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Silver Girl by Leslie Pietrzyk (audio)

Source: Instagram giveaway win
Audiobook; 10+ hours
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Silver Girl by Leslie Pietrzyk, narrated by Cassandra Morris, is a startling and uncomfortable novel about female friendship between an unnamed narrator from a small Iowa town and a poor family and a rich girl, Jess, in college in Chicago.What would it be like to escape a suffocating small town where nothing happens and where the only things that happen are dark and unsatisfying? Can you escape the past?

The narrative is disjointed and jumps in time – back-and-forth – as she strives to make sense of what happened. There is so much desire here — a need to belong, a need to be more, get more, and see more — and in many ways that desire takes over all rational thought and leads the narrator astray on more than one occasion. She’s a hard character to like, and in some ways you won’t. She’s striving to fill deep holes within herself, and her holes go deeper than any canyon the shallow, rich girl she rooms with could imagine.

Set during the 80s and the Tylenol poisonings in Chicago, the narrator shifts from the uncertainty in her own life to the investigations, mirroring her paranoia about someone finding out that she does not belong at this upper crust college. For all her talk about herself and her family, she fails to realize that even her roommate’s family is as screwed up as hers. As she strives to hide her true self and her home life from her roommate, she spends a lot of time judging Jess and those she encounters at school.

Silver Girl by Leslie Pietrzyk is a complex story about social class, female friendship, and feels like Plath’s Bell Jar with a main character spiraling out of control emotionally.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of the novel Silver Girl, released in February 2018 by Unnamed Press, and called “profound, mesmerizing, and disturbing” in a Publishers Weekly starred review. Her collection of unconventionally linked short stories, This Angel on My Chest, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Kirkus Reviews named it one of the 16 best story collections of the year, Her previous novels are Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. Short fiction and essays have appeared/are forthcoming in Southern Review, Ploughshares, Gettysburg Review, Hudson Review, The Sun, Shenandoah, Arts & Letters, River Styx, Iowa Review, Washingtonian, The Collagist, Cincinnati Review, TriQuarterly, New England Review, Salon, Washingtonian, and the Washington Post Magazine. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Pietrzyk is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program and often teaches in the MA Program in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. Raised in Iowa, she now lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Visit her website.

Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 245 pgs.
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Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully is a WWII tale that has roots in WWI and surpasses all of that history in its tale of enduring love, family bonds, and secrets. Young bookstore owner, Maya Wissberg, has felt adrift since her grandmother disappeared after she went on a study abroad trip and left no indication as to why she left or to where. It is not until the police in upstate New York come calling about her grandmother’s remains that Maya begins to rethink her relationship with her father, grandmother, and ex-boyfriend Michael. Tully takes us back into the past when her grandmother, Martha, meets a young German she pegs as the bad influence in her twin brother’s life.

“Maya was completely and utterly lost, cursing herself under her breath.” (pg. 67)

As the Nazis came to power, many Germans were caught up in the fervor of nationalism, including Martha’s brother, but Martha was a stronger woman who saw the writing on the wall. Eventually she found a kindred spirit in her brother’s friend, even though he warned her away from becoming involved with the resistance, which was still in its infancy in the late 1930s. Readers will lose themselves in Martha’s story as it is woven slowly to reveal how first impressions can be stripped away by truth and trust. Maya’s story disappears in the background for a while, until the reader returns to the present.

Maya has aviophobia, but this seems like a fear that she can overcome through determination. Her episodes on the plane over to the United States from Germany are barely seen, and for the amount of time Maya talks about the phobia, readers may want to see more of how she coped with it. In a way, this seemed like an unnecessary detail or a device that was used simply to explain why she had never gone many places. This is a small concern.

Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully is a strong debut that delves into the climate in Germany at a time when nationalism and fascism was on the rise. It depicts a chaotic world for the German people, but also a world in which hope can turn into something disastrous quickly. At its heart, the debut novel is about the enduring power of love and the beauty of forgiveness.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

DANIELA TULLY has worked in film and television for decades, including with famed film director Uli Edel. She has been involved in projects such as the critically acclaimed Fair Game, box-office hits Contagion and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, as well as the Oscar-winning The Help. She splits her time between Dubai and New York. Inspired by a real family letter received forty-six years late, Hotel on Shadow Lake is Daniela Tully’s first novel. Visit her website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Musings of a Netflix Binge Viewer by Kateema Lee

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 25 pgs.
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Musings of a Netflix Binge Viewer by Kateema Lee speaks to the mind of a grieving daughter easing her sadness with popcorn thrillers, classics, and so much more. Characters pulled from Hitchcock to Kung Fu movies fill these poems with whimsy and darkness, but it is the gray areas that shine brightest. Lee has a knack for blending these iconic characters with real life memories and emotions. Imagine sitting alone in the dark watching late night movies, delving deep into the past and its tumultuous emotions to try to make sense of those disappointments to find peace.

From “Hiatus: Why I Bought a Mustang” (pg. 21)

like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, down sunny,
California streets; then busy streets changed to long,
tree-lined highways, windows down, air
blinding me in short bursts and celebrating
me at the same time. In the dream, my father
was the man he wanted to be, a military hero,

That’s the thing about dreams, we can be anyone we want to be. Much like when we watch movies, we can place ourselves in those alternate lives leaving our cares behind. Our fantasies can find us driving fast in a sports car or visiting different countries with people who have passed on. But there is that “buffering” that happens when our lives seem to be paused or stuck between what came before and what is to come.

Lee’s Musings of a Netflix Binge Viewer is a meditative examination of one’s life and memories through the lens of the movie camera and the lens of our desires for different outcomes. But it is also a review of a life lived and coming to peace with what has passed in order to move forward.

RATING: Quatrain

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About the Poet:

Kateema Lee is a Washington D.C. native. She earned her M.F.A in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland at College Park. She’s a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, and she’s a Callaloo Workshop participant. Her work has appeared in anthologies, print, and online literary journals, including African American Review, Gargoyle, Word Riot, and Cave Canem Anthology XIII. When she’s not writing, she teaches English and Women’s Studies courses at Montgomery College.

Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon

Source: Purchased
eBook, 108 pgs.
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Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon creates its own gallery of art in which human interaction with artists’ work, ranging from Andy Warhol to Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe, is on display for readers to generate yet another level of interaction and interpretation. These poems are similar to the recursive style of painting in which a painter is seen painting himself inside of painting, etc., or something similar.

Agodon leaves readers with a number of verses to think on, including: “You said, Sometimes I still want to be needed, so I let our kitchen become a flood of time and you” and “To be master of your own fate means sometimes you have to rip up the instruction manual” and “to know the theme parks in our minds are really just a hall of mirrors.”

Even as she explores art that is recognizable, she’s also exploring human behaviors and how in some ways we self-sabotage and in others we seek solace and find little. I found many lines rang true, especially: “Poem: a form of negotiation for what haunts us.”

Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon has an apt title in which human interaction with art is explored and the reality remains that our time is finite. She raises questions about societal norms, including the urge to thank fathers for taking their daughters by friends and teachers as if those fathers are not related to their children and not equally responsible for their care. Such innate reactions to simple acts of parenting bring this collection to life, grounding it in the personal.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Kelli Russell Agodon is the author of Hourglass Museum (White Pine Press, 2014). She lives in the Seattle area and is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press. Visit her website.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 44 pgs.
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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman celebrates inclusiveness and diversity, sending the message to parents and kids that everyone is welcome in their school, in their class, and even outside the confines of school. The colorful illustrations remind kids that the world is a rainbow and that as individuals come together we are a beautiful kaleidoscope.

The simple rhymes will be easy for younger children to follow as their parents read to them, and reading for beginning learners will be smooth. Although the kids will not see the names of the children depicted, there are kids like themselves drawn in these pages — those with dark skin, light skin, full head coverings, curly hair, straight hair, wheelchairs, and so much more. This is a book that reflects the reality of not only the United States but the world.

It’s not a book that points out differences for inspection, but demonstrates the fun that can be had together in a group even if we are different. The focus is on the things we can do together — games on the playground, art and music created, the class participation when the teacher asks questions, the discoveries that can be made.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman, which emerged from a poster that went viral, is delightful, colorful, and just what kids need to remind them that divisiveness is unnecessary and not the way to live.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Authors:

Alexandra Penfold is the author of Eat, Sleep, Poop (Knopf, 2016) and the forthcoming picture books The Littlest Viking (Knopf) and Everybody’s Going to the Food Truck Fest (FSG). She is also a literary agent at Upstart Crow, where one of her clients is Suzanne Kaufman! Learn more about Alex on Twitter at @agentpenfold.

Suzanne Kaufman is an author, illustrator, and animator. Over the years she’s done everything from animating special effects for Universal Television and the Discovery Channel to animating award-winning video games for children. She’s the illustrator of a number of books for children including Samanthasaurus Rex by B. B. Mandell, the forthcoming Naughty Claudine by Patrick Jennings, 100 Bugs by Kate Narita and her own book, Confiscated! among others. Learn more about Suzanne online at suzannekaufman.com or on Twitter at @suzannekaufman.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Source: publisher
Paperback, 48 pgs.
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We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins is a delightful book that teaches children about how to fit in with new classmates, especially after a rough first day of school.  Penelope is a T-Rex and she finds children tasty. Unfortunately, her classmates are children and she does the unthinkable.

Thankfully, no real harm was done and the teacher gets her to spit them out. Penelope has to learn how to co-exist with her classmates, even if she finds them tasty. Higgins uses a T-Rex to demonstrate how hard it is to join a new class and to start school when you’ve never been before. Her parents have prepared her for lunch at school, or did they?

Her teacher is very adamant about treating her classmates not as food, but even her initial attempts are rebuffed. When she returns home, her father gives her some advice about how children at the same on the inside as Penelope herself. This is a big lesson for all children. But like human children, Penelope fails to learn her lesson until someone treats her just as badly.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins has colorful images of the Penelope T-Rex and her classmates. I found the text easy to read for early readers, and the message is appropriate for this age group.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Ryan T. Higgins is five feet eleven inches tall and has no sense of smell. He doesn’t like to wear shoes, but he does like salmonloaf and bike rides (not together). Instead of reading a long author’s bio, Ryan would rather you forget about him and visit the website!

Poe: Stories and Poems adapted by Gareth Hinds

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 120 pgs.
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Poe: Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Gareth Hinds into a graphic novel, is gorgeous from the cover to the very last page. Hinds has a firm grasp of Poe’s macabre style and his illustrations are complementary to Poe’s prose and poems. In many ways, Hinds’ dark imagery enhances Poe’s words for the modern audience. I loved that there were several poems included and not just Poe’s stories. While Gothic horror is often thought of in prose form, many of Poe’s poems are just as haunting and macabre.

Hinds also includes a checklist of Poe’s favorite themes and corresponding images — from death depicted as a skull to insanity depicted as a straitjacket – -that he uses as a key for each story and poem. Hinds also offers some insight into his selections for the collection, which is by no means comprehensive. I loved that he included my favorite story — The Masque of the Red Death — which he says is the least well-known. I’ve always felt that in some ways, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Mask of the Red Death scene in The Phantom of the Opera was in some ways inspired by this story.

Poe: Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Gareth Hinds into a graphic novel, is a welcome and permanent addition to my personal library. I’ve loved Poe for most of my life, and this volume breathes life and vibrancy into these classics. I cannot recommend this enough, and I’m looking forward to getting more of his graphic adaptations.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Illustrator:

Gareth Hinds is the author and illustrator of critically-acclaimed graphic novels and picture books based on classic literature and mythology. Through his work he shares his love of literature with readers young and old. His recent adaptation of The Odyssey received four starred reviews, and he is the recipient of the Boston Public Library’s “Literary Lights for Children” award. He lives in the Washington, DC area with his wife. When he’s not working on a book he enjoys painting landscapes and practicing aikido.

PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 228 pgs.
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PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey is a comprehensive resource for poets who want to gain a wider audience for their work. For novice marketers, Gailey includes in each chapter an overview of marketing terms and set of action items that poets can tackle within an hour to get themselves started.  What’s beautiful about this book is how well various aspects of marketing are explained from the platform to website to social media interaction.

It’s clear that she’s taken her experience marketing her five poetry collections to create this guide, which poets who have a website or don’t can use to market their art. Overall, much of poetry marketing begins with community. Creating a community online, creating a community in your neighborhood or city, and giving back to those communities through helping other poets with reviews, sharing their books, and even smaller things.

I cannot wait to start putting PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey into action when my manuscript is done and publishable. There are some really challenging parts for me in this book, particularly reaching out to libraries and others to promote my future book.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter and, Field Guide to the End of the World, the winner of the Moon City Press Book Award and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. She also wrote a non-fiction book called PR for Poets to help poets trying to promote their books. Her poems have been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and on Verse Daily; two were included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She was awarded a 2007 and 2011 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize for Poetry and a 2007 Washington State Artist Trust GAP grant. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner.

Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 28 pgs.
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Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez is an eye-opening chapbook of poems and essays about what punishment actually is — beyond the concrete walls and bars on the windows and doors. This is a chapbook that packs a serious punch in the gut from the title poem, “Punishment” to the essays on how poetry not only taught the prisoners how to see beyond their four walls but the poet how to see things and people differently.

From "Punishment" (pg. 7)

The men tossed entire libraries. A rage of books.
Lobbed in high arcs like footballs,
or pitched overhand like grenades.

When caged like an animal and treated inhumanely how would you react if you did not have a blanket and the prison was unbearably cold? Would you have an ability to make a reasonable argument with the prison staff, or would you resort to the basest of reactions? Would you give up that which is most precious to you, like a family bible with calming words or a photo album that comforts you in darkness when your family cannot be near? Readers are asked to think about these questions and to see beyond the crimes and the violence of these men to see the humans broken here.

Gomez deftly places readers inside the prison with her students who still tentatively work on poems and show small kindnesses to one another even as they know once outside the classroom they must return to their “hard” selves — no longer showing emotion or kindness. Even though she is given permission to teach poetry to the prisoners, the staff make not effort to welcome her, but in fact remind her in the least subtle of ways that she is under their control and direction and that her freedoms are left outside.

From "Echo" (pg. 15)

by rain and wind. Absence
expands inside him like smoke.

Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez is an exploration of how poetry and words can provide hope and satisfaction to those who have none. It can help them explore what is good without compromising their prison personas. Gomez is asking the reader to see these men as human beings — men with hopes, deep losses, and so much more.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Nancy Miller Gomez grew up in Kansas but currently lives in Santa Cruz, California. Her work has appeared in River Styx, Rattle, Bellingham Review, Nimrod, and elsewhere. She has a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing from Pacific University. She has worked as a stable hand, an attorney, and a TV producer, and volunteers as the director of the Santa Cruz Poetry Project, an organization that provides poetry and writing workshops to incarcerated men and women. For more information on the Santa Cruz Poetry Project, visit their website.

Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe Lobell by Joe Lobell

Source: Free on Lulu.com
Ebook, 139 pgs.
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Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe Lobell by Joe Lobell is a collection of poems that span about 20 years, beginning in 1986. Through careful, detached observance, the narrator of each poem takes an unfettered look at humanity — it’s fruitless hopes and desires and the inevitability of death.

From "City Opus" (pg. 47)

The buildings are like dead gods, and where a
god lies dead, no one speaks, but shadows of
shadows, dreams of dreams commiserate.

Many of these poems read like stories, dark tales of harm and sadness. The beautiful daughter, the well-liked cop, the mountain climber, the lunberjack — no one is immune to the darkness of life. There is a distinct New York city atmosphere to many of the grittier poems, like “Vision of God” about the struggle with addiction and the need for the next fix.

Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe Lobell by Joe Lobell is not a collection for those looking to escape the dark city streets. It’s a reflection of reality amped up on its drug of choice — cold hard reality.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Poet, Playwright, Performer; multiple appearances at the Nuyorican Café including the Proofrock Festival, Knitting Factory and numerous other venues. As a performer combines Urban Poetry with rock jazz and performance. Collaborated with Jazz Musician, Conductor Composer, Butch Morris on Musical Theatre Play “Fire” produced by the Medicine Show Theatre.  Composed Poetry Radio Play “Times Square” in Collaboration with Jazz Composer and Band Leader Joe Gallant which was performed live on WBAI.  Also appeared in numerous venues with Joe Gallant and Illuminati and the Body Electric Fusion Jazz Band.  Collaborated with Blues Musician Popa Chubby on Poetry Play “City Opus” produced at Medicine Show as well as producing “City Opus” Blues Rock Poetry CD Popa Chubby. Numerous individual readings in NYC, Woodstock, and NY State venues.

Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 286 pgs.
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Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard mixes a modern day teenage story of geeky Callie Montgomery with a loosely based historical fiction of Pride & Prejudice involving England’s peerage. In the time travel piece of the story, readers will have to suspend disbelief, forego an explanation, and go with the flow. But for summer reading, this book as the romance, comedy, and social angst readers look for.

“Sometimes I feel more alone when I’m surrounded by my classmates than I do when I’m actually by myself.” (pg. 3)

Callie finds herself in England on a school trip, but in her efforts to impress the popular girls in her class so they invite her out and she doesn’t have to spend another day and night alone in her room — chaperones say they must travel in pairs — her clumsiness pegs her as an outsider. But an epiphany strikes and she heads out to the shops where she buys red Prada heels to fit in. She’s sure the heels will have her invited to the club with the popular girls. Only trouble is she trips and knocks her head on the sidewalk before waking up in 1815.

“I have to pull it together. I can’t just lose it like that, throwing my shoes like I’m in a shot-put competition.” (pg. 53)

Hubbard’s teen protagonist is a believable girl who has issues fitting in, but placing her in 1815 makes her stand out even more, especially when she has little control over her responses to social norms of the time. This makes for some hilarious scenes, but it also could make readers notice the things out of place in 1815 a little bit more. If you’re a stickler for historic detail, this book will drive you crazy. However, if you’re just looking for a fun read, this is definitely that.

There are scenes when Callie commits several faux pas and she would be in hot water for sure, but it’s a good thing the duke she’s falling for is sweet on her. The end also wraps up quickly and in a very predictable and cinematic way. Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard is a fun and quick read for those looking for a cute fish out of water story.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Mandy Hubbard is the author of PRADA & PREJUDICE, YOU WISH, and FOOL ME TWICE, as well as BUT I LOVE HIM (written under the psuedonym Amanda Grace). She lives in Enumclaw Washington, with her husband and daughter.

The Minor Territories by Danielle Sellers

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 85 pgs.
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The Minor Territories by Danielle Sellers explores the uninhabited emotional landscapes scarred by loss and trauma. Many of us live our lives as best we can even if the past haunts us, but those memory ghosts are not the places where we live in the now and they are not the places we choose to remember. These are the places that shape us into who we are, determine our strength, and force us to reassess our own outlooks and life paths.

From "A Photo of the Euphrates" (pg. 16)

Since then, his tongue has changed
the river's story. He's killed strangers
on its shore. I imagine him lying
on the dusty floor of a marble palace
at sundown, breathing red air,
waiting for the comfort night gives.
"When Asked to Say Something Nice About My Ex-Husband" (pg. 59)

I recall his chest, how sometimes he tolerated
my head on it, strong as a door
skimming the surface of a dark ocean.

In a deeply personal collection in which she shares words from her own daughter about her absent father, Sellers explores the pain deeply, attentively until a hope emerges, whether in the comfort of the night air in a war zone or the smell of yeast while baking bread and waiting. Her images are vivid and juxtapose the emotional ups and downs of being in love with a soldier and finding them changed after war. Mourning the loss of the person they used to be and yet loving them still. Moving forward in life without them because you must to emotionally survive. Sellers’ poems are love letters filled with heartbreak, love, and so much more — forgiveness.

The Minor Territories by Danielle Sellers is a story told through poems and like all stories leaves a powerful impression in the sand, but it is one that cannot be erased by the tides of time, only partially worn down.

RATING: Cinquain

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About the Poet:

Danielle Sellers is from Key West, FL. She has an MA from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and an MFA from the University of Mississippi where she held the John Grisham Poetry Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Subtropics, Smartish Pace, The Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. Her first book, Bone Key Elegies, was published by Main Street Rag. She teaches Literature and Creative Writing at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Texas.