Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto

“Eggs and engagements.  Though slightly odd, they were a harmless pairing on most days, even with a greasy pile of bacon on the side.  But today was not like most days, because in less than an hour, they would make Shelley Gallus a twenty-six-year-old widow” (page 3 of ARC)

Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto is a debut novel that seemingly asks readers to suspend disbelief as Shelley Gallus discovers that her deceased husband, Max, may not have died three years ago and that he may in fact not ever age.  Oh, and he has a grandson, Paolo, from Italy who is now about 30 years old.  However, Sotto weaves her story with such beautiful prose that readers are immediately captivated and drawn into Shelley’s grief and her shock.  There is no conscious need to suspend disbelief, and readers will not even notice that they are doing it.

“Shelley’s ability to go through the motions wasn’t surprising considering that she had been schooled by the best. Her mom had never quite gotten over the death of her own husband, and Shelley grew up watching her paint on the brightest smile with a berry shade of Revlon lipstick. There had been days when her happiness had seemed so real, so genuine, that Shelley had almost believed it.” (Page 7 of ARC)

Death can leave a terrible emptiness in someone, especially when the person who dies is so ingrained and integral to their lives.  Sotto’s novel is more than a look a grief or the secrets spouses keep from one another; it is a journey through history that takes Shelley and Paolo through several countries and sheds light on Max’s past.  The narration shifts from present to immediate past (about five years ago when Max and Shelley first meet) to the distant past as Max recounts history in France, Austria, Slovenia, and other places.

In a way, Sotto’s prose is like traveling back in time, and while the main characters of Shelley, Max, and Paolo do not figure in those historical tales, readers never forget them or get confused.  The transitions between each time frame are seamless and almost fairytale like.  Shelley blossoms in this story from a young woman running away from the death of her parents (one literal and one figurative) only to assume a lifeless existence in London in advertising.  Her one shining moment is taking a trip through Europe on a whim — where of course she meets Max who teachers her to overcome her fears and take a leap of faith.

Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto bends time, and readers will stand on the precipice of each tale holding their breath as more of Max is revealed.  Tortured souls, romance, travel, mystery, and more are wrapped in between these pages.  Sotto has a good grasp of time and its hold on us, how we think about the past, hover over it with a magnifying glass, and torture ourselves with our longings and past errors.  A strong debut from a compelling mind that captures readers’ imaginations from page one.  A treasure to unearth in the waning days of summer that very well could be one of the best reads of the year.

About the Author:

SAMANTHA SOTTO fell in love with Europe’s cobbled streets and damp castles when she moved to the Netherlands as a teenager. Since then, she has spent nights huddled next to her backpack on a beach in Greece, honeymooned in Paris, and attended business meetings in Dusseldorf in the pleasant company of a corporate credit card. Before Ever After was inspired by her experiences living, studying, and traveling in Europe. Samantha lives in the Philippines with her family. This is her first novel.

For more info on Samantha and Before Ever After, check out her website, her blog, her Facebook page, and Twitter.


For the other stops on the blog tour, check out the TLC Book Tours site.



This is my 44th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Ideal Cities by Erika Meitner

Ideal Cities by Erika Meitner, whom I interviewed in 2009, was published in 2010 by Harper Perennial as part of the National Poetry Series selected by Paul Guest. The collection is broken down into two sections: Rental Towns and Ideal Cities.  Rental towns appears to be at first glance about the transient nature of apartment or rental living, but on a deeper level its about the transient nature of our lives and how quickly we all want to grow up and become adults.  There zipping through memories and moments reminds us that our childhood moves too quickly and so innocence is gone before we realize it.  “The windows on the soon-to-be luxury/condos across the way say things/to the darkness I can’t hear.  Sometimes/they’re blocked by the train masticating/its way across town.  Now and then//” (from Vinyl-Sided Epiphany, page 5-6)

Each poem is ripe with stunning imagery, like in “January Towns” (page 38-9),  “. . . Sometimes the light/above the clouds winks out a full-size replica/of our lives.  We are crystals of frozen water;//”  Not only is life transient in nature as we move from one moment to the next, but it is also frozen in time for us to review at anytime in our memories.  A bit of us, as we were is frozen, captured.  We seek to capture those moments not only in our minds, but in photos and videos, and in some moments we see ourselves in the past and wonder who those people are.  From “Poem With/out a Face” (page 16-7), “Desire is serendipity,/is pity, is blind,is danger,is not/obligation, is poking the most/alien thing with a stick to see/if it stirs and clings, the way/”  Some memories are clearer than others, which is true even of those moments in our lives that we thought we’d remember forever through a clear, clean lens, only to find the lens is murky and obscured.

In the second section, “Ideal Cities,” Meitner’s poems are not about a utopia in the true sense of the word, like a world without crime, etc., but they are about the communities that reside in each city, with their diversity, quirkiness, and pain.  There are a great deal of images in these poems that pay homage to the sounds of cities, from construction equipment to the silence of social networking.  This section is smaller than the first, but tackles tougher subjects like the Holocaust, though both sections glance at pregnancy and birth.  From “Elegy With Construction Sounds, Water, Fish” (page 75-7), “There is music, and there is music./There is water from a plastic pitcher/hitting slate pavers, silenced by skin./There are valleys with houses tucked/into them and something trilling/”  From birth to death and city to the suburbs, Meitner’s focus is on the journey that life takes, even its most devastating parts.

Meitner’s poetry has a quickness that illustrates the transient nature of the modern world, and her poems beg the question of whether modernity is ideal or whether suburbia is ideal.  Readers will examine each of these poems and discover that the answer to that question lies within themselves.  The poet endorses neither one nor the other, but she does examine the old world versus the new world.  Ideal Cities by Erika Meitner is an enigmatic collection with moments on clarity and stunning imagery that highlights the transient nature of the modern world whether you live in the city or in suburbia.

Also check out the poem from this collection that was under discussion in the 109th Virtual Poetry Circle.

© Photo by Steve Trost, 2009

About the Poet:

Erika Meitner was born and raised in Queens and Long Island, New York. She attended Dartmouth College (for an A.B. in Creative Writing in 1996), Hebrew University on a Reynolds Scholarship, and the University of Virginia, where she received her M.F.A. in 2001 as a Henry Hoyns Fellow. Meitner is a first-generation American: her father is from Haifa, Israel; her mother was born in Stuttgart, Germany, which is where her maternal grandparents settled after surviving Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, and Mauthausen concentration camps

She is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she teaches in the MFA program, and is also simultaneously completing her doctorate in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, where she was the Morgenstern Fellow in Jewish Studies.


This is my 21st book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


This is my 43rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Review of Quirk’s The Baby Owner’s Books

Normally, I don’t review three books in one post, but I’m making an exception for this set of baby-related books.  When the publicist at Quirk found out my husband and I were having our first child, they kindly sent us some reference guides on caring for her.

The Baby Owner’s Manual by Louis Borgenicht, MD, and Joe Borgenicht, D.A.D., can be used as a reference guide by all new parents and probably some who already have children.  The main approach of the book is similar to how a manual would talk about your new stereo or other consumer product by first describing its parts and functions and then discussing care and maintenance.  There are tips on how to perfectly swaddle the baby and how to deal with emergency situations.  Included also is a section on what accessories are not included, such as bottles and diapers, and a caution that some “models” may vary.  New parents don’t have a ton of time to read this book cover-to-cover, but it is easily dipped into for advice, particularly if they encounter a particular problem at feeding or bed time.

Readers will enjoy the instructional tone, but also the witty nature of the concept of baby as product, which eliminates the need for hard-to-understand medical jargon and other instructional nonsense that leave parents confused or bored.  Most of these tips are practical and easy to employ without incurring great expense, which is fantastic since most things related to babies are expensive and time-consuming.

The companion The Baby Owner’s Maintenance Log wasn’t as useful given that new mothers and fathers are merely scrambling around trying to find time to sleep, let alone write down each feeding and bowel movement.  Inside, there are spaces to record name, birth weight, eye color, bowel movements, feeding times and ounces, and of course developmental feats like rolling over.  To be honest, readers will not likely have time to write all of these moments down, though doctors will expect you to know roughly how many ounces the baby is eating, how frequently, and how long s/he sleeps.  It would be a blessing to have all of that information written down in one place, but from a practical standpoint, it is unlikely to happen unless the parents are super-organized and write down the details in the moment.

Finally, The Baby Owner’s Games and Activities Book by Lynn Rosen and Joe Borgenight offers a wide variety of activities to do with a baby and is grouped by specific age ranges to ensure proper development.  Again, this reference guide offers a fun and non-clinical look at development.  Surprisingly, I found myself doing some of the activities outside our daughter’s age range, but she seemed to just go with the flow and gobble up the knowledge.  The age ranges are not hard and fast rules/categories.

Babies tend to learn by modeling after activities done by their parents.  If you make a funny face, they will try it to — emulating you.  If you clap, they will try to clap.  Its fun to watch babies grow and adapt to new activities, even at ages younger than those outlined in this book.  There are probably activities that new parents will not have thought of or done that are included in this book, like having their child smell different flowers, etc.  These are merely exercises in development, but also in having fun with baby!

Overall, Quirk has an excellent set of baby manual books to help new parents that won’t be overly prescriptive or boring.  They will teach new parents and babies alike, but also be fun and enjoyable.  The only one in the set that seems least useful is the log book, but that’s just due to time constraints.  It could come in handy for parents who have nanny’s or babysitters and want to know what their baby did when they were at work or having date night.

This is my 40th-42nd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Snow Whale by John Minichillo

The Snow Whale by John Minichillo, which is published by local Maryland publisher Atticus Books, is a satire of Moby Dick by Herman Melville to a certain extent.  The debut novel centers on the life-changing decision of John Jacobs, a zombified office worker selling desk doodles to corporations via telephone, to find out his ancestry through a cheek-swab DNA test.  The results come back and find him more than one-third Eskimo/Inuit, and its enough for John to quit his job, take a vacation from his marriage, and head to Alaska to claim his birthright and go whale hunting.

“And why couldn’t a mild-mannered desk doodle salesman like Mike be the recipient of the Genghis Khan gene?” (page 9 of ARC)

His wife, Jessica, is equally in a rut, but still enjoys her job as a ballroom dance instructor.  She wishes that her marriage was more passionate and spontaneous, but the spontaneity she gets from John is not exactly what she’s looking for.  However, she agrees that he should go to Alaska given the passionate gleam in his eyes.  While some of the actions John takes are irrational and a bit nutty, readers will enjoy the shear witty prose and dialogue that accompanies the surreal situations presented.

“Q continued to walk with half steps, arms folded.
‘Stop shivering,’ Jacobs said.
‘I’m fucking freezing.’
‘Act Eskimo.’
‘What does that even mean?’
‘This is the thaw.  This should be warm for you.'”  (page 88 of ARC)

John is on a journey to find himself and to shake up the mundane, but in the midst of his journey he comes to realize that his life was already full before he left for Alaska.  Meanwhile, the chief of the Inuit tribe, Akmaaq, is looking for an end to his suffering as the leader being slowly shunned and cast aside following a dreadful whale hunt the year before.  He is like Ahab more than John because he is seeking to meet the white whale — his fate and death.  Although Akmaaq is native, like Queequeg in the original Melville novel, Akmaaq is neither a cannibal nor seeking adventure in the wide world beyond his isolated tribe, but he has established a friendship with John to ensure his safety — at least partially — and is aware that death awaits.  Ishmael is John, here in Minichillo’s novel, because he is seeking adventure and change — he is on the journey.

The Snow Whale by John Minichillo is an excellent debut novel that will likely be on the best of 2011 list.  It incorporates classic literature, though knowledge of Melville’s novel is not necessary to enjoy the wit and captivating story Minichillo creates.  John is a quirky character that readers will sympathize with, and his journey may be a bit surreal, but probably mirrors some of the fantasies readers have had about escaping their boring lives behind a cubicle wall.  Book clubs would find a great deal to discuss from the modernization of tribal people to the misconceptions “white” people have about different cultures and peoples, and themselves.

About the Author:

John Minichillo lives in Nashville with his wife and son.  This is his first novel.  Please do check out the interview with John at Atticus Books.  Here’s a sneak peak of the book.


This is my 39th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.





This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since this book is published by Maryland house Atticus Books.

The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock

The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock is written in chapters that alternate between the present with Catherine Rozier in 1984-5 and the past during the German occupation of Guernsey during WWII and her uncle Charles Rozier’s story.  Like her uncle, Cat is a liar.  Lies are often told to protect loved ones, to gain acceptance among peers, or to cover up bad behavior, and the lies told here are no different.  Unreliable narrators are tricky in that readers can often get frustrated with the lies or become disenchanted with the story because they no longer know how to gauge the truth.  However, Horlock hovers on the edge of that line so as to keep readers engaged by presenting “historic” documentation for the WWII portion of the story.

Cat’s father, Emile, often shut himself away from his family and buried himself in historical research about the German Occupation of Guernsey, and this isolationism led Cat to believe she needed to make up stories to fit in and gain attention from not only her peers and parents, but from everyone else on the island.  In a way readers will wonder throughout the novel if she is still lying to gain the attention of readers with her sensational narrative of murder and teen hijinks.

“It’s a 3,000-foot drop and even though I’m fat, I’m not fat enough to bounce.  I’ll dive headfirst into ye ancient Guernsey granite outcrops and then my mashed-up body will be washed out to sea.  Of course, if I get the tides wrong I’ll be stranded on the rocks with seagulls eating my eyes.  I know for a fact they’ll eat anything.”  (page 1)

Cat unwittingly gets swept up in a friendship with Nicollette Louise Prevost, a beauty and from a family of wealth.  Everything is grand as Nic and Cat drink, hang out, start rumors, and hit on boys and men, but something changes and Cat is cast aside in a callous manner, which drives her to engage in reckless behavior and possibly murder?!  Her uncle’s story is similar in that he is befriended by Ray, who quickly casts him aside, but they are reunited in an effort to escape the Germans.  Lies are told by each, and each face tough consequences as a result.  The incestuous nature of the island and the close ties of families on the island are often alluded to, and in a way the close-knit community resembles a large family, and like all families, they hurt those they love.

“I haven’t had a shower for as long as I can remember and there’s this spot on my chin that I’ve had to squeeze and squeeze.  Peter Falk might be able to get away with looking like he’s slept in a hedge but I’m not a famous TV detective (wearing what is surely a wig).”  (page 146)

Much of the world created by Horlock is fantasy, but readers know that their narrator is unreliable from the beginning.  The chapters about Charles’ life are taken from the transcripts of a conversation he had with his brother before his death, which provides a certain authenticity to them.  However, are these entries true?!  Readers will have to sort that out for themselves.  Horlock’s style places you in the thick of it with Cat, and readers will feel all of her emotions, particularly that of alienation.  However, how much whining and justification for her actions readers can take will determine how much they empathize with her.  One part of Cat’s character that could annoy was her overuse of “as per usual” and “as per” to clarify nearly every statement or situation.  Also some of the diction was just awkward and stilted.

Regardless of or in spite of the unreliable narrator, Horlock has created a well-crafted story that circles in on itself as ancestry is unraveled and history appears to repeat itself decades after Charles Rozier’s story of espionage and teen rebellion.  The Book of Lies will keep you guessing throughout its 300+ pages, –right up until the end — but readers will be riveted and satisfied once they get there.  An excellent selection for book clubs with the espionage, teen angst, and trail of lies to analyze and discuss.


About the Author:

Mary Horlock is an authority on contemporary art who has worked at the Tate Britain and Tate Liverpool, and curated the Turner Prize for contemporary art. She spent her childhood in Guernsey, and lives in London.



For the rest of the stops on the tour, please click the TLC Book Tour icon.  Thanks to TLC and Harper Perennial for sending me a copy of the book for review.



This is my 38th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.



Flies by Michael Dickman

Michael Dickman‘s Flies, published in 2011 and a possible candidate for the Indie Lit Awards if it is nominated in September, won the Academy of American Poets James Laughlin Award, which is the only award for a second book of poetry.  The collection is a dark look at family, but also takes a stark look at death and loss.  However, there are lighter moments in the book, like in “Emily Dickinson to the Rescue” (page 21) that was highlighted in the Virtual Poetry Circle.

Beneath the whimsical wordplay and imagery of playgrounds and imaginary friends, there is a deep sense of unrest and yet acceptance of how things have turned out, though the narrator has many regrets.  In “Imaginary Playground” (page 27), the narrator is playing alone with his imaginary friends, but as the scene fills in, it is clear that where there once were trees and places to play, there is concrete and change.  The narrator is nostalgic for those moments, even if they were solitary moments with imaginary friends — wishing there was a way to return to the innocence of childhood and the creativity that period imbued.  “The swing sets/aren’t really/there// . . . On the blacktop/we lie down in each other’s arms/and outline our bodies/in chalk// . . . There are no hiding places anymore//” (page 27-9)

The reading of “Flies” (page 50-4) is slightly different from the printed version in Flies.

Each poem strives to revisit a memory or a loved one and shine a light on their current state, whether that is rotting beneath the ground or in the sky as a star, but these juxtapositions serve to show readers that it is not crystal clear what happens after we die.   The flies come and haunt those that remain behind with memories, regrets, and happiness, but those that die . . . vanish, never to be haunted by the past or present again. The recurring image of flies transforms from something that is friendly to something that is annoying and horrifying.

Translations (page 64-6)

My mother was led into the world
by her teeth

like a bull
into the 

She only ever wanted to be a mother her whole life and nothing else
      not even a human being!

One body turned into 
another body

Pulled by the golden voices of children

A bull 
out of hell

Called out
her teeth out in front of her
her children


First I walk my mother out
into the field
by a leash
by a lifetime
she walks me out
our coats

I brush her hair

Wave the flies away from her eyes

They are my eyes

Who will ride my mother
when we aren't around

Turned from one thing into another until you are a bull standing in
     a field

The field
just beginning
to whistle us


I am led by the mouth
out into the 

Light turning
to water in the early evening
the insects dying
in the cold and 
in the morning

I put on my horse-head

Led by a bit

A lead

My leader is tall and the hair on her forearms is gold

We lower your eyes
into the tall grass
and eat

Dickman is relentless in his long poems with their ever-changing images that repeat and twist. Readers are exposed to the ways in which memories are recalled bit-by-bit and slapped together and rearranged until a full, clear image is presented. At first these lines are confusing, and some readers may step back from the lines, but only by pressing onward will they see the full impact of the memories he taps. Flies by Michael Dickman is a captivating collection that may require greater attention, but the sharp imagery and twists-and-turns will keep readers riveted even as the poems and memories expand over several pages. On a side note, the book cover is very indicative of the memory recall the poet experiences — it is haphazard and vivid.

About the Poet:

Michael Dickman was born and raised in the working-class neighborhood of Lents in Portland, Oregon. His first book, The End of the West, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2009. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, The New Republic, and Field, among others. Dickman is the recipient of fellowships and residencies from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, and the Lannan Foundation. He has worked for years as a cook and has been active recently in the Writers in the Schools program.

This is my 20th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

This is my 37th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens follows the success of her debut Still Missing (my review).  Again, Stevens uses therapy sessions with Nadine to tell a terrifying story that leaves readers anxious and biting their nails.  In her second novel, Sara Gallagher — resident of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, who restores furniture for a living — walks her therapist through the search for her birth mother and how it led to her discovery that her birth father has committed some heinous acts.

Recapitalizing on the “waiting” in Still Missing, where the Annie waited for her captor to return and waited for her moment of escape, Sara Gallagher is waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for the other shoe to drop with her fiance, and waiting for her birth father to come out of hiding.

“When I first told you I found my mother, I said it was like standing on cracking ice.  This is like falling straight through into the freezing water.  You struggle back to the surface, your lungs burning, everything focused on that patch of light above you.  And you finally make it there, but the hole’s frozen over.”  (page 164 of ARC)

The sessions between Sara and her therapist ramp up the tension even further, keeping readers anxiously turning the pages.  Like other thrillers, the situations are surreal, but not to the point that they are unbelievable.  The police officers are running Sara ragged with their demands, veiled disappointments, and outright guilt trips.  Moreover, the entire situation has caused problems with her adoptive family and her fiance.  Readers will want to slap the cops in this one, while at the same time become suspicious of her fiance and the cops throughout the story and shake Sara.

“This last week I went through the motions, but I felt flat, disconnected — angry.  I didn’t know what to do with this new reality, the horror of my conception.  I wanted to bury it in the backyard, far away from anyone’s eyes.  My skin crawled with knowledge, with the evil that I’d looked into, that had created me.  I took long showers.  Nothing helped.  The dirt was on the inside.”  (page 31)

Stevens creates tension and builds sympathy easily.  The main protagonist, Sara, transforms from a woman with abandonment issues to a woman exhibiting the symptoms of a rape victim and to a strong mother bent on saving her own child from danger.  While some of the plot is predictable for avid mystery readers, there are revelations at the end of the novel that will make it worthwhile.  The story is tied up neatly at the end and is satisfying, though bittersweet.  Overall, Never Knowing is a fast-paced, thriller for the summer, and it begs the question would it be better to know or not to know about your birth parents or your own past if you were adopted.

About the Author:

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. For most of her adult life she worked in sales, first as a rep for a giftware company and then as a Realtor. At open houses, waiting between potential buyers, she spent hours scaring herself with thoughts of horrible things that could happen to her. Her most terrifying scenario, which began with being abducted, was the inspiration for STILL MISSING. After six months Chevy sold her house and left real estate so she could finish the book.

Chevy enjoys writing thrillers that allow her to blend her interest in family dynamics with her love of the west coast lifestyle. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s hiking with her husband and dog in the local mountains.  Please also check out her blog, follow her on Twitter, and on Facebook.

This is my 17th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this book since finishing Still Missing and listening to Chevy Stevens talk about her books live on BookTrib.

Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, Illustrated by Ricardo Cortes, Read by Samuel L. Jackson

Adam Mansbach’s Go the F**k to Sleep, illustrated by Ricardo Cortes and read by Samuel L. Jackson, is a “children’s book for adults” that will have most parents nodding, “YES!”  As a new parent, this book made me agree wholeheartedly with its sentiments about how hard it is to get kids to go to sleep.

They are often too wired to sleep or simply too worried that they will miss something important by going to bed.

THIS IS NOT a book for children; it is for adults and would be considered humor.  This is not a review of the book’s illustrations because I listened to this book via audio from Audible.

Samuel L. Jackson is a natural narrator for this book because of his brash attitude in his movies and the reputation he’s garnered as a result.  His narration gains momentum as he continues reading through the rhymed story, and the frustration escalates.  It is this movement and cadence that will amuse readers as they shudder with understanding — kids that need a drink or want one more story read to them before sleeping.

“The wind whispers soft through the grass, hon.  The field mice, they make not a peep.  It’s been 38 minutes already.  Jesus Christ, what the f**k! Go to sleep!”

One drawback is that the word “f**k” is used from the very first lines throughout the book, but it may have been more effective to save its use for later on as the frustration gains ground.  One of the best moments of the book is when the narrator realizes that his child will not be sleeping and has given up saying, “No,” and simply acquiesces to whatever the latest request is.  What makes the narration even more poignant is the light, lullaby music in the background.

Go the F**k to Sleep is a hilarious look at parenthood, and the introduction by Jackson about his own struggles with getting his daughter to sleep further drives home the point that we are not alone.

About the Author:

Adam Mansbach is an American author and professor of fiction[1] at Rutgers University[2] who wrote the “children’s book for adults” Go the Fuck to Sleep.[3] Other books Mansbach has written include Angry Black White Boy and The End of the Jews[4] (for which he won the California Book Award for fiction in 2008)


This is my 36th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.



This is my 1st book for the 2011 Audio Book Challenge and the 1st I listened to on my Kindle.

The Tree It Was by Sandra Fuhringer

Sandra of Fresh Ink Books told me in 2009 that she would send me a copy of her poetry book, and it finally arrived this week.  It didn’t make the previous Mailbox Monday, but it will be in next week’s edition.  I was so happy to see my copy, which she signed to me, that I decided to read it right away.

The Tree It Was by Sandra Fuhringer is the 15th book in Marco Fraticelli’s Hexagram Series based on the ideographs of the I Ching and is published by King’s Road Press.  Her hexagram is The Source or The Well, “which represents the deep, inexhaustible, divinely centered source of nourishment and meaning for humanity.”  The Book of Changes is a divination system or later a cosmology system that espouses the dynamics of balance (i.e. yin and yang) and the inevitability of change.  Furhinger’s haiku certainly reflect change and the struggle with maintaining balance.

First, the expansive white space surrounding each haiku provides readers a moment of pause between haiku, allowing them to visualize each one’s images and absorb its meaning.   The collection begins with a haiku demonstrating the hidden strength in even those of us who are perceived as weak, pushing through even the most difficult circumstances.  In a way, the first haiku demonstrates that each of us has a well of strength from which we can draw at any time.

Fuhringer’s poems bring to light our embarrassments, our fears, and our pain with the shrill sounds of ambulances and the coloring of pictures by children.  Others have a surreal quality to them, like a patient on morphine or under other treatments that leave them dissociated from their bodies.  Not all of these poems worked as traditional haiku with surprising last lines, but a majority of the collection is near perfect.  About midway through the collection, the traditional form of haiku is modified as the poet seeks to draw immediate attention to juxtapositions within her words  — such as Hiroshima pulled downward from the “h” in kittyhawk.

From page 3 (one of my favorites for its startling imagery):

five tries to get a vein
the leaf’s purple

The poet’s narrator is The Tree It Was, and you can’t help but think that the narrator is Sandra Fuhringer in her most raw moments.  Many poets have personal connections to their poems, but how many can say that their poems are an embodiment of their daily struggles while simultaneously providing the strength they need to continue fighting?  This slim chapbook is a testament to The Well of the I Ching, and Fuhringer should be applauded for broadening the spirit of the Book of Changes into Western culture.

Also reviewed by one of my favorite short form online literary magazines, LYNX (please scroll down the page in the link).

This is my 19th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


This is my 35th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.


A Weekend With Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly

A Weekend With Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly is a summer read for Austenites and those who want to have fun.  Set in modern day England, Dr. Katherine Roberts works too hard as a professor at St. Bridget’s College in Oxford and sees her role as lecturer at the Jane Austen Conference as a way for her to get away and relax.  She befriends regency romance author Lorna Warwick through letters and hopes that the conference will put a face to the name she’s begun to call friend.  Meanwhile, Robyn is stuck in a relationship with Jace (Jason Collins) and is too worried about his feelings to express her own or to end their relationship.  She decides that she’s not going to think about her life while at the Austen conference, but just enjoy herself before dealing with her fading relationship with her childhood friend.

“She thought of the secret bookshelves in her study at home and ho they groaned deliciously under the weight of Miss Warwick’s work.  How her colleagues would frown and fret at such horrors as popular fiction!  How quickly would she be marched from her Oxford office and escorted from St. Bridget’s College if they knew of her wicked passion?”  (page 2 of ARC)

Women and their passion for Jane Austen’s characters seems never-ending, but does this passion for Austen sometimes prevent these women from living their own lives?  And does it ensure that the men in their lives will never measure up to Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth?  Connelly has created a cast of characters that have flaws and find themselves in situations they never expected.  Dr. Roberts is a strong woman with a passion for sexy Regency romances, but her own love life is a disaster until she finds herself in situation much like Captain Wentworth, while Robyn is trapped by obligation in a life much like Edward Ferrars.  It is an interesting correlation between Austen’s characters and Connelly’s female leads, as it demonstrates a new perspective on how these situations would be handled.

Connelly also creates a cast of characters that are fun and outrageous from Dame Pamela to Higgins the butler.  And of course, what Austen spinoff doesn’t have its own Lady Catherine de Bourgh — in this case, it’s Mrs. Soames.  A Weekend With Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly is a great romp in the English countryside with some gal pals and hot men that will make you giggle, squirm, and sit on the edge of your seat.  A quick summer read that will have readers wondering if an Austen-filled weekend should be their next vacation.

About the Author:

Victoria Connelly grew up in Norfolk before attending Worcester University where she studied English Literature. After graduating, she worked her way through a number of jobs before becoming a teacher in North Yorkshire.  In 2000, she got married in a medieval castle in the Yorkshire Dales and moved to London.  She is currently working on a trilogy about Jane Austen addicts.  The first, A Weekend with Mr Darcy, was published in the UK by Avon, HarperCollins, and will be published in the US by Sourcebooks in July 2011.   The second in the trilogy, The Perfect Hero, was published in the UK in April 2011.  She lives in London with her artist husband, a springer spaniel and four ex-battery hens.


This is my 34th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick

Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick uses an economy of words to address the harrowing moments of life and the happier moments.  His images are unique and playful, but his subjects are sometimes dark and eerie, like the barren tree with its barely there spinal column of vertebrae on the cover.  From “Even Though” (page 1-3), “I felt the deep bruise of a sentence/and wanted to eat/at the banquet of silence.”  Which are the curses and which are the wishes is left up to the reader, but some poems are clearly laments for those dying in the Holocaust (like the poem “The book of Nelly Sachs“) or lost by other means.

Adamshick clings to the moment, a snatch of time and draws out the undercurrent of meaning, creating a story from the unknown.  Unlike, Whitman, who used nature in his poems to extrapolate wider philosophical realities of transcendentalism, Adamshick’s poems combine industrial elements from street lights to chessboard pieces and cameras to evoke emotion and recognition in the reader, creating an Aha moment.  “The corner utility pole/holds a cone of light/to its mouth// and is screaming/at the pavement.// We are almost here/”  (page 38 from “Almost”)  However, like Whitman, there is a sense of moving beyond, gaining insight into humanity and stretching ourselves further.

Junkyard (page 7)

I never visit my younger self.
Any change I elicit
would be just that: change.
Something different in a world
of differences. A shifting
from memory to dream. Snow
falling in a barrel of rusted
engine parts becoming a day
of lightning and old fallen oak:
one life or another, mine or yours.
This is the last outpost before
things become what they are.
I was eleven when an older self,
the lord of my childhood, appeared
above the chair in my room
splendid and silent like a planet
rotating, spinning in its ellipses,
but, also, unmoving by the headboard
and the one pillow full of feathers.

There is a quiet power in these poems and this slim volume, which leave readers waiting to devour more from Adamshick.  Many of the poems are about change and what it means to be changed and keep moving onward and upward.  However, “Junkyard” raises another question about change — is change always beneficial and new or is it just a reincarnation of something that came before?  Can we really transcend the present and these bodies we inhabit?  Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick is a clear winner and would be an excellent candidate for the Indie Lit Awards.  Another one for the Best of List of 2011.

Copyright Jessie Sue Hibbs

About the Poet:

Born in Toledo, Ohio, Carl Adamshick grew up primarily in Harvard, Illinois.

Adamshick currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with his partner of many years, Jessie Sue Hibbs.

Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick won the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and was published by independent press Louisiana State University Press.  It is Adamshick’s first poetry collection; please check out this Oregonian article about his win.  (I received this book as a member of the Academy of American Poets, but not for review.)


This is my 33rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.



This is my 18th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

“But the end, when it finally came, was quiet.” (page 109)

Where She Went by Gayle Forman is the follow-up to If I Stay (my review — please do not read this review of Where She Went until you’ve read the first in the series because this will contain spoilers), and it is told from Adam’s point of view several years after the end of the previous book.  His band Shooting Star has hit it big, he’s got an A-list actress girlfriend, and all the money he could want, but what he doesn’t have is what he wants most of all.

Closure is a word that is thrown around a lot, but as humans we often want to know the reasons why things happen, and when we are not given a reason — even one we think is bollix — it incenses us.  In some ways we become obsessive about it.  Forman has a firm grasp of this obsession and its ties to passionate love, and the intensity of these feelings come to the fore when Adam is in New York and attends a concert at Carnegie Hall.

“I slide into my seat and close my eyes, remembering the last time I went to a cello concert somewhere this fancy.  Five years ago, on our first date.  Just as I did that night, I feel this mad rush of anticipation, even though I know that unlike that night, tonight I won’t kiss her.  Or touch her.”  (page 38)

In addition to the flashbacks of Adam’s rise to fame, Forman sprinkles in lyrics, which act like stanzas from poems, at the beginning of certain chapters, providing a certain lens or frame of mind for the characters.  Readers will enjoy seeing the more creative fruits of Adam’s labors because it provides an insiders view into his evolution into the “guy” he’s become.  Forman also does well showing the realities of the music industry and how many musicians just become commodities, losing themselves and their artistry.

Told from Adam’s point of view and using a similar style of flashbacks,  Forman again builds the tension between Mia and Adam from the beginning of their relationship and its end.  A young love unfinished, a journey taken alone by both characters, and so much left unsaid between them — a situation ripe for awkwardness, tenderness, and more.  Where She Went is an excellent follow up that not only fleshes out these characters, making them your friends so that you cheer them on and hope they find peace.  Both are quick, engaging reads, but are far from fluff, dealing with tough topics like death and redemption.

This is my 16th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That ChallengeI’ve wanted to read this book since reading Jill’s dual review in June.