Blog Tour Book Review: Green Gold, Gabriel Hemery

Book Review: Green Gold, Gabriel Hemery

Green Gold: The Epic True Story of Victorian Plant Hunter John Jeffrey

Fiction: Green Gold, Gabriel Hemery

Green Gold is a creative epistolary novel telling the story of plant hunter John Jeffrey’s expedition to North America in 1850 through the words of his journal, letters, and other documents. Representing an elite group of subscribers, Jeffrey’s mission was to collect seeds from North America which could be planted on estates in England and Scotland. Starting off with great promise, early letters and journal entries told of his remarkable journey across the north Atlantic and then across Canada, and a package did arrive with a small number of viable seeds and other natural items he collected for his sponsors. But before the end of his planned journey, Jeffrey disappeared. Did he abandon his quest in favor of gold or love or some other attraction in the new world? Or did he meet with foul play? His sponsors never learned, and, well, you’ll have to read the novel to find out for yourself!

 

Author Hemery has subtitled the book, “The Epic True Story of Plant Hunter John Jeffrey,” although it is based on a journal that does not exist and is compiled by a researcher who is herself a character with emails and notes detailing her work. Still, the research that went into this novel is impressive. Not only is it replete with scientific names, descriptions of plants and their locations and appearance in the wild (and how that varies with elevation and latitude), it has detailed descriptions of actual 1850s towns in Canada and the U.S., and is consistently written in the style of prose used in the Victorian Era. Much of the book reads like a Dickens or Austen novel, even though it was just published. John Jeffrey was an actual plant hunter, sent out in 1850 by the Oregon Botanical Society (an English/Scottish group) who disappeared at some point during the trip. So although this is a work of fiction, there are a lot of facts woven into the story.

 

I am grateful to the author and publisher and to Anne Cater for an ARC of this book in exchange for my review, and I am happy to be part of the blog tour promoting this book. Check out the other reviews of the book, and obviously read the book yourself!

 

Green Gold is not going to appeal to everyone. Epistolary novels can be challenging reads, and one done consistently in a nineteenth century voice is going to be even more of a challenge for many readers. The historical and scientific detail will appeal to some readers–and will not appeal to others. That said, Hemery clearly put a lot of work into this book and the labor of love shows in its attention to detail, its consistency of voice, and its creative use of the information. Many readers will appreciate that effort and I can see this becoming a favorite book for the right person.

Green Gold: The Epic True Story of Victorian Plant Hunter John Jeffrey

Book Review: Green Gold, Gabriel Hemery

Book Review: The Bayern Agenda, Dan Moren

Book Review: The Bayern Agenda, Dan Moren

Science Fiction: The Bayern Agenda, Dan Moren

Some books are just fun. The Bayern Agenda is a fun book. It’s a space opera. It’s a spy thriller. It’s a book with engaging, smart mouthed, characters who find themselves in challenging situations which require them to find new trust in themselves and each other. Dan Moren continues with characters we first met in The Caledonian Gambit in telling the story of the Galactic Cold War (though curiously enough, this book is labelled as “Book One” of the Galactic Cold War series despite taking place only months after the events of The Caledonian Gambit).

 

Simon Kovalic is a spy. Originally a soldier from Earth, he fled to the Commonwealth of Independent Systems after Earth fell to the Illyrican Empire. Now leading an elite team of covert operatives, Kovalic learns of a top secret meeting between officials from the Empire and the top bankers in the galaxy, one that could tip the balance of the cold war. Unfortunately, Kovalic is injured during the mission, so his team must proceed without him to confirm the purpose of the meeting and, if necessary, disrupt it.

 

When additional information comes in to Kovalic’s boss, and when it becomes apparent that there is at least one leak within their organization, Kovalic must follow his team to Bayern despite his injury and warn them about the new threats. The challenges increase by the page and the response to those challenges requires each team member to use all of their skills in order to survive. And like a good spy thriller will, Bayern saves its final twists until the very end.

 

Although this would not be considered a young adult book, The Bayern Agenda would be an easy and fun read for tweens and teens who enjoy science fiction and spy novels. Its fast pace and smart tone is appealing to all ages. Moren has delivered a clever novel with great characters who interact through an exciting story. In addition to the main thrust of the story, several “interludes” are included which give some back story for Kovalic, Tapper, and the Galactic Cold War, giving context to the events which take place during the novel.

 

The Bayern Agenda would make a great beach or airplane read. It is fast paced, the right length, complex enough to be interesting but straightforward and easy to read. A nice cross-over spy/sci-fi novel, hopefully introducing a series with a long run ahead of it.

Book Review: The Bayern Agenda, Dan Moren

Book Review: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

Book Review: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

Fantasy: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

Imogen and Marin are sisters. Both are also artists with some regard in their fields: Imogen as an author, Marin as a dancer. The Melete artists’ retreat is recruiting talent to come and spend most of a year in residence, working on their art with the help of a world-class mentor and the separation from the busyness of the world. What Melete doesn’t tell you up front is that it is run by the Fae, and there is an opportunity at the end of the residency, an opportunity to have all your dreams come true.

 

What price would you pay to make all your dreams come true? Would you give up seven years of your life?

 

Would you betray your sister?

 

Would you die?

 

Roses and Rot is a different kind of fairy tale, one which examines the price paid for getting your wishes fulfilled. These prices are different from person to person, and it is not always the person getting their dreams fulfilled who has to pay that price. Could a child recover if she were born in Fae country then had to leave? What cost do the Fae extract for their largesse? Is an artist solely judged by her art, or is she more than just an artist? And throughout the book, though not directly tied to the fairy tale, what role does a mother’s love or lack thereof play in a person’s life?

 

In this book, when a Fae makes flowers appear, two smells come with the flowers: roses and rot. Without delving into spoilers, the book makes the point again and again: blessings from the Fae come with beauty and wealth and magic, but they come at a high cost as well. Not everyone wants to pay that cost. Not everyone is able to pay that cost. And some people are desperate to pay the cost and receive the blessing, even if the Fae are unwilling to accept the bargain. That itself is a price for the Fae’s “gift,” but one paid by others.

 

Kat Howard is, in the words of Neal Gaiman, “a remarkable young writer.” Roses and Rot is her first novel, published in 2016. (We reviewed her second novel, An Unkindness of Magicians, last year.) I most certainly do not disagree with Neal Gaiman, nor do I think I could word praise any better than he does. Roses and Rot is a marvelous novel, particularly as a debut, and Kat Howard is indeed “a remarkable young writer.”

Book Review: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Fantasy: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Winner of the Nebula Award

Finalist for Hugo Award

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR | BuzzFeed | Tor.com | BookPage | Library Journal | Publishers Weekly

 

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes…” begins Naomi Novik’s reimagining of an old fairy tale. Their Dragon is the lord of the valley, who collects tribute annually in the form of goods and gold. He is a wizard, who repays his people by keeping the Woods at bay and protecting them against other harmful magic. Once every ten years, though, he collects tribute of a different sort. A seventeen-year-old girl comes to live with him. She stays in his tower for ten years, then is returned to her parents. She never stays, though, not for longer than a few weeks. She goes, usually to the city, where she may marry or pursue a career, but never returns to the valley.

 

The girls say he never touches them. Never harms them. Never uses them for anything other than basic cooking. Still, few people if any ever move away from the valley. They feel a rootedness, a connection to the land and to their homes. This makes these girls stand out. None of them stay. Not a single one.

 

Kasia has always been the one who would be selected. She is pretty, talented, a good cook and seamstress. She is smart and witty and of the exact age to be chosen. Her best friend, Agnieszka, will be sorry to see her go. But Agnieszka is clumsy and average looking and has no obvious talents. Everyone knows that the magician always takes either the prettiest or the most talented girl, and Kasia is both of those things.

 

Until Agnieszka is chosen.

 

The reasons for choosing Agnieszka become clear as the story progresses, and her story moves from the tower to the capital city then back to the valley again. The Dragon and Agnieszka must work together to fight the growing evil of the Woods, an ancient evil that is seeking more power and more land and threatens the home that Agnieszka loves so dearly.

 

Novik is a remarkable story teller, and I finished her book (435 pages) in a single Saturday marathon read. Agnieszka is a bold and fierce heroine, smart and determined and loyal. She knows her own mind and is willing to claim what she wants. The story is rich and nuanced and stirring, filled with magic and action and romance and everything a fantasy should have. It even has a prince in it, though he is anything but charming!

 

One thing I love is the way Agnieszka changes those around her. Enemies become friends, or at least stop being enemies, when she is able to impact them. The Dragon’s feelings for the Valley, the people, and Agnieszka herself evolve through the story. Several others change sides because of the pure mindedness of Agnieszka. She may not think much of herself, but she has a way of changing hearts and minds that has much less to do with magic and much more to do with her character.

 

Uprooted is a special novel, and Naomi Novik is a gifted writer.

Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Book Review: Egg, Kevin Henkes

Book Review: Egg, Kevin Henkes

Board Book: Egg, Kevin Henkes

Kevin Henkes, award winning Caldecott artist, created a book with a perfect story structure. The Egg has 15 words used in repetition to enhance story tension and warm watercolor panels in a graphic novel layout for toddlers and preschoolers. This book has it all: a surprise twist, building emotional drama, and a happy ending. Also, the book includes an epilogue with a one word cliffhanger ending worthy of a marching lemming.

Readers are immediately drawn into the story of a single egg before, during and after hatching a _____ (spoiler alert)!

Egg packs a lot of punch in a small space.  The words range from onomatopoeia “crack” to a vocabulary building 4 syllable “miserable.” Since repeat readings will be in demand by discerning audiences, vary the cadence and tone when reading the pages that use the same word over and over again. For example, try reading the “waiting” page by increasing volume and speed with each repetition. In the same way, read the “peck” page in a 3/4 or waltz rhythm.

The title and soft pastels of this book may lead a few into pigeon-holing this selection into spring only read-alouds, along with the obligatory bunnies and flowers.  However, the enduring theme of friendship in the book will make it a favorite for repeat re-readings. In addition, the sturdy board book edition makes the Egg accessible to the youngest page turners.

The Egg is sure to be a family favorite and seasonal children’s classic for spring and all year round.

Book Review: Egg, Kevin Henkes

Also see

Booklist: Spring Books for Shared Reading with Children

Booklist: Bunny Books for Shared Reading with Children

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Poetry: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was best known for her elegiac, almost spiritual poems about nature and common things. In this collection she focuses on those very things, writing poems about her dog Percy, about thrushes and jays and foxes, mists and mountains. The result is a new appreciation of these things we might see every day, but seen instead through the eyes of an uncommon observer.

 

Oliver’s view of nature is both intimate and impersonal. The first poem in this collection says, “I go down to the shore in the morning…and I say, oh, I am miserable,/what shall–/what should I do? And the sea says/in its lovely voice;/Excuse me, I have work to do.” She feels close enough to talk to the sea personally. “I am miserable.” “What should I do.” And not to say the sea doesn’t listen or doesn’t care. The sea responds. But the response is simply, “I have work to do.” It isn’t rude, it isn’t demeaning. The sea is the sea, and it has its sea things to do.

 

In another poem, “Good-Bye Fox,” the fox tells her very matter-of-factly, “You fuss over life with your clever words, mulling and chewing on its meaning, while we just live it.” Again, intimate, a conversation with a fox. And impersonal, “You fuss over life…we just live it.” To make the point more firmly, the fox later repeats, “You fuss, we live.” Not a diss on the poet, simply an impersonal statement of fact. Nature does its thing, and our fussing does not much matter to it.

 

Mary Oliver’s poems are lovely. They speak to the heart, to the spirit, reminding us of what is around us all the time. Appreciating nature may seem simple conceptually. If we actually did more of it, we might find that it is not simple at all. A Thousand Mornings was published only a few years ago, but it speaks with the timeless elegance of nature itself.

Book Review: A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

Book Review: this and that, hülya n. yilmaz

Book Review: this and that: a hodge podge of hülya’s…poetry, hülya n. yilmaz

Poetry: this and that: a hodge podge of hülya’s…poetry, hülya n. yilmaz

I had the privilege of attending the launch party for hülya n. yilmaz’s book this and that and listen to her read some of her poems aloud. Poetry should be read aloud, and her smooth and strong voice captured the room full of friends and supporters (and maybe a few strangers who saw there was free food and wine!). This is a lovely book of very personal and intimate poems, poems about family, about her travels, about love and faith and some of the burdens of history.

 

yilmaz is originally from Turkey but has made her home in State College, PA, for many years now. Recently retired from Penn State University, this is her third book of poetry. this and that is mostly in English, but some of the poems are translated on the same page into both German and Turkish.

 

Some of the most painful and personal works talk about family. Some of them deal with a father losing his memory to dementia, with a mother’s early absence from her life, with separation from family and living abroad away from them. Some of these are so raw that they brought tears to my eyes.

 

yilmaz is a fun writer, with poems about her friends the bunnies and birds that visit her backyard. She raises the question whether it is indeed “her” backyard, since the animals have been there long before humans dropped houses into the middle of “their” forest. Her poems dance and sing, traveling from her US home to various cities around the world where she has visited or lived.

 

Although the book has mature themes, individual poems would be excellent choices for middle and high school students. The poems that are written in three languages would be particularly valuable to high school German students (and if there are students taking Turkish), since they could see how translation differs from simply converting words from one language to another, ala Google Translate. The fact that this is done by an expert who is also the author gives this added levels of authority and authenticity.

 

this and that is a poignant and sometimes emotionally raw work, but also fun and beautiful with joy and humor relieving the tension between the more personal poems. I can definitely recommend hülya’s poems to anyone who appreciates honesty and passion, qualities made all the more powerful by the scholarship and intellect of their author.

Book Review: this and that: a hodge podge of hülya’s…poetry, hülya n. yilmaz

Book Review: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver

Book Review: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver

Image result for the leaf and the cloud

Poetry: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver passed away January 17, 2019. Winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, her poetry both appealed to a wide audience and sometimes frustrated critics who favor poems that could perhaps be considered less accessible. Oliver’s work uses basic and universal themes: nature, life, death, eternity, God. Her book-length poem The Leaf and the Cloud is an excellent example of how her work is both easy to apprehend and appreciate while at the same time taking the reader deeper into thought and feeling.

 

The title comes from a John Ruskin quote: “Between the earth and man arose the leaf. Between the heaven and man came the cloud.” What follows is seven chapters of a single poem, each chapter itself broken up into smaller pieces, all working around this theme that nature both illuminates and obscures eternity. Whatever your idea of God (if you have one at all), a god that created both nature and humanity is going to be revealed through those creations–and is going to be hidden by those same creations. One can see glimpses, one can discern concepts and ideas, but no one can see the totality of the creator through the creation. I was reminded of various biblical passages as I read this poem: “The heavens declare the glory of God,” “Now, we see through a glass darkly.” Oliver does not quote from the Bible, but her work definitely gives an air of familiarity with many of the Psalms. That may be an actual echo, or it may just be from dealing with similar concepts. Either way, for this lapsed churchman, it was full of nostalgia and longing.

 

Oliver is not preachy, nor does she assume everyone believes as she does. What she does is share her faith in nature, in life, in eternity (unnamed), and in the universe. Whether you choose to walk with her is up to you as the reader. She is going to go outside, to connect with the leaves and the clouds and the beetles and the hills and the rest of nature. You should come with her, though. You will see things in new ways, hear nature speak, experience life in its many expressions, and find a different perspective within yourself.

 

The Leaf and the Cloud is romantic, especially in the sense of poets from previous times, but it does not lose its footing in the modern technological era. Instead, it reminds us that regardless of the march of time, we are creatures, part of nature, evolved to live within the universe with other creatures. We remind ourselves of this to our benefit and we forget it at our peril. Mary Oliver’s voice may be silent in death, but her poetry continues to speak as eloquently as ever.

 

When death

carts me off to the bottomlands

when I begin

the long work of rising —

Death, whoever and whatever you are, tallest king of

tall kinds, grant me these wishes: unstring my bones;

let me not be one thing but all things, and wondrously

scattered; shake me free from my name….

 

 

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Book Review: The Leaf and the Cloud, Mary Oliver