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Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 36 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce opens with an apt quote from Wallace Stevens, in which he says music is a feeling, not sound. Luce moves through the music of his collection like a man in love. He loves not only the music, but the music of love.

In the opening poem, “Music to It,” he reaches us through our souls, those moments we all remember when we wanted the music blaring as we moved through our day. He sways and glides on the Metro to an unheard music strumming through his headphones, and he’s unable to stop moving and tapping. Isn’t this why we all love the music we do? Because it moves us, even when we’re in public and perhaps shy about our love of music.

Luce pays homage to what I’ll call “music memory.” In “An air that kills,” he says, “I hear/you whisper underneath/the song, a memory/that pricks without/the power to console.//” Each of us has those songs or riffs of music that recall memories. I cannot get past a song without recalling some memory or moment or loved one who has passed away. There are so many songs that call to us for its melody, its lyrics, its rhythms, but they also are tied to our lives by memory.

From John Coltrain to Richard Strauss, Luce’s improvisations can leave you breathless, swimming in a sea of bourbon and memory swirling in a glass and chinking ice. And you know that there’s a playlist on Spotify for this collection — how could you not have one! I will definitely be listening as I read this collection again. The delightful rhythm of Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce will carry you away, allowing you to lay your head down and dream away in the “light of a love supreme.”

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Gregory Luce is the author of five books of poems: Signs of Small Grace, Drinking Weather, Memory and Desire, Tile, and Riffs & Improvisations (forthcoming in 2021). His poems have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Kansas Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Innisfree Poetry Review, If, Northern Virginia Review, Juke Jar, Praxilla, Little Patuxent Review, Buffalo Creek Review, and in several anthologies. He recently retired after 32 years from National Geographic and now lives in Arlington, VA. He is a volunteer writing tutor and mentor with 826DC.

Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 228 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun, is a bilingual collection of love poems in Spanish and English that touches the passionate hearts of us all. It is a love letter to lovers, friends, ourselves, and human kind. Amirthanayagam opens the collection with “On my Body,” exploring the weakness of the body to be fooled by love, whether that is the desire of the body to get close to another only to find out it is not love or a person who tattoos their body for love and be stuck with the reminder that it is a failed relationship. Love in this opening poem is both bliss and pain. How true that is.

I love that this collection is both in Spanish and English. It allowed me to reach back into my memory to find those Spanish words I recall from high school and attempt to live in the language Amirthanayagam wrote the poems in. While my translations did not always match what was written in the English poem, the feelings evoked by the poems were the same. The beauty of language is that it can transcend the barriers we have to create connections, much like love can connect us to one another.

There is a deep longing in Amirthanayagam’s poems. His poems are short but full of poetic longing – to embrace those who have moved, those who are no longer with us, the lovers we remember fondly despite the pain of those relationships ending, and even those we have yet to meet.

Keys (pg. 105)

I would have liked to have taught you
to drive, share the stage
when you presented your first book,

write its prologue. Your poems
accompany me to the rhythm of my pulse.
Cars will become more electric

and I will continue loving what
we could have accomplished
in that other time that was within

our reach and is still present,
an open-ended invitation,
the car ready to start.
Llaves (pg. 104)

Me hubiese gustado enseñarte
a manejar, compartir la mesa
cuando presentabas tu primer libro,

escribir el prólogo. Tus poemas
me acompañan al ritmo de mi pulso;
los autos se volverán más eléctricos

y seguiré amando lo que
podríamos haber logrado
en aquel otro tiempo que estaba

a nuestro alcance y sigue presente,
una invitación sin fecha de caducidad,
el auto listo para encenderse.

In “Between Google and Face, a Letter,” Amirthanayagam speaks to the digital distance many of us face now, making love or the cultivation of love more difficult. “Now when I surf the internet/I see that face like a country/behind the Iron Curtain/that’s now rather digital,//bytes of ones, zeroes and light blocking/Cyrano from his beloved. Who will become/his postman and who will make peace”

One of my favorite poems in the collection comes in the back third, “Sustainable Love,” where the longing is ever present from the man who will not cry for his love or clean the office or check the email hoping for messages, as the oceans continue to erode the shore and the man has little choice but to get back to life and his work. “To Wake Up with Moon and Sea” also explores this longing, but instead of another person, there’s a longing for a home country left behind.

Blue Window/Ventana Azul by Indran Amirthanayagam, translated by Jennifer Rathbun, pays homage to love’s beauty, its heartbreak, its longing, and its desire. Fall through Amirthanayagam’s ventana azul and revel in the beauty of love. A collection you’ll turn to in times of sadness and in celebration.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Indran Amirthanayagam is a Sri Lankan-American poet- diplomat, essayist, translator and musician in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. A member of the U.S. Foreign Service, he is currently oa a domestic assignment in Washington D.C. Amirthanayagam has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), when he was eight years old Amirthanayagam moved with his family to London, England, and at age 14, he moved again to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he began writing poetry. He studied at Punahou School in Honolulu and played cricket at the Honolulu Cricket Club. He then studied English Literature at Haverford College where he also captained their cricket team during his last year. He has a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Amirthanayagam writes poetry and essays in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. His Spanish collections include Lírica a tiempo (Mesa Redonda Editorial, Lima, 2020), En busca de posada (Editorial Apogeo Lima 2019), El Infierno de los Pájaros (Resistencia, Mexico City, 2001), El Hombre que Recoge Nidos (CONARTE/Resistencia, Mexico, 2005), Sol Camuflado (Lustra Editores, Lima, May 2011), Sin Adorno, lírica para tiempos neobarrocos (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Mexico, 2013), and Ventana Azul (El Tapiz del Unicornio, Mexico, 2016). His first collection in French, Aller-retour au bord de la mer, was published in 2014 by Legs Editions. Legs also published Il n’est de solitude que l’ile lointaine in 2017. Sur l’île nostalgique was published by L’Harmattan in Paris in 2020. His works in English include BLUE WINDOW (VENTANA AZUL) (DIALOGOS/Lavender Ink, 2021), THE MIGRANT STATES (Hanging Loose Press, 2020), UNCIVIL WAR (Mawenzi House/TSAR Publishers, 2013), THE SPLINTERED FACE: TSUNAMI POEMS (HAnging Loose Press, 2008), and THE ELEPHANTS OF RECKONING (Hanging Loose Press, 1993). Check out The Poetry Channel he runs.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Helen Williams, author of In Essentials

Welcome to today’s guest Helen Williams, author of In Essentials: A Pride & Prejudice Variation. She’s going to share some of her favorite fall recipes with us, but let’s check out the book.

Synopsis:

Five months after Darcy’s disastrous proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, he discovers that the woman he ardently loves is suffering from a grave illness. Despite an affliction that has left her altered, Elizabeth Bennet is still the same person in essentials: witty, sanguine, and obstinate. However, her future is uncertain, and she struggles to maintain her equanimity—especially when Fitzwilliam Darcy returns to Netherfield and seems determined to improve her opinion of him. Now she must decide whether she is brave enough to trust him and embrace happiness, however fleeting it might prove to be.

Please welcome, Helen:

Thank you for hosting me at Savvy Verse and Wit, Serena. I’ve really enjoyed my blog book tour for In Essentials, but particularly writing this post, as books and food (and rugby!) are my great loves in life.

Anyone who has read any of my previous stories will know that I have Welsh roots. My Dad’s family are from Wales – a little village outside Cardiff called Tongwynlais – and I always include some sort of Welsh reference in my stories. In Essentials was no different. Dydd gwyl dewi hapus (Happy St David’s Day) was the first thing I learnt to say in Welsh, so it seemed fitting that Darcy would do the same. I can also sing the National Anthem quite well, but couldn’t think of a plausible excuse for Darcy to learn it…

Anyway, I digress. Serena asked for me to write a post including my favourite fall recipes that also tied in, if possible, with the era and story. Immediately I knew what I had to write about – Bara Brith!

Google tells me that the origins of Bara Brith may trace all the way back to the 600s but that “modern” Bara Brith comes from the 1800s. Bara Brith means “speckled bread” as it is spotted with fruit, and it is a true Welsh classic. Made with dried fruit, sugar, spices and tea, it is utterly delicious and a real, warming treat on a cold day. I love it with melted butter but my Dad likes his plain and dunked in a mug of tea!

The recipe below is my grandmother’s and has been passed down our family tree for generations; I’m very happy to share this slice of Welshness with you.

Ingredients

  • 300ml hot tea (make it strong, probably at least three teabags)
  • 400g mixed fruit (e.g. sultanas, raisins, currants)
  • 250g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 100g dark brown muscovado sugar
  • 1 egg

Method

1. Mix the tea and fruit together and soak overnight, or at least six hours.
2. Mix in the sugar until dissolved, then the egg, spices and the flour (you’ll probably want to sift in
the flour). The mix will resemble a thick cake batter.
3. Pour into a prepared standard loaf tin and cook for an hour and fifteen minutes at 150C.
4. Enjoy!

If Bara Brith isn’t quite your thing, I’m sure everyone loves a bit of cheese on toast and Welsh Rarebit is the undisputed king of cheeses on toasts.

According to legend, the name is a sort of pun – everyday Welsh folk could not afford rabbit, and so used cheese as a substitute. No-one knows exactly when Welsh Rabbit became Welsh Rarebit, but the name has stuck. Rarebit has been around since the 1500s and if you’re from the United Kingdom or have visited, you may have seen Rarebit on the menu of a couple of traditional pubs. It’s comfort food at its best and perfect on a cold day.

Ingredients

  • 250g cheddar cheese – you want it strong enough to stand up to the beer and mustard
  • 70ml ale or beer
  • 1.5tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 20g unsalted butter melted
  • 1tbsp English mustard (or Dijon or wholegrain – up to you!)
  • 4 thick slices of bread, toasted

Method

1. Mix together the grated cheese, beer or ale, butter, Worcestershire sauce and mustard.
2. Spread over each slice of toast, ensuring it covers the crusts too.
3. Transfer each slice onto a baking tray and place directly underneath the grill for five minutes or so, until golden brown and bubbling.
4. Carefully remove from the oven, cut each slice in half and serve hot.

So there you have it, Bara Brith and Welsh Rarebit – two Welsh classics that were both around at the time of Jane Austen and are still loved today. Can you imagine Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy tucking into a slice of Bara Brith and practising their Welsh pronunciation? I can!

Thank you, Helen, for sharing these recipes with us, and what a treat to know a bit of the history. My husband loves cheese on toast, so we’ll be trying Welsh Rarebit!

About the Author:

Helen lives in Cambridge, United Kingdom, where she works for the University of Cambridge. She has been writing as a hobby for around 15 years and has written several novel length stories based on the work of Jane Austen. Helen has Welsh roots so her stories will often include a couple of references to the land of her fathers, in addition to her two other loves – dogs and rugby. In addition to writing, Helen’s hobbies include cooking, hiking, cycling and campaigning for green initiatives. Having been diagnosed with pituitary growths in 2015 and 2020, Helen is also an active member of the Pituitary Foundation and her experiences with chronic illness inspired her latest story. Visit her Facebook page.

GIVEAWAY:

Meryton Press is giving away 6 eBooks of In Essentials.

Enter through Rafflecopter.

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Mailbox Monday #652

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Riffs and Improvisations by Gregory Luce, which I purchased and is possible candidate for Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Music’s ineffable power has never been so lyrically rendered as in Gregory Luce’s new collection. Erik Satie, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, Charles Mingus, Richard Strauss, Nick Cave—such masters and many more appear here. Luce’s carefully crafted poems are as elegant as the songs which they so deftly capture. – Nathan Leslie, Author of Hurry Up and Relax, Sibs, and Best Small Fictions Series Editor

“That torpedo had our names / on it from the start,” Gregory Luce writes at the end of “Improvisation: Sunk,” one of many urgent and poignant poems navigating to the tune of destiny and knowing loss in Riffs & Improvisations. This wondrous collection gifts us inspired poetic “riffs” infused with musical sensibility, “cascading like / notes,” off the page “like Trane / soloing filigrees.” He paints vivid internal and external lyric landscapes: hospital waiting rooms, dance floors, and transports us to Paris 1920 with a breeze that “wafts over the piano.” Luce plunges into language with an arsenal of truths composing a score from the muses of lived experience—a luminous book propelling a voice we crave. -Ava C. Cipri, Author of Leaving the Burdened Ground and Queen of Swords

The stunning poems in Gregory Luce’s Riffs & Improvisations know ecstasy. They pulse, ache, and rejoice. These poems live in kitchens, juke joints, symphony halls, and most importantly, the human heart. Luce conducts masterfully. We feel the beat in a crowded Metro Station, we dance, mistaking our breathing for another’s. These poems take us into the marrow of music, where rhythm recognizes its relatives in our bones. These poems take us into cold purgatory and a river of bourbon. Luce gives us Coltrane, and much more, which means, his poems save us. – Joseph Ross, Author of Ache and Raising King

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl, purchased on Audible, though I still want the actual hardcover. I couldn’t find the book at the local Target, which said they would have it.

So, I’ve written a book.

Having entertained the idea for years, and even offered a few questionable opportunities (“It’s a piece of cake! Just do four hours of interviews, find someone else to write it, put your face on the cover, and voila!”) I have decided to tell these stories just as I have always done, in my own voice. The joy that I have felt from chronicling these tales is not unlike listening back to a song that I’ve recorded and can’t wait to share with the world, or reading a primitive journal entry from a stained notebook, or even hearing my voice bounce between the Kiss posters on my wall as a child.

This certainly doesn’t mean that I’m quitting my day job, but it does give me a place to shed a little light on what it’s like to be a kid from Springfield, Virginia, walking through life while living out the crazy dreams I had as young musician. From hitting the road with Scream at 18 years old, to my time in Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, jamming with Iggy Pop or playing at the Academy Awards or dancing with AC/DC and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, drumming for Tom Petty or meeting Sir Paul McCartney at Royal Albert Hall, bedtime stories with Joan Jett or a chance meeting with Little Richard, to flying halfway around the world for one epic night with my daughters…the list goes on. I look forward to focusing the lens through which I see these memories a little sharper for you with much excitement.

What did you receive?

COVID Chronicle #6

It’s been since June I’ve written about the state of things here in Maryland.

The first weeks of school really had me stressed. After a short week one, my daughter’s entire grade was quarantined and learning from home as a staff member showed symptoms at school. We were not required to test her and she never showed symptoms, so we were relieved for that, but the week of at-home learning was chaotic and the teachers had little time to prepare. It showed, but it went as well as it could as not only teachers and students had to adapt.

The second week of school, the fourth grade class was quarantined, similar reason. When my daughter returned to school, the only kids at the bus stop were her grade, first, second, and third grade. Kindergarten and fourth grade were out for another week. It was an exhausting start to the year. Now, it seems everyone is doing well and only a few kids are home and quarantined at a time, and yes, my daughter had her first COVID test as one of her best friends in the neighborhood passed a viral infection to others (not COVID).

I’m simply exhausted.

My office is still not required to be back to work because of D.C.’s different restrictions, but our counterparts in Chicago are back to the office at least once per week. It seems as though things are returning to normal, even with Delta around. I’m all for normal. I crave being able to do things we normally do, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can do something for my daughter’s favorite holiday, Halloween. No word on Trick or Treating as yet, but the school is planning their annual Trunk or Treat.

BEYOND this angst and exhaustion, I do have some GOOD News to share (if we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this already):

  • My poem, “In the Distance” published in Mom Egg Reviews premiered on The Poetry Channel as a precursor to my first in-person reading in a long time at Poetry at the Port in Silver Spring. Great little restaurant!
  • 3 of my poems were published in Bourgeon Online.
  • You can view part of the in-person reading. and this one here.
  • Forthcoming reading with This Is What America Looks Like Anthology poets at Cafe Muse on Oct. 20 over Zoom. If you’re interested, I can email you the zoom link or you can catch it on Facebook.

I hope you’ll share your good news or latest up dates. I’d love to hear from you.

Dialogues With Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon

Source: the poet
Paperback, 96 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Dialogues With Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon is a phenomenal collection and likely one of the best I’ve read this year. You probably won’t read on if that’s all you wanted to know, but please take the time to explore this amazing book with me.

I love that each section of this collection has calls to the sea from “cross rip” to “breaksea.” The opening poem, “Hunger,” calls to the changing tides with “We are all trying to change/what we fear into something beautiful.” There are so many things to fear in the world from the political climate to the climate’s rapid heating and change and the breakdown of society. How do we change our hunger into something beautiful? Agodon further explores this tension in “String Theory Relationships” in which she tells us what we all know — “everyone wants a window or aisle seat and no one wants to sit//in the middle. Call it deniability. Call it the flashlight you keep/by the door never works in emergencies. We are all connected//

Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror (pg. 8)

The evening sounds like a murder
of magpies and we’re replacing our cabinet knobs
because we can’t change the world but we can
change our hardware. America breaks my heart
some days and some days it breaks itself in two.
I watched a woman have a breakdown
in the mall today, and when the security guard
tried to help her, what I felt was all of us
peeking from her purse as she threw it
across the floor into Forever 21. And yes,
the walls felt like another way to hold us
and when she finally stopped crying
I heard her say to the fluorescent lighting,
Some days the sky is too bright. And like that
we were her flock in our black coats
and white sweaters, some of us reaching
our wings to her and some of us flying away.

If this poem doesn’t scream America and humanity, I don’t know what does. There are all of us who watch and those of us who act, and those of us who fly away from pain, emergencies, and the struggle. But part of this stems from the fact that we cannot plan for the apocalypse, as Agodon so aptly notes comes to the party “uninvited with a half-eaten bag of chips.” (“I Don’t Own Anxiety, But I Borrow It Regularly”). These are all in the first section of the collection, and you’ll be floored by not only her imagery but her keen observation of human reactions.

Another powerful poem, “How Damage Can Lead to Poetry,” in this collection tackles a family history of suicide. “Damage creates the thought/of brokenness: my ocean never has enough/songbirds, my life never has enough//song. It’s morning and there’s a whisper in my family/history—I know the suicides, the stories/of strange deaths: brother choking/on a balloon, sister tripping on the church steps/and hitting her head so perfectly//her arteries became a celebration. Bastille Day, New Year’s Eve. And she was. And he was. Gone.//” (pg. 16) Agodon also tackles bigger questions like why we choose to kill what we do, whether that’s an animal, a person, a relationship, her lines boil it down to fear. Because as she says in “Hold Still” she would not kill a butterfly for a million dollars, but “things that frighten us/are easier to kill.”

Dialogues With Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon asks us to look closer at our own actions and reactions to buck social norms, like keeping our emotions tight to our chests, and reach out more often to those around us. We are all connected, we are all affected by the “rising tides,” and we all could use a little more understanding and love, including love of ourselves. This is a must-have collection.

Also, read “Queen Me” in The Los Angeles Review.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Kelli Russell Agodon is a poet, writer, editor, book designer, and co-founder of Two Sylvias Press, living in the Seattle area. Her collection of poems Hourglass Museum was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and was shortlisted for the Julie Suk Award honoring the best book of poems published by a small press. She is also author of the bestselling The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice, which she co-authored with Martha Silano. She was the winner of ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award in poetry, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, New England Review, and O, The Oprah Magazine. She is a co-director of Poets on the Coast, a writing retreat for women. Visit her website.

The Collectors by Alice Feagan

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Collectors by Alice Feagan is a delightful book about young naturalist explorers seeking the unique and extraordinary things in the forest for their collection inside a tree house. Winslow and Rosie are two young girls who love to explore and be outside. Winslow’s adventurous spirit is coupled with Rosie’s unique ability to describe and draw each forest find in her field journal.

The illustrations in the book are simple and focus on the girls as they take to the forest in search of their last greatest find. I do wish the colors were less muted. We loved looking through their treehouse collection of shells, butterflies, leaves and plants, and bugs. It is a vast collection — they need a ladder to reach the top shelves. My daughter took this book to her room, just to look at the pictures, and while it was published in May, she’s had a long time to linger over these images.

I love that Feagan is encouraging kids to explore the natural world, though my daughter’s first question is where are the parents. They should be watching their kids, especially since they explore so far from the treehouse. She was clearly worried for them. I told her it is fiction and you just have to imagine a world in which these girls know what to do and how to get home – I mean they do pack a compass, a field map, collection jars, and trowels, etc. in their backpack. These are young archaeologists in the making.

The Collectors by Alice Feagan was a fun adventure that shows kids that nature is something to be explored but also something to be cautious of, esp. when they encounter a not-too-happy bear. What these girls learn is that sometimes the extraordinary is not always far from home. Really enjoyable adventure for kids age 5-8.

RATING: Quatrain

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long, is an anthem for change and its images will inspire kids to take action now, rather than think change is something adults have to do. I loved how this book opens with a young girl and her guitar, humming a song – a song of change.

The illustrations in this book are colorful and full of depth, really well shadowed and highlighted. With the opening pages, the young girl is alone on a white background — the white signifying the possibilities around her that aren’t realized and she’s alone, demonstrating that changes starts with each person. This young girl walks by MLK in a mural about dreaming and change, meeting a young musician on the street.

Together, they start small, cleaning up a local park and then helping another young boy, and with each moment of aide they provide, they bring the music of change with them. Gorman’s words speak to the courage it takes to be tolerant and patient with others who are not nice to you; how it is better to build bridges, rather than fences; and all the while building communities of change, hope, and empathy.

Gorman brings together words with Long’s images to create a beautiful picture book about loving yourself, your neighbor, creating community, and making changes in your own hometown. Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long, is a delight and I love the simplicity of the words to convey a complex message to kids. It empowers them to take matters into their own hands, creating change in their own backyards.

RATING: Cinquain

Mailbox Monday #651

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Velvet, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

This is what we received:

Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine, which I purchased.

In an endless winter, she carries seeds of hope

Wylodine comes from a world of paranoia and poverty—her family grows marijuana illegally, and life has always been a battle. Now she’s been left behind to tend the crop alone. Then spring doesn’t return for the second year in a row, bringing unprecedented, extreme winter.

With grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, she begins a journey, determined to start over away from Appalachian Ohio. But the icy roads and strangers hidden in the hills are treacherous. After a harrowing encounter with a violent cult, Wil and her small group of exiles become a target for the cult’s volatile leader. Because she has the most valuable skill in the climate chaos: she can make things grow.

Urgent and poignant, Road Out of Winter is a glimpse of an all-too-possible near future, with a chosen family forged in the face of dystopian collapse. With the gripping suspense of The Road and the lyricism of Station Eleven, Stine’s vision is of a changing world where an unexpected hero searches for where hope might take root.

Drowning in the Floating World by Meg Eden for the Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Drowning in the Floating World by Meg Eden immerses us into the Japanese natural disaster known as 3/11: the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Relentless as the disaster itself, Eden seizes control of our deepest emotional centers, and, through insightful perspective, holds us in consideration of loss, helplessness, upheaval, and, perhaps most stirring, what do make of, and do with, survival. This poetry collection is also a cultural education, sure to encourage further reading and research. Drowning in the Floating World is, itself, a tsunami stone—a warning beacon to remind us to learn from disaster and, in doing so, honor all that’s lost.

For Her Name’s Sake by Monica Leak for the Gaithersburg Book Festival.

Poetry? Seriously? Who reads poetry these days, right?

With so much happening in our world with political and racial unrest, economic downturn, high unemployment, and a full-blown pandemic, why read poetry?

We read poetry because it gives us a frame for the events happening in our world and times. Words paint pictures. Words create our world. This collection of poetry is designed to bring awareness to stories of marginalized, criminalized, and brutalized women of color that deserve more than a thirty-second sound bite on local or national news.

The blood and mistreatment of women of color cries from the ground. Their voices have often gone unheard, silenced in death by systems of police brutality and the “isms” that are the result of race, poverty, and gender. This collection of poetry is an effort to give a voice to those women who were unable to share the stories. Through my words, I share their stories to ensure that we honor their memory through a commitment to advocacy and change until freedom for all is realized.

As you read, I challenge you to identify ways in which they can live out the words of the prophet Micah who said, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NKJV)?

What did you receive?

Guest Post: Why Self-Publishing Works for Me by Catherine Gentile

There are so many great books to read that bring history to life, and Catherine Gentile’s Sunday’s Orphan is another to add to your lists.

Book Synopsis:

In Catherine Gentile’s powerful and beautifully written novel, SUNDAY’S ORPHAN, twenty-year-old Promise Mears Crawford struggles to manage the fifty-acre farm she recently inherited from her guardian and uncle, Taylor Crawford.

It’s 1930’s Jim Crow Georgia, and Taylor’s utopian vision, of the races living and working side by side, is being tested upon his death, most recently with the arrival of Daffron Mears, who believes he has a claim to the land. How can Promise preserve what Uncle Taylor had once held together by sheer will and the force of his personality?

Promise just met Daffron, but he is, by all accounts, simmering with anger, frightening, even evil. It’s rumored he has orchestrated lynchings. Promise knows that if she can’t offer Daffron a temporary job, if he sees black people working alongside her and no place for himself, he will take revenge. At greatest risk are Mother, the black midwife to the entire town, who lives on the farm with her grown son, Fletch, the farm’s foreman. To protect those she loves, Promise hires Daffron on for one week.

But over the next few days, the farm and even the town begin to unravel, as do secrets that have held together for decades. In this gripping, unforgettable tale, Promise fights to save her land, to save the people she loves as family, and to protect Uncle Taylor’s vision of unity and equality. In doing so, she fulfills the very hope of her name.

What people are saying:

Sunday’s Orphan is just plain excellent.  Through its acuity of expression,  emotional and psychological insights, and the unfolding of characters, it allows us to enter an historical period–the Jim Crow South–that  is critical to understanding racism today.

–Jeremiah Conway, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Philosophy Department, University of Southern Maine, author of The Alchemy of Teaching; The Transformation of Lives

“The book lays bare the cruelty and hypocrisy of Jim Crow throughout the novel, and its greatest strength is in how it sets up mysteries and gut-punch reveals. Readers will sometimes need a moment to catch their breath, even as they keep turning pages.”

—Kirkus Reviews

Welcome today’s guest, Catherine Gentile.

There have been times in my life when the sun, moon, and stars have lined up to address my needs; the burgeoning of alternative publishing options over the past two decades has been just such a time. These options have been my writing life savers. It wasn’t until I hit the tender age of 50 over twenty years ago, that I was able to give my full attention to my writing.

Since then, I’ve become acutely aware of time’s fleeting nature. Making the most of my writing time concerns me, in a good way. With this millennium comes choices, and fortunately, at this junction in the world of publishing, self-publishing is a viable option.

Prior to writing full time, my professional life graced me with opportunities to master a host of administrative skills, which transferred readily to the world of organization and management of the writing life. Accustomed to multi-tasking, I find the autonomous world of self-publishing with its various demands, stimulating, exciting, challenging, and yes, sometimes exhausting.

Bottom line, I thrive on reaching beyond functioning as a ‘resource’ capable of producing the prerequisite word count, to donning a fashionable yet practical ‘creative director’ cap for my projects.

This feeds the joy I experience when I interact with the team I’ve assembled to help propel my writing projects forward. The opportunity to interview and select the members of this all- important group drew me to explore self-publishing. Early on, I’d slogged through the two to three year lag from manuscript review, revision, to publishing contract, if one is lucky. Folded into a complex equation of unappealing royalty rates, book marketing that fell completely to the author, and the expectation that I would turn the rights to my intellectual property, i.e., my manuscript, over to the publishing agency, the imbalance of these inequities weighed heavily on me. There had to be another way.

Venturing outside time-honored publication protocols has proven to be exhilarating.

Once I was firmly ensconced in a writing group whose skills I could rely on, I contracted with impartial editors, identified my modus operandi as print-on-demand technology, and interviewed talented individuals in the realms of publicity, marketing, and direct sales. For sure, there were the inevitable bumps and bruises common to the duly uninformed, but over time my skin grew a tad less penetrable, my discerning abilities more focused, and most importantly, the sum total of my experiences taught me to trust myself, my inner creative process, my push toward producing the best writing product possible.

A major motivator in embracing alternative publishing is the ability to retain the rights to my work. All of it. I own the files of my finished, printable manuscript along with the cover art. It’s mine. I have not signed over the rights to a company that most likely will, should my work not meet their bottom line expectations, dump me and keep my work. And, as a side benefit, with the availability of print on demand technology for the files I own, my basement is free of boxes of books, awaiting the next book fair sales event.

Should a traditional publishing offer come my way, would I consider it? Flexibility is part of self-publishing, so sure, if the contractual offer looked as if it would provide the book in question a reasonable boost. Before I would sign a contract, I would ask loads of questions based on lessons learned, compliments of my self-publishing experiences.

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

Photo Credit: Lesley McVane

About the Author:

CATHERINE GENTILE’S fiction received the Dana Award for Short Fiction. Her debut novel, The Quiet Roar of a Hummingbird, was a Finalist in the Eric Hoffer Novel Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing. Small Lies, a collection of short stories, was released in October 2020. Her nonfiction covers a variety of topics and has appeared in Writers’ Market, North Dakota Quarterly, Down East, and Maine Magazine. She currently edits and publishes a monthly ezine entitled Together With Alzheimer’s, which has subscribers throughout the United States. A native of Hartford, Connecticut, Catherine lives with her husband and muse on a small island off the coast of Maine. Her latest novel, Sunday’s Orphan, is scheduled for release in September 2021. Learn more at www.catherinegentile.com.

Check out the book trailer: