Saturday, April 26, 2014

Feature and Follow - Pets

Alison Can Read Feature & Follow

Currently there are only cats. 

Blaze - a 9-month old rescue

Rudy - the 15 year old

Bit - whose previous previous owner passed away

Oreo - also 9 months old, formerly feral


Rudy lies on the patio
His striped coat stirring
Gently in the light breeze.
He rolls his eyes and drolly
Gazes at me, his body
Stretched to its limit.
“It’s hot,” he seems to say
In a languid, fluid way.
I gaze evenly back,
Touch my drink to my
Forehead and agree.
Indomitable, the weather;
Unflappable, the cat;
Back to work, for me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Secret

The Secret
by Denise Levertov

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of

I who don't know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can't find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other

In other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

Levertov published The Secret in 1964. In it, she has neatly captured both a primary reason for writing poetry and a primary reason for reading poems. She has mystery, hope, loss all wrapped in a simple free verse, both readily understandable and endlessly debatable. The reader is left to read into it a whole lot or nothing, taking the words at face value. The poem can become what the reader wants, a true tribute to the poet.

Do you agree?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Think Out Loud - Renewal

As spring bursts out around me and the Boston Marathon celebrates and the economy slowly continues to recover, the idea of renewal comes to be repeatedly.

All around the scenes of spring are playing out - the dogwoods and cherry are heavy with flower, the forsythia are yellow, the big deciduous trees and the smaller deciduous bushes have the tiny leaf buds. Brightly colored birds are chittering everywhere but there are still only few insects and the temperatures are still cool.

The Boston Marathon has been in the news every day. How the people who had been there a year ago had managed to move forward, essentially restarting lives paused by the heinous act of a year ago.

Then I got to thinking about the term rebirth, also often used with spring. Seems to me that rebirth is not quite right, because that implies starting with a clean slate, without any of the baggage/burdens from the past. This is certainly not true - we remember the bombing; the plants and birds carry with them the results of last year. But it is a renewal, a restart, an opportunity for positive building on whatever had gone before. A time of optimism.

So here's to spring, may it come every year.

Do you have a favorite book about renewal (springtime or any other kind)? Drop a comment and share it with all of us.

Today's poem (a different kind of renewal):

The Morning

The morning whispers its greeting like a lover
Enticing with its beauty and its confidence.
The morning murmurs its promise like a child
Full of innocence and hope and intentions.
The morning arrives with an intensity belied
By its outward calm and quiet demeanor.
The morning leaves with imperceptible surety

Waving gently with a guarantee to return. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nine Princes in Amber - Classic Fantasy

book cover of 

Nine Princes in Amber

Nine Princes in Amber was the first book in Roger Zelazny's seminal Chronicles of Amber fantasy series, and was first published in 1970. Zelazny melds several elements in this book - immortality of his god-like protagonists, fantastical creatures, a unique brand of magic, as well as detailed swordplay.

Amber is the True World and all other worlds just Shadows of Amber. Amber is ruled by an immortal family which includes nine living brothers, the Princes. Their sisters are also immortal but do not compete for the vacant throne of their father, Oberon, who is apparently not dead but only missing.

The royals can walk from one Shadow world to another by a process of subtraction where the elements that do not belong are removed one at a time until the royal is fully in the new Shadow. They bring armies from one Shadow to Amber in a contest for the throne.

Another interesting plot element is the Trumps, a series of tarot-like cards depicting the royal family. Any prince or princess can communicate directly and teleport through the use of the Trumps. Their use requires the willingness of both royals and they are used both offensively and cooperatively.

 As classic fantasy Nine Princes in Amber is strongly recommended. It is interesting to compare the themes and elements of this early classic with current fantasy. For example, two dated plot elements are Corwin's constant smoking of ordinary cigarettes and the relatively minor roles of the princesses.

And today's poem:

Myths and Gods

The storm had passed
Leaving loss and waste
And a darkness, black
Against which stand back
The stars in bright relief.
You feel the Greek belief
In their myths and their gods
Without our technical clods.
Closer to the best of nature
Even in the midst of disaster.

From Transitions by Greg Schroeder.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Feature and Follow - Spring Break - The Gardens of Versailles

I am not one for crowds, heavy consumption of intoxicants, or most of the other things normally associated with the term Spring Break.

I do, however, very much enjoy spring. Formal gardens are superb places, in my mind - quiet, beautiful, spacious. A place where one can share time with a special someone, a small group of friends, or enjoy solitude. They are also great for walking, talking, reading, writing, and a thousand other activities that are a pleasant break from the insanity of my day job.

Versailles? Because it is near Paris, has historical significance, is near other areas of historical and cultural interest and is fantastic in its own right.



Phone is ringing
Baby crying
Email flashing
Dinner cooking
Client demanding
Homework trying


Through the open window
Calling is a sparrow
Trees are rustling in the breeze
Neighbor tries stifling a sneeze
Lilacs give a splash of color
Clematis climbing up the arbor


High above, the powder blue sky
Wispy tendrils float and sigh
A hawk soars graceful and silent
Encouraging you to feel the quiet
Seemingly suspended beyond the clash
Remember them in the daily dash.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review - Birth of an Assassin by Rik Stone

(Disclaimer - I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

I was apprehensive when I got the book but have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I don't read a lot of thrillers but found Birth of an Assassin fast-paced and well-plotted. The best part, to me, was the deft handling of the character development of the protagonist, Jez Kornfeld. As the teaser says below the story follows his development. I would modify that to the story IS his development. Stone does a very good job. Strongly recommended.

Book Description:
Set against the backdrop of Soviet, post-war Russia, Birth of an Assassin follows the transformation of Jez Kornfeld from wide-eyed recruit to avenging outlaw. Amidst a murky underworld of flesh-trafficking, prostitution and institutionalized corruption, the elite Jewish soldier is thrown into a world where nothing is what it seems, nobody can be trusted, and everything can be violently torn from him.
Given the order to disperse and arrest a crowd of Jewish demonstrators in Red Square, Jez breaks up the rally but discovers his sisters in their ranks. Rushed for a solution, he sneaks the girls from under the noses of secret police and hides them in downtown Moscow. But he knows they will no longer be safe in Russia. He has to find them a safe route out.
The journey begins, but he is unaware that his every move is being observed and that he has set in motion a chain of events that will plunge his life into a headlong battle to stay alive.
Author Bio:
Do children born into poverty become impoverished adults? It happens; pitfalls and roadblocks to advancement are everywhere. Rik Stone grew up poor amidst the slum-lands of fifties North East England, and left school at 15 without any academic qualifications.
He worked in the shipyards on a local river and later went into the merchant navy. Further down the line, he worked quarries in Essex in South East England.
But life was without horizons until, contrary to what his teachers had told him, he found he was capable of studying and completed a BSc degree in mathematics and computing.
Life got lucky for him when he took company pension at 50 and began writing. And now, here he is offering up his debut novel Birth of an Assassin, the first in a series.

Links :

Twitter: @stone_rik

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Haiku is for Hoopla

I dabble in haiku mostly because I like the focus the fixed structure brings.

This one is appropos as the snow returns for an encore even as the trees bring forth their first leaves:

Crocuses poke through
Stubborn edges of grey snow
Heralding warm days

I tried to capture the immediacy of a summer thunderstorm with this one:

I see it coming
Rain, pelting, pounding, soaking
Run, run to shelter

Here is a parody of the things that make headlines:

Hostess closes down
Panic ensues; Twinkies gone
Epic tragedy

Finally, a straighforward, "life is good" and if its not, it will be:

Limitless blue sky
Shows infinite potential
Reaching improvement
These, and 48 more, were published in 52 Haiku, available FREE on Smashwords. See my author interview on HaikuHoopla.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Think Out Loud - Forsythia

Saturday I took a walk around the neighborhood and, despite the bright sun and the warming temperatures (about 45 degrees at 7:30 am), the landscape was still pretty barren - the trees were still leafless, the planters still empty, the lawns still the brown-green of dormant grass. It was like none of the plants believed the winter was done.

Sunday I took a similar walk, at a similar time. But on this walk I started to notice the forsythia, which makes up a hedge by many houses and roadsides in my area, were yellow with blossoms. Then I saw an ornamental cherry, suddenly heavy with pink and white flowers. As I made a turn I was brought face to face with a dogwood whose big blooms were on full display. None had been there the day before.

I could feel an extra bounce in my step, just from the bright demonstration of rejuvenation and renewal. It struck me, on Sunday as I contemplated the tale of two days, how quickly things can change. The birds had been singing more strongly each day since the last snowfall but only now did I believe, like the plants, that spring was here.

Spring has come;
There are buds on the lilacs
The sun no longer is its weak
Winter self.
But the sky, the sky
This spring night
Harkens back to the winter.
Cold air gives a sharpness
The scarcity of clouds
An open vista
To thousands, nay, millions
Of tiny twinkling pinpricks.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Feature and Follow - Don't Read This!

Alison Can Read Feature & Follow

This week's FF: Tell us about a book you didn't like and tell why you shouldn't read it!

Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford has a lot of interesting elements: personal adventure, exploring the unknown, international affairs, the destruction of natural habitat, the destruction of aboriginal cultures, amid smaller themes. It just never delivers.

This is a true story of a man who set out to walk from the head of the Amazon River to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean. I found myself disliking the author (and several of the people involved in the expedition) because of his recurring complete unpreparedness and their both lack of preparedness with him or their willing support of an expedition whose unpreparedness should have been apparent.

Maybe the author was too harsh on himself or was trying to build up the barriers to make his ultimate success more dramatic, but I found myself thinking there should be no way the expedition even started out. If I was this unprepared for a meeting, my continued presence on the project at hand would be in jeopardy.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Dragonmasters by Jack Vance

This book is really a novella, about 100 pages, that won the Hugo for novella in 1963 and was originally published as one half of an Ace Double (with The Five Gold Bands).

I read the copy pictured above (an Ace reprint from 1980 with just this story).

This is an interesting book with many moving parts. It centers on two valleys on the planet Aerlith, both inhabited by humans who have bred lizard-like aliens to be war machines of various sizes and capabilities. There is a third group of humans who are mystical ascetics. The two valleys are essentially separate kingdoms who are engaged in a periodic war that is heating up during the story with the Carcolo attacking the Banbeck.

However, the aliens, the grephs, return. They are a mirror of the humans with the lizard-like grephs breeding humans to be war machines of various sizes and capabilities. In the battle that follows, the humans are near defeat but a stratagem by the leader of the Banbecks, causes the grephs to find the ascetic sacerdotes secret workshop where they are working on a spaceship.

The sacedotes use the engine of their spaceship to disable the greph ship and Banbeck seals the victory. The sacerdote spaceship is destroyed.

I will leave to the reader deeper symbolisms of the mirrored societies and the role of the advanced engineering mystics. I do recommend this as a science fiction story that is just as readable now as it was in 1963, and just as enjoyable.

Today's poem... following on the science fiction theme:

Alien Night

Over an alien landscape
Of blood-red sands
And blue-green trees
With yellow-orange flowers
Rises a deep green moon.

A puff of wind stirs
Tiny sand dervishes
Which vanish as quickly
As they were formed
Under the deep green moon.

A mik-mok tosses
Its gray-blue head
And darts from shed
To tree and back again
As the moon passes overhead.

Stately  ee-taus graze
On the highest flowers
In the coolest time
Of the early morning
While the moon curves to ground.

The fiery white sun chases
The blue-green shadows
To their hiding places
As it rises above
And the moon sinks below

The alien planet’s horizon.

From Observations, by Greg Schroeder

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Guest Poet - Emma from the Goodreads Poetry Group

I was struck by the poem below as I read through the entries in the April poetry contest on It reminded me of summers more youthful and innocent.

Emma, the poet, agreed to let me share it. And so, The Meadow, a poem by Emma.

The Meadow

Running my hand along the waist high grass,
I watch a brown sparrow take flight,
Its wings spread so that it might soar.
My skin is warm from the sunlight,
And I let it's warm fingers caress my face.

I breathe in the beauty.  For,
Wildflowers also cover the meadow,
Their vibrant colors painting,
vivid pictures as they let the wind blow,
Their soft and delicate heads.

A large oak stands in the center of this glory.
Its great branches stretch to the sky,
Holding it, the bright blue, in its soft leafy palms,
They reach like arms lifted up high,
Trying to capture the sunlight and hold it tight

Monday, April 7, 2014

Beauty in the Changes

The Sea

The sea rages and scolds
In its power and fury it holds
A beauty all its own.

Another day, another sea
Tranquil, bejeweled, free
A beauty all its own.

Under the surface of a bay
The fishes in the coral say
It's a beauty all its own.

Down in the very deeps
Lantern fish never sleeps
But there's a beauty all its own.

Foaming breakers at the beach
Driftwood, starfish within reach

Truly, a beauty all its own.
From Observations by Greg Schroeder available at smashwords

A lot of teen novels explore this theme of beauty (or value) intrinsic to a thing. The Pigman by Paul Zindel, Professor Diggins' Dragons by Felice Holman, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, Fireweed by Jill Paton Walsh are classic examples. Some classics also explore this at a level teens can understand well - Mary Mapes Dodge's Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings The Yearling, and Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows for example.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Just a Poem Before I Go

Bonus points to the obscure song reference!

It IS National Poetry Month. All three of these reflect my feelings today as I searched for signs of the spring. Still no buds on the trees but the crocuses are finally bursting forth and there are patches where the grass is starting to grow again, a darker green in the brown-green seas.

Solstice Moon

The moon looms just over the horizon
Bright and huge behind a gauzy mist
Higher, irregular puff balls skid past
Illuminated below in cold white-yellow
Fading to dark gray barely separable
From the inky black zenith sky.


Silent sentinels
Watching over white fields
Through the long winter


Talk, black, silent sentinels
Their scores of branches
Reaching into the brightening
Blue-white sky
Coated in a white mantle
From the first wet snowfall.

They bear witness to the bustle
Of a commercial season;
To the commuters cursing,
Sliding on the ice, driving
Too fast for safety
Too slow for their own impatience.

Oak, maple, elm, sycamore
Virtually indistinguishable
From one another,
Shorn of their canopies.
Swaying gently, hosting  a few
Diehard birds singing a cold song.

All through the short days
They will rest and watch
Until the rising sun is warmer;
Its light is brighter;
Then, as the crocuses burst

Will they stir back to glory.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Cricket in Times Square - Newbery Honor

File:The Cricket in Times Square Cover.jpeg

This story has a lot going on - the main characters are a cricket, a mouse, a cat, a boy, and the boy's parents, quite a cast for a juvenile book. Further the book deals with themes of music, especially classical music, business, homesickness, and gaining acceptance, also quite a diverse chunk.

However, George Selden melds them all together in a very enjoyable and relatively short, story.

The cricket, Chester, finds himself in Times Square having gotten on a train in Connecticut. He is befriended by Tucker, the mouse, and Harry, the cat, and soon, Mario, the boy. Despite some early missteps, he comes to be accepted and brings prosperity to Mario's parents' newsstand. However, Chester misses "the country" and, in the end, his friends help him hop a train for home.

This is an excellent book, most editions have Garth Williams' superlative illustrations. Well recommended.

Today's poem:


Not like the others
They know,
Some earlier than others.
Once I hid the difference
But why?
I am who I am
Does it matter
What they think?
Once I thought so.
It made me sad.
I let them hurt me
With their words
And deeds.
But I am who I am
And there is nothing
Wrong with me.
So everyone else
Can love me
Or leave me
But I'm ok
Just like I am.

This is part of Conditions by Greg Schroeder. Available at

"I wrote this after being in town with a Comicon and watching the young people enjoying themselves and the older people (many of them) being taken aback by the costumes."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Think Out Loud - Spring

File:Barn daffodils.jpg

Spring seems to have finally arrived in the U.S. East Coast. This after a winter that most people have complained was both long and harsh.

Curiously, at the start of this winter, right after Christmas, I wrote the following:

It Almost Feels Like Winter

It almost feels like winter
The wind howling 'round
The temps rising up to 30
With flurries coming down.

It almost looks like winter
The sun's rays are so weak
Bare trees cast odd shadows
As the clouds passing by do sneak.

It almost feels like winter
You need your gloves and hat
The weatherman speaks of wind chill
Maybe nudge the thermostat.

It almost feels like winter
But in my mind's eye
It holds no candle to the memory
Of winters long gone by.

So little snow, no sledding
Or igloos, forts, snowballs
Perhaps it's all idealized
A figment of mental thralls.

Regardless of its factuality
I miss it all the same
I love the snow in wintertime
Without, it all seems too tame.

But, I agree with "most people" that it ended up to be a comparatively long, harsh winter. In March, desperate to be positive, I wrote this:

Almost Spring

The clouds can’t decide
Thin, fair-weather cirrus,
Low, scudding gray nimbus,
Towering puffs of cumulus,
Following one after the other.

The air can’t decide
Frost one clear sunny morning,
Warm fog the next;
Icy wind one evening,
Calm, almost balmy, the next.

The sun can’t decide
Bright and comfortable
Or thin and distant,
Obscured by overcast
Or burning the overcast away.

But the animals have decided.
The birds twitter merrily,
The squirrels chirp and scold.
Tabby cat begs to go out.
Spring is coming; almost here.

I love the transition, relish the change. I was happy to have winter and am happy to see it go. Here's to spring, to change, and the ever hopeful possibilities they bring.

(both of the above have recently been published in my collection Moments, available on for all of April for 99 cents.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love

Judith McNaught today climbed to the top of's Best Romance Novelists list so we'll use that as the excuse to feature one of her early novels as our first Romance feature.

Whitney, My Love broke new ground when it was published in 1986. Most romance novels set in the "regency" period (the 1820s and 1830s) followed a formula: introduce the heroine first, tell a relatively light, relatively short story with no explicit sex. McNaught turned that formula on its head with Whitney. She introduced the dark "hero", Clayton Westmoreland, first and the novel was much longer and contained and emotional and sexual intensity that was distinctly absent in regencies of the time.

While one reviewer characterized it as "a with laughter, tears, and the power of dreams." However, like many of the classic "bodice-rippers" Whitney does have disturbing themes. Westmoreland rapes Whitney and does what is now referred to as blaming the victim for long stretches. Violence against women is romanticized. A different reviewer put a positive spin on this saying that it does show how far romance novels have come in their depiction of gender roles. Heroes now know how to take "no" for an answer and the heroines no longer "find their place" but find heroes who can keep up.

Judith McNaught's books are readily available for a few dollars online at retailers like

Today's poem:

The End of the Chauvinist

In all my years, the man began,
A roll of the eyes, a look at the pan,
I've never heard such foolishness!
Their eyes lock, in her back, a rigidness,
To think I should listen, appreciate
Squares her shoulders, sets down the plate,
Your opinions, the "work" that you do
Picks up the onion, stabs it right through.
Where's the damn dinner, better not be stew!
Walks swiftly past, drops the onion by Drew,
Hey! What? and a gurgle and sputter

But she's already gone, he can only mutter.

from Moments, by Greg Schroeder available in ebook format for 99 cents on

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Happy National Poetry Month!!

I'll use the fact that April is National Poetry Month to be inspired to start blogging again. "Life" was a little too busy in March, especially with the never-ending winter, but it IS time to diversify again and get back to at least some writing.

That said, I am going to try to participate in Think Out Loud, Throwback Thursday, and Feature and Follow each week. Then I am going to try and run a feature each week of one Newbery winner (or should have won - young adult book), one romance novel, and one science-fiction/fantasy novel.

Finally, I will try to post a poem a day. This is all very ambitious, please let me know how I'm doing and send me suggestions for any or all of the above!

Today's poem (from my upcoming collection, Moments to be published in multiple eBook formats through, April 5):

Spring Sky

Spring has come;
There are buds on the lilacs
The sun no longer is its weak
Winter self.
But the sky, the sky
This spring night
Harkens back to the winter.
Cold air gives a sharpness
The scarcity of clouds
An open vista
To thousands, nay, millions

Of tiny twinkling pinpricks.