabeth, known as Libby. DalyLipe’s writing is skillful and spellbinding.
The author deftly employs the beautiful French language in prose and poetry, as well as detailed cultural descriptions and inner thoughts of the main characters, for an enjoyable, romantic story. She spins a passionate adventure rich with accurate historical figures and believable characters so fully fleshed out that they become alive. Lush visual description and flowing dialogue all work to immerse the reader in the mysterious and engrossing tale of Libby’s life.
Intrigue mounts as the novel progresses. Each chapter is prefaced by an appropriate and authentic quote from a well-known historical figure. This adds further allure to an already well-crafted novel. That subtle philosophical format heightens plot and character development while drawing the reader further into this engrossing story of love.
As the book unfolds, each quote sets the mood for life at that time. What might transpire next in this delightful romance of forbidden loves? “Read A Cruel Calm Paris: Between The Wars” to find out.
2014, Rockit Press, $14.95 ISBN: 978-0-9908011-4-6
AUTHOR: Fay Picardi
Cape Canaveral Branch, Florida
Reviewed by: Carolyn Cain, Cape Canaveral Branch, Florida
Simonetta. Who was she? Daughter of a nobleman, wife of a Vespucci, object of desire of Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici and possibly of Botticelli, she was known as the most beautiful woman of the Renaissance. A woman of such beauty that she is said to be the face of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Dead at age 22, she was mourned, it is said, by the entire city of Florence; thousands followed her coffin to its burial.
Fay Picardi’s “Simonetta” is the first book written in English to tell the story of Simonetta Vespucci, Botticelli’s muse and the great love of both Lorenzo de Medici and his brother Giuliano. This work of historical fiction traces Simonetta’s life from her childhood in Portovenere and Piombino, Italy, through her years in Florence as the wife of Marco Vespucci. Political intrigue, sexual innuendos, and cultural events provide the background for Simonetta’s life and for her rise to the position of the most beloved woman in Florence.
Divided into five parts, with passages from the works of Lorenzo de Medici and letters written to him by Simonetta’s father-in-law providing introduction to each part, this is a captivating narrative portrait of this fascinating woman and of Florence during the extraordinarily contradictory nature of the period of the Medici family, a time when cultural refinement resulting from a love of learning and beauty overlay unimaginable violence motivated by political ambition.
Though no documents remain to reveal Simonetta Vespucci’s life except her betrothal contract, the annotation of her death and the writings of her contemporaries, this is a compelling and accurate story, thanks to Picardi’s research, done both in Florence and in the U.S. Using her own translations of letters and manuscripts of the time as well as histories of the life and paintings of Botticelli, the author has created letters, dreams, reminiscences, and conversations to paint her own stunning portrait of a woman almost lost to history.
2015, Burnt Umber Press through CreateSpace, $12.99 ISBN-13: 978-1514758984
A Movable Marriage: a memoir
AUTHOR: Patricia Pimental
Bayou City Branch, TX
Reviewed by: Treanor Baring, Bayou City Branch
Imagine yourself on the longest flight in the world–a full 17 hours non-stop across the Pacific. You eat dinner, you watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s twice, you sleep well for a sardine at 39,000 feet. You wake up with 8 hours to go. You reach for your e-reader and scroll through your “must read when time allows” book list: Anna Karenina, the new Donna Tartt novel, Steinbeck’s canon. If you’re lucky, also waiting in your library is a gem, A Movable Marriage: a memoir by Bayou City Branch Pen Woman Tricia Pimental.
A Movable Marriage is a pleasurable, if dizzying excursion across a first marriage and then a more lasting second one. Ms. Pimental passes through Beverley Hills, the elevations of Park City, Utah, back east to Florida, into “fly over country,” up to New Hampshire, then to Europe on the Orient Express, and eventually to her landing place, Portugal. Along the way, we’re treated to charming illustrations of her inimitable spirit. She hilariously recounts her “woman of a certain age” preparations to wear the Mrs. Park City sash in the Mrs. America competition and her nerve-racking stint on the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” game show. The photographs of the various houses Ms. Pimental turned into homes are a treat.
The author herself modestly describes her writing style as “conversational.” And more than once, I found myself longing to have lunch with her. But this book is more astute than a quick chat over pomegranate-laced micro-greens. To label Ms. Pimental’s newest book merely a great summer (or winter) read is to underestimate its intelligence and insight. Ms. Pimental talks frankly of her struggles with being uprooted by her husband’s wanderlust, working and living at the mercy of bosses, world events, childrens’ lives and even pet care. More than anything, these are stories women can relate to. Ms. Pimental deftly quotes Virginia Woolf, Beryl Markham, and other trailblazing women all while clutching Frampton, the teddy bear her daughter gave her. A Movable Marriage is an honest, sweet and sharp look at what it means to love others. Don’t wait until your next trans-Pacific flight to share the journey.
2016, TAP Publications, ISBN 978-0-9856383-3-7, available on Amazon.com.
Also by Ms. Pimental:
Rabbit Trail: How a Former Playboy Bunny Found Her Way, and
Slippery Slopes A Libby Landis Novel, available on Amazon.
The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies
To buy, click here to visit amazon.com.
NLAPW Omaha Branch member Connie Spitler’s literary cozy mystery/women’s fiction, released last May, 2015 by RJP thru IPG has the tongue-in-cheek title “The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies.” The erotica used within the book is classic authors like Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning! The plot concerns a stolen, ancient book of herbal cures. The women’s fiction involves loneliness, grief, job loss, fear of breast cancer.
Czech foreign rights have been sold to Albatros Media, largest publisher in the Czech Republic. Blackstone Audio has purchased rights for the audiobook. Ms. Spittler signed over 100 books for librarians at the American Library Association Conference in San Francisco, CA in June, and signed/read at Denver’s Tattered Cover, appeared on a literary panel in Texas with best selling mystery author Susan Wittig Albert, and was featured author at Dies Labrorum, Day of the Book in Salida, CO.
Ms. Spittler’s work appears in 20 anthologies with notables such as The Dalai Lama, Michael Gorbachev, Desmond Tutu, Deepak Chopra, Barbara Kingsolver, Mario Vargas Llosa. Her videos on women are in Harvard University’s Library on the History of Women in America.
REVIEWED BY: Margaret Lukas
In her tongue-in-cheek title, Connie Spittler, puts the accent on “Nice Ladies”, with quotes of “erotica” taken from classic authors like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Bronte, Christina Rosetti, and other such notables. Names and fragments written by familiar poets and novelists create a unifying literary theme throughout the work. My first surprise was Wild Nights! Wild Nights! from prim and proper Emily Dickinson. Who’d have thought?
The author crosses the genre boundaries of mystery with women’s fiction to create an intriguing page-turner about an ancient book of herbal cures hidden away for centuries. Herbalists and pharmaceutical companies believe the book’s secret gypsy remedies might be used to successfully treat heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. When the old volume disappears from the wine cave of a French chateau, the worldwide search is on, with strands that reach out to a small California town.
Lily, a librarian arrives in this village with her own bookmobile and is asked by two women curious about the subject of erotica to start a secret book club. The three nice ladies of different ages and backgrounds, each face their own personal problems, even as they attempt to find a suitable book to read. Not as easy as they thought.
The mystery heats up. One by one, quirky antagonists from town creep into the storyline and the club members sink deeper and deeper into danger, as they’re entangled in criminal events playing out on the streets of a once quiet village.
Following her magical intention, the author paints vivid pictures, places, and memorable characters, to bring light-hearted elements, as well as serious ones to the writing. All through the book, the author lets elements of nature, science, and magic dance across the pages, from poisonous plants, from migrating butterflies to the Chaos Theory. Even an odd tea infused with herbs from a gypsy garden.
It’s been called “a dizzying and delightful tale of mystery and literature” by Sally Deskins, editor of Les Femmes Folles. Also, “an homage to female friendship and classic writers” by Di Saggau, book reviewer of The River, Ft. Meyers, FL.
After reading this inventive, nontraditional work, I’ll end my review with, “I love these ladies.” And apparently, so do librarians. Connie Spittler signed her book for 100 of them in two hours at the 2015 American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco.
To buy, click here to visit amazon.com.
This I Remember
(A Tomboy Grows Up)
Author: Mary Woodward Priest, Napa Valley Branch, CA
Reviewed by: Annie Laura Smith, Huntsville Branch, AL
The author explains her reason for writing this memoir: “Although a memoir is a highly personal story, it was my desire to portray a lifestyle which no longer exists, that of an Illinois farm family during the 1930’s and 1940’s, The Great Depression and World War II. I hope to provide the flavor of family farm life in an earlier era, for no matter where I live, my heart will remain on that Illinois Prairie, a few acres of which I still own!”
The Table of Contents of the respective topics allows easy navigation through the text. Extensive black and white vintage and current photographs and line drawings complement the information. An Ancestor Chart provides relevant family information. Her poetry gives insight into farm life in a very lyrical manner. The topics and illustrations presented in the memoir give a comprehensive history of this time period in America.
In the “About the Author” section, she includes relevant quotes about writing memoirs. The final quote describes her memoir appropriately: “Prairie Stories – History is not the past. It is a story about the past, told in the present and designed to be useful in constructing the future.” Henry Glassie. The memoir ends with a portrait photograph of Mary Woodward Priest at age 88. 2014, Clone Digital Print and Copy.
Can This Be Heaven?
Rendered stories lie in Margaret Vann’s collection of poems, Can This Be heaven? This book of free verse moves through the milestones of womanhood with the imagery of particular wildflowers, birds, skies, and quiet places. Yet the poems are not always as quiet as they first appear. Looking at the self and nature intertwined, Margaret sees into life and nature and finds ways to accept and embrace the fullness of change from the lost days of flower children to the mundaneness of LED screens, from the changes of the seasons to the seasons of love.
In Beach thoughts the poet walks along the beach wondering where all the sea shells and hippies have gone and surmises that they have gone to “giant beach houses drinking gin and tonics wondering about their Roths.” Then her beach wondering leads her to ask:
where are you my lovely flower child
are you in that corporate office starring at an LED display
are your love beads in the drawer beside your power ties
Some of the poems examine distance and closeness between woman and man. The poem Signs speaks of how a woman, being taken for granted, makes changes which are as unnoticed as the dawn sky or a cardinal at the feeder. The poem’s second verse says:
yes the signs were all there
not brilliant cardinals preening at the feeder
not that certain blue at dawn
perhaps the new lingerie
the shorter skirt & high heels
maybe the whispered talk on the telephone
Winter Daydreams is a poem that opens with “Cool sun warms the tan leaves” and paints a
picture of closeness between man and woman near “tumbled boulders at the edge of the sliding stream.” That closeness is gone at the end of the poem where the last verse says:
It was so long ago that cool season
the water still runs green
The stream still slides
The space has grown to worlds apart
The poem Drought begins and ends with the line: “I have been watering for some days now.” I really like a verse in this poem which reads:
The grass is maintaining.
The shrubs are holding up
but will I? Will I?
In Careless Keeping the poet finds, among particular wildflowers, “Catbsy trillium hanging its head” and
Will I ever find you again among the leaves
As I search the April woods for lady slippers
Beneath the dappled shade and my heart
Misplaced by careless keeping?
Poets often write about nature with no purpose other than to describe its magnificence but this poet steps back and observes her own response to nature whether it moves her to memories of significant relationships or to the urge to daydream about what could have been.2013, Finishing Line Press, $12.00, ISBN 978-1-62229-379-7
Hats and Headwear Around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia
Dr. Chico, historian with a national reputation as an expert in the history of headwear, brings her scholarship and witty writing to this 531-paged encyclopedia. The book covers headwear from A-Z (Academic Headwear to Zucchetto) with further Readings for each of the 195 entries. I found myself eagerly delving into one subject after the other, uncovering a fascinating world of culture, history, and economics. Did you know the first flat, round cap was used in the Bronze Age? And that it is known as the ‘universal’ cap. Its multiple uses have been to designate Basque shepherds—to the Green Berets Special Forces—to the guerrillas of Che Guevara—to the baby blue-colored UN-peacekeeping units, and even was part of the Girl Scout national uniform from 1936 to 1994. This simple cap has been a symbol of defiance as well as unity.
As the cultural value of a headwear piece lessens, production of it diminishes and leads to financial loss for its producers. Such an event followed JF Kennedy’s lack of interest in wearing hats. This, coupled with the Civil Rights Movement that challenged middle-class social-status etiquette, led to a vast reduction in the use of formal hats for males. In contrast, today’s baseball cap has produced a new global industry for supplying an immense army of users.
Dr. Chico’s scholarship is extraordinary and is matched by clarity of writing. I recommend highly this outstanding work; it’s a powerful read and unique reference.
2013, ABC-CLIO, $95.00, 978-1-61069-062-1
The Alchemy of Desire
AUTHOR: Dianalee Velie, Southern Vermont Branch, VT
REVIEWED BY: Annie Laura Smith, Huntsville Branch, AL
This book is the poet’s fourth poetry collection. The poems remind us to treasure the people and places in our lives. This compilation shows a path to self-discovery and healing, and covers a wide range of experiences and emotions. These include heartache, loss, humor, and wisdom. The opening poem is aptly titled “In the Beginning”, and ends with the couplet: ‘It will be my Masterpiece. It will my Genesis. Everyone will know my name.” The poet’s spirit rises above immeasurable grief as shown in her poem, “Unchained”
Like the unchained performer,
my soul twists like a snake
around memories of Eden,
a time before the disappearance
of happiness. For the moment,
I am unfettered, free of grief,
crowing, like the rooster,
for a new dawn, faithful
I will find my way in the dark.
It is a poem of hope for all who are grieving a loss and healing from the emotional pain. It shows the power of poetry to heal, as does the entire collection. The final poem echoes the title of the book, “The Alchemy of Desire”. Her other poetry books include Glass House, First Edition, and The Many Roads to Paradise. She also published a collection of short stories titled Soul Proprietorship: Women in Search of Their Souls. 2013, Plain View Press, $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-935514-05-3
The Light On His Feet
AUTHOR: Calder Lowe, Modesto Branch, CA
REVIEWED BY: Kathie Isaac-Luke, Modesto Branch, CA
Calder Lowe is an award-winning poet, editor and short fiction writer. In her new, vibrant collection she combines these and other genres to delightful effect. The Light On His Feet encompasses flash fiction, short stories, prose poems, and even a novella in progress. With a poet’s ear for language and a storyteller’s knack for narrative, she has crafted stories in which the voices of independent women of all ages predominate. Lowe’s characters often find themselves in difficult circumstances, often through no fault of their own. Intrepidly, they view these situations as obstacles to overcome, whether through faith or sheer determination. Take Ashley, a discouraged woman who is plotting her own demise, until a sliver of grace presents itself, giving her life renewed purpose. Another character, Mary figures a way to navigate out of an abusive relationship. And, Anna Marie, an older, long widowed woman gets a new lease on life when Jesus materializes in the living room of her small home.
There are a number of stories exploring family dynamics framed with keen observation and wit. Interwoven throughout this collection are prose poems and flash fiction pieces which are all thought-provoking and often ironic.
Included are several stories related from a man’s point of view, most notably the title story in which a young male escort has an epiphany while on assignment with an elderly woman. But even in the stories told in men’s voices, wise and resourceful women are never far away.
The protagonists in this volume are uncompromising, refusing to countenance any affront to their dignity or self-esteem. Part of the pleasure of reading this prose collection is finding out the inventive, sometimes dark, but always surprising approaches they take to triumph over whatever life throws their way. 2014, Dragonfly Press, $15.00, ISBN: 978-0-692-21873-0
Through Pelican Eyes: The First Jesse Murphy Mystery
AUTHOR: jd daniels, Southwest Florida Branch, Cape Coral, FL
REVIEWED BY: Ariel Smart, Santa Clara Branch, CA
I have never found the time to read a cozy mystery before, so, apart from serious novels like The Brothers Karamazov, jd daniels’ Through Pelican Eyes is my first. It is a stylish mystery story set in the “funky” Pine Island Florida village, Matlacha, as the author herself describes it, although the more quirky because Jesse Murphy, the first person narrator, carried on her person a Gargoyle named “Gar”.
To fully appreciate the chapters, the reader needs to look up the Abstract American artists alluded to in the quotations cited. Thus, this novel required a certain academic study. Note Lawrence Calcagno, Robert Longo, and Grace Hartigan, for example.
The death of Will, a main character in the mystery, requires that you contemplate a serious question, namely, “Why does one chose suicide and another life?” The answer to that question, says a character: “I couldn’t imagine having kids and not being able to see them.” 2014, SAVVY Press, $9.99, ISBN: 978-1-939113-24-5
On The Museum Steps: Poems by Roberta Bearden
AUTHOR: Roberta Bearden, Modesto Branch, CA
REVIEWED BY: Lynn M. Hanson, Modesto Branch, CA
Artist and poet Roberta Bearden offers the reader an intimate look at life in the Central Valley of California where Fog is a lightly stepping stalker, a yard sale signals that next month the bank will own the house and the valley on edge (is) tilting back toward desert sand. She is grateful to be turning 70, rejoicing that she refuses to give anger and reminds to remember love and give it. Using simple and direct language like her childhood meals of fried potatoes, pinto beans and cornbread, her observations are poignant and heart-felt as she buried her love in the corner of her heart for the estranged stepdaughter. She makes real the fear of dying alone in her poem The Death Floor where the fear is that you might wake and find yourself alone saying goodbye to an empty room, or in A Thousand Miles Away her communication with an invalid woman is broken when the hurricane silenced the connection – waters crept silently through her doors and windows. In her poem On The Museum Steps (her painting pictured on the cover of her book), she reflects on the 4th of July celebration – the day her father died – that sometimes traditions are made without our consent. Her words bring forth the truths of love, friendship, death and loss, a chronicle of the human condition. 2014, Black Pan Press, $12.00, ISBN: 978-0-9960546-0-7
Seasons of Sharing
A Kasen Renku Collaboration
Authors: Joyce Brinkman, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, Chesapeake Bay Branch, VA,
with Catherine Aubelle, Flor Aguilera García, Gabriele Glang snf Kae Morii
Reviewed by: Ann Falcone Shalaski, Chesapeake Bay Branch, VA
The voices of six global women come together as one in Seasons of Sharing, a carefully crafted collaboration of poetry created through the world’s newest means of communication: the internet.
This contemporary collection, rooted in haiku tradition, captures a timeless quality that is rich, precise, and meaningful. From shore to shore, season to season, these gifted women poets present poetry that is both poignant and joyful. Each verse plays off the preceding verse as in “Summer Wind”:
. . . while tanned girls sway their wet braids
splashing rivers of laughter.
White caps swirl, frolic
on Chesapeake Bay’s sandy
shores – midsummer pearls.
To read Seasons of Sharing is to experience a kaleidoscope of seamless voices in a collaboration of love. Global friends gift the reader with a treasure one will read again and again. Leapfrog Press LLC, $14.00/Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-935248-63-7
Author: Alice M. Moerk, Sarasota Branch, FL
Reviewed by: Ariel Smart, Santa Clara Branch, CA
Ain’s Song is a swift and lively account of the legendary and often maligned queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Ms. Moerk’s book is well designed and concise. Even the putative accounts are documented as certain fact. It is by far shorter than Amy Kelly’s scholarly book with its chapter by chapter footnotes, yet if contains vital information without scrimping. It is a worthy read for an eleven-year-old reader and up to adulthood.
Ms. Moerk’s coverage of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s reign and her daring allegiance with her son, Richard the Lionhearted, and their campaign and pilgrimage to the Holy Land on the Second Crusade are well documented.
I think what I missed in this history were the personal anecdotes remembered by common folk who waited for a glimpse of the great queen as she travelled the countryside. For example, the monks of Ely Cathedral cultivated dove eggs in the dovecotes. They knew that she liked fresh eggs for her breakfast. Alice A. Moerk’s Ain’s Song is recommended reading. 2011, Peppertree Press, $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-61493-025-9
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