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Finding Me by Viola Davis (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 9+ hrs.
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***trigger warnings for those who have suffered sexual abuse or child abuse***

Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis, narrated by the author, is what I want in a memoir every time – not simply name dropping or a recounting of events, but an in-depth look at one’s life and all its dark corners and bright lights. I want it to be reflective, and I want it to ring true. I want to hear everything that a person believes makes them who they are today. Davis brings that and much more.

I have loved Davis as an actor for so many years. When I see her name on the list, I’m watching that movie. She is that powerful and phenomenal, and now I can see why. She’s one of those actors who has the innate ability to channel the past and mold it into her roles and provide her characters with motivation, but she’s also a keen observer of people around her and their emotional and physical struggles.

I did not know that Davis grew up in Rhode Island! I lived in Massachusetts, but like 20 min. from the border of Rhode Island as a girl. When she talked about places, I knew where she was. That made this a not-so-great treat because I was completely unaware of the horrors there, but I was a kid…most of us don’t notice those things.

What I loved is that she stays true to the woman I believe her to be, pulling no punches about discrimination or racism or even sexism in the Hollywood business. Her story is a story for all Black women who struggle with perceptions of others and who they are. I want all women to feel loved for who they are, not who we perceive them to be.

She is very candid about the abuse, molestation, and more that occurred in her childhood and the effects that it had on her as an adult. Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis is one of the best memoirs I’ve listened to in a while, and I highly recommend this one. I cannot tell you how riveting this was, you need to experience this for yourself.

About the Author:

Viola Davis is an American actress. The recipient of various accolades, including an Academy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and two Tony Awards.

Memory and Desire by Gregory Luce

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 38 pgs.
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Memory and Desire by Gregory Luce is an undulating collection of poems filled with the roller coaster ride of desire and love, but also the tricky thing we call memory. The opening poem, “Desire,” speaks of an empty vessel that is filled and emptied, flowing in and out with the tidal waves of want. But like the vessel, an “indifferent” moon is pushing and pulling the waves – desire is everywhere. In the second poem, “Poem Beginning With a Found Line,” there’s the inkling of a chance meeting that doesn’t happen. But the lives of these two people run in parallel throughout. It’s one of those “what if” poems and it’s aching with longing.

Luce’s love poems in this collection will have readers sighing with longing and joy, especially with beautiful lines like “She could turn/and slide sideways/like a trick of the light./” in “Love Story.” (pg. 5) Or in “The Mechanism of Joy,” where “she floats in/all legs and tresses/clothes billowing as/light pours in/from every direction/and dust motes pulse/like electric particles/moving up the back/of my neck…/” (pg. 17-18)

But there’s also a sense of being adrift, too. In “Torn from a Notebook,” a narrator rushes through a subway station alone, “On the train you are/jostled, shaken, a dry/stick fallen away/from the bundle.//” (pg. 10) One of my favorite poems, “The wish to be an insect,” is so reminiscent of Kafka, I couldn’t help but imagine it — a man as an insect scurrying around. Something I’ve often wondered about traveling in the city full of people rushing here and there. There’s a loneliness in that scurrying, but also a sense of community and belonging – at least the desire for it.

Memory and Desire by Gregory Luce was a delightful read and full of surprising images and desires. Definitely includes some poems you’d want to read to someone you love, but it also includes some reflective pieces about belonging and community.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Gregory Luce is the author of the chapbooks Signs of Small Grace (Pudding House Publications) and Drinking Weather (Finishing Line Press), and the collection Memory and Desire (Sweatshoppe Publications). His poems have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Kansas Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Innisfree Poetry Review, If, Northern Virginia Review, Foundling Review, MiPOesias, Praxilla, Little Patuxent Review, The Rusty Nail, Rising Tide Review, Cactus Heart, Faircloth Review, and in the anthologies Living in Storms (Eastern Washington University Press) and Bigger Than They Appear (Accents Publishing). He lives in Washington, D.C., where he works as Production Specialist for the National Geographic Society. When not working or writing poems, he enjoys reading, birdwatching, hiking, bicycling, and spending time with his sons, Alex and Theo.

The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams

Source: the poet
Paperback, 102 pgs.
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The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams digs deep into masculinity’s myths and confronts its history of violence and of atrocities committed against people of different backgrounds. It is a look at America’s past that is coming into the light and begs us to reckon with it, acknowledge it, and move forward with forgiveness and compassion. For those in the current time who have not committed heinous acts, we still must face what we’ve inherited by the privilege of whiteness and maleness and seek the best path forward for the future or there may be little of it left for anyone.

In the “My American Ghost” section’s opening poem, “Pantomime,” the music of the wind is reviving the sheets into bodies as “We wait/for the well out back to//illuminate its drowned coins,/all the gods overrun by prayers//” (pg. 5) In this section, there are poems that try to tackle the issue of racism in this country with poems about Emmett Till//Edward Hopper, Prometheus//Trayvon Martin, Rosa Parks//Banksy, internment, and more. This section is a hard read as I think about whether we need another “white” man telling us about tragedy or civil rights, but these poems want us to question that and turn that questioning gaze unto ourselves as the privileged class of Americans who benefit the most from the systems of oppression. Hopper’s oil paintings of lone characters in dim settings mirror the shadows of Till’s murder and how “Skin can be its own//broken republic.” (pg. 7)

The Dead Just Need to Be Seen. Not Forgiven. (pg. 8)

That old man in the photo our family never talks about,
known best for tracking runaway slaves; tonight

we drag him from the basement up these loose
wood stairs & set out a plate of salted cabbage & rabbit--

so long since I've asked why the empty chair at our table.
With all the warmth a body has to give, we give up on

measuring the darkness between men. Dust & dusk enter
& are wiped from the room. The names we call each other

linger luminous & savage. Still. That tree I used to hang
tires from holds tight its dead centuries. The light

swinging from its branches we call rope-like,
which implies there's no longer rope. Tonight, we'll wash

the burnt out stars from his hair, all the crumbs from his beard.
The misfired bullet of his voice we let burn as it must.

It is clear that America’s past is part of who we are. In “Internment,” the narrator says, “This country goes/weak at the knees at the thought of you, how you nourish/the earth//” Further in this section, an abusive father appears in a story told to the narrator’s own children where the ending is changed to make it more palatable for kids’ ears. But we need to hear the full story, not just a rosy colored version, as the narrator reminds us in “My American Ghost,” “light strikes a coin/differently after a train/flattens its face:” … “our mouths, nestfuls of promises,/we shall open them almost/fully: swallow & speak for what/we’ve swallowed: a whole/new language of witness./” (pg. 30)

The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams is an America that fails to look its past in the eye, accept what has come before, and right that ship. “Is it true this ruin has been ours//the whole time?” (“Incendiary Device,” pg. 35) or can we be the narrator: “It turns out I was born with a matchbook/in my hands.” and “There’s a reason we refuse/to leave, even now.” (“Incendiary Device,” pg. 35). While exploring American darkness, Williams is reaching for the light with a hopeful hand for the next generation.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

John Sibley Williams is the author of seven poetry collections, including Scale Model of a Country at Dawn (Cider Press Review Poetry Award), THE DROWNING WORKS (Elixir Press Poetry Award), As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press), and Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize). A twenty-six-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and founder of the Caesura Poetry Workshop series. Previous publishing credits include Best American Poetry, Yale Review, Verse Daily, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and TriQuarterly.

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hours
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The cover of The No-Show by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Evanna Lynch, Heather Long, Kathryn Drysdale, and Luke Thompson, is misleading. O’Leary’s latest is not a ron-com; it is far more serious. Each of these women — Siobhan, Miranda, and Jane — is stood up on Valentine’s Day by Joseph Carter. The narration shifts between the three women, which makes it very hard for listeners and readers to like Carter very much. Jane is a pushover, and Siobhan is a strong woman on the outside, but Miranda is too busy trying to be one of the guys.

***I would warn those who have been harassed at work or by a professional in a partnership-type situation that this book could have triggers for them.***

This book was a long and winding trail through Joseph Carter’s love life. These three woman all play a role in his life, with two of them helping him to heal. What I didn’t enjoy was the manipulative nature of this plot and the cover image. This was not comedic at all, and the relationships here are very off-kilter. It’s almost like the author wanted us to hate Joseph from the start, only to try and redeem him through the voices of these women. I felt icky about the whole book. I preferred the side characters more than the protagonists.

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary is not at all what I wanted or expected in this book. I feel manipulated by the plot and the timelines and that doesn’t leave me with much to like about the book. The peripheral characters are great, but they are not in it enough to make this much better. I did like when Miranda gets her happy ending, but I could have cared less about the others.

RATING: Couplet

About the Author:

Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher. She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hrs
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Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, begins in school with Georgina, who is voted most likely to succeed, struggling to stay just popular enough and not as popular as other kids in her class. When her teacher realizes she is not trying as hard as she should, she pairs her with Lucas McCarthy, who sits in the front of class and is incredibly quiet. They soon fall in love over literature and Wuthering Heights. While they are clearly smitten and spend every moment together, neither makes an effort to be public with their love or share their relationship with their parents.

Fast forward to when they are adults, they meet again at a newly renovated pub where Georgina is the barmaid and Lucas is the owner. For 12 years, she’s moved from job to job and man to man since school; is it because she lost her father to an unexpected death or is there something more? Top it all off, Lucas doesn’t seem to remember her at all, which signals to her that their relationship was not that memorable.

Everything begins to unravel when her new employer offers space for writing competition about moments of shame. Georgina has been harboring a big secret from everyone and trying to blame all that is wrong in her life on the wrong thing. Unless she strives to deal with her past, her life will plummet even further.

This is the first book I’ve read written by McFarlane, and I wasn’t disappointed by the character development, pacing, or story. Georgina’s boyfriend at the start of the novel, Robin, will make you so angry and fed up with her, but clues throughout the book will have you cheering her on as she strives to put him off and keep him away. Her friends are quirky and definitely British, but they are loyal. Her roommate is a bit gruff, but her advice redeems her. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, is not as fluffy a read as I expected, but it was certainly worth it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Mhairi was born in Scotland in 1976 and her unnecessarily confusing name is pronounced Vah-Ree. After some efforts at journalism, she started writing novels. It’s Not Me, It’s You is her third book. She lives in Nottingham, with a man and a cat.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hrs.
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The Switch by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Alison Steadman and Daisy Edgar-Jones, finds Leena Cotton agreeing to swap lives, computers, and phones with her grandmother, Eileen Cotton, in Yorkshire. The swap has Leena stepping back from her cutting edge technology and fast-paced life, while Eileen is stepping into her first London adventure. The title and the swapping of lives seems like it would be comical and funny, but like other O’Leary books, there’s much more to the story. Leena and Eileen are just two of the people affected by the death of Leena’s sister. Both have been living their lives by rote, while Leena’s mother has fallen apart a number of times, struggling with the loss of her daughter and the absence of another. Eileen has been there for it all, trying to hold her daughter together, without interfering too much.

I loved Eileen’s story of navigating online dating long after her divorce from her cheating husband, and Leena’s time in her grandmother’s shoes reignites her passion for event planning and connecting with other people in the community. Leena has to learn that she can rely on others and feel the emotions she’s been bottling up, while Eileen needs to find her own life and passions. These two are more alike than they think. The narrators did a fantastic job of differentiating between the characters, bringing life to the emotions the two women feel, and navigating the interactions of O’Leary’s characters, making them feel real.

I love that O’Leary tackles heavy topics in her books, while still making them fun reads with some comic moments. The Switch by Beth O’Leary will not disappoint. I loved the older people in Yorkshire and their interactions from the busybody to the woman who is at her husband’s beck and call. The city people that Eileen meets run the gamut, including a cat fisher. There’s a lot to juggle, but O’Leary does well to keep every story line on track.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher. She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.

Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 368 pgs.
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Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner is set in post-war England when women are looking to hold onto the freedoms they’ve gained as the men became soldiers. Evie Stone, from her previous book The Jane Austen Society (check out my review), is one of the women working at the rare book store, Bloomsbury Books. She’s working in the background on her own project after a disappointment at Cambridge. Vivien Lowry, who works at the cash, has a list of grievances about the men who run the shop, particularly the Head of Fiction Alec McDonough, the golden boy of the manager Mr. Dutton, who has more than 50 rules that need to be followed without question by his employees. Meanwhile, Grace Perkins helps keep the ledgers for the bookstore and is a calming force. Her time at the bookstore is a source of solace from a turbulent home life where her husband has lost his job and she becomes the sole breadwinner and caregiver for her two sons and husband. These women appear to have little in common other than their jobs.

Jenner is fast becoming an automatic pre-order buy for me. Bloomsbury Girls is another historical fiction novel that takes real-life people like Samuel Beckett and others and breathes life back into them as they interact with Jenner’s own characters. Vivien has such a chip on her shoulder given how she was treated by her fiance’s family after his death in WWII, but she also sees the world of men in the shop as stifling. She wants everyone to see the world through her eyes, but Grace has her own ghosts to deal with and her approach is more conciliatory. Meanwhile, Evie prefers to fly under the radar as much as she can, although her work at Cambridge did gain recognition, though not the kind she wanted.

This little bookshop is a microcosm for the post-war world around them. Evie, Grace, and Vivien may be working women, but there is a little bit of distrust or hesitancy in trusting others on the part of all three women, until they realize that they need to come together to create the world they wish to see. I don’t want to giveaway anything in Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner. I absolutely loved the characters and their foibles, and I loved how these women came together with the help of some famous women who paved their way behind the scenes of other men. Don’t miss this gem of a novel.

RATING: Cinquain

Bloomsbury Girls is on sale on 5/17, check out this excerpt from the audiobook.

About the Author:

Natalie Jenner is the author of the instant international bestseller The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, The Jane Austen Society was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller and has been sold for translation in twenty countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

A Message from Author Natalie Jenner:

Dear readers,

I am immensely grateful for the outpouring of affection that so many of you have expressed for my debut novel The Jane Austen Society and its eight main characters. When I wrote its epilogue (in one go and without ever changing a word), I wanted to give each of Adam, Mimi, Dr. Gray, Adeline, Yardley, Frances, Evie and Andrew the happy Austenesque ending they each deserved.

But I could not let go of servant girl Evie Stone, the youngest and only character inspired by real life (my mother, who had to leave school at age fourteen, and my daughter, who does eighteenth-century research for a university professor and his team).

Bloomsbury Girls continues Evie’s adventures into a 1950s London bookshop where there is a battle of the sexes raging between the male managers and the female staff, who decide to pull together their smarts, connections, and limited resources to take over the shop and make it their own. There are dozens of new characters in Bloomsbury Girls from several different countries, and audiobook narration was going to require a female voice of the highest training and caliber. When I learned that British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, CBE, had agreed to narrate, I knew that my story could not be in better hands, and I so hope you enjoy reading or listening to it.

Warmest regards,

Natalie

Check out the Book Trailer:

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 9+ hrs.
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The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune, Tiffy Moore is a woman who has been chucked out of an apartment she shared with her boyfriend Justin. She’s got a small budget, so she has few options that don’t involve horrible conditions or strange alternatives. One alternative is to share a flat with Leon, a hospice nurse who works nights. They would need to share the one bed, but they would be in it at different times. Tiffy works day shift as a book editor, so she’d have the place on weekends and at night during week.

How can this be romantic or comical, if Tiffy and Leon never meet? They do start communicating about the mundane doings of apartment sharing through post-its notes on the fridge, tables, etc. Leon is a man of few words, and Tiffy is the opposite — she’s effusive and chaotic.

***Trigger warning for sufferers of abuse***

This is not a light-hearted comedy alone; there are deeper issues dealt with, and yes, in a quicker timeline than normally would happen. Tiffy’s ex-boyfriend may have left her for another woman he plans to marry, but she is more than gun-shy when it comes to other men. She’s so consumed by everything Justin ever said about her, she can no longer just be herself without second-guessing or putting herself down. It’s clear something about her relationship with Justin wasn’t right. You find out later in the book.

Leon, meanwhile, is not without his own troubles. He’s dating Kay who clearly doesn’t think he spends enough time with her, which is why she’s all for the flatshare and having him on weekends at her place. He is consumed with work, finding the long lost love of one of his patients, and freeing his wrongly accused brother from prison. Leon may be quiet and mild-mannered, but he has a busy schedule.

O’Leary really writes quirky characters so well. Tiffy is someone you can imaging bubbling up you life and bringing color to it, while Leon is that introspective friend who overthinks but always has great advice. Her plot enables Tiffy and Leon to lead separate lives, even as they fall into like with each other. The comic set of side characters also keeps things unpredictable. The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune, is one to read if you don’t mind a little heavy stuff mixed with your romantic comedy.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher. She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 10+ hrs.
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The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Josh Dylan and Eleanor Tomlinson, has the makings of a light, fun romantic read, but there are dark edges of depression, alcoholism, and sexual assault that make this a more serious novel than expected. Dylan and Addie fall in love/lust over a summer in France where she works as a caretaker of her friend Cherry’s villa and Dylan, a poet, is a rich man’s son who is looking for himself abroad. Immediately, I was drawn to the character of Dylan because he’s a poet and lines of verse come to him out of no where and he struggles to remember them, all the while he’s falling for Addie. They have broken up because in the present, they haven’t spoken in a few years, but they are headed to Cherry’s wedding and end up carpooling.

Dylan and Marcus have been friends for ages, but it is clear that something happened in their relationship as well because Marcus is “trying” to be better. As the novel unravels, it is clear that the relationship between Addie and Dylan was colored by the presence of Marcus. I really enjoyed the dynamics at play between Addie and Dylan (working-class, family girl and upper crust boy trying to distance himself from his father even though he still relies on family wealth) and the interplay with Marcus who seemed so much like a puppet-master of Dylan at times.

While in the present, crammed in a Mini with Marcus, Addie’s sister Deb, and random acquaintance of Cherry’s Rodney, Addie and Dylan are forced to confront their past, why they broke up, and whether the love they both have for each other still is enough to move forward with. There’s some hilarity when traffic stalls their travels or their car breaks down, but overall, there are some deep issues afoot.

What bothered me was how glossed over Marcus’ role in their relationship was until the end. At no point did Dylan try to see things from Addie’s point of view, while she bent over backward to be understanding of his connection to Marcus, even though she wasn’t really privy to why they were so tight in the first place. The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary is a good novel, I just wish there had been a little more background earlier on about Marcus and Dylan’s relationship and a little more awareness on Dylan’s part that Marcus didn’t always have his best interests at heart.

RATING: Quatrain (really 3.5)

About the Author:

Beth O’Leary is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher. She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time.

Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 98 pgs.
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Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines, which toured in Winter 2021-22 with Poetic Book Tours, explores the evolution of a self-made woman from birth through her later years, enhanced by the water imagery of the undulating waves that affect our lives. This is clear from the first poem, “First Born,” in which a child is born and “breathes blue/water for air,/dark whorl/of muscle, hair,/sea whistle/sways in wave/after wave/of shore/” (pg. 17) In the next poem, “A Cry So Close to Song,” the child’s cry becomes the cry of a gull. Hines takes a look at the simplicity of childhood, but she also notes those moments when you’re given a nickname that might not be so flattering. Alternating between her own childhood and that of her own children, she’s creating a family story that comes in waves across the pages.

“Scarborough Sail” sees a father become a tall ship, with sturdy rigging to hold his child upright in a turbulent sea. It is clear the poem is speaking to some rocky moments in the narrator’s life, but how her father ensured she had a stable home and structure around her. With every tumble, she rises up again, stronger. By the end of the poem, she’s swimming on her own through the ocean “beeline into surf swell,/under mayhem, into sparkle.” (pg. 29)

Ritual (pg. 30)

Sunday afternoon and my turn
to kneel on the creaky yellow
kitchen step stool and bow
over the sink, unspool my locks
into the clean pool, the white
enamel basin. Two rust eyes blink
from the bottom. I bend my neck
for Mother's blessing. I might be clay.
I might be dough. Her pulsing
soap-slicked fingers sink and knead.

Later the poems become more nostalgic for the childhood of the past, with memories of summer camp and lifeguarding. The 4th of July parties and the man all the girls giggle and blushed for. It was fun to read “Swim Meet” since my daughter is a swimmer and has a number of these competitions in all-year round. There’s that moment of realization in this poem that the narrator will not be the best on the team, but the beauty of the swim and the burn of the exercise is something that is seared into her memory: “streaks through blue, the kick-/stroke-surge through the wake/of the winter’s churn.//”

Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines is introspective in its look at a life that is evolving and moving forward, even as we hope to hold all of our memories close. The final poems may make you weep with sadness as the family faces the passing of loved ones and the closing of the summer house. Another chapter has closed, but the ghosts slip out into the swells of the sea on their next journey, just as the narrator will do.

RATING: Cinquain

Photo Credit: David Mullen

About the Poet:

Mary Beth Hines grew up in Massachusetts where she spent Saturday afternoons ditching ballet to pursue stories and poems deep in the stacks of the Waltham Public Library. She earned bachelor of arts in English from The College of the Holy Cross, and studied for a year at Durham University in England. She began a regular creative writing practice following a career in public service (Volpe Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts), leading award-winning national outreach, communications, and workforce programs. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction appear in dozens of literary journals and anthologies both nationally and abroad. Winter at a Summer House is her first poetry collection. When not reading or writing, she swims, walks in the woods, plays with friends, travels with her husband, and enjoys life with their family, including their two beloved grandchildren. Visit her online.

Any Dumb Animal by AE Hines

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 88 pgs.
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Any Dumb Animal by AE Hines, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a compact powerhouse of poems where the poet tackles his demons, the rejection of his father, becoming at father himself, turning 50, and so much more. Hines is brave in these poems where he lays bare his fears, heartbreaks, and deep regrets, but these poems also offer glimmers of light, love, and hope.

***Be aware that some of the poems can be triggering if you’ve suffered abuse, trauma, and hate because of your sexual orientation.***

“Phone Call” opens the collection with a harrowing experience of a father pinning his son to floor after dragging him from his bed and squeezing his hands in the hardware store, as if force could mold him into what his father wishes him to be. However, Hines’ torment doesn’t stop there as he finds himself with a marriage counselor and a spouse who diminishes him in the same way. This poem explores trauma and how that trauma lasts years and years unless it is addressed.

In “How We Learn,” we find Hines has some anxieties: “Having nearly drowned as a child,/having been terrified to leave/the confines of dry land, I already knew/a thing or two about avoiding/the obvious dangers./” (pg. 5) But here we see a father “tossing” him “into the deep end of pools”. This dynamic between father and son is the anchor of the collection and a trauma that infects all of the other relationships he speaks about until he has come to terms with his deep-seated pain.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about these poems because you should read these poems for yourself. Any Dumb Animal by AE Hines is devastating all the more so because these personal experiences will make your heart break.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

AE Hines (he/him) grew up in rural North Carolina and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. His poetry has been widely published in anthologies and literary journals including I-70 Review, Sycamore Review, Tar River Poetry, Potomac Review, Atlanta Review, Crosswinds Poetry Journal and Crab Creek Review. He is winner of the Red Wheelbarrow Prize and has been a finalist for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. He is currently pursuing his MFA in Writing at Pacific University. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

What Flies Want by Emily Perez

Source: GBF
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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What Flies Want by Emily Perez, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, is a surreal painting of the rotting fruit flesh we hide behind closed doors and with tranquil, civilized facades. Perez takes a close look at mental illness, gender and racial identity, and so much more in these pages. What do the flies want? They want that exposed flesh – to feed off of it, to get fat on our misery.

From "My Son Is" (pg. 1-2)

...
....He needs 

the shock
of a thing done.
Something stronger
      than his anger, something
      forcing fortune out of him.

            He crowds the dark he darks
            into his boyhood wears
                his hood unhinged.

Every word, every line is nuanced. Even as boys play childhood games with Nerf guns, the violence is there, under the surface, lurking. In “Battle Song” and in “My Children Use the American Flag,” Perez’s lines are commenting subtly on the roles of boys, the expectation of violence, the training it takes even when it is just pretend. She juxtaposes this with her poem “Before I Learned to Be a Girl,” in which the narrator is a “wind unwound,” and she is a fire all her own. She needs no one; she is a force that can take down the darkness, the pirates, the gunman.

Nightwatch (pg. 6)

We killed the mockingbird
and killed so many more. Foolish
to believe that we were ever growing
out of our armored selves, sealed off
like walnuts, small brained and fearful.
We did not want to be vulnerable. We did
not want to stand alone, skin exposed
to the night, trembling against
whatever wind was rising.

There is the constant push and pull between civilization and the feral wilds of ourselves. But even with civility, there needs to be limits because “The thing about privacy//is it narrowed who knew/what forces//tipped the walls./” (“Outbound Flight,” pg. 7) Even in “Accoutrements,” the bounds of marriage need to be reexamined, with everything seeming well from the outside as long as you don’t look too closely.

What Flies Want by Emily Perez, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, is stunning in its examination of the pressures we put on ourselves and the pressures society levies bluntly. We have to do more than protect ourselves from outside forces, we need to protect ourselves from our own expectations while holding onto out whole selves, not just portions of us.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Emily Pérez is the author of What Flies Want, winner of the Iowa Prize, forthcoming in May 2022. With Nancy Reddy she edited The Long Devotion: Poets Writing Motherhood, forthcoming in March 2022. Her other books and chapbooks include House of Sugar, House of Stone, Backyard Migration Route, and Made and Unmade. She graduated with honors from Stanford University and earned an MFA at the University of Houston, where she served as a poetry editor for Gulf Coast and taught with Writers in the Schools. A CantoMundo fellow and Ledbury Emerging Critic, she has received grants and scholarships from Hedgebrook, the Community of Writers, the Washington State Artist Trust, Jack Straw Writers, Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop, Summer Literary Seminars, and Inprint, Houston. Her poems have appeared in journals including Copper Nickel, Fairy Tale Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry, Diode, and DIAGRAM. She teaches English and Gender Studies in Denver where she lives with her family.