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Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote

Source: NetGalley & Grayson Books
eBook, 82 pgs
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Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote is a collection of poems from a retired U.S. Navy physician, who also is the director of the Warrior Poetry Project at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  Beneath the carnage depicted in many of these poems, there is a compassionate undercurrent.  Some of these poems are about the battle scars — physical and emotional — that shape today’s warriors, but they also are about sacrifice, discipline, and human comfort spawned from work on the hospital ship Comfort and the care of sick and wounded Americans.

From “Mountain Burial”

knowing we can’t retrieve
this well that’s now gone dry.
She lives in a field of green
whose thousand blades wave free,
scattered from us by war,
the ender of destinies.

From “Uncle Jim”

They say everything’s been written; it hasn’t.
Darkness and light are vast, and poets have barely begun.
Even when it hides, the hand knows when it’s writing a final death.

Foote’s narrator is a compassionate medic, but he is well aware of the carnage of war, facing it daily in surgeries and helping soldiers come to terms with the losses they have suffered. There is compassion for the soldiers as well as for the enemies, particularly those also marred by war. These poems are less trying to make sense of war, but geared toward demonstrating compassion and understanding. They pay homage to the dead, a way to honor their collective and individual sacrifices. Foote also includes some great notes about the different terms used, including Fedayeen, which refers to a generic fighter, and Mujahadeen, which refers to someone fighting for a religious cause. There also are great tidbits about events that occurred during the war that many may not know, including villagers who tossed unwanted children — particularly those with cognitive disabilities — onto Medevacs to get rid of them (“The War Child”).

Wife on the ICU

I watch at night and walk at dawn
forever in flight like the soul of a bird
the monitor shows a thin green line
I walk at night and watch at dawn
not knowing the end of the road I’m on
down which, possessed by a voice unheard
I watch at night and walk at dawn
forever in flight like the soul of a bird.

Medic Against Bomb: A Doctor’s Poetry of War by Frederick Foote is a collection of poems that is less focused on battles and who the enemy is and more on the compassion necessary to treat those men, women, and children who are scared by war — whether they are soldiers, bystanders, or the enemy. Some poems are better paced than others, but there are some gems that will have readers looking at war with a new perspective.

About the Author:

Frederick Foote is a poet and physician who lives in Bethesda, MD, USA. His work has appeared in Commonweal, JAMA, The Progressive, and many other journals. Click the tabs for a sample of these poems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 96 pgs
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Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones is a stunning collection that explores the vessels we are given to travel through the world in in a literal and figurative sense.  We are born and given a name, but what do those names come to mean to us and how is that different from the meaning of the name to our parents?  Jones explores the meaning of her own name in “Definition,” after the poetic narrator introduces the girl she believes herself to be at the beginning.  She effectively juxtaposes this carefree and fun-loving girl with the expectations of the name she is given.

From “Girl” (pg 3-4)

daydreaming, pretend out loud
Girl.

Singing off-key, flowing T-shirt hair,
microphone brush and missing front teeth.

From “Definition” (pg.7)

Parnassus …
2. (Literature/Poetry)
a. the world of poetry
b. a center of poetic or other creative activity

Parneshia …
I. 1980–daughter of high school sweethearts (prom queen and football captain).
2. (Woman/Poet)
a. rooted in her Midwest, in her poetry
b. growing up in Mama’s kitchen and stacks of dusty books
3. (Woman/Poet) twenty years later, the Poet searches the
definition of her name … who knew

While she is young, the narrator is content to just be, but as she grows older, she seeks a part of herself that she was unaware of, only to be surprised by how connected she already was.  And as the collection continues through its stages, so too does the evolution of the narrator from a child seeking a fair trade with her friend to switch names because her friend’s name is shorter, until she realizes that names often reflect who we are on the inside.  In this tale of growing up, the narrator becomes a young woman who fondly remembers those who helped her grow, like her grandmother who “lifts the quilt/sewn fifty years ago by her mother, signaling me to join her.”  And that girl slid “into the pocket of the quilt,/letting my grandmother’s hands/cradle me back to child,” ultimately “creating a human quilt.” (page 14-5)  These are the memories she can hold onto when the reality of life hits her hard, and she begins to realize that love and other things are not as they are in the movies.

Jones includes poems that explore what happens when we come of age, but also what we remember about our pasts and how important it is to keep the patchwork of our own family histories intact, just like those in a quilt.  While the larger world remembers the bigger stories of poets pushing the envelope and Blacks who became president, we have to be the ones to record our own histories and remember that we, as vessels, carry all of those stories inside of us and that they are part of who we were, are, and will be.  Vessel: Poems by Parneshia Jones is beautiful, nostalgic, questioning, and lyrical.  Like in “Legend of the Buffalo Poets,” “There is a rumble in his roaming./ Part bison, part thunder,/ he is a stampede of words,/ raising mountains from rooted earth.//” and we should “Love our delirious souls/running wild in this concrete jungle.”  (Litany: Chicago Summers, pg. 60-1)

One of the best poetry collections I’ve read in 2015.

About the Poet:

After studying creative writing at Chicago State University, earning an MFA from Spalding University, and studying publishing at Yale University, Parneshia Jones has been honored with the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Margaret Walker Short Story Award, and the Aquarius Press Legacy Award. Her work has also been anthologized in She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems, edited by Caroline Kennedy and The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, edited by Nikky Finney. A member of the Affrilachian Poets, she serves on the board of Cave Canem and Global Writes. She currently holds positions as Sales and Subsidiary Rights Manager and Poetry Editor at Northwestern University Press. Parneshia Jones lives in Chicago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 80 pgs
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Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny is a collection of prose poems in which cave drawings, pictographs, and petroglyphs the poet found in Montana come to life.  Readers are looking over her shoulder as she looks closely at these images while she wonders about the people who created them.  We begin near a cave in “Outside the Live Cave Spot” where we observe the opening as “lopsided, irregular dripping down like a lock of hair over someone’s eye.”  Things here are obscured from view, like the picture is not full.  It is just like the narrator of the poem, we get a glimpse of the life that was here, but something has been lost as humanity has moved away from pictorial communication to words on a page and online.  Many of these prose poems examine this sense of loss, a part of our culture that has disappeared into the ether, but it is still with us, as we can imagine and remind ourselves of what those lives must have been like.

From “Pictograph: Bird Site, Maze District” (pg 16)

“We recognize a figure, a brother, a twin, who is punished
for our disabilities, our own strangeness.  We are removed from
our families or we remove ourselves.”

From “Sign With Convergent Nested Elements” (pg 28)

“Sometimes things shine forth with their own
magnitude. Brushstroke of the mountain above the bank. As one ages,
it seems to me, one begins to separate from the body. One sees its frailties, it needs at a remove. Dimly lit, not important to return to.”

The narrator continues on this journey of discovery, which leads her to self-discovery. She examines not only the past, but also the faith it must have taken for those people to have lived and continue onward — a faith that she finds wobbles in herself.  The narrator is discovering more than she bargained for, making connections not only with the past but with the nature present before, like the mountain chickadee who wobbles before her in “The Wounded Bird.”  Here she is identifying with this bird’s struggle for life and noting her own inability to come to terms with god.

Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny contains some really stunning images and examinations of human evolution and struggle, but readers may connect with just a few poems in the collection at first.  “Kayak,” for instance, is the most removed from the idea of studying these ancient drawings in that the narrator is in the water surrounded by nature, but the effect is similar in that we have the power to blend in or to disturb or even to merely stand out by being ourselves, which can cause others to take flight.

About the Poet:

Melissa Kwasny is the author of the acclaimed poetry collections The Nine Senses (Milkweed Editions, 2011) Reading Novalis in Montana (Milkweed Editions, 2009), The Archival Birds (Bear Star Press, 2000), and Thistle (Lost Horse Press, 2006), which won the Idaho Prize in 2006. She is also the author of Pictograph, forthcoming in 2015. She is the editor of Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800–1950 (Wesleyan University Press, 2004). Widely published in journals, including Willow Springs, Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, and River Styx, she was recently the Richard Hugo Visiting Poet at the University of Montana and a Visiting Writer at the University of Wyoming. Kwasny received the Poetry Society of America’s 2009 Cecil Hemley Award for a series of poems that appears in The Nine Senses. She lives in Jefferson City, Montana.

 

 

 

 

 

Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust

Source: Press 53
Paperback, 114 pgs
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Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust, selected as the 2015 winner of the Press 53 Award for Poetry, is a collection of contemporary sonnets in which a pilgrim tackles the challenges of the modern world, including debt, divorce, addiction, and more.  Sonnets are one of the more challenging forms of poetry because of their rhythms and rhyme schemes, but Foust is never shy in her word choice nor the selection of each poem’s topic.  Her pilgrim is like Dante in the Divine Comedy, who searches for truth, beauty, and love, but unlike him, those concepts can manifest in very different ways.  In Foust’s modern version, the Pilgrim comes from a place of instability in which her father “smelled like failure because/he could not pay the bills.” (“The Prime Mover,” pg. 15)

From the seven deadly sins overheard at a party to party etiquette, the shallowness of Pilgrim’s cloud is seen through judgmental eyes, even as the Pilgrim seeks solace in the bathroom with the newspaper.  She buries her head in the sand to avoid the realities of the world around her — the lack of depth and mindfulness — and she’s paralyzed with fear and inaction.  The juxtaposition between her upbringing with the new life of high-end parties, among the elite with their own yachts and mansions, is stark.

From “Wrath, Talking about ‘The Change'” (page 10)

‘Menopause is a bitch and, trust me, not
one in heat. Black cohosh and primrose,
soy, and those compounded creams
you rub on your belly. Yuck, and none of it
works–I still hot-flash like a neon sign
in a full grand mal fir, I still rail

From “Indentured” (page 14)

Pilgrim’s own teeth, like her parents’, are soft
as chalk and will not bleach quite white.
She recalls how her father used to swoop
into the room, vanting to suck her blood,
his bridge boiling Polident blue in a cup

The search for more begins as a slow burn as Pilgrim recognizes the folly of the high-end Fifth Avenue “subway coat” and the use of the Escalade to drive the kids to sports.  There is the danger that she will fall in love with that life and all that it offers, even if it is shallow and unfulfilling.  With references to Hamlet and other classics, Foust has created a ripe mixture of classic and contemporary poetry within a classic form, which readers can and will spend hours ruminating over.  The urgent need to undergo a pilgrimage is tempered by Pilgrim’s awareness that the journey will take an emotional, spiritual, and moral toll.  In spite of those challenges, she sets off.

Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust is a masterful work about the search for meaning in meaninglessness and the search for fulfillment in a world abound with distractions and shallowness.  Foust is a rare talent and her sonnets are masterful, but modern and fresh.

About the Poet:

Rebecca Foust‘s book Dark Card, won the 2007 Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook and was released by Texas Review Press in June 2008, and a full length manuscript was a finalist in Poetrys 2007 Emily Dickinson First Book Award. Her recent poetry won two 2007 Pushcart nominations and appears or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, Margie, North American Review, Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, and others.  She also is the new Poetry Editor for Women’s Voices for Change, which will feature a different woman poet (over the age of 40) each week in its “Poetry Sunday” column.

Check out this interview with Rebecca in SFWeekly.  Here’s another review.  For your viewing enjoyment, Foust reads “the fire is falling.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Peculiar Connection by Jan Hahn

Source: Meryton Press
Ebook
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A Peculiar Connection by Jan Hahn is a Pride & Prejudice variation that will have readers guessing until the very end, biting their nails as they hope for a happy ending for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.  Lady Catherine de Bourgh shows up on the Bennet doorstep with an ominous warning, that a union between Darcy and Elizabeth would be “a sin against Heaven itself!”  Lizzy’s world is shattered, but she’s unaware how shattered it will become as she’s thrown into Darcy’s path repeatedly and his determination refuses to let what Lady Catherine exposes be reality.  Is he on a fool’s errand to uncover a family secret long buried or is his resolve just what Elizabeth needs to keep hope alive?

“Circumstances can shatter expectations as easily as dropping a china cup upon a slate floor splinters its beauty into misshapen shards of pottery.”

The playful banter between them continues in Hahn’s book, as Lizzy and Darcy try to maintain propriety and adjust to their new reality.  And despite the challenges they face, both are determined to meet the challenge head on, though in different ways.  Lizzy is hopeful that she can learn to accept the revelations of Lady Catherine, while Darcy is determined to disprove them.  Hahn utilizes some of Austen’s iconic characters in new ways and weaves in new characters into a seamless narrative.

“‘You are clever enough.  I believe you will select a name for me.’

‘I suppose there is always “Fitz” or “Fitzy.”‘ I cut my eyes at him to see how he responded to my mockery.

‘I call my cousin “Fitz,” and no one shall ever call me “Fitzy.” I forbid it.'”

A Peculiar Connection by Jan Hahn will take readers on a journey into the illustrious past of Pemberley, through the country and city, and even on a sea voyage to Ireland.  Hahn has done a beautiful job demonstrating the tensions a secret of this magnitude would create between Darcy and Elizabeth, who have only recently become aware of their romantic feelings for one another and begun to hope.  She dashes those hopes quickly, but takes them on a realistic journey that tests their faith in love, romance, and themselves.  It is one of the best variations I’ve read in a long time.

Jan Hahn headshotAbout the Author:

After leaving a long career in the world of business, Jan Hahn began writing stories based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 2002. Her first novel, An Arranged Marriage, was published in 2011 by Meryton Press and won Best Indie Novel from Austen Prose that year. Her second novel, The Journey, was selected by Austen Prose as one of the Top Five Austen Inspired Historical Novels of 2012, and it won the Favorite Pride and Prejudice Variation/Alternate Path award from Austenesque. In 2014, Austen Prose listed Ms. Hahn’s third novel, The Secret Betrothal, among the Best Austenesque Historical Novels. She is a member of JASNA and lives in Texas. Visit her Facebook, her Blog, Meryton Press, and on Goodreads.

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Chicken Soup & Homicide by Janel Gradowski

Source: Janel Gradowski, the author
Ebook, 223 pgs
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Chicken Soup & Homicide by Janel Gradowski is the second in the Culinary Competition Mystery series, but readers can jump right into this series without worrying that they have missed something in previous books.  Amy Ridley is paired with Sophie from Riverbend Coffee in the Chicken Soup Showdown charity competition against some of the more polished chefs in Kellerton, Michigan.  Chet Britton has been a star chef in town and he has the ego to match, but his employees and many others in town find his demeanor abrasive.  He’s left a lot of scorched earth behind him in his rise to fame, but Amy isn’t there for the competition with him.  She’s in the competition to win money for her charity, as are many of the other competitors.  When Chet Britton ends up dead, Amy is thrust into the thick of it as a suspect.  Her best friend, Carla, is on the top of the list when a new detective takes over, and even dating a local cop Shepler doesn’t help.

“She should start wearing skull-and-crossbones patterned aprons to warn others of the possible dangers of competing with her, even though she certainly wasn’t the one committing the murders.”

“‘I honestly can’t figure out what that detective is doing.  This is a high-profile case, and the police department seems to have assigned some kind of bumbling idiot to it.  Shouldn’t my relationship with Chet have raised a red flag? Beyond that, I humiliated him a few weeks before he was murdered by demoting him at the restaurant he built.  I’m not sure if that detective hasn’t found that information or if he’s afraid of me.'”

Gradowski has a great sense of comedic timing.  Her one-liners will have readers laughing out loud.  Amy Ridley is a spunky character who has no qualms about hiding behind laundry bins to overhear conversations and also tends to be very careful when waging into her own investigations of town murders.  Should this cook be looking for killers among her friends, family, and fellow residents, probably not, but that doesn’t stop her.  Even as she’s investigating crimes, she’s thinking up recipes and reaching out to troubled friends.  She even finds the time to reach out to her vanishing husband.

Chicken Soup & Homicide by Janel Gradowski is fun and mouth-watering.  Readers will be looking to their kitchens longingly as the recipes are brewing and stewing, but never fear, there are recipes to try out in the back of the book.

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten­-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author is littered with odd jobs like renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life. She writes the Culinary Competition Mystery Series, along with The Bartonville Series (women’s fiction) and the 6:1 Series (flash fiction). She has also had many short stories published in both online and print publications.  Check her Website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Check out her books.

Other books by this author, reviewed here:

 

 

 

 

Enter her giveaway here. (available through March 8, U.S. residents only)

One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart

Source: A gift
Hardcover, 272 pgs
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One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart, which will be published in April, has crafted a testament to artistry and the adaptability of the human mind.  Set in Florence, Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance, Kephart transports readers across the ocean from Philadelphia, Pa., to the cobbled streets of Italy.  Nadia Cara is a young teen who builds nests by weaving seemingly incongruous materials together, making things of beauty.  She’s an artist on overdrive as other parts of her life disappear and flounder amidst the detritus of memory.  She knows that she’s struggling, she knows that she is becoming someone she does not want to be, but she also knows that she is powerless to stop it.

“On the bridge a pigeon flutters.  The pinked sky is fatter now, and the birds are awake, and I remember something Dad read to me once about the flooded River Arno.  How when it filled with broken thingstrees, bridges, mirrors, paintings, wagons, housesit looked like it had been nested over by a giant flock of herons.”  (pg 10 ARC)

“Every nest is a miracle.  It is something whole. A place to hide. A rescue.”  (pg 76 ARC)

Her father, a professor, and her mother, who works with at-risk kids, have brought the family to Italy, hoping that things will improve, that her father can finally write his book about the flood of the River Arno, and her brother earns credits for his cooking-related independent study.  Nadia has little to cling to beyond her family and her nests of stolen things, but she soon is bowled over by a young man, Benedetto, on a Vespa with a pink duffel.  Like the birds flying, Nadia longs to be free — not free from her family — but free from the confines of her damaged mind.  She struggles with her memories and drifts among them when she least expects it, and her nests are the fruit of her labors, helping her to be at ease with her situation and her loss.

Kephart has the ability to transport readers into her settings, showing them the corners of the cities her characters live in and visit like a tour guide.  She is careful to keep her descriptions informative and beautiful to ensure readers are not bogged down by a list and are seeing these locations for the first time — absorbed in the painting created.  Her affinity for birds is multiplied in this novel as Nadia has an affinity for creating beautiful nests out of found and stolen things.  These birds and these nests represent the beauty of Nadia’s life but also the precarious nature she faces and strives to overcome through artistry and building new connections with Benedetto, her family, and Katherine, a mud angel who came to Florence to help it recover from the 1966 flood.

One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart is the best of what it means to be a poetic novelist, and her young adult novels are challenging in word choice, theme, and symbols, but she never speaks down to her readers.  Her novels transcend age boundaries and foster contemplation among her readers, urging them subtlety to look past the surface into the heart of her characters and their stories.  Another Kephart novel bound for the Best of List!

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is a National Book Award finalist and winner of several grants and prizes, is the author of One Thing Stolen, Going Over, Handling the Truth, Small Damages, Flow, and numerous other novels, memoirs, and young adult novels.

 

The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli

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Source: St. Martin’s Press and TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 320 pgs
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The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli is about learning how to change direction when the path you’re on no longer suits, makes you miserable, or merely a new opportunity presents itself.  Part environmental cause, part journey to happiness, Soli creates a multilayered story with deeply flawed characters who not only create havoc in their own lives but in the lives of others.  She brings to life the dream many corporate drones dream of, running away to paradise, but even that is fraught with contradiction and disappointment.

“As was her new habit, Ann got up early and walked to the far side of the island where the camera was.  She sat behind it and stared at the view that it stared at, a veritable Alice behind the looking glass.  It was the real thing and its abstraction.  She felt she was on the verge of some grand truth while being suckered at the same time.” (page 150 ARC)

Ann and her husband, Richard, must face the reality that their business partnership with Javi, El Gusano, is a pipe dream dragged down by their philandering, spendthrift partner who expects their assets to shoulder the debt burden.  As they flee Los Angeles in search of an escape, they end up on an island near Tahiti with no WI-Fi or outside connections.  Soli examines the idea of perception — the view we have of our lives as we live them and the view that we have of those lives when on vacation or examining our chosen path.  The two views either can be nearly identical or they can be vastly different.  It is up to ourselves to change the courses we choose and to create the lives we want.  While there will always be an obstacle that challenges us, we must be inured to rise up and take the horse by the reins.

The irony of The Last Good Paradise is that the only paradise we will have is the one we make ourselves.  It is not a place that can be arrived at by plane, bus, or train, but a sense of peace from within ourselves that must be fought for and cultivated over time.

About the Author:

TATJANA SOLI lives with her husband in Southern California. Her New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, won the 2011 James Tait Black Prize, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a New York Times Notable Book. Her stories have appeared inBoulevard, The Sun, StoryQuarterly, Confrontation, Gulf Coast, Other Voices, Third Coast, Sonora Review and North Dakota Quarterly. Her work has been twice listed in the 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories.

Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg, illustrated by Madeline Gobbo

Source: Diary of an Eccentric
Hardcover, 240 pgs
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Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations by Mallory Ortberg, illustrated by Madeline Gobbo, provides the right amount of literary humor from classics like Jane Eyre to modern characters like Katniss and Peeta from the Hunger Games.  Readers can turn to this little gem again and again for a good laugh.  Text messages are sometimes completely off the wall, but totally in character with either the fictional people or the authors who send the texts.  However, readers will garner more enjoyment from the conversations if they are familiar with the books and authors involved.

From “Wuthering Heights” (pg 114-119 ARC)

“i love you so much i’m going to get sick again
just out of spite

i’ll forget how to breathe

i’ll be your slave

i’ll pinch your heart and hand it back to you dead

i’ll lie down with my soul already in its grave

i’ll damn myself with your tears

i love you so much i’ll come back and marry your sister-in-law

god yes

and i’ll bankroll your brother’s alcoholism

i always hoped you would”

Some are visited more than once in text conversation, particularly Hamlet, and those conversations are fantastically done.  It’s fun to see Regan and Goneril fighting via text, as it is also humorous to see Heathcliff and Cathy profess their love for one another in the most Gothic ways possible.  There are others that could have been better, like the one for William Carlos Williams.  While readers will see the intent to play off of his famous poems, the text conversations could have been more inventive.  And the text conversation with John Keats was uninspired, though it recalled his famous poem Ode on a Grecian Urn.

What readers will love about the book is the use of modern technology and text-speak as classical writers and characters could use them with both their antiquated notions and points of view mixed with a more modern sensibility in some cases.  Ortberg has clearly given her imagination free reign here, and while in most cases, it pays off with a chuckle or a snicker, there are some cases where it falls flat. Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations by Mallory Ortberg, illustrated by Madeline Gobbo, is a fun little bit of humor to cheer you up on a gloomy day.

About the Author:

Mallory Ortberg is a writer, editor, and co-founder of the feminist general interest site The Toast. She previously wrote for Gawker and the Hairpin, where she met Toast co-founder Nicole Cliffe.

Mister H by Daniel Nesquens, Illustrated by Luciano Lozano

Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Hardcover, 61 pgs
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Mister H by Daniel Nesquens, Illustrated by Luciano Lozano, is an early readers chapter book and a little too much to read in one sitting for younger children, like my daughter. For these younger kids, it is best to break it up by chapter for readings so the kids can see the accompanying illustrations, which are delightful, and absorb the story more thoroughly. Mister H is a hippo in search of Africa, his true home, and while he persuades a young girl to free him and leaves the zoo, the conclusion to the story is not a happy ending. Some may find this disappointing, but in many ways, it will help children learn that happy endings are not always available upon first try and that additional chances should be taken.

Nesquens uses a lot of words in this tale and these words can be sometimes large for younger readers, but with help from parents and teachers, kids should be able to sound out these larger words and add to their own vocabularies. Mister H is a tolerant animal in the park who plays with two rambunctious boys and when he is demeaned by a snooty lady in a pizza parlor. Throughout his adventures children will learn how to be persistent in reaching their goals and how to brush off meanness without resorting to similar tactics.

Mister H by Daniel Nesquens, Illustrated by Luciano Lozano, offers a great deal for children to learn about how to interact with others, especially those different from themselves, and how to keep trying even if at first they don’t achieve their goals. Wonderfully illustrated, and observant kids will have fun picking out the happenings that go on beyond just the text.

About the Author:

Daniel Nesquens has been writing children’s books for over ten years. He has published more than thirty titles, including My Tattooed Dad (Groundwood).

About the Illustrator:

Luciano Lozano is a professional illustrator whose work has appeared in books, newspapers, and magazines. He lives in Barcelona. Visit his website.

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

Source:  LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Hardcover, 368 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg is a perfect book for book clubs who want to discuss social and cultural issues.  Nordberg is a journalist in Afghanistan, and she stumbles upon a family with a son who is not what he seems.  He is bacha posh or dressed up as a boy in Dari — it is a technique used by families to save their families’ honor when they have only daughters.  The pressure on low-income, middle-income, and even rich families to have sons is great, and while there are rules in place, they can be bent.  Some families take their youngest girls and dress them as boys, and these girls are then allowed the same privileges as true sons — which means education, sports, being outside unescorted, and wearing boys clothes.  While these privileges only last a short while, the daughters mostly enjoy their time as sons, but there are some who prefer to be girls and wear dresses, but do what they must for their families to survive in society and earn the money they need to live.

“Often, as we have seen in Kabul, it is a combination of factors  A poor family may need a son for different reasons than a rich family, but no ethnic or geographical reasons set them apart.  They are all Afghans, living in a society that demands sons at almost any cost.  And to most of them, the health workers say, having a bacha posh in the family is an accepted and uncontroversial practice, provided the girl is turned back to woman before she enters puberty, when she must marry and have children of her own.  Waiting too long to turn someone back could have consequences for a girl’s reputation.  A teenage girl can conceive and should not be anywhere near teenage boys, even in disguise.”  (page 68 ARC)

Nordberg consistently brings in outside data about the culture of Afghanistan, and she admits that her efforts to apply logic to the situation is pointless, and yet she keeps trying.  These women have defined beliefs and adhere to their culture, even if they wish certain traditions and customs regarding women were different.  Even one female politician adheres to the culture because to outwardly thwart it would bring dishonor to her family and particularly to her husband.  Each of these women knows that to survive they must work within the system, and sons are regarded above everything, though women are considered property and as good as cash when making advancements in society — which is why many women were sold off into marriages at very young ages.  While some aspects of the culture are less arcane, it is clear that Afghanistan is resistant to “Western” ideas and ways, and when the Taliban is in charge, things are even more dire for women.

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg touches upon a phenomenon that is more widespread than expected, but it is not documented, as these girls dressed as boys are considered acceptable so long as the secret is not widely broadcast.  While many would see this as a form of resistance in a rigid society, the women in these families do not see it that way in many cases.  It is merely a way to survive and maintain a honorable reputation in the eyes of society, and if dressing a girl like a boy magically results in a son being born, so much the better.

About the Author:

Jenny Nordberg is a New York-based foreign correspondent and a columnist for Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.  In 2010, she broke the story of “bacha posh” – how girls grow up disguised as boys in gender-segregated Afghanistan. The Page One story was published in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, and Nordberg’s original research in the piece was used for follow-up stories around the world, as well as opinion pieces and fictional tales.  Check out her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter.

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review by Pamela Paul

Source: Henry Holt & Company
Hardcover, 336 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review edited by Pamela Paul, foreword by Scott Turow, is a collection of question-and-answers from The New York Times Book Review with authors, scientists, and more.  Some of these questions stay the same, like what their favorite books are, what genres are their guilty pleasures, and what books disappointed them.  Any book lover who does or does not read the Book Review (though why wouldn’t you) will want this book to get the inside scoop on writers and their writing and reading lives.

Pamela Paul knows just what questions other readers want answered from their favorite authors, and she knows that starting conversations about what people are reading can lead to some in-depth and interesting questions — even philosophical ones.  “Asking someone what she’s read lately is an easy conversational gambit … It also serves an actual purpose: we may find out about something we want to read ourselves,” Pamela Paul says in the introduction.

As Turow says in his foreword, “whether a given writer likes or abhors a given book, all writers probably would concede that … they are who they are because of every one of the books with which they’ve ‘stoofed’ themselves during their lifetimes.”  Book lovers of all ages will love this compilation because they will find something else to read, increase the size of their stacks, and experience the deep appreciation writers and artists have for one another and their work.

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review edited by Pamela Paul, foreword by Scott Turow, is a fantastic compilation of interviews.  Some interviews are humorous, while others are more serious.  The book itself is likely to garner The New York Times Book Review a few more subscribers.

About the Author:

Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review and the author of Parenting, Inc., Pornified, and The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony. Prior to joining the Times, Paul was a contributor to Time magazine and The Economist, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Vogue. She and her family live in New York.  Visit her website and her on Twitter.

72nd book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.