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The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 199 pgs.
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The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace is a debut collection from another Instagram poet, but unlike the poems of Rupi Kaur, Lovelace’s poetry is more like the diary entries of a teenager or merely the instant reactions and out bursts of a teen who has access to social media.

This is not to say that her poems do not seek to empower young women with self-esteem issues or those who have been abused and are feeling emotionally drained. They do those things in a simple way, but the lines of verse lack the imagery and substance of Kaur’s poems. Even so, this collection does have some poems that will have readers staring in awe at the “drop the mic” moment.

sticks & stones
never broke
                 my bones,
but words
made me
starve myself
until
                 you could
                 see all of them.
-skin & bone.
i was the one thing
he had to deny-
the beautiful truth
within his
terrible lie.

-who knew such a young heart could shatter?
when your mother
begins to forget
your name,
you begin
to wonder
if you exist
at all.

-stage 4, terminal

On the other hand, taken as a whole, Lovelace is telling a story and it happens to be in a form that straddles verse and prose in a way that captures the readers attention. The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace is a product of today’s social media 24/7 world. Whether or not it is your cup of tea, it is good to see that poetry is gaining attention.

RATING: Couplet

About the Poet:

growing up a word-devourer & avid fairy tale lover, it was only natural that amanda lovelace began writing books of her own, & so she did. when she isn’t reading or writing, she can be found waiting for pumpkin spice coffee to come back into season & binge-watching gilmore girls. (before you ask: team jess all the way). the lifelong poetess & storyteller currently lives in new jersey with her fiancé, their moody cat, & a combined book collection so large it will soon need its own home. she has her B.A. in english literature with a minor in sociology. the princess saves herself in this one is her debut poetry collection & the first book in the women are some kind of magic series. the second book in the series, the witch doesn’t burn in this one, will be published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 102 pgs.
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On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock is a collection of poems broken up into sections named for the planets and the sun in the solar system. Blending scientific fact about the planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto — and the Sun, and grounding it into a more personal experience is a balancing act that Chertock does well. But her poems also have a child-like wonder and humor to them that many can appreciate, especially as she tackles some tough issues.

From "70 Million Years Ago" (pg. 10)

The Milky Way spat out 
the Smith Cloud
from its edges,
a brussel sprout it couldn't swallow.

Now that unwanted green
is on its way back, a giant fart
of gas hurtling towards the galaxy.
From "Find Us" (pg. 19)

When they find us
we'll be long dead.
When they find us,
the chosen or rich frozen,
faces intact,
they'll wonder why
we're a people that don't move.

From those who were split from families by an invisible demarcation line after war in “An invisible middle” to a struggle with prematurely decaying bones in “Short curve II” and others, Chertock inserts wry humor to ease the hurt. In “On that one-way trip to Mars,” the narrator speculates about how to apply to become an astronaut and turn her disability of decaying bones into an asset:

"Don't worry
about my bone deterioration rate,
I had arthritis at 13. Walked like an old lady
at 20. It'd be nice to float
and give my bones a break." (pg. 42)

On That One-Way Trip to Mars by Marlena Chertock begs readers to look beyond the visible to see the potential inside. Remove the bias that comes with the outer surface of someone and rely instead on the inner strength and power of the person. Chertock’s poems explore both inner and outer space; take a trip on this rocket — you won’t be disappointed.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. She regularly moderates or speaks on panels at literary conferences and festivals, serves as a judge or reviewer of creative work for contests, and reads her own work at open mics and reading series. Find her on Twitter and on Instagram.

A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider

Source: Purchased (Rattle subscription, bonus)
Paperback, 31 pgs.
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A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider won the Rattle Chapbook Prize in 2017 and provides a glimpse into the nation’s struggle with immigration and insight into the working class for those who are unfamiliar. Schneider’s poems are beautiful in their simplicity. The chapbook opens with “Hot Iron,” and explores the residual effects of emotional and physical abuse. Even the most mundane and routine actions of people, like turning on the flat iron to straighten one’s hair, can be a symptom of something deeper.

From "41st Birthday" (pg. 24-5)

A mile later I hit a train.
The long arms descend
like at a border crossing
with dramatic clanging and the hysteria
of the lights.
I move up, nose in real
close
and I just can't help
but be afraid sometimes

Many of his poems are this way, little stories from the lives of two people spending time together, supporting each other, and more in a way that reflects larger issues of immigration and abuse. There is beauty in the little moments of watching hummingbirds reach a feeder or the last living tree of a certain species. In “Chasing the Green Card,” Schneider explores the raw emotion of a man and his wife who love one another and must face government scrutiny in their immigration hearings with little guarantee of a solid decision.

A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider tackles some raw subjects and emotions. It’s a solid chapbook that explores a part of America that is solidly in the news and looks at the human side of the debate. Readers will connect with the plight of this tax cab driver and his wife, but they also will see the beauty in their struggle.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Mather Schneider is cab driver who writes poems. For many years, he and his wife would get up together and drive in to work, and he got a few good poems out of those commutes. He writes poetry and prose.

Point Blank by Alan King

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 104 pgs.
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Point Blank by Alan King, who read at the second DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading and Open Mic, opens with the poem “Hulk,” and there are a number of references to the comic book universe. In “Hulk,” the narrator believes he’s like everyone else able to walk where he wants and do what he likes as any other teenager, but given the hour and his skin color, reality begins to seep in, shattering the illusion like the hulk stomping through the city on a rampage.

King’s poems are like this — musical, dreamlike, and nostalgic — only to be abruptly shattered or altered by forces beyond the narrator’s control. Isn’t this the essence of life? It sometimes upends us without our consent.

With “point blank” precision, King tackles issues of race, poverty, stereotyping, and uncontrolled anger. His poems often begin with stereotypes of race and as the poem unfolds, he teaches his readers to see how ridiculous those generalizations can be. In “Swarm,” he asks, “That’s when I wonder/if Insecurity’s the biggest instigator./The one constantly egging you on/to prove yourself./”

King’s poems speak with frankness about living in America, a nation that pretends to be equal in so many ways, a nation that is still younger than it thinks it is, and a nation rebelling against the world even now. The beauty of these poems is that frankness and how he mixes it like a song with rhythm and firecracker lines like “to scorch my boss/with her fire-bottle words/” and “my veins and arteries are the blood’s highways/and interstates, that too much of what I love/will slow traffic like an accident.”

“Booth Seat” is one of the most moving poems in this collection in which Death is racing around the city seeking out and getting his prey. Understanding the murder rates here in the D.C. area, this poems strikes very close to home. It reminds us that life is fleeting, and that even the most anonymous of us is at risk. Point Blank by Alan King is a stunner, and you’ll never forget it.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Alan King is an author, poet, journalist and videographer, who lives with his wife and daughter 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.

As a staff writer for the Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper, King often out-scooped the Baltimore Sun when covering housing and the Baltimore City Council. His three-part series on East Baltimore’s redevelopment and the displaced residents brought together stakeholders (community leaders, elected officials and developers) to work out a plan that gave vulnerable residents a role in helping to build up the city’s blighted neighborhoods.

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. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Crumb-Sized: Poems by Marlena Chertock

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Crumb-Sized: Poems by Marlena Chertock, who read at the Fourth DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, is a short and powerful collection about body image, space, and pain, but it is also a collection of exploration. She explores the strength within herself to do more and cope with more, to “push” through the pain in physical therapy, and to stand tall among those in the forest who are “healthier.”

One of my favorite poems is “I am rotting log of wood,” in which the tree is rotting and seemingly weaker compared to the others in the forest, but the tree realizes she can breathe her own oxygen and feel the sunlight on her leaves — finding strength inside.

Through her descriptions, readers are plunged knee deep in the narrator’s pain. In “Rikkud,” the narrator’s health condition renders her on the sidelines of a dance while those her age continue to party. She says, “my hips and knees are kindling/and I can’t give them more air/or my bones become crisps –” Many of her poems explore debilitating pain and the absurdity of telling a narrator to push through chronic pain, Chertock forces the reader to not only empathize but to be in those moments and live them.

The poems are not all dark and many of them churn on a word or phrase in a poem. In “Application to NASA,” she explores how strong the narrator is despite being below the standards the space agency seeks in potential candidates. Chertock turns the negative into positive, takes a leap of faith into the unknown and creates her own nebulous reality where anything is possible.

Crumb-Sized: Poems by Marlena Chertock is the perfect combination of science and poetry. These poems are Earth-bound until they are launched into outer space to explore life beyond the pain.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. She regularly moderates or speaks on panels at literary conferences and festivals, serves as a judge or reviewer of creative work for contests, and reads her own work at open mics and reading series. Find her on Twitter and on Instagram.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 248 pgs.
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The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur is an equally strong collection of poems in the same confessional style. Dealing with similar issues of love, loss, abuse, and more, Kaur is still graphic in her poems. I would consider this also for a more mature audience, but here Kaur is more like a mother offering advice to the flowers springing in the garden. She’s looking to help others bloom in their own sun. To have the best life they can.

this is the recipe for life
said my mother
as she held me in her arms as i wept
think of those flowers you plant
in the garden each year
they will teach you
that people too
must wilt
fall
root
rise
in order to bloom
      --back cover

In “home,” which is one of my favorites from this collection, speaks of home in a metaphorical sense but also in a physical sense. The narrator looks back on a rape incident in which a sense of unspoken trust is broken. Blind trust can be foolhardy, but should we shut ourselves off completely from connections with others? Kaur says, “No.” Her narrator says it is time to reclaim our homes. Reclaim our bodies and ourselves. Is a home a physical place like the body or a house? Or is it more than that? Sometimes, we just need to freshen it up or redecorate.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur is path toward rebuilding. Rising up from the ashes to create a home that is no longer crumbling and making sure that the garden grows brighter each spring. There are walls that need to be broken down and rooms that need to be rebuilt.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

rupi kaur is a #1 new york times bestselling author and illustrator of two collections of poetry. she started drawing at the age of five when her mother handed her a paintbrush and said—draw your heart out. rupi views her life as an exploration of that artistic journey. after completing her degree in rhetoric studies she published her first collection of poems milk and honey in 2014. the internationally acclaimed collection sold well over a million copies gracing the new york times bestsellers list every week for over a year. it has since been translated into over thirty languages. her long-awaited second collection ‘the sun and her flowers’ was published in 2017. through this collection she continues to explore a variety of themes ranging from love. loss. trauma. healing. femininity. migration. ‘revolution.

rupi has performed her poetry across the world. her photography and art direction are warmly embraced and she hopes to continue this expression for years to come. Follow her on Instagram.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 204 pgs.
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I heard a great deal about Rupi Kaur and her InstaPoet fame before I picked up a book, and much of the criticism runs the gamut about how her poems lack substance without her illustrations or that her poems are really just motivational comments, etc. I’ve also heard that her poems are overlooked merely because they were written and shared on social media.

Much of this talk had me put off my reading of her books and even buying her books because I didn’t want my experience colored by the words and perspectives of others. National Poetry Month has begun and it is time to share poetry, and poetry has no boundaries.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur reminds me of a modern confessional poetry in which Kaur reveals her darkest secrets and her pain. This collection is raw and wears its emotions on its sleeves, though I would say it is for more mature audiences. She discusses rape, abuse, and the emotional harm that rocks her to the core. Like many abused women, the poet’s narrator internalizes the shame and the hatred, creating a cycle of self-hatred. In many ways, these poems are like diary entries enabling the narrator to work out the tumult of her feelings.

the next time he
points out the
hair on your legs is
growing back remind
that boy your body
is not his home
he is a guest
warn him to
never overstep
his welcome
again
   - pg. 165

Other poems read more like motherly advice that either the narrator was given or learned and is ready to pass onto others to help them avoid the abuse or to get through the darkest moments. Kaur also has poems that speak to the abuses and harm that others may have endured. These poems vacillate from self-hate to regret at the loss of the abuser to taunting anger at the abusers actions.

There were moments when the smaller poems felt unfinished and just part of a larger whole, but Kaur has created a living poem with each new small poem. It is a greater story of humanity, loving oneself, and moving past the hurt of the past. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur is not for everyone, but it is a brave collection of poems calling for self-love, equality, and a better life for all of us.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

rupi kaur is a #1 new york times bestselling author and illustrator of two collections of poetry. she started drawing at the age of five when her mother handed her a paintbrush and said—draw your heart out. rupi views her life as an exploration of that artistic journey. after completing her degree in rhetoric studies she published her first collection of poems milk and honey in 2014. the internationally acclaimed collection sold well over a million copies gracing the new york times bestsellers list every week for over a year. it has since been translated into over thirty languages. her long-awaited second collection ‘the sun and her flowers’ was published in 2017. through this collection she continues to explore a variety of themes ranging from love. loss. trauma. healing. femininity. migration. ‘revolution.

rupi has performed her poetry across the world. her photography and art direction are warmly embraced and she hopes to continue this expression for years to come. Follow her on Instagram.

Blossom the Flower Girl Fairy by Daisy Meadows

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 176 pgs.
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Blossom the Flower Girl Fairy by Daisy Meadows is a chapter book for readers who are in grades two through five. My daughter is a pretty advanced reader but she still loves pictures, so this is a little tough for her to stay focused through, which is why we chose it as our nightly bedtime read-together book. Blossom has a very important job in fairy land. She has to keep the royal wedding on track and when things go awry in fairyland, they go wrong in the real world too. Kirsty and Rachel find this out first hand when Rachel’s Aunt Angela asks them for help with the flower girls and the wedding flowers.

We had a fun time reading this book together, and she was so caught up in tricking Jack Frost’s goblins into returning stolen wedding items. We ended up reading more than one chapter per night of this one.  She couldn’t wait to see what happened and if the fairytale endings for both weddings happened.

Blossom the Flower Girl Fairy by Daisy Meadows enables kids to see how to solve problems in real life, though the girls do ask for some fairy dust to help on occasion. These girls are crafty and get the job done, even when it looks like all is lost.

About the Book:

Here comes the bride!

Rachel’s Aunt Angela is a talented wedding planner. She’s organizing the biggest wedding Tippington has ever seen — and she needs Rachel and Kirsty’s help!

Rachel and Kirsty are put in charge of the bride’s flower girls. But when Jack Frost’s goblins show up uninvited, the wedding is in trouble. Luckily for everyone, Blossom the Flower Girl Fairy has a very special kind of magic — and she’s determined to make sure this wedding goes off without a hitch!

Find the magic objects in all three stories inside this Rainbow Magic Special Edition and help save the wedding magic!

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Daisy Meadows is the pseudonym used for the four writers of the Rainbow Magic children’s series: Narinder Dhami, Sue Bentley, Linda Chapman, and Sue Mongredien. Rainbow Magic features differing groups of fairies as main characters, including the Jewel fairies, Weather fairies, Pet fairies, Petal fairies, and Sporty fairies.

Dead Men Can’t Complain and Other Stories by Peter Clines (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 4+ hours
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Dead Men Can’t Complain and Other Stories by Peter Clines, narrated by Ralph Lister and Ray Porter, thrusts listeners into a surreal world in which lizard men are interrogated by police and travel through time and in which zombies seek full human rights even though they are dead and could possibly begin eating living human beings.

Clines’ stories are highly imaginative and often rely on tropes from science fiction, but he twists them into his own inventions that leave readers considering ethical issues and more. Science fiction fans will enjoy this set of stories, but so too will those who can suspend their disbelief and have never read a “space” novel. He twists the tales of Jacob Marley and Superman to make them his own, and these stories are highly entertaining and clever.

Generally, short story collections are books that readers dip in and out of, but in the case of Clines’ book, readers will be hooked and keep reading until they’ve finished. Each story is unique and the characters are dynamic and fleshed out, but the stories are complete and do not leave readers hanging or wanting a resolution that doesn’t come. These stories encapsulate these worlds neatly and completely.

Dead Men Can’t Complain and Other Stories by Peter Clines, narrated by Ralph Lister and Ray Porter, is delightful, disturbing, and fun. Readers will be hooked and may even explore other “sci-fi” or apocalyptic books about zombies or aliens or superheroes.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Peter Clines grew up in the Stephen King fallout zone of Maine and–inspired by comic books, Star Wars, and Saturday morning cartoons–started writing at the age of eight with his first epic novel, LIZARD MEN FROM THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.

Pancakes & Pandemonium by Janel Gradowski

Source: purchased
eBook, 199 pgs.
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Pancakes & Pandemonium (book 6) by Janel Gradowski not only has Amy right in the middle of another mystery, but also a personal puzzle she needs to uncover when her alcoholic mother comes to town for a visit. Her husband Alex’s heart is in the right place when he extends the invitation to her mother to visit, hoping that his wife can repair her relationship with her mother, but Amy is none too pleased, though she forgive him easily.

“‘That’s a good way to put it … on hold. Please stay on the line and be patient as Kellerton puts itself back together again.'”

Gradowski’s series of cozy culinary mysteries are always filled with delightful characters, relationship tension, and murder. Amy is plucky, inventive, and creative in the kitchen and with theories about who the murderer may be. But she can even recognize her own wild theories for what they are. As a close member of the tight-knit Kellerton community, she’s able to get to the bottom of people’s motives and help those who need it along the way.

Not only is this mystery ripe with familial tension, it also demonstrates how one small town can come together despite the devastation of a freak storm that leaves them without gas and electricity for nearly a week. Amy and her friends put their culinary skills to the test to feed the town and wiggle information out of them to solve a murder.

Pancakes & Pandemonium (book 6) by Janel Gradowski is another delightful installment, with some rockin’ recipes that you’ve just got to sample.  Pick up this read with a favorite cappuccino or herbal tea.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski lives in a land that looks like a cold weather fashion accessory, the mitten-shaped state of Michigan. She is a wife and mom to two kids and one Golden Retriever. Her journey to becoming an author is littered with odd jobs like renting apartments to college students and programming commercials for an AM radio station. Somewhere along the way she also became a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking recipes found in her formidable cookbook and culinary fiction collection. Searching for unique treasures at art fairs, flea markets and thrift stores is also a favorite pastime. Coffee is an essential part of her life.

Other Reviews:

Owl Diaries: The Wildwood Bakery (Book 7) by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: The Wildwood Bakery by Rebecca Elliott is the seventh book in this series with Eva Wingdale and her elementary school friends. In this book, Eva and her pals are going to help raise money for their friend Mia’s sister, who needs a special chair to help her fly. Not only does this book help children realize that people who are disabled are just like us with the same interests, but it also inspires them to creatively find ways to help their friend.

However, as kids are eagerly crafting ideas to help Mia’s sister, they soon make their plans competitive, eager to see which team will raise the most money and win. Losing sight of the purpose, Eva and her friends must find a way to work together to achieve their goals. Elliott’s characters mirror their human child counterparts — male and female — and they act as elementary kids would.  They are full of ideas and creativity, but they are also eager to show their teacher and others who is the best.

Owl Diaries: The Wildwood Bakery by Rebecca Elliott is another wonderful book in the series that makes learning fun. The questions in the back are an added touch that teachers and parents can use to discuss the reading and get kids to think more broadly about their own school experiences.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the United Kingdom with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

Owl Diaries: Baxter Is Missing (Book 6) by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Baxter is Missing (Book 6) by Rebecca Elliott has Eva looking for her missing pet bat, Baxter. Eva is a very busy and social owl, but Baxter is her best friend and when he goes missing, Eva can’t help but blame herself, blame squirrels, and more. Her anxiety about not finding Baxter is fresh and keeps young kids concerned throughout the whole book.

Kids will learn how to deal with anxiety constructively in this book, as Eva gathers her friends and classmates around to search for Baxter. Even though no one has seen Baxter, they’re eager to help.

Owl Diaries: Baxter is Missing (Book 6) by Rebecca Elliott is another delightful installment that helps kids navigate overwhelming feelings and loss without too much drama. Eva is an owl who looks to solve her own problems the best she can, but can accept help when she needs it. This is an important lesson for growing kids.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the United Kingdom with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.