Monthly Archives: December 2015

Book Review — Today Means Amen

Today Means Amen


Today Means Amen by Sierra DeMulder is a collection of poetry and a reflection on life.  DeMulder is an internationally touring performance poet, educator, and two-time National Poetry Slam champion. Sierra is a 2014 McKnight Fellowship recipient and her work has been featured on NPR, Huffington Post, The Advocate, and others.

It’s not all that often that a collection speaks with emotion throughout and in a way that a male reader can relate too.  From a break up she compares to the experience to that of an infant finally realizing that he is no longer part of his mother and the first realization of being alone.  DeMulder digs deeps in imagery and comparison.  

One day, when she leaves the room, the baby

will comprehend that he is actually alone.


Such a heavy load for something so small

The death of a spouse can be measured by the piles of mail, dishes, and photos.  DeMulder calls this “tree rings of his solitude”  In “Exodus 33:20” her comparison of the face of God or creation (and where the world technically begins) is insightful if not a bit sacrilegious to some, but her ability to draw comparisons is remarkable.

She writes touchingly on dementia that her grandfather suffered from, and, likewise, her treatment of depression, abuse, and self-doubt reach deep into the soul of the reader.  Poems like “New Year”  and “A Thousand Pieces” break the tension and provide a bit of emotional  relaxation.  
DeMulder is extremely talented and writes with real feeling.  The emotional presence is real and not, as in so many first collections, forced or feigned.  It’s rare that a collection can capture and hold the reader from cover to cover.  I expect that we will be seeing more from DeMulder in the near future.

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Book Review — Rhyming Ballads

Rhyming Ballads by Michael McNeilly

Rhyming Ballads by Michael McNeilly is a short collection of poetry written in rhyming couplets. McNeilly has spent his life working various professions including working in the civil service in the 1960s, working for textiles firms in the 1970s and, more recently, working as a laboratory technician at a grammar school. Michael has always enjoyed writing poetry and has been doing so since 1976.

Rhyming Ballads is a cleverly written collection of poetry written about historical, legendary, and mythical beings. The rhyme scheme brings credit to the work. The rhymes are do bring a smile to the reader’s face, but without a hint being cheap or tacky. There is even a rhythm to the words while reading the lines that keeps the reading smooth. The subjects of the poems range from Eurydice and Orpheus and Robin Hood to Emperor Julian and Frederick the Great. There is history and myth and even a touch of religion.

Although based on history and myth, the reading is light and can be enjoyed by anyone, historian or not. A great collection for those who think poetry isn’t fun or entertaining. McNeilly does a fine job in composition and subject matter, even more so considering his background. A fun, lighthearted read that can be picked up and read at a random location whenever there are a few minutes to spare. A worthy read for the poetry and the subject matter.

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Book Review — Rift

Rift by Kathy Fish

Rift by Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan is a collection of short fictions that alternates between the two authors. I am familiar with both writers work. I have earlier reviewed Vaughan’s Addicts and Basements and Fish was a consulting editor on Queens Ferry The Best Small Fictions 2015 which I reviewed this last summer. Both writers are well published and this joint collection is both their fourth individual collection.

Small fictions or very short fiction is a unique writing that tells a complete story in few pages or less. Whereas short stories seem to drop a reader in the a middle of a story or pull them out too quickly, short fictions present a whole story. Much like poetry can convey ideas that exceed the words used, short fiction does the same. This collection does not disappoint.

The authors alternate their stories throughout this collection in chapters named after escalating geologic events. It won’t take the reader long to identify the which author they are reading. They both have distinct styles that are very hard to confuse. Fish starts off with the tone of an east coast Catholic upbringing. From the nuns and Catholic school to the guilt that follows those of our generation of Catholic upbringing all surface in her writing. Vaughan tends to be darker and grittier and in his writing. There is something hidden just below the surface that is secretive and possibly even sinister. With both writers there is a hook, more pronounced by Vaughan, that wraps the story tight, sometimes squeezing the breath from the reader. That turns a short ordinary “memory” into something fascinating.

The two writer’s work play well off each other. The alternating of stories keeps the reader’s mind fresh and moving from one author to the other. They complement each other perfectly. Touching to twisted. Light to dark. Fish seems to reveal common strong feelings between people that make one smile and Vaughan something altogether different — “Birth of the Giant Sand Babe” to “Fling ~ Fatigue ~ Rejection. The writing is very human in feeling and very real in the ups and downs of a complete life. Each author’s writing is exceptional, but combined together, it exponentially transcends the individual works. Powerful, gripping, startling, and impossible to put down. Definitely, a bang to end this year’s reading list.

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Book Review — American Poetry: States of the Art

American Poetry: States of the Art edited by Bradford Morrow is a collection of cutting edge poetry of seventy-five poets. This collection is not for beginners and when pushing the limits of poetry there are bound to be a few hits and plenty of misses. What determines the hits or misses will be the reader’s own preferences.

One thing I noticed was the scope and scale of the writing. One of the headliners in this collection is Juliana Spahr. I enjoyed her single poem, “Blood Sonnets”, and I imagine those with a molecular biology background would be ecstatic about it. I followed it and enjoyed the poem, but I am sure many people would be at a total loss. Lyn Hejinian vining writing is a pleasant rambling of images and soothing rhythm:

The earth seems young — raucous, ravenous, quick, The earth exists
With gusto. Things fall to it and stick, things are rooted in it
And arise. This cannot be said of the sea.

Myung Mi Kim gives images of the famous Phan Thị Kim Phúc photograph. Arthur Sze provides images of the Inca civilization. The poets, although pushing limits, for the most part, seem to stick to a single topic as their subject matter. With seventy-five poets there is plenty of subject matter.

Although a bit intimidating, the poetry is very well done and will help the average reader expand their poetry comfort zone. This is also a collection to taken in small pieces. Read, think, reread, enjoy.

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Book Review — Selected Poems (Thomas Hardy)

Thomas Hardy the author of such classic novels as The Return of the Native and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) was also a great poet. His lyricism, subtlety, depth, and variety have earned him a significant place in the ranks of modern English poets.

Not a critique of Hardy as much as the book itself. Hardy’s poetry is easily recognized as “classical” poetry. There is a lyrical quality that took me back to English literature class in college. However, the reading is easier without a professor raging on about rhyme scheme or fertility symbolism. It is enjoyable poetry that can be appreciated by all readers.

As a collection, Dover Publications does what it excels at doing. It brings the reader a fine collection of poetry in an easy to handle size. At eighty pages, this collection is intimidating in itself and being a collection of poetry can be picked up and read and put down again. There is not the need or feeling to read it all in one sitting. In fact, it is better to take your time and enjoy at your leisure.


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Book Review — The Red Knight of Germany: The Story of Baron von Richthofen, Germany’s Great War Bird

The Red Knight of Germany: The Story of Baron von Richthofen, Germany’s Great War Bird by Floyd Gibbons is an early account of the Red Baron. Gibbon’s was a war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. At the Battle of Belleau Wood he lost an eye to German gunfire while rescuing a wounded soldier; for this, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Afterwards, he became chief of the paper’s foreign service, but went on to become a novelist and radio commentator after being fired.

Originally published in 1930, Gibbons used first-hand sources to write Richthofen’s biography. There are letters the baron wrote to his mother and the baron’s mission reports requesting credit for kills. There are also reports from those who survived aerial combat with Richthofen too. These reports and statements show the respect the pilots had for each other and the baron. While the infantry died in the hundreds of thousands many were left to rot in no man’s land, pilots were buried with honors by their enemies. The air war was a separate war.

With all the recent writing of the war at its one hundred year anniversary, this book was written just twelve years after the end of the war and Richthofen death provides some of the best coverage of the air war using primary source material. Perhaps only Rickenbacker’s Fighting the Flying Circus is a better source of first-hand material. An excellent biography not only of the war but of the person Richthofen was and his drive to excellence. His fight was not of hate but of sport. For many fighting in the air war, battle was a competition much like a boxing match. It was person against person not country against country and even in war there was respect.

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Book Review –Youth In Asia: The Vietnam War’s 1968 Tet Offensive in The Central Highlands — Young men will change. Some will die

Youth In Asia by Allen Tiffany

Youth In Asia: The Vietnam War’s 1968 Tet Offensive in The Central Highlands — Young men will change. Some will die by Allen Tiffany is the recollection of a fictional soldier. For such a long title the book itself is rather short. The length is not so important as how well or original the story the story being told. Perhaps it’s my age but I have seen and read plenty on Vietnam as well as hearing stories and serving under those who have fought in Vietnam.

Although written to be a complete story, I felt that it was only an excerpt from a book or an episode of a television series. There is action and frustration and death and wanting to live to make it home again. Overall, however, I found it average in the whole Vietnam genre. Vietnam is a difficult subject as the nonfiction is as compelling as the best fiction. Up against Caputo’s Rumor of War or the fictionalized real life like Hasford’s The Short Timers(later made into the movie Full Metal Jacket). It’s a tough crowd to break into and although well written Youth in Asia teeters on the edge.


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Book Review — Skies of Fire: Dramatic Air Combat

Skies of Fire: Dramatic Air Combat by Alfred Price is a collection of twenty-two war time aviation stories. Price served as an aircrew officer in the Royal Air Force and, during a flying career spanning fifteen years, he logged some 4,000 flying hours. He holds a PhD in history from Loughborough University, is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and compiles aviation questions for the popular BBC programme Mastermind.

Skies of Fire picks twenty-two stories over a hundred years of military aviation. From the biplane to drones, Price chooses stories or remarkable aviation deeds, but are not the ones we commonly hear of. There is no Flying Circus, no Enola Gay, no Vulcan 607. Instead, these are stories that have slipped through the cracks of common knowledge.

We are introduced to the De Havilland DH-4 bomber, not the Fokker Triplane. It began service as a bomber and was later used by the United States as an airmail plane. Early carrier experimentation is covered as well as a mission to land Spitfires on Malta in WWII to bolster Allied air power. A chapter is given to the America’s ugliest but most versatile aircraft the A-10. It was just last year air force A-10 pilots received medals from the Marine Corps for providing close air support saving the lives of Marine special operations team. The A-10 found itself in the Gulf war spending more time attacking ground targets than providing support for ground troops.

The Vulcan is mentioned in an attack that occurred after the famed Vulcan 607 mission to take out the runway on Port Stanley. This mission was to knock out Argentinian air defenses that had been hampering Harrier missions. The Vulcan proved its worth and the pilot managed to save the plane from disaster.

Two chapter are devoted to unmanned operations. The German V2 rocket and the current drones are each given a chapter. Although technological marvels of their time, they lack the mystique and the bravery of pilots.

Price shows that heroism in the skies during wartime extends beyond the few stories we hear repeated. Taking nothing away from the stories of the Flying Circus, Doolittle’s raid, MiG Alley, and the helicopter pilots of Vietnam, Price adds to the distinguished history of pilots and their aircraft.

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Book Review — Hood

Hood by Alison Kinney

Hood by Alison Kinney is a look at a common feature of clothing throughout history and legend. Kinney is a writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in The Hairpin, The Literary Review, and Gastronomica.

Since moving to Texas, I look forward to fall. It’s the short time of year where I can wear a hoodie. As a kid in Cleveland through the 1970s, a hoodie was part of everyday clothing. Worn alone in the fall or under a denim jacket and down vest. It was that universal comfort clothing. Today it carries the stigma of a street punk, probable cause, or “hood.”

In current culture, we see the Grim Reaper wearing a hood. Hood wearing characters also include Father Time and the executioner. Kinney examines these characters using historical sources for Death and the executioner. The result is not what the average reader would expect. The hood becomes more interesting when it comes to the executioner and capital punishment.

A short history of the hooded Klan is given and the evolution of the well-known white costume and hood. The hood still carries its stigma of racism with businesses in communities banning hoodies in their establishments. Business cannot ban minorities, but they can ban the clothing worn many minorities.

Hood is a short book with a sizeable portion devoted to cited works. It still presents more history than expected on a simple piece of clothing. Hood also manages to explain away some of the urban legends of its long history going back to the ancient Greeks. A very educational and well-written study.


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Book Review — SAS Secret War: Operation Storm in the Middle East

SAS Secret War by Tony Jeapes

<i>SAS Secret War: Operation Storm in the Middle East</i> by Major Tony Jeapes is the history of Dhofar Rebellion in Oman. Jeapes was the first SAS officer to reach the rank of General. He commanded the British forces in Northern Ireland during the 1980s and retired as commander UK land forces.

This book was originally published in 1980 as <i>SAS Operation Oman</i> after editing by the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office.  This edition was released in 2000 without the censorship.  The author does leave some names out of the book but includes the previously censored material.  Also included is a background on the Special Air Service (SAS).  The SAS is part of Britain’s Special Forces.

In the Cold War battles against a popular communist uprising, most were unsuccessful with Cuba and Vietnam perhaps the most well known. The Dhofar Rebellion against the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman is little known.  However, this is one of the most successful battles against communist rebellion.  The operation is still used as a textbook example of counterinsurgency in Britain.   

Jeapes gives a detailed history with a calm personal account.  It is very British in that Jeapes records facts and leaves emotions out of the story.  There is some humor in dealing with the local soldiers and their attitudes.  The locals wanted their AK-47s and not the British weapons.  The AK47s were a symbol of a warrior taken from the enemy.  Even after demonstrating the effectiveness of the British weapons, it was still a hard sell.

The success of the mission lay in the ability to build trust and win the hearts and minds of the people.  One of the more important non-military aspects of the SAS involvement was veterinarian support to help the locals keep their livestock alive and well.  This was very well received.  Medical support and amnesty for surrendering rebel troops bolstered support. The Omani troops were treated well and made to feel part of the process and not token national support.  Not everything went smoothly in the planning and building stages, but issues were worked out.  The effort was not a one-sided British affair but a joint affair.
The <i>SAS Secret War</i> is a well written account of a successful and mostly forgotten counterinsurgency mission. It offers insight in cultural as well as military tactics in the formation of a successful undertaking.

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