book reviews

Book Review: The Selected Poems of K. Morris

As the author’s preface states, the poems in this substantial collection are drawn from six books published between 2013 and 2019. They are grouped into four sections: Time and Mortality, Nature, Love and Sensuality, Progress and Human Nature.

The Time and Mortality section occupies half the book. Clearly, this subject preoccupies the poet as he moves through his days. Images of clocks abound, along with churchyards, repetitive sounds, and episodes of light and shadow. Many of these poems are quite similar to one another, differing only in details, as though their author is carefully examining the theme’s every facet. The tone is one of quiet acceptance that has moved beyond despair. “Death Is Dead” presents an oblique view, suggesting that if we lived forever, we would bore each other to… Oh, I get it! Writers especially may relate to several poems, for example, “Why Do I Write?” and its resolve to make “A light that glimmers / In the dark / Illumining the human heart.”

In Section 2, Nature, an awareness of mortality is also present, but the focus here is a sense of nature’s benign indifference, which is somehow comforting. “Standing Under this Rain Drenched Tree” begins with the poet listening to whispering leaves but ends humorously with a sneeze.

Section 3, Love and Sensuality, moves from fleeting glimpses of beauty in “Ethereal” and “Chiffon,” to the wry humour of “Unrequited” and “Girls In Unsuitable Shoes.” “Birds That Fly” is especially fine, subtle and poignant. Even with these differences in tone, the themes of passing time and the insignificance of individual lives are present. Love and lust, while crucial to individual humans, do not greatly affect the turning of the world.

The poems of Section 4, Progress and Human Nature, display a mixture of cynicism, acceptance, and even appreciation of humanity despite its faults. The final line of “Dark and Light” is interesting. “Mourn not, for there can be no dark without the light.” Some might expect these opposites to be reversed.

The poems are short, rarely more than a page and often only a handful of lines. Rhyme is present in all, deliberately structured and crafted. The rhythms are often choppy, perhaps echoing those ticking clocks.

In his preface, the author says he believes the poems in this collection are his best works. They show how a poet may abstract himself from the whirl of life and view it from a philosophical perspective, and then embody his observations in brief and eloquent verse to share with readers. The book is perfect for the reader who wants to dip in for a few pithy observations on life and death, or simply to admire the poet’s dexterity with words.

This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the author.

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Book cover for S O S at Night by M.A. Wilson

Book Review: S O S at Night by M.A. Wilson

“Ryan and Kendra are unexpectedly back in Maple Harbour with their cousins Claire and Nathan. Adrift in the fog, they stumble upon an abandoned lighthouse located on an island that is an important bird nesting site. But why is the island for sale, and who are the mysterious buyers? As the community rallies to save the island, the four children and their dog Meg investigate a series of puzzling clues. Is there more to the old lighthouse than first appears? Join the four friends as they attempt to unravel another Maple Harbour mystery!”

The third book in the Maple Harbour Adventure series is packed with all kinds of interesting goodies: an abandoned lighthouse, an old shipwreck, a crucial deadline, and lots of sailing.

This time, the four kids (Claire, Nathan, Kendra,and Ryan), with the help of Meg the dog, make an important discovery while visiting an abandoned lighthouse on a rocky islet. Next thing they know, they’re involved in a community fundraising effort to save the islet and its seabird habitat.

As the children investigate and do research, the reader gets to learn along with them – about lighthouses and how they work, a bit of British Columbia history, about organizing a community around an issue, and about solving problems and taking risks. It all happens in the delightful surroundings of Rainy Bay and the village of Maple Harbour. As always, the adventures are punctuated by picnics, barbecues, home cooking, ice cream, and cinnamon buns.

The author makes a conscious effort to present positive role models. The children (who I assume range in age from about 10 to 12) spend no time at all with electronic devices. Instead, they ride bikes, swim, and sail. Uncle William participates in meal preparation. Aunt Jessie is on the town council and takes a leading role in organizing the community. The kids engage in active problem-solving to get out of tight situations. Feelings of inadequacy are acknowledged and dealt with.

As with the two earlier books in the series, this story plays out in a safe, reasonably prosperous, middle-class environment. There are no gritty issues, although (given that it’s a mystery) criminal activity is mentioned.

On the whole, S O S at Night is an entertaining read, with a tense timeline and a thrilling discovery.

A review copy of the book was provided by the author.

American robin and cotoneaster bush full of berries. Blurry bird image.

Book Review: Encourage a Child to Watch Birds, by Denzil Walton

I’m not a birdwatcher, except in the sense of noticing who’s hanging around the bird feeders in the back garden. I don’t have a life list, nor even a decent pair of binoculars. And as can be seen from the two photos accompanying this post, I’m not that great at taking pictures of birds either. (That blurry shape in the featured image is a robin (American type) landing on a cotoneaster bush full of berries. Robins have been feasting on those berries for the past week.)

Despite the above, I like birds, and I’m keen on helping out the ones that live around here. A pair of Bewick’s Wrens nested in an old shoe on my back porch in 2015. So I hope that gives me some credibility for this book review.

This is a short, well-organized, and clearly written book intended for adults with a child or children in their lives. Its main intent is to help them develop an interest in observing and learning about birds in the natural environment. The introduction specifies that the suggested activities are screen-free, and this is true, although internet resources are mentioned peripherally. Otherwise, each chapter takes the child and adult companion outside to experience birds in a variety of ways.

Ten chapters, or “Ideas,” start with the most basic activities – looking at birds in parks, gardens, and urban environments – and progress to relatively advanced projects, such as keeping detailed notes on bird observations, or dissecting owl pellets to investigate owl diets! Topics include buying binoculars, obtaining books about birds, learning to recognize birds’ songs and calls, and setting up bird feeding stations. Each one is dealt with in simple, clear language. The author’s introduction says it’s not necessary to follow up the ideas in the order presented, or even to work through them all. The reader is encouraged to respect the child’s interests and use the book accordingly.

Each Idea provides basic facts about the topic, summing up with a list of projects to do together and questions that may be asked to help focus the child’s attention on details. It’s clear that this book is intended for people who are eager to spend time with children and act as guides and resources. This is not a book for someone looking to send kids off to amuse themselves.

The author points out how the bird-related activities may kindle other interests in children, such as photography, drawing, writing, music, even astronomy. Observing birds may present opportunities for using math skills, or discussing life-and-death issues such as the fact that some birds kill and eat other birds. The broader topics of conservation and environmental issues may also be approached.

The language is clear and the formatting excellent. In keeping with the “non-screen” approach, the reader is encouraged to use their public library as a resource for books and other materials. Many of the birds mentioned specifically are those of the UK and western Europe, but the book is intended for readers anywhere in the world, referencing organizations and resources specific to North America and Australia.

Altogether, this is an excellent book for anyone who wants to introduce children to birds and the outdoors, and even to learn more about these things themselves. More information about the book and author is available at:  https://encourageachild.org/

Bewick's wren
Bewick’s Wren

Book Review: The Crux Anthology compiled and edited by Rachael Ritchey

First, I’ll note that I have a story in this anthology. It’s called “The Blue Rose.” That’s all I’m going to say about it.

Here are links to pre-order the ebook. It’s $0.99 now, but goes up to $5.99 after the end of November, so act fast!

AMAZON   Barnes & Noble   Apple   Kobo

And here’s my review. This contest-based anthology is grouped around the theme of adventure as prompted by the picture on the cover. Most (but not all) of the stories recognizably incorporate the picture’s elements – a youngish bearded man, a woman with white-blond hair, a white temple-like structure on a steep green hill, suggestions of a cave, and a hint of the supernatural. It was interesting to see how closely authors adhered to the picture, and what forms the elements took in their stories.

The quality of the prose is uniformly good, although the authors’ styles vary, as might be expected, since they hail from widely scattered parts of the English-speaking world. The stories range from magical fantasy to grim dystopia, and include humour, mystery, romance and tragedy. Most readers will find something in this collection to captivate, intrigue, thrill, and entertain.

Specifically, these are six stories I especially enjoyed:

“The BUSS Stop” by K.R.Ludlow, for its unabashed goofiness and fast pace.

“The Cave of Legix” by David Jesson, for the realistic depiction of an expedition’s interpersonal dynamics and an ingenious mystery in a tropical jungle cave.

“The Paths We Choose” by R.J. Llewellyn, for its characters’ strong emotions and tragic choices made under extreme duress.

“Daddy Forgot Water” by Barb Taub, for its unflinching presentation of a horrific but plausible scenario.

“The God Strain” by Gary Jefferies, for a darkly humorous look at the beginnings of what might turn out to be a similar scenario.

“The Forever Door” by Rachael Ritchey, for fast-paced thrills in a vividly imagined setting, with a compelling quest, a remorseless villain, and a relatable sibling duo as protagonists.

I was delighted to be included among this group of authors and to work with Rachael and other members of the “Crux Crew” to let the world know about this worthwhile book.

Constant Sister: a Sister Katherine medieval mystery by Gillian Bridge book cover

Local Author Book Review #14: Constant Sister: a Sister Katherine medieval mystery by Gillian Bridge

Despite the subtitle, this book is so much more than a whodunit in a medieval setting. Reading it is like watching the tiny, jewel-like pictures in an illuminated psalter come to life. It is a heartfelt story rooted in history, with a carefully structured plot and memorable characters. Readers familiar with London may recognize familiar place names with amazement at how different things were more than 800 years ago.

The story begins with the coronation of King Richard I (“the Lionheart”) and the riot and fire that followed attacks on Jewish people who attended the event. Sister Katherine nurses some of the victims of the fire in St. Bartholemew’s Hospital. Subsequent scenes introduce her brothers, Robert and William, and several other characters whose interactions create the central question of the story: who killed Master Simon?

As scenes unfold and interlock, leading to the answer to that question, the author’s knowledge of life in medieval England emerges and captivates. The characters represent a full range of social statuses and occupations, such as prosperous merchants, dutiful knights, busy clerks, dedicated religious, craftsmen, farmers and herders. Among them, Sister Katherine and her brothers (the elder a clerk, the younger a monk) play important roles in the final resolution. Women are not all subservient and uneducated, although their roles are more circumscribed than those of men. Details of architecture, clothing, food and drink, commerce, law, and agriculture are skillfully woven into the plot. A glossary at the end offers further information. I came away from the book with an increased knowledge of medieval life.

Parts of the book are set on the road between London and Colchester. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 8, in which one of the characters sets out on a ride to that town:

Robert rode carefully to avoid children who ran laughing after balls or willfully from the restraining arms of their mothers. As he entered the shadow of the ancient double gate with its raised portcullises, he was forced almost to a standstill by a flock of sheep on their last journey to the Shambles. Egged on by dogs and boys with sticks, they flowed around Sparrow’s legs, a moving sea of woolly foam. Then suddenly he was free. Ahead, crowded within the bars of Whitechapel were the workshops of glaziers and bell founders and, in the distance, the village of Whitechapel lay open to the fields. The rutted road was hard under Sparrow’s hooves; white clouds sailed overhead. He nodded to the gatekeeper as he passed the Bars and then smiled fiercely with pleasure as Sparrow tossed her head and snorted.

Aloud he remembered words from his childhood: “Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?” He shouted out his response, “Yes,” and Sparrow picked up speed.

By the end of the book, most of the human dramas are resolved in a plausible and satisfying way, although not without a few tantalizing loose ends which make me wonder if a sequel is to follow. I certainly hope so.

My rating: 9 out of 10 stars (in my own rating system: 1 = abysmal, 2 = barely readable, 3 = mediocre, 4 = not bad, 5 = OK but not great, 6 = good but unremarkable, 7 = pretty good, 8 = really good, 9 = remarkable, 10 = superlative).

Constant Sister is published by Quadra Books and available on Amazon.

Book Review: The Writer’s Pen by K. Morris

Kevin Morris’s latest collection of poems is now available on pre-order at Amazon UK.

Here is my review of an advance copy…

This latest collection by Kevin Morris consists of 44 pithy reflections on life, death, and passing time. Some of the subjects and themes are the same as in Morris’s earlier collection, My Old Clock I Wind – nature, the seasons, clocks, sex, and mortality. A group of longer poems explores what might be called current affairs.

The tone of these works is darker and more serious than the earlier collection. I recognized no humorous poems, although a wry humor is present in some of them, such as “Libidinous,” in which the poet wonders about the activities of nymphs in a budding wood. “Summer” contains the delightful lines “Now ’tis the fashion / For short frocks / And tiny socks.”

I especially appreciated a sequence of several poems in which the poet strolls through a churchyard under light and shade, contemplating mortality in an almost cheerful way. In “To and Fro,” he says “Why should I care? / For I will not be there / To know.”

Several poems explore the poet’s ambivalence about politics and political correctness. “Legacy (a poem on the late Enoch Powell)” is one such. Morris expresses mixed feelings about Powell, while acknowledging that “An intelligent man / Frequently can / Do more harm / Than a stupid one.” “When a Monster Dies” and “The Monster’s Son” are particularly intriguing, pointing out in a few brief lines that every person is multi-dimensional and complex.

Two poems – “Rhodes” and “I Shower” – contain the phrase “feet of clay.” In the first, it’s used as a caution against facile judgmentalism, and in the second as a reminder that “the beast in man” is ever-present and not easily expunged.

The Writer’s Pen and Other Poems is one poet’s way of dealing with life’s complications and contradictions. The poems display a resigned acceptance that doesn’t quite cross the line into pessimism. I’m guessing Morris appreciates conversations with friends, in pubs or over dinner and drinks. Reading this collection of short, accessible verses is like sitting down with a thoughtful friend to talk about life, death, and the ways of the world. The poems are brief, but Morris’s skilful use of words makes them worth reading more than once, and contemplating their meanings in moments of quiet.

 

 

Reviews, Interview, and RAEW

The Friendship of Mortals is getting some good attention! Berthold Gambrel wrote an insightful review on his blog, as well as one on Amazon, followed by an interview in which I answer his questions about aspects of the novel. In both, he explores the relationship between my novel and the H.P. Lovecraft story on which it’s based, namely “Herbert West, Reanimator.”

raew 2018 - 2The Friendship of Mortals is widely available in various ebook formats, and in print. The other three books in the Herbert West Series will be discounted during Smashwords’ Read an Ebook Week sale, March 4th to 10th. Info and links here.

The Mystery of the Missing Mask

Another Almost Local Book Review: The Mystery of the Missing Mask by M.A. Wilson

Publisher’s description:

Ryan and Kendra have returned to Maple Harbour on the British Columbia coast to visit their cousins Claire and Nathan. But the sleepy little town has been rocked by the news that a valuable Indigenous mask has been stolen, only days after it arrived at the local museum! While museum officials and the police search for answers, the four children and their new friend Tyler stumble upon a series of exciting clues. As they enjoy their summer holidays, not everything is what it seems.

This is the second adventure story for children set in the coastal community of Maple Harbour. Brother and sister Ryan and Kendra arrive for another summer vacation with their cousins, Nathan and Claire.

The action begins at the local museum, which has acquired a unique piece of Native art – a grizzly bear mask. The kids attend a ceremony featuring the mask. That very night, the mask is stolen.

The theft recedes into the background while the children plunge into summer activities – sailing, swimming, and building a tree house from salvaged lumber. Their activities are punctuated by wonderful meals provided by Aunt Jennie. A windstorm damages Uncle William’s truck. The kids make a new friend, Tyler, who has a canoe and shows them how to harvest oysters and clams.

Subtle clues to the mask theft are scattered through the plot, and converge in a satisfying way in the last few chapters. A nighttime investigation and exciting pursuit form the climax of the story.

This is a good, solid adventure tale, which would entertain kids from 7 to 12 or so. The characters are fairly distinct in terms of maturity, interests and abilities. Information about the environment and how to do things is presented in an engaging way. A subplot featuring the mischievous Mitchell twins and Claire’s dilemma about a lucky find on the beach is a lesson about doing the right thing. Figuring out who stole the grizzly bear mask by picking up on the trail of clues would be a satisfying reader experience. The final action scenes involve a series of exciting twists and jolts, with a role for everyone and a positive resolution.

I enjoyed the wealth of detail provided by the author, giving readers a complete experience of summer activities enjoyed to the full by a group of kids who are able to figure things out and make decisions. The detailed and attractive illustrations are a good addition to the story.

A review copy of the book was provided by the author.

New Review of The Friendship of Mortals

I would like to share a lovely new review of The Friendship of Mortals, by Denzil the Book Owl, on his recently launched review site. Read it here, and the interview in which I answer several questions about the book and its writing.

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While you’re there, have a look at some of Denzil’s other reviews. They are what book reviews should be, thoughtful and thorough.