Overwatch ~ Allen Gray

  • Title: Overwatch
  • Author: Allen Gray
  • Genre: Poetry
  • Format: Hardback
  • Source: Author
  • Reviewed by: Soo
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  “Allen Gray takes the complex thing of war and unearths its vulnerable moments. These are small stories that cast a knowing gaze at a particular world. The faces are nameless but immediate. Time stands still in these poems as the reader slowly realizes he’s become a witness. A deeply moving collection.” –Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde, Poet & Artist

“Overwatch combines the experiences of war with the home front; so seamless in tone. Apt, given the repeated tours of duty required in our current wars.” –John Roche, author of Road Ghosts

Allen Gray’s Overwatch depicts war as we’re not used to seeing it–from the soldier’s eye, from someone who experienced it, from letters and dreams and the ghosts who watch over their buddies. These poems show that war, anywhere, is still war, that the hardships faced in one war aren’t so different from the hardships faced in another.” –Liz N. Clift, Poet & Former Managing Editor of Flyway: Journal Writing & Environment.

Review:  I know the author Allen Gray from a website called Scribophile. It’s a place that writers can join and share their works in progress and receive various feedback. I’ve had the pleasure of reading and reviewing several pieces of Allen’s writing in the past and delighted to review his first collection of poetry.

How shall I summarize this poetry collection? The over arcing theme is war. It’s about the soldiers who join up with our military forces with the command to Protect and Serve. It’s about the families of the soldiers. It’s about the events of war and the everyday situations that soldiers live in. Every day isn’t about explosions and death but those elements color everything. It’s about coming back home and finding out how alien home has become. If home has become alien, does that mean you’re alien to it all as well? Does that mean you only belong in the ashes and frames of what you have left behind? And if you don’t want to go back there, are your memories the only reality you have left to hold?

Titles always matter. They’re very important part of a story or book in all formats. In poetry, titles take on an added depth that isn’t as apparent or present in other writing. Sometimes, the title of a poem is the only clue to tie in the disjointed words and images that is in the piece. This proves to be true in many of the poems that are in Overwatch but it doesn’t always help. There are a handful that leaves me wondering and questioning what it’s about. I’m lucky. Why? Because if the questions drive me TOO crazy, I can always turn to Allen and ask him for clarification or an answer.

You may find this review a bit disorganized and hard to understand. I apologize if that becomes the case but it’s hard to write a review about this collection without writing massive words on each piece. Instead of an in-depth review, the following is a list of poems that called a strong response out of me and maybe a clue to what that response was or the questions that lined my mind’s eye.

  • Poem Desert Poem – Great imagery, stark. Some parts, it seemed like you could feel it. My favorite are the stand alone lines. Each stanza is a build up to make that one line shine. I read the stanzas without the solo lines. I read the solo lines without the stanzas. Neither approach is as powerful as reading them together as one.
  • A Soldier Severs the String – What a CRAPPY image that blossoms into my mind as I read the words that strike an insidious sorrow across my heart. Who can be okay with a wasteful death? You don’t need talk about blood to know the bone shattering blood splatter caused by pointing a barrel up against your jaw.
  • Red Sunflower – An inarticulate and vivid reminder of death.
  • Life Begins – Ordinary images and words that call my own memories of cooking to the forefront. The crackle-sizzle of oil can sound like a dance. Once that oil splats on you, YOU are doing a dance! There’s a joy to cooking, a danger to the process and at it’s very core a fundamental part of living. Everyone has to eat.
  • Not Everyman – Heartbreaking. You can leave a war or fight but it may not leave you. The memories can be more alive than life moving around you. What happens when no one can break through the memories?
  • After the Shock – When does the line become clear? The child standing in front of you and talking to you or the memory of bodies filling plastic bags and the jagged line of death?
  • Panic – A horrible nightmare is what this passage screams out at me. Question remains: Does the nightmare stop when you wake up?
  • You are There – Memories steal time away from the present and throttles you back in the past. It’s only with conscious effort that you can remember that you are HERE rather than there.
  • The Counter at the Gate – Terror doesn’t occur just at night, in the darkness. Terror can happen in the daylight, by your driveway, in your neighborhood and to anyone, including children. People forget that the every day can be the dangerous day. Yet if you lived in terror of each day, what kind of life would you have left in place?
  • Awake Now – Discordant images and actions piled together in a hill of emotions and images that don’t aligned nicely against one another. However, each reading of the different pieces brings an inelegant order to the mess and causes lines to connect where there was only confusion before.
  • A Cardinal Teaches at the Abbey – Quick but poignant descriptions of nature. “What does the cardinal teach?” is the question left unanswered for me.

When people think about conflict and war, they don’t necessarily think about the silence, the down time and the waiting. The minutes that pass on duty while nothing happens and yet you’re suppose to be super vigilant in case something, anything does occur. People may forget that families travel into these dangerous areas and there are people with children and lives living over there in the middle of war.

I’m sure it’s strange to think that waking up in the bed of your room, in your house, can be strange. That it can be disorienting to put on regular clothes, fix pancakes for breakfast and to only worry about what your child needs for the day. Playing catch, buying groceries, going to a baseball game and seeing a movie are all normal things. But what’s normal to a person who hasn’t had those bits be a part of their life for a long time? What’s normal when you’re conditioned to react to high tension scenarios?

If you haven’t wondered that before, maybe you will once you read Overwatch. This is a powerful collection of poems that directs the reader to think about the every day in a different light. It’s about showing you the inside fears and thoughts of soldiers who have experienced more than we’ll ever know.

By no means is this book a light read. It’s dark, painfully colorful, touching and thought provoking. I recommend this to anyone who has a family member in the military, who is a soldier, studies war or would like a peek into what veterans may think, fear and face.

For more about the author, you can read my Author Interview with Allen Gray on SSV.

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Seven Kinds of Hell ~ Dana Cameron

  • Title: Seven Kinds of Hell
  • Author: Dana Cameron
  • Series: Fangborn #1
  • Genre: UF, Fantasy
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Soo
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  Archaeologist Zoe Miller has been running from a haunting secret her whole life. But when her cousin is abducted by a vicious Russian kidnapper, Zoe is left with only one option: to reveal herself. Unknown to even her closest friends, Zoe is not entirely human. She’s a werewolf and a daughter of the Fangborn, a secretive race of werewolves, vampires, and oracles embroiled in an ancient war against evil. To rescue her cousin, Zoe will be forced to renew family ties and pit her own supernatural abilities against the dark and nefarious foe. The hunt brings Zoe to the edge of her limits, and with the fate of humanity and the Fangborn in the balance, life will be decided by an artifact of world-ending power.

*Potential Spoilers*

Review:  3.5 Stars – I had a tough time rating this book. A part of me says that it only deserves 3 stars but I wanted to give it 4 for excellent ideas. In the end, I compromise with a 3.5 stars.

Zoe’s been on the run for most of her life. Her Ma didn’t explain exactly why they’re on the run. She only knows that her father was mixed up in something bad and her Ma took her away when she was a baby to keep her safe. Most people get to live in one town or two while growing up. Zoe has grown up all over the U.S. and under several aliases. She gets ready to take off again but it’s totally different situation now. Ma falls prey to cancer and leaves her with two commands before she dies. The most important:

Don’t let her father’s family find her.

The world that Dana Cameron weaves together is striking in its unique mix of legends, paranormal, shape-shifters and mythology. It’s like looking at the world with cool shades. Everything is familiar and the same but everything has a layer of meaning that has been left unseen. What if all those pictographs and cave drawings of half man and half animal beings were true? What would the world be like then?

The first book of the Fangborn introduces us to an unlikely group of characters. In the lead is Zoe, a socially awkward young woman who isn’t comfortable in her own skin and used to a life of secrecy. She can count the number of real friends on one hand, but she’s willing to leave them all behind to keep everyone safe. She’s not just running away from an unknown danger that haunts her family. She’s running away from everyone to hide from herself.

The Beast.

She can’t control the Beast. What if the Beast takes over and she never turns into a human again? What if the Beast attacks the people she loves? She can’t take the chance. She won’t take that chance.

It doesn’t matter. Everything Zoe knows and believes in will be challenged. The very people she least expects to be a part of her insane journey across the world will be at her side. How does she know who is a friend or enemy? How will she know who to trust? What is this prophecy that says she’s the chosen one? With every step forward, there are two taken sideways.

Instead of leaving town and starting a new life in a new city, Zoe finds herself stalked by those who bear a striking family resemblance. Danny, an old childhood friend, becomes bait to lure Zoe into a dangerous game with nefarious characters. With heart pounding and terror trapped in her throat, Zoe dives into the rabbit hole to save her friend.

The story grabbed me full tilt at the beginning. I became confused when the pace slows down to a near crawl, and I felt like I was thrown into an info dump with long mental digressions into the past. I realize all of them are important for the story but I felt rather disappointed in the pacing. It’s like starting a roller coaster ride. Instead of getting ready to go down that first hump into speedy reckless exhilaration, you find out that you need to ride around for a while, go up another few hills and THEN you get the adventurous yeehaw drop.

I love everything about the Fangborn, the hints about where they’re from, what they can do and how they are an integral part of society. Even if they’re a hidden part of it.

As a lover of history, mythology and relics, I find myself equally put off and attracted to the archaeological aspects of the story. Parts of it is really interesting and parts of it throws me out of the story. As a reader, I never came to terms with Zoe being an archaeologist. If Zoe was still a student and working as an intern, it would be easier to accept. Most of the time, I would forget she is one until the book reminds me that she is.

The climax of the story is MOST EXCELLENT! I wanted to give the story 4 stars just for the climax. It was very well done! It wasn’t exactly what I expected and the unusual mix of events was awesome! I may have jumped up and down a little in excitement during this part. Okay, it was really a sit down chair dance but it still counts.

I want to preface my next comment with this: I’m definitely team Zoe & Will. I want them to work. However, the love making scenario felt really out of place. I’m glad they got together. I just think the description could have hinted more and said less. That small bit of the book felt really out of place in the way it was written. Not by that part happening but because of how it is written. It’s not because I don’t like explicit love scenes. I do. I just felt that this part was an odd duck out with the rest of the book.

I would have liked more time to get to know the other characters and a little less time in Zoe’s head.

The bones of the story are great and I can’t wait to see what story the second book will tell.

I know I didn’t give the book 4 stars. It doesn’t matter. You should read this book. The reasons why I would mark a book down to a 3.5 stars may not be your reasons. This book is an excellent start to a new series and I am definitely going to be in line to read the next one.

Family Limitations ~ Margaret Sanger

  • Title: Family Limitations
  • Author: Margaret Sanger
  • Genre: NonFiction
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewer: Soo
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description: From Wikipedia – Margaret Higgins Sanger (September 14, 1879 – September 6, 1966) was an American birth control activist, sex educator, and nurse. Sanger popularized the term birth control, opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, and established Planned Parenthood. Sanger’s efforts contributed to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case which legalized contraception in the United States. Sanger is a frequent target of criticism by opponents of birth control and has also been criticized for supporting eugenics, but remains an iconic figure in the American reproductive rights movement.

Review:  This piece has praise for being written in a time where such frank words would have been offensive in polite society. Reading the contents was humorous, astonishing, barbaric, liberating and frightening. Interesting information that makes me glad that I wasn’t born in the early 1900’s.