Field Guide to the end of the World

 Field Guide to the End of the World: PoemsField Guide to the End of the World: Poems by Jeannine Hall Gailey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the world of Jeannine Hall Gailey's field guide, the end came with neither a bang nor a whimper. Instead, it seems to have come as the sun flickered and flamed - a wayward sun, with "chilled sunshine leaving its dying rays on your face as we waved good-bye, good luck, barefoot on the wrecked beach." Our guide tells us to "keep a steady eye on the whirling dervish of the sun" as she alternates between chronicles of the last survivors in a ruined world, and her lifelong struggle with her own genome, gone horribly wrong, turning her into a mutation ("We don't spout doll's heads from our wrists," she says), with her life collapsing like colonies of bees.

Don't consider me
another mutant gone wrong, my betrayals in the distant backstory, my tears
now flow a green ooze as I try to heal the land, cesium in the sunflowers
goat genes welded into innocent corn.

Near Fukushima, "former beauticians with Geiger counters test the dangers of homegrown carrots." That disaster, at least, could be studied and quantified, but could someone - or something - have seen the apocalyptic tipping point and changed history? "I never saw the Ferris wheel start its fatal roll," she mourns, and she "left out the open petri dishes of polio and plague next to the pasta." Was the tipping point so small, so homely?

Interspersed amongst poems of frantic, last-minute grabs at normalcy ("is now the time for cake?") are postcards from the road. At "Appalachian Chalet," she is "next to a granite-strewn stream that gurgles amid sunbeams as if the whole world never went wrong." Martha Stewart collects drones, burbles about the romance of hurricane lamps, and says that "razor wire goes beautifully with your holly thicket." From an Anthropologie catalog, she finds "strappy leather sandals perfect for sand-charred paths... a woven bamboo suitcase as the future dissipates." From HGTV, she sees "a lone shoe on a staircase, the last vestige of someone's question: Take or leave? What, in the end, is essential baggage?"

Our guide is observant, bitterly funny, and dying. She muses about Dorothy in Oz (will she become "an eco-warrior in ruby heels" or create "a new phone app: Angry Flying Monkeys"?) and skewers the soothsayers and dream interpreters who would, inevitably, crop up and see Signs. "Beware foxes flying out your window; fractals indicate creativity...If the angel is spinning, it's time to pay attention." In this world, the "rough beast" (prophesied by Yeats in "Byzantium" as the center does not hold) does not slouch. This time, it is "the limping birth of the rough end of a dark age," one she has lived longer than most.

Once, she "looked away just as the plane plummeted." One thinks of Breughel's Icarus, in Auden's poem, as the ploughman never looks up to see "something amazing, a boy falling from the sky." "About suffering, they were never wrong, the Old Masters," observes Auden. Neither is our guide, who, seeing a baptism, says "you'll never be quite free no matter how you pray. You'll never claw the scales from your eyes."

Or will we? Perhaps there will be survivors, people to "pass the crayons back and forth, telling each other once more the story of creation, stories of genomes, while the kind rabbits scramble over hills out of the sun."

These are wonderful, chewy, imaginative poems that will haunt you and make you observe. Thank you, Serena Agusto-Cox of Poetic Book Tours, for including me in this round. Follow the link for more reviews.

View all my reviews


The Widow's House

The Widow's HouseThe Widow's House by Carol Goodman

Very atmospheric, with undertones that range from Rebecca and Rosemary's Baby to The Haunting of Hill House and Harvest Home. Not that this novel is derivative at all -- it's a truly engrossing and labyrinthine story of writers reconnecting with a former mentor in an octagonal house in upstate New York. They interact in the heart of apple country, with local folklore that may or may not be true, but certainly influences everyone's reality. As wonderful as Carol Goodman's previous Gothic-tinged novels.

Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC.

View all my reviews



SummerlongSummerlong by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A reader can always count on Peter S. Beagle to create a clear and gentle setting, one that the reader wishes she could escape to. In this case, it's an island off the coast of Seattle, with clear waters for kayaking, a long-established diner, and a long-established, older couple, settled into comfortable patterns. Abe writes scholarly books and works on perfecting his harmonica skills. Del is a flight attendant whose senses and sensibilities seem to provide clarity. Into this setting drops an enigma - an ethereally lovely young woman named Lioness - and the patterns slowly unravel as everyone falls in love with her. Even Nature seems to fall in love with her, as flowers grow wild and breezes stay balmy.

But what is she? Where did she come from? How does she do - what she does - who is she running from?

Beagle's descriptions are golden, as always, and a certain wistfulness pervades, as always. The reader might not be happy with the outcome of this novel, but myths don't always end well, do they?

Highly recommended.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review.

View all my reviews


The secret language of stones

The Secret Language of Stones: A Novel (The Daughters of La Lune, #2)The Secret Language of Stones: A Novel by M.J. Rose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another lush, exciting, total-immersion novel from the pen of M.J. Rose, second in a series (but completely self-contained). In this novel, Opaline (daugher of Sandrine, the witch from The Witch of Painted Sorrows) is a Parisian jeweller during WWI. Her mentor is a grieving Russian royalist who hopes that the Romanovs will return to power, and whose friends and family do what they can in exile to thwart the Bolshevik spies. Opaline makes artistic pieces and creates wristwatches for soldiers, but her specialty is making amulets of crystals and hair from dead soldiers that allow her to hear the voices of the dead, and to pass on their last thoughts or wishes to grieving mothers.

There are so many descriptions of the jewels, the enamelwork (especially Faberge eggs), and fabrics, so many scents, so many scenes of Parisians trying to live their lives despite the bombings and the spies (German and Russian) who use ancient tunnels - so many! It's impossible not to be caught up in the narrative and to hope that peace and beauty will prevail, despite devastation, loss, and dishonor running rampant. Do take a look at the author's Pinterest page to get a sense of the times and places.

I am looking forward to the next book in this series.

Thank you, NetGalley, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for a review.

View all my reviews


The Couple Who Fell To Earth

The Couple Who Fell to EarthThe Couple Who Fell to Earth by Michelle Bitting
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once, when I was a teenager, I was called out by an English teacher for having the arrogance to bring Finnegan's Wake into into the classroom. "You can't understand that book until you've LIVED!" she said. Well, truth is, to this day, I haven't read it all, but now, as then, I dip in for the joy of finding a phrase that sings or vibrates or tingles.

I found myself dipping into this book the same way. Although I read these poems through, more than once, and I could write much about their narratives, I find myself enjoying the singing, tingling phrases so much that they almost distract me. The poems that touch on the experience of writing, especially, zing out of the page. On viewing an ancient statue of a lion attacking a horse, Bitting writes "There's a poem in here somewhere / And I'll kill what I have to to get it." Musing on a favored pen, she says "This pitch plastic wand / scratches the page / tapered streamlined / to say / what I want to tell it ... You're doing it again / pretending a pen / could crack those squawking sounds / like magic candy strings / wings and claws / scratching wet ink..." She writes in a cafe ("to confront my double Americano and the empty plate of a black notebook... we are still recipes short of sating hoards of unfed souls"), and at home, in the early morning ("the rest still hard at dreaming / in rooms light years away").

We also see the poet as she remembers tearing open presents on Christmas morning( "the havoc of never enough"), investigating a mining shaft ("click/ of my empty lunch pail / its skull licked clean", and investigating a park with her son.

And then, there are those images that leap out of the poems, images that do not need context to grab your attention, like this --
"...bright coin / tumbled back on blue pools that rippled open / like chakras on an amusement park ride..."
or this
"The way Aunt Mary's sweaters smelled of death and peppermint..."
or this
"...Even the terrorist's shoes fit feet just like your own..."

However you read this book, whether for story or sparks of imagery, it will stay with you and move you. Highly recommended.

Thank you, Serena Agusto-Cox, for including me in the Poetic Book Tour for this book. I received an ARC in exchange for a review.

View all my reviews


The summer before the war

The Summer Before the WarThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How controversial is a Latin teacher named Beatrice? In 1914, in the small English town of Rye, a woman teaching Latin is shocking. Shocking! Beatrice Nash, who was her scholarly father's assistant, travel agent, and budget manager until his death, has two choices: remain at her stingy and disapproving aunt's house, or work. She chooses work.

Rye, although its more titled and tony citizens are conservative and easily shocked, has undercurrents of sophistication and modernity that Beatrice taps into immediately. She meets a serious surgical student, Hugh, and his flamboyant, poetic cousin, Daniel, both watched over and protected by their aunt Agatha. Her students include Snout, a Romany boy whose innate talent for Latin is suspect in his own community and the outside. Circumstances also bring her into the circle of notable residents, including a freethinking woman photographer, a novelist whose entry into social circles is blocked because of a divorce in her past, and a portly, portentous novelist who clearly is styled on Henry James.

The peaceful summer is the prequel to England's entry into the War. Many local men are called to fight in the bloody trenches, hospitals, or officer corps. How the townspeople adjust depends not only on their wealth, title, and status, but also the emotional toll of expectations and loss.

What will the dreamy Daniel do when his partner-in-poetry, Craigmore, is forced to enlist when his father hears Daniel's scandalous poem about his son? What of Snout, who realizes that his Romany heritage will mean that he will never have the opportunity to use his scholarship? And how will the haughty townspeople react to the hoardes of Belgian refugees they are forced to take in?

The gentry set up super-patriotic organizations, including a chapter of the St. George Recruitment Brigade, in which fetchingly-dressed young women pressure young men to enlist, handing those who resist a white feather, symbol of cowardice. They also plan a parade and exhibition, including Daniel's model trench, tastefully decorated and supplied with shelves for books of poetry. Marrows are judged, young people pick hops and dance, students translate the Aenid before they march off to war. So it goes.

The texture of life in Rye changes with some room for growth and tolerance, and with tragedies mixed in with the small but vital victories, both personal and political. As in Simonson's first book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, the reader gets to know this texture, and comes to care about - and root for - the townspeople and the town.

Highly recommended. One star subtracted because the ending seemed disappointingly hasty.

I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

View all my reviews


Journey to Munich

Journey to Munich (Maisie Dobbs, #12)Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maisie Dobbs is one of the most complex characters I've followed in any fictional series, regardless of genre. In this book, the reader follows her as she accepts a request to go to Munich to rescue a British industrialist who has been imprisoned in Dachau for two years. She is still trying to process the tragedies that befell her in the last book, she has no permanent home in London, she has no profession, and she has suffered so many losses that even the lessons she learned from her beloved mentor, Maurice, do not seem to center her. Never the less, she accepts the challenge.

Once in Munich, she learns that Hitler is about to launch his incursion into Austria, Jewish and Christian children have to hide if they wish to play together, and citizens can be tortured if they fail to reply to soldiers' salutes to the Fuhrer. She also begins to apply the meditation and visualization techniques that strengthen her resolve and her soul. She will need all the strength she can muster to find the industrialist, fulfill a promise to a grieving mother, and pull her life back together once this trial is over.

I admire Maisie Dobbs for her courage, honesty, and willingness to be open to reality, regardless of where it leads her. I admire Jacqueline Winspear more, of course, for having the breadth of imagination and skill to bring this character to life.

I received an ARC of this book from Eidelweiss. This is an honest review.

View all my reviews


Devonshire Scream

Devonshire Scream (A Tea Shop Mystery #17)Devonshire Scream by Laura Childs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another delicious, fragrant tea shop mystery? Yes, of course! This time, Theo is catering a glittering jewelry show in her friend's store when a gang of ruthless thieves break through the windows and glass cases. Not only do the jewels get nabbed, but her friend's young niece is killed by a deadly shard. Over the next few days, Theo's sleuthing reveals many suspects, from wealthy yacht-owners to literary outliers. Will she be able to help nab the guilty without endangering herself or her friends?

She also gets to serve up some truly splendid-sounding theme teas. Don't try to read this book unless you have a steady supply of hot, aromatic tea and nibbles handy.

I took off one star because of a bit of haphazard characterization that really doesn't impact the story, but proved a little distracting.

Thank you, NetGalley, for the ARC. This is a fair review.

View all my reviews



Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the WorldKnitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clara Parkes, whose first subject as a professional writer was travel, takes us on a tour of knitting and fiber festivals. Some of her adventures as a yarn evangelist are set in venues that thousands of knitters have shared -- Rhinebeck, Taos, Scotland, Portland, Maryland. Some tell background stories of festivals and events we dream of attending - Squam, TNNA, Vogue Knitting Live, Madrona. We are there at Sock Summit for the first knitting flash mob, we are in Denver to film "Knitting Daily" (as she is encased in makeup that makes her feel "like Ronald MacDonald in drag," and we go along on a tour of sheep-intensive Iceland. Always, there is pho, her comfort food, and yarn, in all of its incarnations and manifestations.

My favorite moments are in Paris, where she breaks a promise (no yarn! just family!) and visits a petting zoo of a shop" that offers yarn and tea. Years before, she tells us, she fell in love with fountain pens in Paris. How can anyone not be delighted with this book?

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy in exchange for a fair review.

View all my reviews


Be sure and visit me at my main blog, Tea Leaves, where I write about life, liberty, and knitting - and the occasional book...


No Cats Allowed

No Cats Allowed (Cat in the Stacks, #7)No Cats Allowed by Miranda James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Librarian Charlie Harris and his insanely huge large Maine Coon cat, Diesel (so named for the quality of his purring) are trying to be civil to the interim library director, but he's such a conniving, foul creature that even the ever-affectionate feline can't abide him. The feeling is mutual, as Charlie learns when the mean man bans his cat from the library, fires people without warning or reason, and acts as if he is out to change the workplace into a gulag.

If only those were the only problems facing the pair! The cat-hating ogre creep is killed in a uniquely library manner, to no one's real surprise or dismay, but the clues are pointing to Charlie's friend Melba instead of - well, instead of to whom?

I've loved each of the "Cat in the Stacks" mysteries for their humor, cheerful depiction of small-town habitues, and - of course - the wonderful, vocal Diesel. Librarians will love the spot-on depictions of behind-the-stacks goings-on. Recommended to anyone who loves well-written mystery series.

I was given an ARC of this book for review by NetGalley.

View all my reviews