Book reviews: New mysteries, magazine writing, and non-fiction

The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus by Alanna McFall. 5/5
A quirky and lovely book about friendship, grief, anger, and love. When Chelsea, a ghost, decides to travel from New York to San Francisco for her brother’s wedding–which was delayed because of her death two years earlier–she’s unexpectedly accompanied by Carmen, also a ghost, and Cyndricka, a mortal woman who is one of the few in the world able to see and hear ghosts, and who is a mime. Together they encounter other ghosts, some in need of help and others who are a threat; a kitten; helpful and malicious people; and, finally, some truths about themselves, their pasts, and their futures. The characters are diverse in race, sexuality, disability, and more; there’s a lovely emphasis on the value of learning languages and on questioning cultural norms. This would be a great book club read, or a parent-and-kids read.

Mortal Music by Ann Parker. 2/5
A historical mystery set in San Francisco among the upper class, involving musicians and PIs. While the setting was interesting and the musical details handled well, the plot wasn’t terribly captivating and none of the characters were appealing enough for me to end up caring much what happened.

Fear on the Phantom Special by Edward Marston. 2/5
A rather slow-moving mystery that focuses on the disappearances of two men in the same location, ten years apart. A railway detective and his railway-hating assistant spend many hours interviewing and investigating a small town and its populace; the author provides several suspects but in the end reveals he culprit to be one mostly ignored the rest of the time. A side plot of equal tedium adds nothing to the novel overall.

The Best American Magazine Writing 2019 by Edited by Sid Holt for the American Society of Magazine Editors. 4/5
Solid investigative articles on everything from health issues to drug dealing to immigration, culled from major magazines in 2019. I could have done without the editor’s overly self-praising introduction, but the rest offers interesting and good reads from excellent journalists.

Music by Ted Gioia. 2/5
Gioia notes early in this book that he’s been writing it for 25 years. That shows: his conception of how music history is taught and written about and discussed is about 25 years out-of-date, and his work in this book suffers badly from it. The book would have been a powerful call to action and change two decades ago, but today, with hundreds of fantastic, progressive, new, and radically different approaches to music historiography in practice, both for “art” and “pop” musics, Gioia’s work is out of touch, and the book’s claims come far too late for it to be relevant or useful.

The Death of Baseball by Orlando Ortega-Medina. 4/5
A compelling novel about the early and late lives of two queer men, about abuse and abusing, about trauma and toxic masculinity. Intense and real and wrenching, this is a meditation on parent-child relationships, families, and desire in many forms. CW for violence.

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis. 5/5
I really enjoyed this adventure story about a group of young women who have escaped servitude at a brothel and are on the run to freedom in a fantasy world not unlike the American West in the 1800s. The presence of ghosts, magic, underground railroads, and class and gender conflict are all well-realized and help develop a fascinating world. I was also really pleased that there were protagonists who were people of color and that there were queer protagonists, and yet weren’t treated as “magic Negros” or other stereotyped tropes. I’m looking forward to a sequel focusing on the one character who stays behind when the others escape so that she can help others.

Thin Ice by Paige Shelton. 4/5
A very solid thriller about a writer who, having been abducted by an unknown person and escaped, flees to Alaska to recover. There she assists the local police in solving a mystery and begins to remember more of what happened to her when she was abducted. The author points strongly to the perp, but ends the novel without confirming it, as the protagonist is launched into another police investigation that undoubtedly leads to the next novel in this series. The characters are interesting and well-written, and the descriptions of Alaska add nice details.

Cartier’s Hope by M. J. Rose. 2/5
A little revenge story, part of a series offering free publicity for various high-end jewelers. Protagonist Vera is a society lady with some sad love affairs in her past. She works in disguise as Vee, a working-class reporter who chronicles New York’s tenements, unsafe factories, and other social issues. When Vera discovers that her father and her mother’s brother were lovers being blackmailed by a publisher, she comes up with a plan to expose the publisher for his nefarious deeds without exposing her family to scandal. Along the way she has a romance with a jeweler who works at Cartier’s, learns about paste gems, and gets beaten to revenge by her mother. The romance elements are either cringe-worth (the narrator recounts having her cellist lover play her like his cello) or without chemistry (her relationship with the jeweler seems added just so there can be an element of sex). The family relationships are messy and come and go in importance to the rest of the plot elements. The plot overall is convoluted and silly. For such smart and potentially interesting characters, I expected more intelligent thinking.

Bubblegum by Adam Levin. 1/5
I am sure that there are people who will love this novel set in an alternate America, but I found it tedious. The narrator, a schizophrenic, details his life in a very meta memoir filled with fantasy, memories, rants, and pithy commentary, but it’s a slog to read and not terribly original.

Good Citizens Need Not Fear by Maria Reva. 4/5
A terrific set of short stories about characters connected through their place of residence before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this book offers outsiders great details about the absurdities and tragedies of life during this period, sprinkled liberally with sardonic humor in the Russian vein. For readers who have enjoyed writing by the satirical Russian masters and post-USSR fiction and memoir, this will be welcomed.

The Dozier School for Boys by Elizabeth A. Murray, PhD. 1/5
This book suffers from not knowing what its target audience is. It gives in-text definitions for very basic terms, yet seems geared for an adult audience. It’s also poorly organized and lacks cohesion, detail, and context. It reads like a bad synopsis of police and scientific reports.

Silo Boys by Amy-Brooke Odell. 1/5
A mediocre small-town mystery, where the high school football players are heroes to everyone and the young women who date them are defined by their relationships with the team stars. The characters were unconvincing, as was the first-person voice that was more appropriate for a third-person omniscient narrator.

Making Mythology

I am delighted to announce that my first collection of poetry, titled *Making Mythology,* will be published later this year by Louisiana Literature Press. More details to come.

Table of Contents:

Professor Medusa
Making Mythology
My Golem
March to June
From Wild Sleeping Waters:
I Frost Ascending
II My Antlers
III Talisman
IV Falls and Finds
V Selenic Lore
IV Stock
VII Kupala Night
VIII Change of Season
Coyote Sits
The Swimmer
All of the Leaves:
I My Mother is a Poem by Yeats
II Concerning Hobbits
III Presentiment
Invasive Species
A Haiku Year
Texas Suite:
I Blackjack Agitato
II Pumpjack Andante
III Highway Drone
At the Cinema, 1927
East Wind to Paradise
Unseen Stars
Scars from the Reading


Houston Poetry Fest

I’ll be reading two of my poems at the 2019 Houston Poetry Fest on Friday, 11 October. The reading will be held at 7:30 pm as part of the Opening Session at the University of Houston-Downtown in the third floor Welcome Center in the Girard St. Building, located at 201 Girard St., Houston.

I’ll be reading “The Texas Water Code” and “Unseen Stars.” My poem “Hurricane Season” will appear in the 2019 Houston Poetry Fest anthology, which will be available from Brazos Bookstore and online after the event.

Fantastic fantasy: book reviews

The Mythic Dream by John Chu; Leah Cypess; Indrapramit Das; Amal El-Mohtar; Jeffrey Ford; Sarah Gailey; Carlos Hernandez; Kat Howard; Stephen Graham Jones; T. Kingfisher; Ann Leckie; Carmen Maria Machado; Arkady Martine; Seanan McGuire; Naomi Novik; Rebecca Roanhorse; Alyssa Wong; J.Y. Yang. 5/5
This is a superb collection of short stories that retell myths and legends from various cultures, including ancient Greece and Rome, India, Jewish tradition, and many more. I absolutely loved it–there are no weak stories here. Every one is interesting and well-written, and they all offer fantastic new takes on previously existing work. I recommend it highly for all readers of SFF and those who enjoy reworkings of traditional tales.

Fall Rotten by Eric Serrell. 1/5
This is meant to be a witty adventure about stealing from the Nazis, but unfortunately it’s slow and talky and the talk isn’t really that clever or witty or even interesting, and the plot drags like a child who hates school on a snowy morning, I’m sure others will enjoy it, but I didn’t, and wished it was both better-written and heavily edited.

People of the Lake by Nick Scorza. 5/5
This is a great supernatural mystery for YA and adult readers, full of interesting twists and turns. Clara’s spending the summer with her dad in the small town he grew up in, but the locals are unfriendly and there’s a certain amount of local lore about ghosts and monsters. When Clara encounters the things that haunt the place and a local teen dies at a party, she, another outsider, and the dead boy’s ex-girlfriend team up to figure out what’s going unsaid about the town, its colonizing families, and the powers that lurk in the lake. The issues of colonization, racism, and forced/normate heterosexuality are handled very well, and the big finish is exciting and well-written. I do think the book would benefit by having a catchier title; “People of the Lake” is a bit meh.

The Rift by Rachael Craw. 5/5
This is a beautifully-crafted, -imagined, and -written novel. On an island that is home to a dimensional rift, the deer have magic in their antlers, the land is full of surprises, and the threat of giant Rift Hounds looms. Culled yearly, the deer are cared for by rangers who are often gifted with special sight, healing, and hearing powers. When Meg, a young woman, returns home to the island after many years away, she arrives at the same time as those who hunt the deer for a pharmaceutical company. This year’s cull, though, goes awry in multiple ways, leaving Meg and a group of apprentice rangers to help repair the island and save the herd. I absolutely loved the world-building here, the facts of magic without the trappings of sentimentality, and the story’s quick pace. Anyone who has liked Garth Nix, Margaret Killjoy, and similar authors will also enjoy this fantastic book.

Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die by Nikki Tate. 1/5
This was a disappointment, although to be fair, the author does warn readers that while writing the book, their own thoughts we all over the place. Unfortunately, those thoughts have yet to be edited into something coherent and readable. There are asides and asides to asides. There are examples without context. There is very little factual information about how the body dies. There is even less about legal matters. This should come off any shelves it is already on for a big round of editing, preferable starting with an outline and clear purpose.

Echoes by Ellen Datlow; Dale Bailey; Nathan Ballingrud; Aliette de Bodard; Richard Bowes; Pat Cadigan; Siobhan Carroll; F. Marion Crawford; Indrapramit Das; Terry Dowling; Brian Evenson; Gemma Files; Ford Madox Ford; Jeffrey Ford; Alice Hoffman; Carole Johnstone; Stephen Graham Jones; Richard Kadrey; John Langan; Alison Littlewood; Bracken Macleod; Nick Mamatas; Vincent J. Masterson; Seanan McGuire; Garth Nix; Joyce Carol Oates; M. Rickert; M. L. Siemienowicz; Lee Thomas; Paul Tremblay; A. C. Wise. 3/5
A solid collection of ghost stories, old and new. As with all collections, some of the stories are more effective and better than others, but overall the mix is decent. This could serve as a good introduction to writers like Seanan McGuire, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Hoffman, and Garth Nix for those not yet familiar with their work.

The Words I Never Wrote by Jane Thynne. 3/5
Two English sisters find themselves working against the Axis during WWII, but one is married to a Nazi while the other is a government spy, and neither knows what the other is doing. Not a bad story in itself; the framing device, though, set in the present, is tedious and boring to the point where it threatens to sink the entire novel. Skip the modern parts and read just the historical part.

Forgotten Bones by Vivian Barz. 2/5
This is a mash-up of a horror novel, a ghost story, and a police procedural, and the result is a hot mess. Little of the procedural part is rooted in reality; the plotting is lazy; and the characters are problematic at best–the author creates a mentally ill protagonist without, apparently, having any understanding of why #ownvoices matters and without consulting actual schizophrenics about their experiences. This might have been an ok book if it had gone through a diversity read and a heavy round of developmental editing, but as it is, I can’t recommend it.

The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre, translated by Stephanie Smee. 2/5
I know this has gotten rave reviews, but this short novel about a French translator who uses conversations she translates for the police to become a drug lord didn’t do much for me. The protagonist’s abrasiveness isn’t balanced by charm or wit, nor is the business she gets into particularly interesting or compelling. Mostly I felt sorry for her dog.

Foul Is Fair by Hannah Capin. 3/5
This novel adapts Macbeth as a revenge tragedy set at a California prep school. The putative Lady M and her coven members–three other young women–attend a party held by members of the school’s lacrosse team, where the narrator is drugged and raped. Vowing revenge, she changes her appearance and enrolls at their school in order to cause them to kill one another. She succeeds. The novels is extravagant and over-the-top, and has some commonalities with Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy, in which she retells the story of Othello in a similarly short timeline and among schoolmates. Foul is Fair works as long as you read it as fantasy and don’t expect realism of any kind, which is a bit difficult at times because of the way the author tries hard to situate it in the real world. If you’re a fencer, expect to roll your eyes a lot: the fantasy even runs to that. Overall it’s a dark romp through Macbeth with a backstory and alternate POV, and might appeal to readers who already know the play well.

Give the Devil His Due by Sulari Gentill. 3/5
This mystery, set in Australia in the 1930s, follows a wealthy painter and his friends as they try to solve the mystery of an acquaintance’s death while managing relationships, creative work, and a charity car race. It’s an interesting enough snapshot of the time period and a decent mystery, but it doesn’t really make me want to read the other books in the series.

The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams. 3/5
With the shadows and ghosts of the Alcotts and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in particular populating its pages, this novel captures a brief span in a young woman’s life during which her father, having been part of a failed self-sufficient utopia, decides to open a school. Recruiting a handful of girls for an experimental education, Caroline, her father Samuel, and teacher David embark on an adventure that turns sour as David’s pious wife arrives, spoiling Caroline’s hopes for a romance with David; and as one of the students, the daughter of Caroline’s long-deceased mother’s lover–begins to dictate the social order of the pupils. Finally, having fallen in to a mass hysteria, the girls are treated by one of Samuel’s former utopian colleagues, a doctor who decides that the students all just need to release their tension through “paroxysms”–or orgasms, manually stimulated by the doctor. In the end, Caroline decides that this is wrong, and leaves her father for city life.

The book is well-written and often beautiful and evocative, but the plot was too predictable for me, and the remove with which the author’s manner prose separates the reader and characters is too distant, and the characters too thin, for me to have gotten very invested in the outcome.

The Old Success by Martha Grimes. 2/5
While I thought the basics of this mystery, which involves a recent murder and a suspicious death in the past, were ok, I felt like I was dropping into a conversation in progress between several very close and insulated friends. Not having read Grimes’s other books in this series, I’m certain that I missed out by not knowing some of the references in the book or the series’s underlying arc. This installment, though, was not quite enjoyable or interesting enough to convince me to go to the beginning of the series and read the rest of the books. The characters aren’t particularly interesting to me, their processes rely heavily on connections and power rather than personal investigation, and the predominance of male characters in power over female characters in less powerful roles or as victims didn’t help.

The New Voices of Science Fiction by Nino Cipri; Darcie Little Badger; S. Qiouyi Lu; Sam J. Miller; Samantha Mills; Suzanne Palmer; Sarah Pinsker; Vina Jie-Min Prasad; David Erik Nelson; Kelly Robson; Amman Sabet; Jason Sanford; E. Lily Yu; Jamie Wahls; Alexander Weinstein. 5/5
This is a great collection of SFF by relatively new writers. While many of them have become well-established by now, getting major awards and big publishing deals, this is still a good introduction to the work of Rebecca Roanhorse, Amal El-Mohtar, Alice Sola Kim, Sam J. Miller, E. Lily Yu, Rich Larson, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Sarah Pinsker, Darcie Little Badger, S. Qiouyi Lu, Kelly Robson, and others. I love the diverse viewpoints and characters created by this group of writers and recommend this highly for anyone interested in the current state and trends of SFF and its future.

Winston Leonard, 1936-2019

My father died peacefully in his sleep late Thursday night. In lieu of flowers or cards, please consider donating to your local library, education organization, or arts organization.

Winston White Leonard

Asheville – Winston White Leonard, 83, died in Asheville on September 12, 2019. He was born on December 14, 1936, the son of Elizabeth Preston Leonard and E. M. Leonard, Jr.

Winston was an alumnus of Mars Hill University and Mercer University, where he studied law. He founded the Crayon/Leonard advertising agency in New Orleans, where his clients included Lady Bronze cosmetics, Halter Marine, and the Bombay Company. After moving to Asheville with his family in 1981, Winston handled advertising, marketing, and communications for a number of regional businesses including Mother Earth News and Volvo Construction Equipment.

An exceptional athlete, Winston was scouted by the Cincinnati Reds baseball team and was a scratch golfer. He was an avid sailor and participated in several races, including Volvo Ocean Race in-harbor racing. He also enjoyed North Carolina basketball, gardening, and reading. A singer in his youth, Winston and his wife Karen were supporters of the Asheville Symphony and other performing arts organizations in the area, and he did pro bono work for various music organizations and ensembles for young people.

His work often included travel, which Winston loved. His first major international trip, with the Bombay Company to visit its artisans, was a six-week journey around the world, stopping in Egypt, Pakistan, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Other trips included those to China, South Korea, Sweden, Germany, and Belgium. With his late wife, Karen, Winston traveled extensively in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, as well as in the United States.

Winston is survived by his sons Keith Leonard (Robin Rice) and Mitch Leonard (Ann Leonard); his daughter Kendra Preston Leonard (Karl Rufener); three granddaughters, Sarah Hannah Lundgren (Lance Lundgren); Lindsay Hayes, and Ashley Hayes; and a great-grandson, Nash William Lundgren; his sister Beth Allen and her family; and his brother Grenfell Leonard and his family.

Moon-Crossed: a play in play with All’s Well That Ends Well

Moon-Crossed was originally written as an entry for the American Shakespeare Center’s “Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries” competition. Each year, the ASC selects five of Shakespeare’s plays; playwrights then choose one to use as an inspiration or basis for their new work, responding to, parodying, or otherwise engaging with the work. For the 2019 competition, one of the plays was the “problem play” All’s Well That Ends Well. Ostensibly a comedy, All’s Well has long been considered problematic: it includes nonsensical, “fairy-tale” logic; a forced marriage; a bed-trick, in which Bertram is fooled into sleeping with Helena without his consent; and a strangely abrupt ending in which Bertram’s loathing of Helena suddenly becomes love.

As I thought about ideas for addressing the play, it occurred to me that I could employ several tropes from both the early modern period and the present. Why does Bertram hate Helena so? Clearly, she’s a monster. In making her a real monster, I was able to take into consideration early modern beliefs about women’s monstrosity and men’s fears of women as unnatural, enigmatic, and devious. It also allowed me to consider the ways in which women’s power and influence is used in early modern drama: Helena, Madame Capilet, and Diana must all resort to some levels of cunning to survive, as were many women during the period, and are frank about the roles their wealth, bodies, and minds play in that use of power. Finally, by making Helena a real monster, I could bring humor into an otherwise mostly humorless play. The recent popularity of works like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter made it clear to me that there was plenty of room for werewolves in Shakespeare, and noble werewolves at that.

Moon-Crossed also let me play with lines and ideas from All’s Well That Ends Well, other Shakespeare plays, and medieval and early modern writings. Many lines come directly from All’s Well That Ends Well; other text comes from or is in reference to Hamlet; King Lear; Macbeth; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Much Ado About Nothing; the Malleus Maleficarum; the King James Bible; and Marie de France’s “Bisclavret.” Other influences and references come from Charles Perrault’s fairy tales; the concept of “ghost characters,” who appear in lists of roles but have no spoken lines; the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly; Billie Holiday; Warren Zevon; Shakira; and Charles Addams.

In keeping with the ASC’s practices of universal lighting and minimal staging, Moon-Crossed needs no costumes or lighting equipment and only a few props.

Moon-Crossed is offered for use under a Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International license. Anyone can perform the work for free without my permission; if you want to stage a commercial performance, please contact me for a standard contract at kendraleonard at pm dot me. I usually ask for 20% of any profits from commercial productions, and am open to alternative arrangements to help small, new, underfunded, and similar companies produce the play. If you or your class decide to put it on, in whole or in part, please let me know! Enjoy!

Lots of books: set on ocean liners, Asheville, WWI, and dystopias

Murder in Rat Alley by Mark de Castrique. 3/5
This is a solid mystery/thriller about two PIs, the local police department, the FBI, and very old secrets. While at first I though the author was pushing the Asheville names and places a little hard (in full disclosure, I grew up there), this eased off a bit as the action got underway. The characters aren’t terribly well developed, and the banter between Nakayla and romantic and PI partner Sam is often of the put-down kind, which I loathe, but most of the book is well-written and very cleverly conceived. I’ll be recommending the series to Asheville friends and family, as well as others who know the area well.

Can I Tell You About Dyscalculia? by Judy Hornigold. 1/5
I have dyscalculia, and I was hoping in this book to find a good resource–the kind I could have used when I was young. But it’s not to be. The definition of dyscalculia provided here is very limited, and doesn’t encompass the many forms of this neurodiverse condition. The advice is repetitive, and the recommendations for tools that help aren’t necessarily things young readers–or parents–might know about (“tens frames”?) I was also disappointed by the tone and by the overall leanings and activities of the book, which are to teach dyscalculic kids to find ways of working around their disability and to present as normate.

The Deep by Alma Katsu. 3/5
A nice little thriller about a woman who isn’t sure of who she is, imposter syndrome among the upper class, the Titanic, and the Britannic. A young woman flees home and takes a job as a stewardess on the Titanic, where she’s plagued by memories that don’t seem to be hers and demanding first-class passengers who believe in the occult. She survives, and takes a position as a nurse on the Britannic, where she encounters a man she knew from her earlier work. There are indeed supernatural forces afoot, and author Alma Katsu does a good job of keeping them concealed until the very end of the novel. A good blend of the historic, the what-if, and the outright fantastical, but a few plot holes do nag after the end.

The Green Years by Karen Wolff. 1/5
The story of a boy’s journey to manhood following the First World War, this novel isn’t terrible, but it’s boring. The characters are uniformly flat, and none of them seem capable of making decisions or thinking with any depth about the world, their lives, or anything else. None of them are very appealing, either, in part because they’re such stereotypes, and none are interesting or inspiring enough to make the reader to want to know what happens to them or what they do. The various events recounted don’t really constitute a plot, and none of them are particularly interesting or revealing or treated in unique ways.

A Cold Trail by Robert Dugoni. 1/5
Things I don’t want to read in any genre: Overly long sentences with too much detail in them; fat-shaming; sexism; ageism; stereotyping; dialect; rushing characterization; poorly organized paragraphs. This book has them all.

The Hole in the Moon and Other Tales by Margaret St. Clair by Margaret St. Clair. 4/5
I love these stories of the fantastic by Margaret St. Clair and wish they’d been more widely available sooner. Her writing is sharp and concise, and her stories are excellent forays into SFF, including the more human elements of the genre. The collection is marred only by a terrible and stiff introduction by Ramsey Campbell, who seems intent on telling readers that “male writers did it first” in regard to everything St. Clair wrote. So skip the intro and jump right into the stories.

Reverie by Ryan La Sala. 2/5
Set in the present, this novel follows a high school student finds that he’s missing large pieces of his memory. Trying to figure out exactly what happened to him, he discovers that he and others at his school can control rogue “reveries,” or fantastical situations and dreams that slip into the real world. Pitted against a world-hopping con artist and magician, the kids have to figure out how to end the reveries and save people from disappearing into them forever. The idea isn’t bad, but the writing isn’t clear and there are all sorts of unnecessary plot elements and distracting asides and such. It needs a developmental edit and a revision.

Beyond The Moon by Catherine Taylor. 4/5
I’m not usually a huge fan of time travel novels, but this one–in which a woman living in 2017 travels to 1917 and takes on the life of a woman killed in an automobile accident–avoids most of the predictable pitfalls of the genre. Louisa, in her 20s and mourning the recent death of her only family, is sectioned under British law and forced into an institution by the police. When she begins to explore the building, she finds her self slipping in time to the First World War, when it was used for wounded soldiers. She and a soldier fall in love, but she cannot be seen or heard by anyone else in the time period. After brutal treatment at the hands of the modern caretakers, however, she enters the past and makes her way in the world there, eventually uniting with her beloved in an exciting escape through time. A nicely written fantasy romance with good period detail and a total lack of fuss about paradoxes and so on. Give in to the fantasy, and enjoy.

Stories I Can’t Show My Mother by Ann Tinkham. 3/5
This collection is posited as erotic short stories, but the stories are more about abuses of hierarchy, power, and consent. They aren’t stories I couldn’t show my mother–they’re perfect as examples for case studies for gender studies classes, discussing power in relationships, #metoo, and other important issues.

Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock. 4/5
This is a great YA book about child trafficking and immigration. Told through various viewpoints, including those of the child immigrant who is trafficked for manual labor, those who profit from his work, those who seek to stop trafficking, and others, the novel is set in a dystopian England where the poor are shuttered into enclaves, where cheap labor is used for all sorts of industry and business. After escaping from one abusive and exploitative situation, the primary protagonist seeks out other work and news of his mother, but ultimately–and heartbreakingly–returns back to his original place of life and work, reasoning it is better that the other options available to him. I recommend this for classrooms (grades 5 and up, maybe?), library book clubs and youth reading groups, and for kids and parents/guardians/family to read together.

Listen to the Wind by Susanne Dunlap. 3/5
This novel, the beginning of a series, traces the lives and traumas of two childhood friends who are unexpectedly separated and equally unexpectedly reunited, and those around them, including genial friars, evil monks, a rapist, his horrible mother, a loyal servant, and more. Set in the thirteenth century, the book is well-researched if somewhat purple in its prose. The plot is fine, although it is a bit cliched: a peasant girl disguises herself as a boy, then participates in a bed-trick, swapping places with her noble patron. The noble patron also disguises herself as a man in order to escape an arranged marriage and to be with her true love. A fine historical romance, just don’t expect complex characters or a lot of reason behind many of their actions.

Family of Origin by CJ Hauser. 2/5
I was looking forward to reading this because I’d enjoyed other work by the author, but I was disappointed. While the writing is solid and the concept of family is explored in depth here, I found the characters to be lacking depth and humanity. The supposed surprises and shocking events of the past are neither, and the characters’ many irrational ideas and actions came across as silly and foolish. The in medias res structure of the book–where there are flashbacks going increasingly far back from the book’s present–felt messy and over done. One or two major flashbacks, sure, but by the end of the book, the farthest-away flashbacks felt irrelevant and impeded the flow of the narrative.

The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills. 4/5
A good novel for elementary school readers. Like all of the women and girls in her Cree family, Shelly can catch ghosts in her hair. She and her grandmother do this for a living , with her grandmother leading and Shelly apprenticing. Together they catch the ghosts of people, pets, and even insects and send them on to whatever comes next. But when Shelly’s mom dies unexpectedly, her ghost doesn’t show up, and Shelly becomes anxious, scouring the graveyard and asking ghosts everywhere if they’ve seen her. The relationships between Shelly and her grandmother and the ghosts are full of honest emotion and well written for the target audience, and I liked the #ownvoices factor in the author’s use of Cree beliefs and customs..

Where am I? Autumn 2019

Want to hear me speak about my research, read my poetry, or attend an opera for which I’m the librettist? Here’s my schedule–so far–for late 2019.

21 August: “Medievalism, Myth, and Music for The Lion in Winter,” Representations of Early Music on Stage and Screen conference, Birmingham City University. I’ll be participating via Skype, and my session begins at 8 am Central. I’ll also share it to Humanities Commons CORE afterwards.

25 September: “Shakespeare, Madness, and Music” public lecture at Sun Prairie Public Library, Sun Prairie, WI. 6:30 pm in the Community Room.

26 September: “Shakespeare, Madness, and Music” public lecture at Black Earth Public Library, Black Earth, WI. 6:30 pm, location TBD.

11-13 October: Houston Poetry Fest. Open to all. I’ll be reading 2-3 poems, probably on Saturday, 12 October. More details as they emerge.

18 and 19 October: Texas Music Library Association meeting at Rice University in Houston. I’ll be there regardless of whether I present; feel free to ask about my recent work on Melody magazine, undertaken with the assistance of a Music Library Association Dena Epstein award.

31 October: Premiere of The Harbingers, an a capella opera a libretto by me and music by composer Rosśa Crean. 7:30 pm, Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago.

Books and other doors to other worlds

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. 4/5
A lovely fantasy novel. January has grown up the ward of a rich many who supports archaeology and is always seeking the rarest things for his collection. He employs January’s father, who goes to remote locations hunting such things, or so January thinks until the day her father manages to send her his autobiography. In it, he explains that the world is full of doors that open into other worlds, and that many of them are inhabited; he himself is from such a world, and his travels hide his true purpose: to find January’s mother, lost in a different world. Not only does January believe in this, she realizes that she has a special gift: she can create such doors and move through them. As such, she’s very valuable to her guardian and his friends, who are unpleasant and supernatural, and there’s a long chase right out of one of January’s beloved pulp novels in which she must get away, find her father, and protect her friends–one of whom is also from another world, and does quite a lot of protecting of January herself–before the bad guys get hold of her. I loved the descriptions of the other worlds, and the characters, while not as deep as I’d have liked, were engaging enough.

Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff. 3/5
A good post-apocalyptic, people-eating zombie novel set in Ireland and on one of its offshore islands. Orpen, her Mam, and Maeve, her Mam’s lover, live mostly safely on their small island after a zombie plague kills off most of the world. Maeve trains Orpen on combat; Mam teachers her about medicinal herbs. When Mam and Maeve must travel to the island, Orpen, still a small child, fends for herself. Mam comes back infected, and Maeve forces Orpen to begin making the hard decisions and even harder actions her life now requires.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. 4/5
A meditative book on grief and loss and the necessity of communication. When Edward, 12, is the sole survivor of the plane crash that killed 191 other people–including all of his immediate family–he’s taken in by his distant aunt and uncle. He soon builds a family of his own, though, and eventually discovers why his own family has been so remote. While Edward’s story progresses, the stories of the rest of the passengers on the flight also move forward in small minutes and large actions, until we understand that they too–like us all–need to be able to communicate with one another. The dreamy and fairy-tale like qualities of the writing sometimes deflect from the harsh realities that the characters face, but I think most readers will want that gentleness, given the subject matter.

The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot. 4/5
An utterly engaging and intriguing narrative of poems about a child–later a young woman–and her ability to see beauty in death, despite the social and familial pressures not to do so. The writing is evocative and visual–and visceral–and the reading experience that it provides is unique and lasting.