New Book Reviews
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
Call for Book Reviewers
The Pen Woman magazine is seeking avid readers to review new books published by members. If you are interested, please contact the Book Review Editor,
Annie Laura Smith
564 Farmingdale Road
Huntsville, AL 35803
Book Review Submissions Guidelines
New books by members will be considered for book reviews and listing in the Pen Woman. Send your book book along with full author contact information, branch or member-at-large status, a short description of the book, ISBN number and website URL. Mail to: Annie Laura Smith at the above address. Books will only be considered for review if NLAPW branch affiliation or member-at-large status is included in the submission. For enquiries, call 256-880-6213 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.