“The Sandpiper’s Spell” is a six-part poem and epilogue that in its simplest interpretation is a walk along a beach to a forest. The poet becomes a beachcomber, picking out aesthetically pleasing images from the coastline: the way the “waning tide has left / a crescent of cooler sand” or the pattern of “red orange pine needles / cross hatching the ground.” The collection is structured so that each part of “The Sandpiper’s Spell” is followed by a series of short poems that briefly transport the reader away from the coastal setting before returning to the shoreline to continue the journey. Childhood stands out as a recurrent theme. “Circus World” remembers “evaporating in a midday haze / on a back corner of childhood / the tree we climbed and stayed / past dark” and also that progressive loss of innocence, “you who kissed me / hard on the mouth / when we were both ten,” which leads inevitably to adulthood, where faded mementos of youth are all that remain, “still hanging in a corner / a netless basketball hoop.” Other poems, like “Death of a...” leave the serenity of the ocean for a bustling city where a pedestrian is about to take a fatal step into the street. Pearson’s work—which rapidly shifts through a gamut of psychological states—is a welcome reminder that reading poetry is a vigorous mental activity. Poems such as “Day Dreams” showcase Pearson’s ability to create striking imagery. Here, he effortlessly morphs shoreline detritus into clever caricature: “white bubbles button / his fish face / to his man body / an inverted voyeur / the bleached bones / of his ship / wrecked.” As the collection progresses, the poetry becomes more clipped, abstract, and urgent but no less powerful: “nimbus / blood candy sky / sand in stone /snow on mountain / crimson salt bleeding rivers from / under the mountain’s petticoat.” Both vastly panoramic and deeply introspective, Pearson’s writing explores both the wonders of nature and the shifting landscape of the human mind.
In this debut novel, a so-called royal hero reflects on his life as upheaval awaits on the horizon.
King Elberon, lord of the Tradewind Isles, is about to turn 65 years old. He’s led an illustrious life of adventure and just learned from his friend Wilberd, who glanced through the Astral Telescope at the monarch’s future, that he’ll live to be 130. Yet Elberon thinks mainly of the companions who’ll attend his birthday party in nine days, including the warrior Amabored and his former love Melinda the Blade. “When I finally get them all together,” he thinks, “I’m going to kill every last one of them.” He then begins detailing his youth among the Free Kingdoms of the Woerth and even the Multiverse after he told his father, King Olderon, that he wanted to visit Redhauke, a cosmopolitan city ripe with crime and opportunity. There, he met Amabored, the elf Lithaine, and the mage Redulfo. Given additional strength by the Girdle of Gargantua, Elberon joined the trio, and they became guards for Saggon, Over-Boss of the Thieves Guild. But Saggon’s shipments of pipeweed contained a secret over which Melinda battled the group. During this time, Elberon first encountered the Screaming Skull (when Melinda attacked him with it) and became embroiled in closing the Hellmouth beneath the Blue Falcon Inn. Later, he drank a concoction called the Flaming Telepath, which brought him to the First Universe and a meeting with Jo Ki-Rin, a chimerical creature who warned that Elberon must accept a quest to save all of creation.
The “monomyth” at the core of Ferguson’s series opener is the same one that fuels innumerable fantasies, from Tolkien’s work to the Star Wars series. The winning difference here is the author’s tone, which would make the foulmouthed, fourth wall–smashing Marvel character Deadpool proud. Elberon calls Woerth a “chamber pot of competing cultures and religions from dozens of different universes.” This gives the author the widest possible canvas on which to scribble his own multicolored brand of mayhem—and the narrative leeway to quote Pulp Fiction. He discusses not only the Multiverse, wherein, most likely, “some pimply teenaged loser sits in his parents’ basement drawing” dungeons “on graph paper and randomly inserting monsters, traps, and treasure,” but also author Michael Moorcock, who deals vibrantly with alternate realities in his Elric series. Even Ferguson’s key villain, Koscheis, has echoes in “Sauron, Voldemort, Lord Foul...or Vladimir Putin.” This isn’t to say that the story is complete silliness. The prose frequently lets rip some epic imagery, as when “a house-sized mushroom cloud of napalm condensed out of the atmosphere, balled itself up into a miniature sun, and surged forth with a massive sonic boom.” And while the main characters riff humorously on archetypes—and the minor ones mock everything else (Father Frito of Lay, for example)—they experience events deeply. Elberon’s regret over cheating on average Melinda with gorgeous Cassiopeia brings humanity to a cavalcade of gonzo exploits. Readers will likely return for the sequel, perhaps more for the king’s unpredictable narration than the plot itself.
A promise to his best friend leads an Army serviceman to a family in need and a chance at true love in this novel.
Beckett Gentry is surprised when his Army buddy Ryan MacKenzie gives him a letter from Ryan’s sister, Ella. Abandoned by his mother, Beckett grew up in a series of foster homes. He is wary of attachments until he reads Ella’s letter. A single mother, Ella lives with her twins, Maisie and Colt, at Solitude, the resort she operates in Telluride, Colorado. They begin a correspondence, although Beckett can only identify himself by his call sign, Chaos. After Ryan’s death during a mission, Beckett travels to Telluride as his friend had requested. He bonds with the twins while falling deeply in love with Ella. Reluctant to reveal details of Ryan’s death and risk causing her pain, Beckett declines to disclose to Ella that he is Chaos. Maisie needs treatment for neuroblastoma, and Beckett formally adopts the twins as a sign of his commitment to support Ella and her children. He and Ella pursue a romance, but when an insurance investigator questions the adoption, Beckett is faced with revealing the truth about the letters and Ryan’s death, risking losing the family he loves. Yarros’ (Wilder, 2016, etc.) novel is a deeply felt and emotionally nuanced contemporary romance bolstered by well-drawn characters and strong, confident storytelling. Beckett and Ella are sympathetic protagonists whose past experiences leave them cautious when it comes to love. Beckett never knew the security of a stable home life. Ella impulsively married her high school boyfriend, but the marriage ended when he discovered she was pregnant. The author is especially adept at developing the characters through subtle but significant details, like Beckett’s aversion to swearing. Beckett and Ella’s romance unfolds slowly in chapters that alternate between their first-person viewpoints. The letters they exchanged are pivotal to their connection, and almost every chapter opens with one. Yarros’ writing is crisp and sharp, with passages that are poetic without being florid. For example, in a letter to Beckett, Ella writes of motherhood: “But I’m not the center of their universe. I’m more like their gravity.” While the love story is the book’s focus, the subplot involving Maisie’s illness is equally well-developed, and the link between Beckett and the twins is heartfelt and sincere.
A thoughtful and pensive tale with intelligent characters and a satisfying romance.
In their second Shakespearean board book, Parekh and Amini (Behowl the Moon, 2017) adapt Ariel’s songs from The Tempest for a tale of two children discovering the wonders of an island world.
A boy and a girl, both with brown skin, meet on the beach of a fantastic island that hints at the Caribbean setting frequently discussed in Shakespeare scholarship. With their dog, the children see crabs, sea turtles, wild island birds, and—in a lovely two-page spread—a crowing rooster. Other vibrant creatures fill the final pages—an ape, an antlered form hidden in shadow, a three-toed sloth, and a red panda all exist in harmony while the children play. Shakespeare’s familiar words are just as complex in their vocabulary as parents are sure to remember. But for the very young lap readers intended as this reinvented story’s audience, the sounds of the words will be more important than their meanings (“Courtsied when you have and kiss’d / the wild waves whist”). Amini’s textured, mixed-media illustrations create a gorgeous paradise filled with flowers and plants and a lack of Prospero or any other adult to disturb the children’s joy. The two kids will be easy for young readers to identify with, and their curious explorations should feel familiar to beachgoers.
A beach adventure pairs with the beautifully lyrical words of Ariel in this triumph of poetry and approachability.
Bach weaves a stunning debut out of disparate parts, melding settings and genres in this experimental literary novel.
This novel refuses simple description. It follows its lead, Krishawn, who’s contending with a series of progressively worsening brain tumors. But what emerges from his struggle is more than merely a meditation on the meaning of life. It’s a journey from hedonism to psychedelics to sci-fi, trafficking not in fablelike metaphor but in nuanced, even esoteric, dialogue. The novel presents a morass of stories, covering sex, death, and the rest of human experience through its cast and multifarious settings, all of which inform each other, from a mystical mountain-climbing expedition to an ambulatory phallus and beyond, shifting in both content and tone throughout. It’s fitting that Krishawn’s most concerning cancerous growths are pressing on Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, brain structures responsible for speech and language development, respectively, as many stories seem sparked by accidents of language: “Krishawn had always thought it funny how ontology and oncology were separated only by a ‘c.’ ” But again, reading this novel is not only a matter of interpreting the disparate vignettes of the story as the degradations of a dying mind, drug-born hallucinations, or religious experiences pointing to larger universal truths. Rather, they are all of these things and none of them, calling on the reader to find the connections among the elements of this pastiche and make of them both a whole and a sum of parts. Readers will find the novel challenging, but it’s never boring; it discards the willful obfuscation of many experimental novels in favor of a feverish pace and a wildly emotional ride. Individual sections are readable on their own, and while the vocabulary may sometimes be obtuse, the structure and context keep meaning within reach, and readers ultimately feel more like they’re being taught this unfamiliar vernacular than taunted with it.
An incredible debut, as entertaining as it is outlandish, with at least one thing (and most likely many more) for everyone.
Juanita’s (Virgin Soul, 2013, etc.) multigenre study guide invites readers to investigate, through fiction, poetry, drama, and essays, the many facets of the revolutionary black artistic and political movements of the 1960s and ’70s.
In the short story “The Black House,” a young woman’s first encounter with the Black Panther Party begins with nervous skepticism as she practices the Islamic greeting that the members use. She soon gets a quick introduction to sexual politics when a man ushers her into the kitchen with the words, “You belong in here.” After some resistance, she finds strength and commonality among the women of the group. The poem “(not) forgotten man” is a tribute to the author Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones), whom the speaker describes as a “quixotic nobody” who “blasted the bridges between black and white.”“Life is a Carousel” is a two-act play, set at an academic symposium and at an airport before and after it. In it, a 1960s Black Arts Movement activist (based on Baraka) spars with airline agents and younger black academics as he declaims a manifesto that modern readers will find to be both hopelessly dated and frustratingly timeless. When a younger professor says, “You lose credence when you refuse to update,” the old lion snaps back, “We call that co-opted.” The book ends with two essays, “Five Comrades in the Black Panther Party, 1967-1970” and “Meeting LeRoi Jones,” a dryly humorous story of hero worship and the thrill of a burgeoning movement. Overall, Juanita has created a dense and intriguing tribute to an important literary group whose influence still reverberates in American culture. Her works effectively embrace a wide variety of issues from gender politics to skin-color privilege within the black community. “Life is a Carousel,” for example, is a complex tapestry of intergenerational dialogue that punctures the pomposity of both the old and the young while also skewering academic conferences and probing issues of sex, sexuality, and gender identity. The discussion questions at the end of each work raise thought-provoking issues and encourage creativity.
An engaging collection of writings that celebrates and reveals the historic Black Arts Movement.