Monday, June 17, 2024

It Will Have Been So Beautiful by Amanda Shaw - Review

I'm thoroughly impressed with Shaw's debut collection. She touches on so many subjects. Her thoughts on home, love and loss, and what is going on in our world are eye-opening. She shows such insight when writing about human relationships. One underlying vibration that came through for me throughout the collection was the yearning for how things used to be. A hearkening to better times, before our world became so busy and jaded. 

I would be remiss not to mention the poem about the cat. "Felis Felix" is just an exact portrait of a cat. The final four lines, "Though not gifted with a range of sound / she lets us know with her clean tongue / You'll never own your lives as I do mine / however well you open doors." Truth...we may go out into the world, joining its hustle and bustle, but we will never be as free as a cat. 

I loved the poem touching on the waggle dance of bees (a form of animal language that honey bees use to communicate the location of food sources to other bees in their colony). "Dance, Dance, Evolution" says in its seventh stanza, "So it's a comfort / to hear there's a dance out there / to save a race from doom." A comfort indeed since bees are part of the biodiversity that humans depend on for survival. 

The title of this collection comes from a quote from Diane Arbus:

"While we regret that the past is not like the present and despair of its ever becoming the future, its innumerable, inscrutable habits lie in wait for their meaning. I want to gather them, like somebody's grandmother putting up preserves, because they will have been so beautiful."

What a quote. I'm definitely keeping it around for inspiration. 

It Will Have Been So Beautiful...indeed. An appropriate title for this stunning debut.

About the collection:

With urgency and compassion, humor and wonder, Amanda Shaw’s It Will Have Been So Beautiful examines the many dimensions of what it means to call anything “home,” including the earth as we know it. In a manner reminiscent of Eugène Atget, who wrote “will disappear” on his photographs of turn-of-the-century Paris, Shaw captures the unique melancholy of living in a time of unknowable change.

As she explores the line between love and loss, Shaw implores us to find a more profound commitment to life in all its forms. At times playful and ironic, the poems celebrate language’s sonic capacities, probing art’s potential to move us from mourning to joy.

About the Poet:

From the time she learned to read her first word — “Boom!” — Amanda Shaw has been in love with literature and language. She earned a BA in English from Smith College and has advanced degrees in education and writing. Equally at ease in a high school classroom and a World Bank boardroom, she is an expert teacher who continues to share her belief in the power of words with students of all ages.

Amanda began her career at a public high school in Brooklyn, where she was committed to student-centered curriculum and staff development as part of NYC’s small schools movement. After nine years in the city, she moved on to teaching ESL internationally and domestically, first in Rome and now in Washington DC. Witnessing poetry’s unique impact on students’ intellectual and emotional development galvanized her own writing. In 2020, she received her MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers.

In addition to actively participating in local and online writing communities, Amanda is the book review editor for Lily Poetry Review Books, where she supports emerging writers. Lily Poetry Review Books will publish her debut collection, It Will Have Been So Beautiful, in March 2024. The poems, written over 15 years, explore love and loss in personal and global contexts. For the past four years, Amanda has divided her time between New Hampshire, where she was born, and Washington, DC. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Cat Thursday: Authors and Cats (130) Caleb Carr

Welcome to the weekly meme that celebrates the wonders and sometime hilarity of cats! Join us by posting a favorite lolcat pic you may have come acros s, famous cat art or even share with us pics of your own beloved cat(s). It's all for the love of cats! Share the link to your post with your comment below.

The second Cat Thursday of each month is Authors and Cats Thursday. Each time I will feature an author, pictured with their/a cat(s), or guest posts by cat loving authors who also (sometimes) write about cats.

I'm a huge fan of Caleb Carr's The Alienist, and I have most of his other books on my shelf that I unfortunately have not gotten around to reading yet. Sadly, Carr passed away this year on May 23 from cancer. What I did not know until his death was that he was a cat lover, and that he also wrote a book about how his rescue cat saved him (see below). Rest in peace, Mr. Carr. A true talent gone too soon.

Caleb Carr (b. August 2, 1955 - d. May 23. 2024) was the critically acclaimed author of The Alienist, The Angel of Darkness, The Lessons of Terror, Killing Time, The Devil Soldier, The Italian Secretary, The Legend of Broken, and Surrender, New York. He taught military history at Bard College, and worked extensively in film, television, and theater. His military and political writings have appeared in numerous magazines and periodicals, among them The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He lived in upstate New York.

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Monday, June 10, 2024

Rebecca Hazell's The War Queens - Review

I always find funny the adage that women are the weaker sex. Women in history had a hand in so much of what went on politically, and yet few are remembered, or as well-known in history as their male counterparts. Once again, I credit historical fiction for bringing such a figure to my attention. Even as a history major in college, I had never heard of Queen Brunhilda of Austrasia. 

As I was reading The War Queens, I did some side reading on Brunhilda and much that is said about her is that she was power-hungry and driven. This would ultimately lead to her demise. On the other hand, Fredegunda, the rival queen is remembered as being behind many assassinations and political intrigues and yet she escaped the demise dealt to Brunhilda. Had she lived as long as Brunhilda did, I can't help but wonder if she might have met a similar fate. Though she seemed to always be triumphant in her schemes. 

Brunhilda of Austrasia (c. 547 - 613)
Antoni Zürcher, c. 1830

I have read the first book in Rebecca Hazell's The Tiger and the Dove series, The Grip of God (review here). She has a real talent for telling historical stories. The amount of research conducted is always astounding, leaving no doubt of historical accuracy. That being said, the stories are never dry. Queen Brunhilda is a complex character. She is driven, though I never feel she is power-hungry. She cares about her family, and the people of Austrasia...that is her motivation. Even her rivalry with Fredegunda never comes off as solely fueled by revenge over her sister. Fredegunda is a true narcissist who cares only about herself, something that shows even with the mothering of her children. History has not told us much about these two women so I'm sure there is more to the story. But I can't help thinking that Hazell got it exactly right. 

As an aside, I return to the whole "weaker sex" implication. Who is more weak than a king who allows himself to be persuaded by feminine wiles and sex? Oh, it's obvious that King Chilperic is the weakest of the four brother kings. This is why I question why so many faulted Brunhilda as being power-driven when she always only wanted to work as a partner to her husband, and subsequently to her son (and grandsons) as regent. Yet here we have Fredegunda influencing a known weak king, but nothing is said by others of her being driven and power-hungry. In this, I circle back to Hazell's deft storytelling. Fredegunda is very good at disguising her motives and making it look like it was all the king's idea in the first place. Brunhilda wears her heart and convictions on her sleeve, and ends up paying for it. 

As is probably obvious, I really loved this book. There is truly nothing better than historical fiction that makes us think, and spurs us to look beyond the story. This book is perfect for anyone who loves history, and for anyone who loves a great story.

About the book:
By the sixth century, the Roman Empire is already lost to tribal invasions, brutal Merovingian Franks have seized Gaul from the civilized Romanized Visigoths, and a dark age has descended across Europe. Now a deadly rivalry arises between two Merovingian queens. Brunhilda and Fredegunda are equals in beauty and intelligence, but opposite in vision and temperament. When the Franks demand a royal bride, Visigoth Brunhilda marries into a world that despises women. Suddenly thrust into power and repeatedly facing loss and grief, she seeks to revive a new Rome based on justice and prosperity. Her implacable foe, Fredegunda, is a former slave concubine who lives only for personal power. Insanely jealous of high-born Brunhilda, she uses seduction, assassination, war, and even witchcraft in her campaign to destroy her. Can Brunhilda survive this onslaught of evil? Can her vision survive?

About the Author:

Rebecca Hazell is a writer and artist whose nonfiction books for children garnered awards and critical praise, and were optioned for a television series. Her historical trilogy—The Grip of God, Solomon's Bride, and Consolamentum—is still in print after more than a decade. Before entering the world of books, she created educational materials for high schools that were used across the United States. She lives on Vancouver Island with her husband; her grown children and sister live nearby.

Find out more by visiting or follow Rebecca on Instagram @RebeccaHazellbooks

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The War Queens

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Thursday, June 6, 2024

Cat Thursday - How to spot a cat lover

Welcome to the weekly meme that celebrates the wonders and often hilarity of cats! Join us by posting a favorite lolcat pic you may have come across, famous cat art or even share with us pics of your own beloved cat(s). It's all for the love of cats! Share the link to your post with your comment below.

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