Quantcast

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a brief look at the extraordinary lives of these brilliant mathematicians — Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dr. Christine Darden. My daughter and I read this book together and were learning a great deal about not only the role of math in the building of airplanes and spacecraft, but also the history of the time when segregation still existed and women were not allowed in meetings or even on scientific teams.

In one illustration, my daughter commented about the separate water fountains and noted that the one for “coloreds” looked more like a toilet with a spout than a water fountain. I think this was her interpretation of the differences between those facilities and she was taken aback at how awful just that aspect was. Kids are far smarter than adults sometimes.

As we read, we looked up the real women on the internet to check out more of their accomplishments and look at the projects they worked on, and my daughter was particularly interested in the wind tunnels that Mary Jackson worked with. I think it was because the visual of the giant fan behind Jackson and her team didn’t demonstrate the airplane models being tested. The internet helped with that.

While we loved the illustrations and how vivid they are, we wondered about the earrings the ladies wore — stars, planets, moons — were these accurate to their daily accessories or just a nod to their role in the space race? My daughter also loves learning about the landing on the moon and what was said, and the biographies in the back about each woman was fantastic because we learned more about each of them, though we were saddened to learn that only one of them is still alive, as Katherine Johnson passed away in 2020.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a delightful introduction to these stellar women and their accomplishments against all odds — racism and sexism. This generated some great discussion with my daughter and since she loves history, it was a great read for us.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of  Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. She is also the founder of The Human Computer Project, an endeavor that is recovering the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers at the NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s. She is a Hampton, Virginia native, University of Virginia graduate, an entrepreneur, and an intrepid traveler who spent 11 years living in Mexico. She currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.

About the Illustrator:

Laura Freeman is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree. Her work on “Hidden Figures” written by Margot Lee Shetterly, was recognized with an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children, reached the New York Times Best Seller list and was listed as one of “Ten Books All Georgians Should Read”. Her art has been honored at the Society of Illustrators in NYC and in the Annuals for Communication Arts and American Illustration.

Crooked Smiling Light by Alan W. King

Source: Poet
Paperback, 40 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Crooked Smiling Light by Alan W. King is a powerful chapbook that tackles fatherhood, family demons and traumas, and finds the bright light in the darkness. What King always does well in his verse is to find the hope even in the darkest moments.

In the opening poem, “In Your Dreams,” the young man is dodging not only physical blows from his father and trying to sway away from his emotional jabs. He reminds us that those traumas are the past and in our reliving of them, we can change the ending and manifest that in our own, true lives. King uses these boxing metaphors in a few of the poems and it serves as a way to remind us that life is not a straight line journey from point A to point B — there are a lot of curves and turns along the way.

When the chapbook shifts to his own journey as a father, the light of hope shines brightest. I absolutely loved “The Light Inside.” It’s such a beautiful poem in which the poet is watched as he contemplates “the country of fatherhood,/where experience alone won’t grant you citizenship.//” He’s folding onesies and waiting for his daughter to arrive where “Everything hangs, waiting for you to fill them/the way your mom and I waited for you//” and “patience is the currency/of anything worth having.//”

Parenthood is a tough state but absolutely worth it for those committed to doing it and nurturing young life. And yes, like King says, “parenting is like gardening.” But in that effort, we also have to tend to our own scars and past traumas so that they don’t poorly influence how we tend our own gardens. Crooked Smiling Light by Alan W. King is a love letter to his family, his children, and his own past, as he moves forward as a father and a more whole human being. Love and hope are in every corner of this collection, and there is a push for more out of life and a recognition of simplicity, beauty, and importance.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Alan King is an author, poet, journalist and videographer, who lives with his family in Bowie, MD. He writes about art and domestic issues on this blog. He’s a communications specialist for a national nonprofit and a senior editor at Words Beats & Life‘s global hip hop journal.

King is the author of POINT BLANK (Silver Birch Press, 2016) and DRIFT (Aquarius Press, 2012). King’s honors include fellowships from Cave (cah-veh) Canem (cah-nem) and Voices of Our Nations Arts (VONA) Foundation, three Pushcart Prize nominations as well as three nominations for Best of the Net selection.

He’s a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Low-Residency Program at the University of Southern Maine. His poems and short stories appear in various literary journals, magazines and are featured on public radio. Visit his website, Facebook, Twitter, and on YouTube.

Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart by Courtney LeBlanc

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 101 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart by Courtney LeBlanc is a collection that will floor you with its emotional heights and its stunning imagery. The collection’s sections — “This Is What Women Do,” “All I’ve Swallowed,” “Mouthing Your Memory,” and “Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart” — tackle larger issues facing women today in not only patriarchal society but within our own strictures that we adopt to define who we are. I love that LeBlanc opens this collection with “Autobiography of Eve” because she sets readers up for a great unfolding, demonstrating how women have been conditioned into thinking one way about love, marriage, and how the world works, as well as our place in that world. “Now that the sticky juice/of knowledge ran freely down my chin/” — isn’t the truth always a little bit sticky?

I’m going to try not to gush about this collection, but there are so many poems I love from “We Carry” where women are burdened with keys and households as well as the comments of others, the groceries, the organization and schedules, and the weight of abuse when it happens to “Alternative Names for Woman” where LeBlanc begins with those harsh truths about what we earn, how we’re perceived by others, and what we could become despite those misconceptions and putdowns.

LeBlanc talks to the women who have held onto their trauma, to those who re-traumatize themselves, to those experiencing serious heartbreak, to those who feel lost and she holds out her hands to them, hoping they will take that leap of faith for themselves – to become their true selves in spite of it all. It’s hard work this transformation, but she shows you the way in her poems. The road will never be smooth, but in the end, it may be a journey worth taking to be free and to be your unapologetic self. From “Gasoline,” “I’m peeling/back my skin/revealing/the flint of a match/crawling through my blood/my bones/I’m ready/to burn/this fucking frat party/this America to the ground.//”

Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart by Courtney LeBlanc is an evolution of love and self. In her last poem, “Eventually Evolution,” she reminds us that change takes time, even if it seems like love can strike in a few seconds of meeting someone.

This is the second book I’ve read by LeBlanc and I have loved both of them.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Courtney LeBlanc is the author of the full length collections Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart (Riot in Your Throat, July 2021),  Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, March 2020)The Violence Within (Flutter Press, 2018, currently out of print), and All in the Family (Bottlecap Press, 2016, currently out of print) , and a Pushcart Prize  and Best of the Net nominee. She has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Visit her website, Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, and her publishing house, Riot in Your Throat.

Other Reviews:

Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen, narrated by P. J. Ochlan, is an exploration of the lasting impact of war on individuals and the memory of war long after it is fought, incorporating the role of governments, individual and national ethics, and the media and film industry, as well as novelists, etc.

The narration of this book doesn’t do much for the dry academic text, which made this a harder read than it probably would have been in print. I definitely do not recommend this audiobook. The narration is dry and lifeless. With that said, if you are looking for a dynamic look at the Vietnam War and memory, this is more speculation, analysis of previous thoughts on memory and ethical remembering, as well as a look at how the entertainment industry in the United States shapes the views of war over time.

In some ways, Nguyen takes on too many subjects in this book. I feel like the whole section on first-person war-based video games could be a dissertation or a book in itself with data on the impact of these war video games, etc. This happens with other topics as well. This was far too academic and focused on theories and philosophies with little data, which was a drawback for me. I would have preferred more dynamic text and narration, as well as some data to back up some of his arguments.

My overall takeaway from Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen, narrated by P. J. Ochlan, is that to remember war, we need to remember the good and the bad on both sides, not just the humanity of one side and the inhumanity of the other. We need to recall that all actors in war are culpable to some extent and that they are all round “characters” not flat. Humanity is not something that only applies to the righteous or the just act, especially as my grandmother once said, “there is always more to the story than you know and there is no one person at fault.” We all need to be better at accepting our inhuman actions and the humanity of those we do not know or understand well.

RATING: Couplet

Other Reviews:

Riffs & Improvisations by Gregory Luce

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keys (pg. 105)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

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

Dialogues With Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon

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

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

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

Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror (pg. 8)

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

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

The Collectors by Alice Feagan

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: Cinquain

American Software by Henry Crawford

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 102 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

With the increased reliance of society on technology and computers, American Software by Henry Crawford speaks to readers in programming language, a poetic device that transcribes everyday life to magnify its societal implications with precision. The collection even opens with a quote from The C Programming Language, 2nd Edition by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie.

I wan intrigued by this collection for one reason, my day job has me writing some technical pieces about mainframes. While I didn’t spy any specific references to mainframes, Crawford does rely on the formats of computing language to craft his poems about life in America. The collection’s opening poem, “Hello World!,” where readers are taken on a trip to one of the most tragic moments in someone’s life (Jackie Kennedy) and they’re whisked away to the automated check out line and the canning of soup, etc., all in the blink of a minute. Comparing that tragic moment in which someone could feel suspended in time and to be moving in slow motion to the current time where automation has taken over demonstrates Crawford’s look at society’s revolution toward speeding up everything.

Several of Crawford’s poems play a bit with perspective — whether as a president in “Lyndon Johnson” you could know every angle of a situation or as a husband and wife in “Living Under Roofs” could you even know your partner’s every thought and desire. Crawford masterfully plays with his poems to create something new, like in “When [Box] Met <Diamond>” where there is an internal conversation about the art of poetry within a conversation between the box and the diamond who meet inside the poem and begin their own conversation and plot to escape.

One of the best poems in the collection, “100 Years of the First World War,” in which references are made to “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae while the poem itself becomes like a play in which the poet is performing alongside McCrae and his “Soldier’s Song” moment.

The use of computer programming tags and symbols can make it harder to decipher the meaning of these poems, but discerning readers will enjoy the play in these poems. Let’s talk with the computer before the screen goes out. American Software by Henry Crawford tackles a lot of America’s societal issues in an automated world — the disconnect between people, the death penalty, wonder, and the pull between life and death.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Henry Crawford is a poet living and writing in the Washington, DC area. His work has appeared in several journals and online publications including Boulevard, Copper Nickel and the Southern Humanities Review. His first collection of poetry, American Software, was published in May of 2017 by CW Books, his second collection, The Binary Planet, is to be published by The Word Works in 2020.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 5+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen, narrated by the author, is a collection of short stories, with some seeming to be autobiographical or at least inspired by his own life here in the United States. Some of these refugees are seen through the eyes of another, and in this way, Nguyen provides us with a dual perspective — how the narrator views the refugee and how the refugees view themselves.

The narration was satisfactory as read by the author, but some of it could have been better served by a more practiced audiobook narrator who could have breathed life into the characters and helped readers “feel” the tensions a little more deeply. The author’s narration really didn’t add anything to these stories, like a trained narrator would have.

Despite the narration falling flat, these stories explore what it means to leave one’s homeland for another and be caught between them — between what happened in that other country and what is happening now as a result of those experiences. But not only has Nguyen given us stories that explore that rift in identity and culture shock of entering a new country to call home, he also explores the family bond and how it can be frayed by the past in Vietnam, dementia, sibling jealousy, and so much more. What are the dreams of these refugees and immigrants, will they be achieved, have the given up, are they settling, can they feel at home in a new country that is so different from where they came from? These are the kinds of questions explored in theses stories, and many of these characters seem to stem from Nguyen’s own experiences and family history.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen is probably best read in print or in ebook, rather than on audio, so the nuance of Nguyen’s stories are not lost on the reader. I did enjoy spending time with these characters, but I’ll likely revisit them in print.

RATING: Tercet

Other Reviews:

Billy Summers by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 16+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

***trigger warning for sexual violence***

Billy Summers by Stephen King, narrated by Paul Sparks, is beyond the supernatural, horror that this author is known for, but it brings to life new horrors — those of real life. Billy, a former soldier, is a murderer for hire, and he’s looking for one last job so he can begin a new life. The set up for an assassination job is detailed and slow going, but readers will delight in the character building of Billy’s alter egos — the plants in various towns to hide what he is really doing. Masquerading as a writer in an office building, a computer IT guy, and his own Billy Summers’ shtick, which isn’t really how he acts.

In many ways, the face of Summers is similar to King’s characters created in years past — Billy is almost a stand-in for King, one of the ultimate character creators. King does give a nod to his previous writings here later on in the novel with a sneak peak atop a ridge at The Overlook. It is almost like this novel is an homage to all the risks he’s taken in his career and a middle-finger to the industry that counted him out and pigeonholed him. But I could be over-analyzing here.

Paul Sparks does an excellent job with every face of Billy Summers, and the narration is back and forth into Summers’ past in Falluja when he was a sniper. What I’ve always loved about King’s novels is his attention to detail, his ability to create well-rounded characters, and the settings that mirror real, small town life that is often considered pale in comparison to large, city life (a perception that he blows out of the water every time).

The most troubling aspect of the novel, however, is the obligatory rape of a young woman who becomes an acquiescent victim with Stockholm syndrome.  But even here, King is stretching this trope as he builds the sad relationship between her and Billy Summers into a morally ambiguous argument that not all snipers are bad guys. Perhaps, there are some who do draw a line in the sand, and Billy does rationalize his actions.

Even as I say that Billy is a mirror for King, so is the young woman by the final pages. It almost made me wonder if King may be done writing, but then there’s something more to this young lady that makes me confident that King is not done with his fictional worlds quite yet.

Billy Summers by Stephen King, narrated by Paul Sparks, is a multilayered story about a stone-cold, calculating assassin for hire who continually wrestles with his morality. King takes you on a journey that will leave you wondering about your own morality and mortality. Things in real life can run astray at any moment, even in a small town.

RATING: Cinquain