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United States of Books: Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 342 pgs.
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Entertainment Weekly says, “In this richly moving novel about a woman who returns home to take care of her father, Kingsolver draws heavily on the state’s Native American and Hispanic cultures.” (Arizona)

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver on its surface is about a broken young woman who finds that she is drawn back into the web of her childhood in Arizona. It’s a childhood that she doesn’t look back on fondly and one that she barely remembers, other than two tragic events and the distance between herself and her father. She had taken the best part of her childhood with her when she moved away, and that was her sister, Hallie. Codi is forced to return home to care for her father because Hallie has taken it upon herself to delve into the political jungles of Nicaragua to help people with their agriculture, despite the danger to herself.

“All morning I’d felt the strange disjuncture that comes from reconnecting with your past. There’s such a gulf between yourself and who you were then, but people speak to that other person and it answers; it’s like having a stranger as a house guest in your skin.” (pg. 40)

Codi is faced with some hard truths about her past and her father’s mythology about who her family is and was, but she also must face the harsh truth that she’s been running away from home since she was 15. She must learn to re-see the beauty in the Arizona dessert, mesas, farmland, and its people, who have a rich Native American history and connection to the land that is dying all around them. She’s a deeply flawed character who pursued a medical degree because she wanted to please her father, only to shy away from becoming a certified doctor by failing to complete her residency. She’s gun shy about relationships and she walks away at a moments notice, but it shouldn’t surprise those around her because she never really settles in — there are no pictures on the wall.

“Pay attention to your dreams: when you go on a trip, in your dreams you will still be home. Then after you’ve come home you’ll dream of where you were. It’s a kind of jet lag of the consciousness.” (pg. 9)

Readers should not expect the issue of the dying land or the environmental issues raised in the book to be resolved, and even the relationships Codi has with her father and her past boyfriend Loyd are a bit murky, though expected given the landscape and how little people speak to one another about their feelings. The weaving of Native American and Hispanic culture is well done, and it is through her time with Loyd that she begins to realize that she is not an outsider and that she never was. Home is where you belong, even if there is pain and heartache attached to it.

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver is meditative, disjointed, and almost dreamlike in places, but at its core, it is a journey through the heart of family and finding a place in it.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Author:

Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in Africa in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in Biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before she began writing novels. Her most famous works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family’s attempts to eat locally. Her work often focuses on topics such as social justice, biodiversity, and the interaction between humans and their communities and environments. Each of her books published since 1993 have been on The New York Times Best Seller list.

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The Secret Life of Lilykins by Max Goodman, illustrated by Erik Mace

Source: Smith Publicity
Paperback, 28 pgs.
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The Secret Life of Lilykins by Max Goodman, illustrated by Erik Mace, is a charming story about imagination, defeating boredom, and learning to enjoy siblings. Lily is a cat with two dads and a brother, but she also has a vivid imagination. Rather than merely wash her own fur, eat, and nap, Lilykins is a queen and a scuba diver, as well as a huntress.

The illustrations are colorful and kids will enjoy following this cat on her adventures, even if many of those adventures are in her mind. The book reads like poetry, with a gentle rhythm that will keep kids listening. There are context clues for the larger words used, so it also strives to expand kids’ vocabularies. Lilykins can be calm, but she also can be wildly crazy.

The Secret Life of Lilykins by Max Goodman, illustrated by Erik Mace, is an adorable children’s picture book about the power of imagination as a tool against boredom. It also strives to demonstrate that we can be anything. Our limitations are only as high as the skies and as narrow as our own imaginations.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Max Goodman lives in New York City with his husband and two very important cats. By day, he works as an advertising copywriter. The Secret Life of Lilykins is Max’s first book.

 

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell, won the National Book Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award – Special Recognition. This graphic memoir blends the appeal of graphic novels with the history lived by one of our greatest civil rights movement members and leaders. Lewis tells his story through flashbacks and stories told to others, mirroring the oral tradition of many who have come before us. Each story offers a compelling narrative of life at the beginning of the movement and the drive to overcome a system meant to oppress.

Lewis is not just retelling his past to offer a lesson for the future, but he’s providing a framework for those in today’s society looking for ways to improve America for themselves and others. He sees chickens not as objects, but as individuals with their own emotions and goals. Lewis then has to confront his lack of emotional attachment when chickens are available for purchase and he does not have to care for them as he did on the farm. In many ways, this is how we view strangers — while we know they are individuals and human, we are distant from them because we fail to interact with them and get to know them — to build connections.

He talks of kindness and a need to help others learn to connect with one another and to become kinder. Lewis, however, never glosses over the violence or the hatred he experienced and the chances he took. Powell’s artistry is vivid even in black-and-white and readers will see the fear pour off in sweat. They will face the ugliness of hatred manifest in beatings and more.  March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell is a graphic memoir and more — it is history, it is humanity, and it is a powerful reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we have stepped backward.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

John Robert Lewis is the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, serving since 1987 and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. He was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), playing a key role in the struggle to end segregation. He is a member of the Democratic Party and is one of the most liberal legislators.

A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe

Source: publicist
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe — which is the 5th book in a series but can be read as a standalone novel — is set in McClellanville, S.C., a small town with a very tight-knit community.  The McClellan family has lived there for generations, but when the shrimp industry dries up forcing Captain Alistair to give up his boat and find odd jobs to make ends meet, the family is faced with tough choices. Miller is 10-years-old and he has little concept of his family’s finances. He goes to school, misses his brother who is at war, and wants a puppy for Christmas. Jenny, his mother, has better news for her family when she learns her oldest son, Taylor, is coming home.

“You might not believe me, but the desert and the ocean are similar. They’re both immense in a way that defies comprehension. I’ve ridden in a Humvee across miles of endless sand under a merciless sun and sailed a shrimp boat on the dark sea when the dawn broke across the horizon, and in both places I felt the vastness. It made me feel small and insignificant. Isolated and alone. Both desert and sea are unforgiving terrain and don’t tolerate fools.” (pg. 10-1)

Monroe’s prose is meditative as it alternates from Miller, Jenny, and Taylor’s points of view. The coming home of Taylor is much anticipated by Jenny, and while Miller is thrilled, he’s still longing for the pup his father has said they cannot afford. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, soon becomes the storm cloud that further darkens the McClellan’s door. The story would only be partly told without all three points of view, as Monroe provides a broader view of how PTSD affects not only the patient but also the family around them.

“He might have been hurt by a bomb, but he made this house like a minefield for the rest of us.” (pg. 158)

A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe is a heartwarming story about how to heal after trauma and how important family support can be for those with PTSD.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe found her true calling in environmental fiction when she moved to coastal South Carolina. Already a successful author, she was captivated by the beauty and fragility of her new home. Her experiences living in the midst of a habitat that was quickly changing gave her a strong and important focus for her books.

Mary Alice Monroe writes richly textured books that delve into the complexities of interpersonal relationships and the parallels between the land and life. Monroe’s novels are published worldwide. She has achieved many lists, including the New York Times, USA Today and SIBA. She has received numerous awards, including several Readers’ Choice Awards.

Darcy At Last: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Jane Grix

Source: Giveaway Win
Paperback, 68 pgs.
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Darcy at Last: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Jane Grix is a short story that closely follows the original written by Jane Austen. Grix’s tale re-imagines what happens after Mr. Darcy’s terrible proposal at Hunsford in a way that is unique. Darcy realizes that he’s left evidence of his letter to Elizabeth in his room at Rosings, and he must turn the carriage around to retrieve lest some servants learn the particulars of his dealings with Wickham.

The tension and animosity between Darcy and Elizabeth is similar to Austen’s original until she meets with an unfortunate accident. Darcy’s heart clenches in his chest as he sets about with a clear head to make sure she is cared for well, despite his aunt’s bellowing. It is clear to everyone that Darcy is engaged and cannot leave without knowing Elizabeth recovers. Colonel Fitzwilliam comes to his rescue, and with the help of Mrs. Collins, Darcy is able to set her on the path to recovery. However, her subsequent amnesia presents him with a dilemma — should he tell her all that has transpired or he should begin again as though his proposal never happened?

Grix knows Darcy and Elizabeth well, and it shows. Readers will love to see this softer Darcy, one who is confined by societal norms and is frustrated. Because this is a short story, it moves fast, a little too fast. It’s almost as if the author bit off more than could be tackled in a short story. The plot moves very fast and the interactions between the characters are few, which makes the evolution of emotions a bit rushed and hard to believe. Darcy at Last: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Jane Grix is a delightful take on Austen’s original work and a satisfying variation involving amnesia and second chances.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Jane Grix is a pen name of Beverly Farr, author of clean and clever contemporary romances.

 

United States of Books: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (audio)

Entertainment Weekly chose Geek Love for Oregon. The magazine said, “A twisted couple populate their freak show with their own children in this modern classic. It’s weird, carnivalesque, and unnerving: not unlike Portland on a given night. Need more? Kurt Cobain was a fan.”

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 15+ hours
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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, narrated by Christina Moore, is a family saga of love, obsession, and revenge among the freaks at the Binewski traveling show. In many ways this novel reminded me of American Horror Story: Freak Show. Al and Lil populate the show with their own children, those they have disfigured by ensuring Lil drinks and subjects herself to all manner of poisons, insecticides, and other torturous devices. Their efforts to save the traveling carnival from bankruptcy requires more than traditional dwarfs and extraordinarily tall men and women. The Binewskis have concluded that the rise of basketball and other entertainments have made these traditional freak show participants obsolete.

Much of this is narrated by Oly, an albino hunchback, as she recalls the past and her brother Arturo the Aquaboy, who became so consumed with jealousy, that he would do anything to be on top and take over the carnival from his father. Oly, despite being a hunchback, is on the outside of the clan, and she’s treated more as a servant than a family member, even by the brother she loves beyond all reason. While her relatives seek to get by under Arturo’s reign or escape it, Oly seeks to bind herself to him in the only way she knows.

Dunn’s novel examines the love inside a family of freaks, but it really could apply to any family, especially if jealousies are allowed free reign and grow out of control. What’s interesting is how much Oly is unlike her family in that she sees the “norms” as not something to be despised, but as something that could be loved. Her transformation and distance from her family is complete later on in the novel when she gives birth.

Christina Moore does an admirable job with the narration, and it is easy to follow each character. However, the setting in Oregon is not front-and-center and many times, readers will forget that the carnival is even in the state, particularly when other cities in other states are more frequently mentioned like Spokane. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, narrated by Christina Moore, takes a while to get used to, and there is some very strong language and sexual content that some readers would not prefer. Overall, the novel was just plain odd.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Katherine Dunn is best known for her beloved novel “Geek Love,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1989. She is also the author of the novels “Attic” (1970) and “Truck” (1971). A fourth novel, entitled “The Cut Man,” has been in-progress for decades and was purportedly scheduled for a September 2008 release.

Dunn is also known as a prolific sports journalist in the field of boxing, and has written several articles on the subject.

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Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette & Giveaway

Source: the author
Paperback, 278 pgs.
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“‘Dum spiro spero! Dum Spiro Spero!’ While I breathe, I hope.” (pg. 10-11)

Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette has created a believable catch-22 for Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, now a British captain during WWII. He is sent to France after losing nearly all his men at the Somme and months after his failed proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse’s assistant. At The Ritz, Darcy is confronted with all of the feelings he’s denied on the battlefield and he must confront his vow of never again having attachments. Elizabeth, on the other hand, has put the blame on Darcy all this time — his military requisitioning of her family home, the death of her father, and much more. She’s vowed to loathe him for eternity, but can she keep that vow as the ravages of war continue to push them together and force them to work together to keep the hospital going and saving the casualties of WWI?

“He was no more distinguished than a tiny grain of sand on an endless beach.” (pg. 56)

“So many of the conclusions she had glibly drawn about people and situations — and stood upon as a firm foundation — were now shifting like sand beneath her feet.” (pg. 137)

Monette has set the tone early on, and these characters will be tested in terms of their perceptions, values, and character. Darcy is more stoic in Monette’s novel; he’s a man hammered by war and burdened by a secret mission he feels ill-equipped for. But he still plods onward, doing his duty and nothing more. Elizabeth has come into her own as an independent woman, finding her way in the medical field and hoping for a future where she doesn’t need to depend on anyone. Both are closed off, but under the threat of the Germans and the constant barrage of casualties, they are forced to re-examine themselves and what it means to truly be a casualty of war.

Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette peels back the layers of the ways in which we protect ourselves from pain to reveal that we all want to be loved, protected, and esteemed.

RATING: Cinquain (I cannot wait to read book 2)

gingermonetteAbout the Author:

The teacher always learns the most. And in homeschooling her children, Ginger Monette learned all the history she missed in school. Now she’s hooked—on writing and World War I. When not writing, Ginger enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon.

Her WW1 flash fiction piece, Flanders Field of Grey, won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s 2015 Picture This grand prize.

Ginger lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she happily resides with her husband, three teenagers, and two loyal dogs.

Watch the book trailer.
Listen to an audio excerpt.
Add it on GoodReads.
Visit Ginger Monette on Facebook.

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Giveaway:

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With Darcy’s Hope set during the era of Downton Abbey and the tour being right before Christmas, I thought it would be fun to use Downton Abbey ornaments as the giveaway.

Seven ornaments will be given away and is open to U.S. residents in the continental US. The prize for residents of the continental U.K. is a Downton Abbey mug.

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Matched by Ally Condie (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 8 CDs
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Matched by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses, is set into a future where many of the choices of the society are manipulated or made for its residents. On the date of her matching — a process through which her mate is chosen — Cassia gets a glimpse of another future, another choice. Xander, her childhood friend who lives in her neighborhood, is her match, something that doesn’t happen that often. But her interactions with another boy, Ky, in the neighborhood, lead her to question more than just the matching system.

Although aberrations in the perfect system have created a sense of unease for Cassia, part of her still wants to believe that they system does things for good, at least the good of society. Her hikes with Ky, however, reveal that not all of the society’s decisions are for the best and not even done with the best intentions. Her inner struggle is exacerbated by the words her grandfather said to her before his passing and the advice he had given her in the past. Condie has created a world that is believable, but it seems like there is too much that is not reveals about this society and its past. Everything is kept very close to the officials’ vests, and readers are likely to see that it is for very good reason in subsequent books (or so I suspect).

Simses is an excellent narrator for a young girl who is torn between the way she knew things to be and the way she sees they could be. Her narration of the male characters are well done, too. Matched by Ally Condie, is a quick listen on audio and even though readers know Cassia is about to commit an infraction she cannot come back from, not too much happens in the book.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Ally Condie is a former high school English teacher who lives with her husband, three sons and one daughter outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves reading, running, eating, and listening to her husband play guitar.

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audio, 9+ hours
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*** Spoilers included ***

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, narrated by Neil Shah, is a coming-of-age story that traverses India, London, and France as Hassan Haji comes into his own as a chef. Told from Hassan’s point of view, the novel almost takes on the feel of a memoir. He speaks of his past in India and the culture and food that shaped him, but he also speaks about the death of his mother with a sense of detachment, even though the character claims it is a defining moment.

As the family moves abroad, Hassan is exposed to different foods and cultures, but he’s also shackled to the life of his father’s making. As a rivalry blooms between his father and another restaurateur in Lumière, Madame Mallory, Hassan begins to see glimmers of a world he could master and enjoy. The 100-foot distance between his father’s restaurant and that of Mallory is short, but seems to be worlds away, especially as she makes it her mission to destroy their business.

While food is central to this story and Hassan does grow into a stupendous chef, according to those around him, readers may find he develops little, especially in terms of his relationships with women. Hassan has been unable to commit to anyone, and while it is hinted at the end that this might change, it is almost like an afterthought by the author. There are other deaths in the novel, as well, and given the closeness of Hassan to his father and Mallory, it is hard to believe that the author would gloss over these and their impacts on Hassan, but he does.

Shah is a good narrator, though some of the accents seemed over the top at times and the language a bit forced. The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, narrated by Neil Shah, is an interesting take on a man outside his culture learning to cook with greater skill but learning little else about himself. Although he becomes a famous chef, it seems that his relationships are only on the surface, and his character stagnates, especially as the trials of his early days in the Paris kitchens are glossed over.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Richard C. Morais is a Canadian American novelist and journalist. He is the author of three books, including The Hundred-Foot Journey, which is an international bestseller and has been adapted as a film by Dreamworks.

Trick or Treat! by Hayley Down, illustrated by Sarah Vince

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 24 pgs.
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Trick or Treat! by Hayley Down, illustrated by Sarah Vince, comes with its own little, orange and black flashlight for children to use while reading. This book is best read in the dark as the hidden pictures are easier to see when the flashlight is the only light on the page. My daughter selected this from her school bookfair shortly before Halloween, and its tale came at the right time. The hidden ghouls, skeletons, and more, as the brother fears everything and the sister is scared of nothing that goes bump in the night.

Anyone who came to the house before Halloween or arrived on Halloween for Trick-or-Treating was given a peek at this gem. She pulled it out in the dark living room with her best buddy and her brother to show them what was inside. All us parents heard was ooos and ahhhsss. I assume the other kids liked this one as well.

Trick or Treat! by Hayley Down, illustrated by Sarah Vince, has a nice basic story about exploring the unknown and not letting fear rule your actions. Kids will take to the story and the flashlight fun easily.

RATING: Cinquain

The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James

Source: the author
Ebook, 229 pgs.
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In The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James, Evie Pemberton has realized part of her dream with her first art show. Despite the trials of her life, she is unaware that a storm is brewing, one that has been forming for generations as rumors have rippled up into a tidal wave set to overtake her. Enter the confident London-based private investigator Charlie Haywood, he finds himself awed by her beauty at the art show and he’s unable to craft a new persona through which he can uncover the truth of her family. Even though he is tongue-tied, Charlie still learns about the Darcy Trust and the possibility that Evie’s ancestors may not be entitled to its endowment.

“We live in a world, Galbraith, where a woman has only that which fortune has given her. She cannot shift for herself as a man can, and I have come to fear, that in time, and in future generations, the largesse which I gave them may be diminished.”

James creates a novel in which readers can see how newly married Mr. and Mrs. Darcy interact with one another, how her family impacts her relationship with her new husband, and the insecurities that plague her as a new mother, wife, and lady of Pemberley. While Darcy and Lizzy still tease each other and remain happily married, there are pressures from society that seep in the cracks, causing discord for them. Charlie and Evie’s story is a straight forward mystery, and as Charlie and Evie grow closer to the truth of a generational mystery, they also grow closer to one another. While the modern story seems a bit rushed in places, their romance is believable. James’ portrayal of a married couple and pregnancy is very realistic, and will have readers wondering how anyone survived pregnancy in the Regency period.

“I am tired and my back aches like the low moan of an orchestra tuning up.”

The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James is a wonderful mystery that unravels, tugs at the emotions, and realistically portrays marriage and motherhood. James knows Austen’s characters, and she explores a number of societal norms from inheritance of estates by male heirs to familial bonds that go beyond biology.

RATING: Cinquain

jenetta-james-author-picAbout the Author:

Jenetta James is a mother, lawyer, writer, and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full-time as a barrister. Over the years, she has lived in France, Hungary, and Trinidad as well as her native England. Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. She is the author of Suddenly Mrs. Darcy which was published by Meryton Press in April 2015. The Elizabeth Papers is her second novel.

Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer

Source: Tightrope Books
Paperback, 100 pgs.
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Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer explores our emotional responses, particularly what it means to be happy and how we account for happiness. This is Cayer’s third collection of poetry, and while I haven’t read others, it is clear that Cayer views the world in complex and unusual ways.  She looks at emotions with a practical and razor-sharp precision.

In “Acts of Confiscation,” the narrator commits new crimes to fill the emotional gaps left when the high from the previous ones wears off.  “I commit new crimes      to push/down the line     the unbearable ones/” she says, noting “I’m going in the red     direction/commit acts the size of ( )    always/some hole with fallen edges/a same-shaped desire waiting to fill it/” (pg. 23)  Cayer uses each poem to illustrate a different kind of happiness, and if readers look closely, they will see the happiness tied to mental illness or instability in some cases.  For instance, “Travelling without Moving” seems to illustrate an obsessive-compulsive who always works in a particular way — rearranges things to relax — and does these actions in a way that they are routine and unrecognizable as his/her own actions.  “it relaxes me to sort and rearrange, I’m pretty sure it was me/in the cupboards and boxes,”  (pg. 28)

Through the lenses of psychology and other sciences, Cayer looks at what it means to emote, to feel, and to strive to recreate those moments of happiness.  And beneath these studies is a certain trepidation about the future and whether the happiness will run out or be lost.  Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer is a complex collection that requires rumination and exploration beyond the page into the self and the world around us.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Lori Cayer is the author of two volumes of poetry: Stealing Mercury and Attenuations of Force. She serves as co-editor of English poetry for CV2 and is co-founder of the Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry/Prix Lansdowne de poésie. Lori works by day as an editorial assistant for a scientific research journal.