Vividly Diverse Haikus by Tanya Bailey

In this collection of over one hundred short poems (haikus), Canadian poet Tanya Bailey speaks from the heart.  Politics, gender, culture and ancestry, anger and love, protest, healing, music and art – all these touch her deeply.  Her poems are enigmatic and suggestive.  She barely hints at a storyline and context, rather, sings us rhythmic refrains.  Taken as a whole, a picture of Tanya’s life emerges, but each poem individually speaks for itself, a glimmer of power.  Think expressive not descriptive.  Recommended for readers who like their prose raw.  Tanya’s blog


“She riots

Our liberation

Compassion for the victims

Tomorrows people


Abusive Humanity

Verbal sexual

Bullying belittling

Cries from broken souls.”   


Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore’s characters, residents of Battersea Reach on the Thames in London, are diehard inbetweeners.  Loyal boat owners, each is also tied to the land.  Nenna is unwilling to give up her houseboat to live with her wayward husband on shore, yet she still loves him, she thinks.  Willis hides the leak on his craft in hopes of selling, yet, he has no place to go if he does.  Richard keeps his boat more shipshape than any of the others, but his wife would prefer to live in town.  He’s torn.  Maurice, too, is torn between all those he loves and some who take advantage of his kindness.  They’re all a little off kilter.  They are artists, mistrusted, set askance by conventional society.  Fitzgerald’s descriptions are far from off kilter, however; her care for her characters, and their care for each other, is impeccable.  We can’t but love each one as they toggle, like the tides, between temporary resting places.  

Fitzgerald’s unsettled characters reveal the heart of the human condition.  She catches them at the height of uncertainty and holds them, and therefore us, there, gently.  When Willis’ boat catches fire, he’s welcomed in by a neighbor.  The inhabitants of the little colony take turns shepherding Nenna’s two daughters, Tilda and Martha while they take a break from school.  While these characters build community, outsiders refuse to visit.  Neither Nenna’s sister nor her husband will come near the boats.  It is as though they won’t journey into their own hearts.  In the final scene, a storm knocks the boats around while the “immoveables” in the city are less able to weather the winds.  Likewise, the boats’ inhabitants are equipped to go with the flow as time and circumstances change.  Fitzgerald invites us to join them on a tumultuous adventure we would miss if we’d stayed safely on shore, unscathed by our own soul searching.        

Ferocity by Nicola Lagioia


Clara’s death, described in the first gripping scene of this Strega Prize winning novel by Nicola Lagioia, marks an end and a beginning.  Labeled a suicide, her death is understood as the end of a long string of tragedies – depression, drug use and infidelities.  But to her half brother, Michele, a wayward writer with a history of psychiatric difficulties, her death is a question, the beginning of an investigation of Clara’s life since he moved away from their hometown Bari, on the Adriatic coast of southern Italy.  Michele returns after her funeral suspecting Clara’s death may have been less a willful act than the natural consequence of circumstances beyond her control.  Clara becomes “a game of mirrors with nothing at the center” (350) reflecting nature’s deadly ferocity, reflected in turn by her father’s fierce business dealings, particularly surrounding his latest housing development threatened by environmental inquiries, which in turn his underlings reflect in their shady treatment of everyone they encounter.  When “no one has any awareness now of their own worst actions,” (427) where does the truth end and the lies begin?  Is there a way to affect the cycle or are we doomed to repeat others’ mistakes again and again?

Lagioia’s novel is as epic as such existential questions.  Yet, his writing is anything but abstract or lofty.  He builds the narrative from the bottom up.  He describes a spider eating a mite and the flight path of flamingos and a cat/rat attack with as much detail as he describes hand gestures at the family dinner table or the bus route in and out of Bari.  On the other extreme, he plumbs the depths of sibling love and rivalry with chapters from each family member’s perspective.  Peripheral characters, such as the truck driver who encounter’s Clara the night she dies, Michele’s newspaper editors, the medical examiner who pronounces the suicide, her father’s engineers and cronies, as well as her husband and lovers, fill out the story of power run afoul.  

The narrative approach is as complex and layered as the plot itself.  However, we aren’t left with a meaningless jumble of endless reflections; time provides a new chapter.  “Empty, terrifying space, an immense blank page… The future.  As magnificent and ferocious as the yawning maw of the tiger he’d [Michele] read about as a boy” (442).  Is it an escape from the game or simply a new strategy?  Europa Editions

On The Way To The Melting Pot by Waldemar Ager

Despite its datedness and its unpopularity, compared to Sinclair Lewis and Sherwood Anderson who wrote similar period works on provincial America, On the Way to the Melting Pot is strikingly relevant today.  Ager’s book is in part a response to a contemporary of his, Israel Zangwill, a Jewish playwright who praised America as a place where “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race.”  Ager fought against the foreign language bias of his era.  Instead, he advocated maintaining ties to our mother countries to help prevent a kind of melting down to a new culture that knows nothing of its origins.  Such an unrooted society, he thought, is liable to lose itself in vice.  We still confront this possibility as a society.  

In this novel, Ager tells the stories of characters much like people he observed in Eau Claire, where he lived.  Namely, Louis (nee Lars), a young Norwegian immigrant, quickly adapts to American ways, learning English, adopting mannerisms, and moving up in his business through enterprising work habits.  He invites his Norwegian girlfriend to come over as his fiance.  She, too, succeeds, finding work in a loving household.  However, their differences threaten the fate of the couple.  As Louis becomes more prosperous, he finds Karoline common.  For her part, she watches him turn into someone she no longer knows.  Can they still relate as the years of their engagement wear on, and as families around them reflect the forces – money, ambition, differing views on marriage and class – pulling them apart?

We are still on our way to the melting pot.  What kind of melting pot are we headed toward?  What is our heritage worth to us?  Of what value are we to our community without knowing where we come from?  Are we more or less able to engage with people of other cultures when we identify as Americans versus as Scandinavian-Americans?  Ager’s characters may predict our future form their past.  Read his captivating tale of colorful turn-of-the-century townsfolk – who are much like ourselves – to calibrate your own twenty-first century views on what’s to come of us as a multicultural people.        Ager Cultural Center, EC, WI

Muir Woods or Bust by Ian Woollen

Pack up your past, look toward an uncertain future, and get ready to face your biggest fears!  Join Gil Moss, PhD, LMFT, LMHC, marriage and family therapist, coiner of a new diagnosis: Eco Mood Disorder, and his travel companion, Doyle Wentworth, a washed up actor from the movie Yosemite Yahoos, as they head from Indiana to California for Yosemite Yahoo revival auditions, and to hunt down Benny, who stole Gil’s fortune, among other harebrained reasons.  Gil’s computer-hacking son, Chum, is also California bound, along with Amanda, fellow gamer and whose dissertation committee Gil advises.  After proposing a new video game to investors, these two young lovers hope to meet up with Gil and Doyle, assumed to be romping around the Muir Woods, yet another reason Gil agrees to accompany Doyle to California.  

California offers a new perspective for these characters, all on the cusp of major change.  “Of course, he’d heard about the scale of the redwoods, but it meant nothing until he was among them, the Babel-size trunks catapulting his mind up to the stratospheric limbs, creating an out-of-body view of his puny self, an overview of all our puny schemes, including his and Amanda’s and his mother’s vaulted crusades and his father’s bleeding heart narratives.” (174).  Part zany road (and air and rail) trip, part social commentary, part family drama, part ghost story (Gil talks to his late wife, an Earth Liberation Front operative), readers experience not a dull moment during Woollen’s jam-packed second novel.  It’s really three books in one, as Chum’s video game plot and Gil’s Muir memoir feature in the narrative.  And it’s ours, too, as Woollen invites us to take an inner journey with him and his cast.  We won’t return the same.  buy the book on Amazon

Review of Anhua Gao’s To the Edge of the Sky, followed by an interview with the author

Anhua Gao dreams of visiting England, the edge of the sky, since her mother, a respected and beloved Communist party leader, points it out to her on a map in 1959, when she and the New China both turn ten.  Her dream confuses her, however, since she’s taught to beware of the West’s “bullets coated with sugar,” its bourgeois ways that tempt youth away from revolutionary ideals.  Like her mother and father, both Party officials, she loves British literature (despite Communist rules, her father is buried in a Western suit) and finds it hard to reconcile the life described in her books with the picture Mao paints of the West, where capitalist bullies treat workers like dogs.  She’s taught life in China is the best in all the world.

Anhua Gao’s life, as she narrates it, is a prism of Chinese Communist contradictions.  Her story is not anti-Communist nor anti-Chinese, rather, a straightforward, chronological account of her history set in a larger context.  Her parents model the ideals of Communism — hard work, education, equality and honor among them — but as she grows older, she watches these ideals crushed beneath Mao’s rigid regime.  His Great Leap Forward results in famine.  Then, for the sake of “openness,” he asks citizens to speak out, only to root out dissidents.  When he dies, his wife begins the 5.16 Campaign to dig out more counter revolutionary elements.  What begins as a class struggle becomes class elimination, with no room for anyone other than the “winning” side.

Despite her hard work, good marks in school and loyalty to China, Anhua Gao finally falls prey to the persecution.  She watches many family members and friends betrayed first.  One injustice piled on another, she is all the more determined to use her English skills and get to Britain at any cost.  Hers is not simply an escape story;  this is also the tale of finding friendship and dedication, solidarity and hope that can’t be destroyed no matter the political circumstances.  author blog


1.  Did you talk about your book with friends and family before writing?
Before I wrote the book, I did not share my writings with friends and family. I was inspired by Jung Chang — author of Wild Swans to write my life story.
2. Have you been back to China since moving?  What’s changed?
I go back to China almost every year. Economically China has made big progress and the cities all look very modern. But politically not much change: China is still a Maoist country, the Party has strong controle of people’s thoughts, writings and talks, major international websites such as facebook, twitter, google, yahoo etc. are blocked from Chinese people so that the Chinese people do not know what is really happening in the outside world. The media is strict to the Party line, people’s right is very low.
3. Are you still writing?
Yes, I am still writing and have finished two more books, but not yet published. I have my own blog in China’s sina website with a high rating of visiting number of the people over 2.4 million.  I have written over 50 articles and put them into my blog.
4. I enjoyed your linear, straightforward style – who are your influences?
I highly admire two very famouse writers, one is the great English writer Charle Dickins, another one is Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans and Mao – The Unknown Story. She is my best friend in Britain and most trustworthy person.

The Burgas Affair by Ellis Shuman, followed by an interview with the author

On July 18, 2012, a deadly explosive planted on a tourist bus at Burgas Airport killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver.  In Ellis Shuman’s fictional account of this actual tragedy, Ayala, an Israeli data analyst and Boyko, a Bulgarian detective, pair up in a multinational investigation of the attack.  While Ayala and her Israeli colleagues suspect Hezbollah, Boyko’s team isn’t so sure.  Ayala and Boyko travel all over Bulgaria tracking leads and learning to enjoy each other’s company much more than they thought they would at first.  As their trust grows, they divulge their darkest secrets to one another.  These secrets turn out to be more than just skeletons in the closet, rather, present day threats.  

Beginning with an enigmatic prologue featuring an unnamed woman strapped into a ticking bomb-jacket, each scene is packed with suspense.  Layers of intrigue build to a fever pitch when Ayala and Boyko meet their nemeses – and confront each other.  When he isn’t describing terrorism and crime, Shuman fills out the story with lush and complex Bulgarian and Israeli scenery and culture.  In real life, the case has never been solved.  I’ll leave it to you readers to discover how Shuman handles the ending.  Given his penchant for dramatic tension, don’t expect a predictable conclusion.  

author site

Have you always been a writer?

I’ve been writing ever since I was a child. My father, who was a journalist, inspired me to write and I grew up with the dream of becoming an author. Over the years I wrote many novels, but those manuscripts are sitting in a drawer somewhere. These days I divide my time between writing non-fiction (book reviews, travel reports), and fiction.


How does your time on the kibbutz and working in the hotel industry, as well as internet writing, influence your work?

They say that writers should write about what they know. My experiences living on a kibbutz led to my writing a short story collection about kibbutz life. My experiences living in Bulgaria for two years let to my writing two novels set in Bulgaria. I have yet to write a novel about the hotel industry, but that may come one day.


Has this second novel come easier than the first (and your short story collection)?

I have learned quite a bit since I wrote those earlier books. My writing has improved, I believe, as well as my editing skills. I hope my storytelling abilities have also improved over the years but I guess that is up to readers to decide.


Why did you choose self-publishing over a more “traditional” venue?

Actually, my novel The Burgas Affair was first traditionally published! It was published in 2016 in Bulgarian (I attended the book signing in Sofia!) and it is now only being published in its original English for the first time. I decided to self-publish it for two reasons. First, I was not successful finding a publisher to take on the book, but also, I wanted more control over the marketing of the book. I have a lot of hard work ahead, but I up for the challenge.


Any plans for another book?

My next book is already written. Well, the first draft is written. I will soon begin the process of editing and revising. It will take quite some time before the new manuscript will be ready to be published.