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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:

Useful Junk by Erika Meitner

Source: GBF
Paperback, 104 pgs.
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Useful Junk by Erika Meitner is a poetic exploration of memory and desire, but also a collection of perspectives on the body and how it is seen and what it sees. The collection opens with the poem, “I would like to be the you in someone’s poem.” Here, Meitner’s narrator expresses a desire to be seen in all her glory and quirkiness, even if it is just a fiction.

When you enter this collection, you’re in a surreal world where the poet explores what the junk mail knows about us and our finances, but also what junk mail fails to know about our feral nature and our desires to be wanted and seen with all of our flaws. Meitner’s poems offer vignettes of “multitudinous and wild pasts” and our many futures. “don’t you worry about how/scattered memory gets (pick-up-sticks, a box//of buttons, shards of plastic beached across/an entire coastline) and how we’re just trying//to find the origin,” (from “All the Past and Futures” pg. 18-9)

She tells us in “Medium Adam 25”: “I am not an abstracted/self in the wet night. I am not a static/enterprise either, and as I move through//time and space, many things are vanishing/in exchange for a wanting with no end…” Isn’t it the truth of each of us. We are not this abstract perception that others have of us; we are fluid and changing even if it isn’t as obvious by our physical selves — though those change too.

Useful Junk by Erika Meitner is intimate and existential all at once, and readers will swim in the morass and indulge in memory and perception imparted with quick wit and contemplative angst. Meitner provides us with a bridge between our memories and their changing patterns and our desires to be seen coupled with the anxiety of how we are perceived by others and ourselves.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Erika Meitner was born and raised in Queens and Long Island, New York. She attended Dartmouth College (for a BA in Creative Writing and Literature), Hebrew University on a Reynolds Scholarship, and the University of Virginia, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing as a Henry Hoyns Fellow, and her MA in Religious Studies as a Morgenstern Fellow in Jewish Studies.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire

Source: NetGalley
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is a collection that pushes readers to their limits with her beautiful, tragic poems. Their dark beauty with their sometimes violent images reach inside us, pull out our hearts, and ring them until there is little left but open love and empathy.

In the opening poem, “Extreme Girlhood,” the birth of a girl is a sign that suffering is to come, whether it is from parental expectation, abuse from within the home, and other malodorous events. But “Mama, I made it/out of your home/alive, raised by/the voices/in my head.//” the narrator reminds readers that there is another side to that dark tunnel. In this poem, Shire has set up the reader for a wild, emotional ride, but if we can just hold onto that hope, we’ll be OK.

Part poetry collection about abuses and darkness, part collection about accepting the people we are, Shire is unafraid to call out our platitudes and attitudes:

From "Assimilation"

...
The refugee's heart has six chambers.
In the first is your mother's unpacked suitcase.
In the second, your father cries into his hands.
The third room is an immigration office, 
your severed legs in the fourth,
in the fifth a uterus -- yours?
The sixth opens with the right papers.

I can't get the refugee out of my body,

There is always that push and pull between the homeland of the past (a home nostalgia tells us is placid) and the new home refugees are seeking (a home that is not as welcoming as expected, if at all). Shire tells us in “Home” to remember that “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. You only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.” and “No one would leave home unless home chased you.” When times are troubling, refugees sometimes would love to return home, but “home is the mouth of a shark. Home is the barrel of a gun.”

Unbearable Weight of Staying

I don't know when love became elusive.
My mother's laughter in a dark room.

What I know is that no one I knew had it.
My father's arms around my mother's neck.

A door halfway open.
Fruit too ripe to eat.

Shire infuses her poems with her Somali culture, paying homage to rituals and loved ones, while at the same time exploring the struggles of her homeland with famine, the murder of women, kidnappings, and more.

 Filial Cannibalism

From time to time
mothers in the wild
devour their young,
an appetite born of
pure, bright need.
Occasionally,
mothers from ordinary
homes, much like our
own, feed on the viscid
shame their daughters
are forced to secrete
from glands formed
in the favor of men.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is a stunning collection in which “the trapdoor to heaven/opens its mouth” and “girlhood an incubation for madness.” There are so many themes in these poems from racism to gender bias, but is Shire’s search for grace that holds these poems together.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Warsan Shire is a 24 year old Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and educator based in London. Born in 1988, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally – including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, North America and Kenya- and her début book, ‘TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011. Her poems have been published in Wasafiri, Magma and Poetry Review and in the anthology ‘The Salt Book of Younger Poets’ (Salt, 2011). She is the current poetry editor at SPOOK magazine. In 2012 she represented Somalia at the Poetry Parnassus, the festival of the world poets at the Southbank, London. She is a Complete Works II poet. Her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Warsan is also the unanimous winner of the 2013 Inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth by Laura Costas

Source: GBF
Paperback, 103 pgs.
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Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth by Laura Costas reimagines the Greek myth of Ariadne in short prose poems. There’s no need to worry if you are not familiar with the myth because Costas provides you with an introduction to her character as it was developed ages ago. Her introduction serves as way to provide readers with a context that her alternate reality for forthright Ariadne springs.

In her opening poem, “Answering Machine,” Ariadne speaks to us from some outside realm, and while she would love to hear us, speak to us, and tell us what happened, she cannot. We need to imagine it and speak for her, like Costas has done. Here, our heroine awakens in a different, more modern time. She’s disoriented and fumbling to find her ground. “The rapid little flicks of your eyes produce upon you unrecognizable flesh that your bones should refuse but don’t,” the narrator begins in “Gyroscope.” In “Hot Rod,” the narrator urges, “Push your food to the floor.”

Through these topsy-turvey poems, Costas is creating a world in which we can see how limiting a myth can be, that no one is just one thing or another — hero or helper. We are all three-dimensional and multi-layered, and in some cases, we war with our desires, our practicalities, our “roles” in society.

Her poems also surprise us with their wit and humor:

“Security” (pg. 28)

Above the bed the ceiling cleaves. Beyond the cleft, around our necks, we’ve only keys. It’s the locks that make the thieves.

Or by turns, her unconventional thoughts about the society we’ve created and the blindness we all carry to its norms and expectations:

From “Civilization” (pg. 50)


None of us thinks to crash the turnstiles, so, turned away, we carry on, rumor and reflex at fists for our attention, the lucky ones among us to forget in the morning all that we lost last night..

Like in “Sagittarius,” Costas reminds us “this world was made to bend in.” (pg. 92) Ariadne Awakens: Instructions for the Labyrinth by Laura Costas is more than a retelling or reimagining of a myth — it is about the labyrinth of life, its twists and turns, its backward and forward steps, and the need for each of us to step outside the lines sometimes to find the truth of ourselves and our place in a world that makes little sense unless we provide it some direction.

RATING: Cinquain

So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter

Source: GBF
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter, which won the DC Poet Project award in 2021, explores the broken pieces we become to find the whole. Through persona poems, particularly those with the “messy girl” and “candy girl,” Koiter explores what it means to be broken and keep going. The title itself speaks to the overwhelm that many of us have felt at one time or another in our lives, with many of us having that sense during the pandemic. Dealing with grief and sudden loss, Koiter takes us on a roller coaster of emotions, but her words resonate no matter the readers’ experiences.

Her opening poem, “Easter Night,” establishes the atmosphere of hope even in the darkness where there is the chill of services and the heels sinking into grass: “Since yesterday, the earth has tilted./The day’s last light curves/differently over my arm/on its habitual armrest, then dims/and dims to night.//What will I do with darkness in this new life?//” (pg. 1)

Koiter’s poems are otherworldly, like we’re swimming in her thoughts and trying to make sense of things like she is.

In “The Messy Girl Drives Eastward, with Impending Migraine,” her lines call to the beautiful topsy-turvy nature she’s experiencing: “Lines of birds shift in the air like words that cannot stay still/on the page, latecomers looking for a place/in an already crowded field.” Or the young girl pushing her way onto the swing set “as if/I had never left, as if I could insist/there be no world without me” in “Samsara.” (pg. 42)

As readers move through the collection, grief surfaces and falls beneath the surface. In “After Thanksgiving,” the narrator is eating brandied cranberries in yogurt, but not because she loves these leftovers particularly. It is because they make her feel closer to her mother.

The mind is always churning, it is worrying like the narrator who “worries scab after scab” in “The Messy Girl Carries a Torch for the Boy Who Could Not Stop Washing.” And in “Live Portrait” where the painter is getting the model’s image on the canvas and only “The portrait can bear/the weight of all that/looking”.

So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter a ball of our anxieties unraveled until we can do little more than see them for what they are — weights we place squarely on our own shoulders and those that we don’t. The trick is to discern which anxieties we can handle because they are our own perceptions (which we can change) and those that are heavy with loss and grief and must be accepted. “meaning today I am at my most/human, meaning I am not okay and/I’m okay” (pg.76) And it is okay to be on that precipice of everything.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Jenn Koiter is a writer, marketer, entrepreneur and breathworker. The winner of the 2021 DC Poet Project, Jenn’s debut poetry collection, “So Much of Everything,” was published in 2021 by Day Eight. Her poems and essays have appeared in Barrelhouse, Smartish Pace, Bateau, Ruminate, Copper Nickel and other journals. She lives in Washington, D.C., with three gerbils named Sputnik, Cosmo and Unit. Visit her on Twitter.

Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 336 pgs.
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Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron is like Nancy Drew set during the time of Jane Austen’s life. Part of the title is inspired by the historic eruption of Mount Tambora, which caused some series climate effects, including crop failures, and led to the “Year Without a Summer” in 1816. I loved that Barron stayed true to the whereabouts (based on historic record) of Austen and her sister, Cassandra, when they took a trip to Cheltenham Spa in Gloucestershire.

Things in the Austen household are not all roses, but even as uncertainty lays claim to the family’s fortunes and to the reputation of Austen’s brother Charles, Jane and her sister take the time to travel to the waters, hoping to improve Jane’s health. Once there, the ladies encounter some very dull and dark characters who many of the other guests seem to be avoiding. The spas themselves are not at all what either lady expects, and in fact, they begin to wonder if the waters are bad for people’s health.

When a young lady in a basket chair turns up at Mrs. Potter’s where they are staying, Austen and her sister are even more intrigued. A captain, a devoted friend who protects her friend in the chair, and a mysterious theater dialect coach all add to the mystery when a Viscount shows up claiming the woman in the basket chair is his wife! When a pug ends up dead at Mrs. Potter’s and later a murder occurs at the local masquerade, Austen and the smitten Mr. West work together to uncover the truth of the murder.

Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron is a delightful who-done-it mystery whose main protagonist is one of the great observers of human nature, Jane Austen. I loved that Austen used her keen observation skills to unearth the truth of the mysteries within these pages. All of the characters have their own secrets, and there is even a bit of romance for Jane herself. Highly recommend for Jane Austen readers and those who love a good mystery!

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Francine Mathews was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written twenty-five books, including five novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-Season, Death in Rough Water, Death in a Mood Indigo, Death in a Cold Hard Light, and Death on Nantucket) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the pen name, Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Pinterest, and GoodReads.

the moon won’t be dared by Anne Leigh Parrish

Source: Poet
Paperback, 150 pgs.
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the moon won’t be dared by Anne Leigh Parrish opens “among the trees” where the forest is populated by trees in competition with one another, yet united in their need of rooting. Lydia Selk’s collage imposes a woman on the forest of birches in the dense foliage, lying with arched back and eyes closed. Here she seems at peace, but as onlookers (like the statue in the foreground), she’s aware of witnesses who may judge her for her sheer presence. This unique collection is not how art informs poetry like in ekphrastic poems, but how the art of Lydia Selk accompanying these poems is informed by Parrish’s words. But that is not all that’s going on in this collection.

Parrish is a great observer of nature and the world around her, and she invokes the power of that world to demonstrate just how insignificant we can be and how natural power continues regardless of what we think or feel. Like in “storm,” the clouds are gathering and rearranging, while the narrator is talking, but her conversation does nothing but bring noise to a building storm that breaks and drifts on a rush of wind.

Some of my favorite poems in the collection are in the mid- to latter-half. From “the plains, as seen from above” where a river’s curves are compared to a woman’s hips and the changes the world and the woman have endured over time to “tutelage” where a woman looks back on all that she’s learned from her mother and other peers in her life, only to find the teachings less than adequate and that she may have more to teach them.

the moon won’t be dared by Anne Leigh Parrish, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a journey into womanhood and nature that leaves you naked in the forest, but unafraid. Readers will see how the artist Lydia Selk was inspired by Parrish’s imaginative poems that reflect on what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated society and what it means to break free and to own who you are.

***Check out my interview with Anne Leigh Parrish***

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Anne Leigh Parrish is the author of nine previously published books: A Winter Night (Unsolicited Press 2021); What Nell Dreams, a novella & stories (Unsolicited Press, 2020); Maggie’s Ruse, a novel, (Unsolicited Press, 2017); The Amendment, a novel (Unsolicited Press, 2017); Women Within, a novel (Black Rose Writing, 2017); By the Wayside, stories (Unsolicited Press, 2017); What Is Found, What Is Lost, a novel (She Writes Press, 2014); Our Love Could Light The World, stories (She Writes Press, 2013); and All The Roads That Lead From Home, stories (Press 53, 2011). Visit her website.

The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 366 pgs.
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The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi is such a fun debute novel. While it is marketed as a modern Pride & Prejudice, it really is so much more than that. The women of Bennet House at Longbourn University are like a family – EJ, Jamie, and Tessa. EJ is an ambitious Black engineering student, and Jamie, her best friend, is a transgender woman who’s studying French and theater. Tessa is a Filipina astronomy major with serious guy problems. Bennet House is full of empowerment for these women, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in need of support. EJ, in particular, is a young woman who had to give up her ballet dreams and has fallen into a career path she’s not exactly sure she wants. She’s a very serious student and a caring RA for other women in Bennet House, but she needs to let loose and find herself.

“It was a truth universally acknowledged that a black girl at a mostly white college, in an even whiter college town, must befriend someone who can do her hair.” (pg. 19)

When her friend Jamie falls for campus heartthrob and all-around good guy Lee Gregory, EJ finds herself thrown in the company of his arrogant friend, Will. Jamie is balancing her new identity with her rocky relationship with her mother since her transition and EJ is the one friend who has stood by her. Jamie has issues navigating her new life because there’s a lot of uncertainty in her relationships, but she finds that her core support is her friends at Bennet House.

EJ’s relationship with Will starts off with a bang of an insult and a horrible follow-up encounter at her favorite diner. These two seem to be like oil and water. But things take a turn they don’t expect.

This novel does not shy away from the obstacles faced by blacks in America, nor the struggles of LGBTQ people. I also loved that the author based her writing in places she clearly knows well. As a local D.C. area writer, it was great to see the city and its suburbs portrayed in a way that isn’t focused only on gun violence. EJ’s family is stable and supportive, her sister’s ambitions are realized but she never forgets where she came from, and I loved the talk EJ’s father gives Will.

Appiah-Kubi is a delightful writer who has a firm grasp of what makes any situation humorous. I loved that she took an Austen classic and made it her own. EJ is a strong character and so are her friends, and they face similar trouble that all college students do. How to find their place on campus, how to navigate their courses to plan their future careers, and even how to balance it all with jobs and love.

The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi should be on your holiday shopping list this year for the readers in your life who need a little hope, a little light, and some romance. This book was a read I couldn’t put down, and as many of you know, these last two years I’ve struggled with picking up fiction books and finishing them. I had no problem reading this book in just a few days.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Eden Appiah-Kubi fell in love with classic novels in fourth grade, when her mom read her Jane Eyre, chapter-by-chapter, as a bedtime story. She’s an alumna of a small New England university with a weird mascot (Go Jumbos!), and a former Peace Corps volunteer. Eden developed her fiction writing through years in a small Washington, DC critique group. Today she works as a Librarian and lives in the DC suburbs with her husband and hilarious daughter.

Until the Right One Comes Along by Chris Haley

Source: Poet
ebook, 90 pgs.
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Until the Right One Comes Along by Chris Haley is a highly emotional poetry collection about the search for the right partner. With moments of shallow assessment of other men, Haley’s narrator turns those observations on himself and finds his own appearance lacking. At more than one moment in the collection, the narrator considers himself unworthy of love and unattractive.

“When living is the dynamic you question daily”

“And for so many years I had thought I was not much to look at
Not much to glance Or stare at…

This is less a poetic collection and more of a memoir about the struggle of finding love in a world where instant gratification is prized over longevity and loyalty. He uses prose poems and rhyming verse, though the rhyming verse worked less well when I read it. The prose poems were the stand outs in this collection.

This is journey to find love is full of ups and downs, meeting someone who is the right fit but at the wrong time because you don’t love yourself enough. Meeting many wrong men to find that they only want a one-night stand.

Until the Right One Comes Along by Chris Haley explores the harsh realities of looking for companionship and love in today’s world as a LGBTQ+ person, which makes it doubly hard. It’s an emotional roller coaster, but ultimately, the message is you must first believe you are worthy of love in order to find it.

Rating: Tercet

Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter

Source: FSB Associates
Paperback, 352 pgs.
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Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is a book focused on not letting rejection and negative thoughts get in the way of your dreams. Carter’s book guides writers through the doubts, negative thoughts, roadblocks, and obstacles of writing and publishing, helping them review their own perspectives and how to change their mindsets.

She begins by talking about her hammock where she daydreamed and thought about her writing, but one day, her neighbor cuts the shade tree down in his yard and the hammock is now not “perfect.” Carter’s thoughts are consumed by the loss of shade and the bright sun, but her husband suggests she moves the hammock to another spot. She’s unwilling to do that, until she realizes that sometimes obstacles pop up when we need to change direction.

“I had traded the powerful peace that I am for the illusion that somebody had taken it,” she says. “You may think, as I did, that someone or something outside you is responsible for your upset. As convincing as this appears, it’s a misconception. Our peace and happiness come from within.”

Our internal demons and thoughts are those that keep us from reaching our dreams, and she urges us to stop being rats on that spinning wheel and get off. We need to release ourselves from the “cage of our own making.” In order to do this, however, you need to know wholeheartedly what you want, especially from your writing. You need to have a clear vision of the writing and its purpose. Without it, agents and external forces can push you in directions that are not a perfect fit for you. While some may provide additional opportunities that you may want to pursue, other opportunities may not be a right fit. The trick is to have a clear vision at the start to recognize those right opportunities.

“We cannot control outside circumstances or thoughts, we can choose how we relate to them.”

Carter does offer some writing advice, but her book is less about craft itself and more about the mindset you need to create freely. She does offer a great deal of insight about choosing agents and publishers and learning what route is best for your writing. Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is part spiritual journey, part publishing advice, and part writing craft advice.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Bella Mahaya Carter is a creative writing teacher, empowerment coach, speaker, and author of an award-winning memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, and a collection of narrative poems. She has worked with hundreds of writers since 2008 and has degrees in literature, film, and spiritual psychology. Her poetry, essays, fiction, and interviews have appeared in Mind, Body, Green; The Sun; Lilith; Fearless Soul; Writer’s Bone; Women Writers, Women’s Books; Chic Vegan; Bad Yogi Magazine; Jane Friedman’s blog; Pick The Brain; the Spiritual Medial Blog; Literary Mama, several anthologies’ and elsewhere.

Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss (giveaway)

Source: Graywolf Press
Paperback, 152 pgs.
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Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss is a collection that, at times, tried my patience with its contradictions. But isn’t that what life is — a bucket of contradictions? She says in one of her opening sonnets: “The problem with sweetness is death. The problem/with everything is death. There really is no other problem/” Death is a final stop, and it toys with many of us, taking our friends or family too soon, putting us in situations where death could take us but doesn’t, and it looms in the close distance for us to get there.

Seuss pulls no punches in this collection and remains forthright in her depictions of giving birth, aging, abortion, abandonment by a drug-addicted son, and so much more. Aging is a central theme, even when she speaks of her childhood self. Poetic subjects waste away with AIDS, fade into the distance of space or recollection, or remain behind the larger death that pierces the happiness or contentment she seeks. She explores the falseness of faith in Catholicism, the nationalistic scourge that America finds itself consumed by, and the undercurrent of poverty and it’s traumatic scars. She sees the “undershirt” of it all.

“We all have our trauma nadir,” is the sonnet that guts us. We are her and she us. We all have trauma; we are told to lock it away (get over it); but what place is big enough to hold all of that trauma away so that it will no longer affect us? She adds in a later sonnet, “I can’t live up to normal.” Isn’t normal a fallacy? What exactly is normal and how can you be expected to achieve it when no one knows what it is? Despite these dark topics, it is clear that to live is to live with “sharp things.” Without these traumas and disappointments, where would we be?

Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss is a winding trail of darkness that teaches readers about the beauty in that darkness. It is an exercise in owning our own disappointments and traumas and learning how to let them go and move forward with our lives. It is a tough medicine to take, but Seuss is confident that we can take it or nearly die trying.

RATING: Quatrain

To Enter the giveaway: Leave a comment with your email address by June 30. Must be age 18+ and have a U.S. postal address.

Man on Terrace with Wine by Miles David Moore

Source: GBF
Paperback, 90 pgs.
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Man on Terrace with Wine by Miles David Moore reads like the title sounds — a selection of poetic ruminations on life. But these poems are never far from humor or pop culture. Moore has several poems that will make readers stop for a moment to consider — what would it be like if Elvis were in heaven and Hitler was in hell? There are complex emotions explored and the section titles should give you some inclination of what is on the mind of the man sitting on that terrace with win — “It Serves You Right,” “There’s No Crying in Baseball,” and “To Live Completely and a Thousandfold.”

In the first section, Moore’s poems reflect on the idea of “perception,” like what we perceive to be true. A prime example of this is in “A Taste to Die For,” after a quote about Americans’ love for soda and Afghanis love for death. The poem deftly points out, “The man who took aim at you thinks he knows/the things he loves, and the things you love.//” But reading to the end of the poem, it is clear that neither side really knows or understands the other — there is a significant breakdown of communication in favor of perception. In “The Good Fight,” Moore again tackles perception in a reflective piece regarding WWII. The soldier is brave and strong, but in the present, the soldier must relearn how to lace shoes, walk with a cane, and more. “The sky is hazy above you,/a fog of dreams and memories./The decades are your backpack now./” and the soldier must not “look down” or “slip” but for a far different reason today than on the battlefield.

In the second and final section, Moore shifts away from perception into reality — the reality of hurricanes, pop culture (as real as that can be), and so much more. One of my favorite images in these sections comes from “Grandma and the Hurricane” (pg. 41), “The wind is so strong that it blows the constellations around in the sky. Never losing their shape, they are cookie cutters tumbling against each other.” But even in these reality-based poems, there is a nod to the idea of perception — like in “Tom Hanks Was Right,” where the narrator is found thinking about the past and what should have been said and then the narrator is talking to themselves in public. Haven’t we all caught ourselves doing that these COVID days?

Man on Terrace with Wine by Miles David Moore invites readers to be entertained, contemplative, and enjoy life as it comes. This collection is by turns witty and serious, but Moore continues to ask his readers to perceive reality in a way that not only brings joy but also satisfaction. Holding onto reality with a singular perspective can not only be boring, but also limiting.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Miles David Moore is a Washington reporter for Crain Communications, Inc. He is founder and host of the Iota Poetry Reading Series in Arlington, VA, a member of the Board of Directors of The Word Works, Inc., and administrator of The Word Works Washington Prize. He is the author of three books of poetry: The Bears of Paris (The Word Works Capital Collection, 1995); Buddha Isn’t Laughing (Argonne Hotel Press, 1999); and Rollercoaster (The Word Works Capital Collection, 2004). With Karren LaLonde Alenier and Hilary Tham, he co-edited Winners: A Retrospective of the Washington Prize, published in 1999 by The Word Works. Fatslug Unbound, a CD of Moore’s poetry read by himself and 14 other poets, was realeased in 2000 by Minimus Productions. His review/essays on the poet John Haines have appeared in The Wilderness of Vision (Story Line Press, 1996) and A Gradual Twilight (CavanKerry Press, 2003).

Check out his appearance with Naomi Thiers and Jane Schapiro at Gaithersburg Book Festival: