Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe”

The newest offering by Matched author Ally Condie, The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe is not unlike crowd favorite Firefly in its futuristic-meets-Old West atmosphere. But where Firefly is about traversing the skies, The Last Voyage is all about navigating waterways.

Set on what appears to be a near-future Earth where the human population has fragmented and thinned, The Last Voyage follows Poe Blythe, the 17-year-old captain of the Gilded Lily. A gold-mining dredge, the Lily is designed to scoop up riverine gold for the Admiral, who leads the remote Outpost where Poe’s society resides. But for Poe, who designed the ship’s deadly armor, the dredge is the means to a very different end–revenge against the raiders who destroyed all she loved. But this time, there’s a traitor aboard….

I found a lot to like in Poe’s story. Condie clearly did her research on river-based gold mining and the corresponding destruction. I recently spent a few years living in Suriname, a South American country with a large gold mining sector. My day job at the time included reporting on the impact of mining on Suriname’s rivers and rainforests. The effects are bleak indeed. Condie’s evoking of the heat and noise, grime and devastation of mining is spot-on.

The Last Voyage is also well paced. The novel has a fair number of twist and turns and Condie manages them nimbly–the pace is tight without being rushed. The various story complications unfold gradually, keeping the reader guessing. And flashbacks are skillfully woven throughout, in support of later plot revelations. There’s also disinformation sown by various characters, both intentionally and accidentally. By leaving the reader unsure what to believe, this sprinkling of deception replicates what Poe would experience as she hears rumors and reports, accusations and counter-accusations: deep uncertainty about who to trust.

Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe””
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Holi Phagwa 2018: Revenge of the Colors

It’s hard to believe it, but the husband and I are already 17 months into our two-year tour in Suriname. That’s a fair chunk of time, but for all we’ve experienced here, one activity still stands out as the clear winner: Holi Phagwa.

As I wrote in my first post on Phagwa, this festival is an important Hindu holiday marking the defeat of evil and the triumph of light. Celebrations are held annually in the Palm Garden park, with musical groups playing, food and beer for purchase, and a tiny train for the wee ones to ride.

My favorite part, however, is the excuse the holiday presents for chunking things (i.e., brilliantly-hued powder) at colleagues, family, and friends. I mean, as adults, how many of these chances do we get (at least without being carted off by the Five-0)? Continue reading “Holi Phagwa 2018: Revenge of the Colors”

Art, Auctions, & Wine: Oh My!

On this blog, I’ve mentioned a time or two that I paint. But it’s purely for my own enjoyment (and the occasional gift-giving to family and friends). I make no claim to being a professional artist. Let’s be honest: trying to make it in the arts can be a heartbreaking business. Attempting to carve out a writing career is artistic excitement enough for me.

So I imagine how honored I felt when one of my dear friends in the Embassy community invited me to participate as an artist in the gala she was throwing to raise funds for one of Suriname’s international schools and a cause it supports: a local home for underprivileged children. Internally, I balked a little at being labelled one of “seven of local artists” (I’m not an artist! I just happen to have a few tubes of paint lying around my house!). But the idea of getting to showcase a few pieces was pretty exhilarating stuff. Continue reading “Art, Auctions, & Wine: Oh My!”

Ripples Beneath the Surface

So I know it’s appeared quiet around my part of the blog-o-sphere of late. But there’s a flurry of activity under the surface. I’ve been busy firing off submissions (and clasping my hands in supplication before the deities of writing!), contemplating possible future revisions, resuming work on my next novel project after a year’s absence, and most intently, painting up a tempest. (Not literally!) A dear friend kindly invited me to participate in an upcoming art event, so I’ve been busy applying paint to paper so I have something other than prints to show.thumb_Red Paints_1024

In honor of Suriname’s having some 750 species of birds officially recorded (with some others lurking unknown among the rainforest boughs, I’m sure!), I’ve been working on a Birds of Suriname series. Yesterday saw the completion of my Jacana (see feature photo above), a tribute to a species whose cartoonishly large feet enable it to walk on lily pads.Next up: laying hold of my cadmium red, alizarin crimson, and gold ochre paints to begin work on my Scarlet Ibis…

Spring 2017 Update: And here’s the late arrival: A scarlet ibis balanced upon a bit of driftwood.

Birds of Suriname: Scarlet Ibis

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Holi Phagwa 2017: Hilarity & Hues

Being in the Foreign Service has meant living in and traveling to lots of unique spots. I’ve had the immense privilege of enjoying many adventures. Among these, some stand out as particularly cool: visiting an ice festival near China’s border with Siberia, holding a baby tiger, and tromping around the Great Wall definitely make top tier

Last Monday saw a new addition to that list: celebrating Holi Phagwa, Suriname-style. It might not have been quite so adventurous or once-in-a-life-timey as scaling ancient Chinese fortifications, but it was just so fun. Because what adult doesn’t enjoy an excuse to fling colored powder on friends and strangers alike, sans repercussions? Continue reading “Holi Phagwa 2017: Hilarity & Hues”

Cocoa & Craftsmanship

I may have mentioned this before, but my writer-self tends to make me a bit of a homebody. Left to my own devices, I burrow anti-socially into whatever authorial project I’m currently engaged with, avoiding distraction (i.e. people) at all costs. Upon taking a quiz to determine which of the six types of writers I am, I scored as 100% weird recluse (with only a 33% dash of Ray of Sunshine to cut the Yikes!). That kind of says it all, I think.

But these last few years, I’ve made an effort to try to prioritize people, experiences, and adventure, as well as my writing. So I’m always grateful when friends who are cooler than I am come up with un-pass-up-able activity ideas.

A few weeks ago, this meant a visit to Tan Bun Skrati, a chocolate-making operation run by Rutger (Dutch) and Ellen (Dutch-Surinamese), a husband-and-wife duo. Built upon traditional cacao-processing techniques bequeathed to Ellen via her Surinamese mother and grandmother, Tan Bun Skrati offers workshops as well as various cacao-oid products (teas, chocolate bars, wine, vinegar, etc.). This operation is run out of their home, a quaint dwelling set behind high flowering shrubs and heavily-leaved trees–so well hidden, we passed it twice before realizing where it was. Continue reading “Cocoa & Craftsmanship”

Breakin’ in 2017, Suriname-Style

Happy 2017!

As those following this blog may have deduced, I’m not exactly a party animal. I like the occasional night out, dinner with friends, etc. But a lot of my free time is spent doing quiet, pajamas-are-appropriate-attire kinds of pursuits: reading, writing, painting.

But if anybody knows how to party, it’s the Surinamese. At no time is this more evident than around the New Year. Tradition here has it that the lighting of firecrackers (particularly long–and I do mean loooong–strings of crackers called pagara) will scare off evil spirits. Practicing this tactic at the turn of the year allows for the new calendar to begin on a zen-like note.

For us, this has meant a week of our neighbors firing off firecrackers at all hours of the night and day, in literal rain and shine alike. Ex-pats’ dogs, unused to the auditory barrage, are losing their minds. The percussion of these blasts is forceful enough to set off security alarms. And there’s always this thought: was that more fireworks? Or a gunshot? Continue reading “Breakin’ in 2017, Suriname-Style”