Saturday, December 3, 2016

Poetry Review: TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH, by Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire


Through Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth the empowerment of women becomes like a burning tempest kindled up by the rawness of Warsan Shire’s words. The poems are also about reality, the horrors that some people have to face in a word driven by war. They carry with them such human depth, none more so than the poem In Love and In War. 

“To my daughter I will say
‘when the men come, set yourself on fire.’

The poem is only two lines, but it establishes the tone for the rest of the work; it acts like a summary for one of her strongest ideals, that of personal and cultural integrity.

Shire does not compromise. The idea of setting oneself on fire is tangible to suicide. The men are coming, the soldiers and sons of war, so let us end it before they can touch us. This can be read as an act by a woman burning herself to avoid the objectifying effects that are coming her way. Historically speaking, the women of an invaded country often become the greatest victims. We all know what humans can do when in a blood frenzy. By committing suicide these daughters can avoid the worse of such possible crimes. But the act of setting oneself on fire can be read in a different way, a much brighter way.

Like all great poetry, multiple readings come out of Shire’s words. I like to think of the fire as a metaphorical flame of individuality. When the invaders come, set your hearts ablaze and remember who you are; remember your culture; remember your language: remember you. When the men come do no lose this sense of you to the superimposing of another’s beliefs. Become angry, fight against it, rage at the injustice and learn how to beat it. But at the very root of it all, never ever forget. In such an idea Shire establishes the authority of the individual’s voice.

How about love? As a woman entering a relationship set yourself on fire in the same sense, do not become meek and docile: do not allow him to take over. This reading feels like one of the strongest. If you compare this to the ideas that are manifested in the spoken word poem For Women Who are Difficult to Love it becomes more evident. The ideas empower women and suggest that if you are volatile, if your personality is like that of a fire, do not quench yourself: carry on. Be yourself, he is not worthy if he cannot love you for you: keep that fire burning.

There’s also another reading that comes here, tangible to the first instance of suicide. When men are near and love is close, set yourself on fire and avoid heartache. But, I do not overly belief in this one; it can be read in the poem, but when comparing it to Shire’s body of work it seems far too pessimistic. Shire is about empowering women not destroying life. She is a humanist; thus, there is much to be taken from her words. They are words that need to be heard now more than ever as the world becomes increasingly multi-cultural and transgendered, understanding the perspective of others is vital for the development of a more accepting world. This is a very powerful collection of poetry.


Bookworm Sean is a book obsessed English student who can usually be found over on Goodreads raving about his latest read. Recently, poetry has become one of his favorite literary forms of expression; thus he has started to read more and more of it. Look for Sean on Facebook, as well!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Book Review: CATALYST (Star Wars) - A Rogue One Novel, by James Luceno

James Luceno
CATALYST (Star Wars) - A Rogue One Novel
Del Rey
Science Fiction

There is no forgetting the feeling of first seeing Star Wars: A New Hope when it hit theaters in 1977. And I will never forget taking my kids out of school mid-day to see the first showings The Phantom Menace in 1999. I have three kids, adults now, but the four of us share an immense love for all things Star Wars. And the reason I say all of this --I did not care for CATALYST. I read it in two days, but it was so blah as to be forgettable.

I'd have bought this book regardless of the hype it needed to be read before seeing the upcoming (12/2016) release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I was ready for the story to be something of a prequel to the movie. I just wasn't ready to be bored by the telling of the tale. (There may be book spoilers in this review. Forewarned).

CATALYST takes place during the end of the Clone Wars, and prior to Rogue One. In this novel we meet brilliant scientist, Galen Eros, and his wonderful wife Lyra. Galen dedicated his life, and life work, to finding ways of efficiently providing energy to the galaxy. The Eros are not about sides. They are neither for the Republic, or the Separatists. They are more for the advancement as a whole, and peace. Lyra, who appreciates her husband's mind, and understands when he disappears within himself --mathematical formulas, problems, potential solutions swirling about inside his brain-- is pregnant with their first child.

When the planet they are working on undergoes a leadership coup, and Marshal Phara replaces the former king, the Eros' are arrested. It is clear Galen's mind has saved their lives. Getting the man to work for them, for their strides forward, and the planet's overall benefit, is easier said than done. While imprisoned, Lyra gives birth to their daughter, Jyn (the star of Rogue One).

Orson Krennic, once knew Galen. Is aware of Galen's work. And if he plays his cards right, can rescue the Eros while earning brownie points within the Republic, and under Chancellor Palpatine's command. Winning the war is all that matters, and the plans to build a moon-sized battle station is all well and good. Without a weapon, it is useless.

Krennic realizes Galen's principals cannot be easily manipulated. The idea of blanketing the Eros family in an aura of safety (imaginary) is the idea. He knows sooner or later Galen will come around and work for the Republic and agree to be the mastermind behind the Death Star's weapon system.

When the Clone Wars end, and Dooku is dead, and Darth Vader is born, the chancellor becomes the Emperor, and the Republic the Empire. All the while, Krennic is biding his time, and rising in ranks. Coercing smuggler Has Obitt into his secret employment, Krennic plots strategic moves giving the Empire more control over the galaxy, and making patches of radicals seem like the enemy.

But time is of the essences, and the Emperor's patients grow tired of waiting on Krennic's scientist to come around. Working with kyber crystals, Galen is close to achieving what he believes is his goal. Krennic knows that Lyra is as much his problem, as she is Galen's grace. There has to be a way to keep her from influencing her husband, from interfering with his work. Galen must be allowed to finish what he started, what only he can complete!

Aware things might not be what they seem, Galen and Lyra know they must flee the long-arm reach of the Empire. They risk imprisonment, or worse if they remain. Getting off the planet won't be easy, but it might be their only chance at surviving the terrible mess they got themselves into!

 James Luceno can write. No doubt. The author did the best he could with what he'd been given, I'm sure. We meet some amazing characters, and there is some potential for more stories with Has Obitt and some of his smuggling cronies. I am glad I read the book, but it did nothing to excite me about the upcoming movie. I dare say I feel somewhat deflated. Do you have to read CATALYST before seeing Rogue One? I have no idea. Should you? Your call. My guess, those who don't should be just fine in the theaters later this month.

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series, and
The Vaccination Trilogy


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON, by C.T. Phipps

C.T. Phipps
Crossroad Press / Macabre Ink
Horror / Post-Apocalypse

CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON is the first book I have read by C.T. Phipps. I wasn't sure what to expect. For starters, the cover is amazing. I've said it many times before, but will gladly repeat myself, I oftentimes judge a book by the cover. It may be shallow. It's, however, what makes me pick up a book in the first place for closer inspection.

There is a lot going on in this tale. Information comes at the reader from all directions. Phipps is world building, and does a fantastic job at it. At first I was compelled to take notes while I read. When I set my pen down and just let the storyteller tell the story, I settled in and enjoyed the ride.

The earth is little more than a giant wasteland, with groups of survivors banded here and there. John Henry Booth is a ranger. When his team is wiped out during an ambush, and only Booth survives, he is blamed for the deaths despite his protests that former Dr. Alan Ward is behind the attack, and responsible for the murders of his soldiers.

When torturer, Mercury Takahashi, is wanted for the untimely death of her husband, a plan is hatched. Luring Booth in as a guide, she convinces the former ranger to help her traverse the wastelands to where she hopes to find solace in Kingsport. Since her trek, and his plan to hunt down Ward --founder of the Black Cathedral in the Great Barrier Desert-- coincide, he agrees.

Crossing the wasteland would be dangerous enough. The slavers, and ghouls, the monsters, and everything-that-goes-bump-in-the-night only make the journey that much more treacherous. Banding together with others along the way, one dangerous situation after another, Booth is certain they will find Ward. The problem? Will he be able to get revenge for his soldiers, and defeat Alan Ward when he gets to the Black Cathedral?

The action is constant. Intense. I loved the characters. Booth is tough, a wiseass, but also genuine and caring. There is a clear sense of purpose, and drive behind the story. And Phipps moves it forward with practiced pacing, and skill. C.T. Phipps spits out enough hints and allegations throughout the book to craft an entire universe of books in the series, and who has two thumbs and would be happy about that? This guy right here.

Be sure to check out my interview with C.T. Phipps for a more personal look at the man, the author!

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series, and
The Vaccination Trilogy

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book Review: METALTOWN, by Kristen Simmons

Kristen Simmons
Tor Books
YA / Dystopian

METALTOWN is one of the best books I have read this year. Reading this novel filled me with an intense mix of emotions. Despair, and dread were like a constant black cloud above me page after page. The slight glimmers of hope were dim, and dreary at best. The three main characters I immediately loved, and cared about. Their plight was real, and hopeless, and they just had to win the fight by the end . . .

But I am getting ahead of myself. There are a handful of union-inspired movies that I will watch any time they are on television. There is the classic, On the Waterfront (Marlon Brando), Sally Field in Norma Rae, and the intense F.I.S.T. with Sylvester Stallone. Great films. Kristen Simmons' METALTOWN is like a combination of the three. Do not get me wrong, METALTOWN is completely original, but there is that . . . flavor to it that was, for me, reminiscent of these epic movies.

Metaltown is a factory town. Small Parts employees nothing but kids and teenagers. Long hours, little pay--if the kids are paid at all--and horrendous working conditions. Safety is not an issue. Churning out product to keep the other factories in town going is all that matters. And the Hamptons own it all. The weapons built supply army of the Northern Federation in their fight against the Advocates (Eastern Federation Radicals). The work performed is important, if the war is ever to be won.

More than best friends, Ty has taken on Colin as his protector. Even though Colin is older, and she is smaller. No one messes with Colin. Safety has been called, and by street rules anyone that starts trouble with Colin, also is starting trouble with Ty. They're a team. They work side-by-side at Small Parts, and barely manage to make ends meet.

With what little pay Colin earns, he contributes to the support of his family. Having a job is everything. Without Small Parts the entire family would be homeless, perhaps dead in months.Ty, an orphan, struggles at just surviving day in and day out. Sleeping mostly at a shelter when beds are available, her safety is in constant jeopardy.

Lena Hampton is wealthy, lives on the opposite side of town, and wants nothing more than to be part of the family business. She knows she can be more resourceful than her often intoxicated and ineffective brother Otto. Her father will never give her the chance, despite her best efforts. Decidedly, she takes a tour of Metaltown, of Small Parts. Inadvertently, she fires one of the shop's employees that sets into motion an industrial revolution that is more bloody, and brutal, and deadly than anyone could have ever anticipated!

Simmons builds a world so vividly that readers will smell the unwashed clothing, and body odor of the factory workers. The frigid cold outside the factory, and the blistering heat within the windowless structure gave me hot and cold flashes. With just a splash of Oliver Twist (should have mentioned it earlier), I was beside the rebels, and a part of their revolt from the onset, and cheering by the end. And crying. It isn't often a book makes me emotional enough to cry. METALTOWN was that kind of story. Simmons has crafted those kinds of characters.

I might have finished reading the book moments ago, but I strongly suspect I will be thinking about them for a long time.

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series, and
The Vaccination Trilogy 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Book Review: THE COURIER, by Gerald Brandt

Gerald Brandt
Science Fiction / Cyberpunk

Call me shallow, but I often judge a book by the cover. Well. Not the book, but if the cover doesn't catch my eye, I may not pick it up and see what the story is about. THE COURIER has that grab-me-kind-of-cover. And, when I picked it up to read the synopsis, I was hooked.

Set in the future, it seems the world is past apocalyptic times, and has found a way to function, and thrive, and is right back to its old ways. Apparently, even in the distant future it is the corporations that run everything. Forget about factions. After the world is scorched by nuclear weapons, the city is divided into levels. Actual levels. Think one giant, underground parking garage. The farther down you go, the poorer you must be.

Orphaned, independent, and driven, sixteen-year-old Kris Ballard, has been on most of the Levels. She's a bike courier, making ends meet (barely) delivering packages from point A to point B. At the end of a shift, and despite a nagging feeling, Ballard accepts a last minute delivery. After picking up the parcel at one end of the city, she has to travel across town for the drop off.

Problem is, when she reaches point B, someone is inside the corporate building knifing her contact. Despite hightailing it out of the building, the killer saw her, and those behind the murder have the resources to trace her every move.

With the package still in her possession, Ballard is on the run. It seems like anywhere she seeks solace, she is immediately found. The different corporations want her for different reasons. There is no one she can trust . . . until she is forced to finally put her trust into someone. Ian Miller.

Miller works for A.C.E. and he is a lot like Ballard. A.C.E. is kind of like Greenpeace. They have a role in the future - stopping corporations from taking advantage of the innocent. Only now it is less about the package, and more about staying alive. Can Miller, Ballard, and A.C.E. survive attacks coming at them from every angle, and at every turn? Or is the gig finally up . . .

I loved Brandt's writing. Crisp. Clean. The action was non-stop. The world-building was epic. So much has been set up. There can be a fleet of Courier novels (and I hope there is) in Brandt's creation. As a reader you immediately bond with Kris Ballard, you care about her. She is a tough lead, a likable heroine. I will be keeping tabs on Brandt. He is clearly a writer worth following!

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series, and
The Vaccination Trilogy