The Girl With the Blue Umbrella – Heather Awad

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Being familiar with and adoring Heather’s poetry on Channillo, I quickly snagged a copy when I learned she also wrote a book. As a new poet, I’m so inspired by Heather’s gift for observation and free verse. It was refreshing to discover that good poetry doesn’t have to rhyme or have a sing-songy tempo. Heather paints beautiful vignettes that are so relatable to the reader. She has the unique ability to draw the reader in and take us with her on journeys, while enveloping us with warm hugs. Poems in The Girl With The Blue Umbrella will elicit smiles, pull on your heart strings, invoke childhood memories, and stretch your imagination. While I liked all of the poems, my particular favorites were Manner of Speech, where Heather uses metaphor and all five senses to liken attraction to the consumption of food, “the sound of his voice like food for the hungry air. Swallowing his words and devouring each spoken breath and delicious reverberation.. I simply cannot stop inhaling his every fragrant word”, Blues and Gold, where she uses metaphors of painting and fire to describe a relationship “where you begin and I end like paint belongs to canvas never will this hue diminish blues and gold surround us”, and the melancholy Blue Sky, “I can wake up tomorrow and it will be the next day farther from this one full of intrinsic belief that the sky inside my heart will be blue no matter what”. I’m eagerly anticipating her forthcoming title coming this fall. I’m honored to have read this collection and profoundly impacted by Heather’s gift for verse. Bravo!

Comagate Vol I, The Loops and Lies by Benjamin Michael Greene

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Fall into the world of Comagate, purgatory for creative Minds, where inhabitants have one final chance to live dreams while awaiting Judgment or continue with “The Fall”. Benjamin Michael Greene’s debut title, whose depiction of purgatory is the product of a vivid imagination, rich in detail, with vivid/eloquent descriptions evoking all of the senses, and an impressive cast of characters. In my opinion, Comagate reads like a cross between science fiction/fantasy with a tiny sprinkle of Stephen King gore (The Teaparty of Kahnd L. Vik and Sugar Plum). Each chapter relates the story of a different character, while stories interweave. In the realm of Comagate, time is static, meaningless and different from what Minds experienced during life in the Origin (before Comagate). You’ll meet Chimey Sweep, Skosha, Nof (“Dreadlock Man”), Gerald the Green Chair, C-157, Passerbine the Beetle Maker, Sugar Plum, Kahnd L. Vik, Mr. Turtle, Cogsmith (“The Hammer”, Marjorie, Barkeley, Jottidun, Mimah, Olde King Cole, and Stitcher (returns Mind to the Origin), among others. Greene describes in vivid sensory detail various areas of Comagate, including Steamworks, Overlap (safe land “in-between” where people could live out the lives they desired, on the outskirts of Steamworks), bordered by Mining District on one side of Overlap, and Drafts (sole area of Comagate with green grass, meadows, trees, blue skies, and castles) on the other side of Overlap. My first favourite chapter is The Fall where Greene speaks directly to the reader describing what it will feel like. C-157, relates the story of C-157 who keeps watch over Comagate with its gigantic lens eye. “Sparks rained continually from its joints, illuminating the dark with dancing fireflies, while the dark acrid smoke of the burning metal belched towards the sky, thickening the depressive blanket that killed all life that was not designed by the Hammer.” 86 The World, relates Chimey Sweep’s journey through Drafts to patronize Stine’s Pub. With Greene’s tremendous gift for description, I could imagine vividly the Drafts as Chimey navigates, where “the forest was old. He could smell it. It was a dank, wet smell mixed with an earthy musk and the faint wisps of dark growth foliage. The canopy wasn’t particularly thick, as much of the sky could be seen, but the cloud covered sky kept any rays of sunlight to a maximum of zero.” I enjoyed this read and am anxiously awaiting Greene’s forthcoming title, as well as Comagate Volume II.

The (In)Accurate Assessments of Sage Rathbun – Benjamin Michael Greene

product_thumbnail2Take off your shoes, cozy up on the couch with a cup of coffee in hand (preferably of the Irish variety) or a glass of absinthe, and enter a wild and wonderful world in The (In)Accurate Assessments of Sage Rathbun. Take a sojourn from the boundaries of reality as you enter Sage’s world. Forget about what is or isn’t possible. Turn off that voice in your head that says “that could never happen!” That’s exactly the point.

The first season of The (In)Accurate Assessments of Sage Rathbun, which originally appeared as a series on, is now available in print. Part fantasy, part science fiction, part hilarious, you must turn off the limitations on your imagination. Enter a world with a motley crew of characters including Sage’s portly Japanese neighbor Hans Paz Blanco, Beached Stingray HR Woman, his pet Bengal Tiger-Woman Au Gratin (a.k.a. Tater), Leprechauns, Priest, Thetans, Yarnlings, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Salami Mafia.

The story is told in first person with Sage Rathbun as protagonist and narrator. Sage speaks directly to the reader as if we are right there, almost in a stream-of-conscious sort of way, as inner thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and humorous external interpretations ensue. Greene never explicitly states what the gender of his main character, Sage, is and wants the reader to leave it to their own interpretation (although there are a few strong indications).

The story begins in Sage’s kitchen with “sweaty depressed cloud” of a roommate, Sydney, when they discover there’s no coffee left, the milk has gone sour, and the cabinets are bare except for a package of Ramen Noodles. The next insult comes when Sage’s paycheck is short due to a pending FBI investigation preventing Human Resources from issuing paychecks. The hilarity continues when Sage and Sydney embark on an adventure to the grocery store, battling the hordes of shoppers in the produce section, deli, Asian aisle and check-out line. Who can’t relate to this scene?

Then Sage is severely bloated on the morning of his/her annual physical, and Greene provides very detailed descriptions, along with humor and charm. Sage discovers a box at the door and an envelope containing three gold leprechaun coins. Sage quickly spends the coins on a unicorn at Costco, Chinese buffet dinner at the Jade Phoenix 2, and a pet Bengal Tiger named Au Gratin. The scene is hilarious as Sage and Au Gratin cruise down the road in a 1987 Toyota Camry with Au Gratin swiping at Sage’s headrest and a police officer. When Sage arrives home, he/she is visited by leprechauns demanding Sage steal back the coins. Sage inherits a ‘wee bit’ of leprechaun magic, and Au Gratin is transformed into a tiger woman who can now speak and behave like a human.

One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 4 “Au Gratin on My Hans”, as it is full of rich, vivid descriptions. Greene is quite gifted in his ability to evoke powerful sensory description, such as “Mist swirled up from the empty containers, twisting and twirling until they were sucked up by the darkness that filled the rest of the buffet”, and “The night began to darken in a way that only the paintbrush of death knew how to shade.” Hans and Sage break into the Jade Phoenix 2 to steal back one of the coins, and engage in battle with zombie waiters. Au Gratin has an adventure in space as Empress of the Galaxy in the ongoing war between the Witnesses and the Mormons. Another favorite description, “The iridescent glow of distant galaxies swirled about in silent ballets, while cosmic dust added a gentle effervescent sheen to the thrumming of the stars.” I am reminded of Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise during the chapters involving the U.S. Goodboy and the Yarnlings. A brown-cloaked man helps Au Gratin travel through a space-time portal back to Sage’s bedroom with the assistance of a large amount of Vasoline (for countering the friction).

My favorite chapter is Chapter 11, “Play Time’s Over, Part I”. It reminded me of the feeling that movie goers felt during The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy emerged from her Kansas house (carried by a twister to Munchkin Land and subsequently atop the Wicked Witch of the East). When Dorothy opened the door, we saw the world in Technicolor splendor. Sage and Au Gratin are transformed into gingerbread people and enter the world of the classic board game Candyland. Greene’s descriptions of the lands in Candyland along with its characters brought me back to my childhood, which was a welcome and fun diversion. Re-visit the Rainbow Bridge, Gum Drop Pass, Peppermint Forest, and meet Mr. Mint, Lord Licorice (who’s actually William Shakespeare), and Princess Lolly. Sage is on a mission to save Au Gratin from the Nutt House. Again more beautiful prose, “the path was swirled by powdered sugar snow, and the air held a chilly bite that cut through even my tough gingerbread flesh.”

I can’t wait for Season 2!

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