A mixed set of poems that alternately falters and inspires.

TOY SOLDIERS

Tollyfield expresses feelings of yearning and mourning in her latest poetry collection.

“I think my ring has found another,” writes Tollyfield in a poem about a lost piece of jewelry, “and I should do the same.” The loss of love, coupled with the inability to move on, is a recurring theme; indeed, the ghosts of former lovers seem to haunt every work. Sometimes it’s a literal haunting, as in “Nina,” in which an old flame troubles the narrator’s sleep: “I pray / and I plead / For your ghost to leave, / And slowly but surely, I feel the reprieve.” The “Clean Sheets” of another poem are unexpectedly tragic, as the bed they cover is no longer the site of romance. In “Lemongrass,” the scent of the eponymous plant reminds the speaker of a love far away: “Write back to me with how things are going. The / lemongrass wilted now winter is snowing.” Tollyfield explores other disappointments and humiliations related to the heart; “Plate of Peas” describes a date that goes wrong almost immediately: “I hypothesize / That you were hoping for a man twice my size.” Other poems address a child’s understanding of war, fires seen across a city’s rooftops, and the ancient warrior queen Boudicca. The poem “P’s and Q’s” bristles regarding the expectations that society foists on women: “I’m told that (as a woman) / I should mind my p’s and q’s. // And I do / But I swear / Like a trooper.”

Together, the 28 works provide a conflicted portrait of longing, angst, and self-assertion. Although the poet is no stickler for meter, she structures many of her poems with predictable rhyme patterns, and they sometime feel a bit forced, as in “Plate of Peas.” The verses tend to be at their best when the author leans into their silliness, as in the winking, delightfully unpretentious opening to “Leather”: “If I come back / (And I may never come back), may I be warm to the / touch and tender; / Shacked up in a terraced that’s slender, with a girl and a babe and a blender.” Even stronger are the free verse poems, such as “The Victoria Line,” in which Tollyfield can concentrate on striking lines without chasing rhymes. Too often, the poems rely on vague, abstract, or clichéd imagery—the smell of home, a loving smile, and a bed of dreams all appear in “Gentle Rain,” for instance. The most powerful work in the collection, “Horse d’Oeuvres,” is also the most surprising. An unremarkable opening transitions to a wedding where the speaker and her lover have stolen off to have sex. The hors d’oeuvres that the guests are eating lead to word association that transforms the lovers’ relationship into a metaphorical horse: “And neighed, neighed, collapsing. Thinking, breathing, / feeling — almost gone save opening its eyes and / sighing, ‘once you were mine, once you were mine, once you were mine.’ ”

A mixed set of poems that alternately falters and inspires.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-78830-794-9

Page Count: 42

Publisher: Olympia Publishers

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

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APPLES NEVER FALL

Australian novelist Moriarty combines domestic realism and noirish mystery in this story about the events surrounding a 69-year-old Sydney woman’s disappearance.

Joy and Stan Delaney met as champion tennis players more than 50 years ago and ran a well-regarded tennis academy until their recent retirement. Their long, complicated marriage has been filled with perhaps as much passion for the game of tennis as for each other or their children. When Joy disappears on Feb. 14, 2020 (note the date), the last text she sends to her now-grown kids—bohemian Amy, passive Logan, flashy Troy, and migraine-suffering Brooke—is too garbled by autocorrect to decipher and stubborn Stan refuses to accept that there might be a problem. But days pass and Joy remains missing and uncharacteristically silent. As worrisome details come to light, the police become involved. The structure follows the pattern of Big Little Lies (2014) by setting up a mystery and then jumping months into the past to unravel it. Here, Moriarty returns to the day a stranger named Savannah turned up bleeding on the Delaneys’ doorstep and Joy welcomed her to stay for an extended visit. Who is Savannah? Whether she’s innocent, scamming, or something else remains unclear on many levels. Moriarty is a master of ambiguity and also of the small, telling detail like a tossed tennis racket or the repeated appearance of apple crumble. Starting with the abandoned bike that's found by a passing motorist on the first page, the evidence that accumulates around what happened to Joy constantly challenges the reader both to notice which minor details (and characters) matter and to distinguish between red herrings and buried clues. The ultimate reveal is satisfying, if troubling. But Moriarty’s main focus, which she approaches from countless familiar and unexpected angles, is the mystery of family and what it means to be a parent, child, or sibling in the Delaney family—or in any family, for that matter.

Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-22025-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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