Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Hard Road South and The King's Oracle...safe travel through books

"Books" photo via Pixabay.com
Reading is a way to travel through time and space and never leave the safe harbor of our homes. And even though our country is slowly reopening to the new normal of mask-wearing social distancing, the Covid 19 pandemic still ravages the planet, and the number of related deaths in the United States has risen by nearly 100,000 more than I noted in my blog post, just two months ago. Thank goodness for books to "take us away!"
So, today, I'd like to introduce you to two wonderful new books I've recently read, from my publisher, Blue Ink Press. (You may remember that Blue Ink Press will be publishing my middle grade book, Zephyr Stone and the Moon Mist Ghost, in 2021.) Before reading my reviews of each book, below, I think it’s important to note that although historical fiction, Hard Road South by Scott Gates, and young adult fantasy, The King’s Oracle by Sherry Torgent are from completely disparate genres and target readership age groups, they both excel at voice, pacing, world building, and character development. Both books succeed in making the reader care about the characters and become emotionally invested in the outcome of the story and how it affects those characters.
Another element they have in common is the theme of a journey. Journeys can be geographical or spiritual or a combination of the two. In the best stories, the physical journey leads to spiritual growth, as it does in these two novels. And when I speak of spiritual, I refer to the core of the person on the journey. That which is home to, and a reflection of, their true selves, regardless of the physical vessels in which they are housed. Following, are my reviews for each book in the order in which I read them.

Hard Road South by Scott Gates 
 (Published by Blue Ink Press and available through Amazon  and independent book stores listed at IndieBound )
Hard Road South is historical fiction set in the era just after the end of the
Hard Road South by Scott Gates
American Civil War. On an April morning in 1869, former union solider, Solomon Dykes, leaves his Connecticut home, of which he has little to hold him, and begins his journey to a place that
caught his heart and imagination during the American Civil War—the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He doesn’t make it quite that far, but settles in Loudoun County, near Middleburg, Virginia. There, his life becomes entangled with a South struggling to recover, both physically and spiritually, from the ravages of war and that which drove the nation to civil war.
Jeb Mosby is a farmer living with his wife and his elderly father, a father whose mind and body, both, tend to wander. On their farm, just outside of Middleburg, Mosby coaxes crops from the rocky ground as his lovingly tends to the needs of his home and family. It’s one of his Pappy’s wandering spells that brings Solomon Dykes into Mosby’s corner of the world. An encounter that forever changes the life trajectory of both Mosby and Dykes.
Although written for an adult readership, it would be appreciated by young adult readers, as well. After all, high school-aged readers are not limited to reading books written specifically within the Young Adult genre. High school is where I discovered and devoured some of the great works of literature, from Shakespeare to Dostoevsky to Hemingway. Although parents have less influence over their teenaged children’s reading habits than they did when those offspring were younger, they can rest assured there is nothing, in this novel, that could be construed as inappropriate for younger readers. If it were a movie, I’d rate it PG-14 for subject matter and interest.
The story is told, primarily, from the points of view of its two main characters, Dykes and Mosby, with a smattering of chapters told from the viewpoints of minor characters. Each chapter is devoted to one POV at the time and skillfully captures the voice of the character in dialogue, thought, and action.

Scott Gates, author of Hard Road South
Scott Gates wisely sets the pace of the book to that of a gentle, but steady and unceasing, plow-driven mule. It perfectly matches the pace of the era and the reader easily slips into that 19th century spirit, never boring, always pushing forward. The author seamlessly weaves in details of life in the 1860s, which add to the interest and credibility of the “historical” part of this historical fiction.

The King’s Oracle by Sherry Torgent
(Published by Blue Ink Press, available June 16, 2020 and may be pre-ordered through Amazon and independent book stores listed at IndieBound)
Set in an indeterminate time, the clothing, modes of travel, and weaponry give
The King's Oracle by Sherry Torgent
the novel’s setting a medieval quality. Because of a long-ago clash and disagreement among the civilization’s leaders, approximately half of its population (the Alrenians,) resides in the tree canopy, living and moving about by an intricate network of rope bridges and platforms, and the other half (the Uluns,) are earth-bound, attempting to survive on the ground, much of which was made toxic during a past event known as The Great Destruction, when fire rained down upon the earth.
Twenty-two-year-old Wynter is a member of the Alrenians, the people of the eagle, and, like her father before her, is a Transporter, whose job is to transport items from place to place among the branches. We first meet Wynter as she reluctantly and secretly takes the place of her cousin, Jack, as an escort for the Alrenian queen. What follows, tests not only Wynter’s ability to disguise herself as a man, but her ability to think on her feet when she finds those booted feet, not skittering among the Alrenian treetops, but planted firmly on the dangerous ground of the Uluns.
The other primary character is Gideon, heir apparent of the Ulus, the people of the wolf. Troubled by a disturbing and recurrent dream of interaction with the Alrenian queen, he seeks the counsel of the Ulun seer, a Merlin-like character named Gotz. As the future king tries to make sense of the dream-induced vision Gotz presents him, and how it plays into his destiny as leader of the Uluns, Wynter enters his world of ground-dwellers and an uneasy partnership of sorts emerges as they both attempt to do what is best for their people.

Sherry Torgent, author of The King's Oracle
I was privileged to receive a digital version of The King’s Oracle as an advanced reading copy (ARC) and have, since, pre-ordered a paper-printed edition of this intriguing novel. Call me old-fashioned, but when I truly enjoy a book, I long to hold it in my hands and give it a home on my bookshelf!
 Although it falls within the young adult genre, I believe it has crossover appeal to both older (11-12 year-old) middle grade readers and adult readers. Parents of older middle grade readers will find the subject matter and its treatment, entirely appropriate for that younger readership. Although, at twenty-two years old, the main character’s age falls beyond the common young adult genre’s teenaged protagonist, “the star of the show,” Wynter, has a youthful personality to which teen readers will relate. (I use the phrase “the star of the show,” because the book has a cinematic quality, which engages the reader and makes the book hard to put down.)
Although the majority of The King’s Oracle is told from the point of view of either Wynter or Gideon, the POV of a few other characters is also entwined throughout the book, with each chapter titled with the name of the character whose viewpoint is utilized in that section. By this method, the reader learns not only the thoughts and actions of the two main characters and their views of the world, but also becomes privy to the co-existing intrigue of other characters of which Wynter and Gideon are unaware.
There is just enough humor to buoy our spirits as the action moves swiftly along among forays into both realistic battle scenes and into the desires and sometimes confusing emotions of the human heart. Sherry Torgent has managed to weave together the look and feel of a long-ago time and far-away fantastical land with a fresh, contemporary voice that invites 21st century readers to feel at home amid the strangeness.
I invite you to read more about the authors, Scott Gates and Sherry Torgent, at Blue Ink Press.

Thanks for stopping by. Ya'll come back, now! (And, please, stay safe and healthy out there.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

And, Still, the Birds Sing...in feathered hope.

"A Perch of Birds" Watercolor by Hector Giacomelli, 1822-1904
(My husband gave me a print of this beautiful painting for my April 6 birthday.)

Little did I know how much the world would change since my last post on March 8, 2020. Sure, I knew there was a new virus let loose in the world and there were about 500 cases in the United States, but it still felt like it was "out there" somewhere. Today, April 8, there are over 400,000 cases and over 14,000 related deaths in our country, alone. The United States, which had appeared to be so impervious in the beginning, is now the Covid 19 virus epicenter of the world. Oh, "how the mighty are fallen." The virus has insinuated itself into every human life on earth. I dare say there is nowhere you can go that has not been touched by it, directly or indirectly—physically, economically, emotionally, or mentally. 

I present two poems in response. The first, is one I wrote this morning as I sat at my kitchen table, reading the sad news on my laptop while I heard birdsong wafting through my screen door on a warm, spring breeze. And the second, is one of my favorite poems of all time.

And, Still, the Birds Sing
Kate Louise Wood

I question and dread,
I cry, and I rage.
I say it’s all fine
as I lie through my teeth.
I tremble and quail,
I fret and I doubt.
I seek where to hide,
shutting down, shutting in.

But the world doesn’t stop,
though it feels like it must.
A breeze strokes my cheek
and ruffles the trees.
The sun warms my skin
and sparkles the bay.
And life presses on,
and, still, the birds sing.
"Carolina Wren" by contemporary N.C. artist, E. M. Corsa
(An original watercolor I gave my husband for his birthday)

Hope is the Thing With Feathers

Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Thanks for stopping by. Y'all come back, now. (And wash your hands!)


Sunday, March 8, 2020

Celtic Kissing Cousins...Ireland and Scotland

"Woodland at Loch Lomond" photo by the author, Kate Wood
I’ve always wished to travel to the magical lands of Ireland and Scotland. Must be something deep in my DNA calling me home. I’ve not yet made it to the Emerald Isle (not to be confused with North Carolina’s lovely Emerald Isle, to which I have traveled!) But several years ago, I spent a couple weeks in Scotland, half of that time on the wild and windswept Isle of Skye. At every turn, I found both photographic and literary inspiration, much of which has made it into my latest “work-in-progress” contemporary fantasy novel, Murmuration.

In researching for my book, I found several crossovers of Irish and Scottish mythological creatures such as, water horses—the Irish Aughisky, and the Scottish Kelpie, and the wailing criers of impending death—the Irish Banshee and the Scottish Ben Nighe. With similar origins, including the Norwegian Vikings, and just the Irish Sea between them, (as narrow as 47 miles across in places,) it’s not surprising.

"Dunvegan Castle" by Kate Wood
Both cultures take their fairies seriously. While traveling on Skye, I was able to capture a photograph of Dunvegan Castle, which I think illustrates its fairytale qualities. Later, I learned there is a real fairy story connected to Dunvegan and the Clan MacLeod, whose chiefs have resided at the castle in an uninterrupted line since the 13th century.

"The Fairy Bridge" by Kate Wood
The tale is one of love and marriage between a fairy lady and chief of the Clan MacLeod. Apparently, there are a couple versions of the story, although both tell of a time-limit on the union before the fairy must return to her own kind. In one, the fairy wife left their baby with the saddened MacLeod and when she heard the child crying one night, returned and wrapped him in her silken shawl. Another tells of her giving the shawl to her husband as they parted ways on The Fairy Bridge (three miles away from Dunvegan Castle and still standing.)

Both stories agree that, waved as a flag, the red-dotted yellow silk shawl would shield the clan from harm as long as it was employed no more than three times. At last count, it had been raised twice. Though fragile and tattered, the Fairy Flag can still be viewed by today’s visitors, the enchanted shawl protected within a glass case inside Dunvegan Castle, ready to fly one last time in defense of the MacLeods.
"Kiss Bill, He's Irish" photo of author's husband by Kate Wood

Thanks for stopping by. Y’all come back, now. (And a Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all you Celtic Kissing Cousins!)


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Something Old, Something New...I see the moon, and the moon sees you

"Blue Moon" August, 2018, Edenton, NC, photo by author, KLWood
This post holds something old—borrowing information from one of my 2014 posts regarding full moon names—and something new—my recently composed poem inspired by the full moon, a few nights ago. In my writing over the past few years, I've noted a couple trends: ghosts and the moon. Not necessarily at the same time. (Although my Middle Grade novel, under publishing contract with Blue Ink Press, is titled Zephyr Stone and the Moon Mist Ghost. So, yeah, those subjects have been known to combine in my moonstruck imagination.) 

Here, then, I humbly offer my poem celebrating this January's hauntingly beautiful full Wolf Moon, followed by a list and explanation of traditional full moon names.

The Wolf Moon
by Kate Louise Wood

The Wolf Moon howls in the January night,
shivering and glimmering up my spine,
stalking the waves of smoky clouds,
roaming and hunting from sterling heights.
Cold and free, it haunts the sky,
breathing its glittering mists upon us,
touching the wild, fierce core of my soul
as I gaze into its silver eyes.

"Full Moon Through the Pines" photo by KLWood
January: Wolf Moon 
Native Americans and medieval Europeans named January's full moon after the howling of hungry wolves lamenting the midwinter paucity of food. Other names for this month's full moon include Old Moon and Ice Moon.
February: Snow Moon
The typically cold, snowy weather of February in North America earned this name. Other common names include Storm Moon and Hunger Moon.
March: Worm Moon
Native Americans named this last full moon of winter for the worm trails that would appear in the newly thawed ground. Other names include Chaste Moon, Death Moon, Crust Moon (a reference to snow that would become crusty as it thawed during the day and froze at night,) and Sap Moon, after the tapping of the maple trees.

April: Pink Moon
Northern Native Americans name April's full moon for a species of early blooming wildflower. In other cultures, this moon is called the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and the Fish Moon.
May: Flower Moon
May's abundant blooms are the source of this moon's name in many cultures. Other names include the Hare Moon, the Corn Planting Moon, and the Milk Moon.
June: Strawberry Moon
"Moon Over Seward, Alaska, August 2011" photo by KLWood

In North America, the harvesting of strawberries in June gives that month's full moon its name. Some European traditions have dubbed it the Rose Moon, while other cultures named it the Hot Moon, for the beginning of summer's heat.
July: Buck Moon
Male deer, which shed their antlers every year, begin to regrow them in July, hence the Native American name for July's full moon. Other names include Thunder Moon, for the month's many summer storms, and Hay Moon, after the July hay harvest.

August: Sturgeon Moon
North American fishing tribes called August's full moon the Sturgeon Moon since that fish species was abundant during this month. It's also been called the Green Corn Moon, the Grain Moon, and the Red Moon, for the reddish hue it often takes on in the summer haze.
September: Harvest Moon 
The most familiar named moon refers to the time of year after the autumn equinox when crops are gathered. It also refers to the moon's particularly bright appearance and early rise, which lets farmers continue harvesting into the night. Other names include the Corn Moon and the Barley Moon.
"Alaska Moon" photo by KLWood

October: Hunter's Moon
The first moon following the Harvest Moon is named for the preferred time to hunt summer-fattened deer and fox unable to hide in, now, bare fields. Like the Harvest Moon, the Hunter's Moon is also particularly bright and long-lived in the sky, giving hunters the opportunity to stalk prey at night. Other names include the Travel Moon and the Dying Grass Moon.

November: Beaver Moon
There is disagreement over the origin of November's full moon name. Some say it comes from Native Americans setting beaver traps during this month, while others say the name comes from the heavy activity of beavers building their winter dams. Another name is the Frost Moon.
December: Cold Moon
The coming of winter earned December's full moon name. Other names include the Long Night moon and the Oak Moon.
And, of course, there's the Honeymoon, Blue Moon, and Carolina Moon (but I'll return to them another day, er, night.)

Thanks for stopping by. Y'all come back, now!


Saturday, December 7, 2019

Toilet Paper...and other uncommon gifts

"A Snowy Buttercup Cottage Christmas, Jan. 4, 2017" photo by KLWood

It's gift-giving (and receiving) season, once again. We have an old friend who often surprises us with his unique choice of gifts. Among, many: a toy, zebra-striped bedroom slippers, and a particularly memorable one, a roll of toilet paper.

"Yo-Kai Whisper" photo by KLWood
The toy was a strange, little, plastic creature. It looked a bit like a ghost (as in one of Casper the Friendly Ghost's cohorts,) with one white "arm" held up at its side. Turning questioning eyes to the gift-giver, I cocked my quizzical head and raised my eyebrows.

"Go, ahead," he said, grinning. "Pull his arm down." Feeling like I was pulling down the handle of one of those "one-armed bandit" gambling slot machines, I did as instructed. I was rewarded with a silly, blubbery response and a voice telling me to ask a question and shake him. A bit, dubiously, I asked if it was going to rain and shook the creature. "It shall be, because Whisper agrees." Ha! It was a kind of "Magic 8 Ball" toy. 

It had a number of settings, including "Words of Wisdom" and would even suggest a lottery number for the day. Sitting idle for a few moments, it spluttered out a "raspberry" at me. Turns out, certainly unbeknownst by the gift-giver, it was a Japanese anime character—one of the Yo-Kai, named "Whisper." Our granddaughters knew exactly what/who it was and decided our friend was cooler than they had formerly thought. It was perfect, the next Halloween, when I dressed up as a mysterious witchy kind of woman and carried it around as my "spirit guide," answering the questions put to it by friends and, in the cafe, complete strangers, who giggled again, like children. The joyful gift of silly laughter.
"Zebra Slippers" photo by KLWood

One Christmas, he gave my husband and me each a pair of slippers. Mine were, for me, an uncharacteristically vibrant pair of black and white zebra-striped ones. Not my usual earth-toned, blend-in-with-the-background L. L. Bean types. Hmmmm. But, let me tell you. Those slippers kind of glow in the dark and, without any backs to them, they are perfect for locating and slipping into at my bedside for those cold, winter, middle-of-the-night-dark, foot-paddings to the bathroom! Thank you, my friend, for the kindly gift of comfort.

That brings us to the gift of toilet paper. Eyes twinkling, like Santa pulling a treasure from his toy sack, he pulled a roll out of his bag, and presented it to me. "Here! I thought it might come in handy with all your extra holiday visitors visiting the bathroom." Once I lowered my eyebrows to a more typical position, I nodded and thanked him, very much. And you know, he was right. That roll of toilet paper absolutely came in handy. The thoughtful gift of practicality.

"The Gift of Toilet Paper" photo by KLWood
There's one more thing about our friend's gift-giving. He doesn't limit it to Christmas or other special occasions. He shows up at our door bearing gifts for no particular reason other than to share and express his gratitude for our friendship. The delightful gift of the unexpected.

So, here's to you all, this gifting time of year. Maybe think outside the box (unless it's a box of tissues, perhaps!) May you give and receive gifts joyful, kindly, thoughtful, and unexpected.

Thanks for stopping by. Y'all come back, now!
And Merry Christmas!


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Autumn Revelation...waxing poetic

"Yorktown Autumn" photo by K.L. Wood

Today, I share my poetic efforts as inspired by the changing seasons. Thanks for taking a moment to read my humble offering.

Kathryn Louise Wood

And with Autumn comes change,
green leaves casting off their homogeneous cloaks,
revealing true colors, no longer in hiding,
but shimmering forth in singular beauty,
unleashed with the freedom of "what's there to lose?"

I've known people akin to the leaves in the Fall,
drawing near to their earthly demise.
They cast off the uniform safety-in-numbers,
unabashed as their spirits break through their firewalls,
flash-flooding among us with stained glass impressions,
prismatic effusions of vibrance and fervor,
imprinting true colors onto the world's stage,
then bursting the ties of their old earthly bounds
and blazing away into heaven.

Thanks for stopping by. Ya'll come back, now!


Monday, July 8, 2019

Our Chance...to cool our planet's fever

"Nova Scotia Sunset" photo by the author, KLWood
My post this time around is short and to the point. An opinion piece, you might say, but one in which I feel impelled to express myself on this "hot" button topic.
My thoughts on global climate change:
Even if you thought, perhaps incorrectly, that your child's illness was completely natural in origin and nothing you did caused it to occur, would you sit back and simply watch her sicken, weaken, and possibly die? Even if you thought death was inevitable, would you refuse to comfort her? Would you block efforts to cool down her raging fever? Of course you wouldn't, because you are a good and loving parent.
The preponderance of objective, non-political, scientific evidence points to the fact that human activity has caused a sharp rise in global warming, which could lead to the demise of our planet's health. (Please read this NASA link: https://climate.nasa.gov/)
"Obed, TN Autumn" photo by the author, KLWood
Even if you can't bring yourself to accept this, would you want your great-grandchildren to look back on your generation of earth-dwellers and realize you sat back and did not do everything in your power to help relieve the situation? Even if you thought it might be futile? Even if it meant exerting influence over people outside your own country's borders? Would you not find a way to offer some relief? Some way to bring down the earth's fever?
What we do now or refuse to do now, has direct influence on the lives of our children of the future (and that is not a far-distant future.) Our own individual actions, and those individuals we elect to make our collective actions, demonstrate where our hearts and spirits lie.
We are both child and parent of the earth.
This earth, this home—God's gift to us to thrive within and care for.

Thanks for stopping by. Y'all come back, now.
Kate (Non-apologetic Tree Hugger and Mother of Future Generations)

Friday, June 7, 2019

June is a Poem...we live each year

Flaming June (1895) by Frederic Leighton
The warm, summery days of June instill within me a sense of decadent indolence. And so, I lazily approach this post by simply gathering together a bouquet of wonderful poems by famous poets of the past and illustrating them with some appropriately summer-tinged paintings. Two of the poems are by American poet, James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916,) who seemed to have a particular penchant for voluptuous verse celebrating the month of June. I also include a lovely one by American poet, Sara Teasdale (1884-1933,) and one by Welsh poet, Henry William Davies (1871-1940,) who spent some time "hoboing" around the United Kingdom and the United States, which put him directly in touch with the great out-of-doors and the pleasures of early summer.

Bauerngarten mit Sonnenblumen (1907) by Gustav Klimt
When June is Here
James Whitcomb Riley

When June is here--what art have we to sing
The whiteness of the lilies midst the green
Of noon-tranced lawns? Or flash of roses seen
Like redbirds' wings? Or earliest ripening
Prince-Harvest apples, where the cloyed bees cling
Round winey juices oozing down between
The peckings of the robin, while we lean
In under-grasses, lost in marveling.
Or the cool term of morning, and the stir
Of odorous breaths from wood and meadow walks,
The bobwhite's liquid yodel, and the whir
Of sudden flight; and, where the milkmaid talks
Across the bars, on tilted barley-stalks

The dewdrops' glint in webs of gossamer.

Dusk in June
Sara Teasdale

Evening Song by Sir George Clausen (1852-1944)
Evening, and all the birds
In a chorus of shimmering sound
Are easing their hearts of joy
For miles around.

The air is blue and sweet,
The few first stars are white,--
Oh let me like the birds

Sing before night.

James Whitcomb Riley

Queenly month of indolent repose!
I drink thy breath in sips of rare perfume,
As in thy downy lap of clover-bloom
I nestle like a drowsy child and doze
The lazy hours away. The zephyr throws
The shifting shuttle of the Summer's loom
And weaves a damask-work of gleam and gloom
Before thy listless feet. The lily blows
A bugle-call of fragrance o'er the glade;
And, wheeling into ranks, with plume and spear,
Thy harvest-armies gather on parade;
While, faint and far away, yet pure and clear,
A voice calls out of alien lands of shade:--

All hail the Peerless Goddess of the Year!

Woman With a Parasol (1875) by Claude Monet

All in June
William Henry Davies

A week ago I had a fire
To warm my feet, my hands and face;
Cold winds, that never make a friend,
Crept in and out of every place.

Today the fields are rich in grass,
And buttercups in thousands grow;
I'll show the world where I have been--
With gold-dust seen on either shoe.

Till to my garden back I come,
Where bumble-bees for hours and hours
Sit on their soft, fat, velvet bums,

To wriggle out of hollow flowers.

Thanks for stopping by. Y'all come back, now!