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Book Review by Diane McCurdy - January 2019

Oftentimes we hear the phrase, "Buy Local". Perhaps we should also abide by the suggestion, "Read Local" as well.

Marlene Cullen of Petaluma and her group of writers have produced yet another collection of mini-stories, vignettes and poems in her Write Spot series. The first book was entitled Discoveries, the second Connections and the third of the trilogy is entitled Reflections. Michael Browne of Forestville has also produced a trio of recent offerings. His first was The Andie Chronicles, then came Pentimento and the third is Wobbly-Sabi.

Cullen is the editor of Reflections in which each author is given several pages to express their thoughts usually in a couple of different formats. At the end of each author's section the prompt that served as inspiration is indicated. For example, one prompt was "What If?". The writer then ruminates through her life events and speculates what if a different road had been taken. Afterward, a brief biography or autobiography is given along with an account of "Why I write". Most indicate a life-long love affair with writing and reading. Another contributor puts it more succinctly he writes because, "he always has something to say." Some pieces are several pages long some just a few sentences. My favorites were about a dog named Rex and another about a cat named Ana. Rex fancied himself to be a pool lifeguard of sorts and Ana was a character in a piece prompted by the directive to tell a "Story of No Consequence". Ana and an old man who is her caretaker become consequential through the artistry of the writer who chose to tell their story. Some parts of this anthology are poignant, some absurd, some funny. The book itself is attractive, the cover features the cool green serenity of a forest pond.

Michael Browne's second most recent publication is Pentimento which literally, means a scratching below the surface. It is a metaphor for paintings that are layered over mistakes, revisions, sketches or first drafts and for those draftsmen who peel away the upper levels. Browne definitely delves and probes beneath the more apparent aspects of his life. There are stories of his wildly adventurous youth where he travels to Korea, India and Vietnam looking for spiritual enlightenment. Particularly moving are his family memories and his depiction of death both brutal and beautiful. An engaging section called "Brothers" deals with a group of guys associated with Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in San Francisco's Castro district. He recalls each as they succumb to AIDS. Interspersed with prose is poetry but Browne's prose is poetry as well with extreme sensitivity to all the senses, colors, nature, weather, light. Impressive is his paean to San Francisco: "There are few cities that engender as much passionate attachment ...mesmerizing...the Golden Gate's massive, muscular, clean-lined deco towers and feminine, graceful garlands of steel continue to enchant with a tense and perfect balance...a spell is cast." His book is a travelogue, a memoir, a set of essays, a lamentation and a history. Every inch an Irish storyteller, throughout there is a streak of Gaelic melancholy.

Both of these books are segmented with units that are contained so that they can be picked up and put down again without losing continuity. Read Local.

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