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The Nightlife by Elise Paschen

Source: Mary Bisbee-Beek
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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The Nightlife by Elise Paschen is a collection of poems that blurs reality, dreams, and fantasies in a way that requires to reader to parse out the truth from between the lines.  It’s a collection into which the reader will likely stumble into the darkness of an abused woman’s life and fail to leave or fall into the bed of an adulterer, only to take the misplaced shame of faulty perception with them.  “Picnic Triptych” illustrates these blurred lines very well in which the reader is introduced to the “Small Brown Notebook” in which a tall man is found — a stalker of sorts.  Is the narrator dreaming of an encounter with this man, who resembles an artist in a painting by Manet, or is this something more?

Like Manet, Paschen is building an impressionist painting with words: verse by verse, page by page.  Night can make the world a bit more mysterious, and it can encourage the mind to conjure dangers from nothingness, a mind playing tricks on the narrator or the reader, sometimes both.  Like in “Of Mice,” where the narrator and the reader must “fear the carving knife” of “the farmer’s wife”, placing ourselves in the position of the mice — an older nursery rhyme — only to have our world upended and the mice are really escaped prisoners tunneling through the earth toward their own freedom.  Or are we all of these things, trapped inside our own prisons and eager for escape, with only fear keeping us huddled inside?

From “Of Mice” (pg. 32)

the penitentiary.
We lock all doors,
and, when the wind

hurtles umbrellas
against the deck,
we hide.

Paschen’s poems are riddles inside of riddles, dreams and nightmares wrapped inside wonderfully painted landscapes and portraits.  The Nightlife by Elise Paschen should not be missed; it is full of word artistry and surprises.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Poet and editor Elise Paschen was born and raised in Chicago. She earned a BA at Harvard University, where she won the Lloyd McKim Garrison Medal and the Joan Grey Untermeyer Poetry Prize, and went on to receive a PhD in 20th century British and American Literature at Oxford University with a dissertation on the manuscripts of poet William Butler Yeats. During her time at Oxford she also co-founded Oxford Poetry.

Dark Lady: A Novel of Emilia Bassano Lanyer by Charlene Ball

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity
Paperback, 300 pgs.
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Dark Lady by Charlene Ball is a fictional account of Emilia Bassano’s life in the late 1500s. She is rumored to be the “dark lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets and is considered the first professional female poet. Ball has taken a format that resembles journal entries in that they jump forward in time, but the narrative is not told in the first person. She was a young woman who was sent to live with the Countess of Kent at a young age and much of her family were musicians at court. She often felt held back by the social norms in which women were passed about as property and often judged as fallen or bad women just based on appearances. Many of her actions seem haphazard and naive, which is to be expected for a girl sent away from her home at a young age.

“It was a day of sun and white waves on the water that curled around the prow of the boat. Emilia moved closer to Lord Hunsdon, wrapped in his cloak against the chill of the morning. Earlier the sky had been soft pearl gray, and now it was streaked with scarlet, purple, and deep crimson.” (pg. 13)

“Emilia made a face. ‘Don’t bring raw noses into my parlor, I beg you.’

‘And should I leave my poor nose at the door waiting in the cold? Shivering, dripping, unkerchiefed?'” (pg. 87)

Ball infuses Bassano’s tale with beauty and darkness, but there also is humor. Despite the tragedies in her life, Bassano strives to take her fate in her own hands. She meets a young playwright named Shakespeare, a man who wants to be a professional poet with a patron, but his works and his carefree attitude capture her attention away from a lord who has protected her when she needed it most. She is torn between her gratitude for the man who has protected her all this time, despite his own marriage and family, and the passion she knows lies beneath the disguises of a married player. The interactions between Bassano and Shakespeare are eerily familiar to those in the movie “Shakespeare in Love,” at least in terms of the cross-dressing and cloak-and-dagger tactics Bassano and Shakespeare engage in.

Dark Lady by Charlene Ball looks at the life of one female artist in a time when men dominated society and women were pawns. While she was strong in many ways, it was clear that she was still a victim of her own naivete and her inability to protect herself from situations that could harm her. Readers may find that the format and style keeps them at a distance from the main character as the story unfolds, but she certainly led an interesting life full of colorful people.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Charlene Ball holds a PhD in comparative literature and has taught English and women’s studies at colleges and universities. Although she has written nonfiction, reviews, and academic articles, writing fiction has always been her first love. She has published fiction and nonfiction in The North Atlantic Review, Concho River Review, The NWSA Journal, and other journals. She has reviewed theater and written articles on the arts for Atlanta papers. She is a Fellow of the Hambidge Center for the Arts and held a residency at the Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. She attends fiction workshops by Carol Lee Lorenzo, and she belongs to a writers’ group that she helped found. She retired from the Women’s Studies Institute (now the Institute for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) at Georgia State University in 2009 and has been busier than ever with writing and bookselling. She also volunteers with her congregation and other social justice groups. She and her wife, Libby Ware, an author and bookseller, were married in May 2016.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Modern Persuasion by Sara Marks

Source: Giveaway Win
Kindle, 220 pgs.
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Modern Persuasion by Sara Marks is a novel in which Emma Shaw passes up the love of Frederick Wentworth and his marriage proposal at college graduation in favor of returning to New York City for a career in publishing. During their time apart, they have both built solid careers — hers in publishing and his in Hollywood.

“Rationality won over love.”

Eight years later, her reputation as the “queen of book tours” proceeds her and Frederick Wentworth has little choice but to let her take the lead when his own editor goes down in a scuffle.  The multi-city book tour across the country should be the perfect opportunity for two professionals to get over their losses eight years ago and declare a truce, but even as the sparks start again, each has reason to push them aside and embrace anger and depression instead.  Will Emma and Freddie ever learn to move beyond the hurt of the past and rekindle their love?

Marks’ re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Persuasion is outrageous in some places given the characters she develops.  Their backgrounds in Hollywood make some of them eccentric, while others with their basis in Austen’s novel were modified to meet the modern setting.  The scenes at PubCon (which is pretty close to what some Book Expo America stints have been like) were pretty hectic, but very close to the truth.

Although the scuffle taking Freddie’s editor out of the picture seemed a bit much, a device was needed to throw him and Emma together.  Readers will note that there is quite a bit of telling rather than showing through description and dialogue, which puts the reader at a distance for a good portion of the book.  Modern Persuasion by Sara Marks ends up being a delightful read about overcoming grief of more than one kind, rekindling lasting affection and love, and chasing dreams that are bigger than you expect.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Sara Marks is an author, knitter, Wikipedian, and librarian from Massachusetts. Born in Boston, her family move to Miami, Florida when she was 3. There she spent the next 14 years of her life. She attended Florida State University for 3 years, but graduated with an A.A from Miami Dade College and a B.A. from Florida International University before moving back to Boston for graduate school. She hasn’t left Massachusetts since (except to visit people and places in the world). Now, over fifteen years later and over 10 years of participating in National Novel Writing Month, she is releasing her first novel, Modern Persuasion, with Illuminated Myth Publishing. Sara works with local writing group Mill Pages, which creates an annual anthology of short stories, poems, and art work. She is a member of the Society of Independent Publishers and Authors (SIPA), a group supporting writers in the Merrimack Valley.When she isn’t writing, Sara is an academic librarian at University of Massachusetts Lowell. She has a masters degree in library science and another in Communications. She is an active Wikipedian who has been editing Wikipedia for over 10 years. She spent 6 years as a member of Toastmasters International where she twice earned the status of Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest status members can achieve. She is one of the local organizers for National Novel Writing Month. She is an avid knitter who designs and publishes her own patterns. She love unicorns, Paris, and the color purple.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Prejudice Meets Pride by Rachel Anderson (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audio, 7+ hours
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Prejudice Meets Pride (Meet Your Match, Book 1) by Rachel Anderson, narrated by Laura Princiotta, is a charming contemporary romance with only the title overtly linking it to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  Like Austen’s work, there are a number of preconceived and poor first impressions, as well as misunderstandings, between Emma Makie and Kevin Grantham. Grantham comes from a wealthy and politically active family, and much of his adult life has been spent pursuing his career dreams and dating women he thinks need to meet a list of criteria before his mother and father will accept them. Emma is an artist who is thrust into an unfamiliar situation when she begins caring for her two, adorable and precocious nieces for her brother who is on a job out of state. Searching for a job to support herself and the girls is tough when she learns that there are not art teaching jobs to be had and she quickly runs up her credit card bills. With few skills to recommend her and very little money, Emma grudgingly accepts help from a select few neighbors, but Kevin isn’t one of them.

They immediately allow their perceptions of one another lead them down a path where they trade barbs and continue to stop around in frustration. Emma may have carved out her own life and paid her way through college without student loan or grant money, but her proclivity to spit in the face of those helping her can be wearying. Kevin, however, realizes his faults pretty early on and tries to navigate the maze that is Emma. Readers will fall in love with Emma’s nieces, and smile at Emma’s beyond-her-years abilities to redirect them and ensure they are as happy as they can be in the new town and rundown family home Emma and her brother inherited.

Prejudice Meets Pride (Meet Your Match, Book 1) by Rachel Anderson, narrated by Laura Princiotta, is a cute story about learning to see past your own perceptions to see the real person beneath, learning to trust and love along the way.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

A USA Today bestselling author of clean romance, Rachael Anderson is the mother of four and is pretty good at breaking up fights, or at least sending guilty parties to their rooms. She can’t sing, doesn’t dance, and despises tragedies. But she recently figured out how yeast works and can now make homemade bread, which she is really good at eating.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 11+ hours
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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin, is a young adult novel examining not only racism, but also life as a 16-year-old girl, Starr Carter, after witnessing the murder of her childhood friend Khalil by a police officer. (there’s a read-a-long at Book Bloggers International, if you’re interested) Following the death of Khalil, his murder is viewed not as the life of an unarmed teen who will never graduate high school or go to college but as the death of a drug dealer and a gang banger. Starr is forced to re-live those moments beside him as a unprovoked traffic stop turns into something tragic. Along the way, this young woman realizes that not only has she abandoned her old friends for the new ones at her suburban prep school, but that she has a voice that should be heard — loud and clear.

She also has to come to terms with where she comes from in Garden Heights — “the ghetto” — to where she wants to be as an educated woman capable of making her own life choices. Her double life comes to a head as she must reconcile the two halves of her identity — Starr Carter and Williamson Starr — to emerge on the other side of tragedy as a confident young lady. Starr also needs to stop placing labels on herself, all of her friends, and especially her white boyfriend, Chris — who let’s face it is mature beyond his years if he can refrain from sex and let her cry on his shoulders instead.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin, is a multi-layered novel about racism, poverty, justice, and healing. Starr and all of us need to review our own prejudices to see where justice can be had and how to bring together communities for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Another one for the Best of List this year.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 479 pgs.
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Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, which was the readalong selection for June at War Through the Generations, is a complex story in which Anna Schlemmer has kept her activities during WWII in Weimar secret, even from her daughter Trudy. Although Trudy was a young girl during the war, she remembers very little and what she does remember often comes to her in snatches of dreams and makes little sense. She’s tried to pry the past out of her mother ever since finding a portrait of herself, her mother, and a Nazi SS officer in her drawer at their farm in New Heidelberg, Minnesota.

“It is one of the great ironies of her mother’s life, thinks Trudy Swenson, that of all the places to which Anna could have emigrated, she has ended up in a town not unlike the one she left behind.” (pg. 73)

Blum’s novel shifts from the points of view of Anna and Trudy and shifts in time from WWII to the 1990s, where Trudy has begun a project to interview Germans about their time during the war, as her colleague strives to save the stories of Jews who escaped the Holocaust. But this story begins with a young girl looking to get out from under her father’s thumb in Germany, as war is beginning to seem more likely. Anna falls for a young man, and their relationship is doomed from the beginning. What transpires from that love affair onward takes Anna on a journey into darkness where she is alone and very aloof, even from the local baker, Mathilde Staudt, who agrees to take her in.

“It is as though Trudy has reached under a rock and touched something covered with slime. And now she is coated with it, always has been; it can’t be washed off; it comes from somewhere within.” (pg. 185)

Anna’s silence looms large over Trudy’s life, and it has foisted guilt upon her for a time she barely remembers and a man she suspects is her father. Her guilt is compounded by her mother’s unwillingness to talk about the past and the death of her stepfather, Jack – a former WWII soldier for America. Along the way, Trudy meets an older man who is half Jewish, Rainer, and she begins to see that her happiness does not have to be tied to the past.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum explores generational guilt and the effects of war atrocities on those who did not commit them but were considered just as guilty as those with whom they associated. Blum’s research is impeccable and her understanding of the guilt and horror of the Holocaust and WWII emerges in the characterization of Anna, Trudy, and so many other secondary characters. Readers will be submerged alongside Anna as she struggles to survive for herself and her child, doing things she would prefer not to. She is forced to remain practical and to deal with any one she encounters with suspicion and caution, and when the past is on another continent she wants her daughter to leave it there. Although I would have preferred greater resolution between Anna and Trudy — whose relationship appears broken from the start of the novel — the ending does provide some hope. The novel carefully explores the question of whether we can love those who save us even as they commit the most heinous crimes and whether the past is best left where it is in order for happiness to be found.

RATING: Quatrain

Read the discussions:

About the Author:

New York Times and internationally bestselling author of novels THOSE WHO SAVE US (Harcourt, 2004) and THE STORMCHASERS (Dutton, May 2010) and the novella “The Lucky One” in GRAND CENTRAL (Berkeley/Penguin, July 2014). One of Oprah’s Top 30 Women Writers. Novel THE LOST FAMILY forthcoming from Harper Collins in Spring 2018.

Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 48 pgs.
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Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto, which won the 2015 Oro Fino Chapbook Competition, has deep silences that activate the reader’s mind, which turns each moment over and over to make sense of the devastation. From the deadly tsunami in Fukushima to more subtle moments of broken lives, Fujimoto takes on a first-person narrative in these literary poems to draw readers into that sadness, that loss, that emptiness, the silence to render grief alive.

In “Japanese Apricot Wine,” we see a child left behind by a mother after a long illness, which is likely cancer, and we see the shadows of those last days through the eyes of the narrator. “I open her last bottle. The sweet/smell spreads in the room like a cloudy//green nebula” … “The half eaten apricot is//brown.//She leaves it behind.//” There is a glimmer of happiness in the beginning with a memory of making apricot wine in April, and her mother’s continued love for it even in hospice, but it is clear the narrator’s train of thought will be dragged into sadness until the reader becomes painstakingly aware that her mother is gone.

It is life as it is lived within these pages, and the first-person narratives bring that home in a way that is even more devastating. How do you reconcile the happiest moments, the homes you have with their ultimate loss. When a mother departs from this world, it can leave you unmoored. Do the happy memories serve to remind us of home or their loss? Like many things that would depend on perspective; how far are you from the moment of loss?

Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto is a stunning chapbook of poems that will touch readers deeply. The poems in these pages will leave an indelible mark upon you, one that you should wear as a badge of honor.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Naoko Fujimoto was born and raised in Nagoya, Japan. She was an exchange student and received a B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University South Bend. “Home, No Home” is her first chapbook.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine, published by HarperCollins, begins with an interview between the author and film maker and director Christopher Nolan about the making of the Dunkirk film.  This serves as a preface to the overall story, which examines the societal and political atmosphere in the late 1930s. He also tackles the myth of Dunkirk and the so-called “Dunkirk Spirit” — what it meant to individual soldiers and how it mirrored or did not mirror the actual events of the biggest defeat and evacuation in WWII history.

“As they arrived back in Britain, most soldiers saw themselves as the wretched remnants of a trampled army.  Many felt ashamed.  But they were confounded by the unexpected public mood.  ‘We were put on a train and wherever we stopped,’ says a lieutenant of the Durham Light Infantry, ‘people came up with coffee and cigarettes.  We had evidence from this tremendous euphoria that we were heroes and had won some sort of victory.  Even though it was obvious that we had been thoroughly beaten.'” (pg. 27)

Levine draws parallels between the rise of youth culture in Britain, Germany, and the United States, but unlike the United States where the culture was freer, British youth culture was slightly more constrained.  In Germany, the Nazis used the rise of the youth to create a generation with a nationalist fervor through brainwashing.

Levine chronicles battles in the early days where the French military is woefully unprepared for the cunning of the German army.  He highlights the use of small groups of German soldiers who made it possible for the Panzer tanks to cross into French regions to the surprise of many.  Meanwhile, Britain remained in political turmoil until Churchill was named as Chamberlain’s replacement as Prime Minister, and even then, many began to fear that Britain would lose the war.

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine is more than a recounting of a great defeat or an effort of survival, it is a look at the war from the perspective of the soldiers, politicians, and common people engaged in it.  The anecdotes and stories from these soldiers and others bring to life the war, particularly the lack of communication and the naivete of those who joined up seeking adventure.  Reality can certainly be a painful experience.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Joshua Levine has written six bestselling histories including titles in the hugely popular ‘Forgotten Voices’ series. ‘Beauty and Atrocity’, his account of the Irish Troubles, was nominated for the Writers’ Guild Book of the Year award. ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’, his history of the pilots of the First World War, has been turned into a major British television documentary. He has written and presented a number of programmes for BBC Radio 4. In a previous life, he was a criminal barrister. He lives in London.

Find out more about Joshua at his website, and connect with him on Twitter.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 528 pgs.
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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, available at HarperCollins, is a stunning and intricate look at the network of female spies during WWI (and later, in WWII) and how integral they were to many of the triumphs and near misses that occurred to bring down the Kaiser (and later, Hitler). Eve is just one of those spies, but the intersection of her story and that of Charlie St. Clair happens just after WWII as a pregnant young woman comes to England in search of the one woman who might know what happened to her cousin Rose. Both women carry extreme guilt for those they were unable to save and both have been broken by those failures.

“It was why she’d been hired, her pure French and her pure English. Native of both countries, at home in neither.” (pg. 25 ARC)

In a world in which men were called to war by posters seeking identical soldiers who would follow orders without question, Eve’s call to arms came in an unexpected way as she typed letters in other languages in an office. Her unassuming stature and her stutter rendered her nearly invisible and an outcast at once, and this is exactly what Captain Cameron sought in recruits. But she would need more than the ability to be invisible, she would need to transform into another person and be able to lie without being detected, even among those who were proud of their lie detecting abilities.

Both Charlie and Eve are women who face the double-standard — groomed to be or expected to want nothing more than to be mothers and wives but having the ability to be much more. Charlie, a walking adding machine, is searching for the cousin she loved like a sister who disappeared during WWII, and she bails on her mother’s hope for a brighter marriage. Eve is reluctant to join the search until a name from her past creeps up and her unfinished business rears its ugly head. Quinn has researched the network of spies well, but what she also has done is delved deep into the hearts of these patriotic women to uncover their desires, their fears, and their uncertainty in the face of the unknown.

Eve is real, a woman who should have lived during WWI and gained the respect of military men for her unwavering bravery, and Charlie is more than that wayward boarding school girl acting out. These women have experienced great loss and are forever changed by it. But together they realize that a future can still be had for the both of them, if they can only survive the past. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a sure winner and a “best book of 2017.” It’s a book you won’t want to put down but sad to see end because you don’t want to leave these heroines behind.

RATING: Cinquain

I was happy to participate in a TLC Book Tours online Junket with Kate Quinn. Please check out the video below:

Blogger Junket Video:

Photo by Kate Furek

About the Author:

Kate Quinn is a native of Southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia.

Find out more about Kate at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

New Authors Challenge 2017

WWII Reading Challenge 2017

Mister Darcy’s Dogs by Barbara Silkstone

Source: Purchased
Kindle, 179 pgs.
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Mister Darcy’s Dogs by Barbara Silkstone is a modern take on Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s relationship.  Lizzie is a dog psychologist starting her own business, while Mr. Darcy is a man of mystery.  After helping her sister Jane out of a jam at a dog show, Mr. Darcy ends up as her client with his two adorable Basset hounds Derby and Squire.  The dogs take an instant liking to her and demonstrate their dislike for a certain red-head — Caroline.  Bingley seems to be chauffeuring people around in this one, at least until his eyes land on Jane.  Lizzie begins to see that Jane is smitten, with her nervous ticks and giggling.  She just wants her sister to be happy, even if all she wants is to focus on her career despite the distraction of Mr. Darcy’s chocolate brown eyes and handsome figure.

“With a noticeably deep sigh, he regained his broom-up-the-butt composure and hooded his eyes.”

Lizzie is hired to help Mr. Darcy ready his dogs for a faux fox hunt in which dogs chase the scent of a fox but are not allowed to kill a live fox under government rules.  She’s a bit out of her element and has little to no experience with fox hunts or riding horses.  Silkstone’s Darcy is still haughty, but by the end he softens toward Lizzie, even though she wants to remain a steadfast career woman.  Even George Wickham makes an appearance here to stir up trouble for Darcy and the Bennets.

Mister Darcy’s Dogs by Barbara Silkstone is a fun romp in the fields with two basset hounds and their master, as Darcy strives to uncover the true nature of the fox hunt.  Lizzie is along for the ride and hopeful that this chance with a new client will lead to more business.  Silkstone has modernized the story and left a lot of room for humor.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Barbara Silkstone is the best-selling author of the Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider series that includes: Wendy and the Lost Boys, London Broil, Cairo Caper, Miami Mummies, Vulgarian Vamp, Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider Boxed Set. Her Criminally Funny Fables Romantic Suspense series includes: The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland, Age 42 and Three-Quarters; Wendy and the Lost Boys.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 104 pgs.
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Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood explores how trauma can affect those in the same family in the generations that follow the event.  From the death of grandparents in a violent murder-suicide to the abusive relationship between an alcoholic father and his daughter, the poems explore the patterns of behavior that occur through time and repeat from one generation to the next.

“a cry stuck between/Growling and the most bereft sense of loss” (“Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors” pg. 15-16) is the initial sense readers will have with these poems, but what lies beneath is a deep exploration of how emotional response is innate, as Heywood draws parallels between humans and animals.  Heywood’s poems will rip out your heart as you follow the generational grief down the line and the hope that even a cheery paint color could possibly be a shield against the darkness of their patterns.

In “Fire Breathing” near the middle of the collection, we see a narrator who is determined to keep going, getting back up no matter how many times they fall or are pushed down by their alcoholic father or the kids at school.  Is that the light?  Is that the hope? Is that the perseverance that will break the cycle? It seems like a way out, until it doesn’t as the narrator laments, “Because I am not weak,/Because I need to stand up/Run faster than the voices/No one else hears because if I don’t/I’ll fade away behind them,/My body disappearing in the heat.” (pg. 56-7)

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood cautions that “grief is a second body” (“Parasite”, pg. 72-3) that can take control if you let it, and when dealing with a person consumed by it, treat it like a wild animal.  Stand clear, protect yourself.  But by the final poems in this collection, it is clear that to deal with grief, break the cycle of abuse, and move forward, the affected must learn to pause, breathe in that moment of beauty and hold it close.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Leslie Heywood is Professor of English and Creative Writing at SUNY-Binghamton, where she was a 2009 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activities. Interdisciplinary in focus, her areas are creative writing, gender studies, sport studies, science studies, and environmental studies.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali is a collection of poems in which a journey toward enlightenment is not what the narrator expects.  The Far Mosque is a place where enlightenment can be reached.  Many of these poems are not about a journey to a place but a journey within the self.  Ali plays with language in these poems, with many relying on homophones to carry a dual meaning.

From "Night Boat" (pg. 19-20)

Unfurl your hands to say: You will no longer here
The trees are rapt with silence

The burning bird settling in the rocks
Stand ever among the broken vowels:

You will no longer hour

The silent groundswell, the swell of silence.

Silence is a pervading theme throughout as the narrator tries to quiet his own beating heart to enjoy the silent moments of nature in “One Evening,” or when Yogis open their mouths to drink rain, rather than speak in “Rain.” The journey has taken this narrator many places, but many of these trips have done little to achieve peace or calm. The narrator is looking for a way to separate from the known self, to find that inner place (“The River’s Address”) where he can return again when the world or his state of mind requires re-balance.

The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali is a meditation of its own, with poems evoking ties to nature and its quiet beauty, but also its tumultuous moments and chaotic presence. Some of these poems will require greater meditation from the reader.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Kazim Ali is an American poet, novelist, essayist and professor. His most recent books are The Disappearance of Seth (Etruscan Press, 2009) and Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). His honors include an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. His poetry and essays have been featured in many literary journals and magazines including The American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Barrow Street, Jubilat, The Iowa Review, West Branch and Massachusetts Review, and in anthologies including The Best American Poetry 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017