Not Young, Still Restless by Jeanne Cooper, Lindsay Harrison

Not Young, Still Restless by Jeanne Cooper and Lindsay Harrison is a great memoir for the fans of The Young and the Restless soap opera and Katherine Chancellor.  She was born in 1928 to part-Cherokee parents, and was the youngest of three children.  My mother has watched the show since before I was born, and I remember the fateful episode in which Mrs. C. drove her husband off a cliff in a drunken stupor — I was one.  Yes, this show has been in my life for a very long time.

Cooper infuses her memoir with honesty, but also refuses to tell stories that are not her to tell.  She may be harsh on her ex-husband, but once you read about his antics, it’s hard not to see why she’d still not be his biggest fan.  However, she does admit that her relationship with her husband did beget her some wonderful and talented children — Corbin Bernsen, Collin, and Caren.

“I don’t care who you are, you don’t get more than one chance to betray me, and as this book should make apparent, I have a very long memory.”  (page 13)

There is some kissing and telling, but it’s not graphic, and its touching for the most part.  Cooper also offers some great insights into the soap opera business and movie/TV business.  One touching moment in the book is when she talks of her dear friend, Raymond Burr — a WWII veteran who survived the Battle of Okinawa and was awarded a Purple Heart!  She and Ray had a great friendship and there is a fun story about the time she “borrowed” his trophy just before he headed to Japan to meet with troops at an army base.

Cooper is frank in her stories and her memories — or lack there of — about events, and yes, there are moments where she doesn’t explain how she met certain famous actors and actresses, like Grace Kelly, but her open heart and charitable spirit shine through in how she cares for her family and others.  I loved the story of how she and her young daughter witnessed a car accident and stopped to help.  Her daughter was scared, but Cooper explained to her that they had to help if someone was in need.  It was their duty to do so.  We need more parents like this and more citizens who care!

Not Young, Still Restless by Jeanne Cooper and Lindsay Harrison shows that no matter your age, you are not done living yet and that there is more love, devotion, and duty to give.  Cooper’s memoir offers some great insight about the Y&R, Hollywood, and family.  Highly recommended for fans of the show and for those who are interested in learning about old Hollywood.

About the Author:

Jeanne Cooper has earned the love of soap-opera fans for her long-running role as Katherine Chancellor on CBS’s The Young and the Restless. She received back-to-back Daytime Emmy Award nominations as Outstanding Leading Actress in a Drama Series in 1989, 1990, and 1991. In 1993, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in recognition of her many years in show business.

This is my 89th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.


Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli (published in January 2013) is a modern day fable in which the maxim “Kids live in their own little worlds” comes to life.  Bicycles become wild mustangs or horses in the plains to be captured by boys who are not just boys but cowboys with rope.  Girls hate boys and boys hate girls — taunting each other with harmless names and petty pranks.  In many ways, they relate to the opposite sex no differently than they relate to their own, though rather than offer advice or imparting skills and knowledge to their gender enemies, they stand apart from them and deride them as inferior.  Spinelli’s tale takes a few chapters to develop into a full blown world, but once it does, look out.  Readers will be wandering around and playing games.

There are four basic rules in this world of Hokey Pokey:  never leave a puddle unstomped; never go to sleep until the last possible minute; never kiss a girl; and never go near the Forbidden Hut.  With a male protagonist, Jack, Spinelli obviously is gearing the book more toward male readers, but female readers who can remember their childhoods and the games they played, may still find something to hold their attention here.  Jack is flanked by his amigos, Dusty and LaJo, and his enemy, Jubilee, has just stolen his mustang — Scramjet — the most famous bike in all of the land.  Jack is pissed, he’s vengeful, he’s sad, but more than anything, he’s noticed that something has changed since he woke up in the morning.

“The world looked exactly the same as always — the places, the kids — but this time there was a slippery sense, like an uncatchable moth, that he himself was no longer part of the picture, was on the outside looking in, that the world he was seeing was no longer his.  For a scary instant he thought his end of the seesaw was going to keep on rising and catapult him clear out of Hokey Pokey.”  (page 76 ARC)

Spinelli weaves a tale of growing up and leaving childhood behind and that sense of things being the same as they always were, but different somehow.  Highly inventive and at times surreal, Spinelli’s world can be a bit topsy turvy at first, but readers will soon wonder what is wrong with Jack and where he’s going if he is leaving Hokey Pokey when there is no train.  In a world absent of adults, kids run amok, taunt each other and take out their traumatic frustrations on one another in the form of games and the dangerous click, click, click of the exploder, which renders other kids “dead.”  In a land of make-believe and where anything is possible, Jack and his friends are free to think and feel how they wish without consequence.  But even in this world, there are boundaries to how others are treated.

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli, which is my first experience with this author, is an adventure for young and old.  However, the age range is 10 and up, and readers on the younger end of that range may find the themes and some language challenging, especially as Spinelli often mashes words together or creates his own as part of Hokey Pokey’s world.

About the Author:

Jerry Spinelli is an American author of children’s novels on adolescence and early adulthood. He is best known for the novels Maniac Magee, for which he won the Newbury Medal, and Wringer.  After graduating from Gettysburg College with an English degree, Spinelli worked full time as a magazine editor.  Spinelli was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania and currently resides in Phoenixville, PA.

This is my 88th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris

The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris is highly experimental and mixes poetry with photos and art, and much more.  It is broken down into five sections, preceded by a list of dramatic personas in a couple of instances, which in fact set the stage for what comes next.  While experimental in form, there are traditional elements as well, including references to Greek myths and the journey of Odysseus.  Through this experimentation, readers must pay closer attention to the words, phrases, fonts, and other elements in the collection to discern meaning or the story.  This is a thinking reader’s book, but it’s also a book of pure lunacy and fun as the personas take over and yell at one another in a banter that just generates smirks and laughs.

“‘You really need to figure out what’s next for you, Sadie.
Math, theology, whatever. Why don’t you put out a book?’ (Jughead)
‘Well, Jug, the truth is, you’re my first book.
I’ve been editing you since we met.’ (Sadie)” (page 17)

In many ways, looking at the verse on the page and the conversation often resemble the complex nature of compositions made by musicians.  When looked at in pieces, these compositions can befuddle casual viewers, but when put together and played in conjunction, the music soars and fills the soul.  In this piece, there seem to be elements of Jazz, a musicality that leaps off the page in a mixture of elements that like the collaboration of Amen and Harris works well.  However, the improvisation can be overwrought in some instances.

“The patio party:  I’m tired of these spoiled suburbanites.
I prefer back-river ingenues and trailer-park bullies
brimming with rage and remorse,
perhaps a seance staged at twilight,
blood on a pool deck,
blood on the geraniums and forsythia;
the runaway’s bones, buried beneath the mad-blossoming magnolia,
suddenly singing to my neighbors.
I prefer a final showdown with the cops,
the proverbial shootout in the cul de sac —
everything at stake, all the time.” (page 35)

Many of these vignettes are about seizing the moment, stopping the procrastinating, and relishing the exuberance and exhilaration. There are moments about the aftermath of love affairs and tales about strange personalities. Arcana is a well used word here for indeed some of these verses and tales are mysterious and hard to understand, but these lines and mixtures of text and art require additional discernment on the part of the reader. However, readers also must keep in mind that not all of these vignettes are true or to be taken seriously — there is a bit of dry wit and sarcasm here in these pages.  The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris is unique, confusing, fun, and even mysterious; well worth reading for a challenge, but definitely something that will take more than one read through.

About the Authors:

John Amen is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003), More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa 2009), and has released two folk/folk rock CDs, All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire (Cool Midget 2004, 2008). His poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, The International Poetry Review, Gargoyle, and Blood to Remember. He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. He founded and continues to edit the award-winning literary bimonthly, The Pedestal Magazine.

Photo by Charles Weinberg

Daniel Y. Harris holds a Master of Arts in Divinity from The University of Chicago, where he specialized in the history and hermeneutics of religion and wrote his dissertation on The Zohar. He is the author of Hyperlinks of Anxiety (Cervena Barva Press, 2013), The New Arcana (with John Amen, New York Quarterly Books, 2012), Paul Celan and the Messiah’s Broken Levered Tongue: An Exponential Dyad (with Adam Shechter, Cervena Barva Press, 2010; picked by The Jewish Forward as one of the 5 most important Jewish poetry books of 2010) and Unio Mystica (Cross-Cultural Communications, 2009). He is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

For another perspective, check out Shiny Book Review.

This is the 29th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Carnival by Jason Bredle

Carnival by Jason Bredle is weird.  In many ways it is like a grotesque and surreal little carnival with the fun house mirrors and the bearded lady — though in this case, the mirror is held by the narrator and the bearded lady is really a werewolf inside the narrator.  There is a self-deprecation and a dream-like quality to these prose poems, but in some cases, it seems like the poems are too weird just for the sake of it.  At other times, the poems are comments on pop culture.

“There’s a carnival in my skull and it’s driving me crazy.”  (page 32, from “The Killing”)

Readers will be taken on a ride in this volume of poems as Bredle creates a mood.  From confusion to frustration, readers will be inside the mind of a crazy person.  But in many ways, the craziness is just a mask for the discontent with the culture that has sprung up around the narrator.  And while some of these poems will take several reads before the meaning becomes clear, there are some great moments and lines that make an immediate impression on the reader.  From “Hole in My Heart,” “It looks like I’ll be cuddling up in the warm, soft arms of depression/against this winter.”  These lines set the stage for the tumbling feeling of loss and the mindlessness that accompanies a broken heart where you walk in a fog for days afterward.

A running image throughout the poems is the narrator’s cat, seemingly always providing comfort or just as distraction from the moment.  Traditionally, cats have symbolized independence or superiority, but it is unclear whether the cat is merely a cat in these poems or a symbol of something greater.  In many ways, this is a collection that should be dipped into from time to time when someone is in need of a good laugh or a bit of just fun, but reading it cover-to-cover it can become a bit tedious.  The cover should establish the mood for any reader who picks it up.  It’s busy, full of life and action, and complete chaos.  Carnival by Jason Bredle is just that, a carnival of busyness and bedlam.

About the Poet:

Jason Bredle is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Carnival, from University of Akron Press. He lives in Chicago.

This is the 28th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.



This is my 87th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

Ripper by Stefan Petrucha

Ripper by Stefan Petrucha is not the gory thriller that many readers may expect, and rightly so, given that it is a young adult, historical fiction novel with a young main protagonist.  Carver Young is an orphan in New York City in the late 1800s, who is thrust into the care of an older Albert Hawking, a former Allan Pinkerton detective.  Carver is dragged into a fantastical world of secret agencies and cloak-and-dagger moments, all while the police are investigating some very real and grisly murders.  He’s joined by some rather eccentric characters, from his adoptive father, Hawking, and his home in the asylum, to Septimus Tudd, the current leader of the secret detective agency.

“Surrounded by unsettling sounds, Carver Young struggled to keep his hands still.  He had to focus.  Had to.  He could do this.  He wasn’t some infant, afraid of the dark.  If anything, he loved the dark.  But the cracks in the attic let the wind run wild.  Old papers fluttered like hesitant birds.  Musty clothes rustled as if touched by spirits.  And then the cleaver, wedged in the ceiling right above him, wobbled.”  (page 6)

Carver is a young man on the cusp of adulthood who has had little, if any, mild guidance in his life given his years at Ellis Orphanage.  When Hawking adopts him, he’s given the chance of a lifetime, to uncover the truth about his parents and to become a detective, with the help of some expert tutelage.  Petrucha’s prose and short chapters are built for mystery novels and suspense, but in some cases, the suspense build-up gets to be too much as it drags on a bit long with the “big reveal.”  Even younger readers could see the reveal coming a mile away in this one.  However, the real crux of the novel is not the reveal, so much as the journey Carver takes from childhood to adulthood and from inexperienced boy to amateur detective.

With help from his former orphanage friends and school crush Delia, Carver is able to overcome his fears and uncover the mysteries surrounding recent murders in New York City.  Petrucha does well to stick close to the true and well-known attributes of Teddy Roosevelt, who was once a police commissioner in the city, and the relatively well-known attributes of his eldest daughter, Alice.  There is intrigue, corruption, and a Hardy Boys-feel to this novel, with additional historical tidbits and extraordinary gadgets to provide a steam-punk atmosphere.

Ripper by Stefan Petrucha is a fast-paced, entertaining coming-of-age story with a detective story as a backdrop of sorts.  It’s about what it means to be a father, and how family can sometimes be a little less than ideal, and even disappointing.  However, it also about the inner perseverance one needs to overcome “the abyss” and still know what is right and true.

photo by Sarah Kinney

About the Author:

Born in the Bronx, Stefan Petrucha spent his formative years moving between the big city and the suburbs, both of which made him prefer escapism.

A fan of comic books, science fiction and horror since learning to read, in high school and college he added a love for all sorts of literary work, eventually learning that the very best fiction always brings you back to reality, so, really, there’s no way out.

An obsessive compulsion to create his own stories began at age ten and has since taken many forms, including novels, comics and video productions. At times, the need to pay the bills made him a tech writer, an educational writer, a public relations writer and an editor for trade journals, but fiction, in all its forms, has always been his passion. Every year he’s made a living at that, he counts a lucky one. Fortunately, there’ve been many.

This is my 86th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.


What the Book Club Thought:

Most of the book club enjoyed Ripper for what it was, though two members would like to have seem more of the gross and grisly murders than were shown in the novel.  There is one moment in which Carver nearly vomits upon seeing a dead body, but there are not a lot of details revealed to the reader about the scene.  The big reveal didn’t seem to be much of a surprise to anyone in the book club, though one member expressed that he would have preferred if there had been two killers instead of one.

Some members were glad that the book didn’t delve too much into the gadgets of the underground detective agency, while one member likened the team of three kids (Carver, Delia, and Finn) to Harry Potter and his friends.  The shift from killing prostitutes in England to socialites in New York was something that the group thought had to do with the target audience of young adults.  However, our youngest member says that she’s read more gory books than this one.  One member also indicated that they noticed about 1/3 of the psychology of the Ripper was examined in this book, and could signal sequels to come.  Some suspect there could be two other books after this one, which is why the ending was so open-ended.

Overall, this was a good read for most of the group, though some indicated about 75 pages or so could have been edited out to make it shorter than 400+ pages.

Ardor: Poems of Life by Janine Canan

Ardor: Poems of Life by Janine Canan is a hefty and heavy set of poems and essays about life, the destruction of the earth, and the destruction of the planet wrought by men.  Broken down into eight sections from communing with God, homage to the strength of women, the sadness that comes from a destroyed planet, and a general awaking to the wonders of the world and moving into a full experience of life.  The second section, “Tears for the World,” and section three, “Indestructible Woman,” offer a no-holds-barred perspective on destruction caused by humanity or the oppression of women by men in societies across the world even today.  In many ways, some of these poems mirror the most radical forms of Ecofeminism, in which women are the closest to the Earth and should resume their position as leaders and teach men to cooperate with nature rather than dominate it — though some even espoused the dominion of women over men.  There is even one poem dedicated to the late Mary Daly, one of the main philosophical thinkers of the movement.

From Woman Is Space:

“Woman is space
the wind
the grass
the river
the peacock complaining
to the river
the word emerging like the river
the woman stepping out of the river.

like a rising river” (page 89)

There are lines and images and moments here that will make some angry, while others will nod their heads at the truth of it.  There is the destruction of nuclear bombs created by men, there are the women who are subservient to men, and there is even more.


“The air writhes.
The water gags.
The rocks slide.
The mountains sweat.
Plants cringe.
Trees crash.
Animals glare.
Women bleed.

Man has his boot on every inch of the world.
His conquest is nearly complete.” (page 64)

While these are hymns and elegies to the earth and women, there are other poems that are less “abrasive” than others, but still offer a sense of what the reader is trying to convey about the harm that has come to the planet and to women. The less declarative poems are the most powerful, offering imagery that recalls in the mind the beauty of nature and the wonders that are yet unexplored. These poems call on readers to regain their childlike wonder and stand in awe of the world around them, not to tear it asunder in the thirst for fulfillment.

From “A Divine Meal”:

“I like my disheveled plate with a well-licked fork
sprawling satisfied across it, a pause
between each dish for emptying my mind
and manifesting a new one.

Conversation too I enjoy, voices harmonically arranged,
And food, the kind that tastes good.
I love my senses sublime, and a good cook
is one of the million gods I worship.” (page 23)

From “The Joy”:

“Along the hills of your body
I rooted in the fragrant earth.

Stretching my blooming arms
I heaved with offerings.

I was a peach dripping gold
and you drank me.” (page 104)

Ardor: Poems of Life by Janine Canan mixes philosophy, history, poetic imagery, and declarative statements to create a collection of poems and essays that examine the state of the modern world without sugar coating anything.  There are moments that will get under readers’ skins and maybe cause them to stop reading in disagreement, but Canan’s poems should not be ignored given the degradation that continues to happen from the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico to the oppression of women that continues today.  These are issues that cannot be ignored if the planet and humanity are to survive beyond just a few generations.

About the Poet:

JANINE CANAN’s first book of poems, Of Your Seed, was published in 1977, thanks in part to the National Endowment for the Arts. Since that time, the poet has authored 18 books of poetry, translations, essays and stories.

This is the 27th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


This is my 85th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

House Inspections by Carsten René Nielsen, translated by David Keplinger

House Inspections by Carsten René Nielsen of Aarhus, Denmark, translated by David Keplinger, is a collection that the poet himself calls surrealist, but readers will find them poignant and truthful as well.  The collection includes not only the original prose poems in Danish, but also the English translations Keplinger did in collaboration with the poet.  David Keplinger introduces the collection with:  “It was in this place of natural beauty and order that we set to work on Nielsen’s poems of the neighborhood, rich in imagery of human interaction, comedies of errors, unanswerable questions, an Escherlike world of dark cellars, blind alleys, tenements and fitting rooms.” (page 7)  There is definitely a dark, blind alley in each of these poems — like “Fitting Room,” “Steps,” and “Wistfulness” — that the narrator leads readers to before springing the unexpected upon them.  In many ways, these surprise endings remind me of the one sentence endings of some Anita Shreve novels that change the entire story in a moment.

One stellar poem in the collection is “Reading,” in which the narrator calls attention to something amiss in the text, but does not reveal what it is.  By the end of the poem, it is clear that the one giving the reading does not mean what s/he says.  “the lips don’t move in full accord with what is actually said.”  (page 17)  While the thing that is amiss or the actual context of the situation remains a mystery, readers can easily connect with the realization that something that was thought to be true is not.  A running theme in many of these poems is the careful inspection or observation of the players or the scene to uncover what is “wrong” with the situation or what is unusual about it.  There is always someone watching or the feeling of being watched, like in “Theater.”

There also are a few poems that examine the passing of time and aging in such a unique way that readers may have to take a moment and revisit these poems to truly see the underlying meaning.  “Book” is an interesting look at what we look for in the books that we read — a reflection of ourselves — and how it puts us on edge that someone will turn the page on us.  There is that sense of fear in all of us that our lives are beyond our control or that the choices we’ve made are not appropriate.  In “Birthday,” life burns on its own and cannot be doused by minor events, and in many ways Nielsen is suggesting (without saying it) that life goes on even if events happen that are unplanned or even when they are planned.

Beyond the serious nature of some of these poems, House Inspections by Carsten René Nielsen also has a playful side in which shirts are turned into birds escaping from cages.  The collection tackles life’s biggest issues about mortality and enjoying the moments of life we have as we live them, not as they lie in the past.  Another collection that could be considered for the best of list.

About the Poet:

Carsten René Nielsen is a Danish poet. He has published nine books of poetry in Danish and received several fellowships from the Danish State Foundation for the Arts. Translations of his work have been published in The Paris Review, AGNI, Mid-American Review, The Mississippi Review, and in a collection of prose poems, The World Cut Out With Crooked Scissors (New Issues, 2007).

This is the 26th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


This is my 84th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, is sliced into three sections with the first section paying homage to a mother who has passed from this world into the next.  In “The Southern Crescent,” travel plays a particularly prominent role, with the train “humming like anticipation” as the narrator and her mother travel east and she sees her mother in the window clearly.  Trethewey’s poems are concise and filled with imagery that anyone can connect with on a visceral level.

“Graveyard Blues” screams loss and regret from the “stone pillow” for the narrator’s head at the end of the poem to the “hollow sound” of the mud as it sticks to mourners shoes during the funeral in the rain.  And “Myth” is a heart breaking poem, an elegy to the narrator’s mother — a hope that she can pull her from the other side into the real world through her dreams.  Many of us can relate to deep loss and the desire to change that loss and bring back loved ones from the dead — as if we could resurrect them.

In the second section, Trethewey tackles the oppressive memory of history in the deep South and how it is celebrated, feared, and hated for its bigotry and death.  From the prosperous hills of cotton harvested to the humps on the children’s backs from years of hard labor in the fields, the lines draw parallels in different segments of the poem to shed light on oppression — its costs and rewards.  The narration in these is a bit removed, more like an observer commenting on the events.  In the final section, Trethewey melds the personal stories with the historic events of the South and slavery to reveal a love-hate relationship with her native state Mississippi.  In many ways these poems reflect the tension between the white ancestry and the black ancestry of mulatto children from the south.

Even from the point of view of a child learning history and it is depicted as though slaves were well-treated and happy, it is hard to counter the widely held belief even if ancestry tells the student otherwise.  From “Monument” to “Elegy for the Native Guards,” there is a desire on the part of the narrator to pay homage to these pillars of the black community who stood up for what they believed in and made the best they could from the hands they were dealt.  At the same time, there is this reality that sinks in and mars any monument that can be resurrected, especially when made as an afterthought or belated gesture.  Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey tackles not only the sense of identity these biracial children struggle with, but also the struggle of Southerners to explain their pride in their history when it is so riddled with hatred.

About the Poet:

Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1966. She earned an M.A. in poetry from Hollins University and M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Massachusetts.

This is the 25th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara

Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara is set in 1930s Massachusetts as the rest of the world is on the cusp of war with the Nazis and Boston is hoping to alleviate its water shortage by creating a new reservoir along the Cascade River.  Painter Desdemona Hart Spaulding lives in the sleepy little town of Cascade, which has been a target of lawmakers looking for water over the last decade.  Her life is nothing like she expected as her family falls on hard times, and she makes a life-altering decision to marry Asa to save her father and her home.  What she fails to realize is that some decisions are made for you by circumstance and fate in a cascade of changes that you can either fight or ride.

From the moment readers meet Dez, they know that she is conflicted about her new role as wife.  She makes her husband’s breakfast and tries to care for her father, but her mind wanders to her studio, her paints, and her canvases, making her lose track of time as she dives into the colors and scenes she creates.  Asa is hard to grasp as he seems to want to be oblivious to his wife’s struggles, but is forced to see reality when his wife makes decisions that place them both in the spotlight as the town looks for ways to save itself from drowning.

“Their once-fashionable resort town with its pleasant waters was looking more and more like the ghost valley that was invading dreams and even the pages of her sketchpad.”  (page 3)

O’Hara’s novel is not just about the cascade of decisions and twists in one’s life, but also the unexpected changes that face a country in a depression on the verge of a possible world war — at a time when sentiment against Jews is turning negative as many people lose their jobs and are thrust into poverty.  Things spiral out of control for the Spauldings and the town, but Dez is determined to follow her innate desire to pursue her art in spite of her duty to her husband and her father’s legacy as she hopes to turn public sentiment in favor of saving Cascade from the water department.  The parallels between the river and how it can shape a town and how events can shape people are deftly made in O’Hara’s lyrical prose.  She intertwines Shakespeare’s plays and famous quotations easily, tying Dez to her father’s legacy throughout the novel even when she has all but abandoned it in favor of an affair of art.

While Dez can seem immature in her clinging to Jacob, a traveling salesman, it is clear from her relationship with Asa that she’s never been in love with anything other than Shakespeare as seen through her father’s theater in Cascade and her own painting.  She is an artist that needs to feel substantial loss and pain before she can fully come into her art.  O’Hara has created a novel about the tensions between duty and desire and following one’s dream.  She has captured the struggle of artists, who unfortunately are too often misunderstood by non-artists, to achieve the time necessary to create without the guilt of failing to meet the obligations of family life and other relationships.

Through gorgeous descriptions and painting techniques, O’Hara plunges readers into the light-filled studios and landscapes of Dez, as well as into her nightmares, her guilt, and her nostalgia for things past.  Through quick brushstrokes and scraped canvases, the novel transports readers into muddied waters and into the bold color of an artist’s life.  Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara is a debut that shimmers like the rushing river over the rocks of the waterfall with its quiet power shaping Dez and what was once Cascade, Massachusetts.

***On a completely different note, I was totally in LOVE with this cover.   It was so utterly distracting with its water shapes in the profile image and how the boulders blended in as the woman’s hair.  I was enamored.***

About the Author:

Maryanne O’Hara was the longtime associate fiction editor of Ploughshares, Boston’s award-winning literary journal. Her short fiction has been published in magazines like The North American ReviewFive PointsRedbook, and many anthologies. She has received grants from the St. Botolph Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and her story collection was a finalist for 2010′s Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. She lives on a river near Boston.

Find out more about Maryanne at her Website, her blog, and connect with her on Facebook.

This is my 83rd book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.


Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith, published by Graywolf Press on 30 percent post-consumer wastepaper, is a collection sliced up into four parts, and it won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.  In the first section there are two parallels that Smith draws — the one between poet and astronomer searching for meaning in vastness and the parallels between the physical and spiritual world.  Like in “Cathedral Kitsch,” the narrator speaks of the gleam of gold in the church and wonders if God is there shining back on himself, but by the end of the poem, the narrator remarks on man’s stamp on the church and on faith.  “I feel/Man here.  The same wish/That named the planets.//Man with his shoes and tools,/His insistence to prove we exist/Just like God, in the large/And the small, the great//”

Some of the best lines come in “My God, It’s Full of Stars” where the narrator talks about God and the great unknown alongside the physical world in which she lives.  Rather than compare the two in pros and cons, the narrator takes a third path:

"Not letting up, the frenzy of being.  I want it to be
wide open, so everything floods in at once.
And scaled tight, so nothing escapes.  Not even time,
Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.
So that I might be sitting now beside my father" (page 10)

There is a sense of wide-eyed, childlike wonder about the world and the unknown space and world of God. Rather than shrink from either, the narrator embraces their possibilities and revels in the possibilities.  Part two speaks for itself and pays homage to a father lost and time with him too short.  The collection then gives way to more timely matters in the news from a young woman kept as a sex slave to her father in the basement of a home he shared with his wife to the Abu Ghraib prisoners who were savagely mistreated by soldiers under too much pressure.  In the final section of the collection, Smith opens up her verse at full throttle to explore the infinite energy and being of all in the universe and the pulse of that energy as it continues to churn.

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith is well worth the prize it has won.  Her verse is well paced and masterful in how it draws parallels and leaves larger issues open ended for readers to think more about on their own.  She’s taken larger than life issues and honed in on them with a sharp eye, boiling them down to what really matters through personal accounts and a satiric remixing of facts from the news and more.  Definitely a collection for book clubs and to return to again and again when readers are feeling a bit enamored of the great unknowns.

About the Poet:

Tracy K. Smith was raised in Falmouth, Massachusetts. She studied at Harvard, where she joined the Dark Room Collective, a reading series for writers of color. She went on to receive her MFA from Columbia University.

This is the 24th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women by Jane Rosenberg LaForge takes a look at not only what it means to be young and full of dreams, aspirations, and confidence, but also the flip side of that — what it means to be older and confined by societal, professional, and personal constraints.  Her verse is topsy turvey with its own underground beat that shimmies out the fine-tuned truth that whether or not we are rock gods or ordinary people we are the same in how we are shaped and how we shape the world around us.  From hiding our wrinkles and our broken dreams to wearing them proudly, LaForge has crafted an unapologetic anthem about living, not merely surviving the world around us.

From "Prodigy":

It is youth that keeps you pale and concerned
about the smaller buzzing parts, the soil
and the pine cones there, and the grace
between fists and teacups.  You are a foil,
a reminiscence, a sobering glance forward
because nothing can be repeated, metric by 
metric; speaking the dream always changes it
irreparably, as if it weren't worth mentioning.
From "Apollo at 21st and 8th":

record we shed each day,
the accumulation of our pasts
that we deposit upon wood and 
polish, in the shafts and patterns
of directed sunlight.  Could gods
begin in dust and spit not as we have,

The collection is divided into two parts, and the first section, despite the title of the Mick Jagger poem, are hardly apologetic. From the crass way that age takes over the face to the abandonment of religion and faith in favor of the present and those rock stars before us on the television, LaForge chooses terse language clipped in the right places to give readers enough pause to encourage serious contemplation about aging and worship of the present. In “Runyon Canyon,” her narrator says, “It is not the soul that grows/in your bone, but a whistle;/as if a palpable friction between/lip and reed; a green-sweet taste/like hesitation and sympathy;” These images blend together to create a sound that hums.

In the second half of the collection, the poems are more personal, delving into the sorrowful images of disease and how the body can be ravaged even when the patient is in denial or at least trying to pretend they are not ill. LaForge takes a frank look at the grotesque found in the most beautiful relationships, including being sisters.  With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women by Jane Rosenberg LaForge strikes a pose and has an opinion without apology, and don’t expect one.  The statements are bold and without explanation.  They just are.

About the Poet:

Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s poetry, fiction, critical and personal essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Poetry Quarterly, Wilderness House Literary Review, Ottawa Arts Review, Boston Literary Magazine, THRUSH, Ne’er-Do-Well Literary Magazine, and The Western Journal of Black Studies.


This is the 23rd book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.



This is my 82nd book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

Misguided Angel by Melissa de la Cruz (Book 5)

Misguided Angel by Melissa de la Cruz (book 5 in Blue Bloods series) is divided between Jack and Schuyler on the run from the coven and Mimi and Oliver back in New York seeking to uncover the perpetrators of vampire kidnappings.  The New York coven is crumbling beneath the weight of the Silver Blood attacks and the absence of its celestial leader Michael, known as Charles Force in this century.  The deaths of Blue Bloods are scaring the elders and the younger generations, and some are talking about retreating underground.  Meanwhile, Schuyler and Jack have sought refuge in the European Coven only to find that the protection is more like being held prisoner, preventing them from being able to fulfill the Van Alen Legacy of protecting the paths to the underworld from Lucifer.

“Deming wondered how much of that fit in with the Vampire Code to enlighten the human race.  It seemed in the present, many of the vampires were not interested in helping humanity as much as they were interested in helping themselves to as much as possible.”  (page 197)

Cruz’s characters are stretching their wings and coming into their full powers.  Even the confident Mimi Force is flailing in her new position as Regent, and her vulnerability makes her seem a little less abrasive than her celestial “Angel of Death” persona.  Forced to rely on Oliver, Schuyler’s former familiar and conduit, Mimi must learn that she is not infallible and that she can misjudge the scope of her powers, particularly in the modern world.  She also becomes more resourceful in that she calls on the Chinese coven for a skilled Venator to uncover the kidnappers of vampires.

In the Mediterranean, Jack and Schuyler are learning to be comforted in their shared space and experiences, even under the protection of the European Coven.  But in an attempt to kick their mission to find the hidden paths and ensure their protection into high gear, a fiery escape from a yacht leads them deep into the mountains to uncover a 15th Century mystery.  Cruz is easing readers further into the devotion between these two characters and showing how well they work together, in spite of their doubts about how long they will have together given that they are basically outlaws of two covens.

Misguided Angel by Melissa de la Cruz is about how the past can trick us into thinking that the future path is set and that there are few choices, but really the future is wide open and can change easily once a new decision and path is chosen.  The series is kicking into high gear and there are newer mysteries to solve and mazes to run through for these characters, and they’ll have your rooting for each of them to look beyond “destiny” to find the future they want most and can make them happiest.

About the Author:

Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Ashleys series, the Angels on Sunset Boulevard series and the semi-autobiographical novel Fresh off the Boat.

Photo © Denise Bovee