Original Poetry: Lincoln Park Zoo in Late August

During the uncertainty—
      the lull compressed
between chemo bouts
      and stem-cell harvesting,
my brother had
      a good day.

His eyes were tracking
      marmoset acrobatics
and green swamp monkeys
      flinging themselves
from leafless branch
      to man-made vine.

Pressed nose to glass,
      his emaciated face
seemed to curl
      an unthinkably big smile;
his eyes –
      wonderment-wide.

My brother was once
      himself a monkey
climbing, leaping
      each ledge and tree.
But not now;
      and never was I.

Earlier, when basking,
      resting the walking stick
and his neuropathic hobble,
      our small talk
was ruptured
      by seagull screeching

emanating from a fist-faced
      young girl, her eyes
and fists squeezed white
      in deliberate mimicry.
Gulls responded and resumed
      scavenging the patio’s periphery.

If asked about those tall
      days of August waiting,
my story
      will be the seagull-girl
with steady eyes, arms
      outstretched collecting the wind.
 
 
[This poem was published by The Eunoia Review in April 2015.]
 
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “The Beast of Glamis” by William Meikle

2 of 5 stars.

A bleak Scottish countryside castle is a near perfect setting for a Victorian ghost story. Why what is clearly a ghost appearing as either a human shade or small mist-like emanation is called a beast is less clear, even in the retelling.

The tale itself introduces a different sort of spirit delving into Elizabethan alchemy implying a spirit adrift from time as much as anything else.

Unfortunately, the story is filtered through a series of characters. The narrator was never at the castle. He attended a dinner party for one who was. The host of the dinner party relates what the laird of the castle had related to have been his experience . . . The distance from the immediacy of the tale lessens it.

A nice touch is the use of Scottish dialect, Elizabethan expressions [in written form], and an accurate depiction of Victorian stodgy mannerisms.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Defining Shadows” by Carrie Vaughn

3 of 5 stars.

Peripheral to, but emerging from the world of Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series about a detective werewolf in the Denver area, this short story mentions but never sees Kitty. The tale follows police detective Jessi Hardin of the Denver PD. She’s not supernatural, but those are the crimes she investigates–not unlike Karrin Murphy of Jim Butcher’s Dresden series about an investigative wizard in Chicago.

This short tale takes a look at a neighborhood with a mix of cultures including immigrant Filipinos and the Caucasians that don’t understand them [and cannot tell them apart from Mexicans]. The case revolves around the bottom half of a body found standing up in a backyard shed. The top half is missing. The rotting flesh has been sprinkled with salt . . .

What’s most interesting here, is that like an episode of Supernatural, the investigation delves into folk beliefs from other cultures.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read Vaughn’s Amaryllis and “Fishwife”, both of which were excellent.

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Graphic Novel Review: Dry Spell by Ken Krekeler

Dry SpellDry Spell by Ken Krekeler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Addiction, Recovery and Relapse resonate throughout this graphic novel depicting a world of superheroes and supervillains. One man walked away from it all: the fame, the rush. Tom’s become a pencil pusher taking it one day at a time. Not even his girlfriend knows of his storied past. The public never knew what it took for him to perform–LCD. Anything to remove the self-doubts.

Then his HR rep, Walter, recognizes him for who he was. mire of Walter, too, dabbles in the world of Super hidden beneath a mundane facade. He takes Tom to a group of underperforming Supers. Tom’s not interested in unleashing his great potential again. He was too strong, too able. But Walter laces Tom’s drink to unlock the dormant Super . . .

The art is compelling, adeptly circumventing the mire of exposition and lengthier dialogues. Key images explode off the page with restrained use of color until necessary and with beautiful choreography of silhouette and drama.

However, it is the story that makes this highly recommended. Tom’s brooding and interactions with family members, friends, lovers, and potential colleagues feel real. Surrounded by well-meaning people, he’s alone.

I received this title directly from the artist when we met at Chicago’s C2E2 convention of comic and graphic novel artists.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: The Uprising by Kachi Ugo

The UprisingThe Uprising by Kachi Ugo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There’s an ethical conundrum that asks: If you could travel through time and go back to when Hitler was an innocent baby, would you/could you kill him? This novella seems to revolve around this very question. And then lets the question linger.

Two elemental magic users representing the most powerful coalition of elementals travel back in time about 60 years to collect a baby that will grow up to be an awful, awful person. A Voldemort, perhaps. Never is a single atrocity, or crime cited and linked to the baby keeping that important aspect of the story cloaked, or just underdeveloped.

Interestingly, some characters appear in both time lines. Better yet, their positions in the government and in their relationship to the baby or to the kidnapping can oppose their other self. This is a clever contradiction worth exploring but left curiously quiet.

Rather, the book focuses on the mother [Sarah] of the kidnapped child. She’s a flawed elemental with anger issues stemming from being the mother scorned. Her husband is high up in the organization that likely took her child which puts her at odds within her own household. I call her flawed due to her lack of a moral compass. By the start of the book, she has started an uprising gathering over one thousand followers in opposition to the elemental government. She knowingly sets them all up for slaughter for a single siege to perhaps gather a single clue or tool in the drive to reclaim her stolen baby. What type of person would kill 1000 supporters just to open a door that they know their baby is not behind? She’s been wronged, but she’s also an awful person. And the story does not do enough to support this position.

The tale is also full of contradictions other than the purposeful time-bending ones. In the beginning of the tale, Sarah’s husband calls her to talk her out of the action she’s about to do. He knows what she’s doing and cites details. The government knows too, he says, and is expecting her. Much later in the book, he claims to her that he did not know that it was her that did what she did. [Except that he was also on the phone with her while she was doing it and well aware at that point.]

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously read and reviewed this author’s The Great Hunt.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: The Alpha Plague 5 by Michael Robertson

The Alpha Plague 5 (The Alpha Plague #5)The Alpha Plague 5 by Michael Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Alpha Plague is a British rage-style zombie pandemic. The zombies aren’t dead, merely afflicted, and they aren’t dying off due to their hunting prowess and willingness to eat any animal they can get their hands on. Not that zombie tales are about the zombies–they aren’t. They’re almost always about the societies and relationships between people amidst a horrific backdrop that could turn anybody you love into the “other.”

This episode of the series can be read alone or after just the 4th in the series. The initial trilogy was largely self-contained as it documented the initial 48 hours of the pandemic showing the luck, wherewithal, and canniness necessary in such desperate a situation. The immediate predecessor of this installment jumped a full ten years allowing 6-year old Flynn to become a hormonal–but not annoyingly so–teenager. His perspective is unique in that he doesn’t remember nor understand how society used to work. He essentially knows nobody but his parents and Vicky, the lone survivors of the first trilogy. The ten years pass with them not finding anybody as they hid away in a remote location.

A radio broadcast from other survivors launched an epic journey in book 4 to find Home. Along the way, other groups were discovered. And not unlike in The Walking Dead, most of those groups are disturbed in one manner or another. Slavery. Cannibalism.

This book depicts the cushy life inside of Home. The group lives underground with electricity thanks to a solar panel field they maintain. They have alarms and cameras. Clean water, showers and gyms. They even have an underground farm for raising plant crops. Under Hugh’s leadership and sometimes heavy hand, Home supports about 100 people in a little Utopia. And yet Vicky and Flynn cannot relax.

There’s a strictness to Home, in the name of security. Signs of “plague” or mental illness are dealt with in the harshest possible ways . . . Also, the internal farm is starting to fail with its depleted soil.

The entire series is recommended.

I’ve previously read this author’s:
     The Alpha Plague–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 2–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 3–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 4–4 stars
     “The Arena” (The Shadow Order)–5 stars
     The Black Hole (The Shadow Order, #1)–2 stars
     Crash (Crash, #1)–4 stars
     New Reality: Truth (New Reality, #1)–3 stars
     New Reality 2: Justice (New Reality, #2)–4 stars
     New Reality 3: Fear (New Reality, #3)–3 stars

Original Poetry: Café

I tap a new pack and unsheathe a Camel Light.
I fumble with the matches, disposing duds on ice
cubes in my cup. Embarrassed, I avoid your look
until I find a dry match and breathe bitter smoke.
Exhaling, I glance up expecting our eyes to meet.
Your gray eyes rest elsewhere reflecting a misty pool
of thoughts.
                    Our Bailey’s Café just was—no bar, no pool
tables—so we entered escaping rain and street light.
A few loners were scattered. A waitress came to meet
us. “Wheat toast and coffee for both. A glass of ice
water, too, please.” She left and passed through blue-gray smoke
to the kitchen. No one had even moved to sneak a look
in our direction.
                              Now you finally turn and look
at me only to shift and play in the water pool
on the table where the cup had been. “You want a smoke?”
“If it’s no trouble.” I find a dry match to light
my offer.
                    “Here’s your wheat toast, coffee and glass of ice
water. And yes, you may smoke here,” as if to meet
a question posed. She then asked, “Will you be meet-
ing anyone?” “No, it’s just us. Thank you.”
                                                                                “You look
awful.” You attempt a smile and grab a piece of ice
to play with. “If you want to go, we can pool
our money for a cab.” You glance around lightly
and grab my hand, “Let me finish my smoke.
It’s late though,” you shrug, “My father will meet
me at the door any-which-way.” You start to light
another Camel Light and give a desperate look
in my direction. Your saddened eyes pool
with tears.
                    “More coffee or water or even ice?
I’m off duty. The coffee’s there. The sink and ice
are back there. Help yourself. May I—bum a smoke?”

“I hate him.”
                    “Who?” I butt my cigarette in the pool
of water. You glance down, “My father. He’ll meet
me everywhere. He—it’s just that—“ You stop, but your look
tells so much more. “Just forget it.” You feign a light
laugh and blow gray smoke, but you see my look.
You toss the piece of ice and stand. Our hands meet.
“I’ll get you out.” Our pooled shadows block the harsh light.
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]