Open Slowly by Dayle Furlong

Open Slowly by Dayle Furlong begins with poems steeped in Spring imagery and the unfolding blossoms of that season.  For instance, “She Seeks Beauty” is like a flower beginning as a bulb, growing, and releasing the beauty of its petals like a surprise ending.

She Seeks Beauty (page 11)

She seeks beauty everywhere
foraging for flowers in fog
as the metallic din of machinery bordering
the park clangs and disturbs — she dislikes
comments we make about the weight of bulbs
all they have to do is sit, look pretty, and breathe
in truth, they’re fibrous, sturdy, necessary for life.

She’s culpable as any, flesh covers bone
like a clenched fist
taut in sections, ample in others
the weight of water and salt,
breath noxious

she tells us flowers deceive like a woman
warns us to watch out for the men hiding behind them

they cast shadows on sun
etch their place
on earth, bodies pyramids
of accomplishment.

While we sit pretty and still, necessary.

However, there seems to be a sinister undercurrent or a blatant dark side that emerges in some of these poems, illuminating the truth that nature is not all beauty and peace, but also darkness and violence.  Furlong’s lines are not abstract mysteries, but the poems as a whole reveal a mystery or hidden truth that causes readers to rethink their initial impressions at the beginning of the poems.  In a way many of these poems discuss the impermanence of memory and the past, those people, places, and events that we think we will always remember, but that grow fuzzier with time and blur into nothingness.

From Lazy Eye (page 30)

like the faces I meet in the street —
the people in my life
mere puddles waiting to evaporate
right before my eyes.

There are three sections to Open Slowly:  Impossible Permanence; Tonic & Brevity; and Litany of Desire.  While the first section deals with the impermanence of memory and people and events, the second section wallows in that impermanence, dunking the reader fully into memories that are previous and filled with not only joy and passion, but regret.  Readers will note a reluctance in the narrator to leave the past behind and jump into the present.  It continues with the theme of opening blossoms in spring, clinging to the protection of the bulb but eager to emerge.

From Hooks (page 45)

Little fish on hooks
gulp and cry
worms will die
but you keep me dancing
on a line
not hanging exactly
but hoping for their return.

Protection melts away and the darkness emerges, taking hold of the reader and drawing blood and fear from within. Furlong’s nature images serve not only the light but the dark in these poems, easily turning poems upside down and inside out.  In the final section, there is a violence in the passion between the narrator and the men and the narrator and children, but not violence in the sense of harm, but in terms of emotion.  A passion rampant and uncontrollable.

Open Slowly by Dayle Furlong is a mesmerizing collection of poems that search for the beauty in everything, but does not always find it.  Rather than dwell on the darkness in nature — human nature — each poem pushes beyond those moments to seek out the light and the beauty that can come from it or in spite of it.

Copyright Liz Martin

About the Poet:

Dayle Furlong studied English Literature & Fine Arts at York University. Her poetry & fiction has appeared in Kiss Machine, The Puritan, Word & The Voice. She works as a literary publicist and has worked as a screenwriter’s assistant for the Showcase television series Slings & Arrows. Her debut collection of poetry, Open Slowly was published by Tightrope Books in spring 2008.  Check out her interview with Rob McLennan.

This is my 3rd book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.

This is my 5th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is also my 2nd book for the 2011 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Semper Cool by Barry Fixler

Semper Cool by Barry Fixler is a memoir of one marine’s time before, during, and after the Vietnam War.  Fixler’s writing style is accessible for all readers, though some who have read a number of military books may find themselves skipping over definitions of terms they already know, which are defined for less experienced military readers.  Through clear sentence structure, fast-paced flashbacks, and frankness about boot camp and other aspects of a marine’s training, readers get a feel for the grit these men must have to survive boot camp and beyond.

“If you were alive, that meant your unit was in one of the less dangerous places in Vietnam.  If you were a basket case, your unit was in a pretty bad place.  If you were dead, that meant you were headed straight into the deep shit.  Your unit was in the middle of the worst of the worst combat.”  (page 80 of ARC)

Fixler became obsessed with the U.S. Marines after hearing crazy stories from his father, a WWII veteran who survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor, about the rigorous training marines endured even during war and the antics they engaged in.  These stories, plus his father’s patriotism helped fuel Fixler’s desire to enter the military to find direction and discipline shortly after graduating high school.  At age 19, Fixler was a “green” marine with no combat experience, and men who were considered seasoned were generally in their early- to mid-20s.

Readers are taken on a journey through Fixler’s latter adolescent years, the trouble he caused with his friends, and the decision to enter the military, which he kept from his parents until the day before he shipped off to boot camp.  Once in boot camp, readers learn first hand what it means to become a marine in the physical and mental sense, and this foundation is what carries Fixler, a survivor of the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh or Hill 861-A, through his time in Vietnam.  When the subtitle suggest fond memories from Vietnam, the author is serious about the relationships he forged, the discipline he learned, the mental toughness he created for himself, and the achievements he made while in country.

“Minutes before, we were talking about home, watching through binoculars,’ Mike said years later, ‘and the mortars started coming in and he was completely disintegrated, no head at all.'”  (page 173)

However, readers should be prepared for blood, guts, horror, and disappointments, but those are tempered with moments of incredible luck — even what some would call miracles — and hilarity.  There are odd moments in which Fixler seems to remind himself of a moment before the war, and the narration sometimes takes a turn that is unexpected and outside the scope of the war and his military life.  While initially, these moments can jolt the reader out of the narrative flow, they help to give readers a fuller picture of Fixler’s character.

Semper Cool is a well-balanced war memoir that illustrates the good and the bad that comes with war and returning home.  Fixler’s story deviates from the typical memoir or war novel in which the atmosphere is constantly grim and dire or the protagonist is spiraling out of control mentally.  The main takeaways from this memoir are believe in yourself, remain focused, and achieve success in all you set out to do.

***It is great knowing that proceeds from the sale of this book will be shared with those military personnel in need of medical assistance that the government has either forgotten, run out of money to care for, or does not know have fallen through the cracks.***

About the Author:

After graduating from Syosset High School in Long Island, New York, Barry Fixler enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corp and was shipped off to Vietnam where he fought as a member of Echo Company at the legendary Siege of Khe Sanh. He is now a jeweler living in Bardonia, New York, with his wife Linda.

Please check out the Semper Cool Website.

Yes, the Vietnam War Reading Challenge ended in 2010, but I wish I had read Semper Cool by Barry Fixler then.  Thankfully, it qualifies for this year’s Wish I’d Read that Challenge and the New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 4th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 1st book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton

Rosy Thornton‘s The Tapestry of Love follows 48-year-old Catherine Parkstone as she makes her way through the French countryside after leaving her home in England following her divorce.  She has bought Les Fenils in the Cevennes Mountains where she gets to know her quirky neighbors and learns how to navigate an unfamiliar culture with her amateur French-speaking skills.  Her initial plans are to establish a business as a needlewoman, but also to return to a place she remembers enjoying from her childhood.

Catherine loves working with her hands whether it is on cushions or tapestry or in the garden.  The lush scenery and sweet smells of food (check out Thornton’s recipes) serve as the backdrop of this woman’s journey as she learns to cook French cuisine, stand on her own, and carve out a life she can enjoy.  Although she is away from her grown children and her sister, Bryony, Catherine begins to make the transition into the community, providing them with well-crafted cushions and other items and companionship.

“It was the view from her kitchen window, the view from the place at the table where she generally sat to work.  She knew it so well now by all its lights and moods that she had no need to look up from her tapestry frame; on these quiet midnights she sat and worked from memory in front of the rectangle of black.  In her emerging picture, it was morning:  not first light but the soft luminosity of a breakfast time in spring, the sun breaking over the head of the valley to the left and outlining every leaf in gold.”  (page 232)

From the Bouschets and the Meriels to Madame Volpiliere and Patrick Castagnol, Thornton creates a rounded set of characters to interact with Catherine and bring out some of her best traits, including generosity and compassion.  Although Catherine was adventurous enough to leave England and move to the mountains of France, she still has to find her spontaneity and carefree nature, while navigating the bureaucracy of the French government.

Overall, The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton is a novel about living one’s dreams, making new friends, and enjoying life.  While there is romance, a love triangle, divorce, and other typical “women’s fiction” topics, Rosy Thornton takes these topics and makes them new by setting them in rural France among quirky farmers and business men and women.  Her prose is engaging and detailed, weaving a tapestry of community that readers will want to immerse themselves in for hours.

About the Author:

Rosy Thornton is an author of contemporary fiction, published by Headline Review. Her novels could perhaps be described as romantic comedy with a touch of satire – or possibly social satire with a hint of romance. In real life she lectures in Law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. She shares her home with her partner, two daughters and two lunatic spaniels.  Visit her Website.

This is my 3rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Half in Love by Linda Gray Sexton

Linda Gray Sexton, an author of memoir and fiction, tackles the issues of depression, suicide, and family legacies in her latest memoir, Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide.  In case you haven’t deduced on your own who her famous mother is, it is Anne Sexton one of the greatest American confessional poets, who successfully committed suicide in October 1974 after battling depression for years by locking herself in the garage and dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.

“The other families in our neighborhood looked nothing like my own family.  My father did not run the family, nor did my mother.  It was my mother’s illness that had seized control.  My adulation of her was not tempered by the fact that she was mentally ill.  We never used the word ‘crazy’ — though when the ambulance arrived in the driveway to take her away, the neighborhood children whispered that Mrs. Sexton was nuts again.”  (page 59)

Half in Love is far from an easy read as Linda details not only her mother’s struggles with depression and suicide, but also the violent and sometimes inappropriate relationships within the family.  The legacy of suicide is clear as Linda discusses her college years, her marriage, and the birth of her children.  The “rabbit hole” is often used to describe the downward spiral Linda and her mother descend into without necessarily being triggered by a specific event.  Some of the details about institutionalization, attempts at suicide are detailed and will make readers turn away from the page, but they are necessary to convey the depth at which these women fell away from the real world into the darkness that obscured their reasons for hope.

“Unconsciously, my mother had bequeathed to me two entirely unique legacies, and they were inextricably and mysteriously entwined:  the compulsion to create with words, as well as the compulsion to stare down into the abyss of suicide.  Both compulsions have been with me for as long as I can remember.”  (page 23)

Despite a carefully outlined plan to avoid her mother’s fate, Linda finds that she has unwittingly stepped on the same path to suicide and also has become a confessional fiction author rather than confessional poet.  When Linda becomes a mother herself and realizes just how much she inherited from her mother in terms of mental illness, she becomes concerned and wonders how much she should tell her sons about the family legacy, while her husband wishes to shield them from “prophecies” that may or may not come true.

Half in Love is about the struggle with depression and suicide, but it also is about falling “half in love” with the idea of a famous poet and her legacy in spite of the rational reasons to distance oneself from that dangerous family legacy and live a “normal” life.   Readers will be absorbed in the author’s struggles and the struggles of her mother, but in spite of these struggles there is something to “love” about these women.  In a way larger parallels between a young Linda and the greater society can be drawn about falling in love with the darker sides of life that enabled her mother, Anne Sexton, to become one of the most famous poets of her time.  But this is not just Anne’s story, but a story of a family continuously torn apart, repaired, and fragmented — possibly irreparably.

***Reading this memoir prompted me to highlight one of Anne Sexton’s poems during the Virtual Poetry Circle last week.  Please feel free to join the continued discussion.***

About the Author:

Linda Gray Sexton was born in Newton, Massachusetts in 1953 and graduated from Harvard University in 1975. She is the daughter of the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Anne Sexton, and has edited several books of her mother’s poetry and a book of her mother’s letters, as well as writing a memoir about her life with her mother, “Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back To My Mother, Anne Sexton.” “Rituals,” “Mirror Images,” “Points of Light,” and “Private Acts” are her four published and widely read novels. “Points of Light” was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame Special for television.

Check out the other stops on The TLC Book Tour.

This is my 2nd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel was the December book club selection from Everyday I Write the Book, but I ran out of time in 2010 to read it.  Click here if you want to read the discussion.

Frances Ellerby is a young 20-something with her whole life ahead of her in 1969 when she heads to Miami for a wedding, meets a spontaneous young woman named Marse, and finds the love of her life, Dennis.  She makes a major decision and moves from Georgia to Miami to be with Dennis, and while she is uncertain about her life choices sometimes, for the most part she realizes she has chosen the right path.

“The pink undulated and shimmered in the sunlight, fading and brightening.  It was like nothing I’d ever imagined.  Like so much of Miami, the islands were vain, gaudy, and glorious — and in this way they belonged there, undeniably, and I hoped unrealistically that their pink skirts would stay fastened forever.”  (Page 147)

Frances is a young woman who is moored to Miami by her love of one man, but her friendships with Marse and others seem to come in and out of the storyline.  There are moments of utter joy, heartache, and humor, but there also are moments when the story line takes predictable turns as many plots about marriages over time turn to possible affairs and other heart breaks.

“‘Oh, God, I know — they botched her face-lift.’  One of Elanor’s cheeks drooped considerably, and the eyelid on the same side drooped as well, as if she’d been stuck with something and deflated.  ‘She’s going to that guy in Naples to fix it, but they can’t get her in for six months.  You’d think this would qualify as an emergency.'”  (page 194)

Although Daniel sets up the landscape of Miami as over-the-top and gaudy in many ways, readers may be unprepared for the dramatic bombshells dropped on top of one another in the last 100 pages.   Readers may find these sections unbelievable or too much to lump together near the end of a novel, especially one that up until this point had been very predictable.

Frances was too hard to connect with on many levels because she’s so unpredictable in her relationships and she second guesses her decisions at every turn.  Her deep love of Dennis is often questionable.  Overall, Stiltsville‘s setting in Miami grows with each passing decade, but the relationships between Frances and her family often seem stagnant or underdeveloped, though the introduction of Margo, her daughter, is a compelling element that should have been explored more fully.

This is my 1st book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes is bound to be an instant classic among Vietnam War literature.  Drawing from his experiences as a Marine Lieutenant, much like many of the other authors’ novels, Marlantes’s perspective is not only of Marines on the ground in the depths of the jungle, but of a lieutenant who experienced first hand the political battles and horrifying decisions made by other officers and politicians.  Weaving in political dilemmas and screw-ups into the narrative can be burdensome for many writers — dragging down the plot and characterization — but this is not the case with Marlantes’ Matterhorn.

Mellas, the main protagonist, enters Vietnam as a lieutenant with a variety of ambitions for advancement and medals.  He’s been to Ivy League schools, he’s had a charmed life compared to the others in the bush, but he likes to feel like one of the ordinary guys in the bush, though at the same time, he wants to fit in with the officers and to prove his worth.  He’s a dichotomy in himself, displaying openly the struggle between the grunts and the officers within one man.

“Mellas was amazed and ashamed.  He realized part of him would wish anything, and maybe even do anything, if it meant getting ahead or saving his own skin.  He fought that part down.”  (page 7)

Mellas is thrown into Bravo Company and told to take hold of Matterhorn, only to abandon it when the political forces deem Cam Lo a bigger priority.  But by not having the support necessary from the base camps, his company runs out of water and other supplies, forced to hump through the jungle dehydrated and shot up.  There is more than one instance in which this company is thrown into battle with impossible odds, which will remind many readers of the movies that glorify the marines and their victories.  However, this novel shows readers the true nature of those “hollow” victories.  While these men remain dedicated to their missions and each other, without proper strategy and backing their victories become senseless in the eyes of loss and terror.  Even victories become jokes once the reports are made to the command posts and the reports of confirmed and probable dead are doctored — something that was common during the war.

“The records had to show two dead NVA.  So they did.  But at regiment it looked odd — two kills with no probables.  So a probable got added.  It was a conservative estimate.  It only made sense that if you killed two, with the way the NVA pulled out bodies, you had to have some probables.  It made the same sense to the commander of the artillery battalion:  four confirmed, two probables, which is what the staff would report to Colonel Mulvaney, the commanding officer of Twenty-Fourth Marines, at the regiment briefing.”  (page 91-2)

Mellas finds his place within the company and even becomes respected, but his continued ambition clouds much of his judgment and often forces him into situations that are more dangerous than they need to be.  Beyond Mellas, the company is hampered by continued racial tensions between the “brothers” and their white counterparts, with some elements on both sides more violent and outspoken than others.  Others are aware of the increased tension and racial hatred, but attempt to brush it under the rug or ignore it.  The tension builds within the “brothers” camp, pitting China against Henry, in such a way that it can only be released in one way.

“Jackson folded his arms. ‘You think someone’s going to understand how you feel about being in the bush? I mean even if they’re like you in every way, you really think they’re going to understand what it’s like out here? Really understand?’

‘Probably not.’

‘Well, it’s like that being black. Unless you’ve been there, ain’t no way.'” (page 429)

As for the officers back at the base camp, readers will find in Lieutenant Colonel Simpson a possible mirror image for Mellas, depending on how well he reacts to combat situations and political decisions beyond his control.  Simpson is often drunk, quick to anger, and makes rash decisions just with a few promptings from peers and underlings.

There are so many layers to Matterhorn, it is impossible to discuss them all in a review.  Mellas is a troubled hero, but in a way the hero is not any individual Marine, but the jungle that surrounds them.  It beats them down; it disguises the enemy; and it leaves them begging for mercy, but it also can provide them shelter; offer them food; and improve their chances of success.  Psychological effects of war, loss, and camaraderie in highly intense situations can be devastating and enlightening.  One of the best books I’ve read all year and easily one of the best books of the last decade.  Readers interested in drama, tension, war-related literature, and human interactions and societal contexts will be as captivated by Matterhorn as any other book that has come onto the shelves.

This is my 63rd book for this challenge.

This is my 15th book for this challenge.

My 2011 Reading Challenges

With the baby coming in the new year, I’m going light on the reading challenges, though I do still have the perpetual Reagan Arthur Challenge, which will carry into the new year and beyond until I quit.

Let’s start off with the challenge I will host in 2011 and the one I co-host every year with Anna at Diary of an Eccentric.

I’ll be reading about 5-10 poetry books, one of which will be for the group read-a-long and discussion, for my Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.  The challenge officially requires participants to only read 1 book and just give poetry a chance in 2011.  I’m hoping a lot more of you that don’t read poetry will sign up to try just one book.  The challenge runs from January through December 2011.  Check out the details here.

War Through the Generations, a blog dedicated to war-related reading challenges, is hosting a U.S. Civil War reading challenge in the new year.  For this one, I’m going light with 3-5 books (or up to 2 movies).  I could end up reading more books, but I don’t want to over-commit myself.  The challenge runs through January through December 2011.  I hope many of you will join us for this challenge.

I really enjoyed this challenge this year, and I’m signing up to do it again in 2011.  While I did increase my goal to 50 new-to-me authors this year, in 2011, I will be sticking with the 25 new authors limit.  I read way more than 50 new-to-me authors this year, reaching 62.

These new authors don’t have to be debut authors, and the challenge runs from January through December 2011.  Check it out.

I’ll be signing up for the Wish I’d Read That Challenge 2011 at the curious level, with 3 books.  I could end up reading more than that.  One book I’ll plan on reading is Persuasion by Jane Austen and perhaps the Stieg Larsson series.  The challenge runs from January through December 2011.

I also enjoyed the Ireland Reading Challenge this year, and I am signing up to read for it again.  Carrie has a great list of suggested books and authors.  The challenge runs from January through November 30, 2011.  I’ll be signing up for the Shamrock level again with 2 books, and I plan on participating in the read-a-long.

Finally, I’m signing up for the Nordic Reading Challenge 2011, which runs from January through December 2011.  I’ll be reading for the Freya level of 3-5 books, with the intention of reading the Stieg Larsson series. I’ve meant to read these books for a long time.

That’s it for now.  How many have you signed up for?

***As of Jan. 6, 2011***

Ok, I broke down and signed up for a more informal challenge because I failed the Sookie Stackhouse Reading challenge last year, and this one gives me a chance to redeem myself.

Dar at Peeking Between the Pages is hosting her own 2011 Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge, and I’ve decided to throw in too.

I’ll be reading the remaining books in the series that I failed to read in 2010.

I hope you’ll join us.

The Cool Woman by John Aubrey Anderson

The Cool Woman by John Aubrey Anderson begins in 1970 when Lieutenant Bill Mann enters pilot training and begins to live his dream of becoming a fighter pilot.  Mann is a black man entering the military at a time when bigotry and ambition made a dangerous cocktail for his race.  He’s determined to make his mark and do his father proud, and in the process meets the love of his life, Pip.

“In the world of aviation, conventional wisdom says:  To keep an aircraft in the air, a pilot will always need at least one of three ingredients:  airspeed, altitude, or ideas. If any one or two of those ingredients is absent or in short supply, the pilot must have a proportionate abundance of whatever remains.” (page 3)

Throughout the novel, Anderson weaves in Mann’s background and hidden secrets, but he also unveils how the path to God and faith is wrought with many obstacles and trials.  Christian faith plays a large role in this novel, as it should given the combat situations and uncertainty in the lives of the families tied to Bill Mann and his friend Rusty Mattingly and every other combat pilot they encounter along the way.

The three ingredients necessary for aviation are like those necessary for faith, but readers will also note that these ingredients can be boiled down to one word — hope.  Hope is the main message of the novel despite the bullets and bigotry flying through its pages.  Anderson’s use of sparse language to tell his story makes the plight of Mann and his friends in the jungles of Vietnam immediate and harrowing at every turn, but it also helps illuminate the enduring camaraderie and bonds that were created between soldiers, nurses, administrators, and many others.

“Apparently, the sound told the gunners exactly where they were; the anti-aircraft fire intensified and became a steel curtain woven of angry red and white arcs.  Driver’s grip tested the stress tolerance of the handholds.  Within seconds the airplane was standing on its nose — the engine was threatening to come off the mounts; swarms of tracers flashed by on all sides, barely missing them.  Driver was as far down in his seat as he could get, mesmerized by one particular string of red balls that seemed frozen in space just outside the canopy.”  (page 107)

Overall, The Cool Woman is a captivating novel about Air Force pilots and the struggles they faced.  It also explores the racism in the military, the politics that gets things accomplished or screws things up, and the faith it takes to not only do what needs to be done, but get through the roughest patches.  Anderson’s cool woman is not the plane, but the inner self that must be crafted and nurtured in times of combat.

This is my 62nd book for this challenge.

This is my 14th book for this challenge.

127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston (audio)

Aron Ralston, if you are not yet familiar wit his amazing recovery from being trapped in a Utah canyon, reads this abridged edition of his memoir, 127 Hours:  Between a Rock and a Hard Place.  In only five discs, listeners will get lessons in climbing equipment and the actual stamina and skill involved in hiking treacherous terrain out west.  Ralston is a man who often likes to hike and climb alone to commune with nature, but also to be with himself in a way that allows him to just be and assess his own life.

Listeners are walking beside Ralston as he tells his tale, climbing steep canyons with him, and feeling the agony and pain of dehydration, starvation, and major blood loss.  His enthusiasm for the outdoors and climbing are infectious.

127 Hours is a gripping real life tale of a human struggle alone in the wilderness and the enduring nature of hope and humanity.  Ralston’s struggle is immediate and harrowing.  The audio, especially narrated by the actual subject of the tragic event, is mesmerizing and even disturbing in its detail.  Overall, this is one of the best audio books of the year.  It is more than just a story about a man’s struggle and courage, but about what he does following tragedy to change his life and appreciate the friends and family he has.

My husband and I listened to this audio on the commute to and from work.  My husband says the best part of the book is how the narrator describes the process through which he amputates his arm to miss his major veins and nerves until the harder parts are severed, etc.  There is a true sense of how the human spirit seeks ways to keep the body going, and how the body keeps going regardless of moments of weakness in human will.  Ralston explains his plight really well.  Very profound and memorable.

***Thanks to Eco-Libris and the Green Books Campaign for sending us this wonderful prize.***

This is my 61st book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Brontës by Pamela Norris

The Brontës by Pamela Norris is a collection of selected poems from not only the Bronte sisters, but also certain poems from their brother Patrick Branwell Brontë.  According to the introduction, Patrick Bronte was a good poet, but did not reach the level of sophistication of his sisters.  Emily Brontë, according to Norris, is the most accomplished of the poets in terms of grasping meter and other components of poetry.  Anne Brontë is the most accessible, and readers often find it easier to emotionally connect with the poet.  Charlotte Brontë‘s poems often resemble her novels with their passionate women and abrasive men, but Norris says her narrative style can often overwhelm the poem and obscure its meaning.

The collection begins with a selection of poems from Charlotte, and many of these poems are bogged down in narrative, poetic prose, but the meaning of the poems are not completely obscured.  In fact, the selection of poems offer a sense of longing and despair topped with a current of optimism and rays of hope.  In “Mementos,”  Charlotte alludes to the precious nature of material objects, which even though tied to loved ones, are now moldy and dusty — long forgotten.

“Once, doubtless, deemed such precious things;
Keepsakes bestowed by Love on Faith,
And worn till the receiver’s death,
Now stored with cameos, china, shells,
In this old closet’s dusty cells.

I scarcely think.  for ten long years.
A hand has touched these relics old;
And, coating each, slow-formed, appears,
The growth of green and antique mould.”  (page 7, “Mementos”)

However, while Charlotte tells a unique story in each poem there is an emotional detachment even though the images and story tackle harsh topics and delve into questions of mortality and loss.  Charlotte’s poems about her deceased sisters, Anne and Emily, are more emotionally present, though the loss of Anne seems more substantial to her.

The next set of poems are from Patrick Brontë.  His poems weave a sense of loneliness, and not just a passing sadness and solitude, but a loneliness that weighs down the narrator.  From “Memory,” “Winds have blown, but all unknown;/ Nothing could arouse a tone/ In that heart which like a stone/ Senselessly has lain.” to “Oh, All Our Cares,” “But here this lonely little spot,/ Retires among its trees,/ By all unknown and noticed not,/” there is an emptiness in Patrick’s poems that is deeper than that in expressed by his sisters.  Camaraderie between the sisters must have been tough for a brother to penetrate, and to seek help from his sisters with his writing may have been a bridge he was unwilling to cross.  Regardless, his poems are no more poignant and enlightening about the human condition than those of his sisters.

Emily Brontë’s poetry is possibly the most well known of the siblings work, and her poems tend to be well crafted, adhering to style elements known for the forms she has chosen.  Her rhyme schemes are cleaner than her siblings, but her style is often dense and fantastical.  She blurs the lines between reality and a fantasy world she creates.  In some ways, readers may find that her poems are hard to decipher if they get too bogged down in the details she throws into each line.

“Will the day be bright or cloudy?” (page 39)

Will the day be bright or cloudy?
Sweetly has its dawn begun,
But the heaven may shake with thunder
Ere the setting of the sun.

Lady, watch Apollo’s journey,
Thus thy firstborn’s course shall be —
If his beams through summer vapours
Warm the earth all placidly,
Her days shall pass like a pleasant dream in sweet tranquility.

If it darken, if a shadow
Quench his rays and summon rain,
Flowers may open, buds may blossom,
Bud and flower alike are vain;
Her days shall pass like a mournful story in care and tears and pain.

If the wind be fresh and free,
The wide skies clear and cloudless blue,
The woods and fields and golden flowers
Sparkling in sunshine and in dew,
Her days shall pass in Glory’s light the world’s drear desert through.

Anne Brontë’s poetry is more childlike in its reverie with nature and the memories and emotions those things can arouse in the narrator.  Her poems are immediate and easy to comprehend; readers can connect with her more easily than her siblings’ poems.  However, her poems do not differ from theirs in subject matter; she tackles not only loneliness, longing, and emptiness, but also happy moments encapsulated in time and memories.  From “The Bluebell,” “Yet I recall, not long ago,/ A bright and sunny day:/ ‘Twas when I led a toilsome life/ So many leagues away.”  (page 74), and from “The Captive Dove,” “Poor restless dove, I pity thee;/ And when I hear thy plaintive moan,/ I mourn for thy captivity,/ And in thy woes I forget mine own.”  (page 80).

Overall, The Brontës by Pamela Norris is an excellent selection of poems that displays the diversity of the Brontës and their similarities.  Norris’ introduction can help readers understand the dynamics of the family, but the poems often speak for themselves about the depths of their loneliness and desolation.  However, some members of the family were more desolate than others and others coped by relying on fantasy and memories of happier times.

This is my 1st, and probably, only book for the 2010 All About the Brontës Challenge.

This is my 60th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 15th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates

The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates is an excellent resource for aspiring novelists, especially those that have full time jobs and are writing in their spare time.  Housed in a hard bound, spiral notebook format, the book makes it easy to find the best advice for the crisis of the moment for beginnings, middles, or ends of novels with its outlined table of contents.  Most writers are fond of taking notes or using sticky papers to highlight gems of information . . . what’s even better is that we color-code that information to keep it all fresh.

Some of the ideas in the book are those writers have heard a number of times, such as keeping a small notebook handy at all times when dialogue is too juicy to pass up or someone’s style catches the eye.  Story ideas always come from experiences and what writers see in other art or in other books.  What’s unique about this reference book is that it counters advice given to many writers that they should write what they know or write about things that have never been done before.

National Novel Writing Month participants would be wise to check out this book, but even those not engaged in the month-long marathon, should take a look at Bates’ advice.  From creating the three-act structure complete with conflict and resolution to ensuring the larger structure is supported by a smaller structure of action and development, The Nighttime Novelist offers direct advice about plot and point of view choices, differences between POV and voice, settings and description, and much more.

Overall, Bates provides a comprehensive outline for writing a novel and offers a “coffee break” to help writers assess their progress throughout the novel.  While the book is written in a linear fashion from beginning to end, writers can plunge into any section of the book and obtain excellent advice.  There are additional online and other resources listed in the back of the book, and appendices with empty worksheets, which writers can copy to use multiple times for multiple novels.  The Nighttime Novelist is a great addition to any novelist or writer’s shelves.

About the Author:

Joseph Bates’ fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The South Carolina Review, Identity Theory, Lunch Hour Stories, The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, and Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market.  He holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature and fiction writing from the University of Cincinnati and teaches in the creative writing program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

For more information please visit www.nighttimenovelist.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.

Also check out the excerpt from the book posted earlier in November.

***Thanks to Writer’s Digest Books, Joseph Bates, and FSB Associates for sending me a copy for review. ***

This is my 59th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Fall of Saigon by Michael V. Uschan

Michael V. Uschan‘s The Fall of Saigon provides an observant look at the history of how the Vietnam War begins, unfolds, and ends.  Unlike other books on this topic, Uschan begins with the fall of Saigon or the end of the war with one of the largest helicopter evacuations in history.  Although many would argue this is a civil war between its northern and southern counterparts, this war occurred at a time when democratic governments were wary of the spread of communism.

There is a great mix of photos and text in the book to provide a simplified explanation of the war and all of its moving parts.  It does touch upon the My Lai massacre and the deaths of innocent victims, but without the horrifying images that polarized many of those back home.  To teach students about the war, this is an excellent edition, but for children reading about the war on their own, it may be a bit dry.  However, photos often supplement the text and can provide a visual aid to kids.

Even adults can learn or relearn things about the Vietnam War and what may have happened as a result of the war.  For instance, the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973 required all future presidents to gain approval from Congress each time troops are sent into action overseas.

Overall, The Fall of Saigon is for older children, possibly between the ages of 9 and 12, and provides a great deal of information in just 30 pages, but in some ways the text needs to be supplemented with additional material on the Cold War and other events.

This is my 58th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 13th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.