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No More Hallelujahs

by Mark Kodama

photo credit: pixabay


No More Hallelujahs is a beautiful and ruminative work of memory and emotion and of lost chances and hopes by poet Ann Christine Tabaka. It is her tenth book of poetry.

Although at times melancholy, the twenty-one poems of the chapbook seem to me to be an honest and truthful look in the rearview mirror of journey we call life. They are great stories that speak to our deepest selves.

One of my favorite works was “Be Who You Are,” which takes the standard cliché on being authentic and standing it on its head into a wonderful paean on aspiring to be something greater than oneself:

“Be who you are” they say.
But who I am
is not who I
want to be . . .
dream to be . . .
need to be . . .
I desire to be so much more.

I also enjoyed the haunting rhythmic sadness of “Beyond the Pale”

Truth that tells beyond the telling,
A past that fades beyond the past
Turning away from myself,
I hide within my skin.

Here is “I Remember Her” about the author’s mother. I love the wonderful details:

She held no malice,
spoke no hate.
though tortured was her lot.
She faded from existence
just as she arrived,
alone and unnoticed
by all but me.
I remember her
standing there
with outstretched arms.

Perhaps that should be all of our epitaphs in these days of celebrity worship and narcissistic self-gratification. We all can aspire to making this a better world in more modest ways and it would be an additional bonus to be at the same time truly appreciated by at least one person.

Here is another piece called “Forgotten Man” that I found particularly moving. The use of metaphors and the imagery was absolutely magical:

Dust motes dance on sunlight
streaming through a dingy window.
Rusty mailbox, empty, always empty.
Cadaverous cobwebs mocking
back at him from a peeling wall.
He sits alone in his room, sifting
through dim memories of a once
vibrant life. His wife is gone, adult
children too busy to visit, friends
moved far away. Yet in his hands
proof that his life was once
real . . . .”

If you love poetry I think you will love this chapbook. I close with “Lessons Learned”

I live my life in lonely solitude,
Remembering what could have
been, if only I knew then . . .
never let go of what you love.

The chapbook is published by Allen Buddha Press and available through Amazon.

Short Story Lovers: the Inner Circle Writer’s February Magazine is Full of Fresh, Exciting Stories

Reviewed by Mark Kodama


I just finished reading the Inner Circle Writers’ Magazine’s debut edition released by Clarendon Publishing House in February, 2019.  It is the best single magazine edition I have ever read on the craft of writing.

The magazine was written by the Inner Circle Writers’ Group and edited by Grant P. Hudson.  The magazine features articles by Steve Carr on his life as a writer of short stories and getting published, Dennis Doty on avoiding the shredder, Warren Alexander on writing humorous pieces, Gary Bonn on character development, and Samantha Hamilton on commas and a critique of two poems about London by Grant Hudson.  The magazine also has a nice review on Southern writer Eudora Welty by Copper Rose and a poem about poetry by Shawn Klimek.

Steve Carr lives in Richmond, Virginia and has recently published four short story anthologies: Sand, Heat, Rain and The Tales of Talker Knock.  Carr seems to have done everything: Army and Navy, playwright and author.

He recently released his book Getting Your Short Stories Published. “For most of us, there’s a place we fall in love with – South Dakota was that place for me.  While in classes, I was studying English literature and theater; outside of school whenever I had a chance I was hiking the plains and forests of the western part of the state.  The images of the scenery and thefeel of South Dakota has remained with me from that time . . . .”    

The magazine, brimming with stories and writing advice, also features unforgettable stories by David Bowmore and Jill Kiesow, as well as by authors previously mentioned. These are modern contemporary writers of the fine art of telling stories.  My very favorite was “The Coyotes,” by Kiesow – a short story that equals any story done by the ‘short story masters’ Jack London, Steven Crane, Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Alan Poe:

“She almost smiled, but it was too solemn of a rite, this holy gathering of magical creatures: part modern dog, part antiquity, part madness.  These resourceful individuals were those tricky enough to escape man’s reach but still feed on his land and take advantage of his backbreaking work. Opportunistic bastards, her husband and neighbors called them.  Miracles of nature, Celeste would counter, clearing her throat and forcing herself to stand taller under their disapproving glances.”

Master storyteller Gary Bonn’s short story Still Alive: “He is watching Isbell.  She’s been here a long time and has settled in completely.  She’s racing through the water, plunging over a fall, crashing among the rocks, shrieking with laughter – showing the other children what to do.  Showing off kindly.  She becomes the motion, the speed, the roces at one moment chaotic and in the next ordered.  Tangled and untangled.”

There is also great art by Anja Hata and Grant Hudson who drew Macbeth in a Marvel comic strip-like form and sketched the author J.R.R. Tolkien.  While some purists may be offended by seeing Shakespeare in comic strip form, I loved it.  It is a great form to make Shakespeare accessible to the masses and especially to children and child-like adults.

For those that love the word as I do, you will be pleased to know the art of the word is still alive and embodied in the works of these very gifted writers. The magazine is available on line at Clarendon Publishing House.  I cannot wait for the second month to be published.  I hope that the Inner Circle Writers’ Group can sustain what it has started.


Reading Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

Spoiler Alert: Although this review contains some spoilers, the book is a treasure trove of metaphors and symbols; you’ll no doubt be captivated once you begin reading.


Chinua Achebe masterfully guides the reader to the Lower Niger region of West Africa to experience the beauty and despair of tribal life and the tumult that accompanies the arrival of Europeans, which is all filtered through the experience of the protagonist, Okwonkwo.

Okwonkwo is one of several respected chiefs in his village of Umuofia – one of a dozen or so villages that make up the region. Okwonkwo has three wives and eight children: Ekwefi (second) , Ojiugo (third), and an unnamed first wife.

Okwonkwo is a fierce warrior. He’s also a hard-worker, being driven by a keen fear of becoming his father. His dad, Unoka, was what some in the village called an agbala, or a man who has taken no title. In this case, Unoka had no title because he was practically destitute and could not provide for his family.

Okwonkwo remembers Unoka was a talented musician who occasionally played music in neighboring villages, but he was nothing more than that. Every time he earned, he’d quickly squander it, forcing young Okwonkwo to teach himself how to become self-sufficient.

“If any money came his way, and it seldom did, he immediately bought gourds of palm-wine…”

Things Fall Apart: p. 4

Okwonkwo, though excelling in every facet that makes him a successful man, deals with completely unexamined emotional trauma that surfaces occasionally in the form of abuse of his wife and children, a stammer and unpredictable flares in temper. In spite of this, Okwonkwo is a likeable character. The reader retains hope that somehow Okwonkwo will come to understand himself and his trauma.

Abruptly, Okwonkwo is forced to exile himself and his family for seven years due to the sudden and accidental murder of a clansman. The seven years he spends with his mother’s tribe in Mbanta are filled with slow, but impactful changes. Rumors of white men and murder spread, then white men and church courts, and then suddenly, Okwonkwo sees the horrifying decline of his people’s way of life.

Okwonkwo felt a cold shudder run through him at the terrible prospect…the prospect of annihilation. He saw himself and his father crowding round their ancestral shrine waiting for worship and sacrifice and finding nothing but ashes…and his children [all] the while praying to the white man’s god.

144

Nwoye’s Mother brings to mind flickering images of the ‘long-suffering’ mammy – an old black woman with deep waves of wrinkles on her face, a light hand tremor and soulful dark eyes that have seen everything; in spite of whatever trauma she experienced, Nwoye is clearly a pillar in the family, however silent her role may be.

Her oldest child is Nwoye, who has disappointed Okwonkwo due to his laziness, a love for ‘women’s’ storytelling and an inclination toward feeling – something that Okwonkwo thinks is womanly.

Eventually, a few years after the first European missionary arrives in Mbanta, Nwoye converts to Christianity to the dismay of his family.

“You have all seen the great abomination of your brother. Now he is no longer my son or your brother. I will only have a son who is a man, who will hold his head up among my people.”

162

The story ends soon after this shocking turn of events. As Okwonkwo watches life as he knows it fade, he’s forced to take action. But the action he decides to take is something I’ll let you read about on your own. Things Fall Apart is highly recommended for your bookshelf. If you have a favorite metaphor or symbol in Things Fall Apart, go ahead and share in the comments!


Reality,  by Alan Fleming

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Reviewing The Source of Betrayal by Akwasi Maru

PJ Review Score: 3/5

3: 🙂
4: 😊
5: 😲 


Akwasi Maru is a multi-genre author, poet and doctoral student. He’s also a father, husband and Fire Captain. Mr. Maru has memberships in several nonprofit organizations that grant youth scholarships and engage in community charity.

Overview

The Source of Betrayal is a recent release by author Maru, published February 1. The story takes place mostly on or near a college campus in Maryland. The main character, Jarrod, is a star basketball player who is obsessed with a girl he met in his first year with whom he shared one class.

The Source of Betrayal is no more than 120 pages. Author Akwasi Maru starts the story with a prologue. The events in this section take place eight years into the future. Jarrod is the only character in the prologue identified by name, other than an old woman named Mary. It’s clear that the author’s intent for the prologue is to add depth to the story.

The story follows Jarrod’s life as he maneuvers through several obstacles, all of which seem a bit overblown or bizarre. He suffers tragedy time and again due to the poor and irrational choices he makes throughout the story.

Jarrod is also an amateur poet, writing heartfelt poems on his tablet throughout the story.

Additional Details

The Source of Betrayal is a heavily narrated dramatic romance with very little dialogue, which makes it read more like a stream of consciousness or fairy tale, than a realistic romance novel.

The characters in the story are all objects that rely heavily upon the interactions between the main character Jarrod, and themselves. Outside of these interactions, there is little development of these characters.

Comments

Alana Dubois, the woman Jarrod thinks he’s fated to be with, is a tortured character that deserves a voice. She’s surrounded by a few characters, including the main character, whose sole purpose is to take advantage of her in some way. Additionally, the lack of emotional depth between Alana and Jarrod is unfortunate, especially since the story is apparently about their relationship – but the story is quite compelling.


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Reading The Moon Chaser by Alexa Kang

The Moon Chaser, by Alexa Kang

PJ Review Score: 4.8/5


3: 🙂
4: 😊
5: 😲 

Alexa Kang is the author of WWII and 20th Century historical fiction. Her works include the Rose of AnzioShanghai Story (of which Moon Chaser is a spin-off) and Eternal Flame. To learn more about Alexa Kang and her works, visit her website.

Overview

The Moon Chaser is a historical novella within The Darkest Hour anthology about a woman named Yuan Wen-Ying during the Japanese invasion of China. The story is both lighthearted and intense, switching masterfully between cute jokes and tear-jerking scenes.

It takes place in Shanghai from the third-person perspective of Yuan Wen-Ying. Wen-Ying comes from a wealthy and respected family. Due to the harshness of life during the war, her family loses their power. The story picks up in 1944 with Wen-Ying heavily involved in the Tian Di Hui – a rebel group that aimed to undermine Japanese occupation on the mainland.

Analysis

Yuan Wen-Ying is a strong and empathetic character. Although she lost everything in the war, it’s clear that she’s an invaluable asset to the Tian Di Hui. Throughout the story, there are moments when Wen-Ying thinks about how different life was just a decade before. The memories are vivid and add depth to Wen-Ying’s character.

As far as female leads are concerned, Wen-Ying is a refreshing character. She’s honest and true to herself and her values, which makes her quite relatable despite being a woman who lived in the 20th century. Alexa Kang didn’t feel the need to alter Wen-Ying’s personality to make her more relateable, thereby maintaining the historical integrity of Wen-Ying’s character.

Wen-Ying faces several conflicts through the story, both internal and external, involving her ultimate mission and the man she can’t seem to ignore, Masao Takeda.

Critique

It’s clear that Alexa Kang cares about historical accuracy, which is something I respect a lot. Historical fiction done right is when a captivating story is created from non-fictional elements, such as the war itself, the toll the war took on food supplies, the Tian Di Hui, and so much more. As both a fan of historical fiction and a history buff, I was pleasantly surprised by Alexa Kang’s skill and attention to detail.

The book can be purchased via Amazon.


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Book Review: Vortex

Note: This review was submitted by a guest writer who has some association to this book.

by Mark Kodama 

I just finished Vortex. I must say it was like hosting a neighborhood potluck with all your friends bringing their ‘A’ dishes. I certainly skipped all the starchy food so as to leave room for the very best. I was not disappointed. Vortex, an anthology of literary fiction, is edited by Grant P. Hudson and published by the independent Clarendon House Publishing, based in Sheffield, England but it features authors from around the world.

Content

I loved every story – the grand ideas and then execution of the grand ideas – the craftsmanship and beauty of the words. I think if a person only reads bestsellers and classic short story anthologies they are really missing out on a lot of great stories.

I had a favorite story in Vortex. It was “The Sins of the Father,” by David Bowmore. It was an absolute page turner and just a riveting story about a priest whose moral weaknesses were about to catch up with him.

Other jewels in this crown were: “The Vanishing of M. Renior,” by RLM Cooper, “Concrete,” by Bill Swiggs, “Burnt Candle,” by Marlon Hayes and “A Rock N’ Roll Song,” by Samantha Hamilton. The stories all had grand ideas, a great soul to them and the executions of their grand ideas were flawless.

“The Vanishing of M. Renior,” is about a young American Magazine reporter in Paris, just before World War II who meets a true Parisian gentlemen M. Renior who engages her periodically with conversation and they develop a friendship. Later, he pretends not to know her. The puzzled reporter must evacuate to London before the war begins. When she investigates a story about the child refugees fleeing to England, she discovers what a truly courageous gentlemen M. Renior is.

“Concrete,” is about an Australian farmer who disowns his son for volunteering for the Army to fight in the Vietnam War. The son is killed in action and wins a medal of valor. And still, the father cannot forgive until a surviving war buddy of his son who was saved by his son comes to the farm.

“Burned candles,” is about a close-knit African-American family in Chicago trying to heal from the memories of the violent shooting death of one son and the imprisonment of a second son for his revenge killing. What stands out most about this piece is the natural dialogue of the storyteller.

“Rock N’ Roll Song,” is a story told from the point of view of a Rock N’ Roll song about a young talented rock star from Iowa who is destroyed by the fast paced life of instantaneous success. It is heart wrenching but at the same time exhilarating and certainly artistically bold and creative.

The stories were great, no false notes and the endings were all strong. I think these five pieces would hold their own in any university anthology featuring the greats like Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen Crane, and Ernest Hemingway.

I thought “The Midas Agency,” by L.E. Lacaille to be an over-the-top quirky, humorous piece of work on karma, fame and success told tongue in cheek. I absolutely loved its dark, alternate world humor.

“Mops and Fairytales,” by Catherine A. McKenzie was a marvelously disturbing piece about a middle-aged woman unable to cope with life.

“A Taste of Friendship,” by Shawn Klimek was wonderfully neurotic about a lonely neighbor who unexpectedly receives a cupcake from an anonymous neighbor.

“The Taxi,” by Edward C. Hartshorn was funny.

I thought “Animal Pancakes,” by Traci Mullins and “The Blizzard,” by Copper Rose were wonderful pieces about the deaths of close, aged family members. It is always a shock to lose someone you assume would be around forever.

Mehreen Ahmed’s “At the Far End of the Alley,” was a nice meditation on love and the contrast between love within the bounds of society and adulterous love that ruins families told as if it was a Pakistani fairytale.

Conclusion

A lot of effort and talent went into all the stories in Vortex. If I did not mention a story, it is because I don’t think laundry lists are helpful. I honestly enjoyed every single story. They were all certainly well worth the read. Certainly the world of independent publishing houses are a source of great literary works for those who enjoy the refinement of a plate of Oysters Rockefeller to go with your homemade macaroni and cheese. Vortex is available on lulu.com.


Note: This review was submitted by a guest writer who has some association to this book.