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Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hours
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Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely — narrated by Andi Arndt, Sebastian York, and many others — is an audiobook I just had to listen to after listening to the short, Lucky Suit, which involves Lulu Diamond’s best friend Cameron. Blakely’s Leo Hennessy is smokin’ hot in a suit and for some reason, Lulu is just noticing this now, at a chocolate convention, after more than 10 years of friendship and a marriage to his best friend. But Lulu is a new woman who is laser-focused on the career she’s always wanted and felt held back from, and she’s not about to let romance get in the way of that again. Leo, on the other hand, has been ripe for romance with Lulu and his opportunity is now, but will guilt hold him back?

The main narrators — Arndt and York — have a believable chemistry and I loved that this audiobook has a full cast of narrators for a lot of characters. I would love to see this as a series of romance movies with all of these characters — Hallmark would definitely have to tone down the smut though.

Leo and Lulu solving riddles together is a delight — another case of witty repartee between characters. Blakely’s dialogue is lovely, and you can see how easily these two fall back into their friendship. There’s a comfort in how well they know each other, but they also are discovering so much more.

Leo and Lulu are endearing together, and I love that they are friends who find they cannot live without each other, but will self-imposed rules get in their way? Or can they learn to reach for the golden chalice? Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely — narrated by Andi Arndt, Sebastian York, and many others — is like decadent chocolate that you can’t tear your eyes or mouth away from.

RATING: Cinquain

Phoenix: Transformation Poems by Jessica Goody

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 102 pgs.
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Phoenix: Transformation Poems by Jessica Goody offers poems of resilience and transformation, moving beyond tragedy and disappointment to a place of peace and hope. There are times when the readers is left with an ending that has no way forward, and isn’t that the way of relationships. Sometimes they just end, like in “Bitter Tea,” where a a broken relationship cannot be mended with tea.

Or in “Changeling” where it is clear a relationship has ended and while the phone is no longer ringing, the memories of laughter and intense blue eyes are still present. These are the lingering ghosts of our lives — we carry them with us as we move on. While we mourn them, we also realize that they are a part of who we are.

Goody’s poems inspired by art and paintings are vivid and conjure images in readers heads.

From “Blue Landscape” (pg. 37)

(Marc Chagall, “Couple in a Blue Landscape,” 1949)

They lie in the curve of the crescent moon,
a cosmic cradle, a gondola hovering in the sky.
He admires her lapis hair, her bare shoulders

and sodalite skin. A thousand shades of blue flicker,
rendering them luminous and ethereal as mermaids,
blue-green women with bodies as ripe as dark plums.

Her images conjure the feeling of the painting, like the brushstrokes that created it. We are inside the painting, voyeurs just at frame’s edge. While there is beauty, there is also great sadness. The poem, “Memory,” is devastatingly beautiful as a man holds the hands of a woman he loves but who no longer remembers him as her memories have faded … been stolen away. Phoenix: Transformation Poems by Jessica Goody is the embodiment of transformation — it can be beautiful, tragic, sad, and inspiring. Goody’s work is poignant and lasting.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Jessica Goody is the award-winning author of Defense Mechanisms: Poems on Life, Love, and Loss (Phosphene Publishing, 2016) and Phoenix: Transformation Poems (CW Books, 2019). Goody’s writing has appeared in over three dozen publications, including The Wallace Stevens Journal, Reader’s Digest, Event Horizon, The Seventh Wave, Third Wednesday, The MacGuffin, Harbinger Asylum and The Maine Review. Jessica is a columnist for SunSations Magazine and the winner of the 2016 Magnets and Ladders Poetry Prize. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Follow her blog tour with Poetic Book Tours.

The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 3+ hours
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The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams is a quick look at the effects of being out in nature and how it can “calm” the brain. Cognitive neuroscientist David Strayer, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Utah, found in his studies that creativity increases after three days spent in natural settings and his subjects improved in cognitive testing.

She takes several nature trips with different groups of people. The first group of veterans tackles the obstacles and hardships of nature easily, while the second group of women who have faced abuse in the past have a harder time dealing with nature’s struggles. Williams also takes a trip in Utah with her city friend, who writes about the benefits of city living.

Williams clearly sees the benefits of nature, but the 3-day effect may not have the same impact on everyone. The veterans took to the hikes and time in nature as a way to get some peace from the PTSD they normally experience at home with their friends, family, and others. The second group of women needed a bit of modification to see the benefits of nature, as they lived in fear for many years, reinforcing those fears in the elements was not the best option. One women who had been homeless and lived outside expressed serious concerns about camping outside where wild animals would be. Williams’ friend struggled with some of the hiking and was less than convinced that the effort to reach summits was worth it.

The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams offers some scientific data and testing, but I wouldn’t call this a scientific study as there are no control groups for comparison and many of the data sets are too small. I also wouldn’t recommend this to people who are likely to take these anecdotal experiences and drop their medications and treatments on a whim without medical advice from a professional. I did find the book interesting to listen to and see how people reacted on the hiking trail and sleeping in nature, as well as how they felt afterward and what effects the stint in nature had on their productivity and real life.

RATING: Tercet

Nanopedia by Charles Jensen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 73 pgs.
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Nanopedia by Charles Jensen is the poetry collection you’ve been waiting for all year — or at least I have. Jensen takes a keen look at the America we live in today and examines its past through a different lens. He picks apart the facade of American life, whether as a gay man looking for love in all the wrong places or the search for identity and place in a social structure that demeans us, as it does with millennials. All of these prose poems taken together demonstrate the fractured nature of American society. Beneath the surface of American bravery and diversity are the fissures brought bigotry, classism, and self-hatred.

“Modern Art” (pg. 19)

Absence is a bomb that detonates inward.

Jensen’s lines and his sort poems are like an explosion that obliterates broad perceptions of America. Americans who search for validation in the acquisition of things, Americans who dislike babies but cannot say so, and so many more will be found in this collection. The poems ask for self-reflection and provide it whether the reader is willing to participate or not. The collection is more than short reference entries about American present and past. It’s a mirror of our foibles and hardships — a reflection of things we want to change but are ultimately so hard to change, making it a doubly frustrating and perhaps unattainable.

A powerful collection in which politics and the political landscape are hovering in the background but never quite rise to the surface of these lives, but it is there, waiting to insert itself in every conversation, every look, every moment to muddy the waters even further.

Nanopedia by Charles Jensen uses prose poems to examine the American life whether at a distance or in its most intimate setting between two lovers. His poems reach into the darkness to reveal a tragic comedy of errors, an American history that continues to write and rewrite itself.

RATING: Cinquain

An Everyday Thing by Nancy Richardson

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 57 pgs.
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An Everyday Thing by Nancy Richardson explores what happens in the every day when there is an intersection of politics and society. Many of these based in Ohio or Kent State examine the unimaginable — what happens when guns go off and students are shot or what happens when feelings unexpectedly change and so much more. Richardson’s collection juxtaposes the unthinkable with the idea that it is just an every day thing. It can happen at any time.

The collection’s cover offers the chaotic mess of these events coupled with the symmetry of a square (the intersection) with a focal point in red (is this the blood spilled? or the harm left behind?). Richardson’s verse is peppered with lyrics and notes from trials, and so much more. Providing readers with a lot of food for thought. She explores the nature of Ohio and politics, socioeconomic issues that still create tense relationships, exposing emotional vulnerability. So many links in the chains of these poems. “The words were linked//like small blue train cars, silent, unmoving on their tracks./That’s the trouble with scripts, words chained to one another.//” (from “Transaction” p. 25)

An Everyday Thing by Nancy Richardson is a collection chock full of connections that are begging to be explored. By turns a dark look at the underbelly of America’s history and looks at hopeful moments, Richardson explores blue collar worlds, deep relationships, sadness, and hope that things can change for the better.

RATING: Cinquain

For more opinions, check out the Poetic Book Tours blog tour for the book.

A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hrs.
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A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain, narrated by Hillary Huber, is a short introduction to Marie Skłodowska, who later marries Pierre Curie, and becomes one of the most famous physicists and chemists of our time. McLain introduces us to a young Marie, who has made it to France to study at the Sorbonne — one of the only women in the sciences. She faces a great deal of criticism from male students who feel she does not belong there, but she also finds that there are those who are willing to help her and believe in her education and work.

This story is relatively short, but it provides a sketch of Curie’s determination and persistence, but also how dealing with prejudice on a daily basis can skew our perceptions of other people’s intentions, particularly those people who actually support us. McLain delves lightly into the subject of overcoming these internal biases to see the good in front of us.

The narration was good, though I felt there was little emotion in the narration. Perhaps due to Curie’s character and her scientific manner, but I would have liked a bit more emotion.

A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain should be its own novel. Curie is a fascinating woman of science who had to overcome a lot and who suffered a great deal for her discoveries. My one complaint is that it should have been a full-length novel.

Rating: Quatrain

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 2+ hrs.
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Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Zachary Webber and Andi Arndt, is a quick listen high on humor and romance. Think Hallmark movie with witty dialogue and flirting. Kristen Leonard has had it with blind dates and looking for love in all the wrong places, but her gramma won’t hear it. She thinks there’s a guy out there for her scientific wiz grandkid and she won’t stop until he’s found. There’s just one kink in the chain, Kristen has decided to place her fate in the hands of internet algorithms and data.

Cameron whisks into town to his uncle’s car auction to visit while in Miami on business. Little does he know that a hot little lady is interested in him and the cars — the cars for herself and him for her granddaughter.

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Zachary Webber and Andi Arndt, is a hot little read with playful dialogue, flirtation, and a lightheartedness I needed.  It had me smiling every time Kristen and Cameron were chatting away.  Her grandmother is a fiery one too, and there is no end to the witticisms involving science. Looking for a fun read to relax with, this is for you. I was smitten with these characters and I might just check out Blakely’s longer works when I need another pick-me-up.

RATING: Cinquain

Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hours
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Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal is another Audible original that will delight listeners. The comedy begins at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but the subject is at once unexpected and humorous. With Kevin Cline, Annette Benning, and so many others (including a star from Moana), the anonymous and unexpected nature of death is explored through humor and ridiculous situations in the public eye, as President David Murray appears to be losing his mind as he talks to himself in grocery stores, etc. Even as his conversations appear one-sided, he actually spends a great deal of time speaking to the anonymous grim reaper (Billy Crystal) and coaching him on how to be a good angel of death.

Even though there are twists in the story, which I found a bit predictable, I laughed a number of times while listening to this comedic story. It’s a tale of humor, but also demonstrates how we never know when death comes for us and we should live our lives with purpose and be sure things are in order before the angel of death does come. There are no second chances or do-overs for most of us.

Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal was a delightful surprise. With the award winning cast, it should not have been. Aesop in comedic form.

RATING: Quatrain

Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hours
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Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is an Audible original that mixes  Smith’s memoirs, poetry, and music into one live performance. In spoken-word style and deadpan tone, Smith takes listeners on a journey into her creative life where they will meet Robert Mapplethorpe, Allen Ginsberg, and so many others. She talks about her early nomad days in New York and the freedom it afforded her, but also the deep hunger for food she couldn’t afford. Working to feed her belly became an early goal.

Her children, Jackson and Jesse Paris Smith, accompany her performance as well, making this a delightful family affair. Even though I’ve read her memoirs, I really loved hearing them spoken aloud in her own words and accompanied by her music. It creates an intimate portrait of the singer and writer. Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is a great addition to her memoirs on the shelf and the music in your ears.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred debut albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Eraser by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Source: Purchased
ebook, 21 pgs.
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Eraser by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant, is a delightful children’s book exploring the nature of not only creativity but also team work. Kang’s character, the eraser, finds that all of her friends — pencil, crayon, etc. — get all of the praise for their creative and productive work. Only Ruler and Pencil Sharpener seem to appreciate her friendship and hard work. She’s bummed that she’s not as creative as the rest of the school supplies. She decides to leave and most everyone isn’t sad to see her go.

While she’s gone, the pencil and others soon realize that eraser enabled them to have a second chance when they made mistakes. Second chances are important in life, and she was a big part of their team.

Kang’s story is filled with not only puns and humor, but life lessons for parents and kids alike. We all have our own talents and we must learn to embrace them and the roles we can play in our own lives, especially as part of a team. Eraser by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant, should be part of every kid’s home library.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Authors:

Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant are the creators of Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small and its follow-ups, That’s (Not) Mine and I Am (Not) Scared, as well as Can I Tell You a Secret? and Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? Christopher’s work can be seen regularly in The New Yorker, and his cartoons are syndicated worldwide. As an author, Anna routinely goes through first, second, and third drafts; Chris wears down many erasers while making his art. This husband-and-wife team lives in New Jersey with their two daughters and their rescue dog. Visit Anna and Christopher at www.annakang.com and www.christopherweyant.com.

Just Universes by Diana Smith Bolton

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 32 pgs.
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Just Universes by Diana Smith Bolton, which won the 2016 Mid-Atlantic Chapbook Series from L+S Press, is an exploration of the universes we immerse ourselves in as children, the moments in time that etch themselves on our psyches, and so much more. It is a collection that speaks to the immensity of moments in our lives and the connections we feel and lose, but also the longing we have for moments that have passed long ago. “How to get back to you, Barcelona,/to nineteen years old, to fervent and pious trust/” the narrator laments in “To Barcelona”.

Time can pass quickly in some of these poems, like in “Mrs. Stockwell” where as a girl she watched the antics of boys dismissively only later to become a first grade teacher. Her universe became that school yard she remembered as a girl, and she lives her life there.

Bolton encapsulates moments in her poem that are chock full of emotion and wonder, as if she is gazing at the vast, starry sky trying to puzzle out the constellations. Just Universes by Diana Smith Bolton is a powerful chapbook collection. Don’t miss it.

RATING: Cinquain

For Every One by Jason Reynolds

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 112 pgs.
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For Every One by Jason Reynolds is a poetic letter to dreamers, those who find themselves longing for something outside of their current lives — whether a poet looking to write poems or an artist looking to paint a masterpiece. These dreams may or may not come true in two years, thirty years, or at the end of their lives, but the point is that they continue dreaming and moving toward that dream.

All of us out here,
slumped over wearing
weird fake
broken smiles,
trying to avoid the truth:
that we all got road rage.

Although there is no sage advice from Reynolds about how to make that dream come true, he does offer a sense of camaraderie with the dreamers. He’s here in the trenches with you. He understands your passions and your need to achieve that impossible-possible dream, and he knows your heartbreak. For Every One by Jason Reynolds is a realistic pep talk for those frustrated with their own lack of progress toward their dreams, even if those dreams are simple ones like having a spouse and children. Just remember that you need to take that leap!

RATING: Quatrain