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Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor

Source: Penguin
Paperback, 256 pgs.
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Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor is told from two points of view, including that of poet Emily Dickinson, and the reader is given a glimpse into the secluded life of the poet through her own eyes as well as those of the new maid and Irish immigrant, Ada Concannon.  Concannon has had wanderlust for some time, and her daydreams have pushed her out of favor with the family her siblings and mother work for, pushing her into a new life in America.  Although she will miss her sisters and family very much, she’s eager to see the world beyond her home.

“‘You cultivate possessiveness,’ Vinnie once told me.  ‘You smother Sue, and every other acquaintance, with friendship.'” (pg. 27 ARC)

“Oh, chimerical, perplexing, beautiful words! I love to use the pretty ones like blades and the ugly ones to console.  I use dark ones to illuminate and bright ones to mourn.  And when I feel as if a tomahawk has scalped me, I know it is poetry then and I leave it be.”  (pg. 40 ARC)

The Dickinson’s are well respected in Amherst, though Emily’s recent withdrawal from society has become part of the town’s gossip.  As a maid in the Dickinson household, she is privy to the inner workings of the family but is also expected to maintain its secrets.  O’Connor has created a believable Emily in terms of action and manner, and her portrayal of immigrants, particularly the Irish, rings true.  O’Connor adopts Dickinson’s style of economical word use to tell her story and it works really well.  These foil characters work well together, as a mutual respect blossoms and friendship emerges between these women.

“But how can I explain that each time I get to the threshold, my need for seclusion stops me? The quarantine of my room–its peace and the words I conjure there–call me back from the doorway.  Ada could not truly appreciate that the pull on me of words, and the retreat needed to write them, is stronger than the pull of people.”  (pg. 52-3 ARC)

“From now on I shall be candle-white.  Dove-, bread-, swan-, shroud-, ice-, extraordinary-white.  I shall be blanched, bleached and bloodless to look at; my very whiteness will be my mark.  But inside, of course, I will roar and soar and flash with color.” (pg. 121 ARC)

Readers will be thoroughly taken in by this novel about Dickinson and the Irish immigrant’s life, and O’Connor provides a real motivating factor for Emily’s seclusion from the outside world.  As Ada’s life is threatened, Emily is forced to act and in so doing, she must leave the home in which she finds solace.  Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor is stunning and one that should not be missed.  A definite best book of the year.

About the Author:

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1970, Nuala O’Connor is a fiction writer and poet. Writing as Nuala Ní Chonchúir she has published two novels, four collections of short fiction, a chapbook of flash fiction and three full poetry collections – one in an anthology. Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily will be published in 2015.

Nuala holds a BA in Irish from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Translation Studies (Irish/English) from Dublin City University. She has worked as an arts administrator in theatre and in a writers’ centre; as a translator, as a bookseller and also in a university library.

Nuala teaches occasional creative writing courses. For the last four years she has been fiction mentor to third year students on the BA in Writing at NUI Galway. She lives in County Galway with her husband and three children.

The Visitant by Megan Chance

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 339 pgs.
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The Visitant by Megan Chance is a ghost story with Gothic romance elements, reminiscent of the Brontes but not as dark.  Elena Spira arrives in Venice in the late 1900s (given the use of Bromide as a cure) with high expectations of caring for Samuel Farber in a plush palazzo, but Ca’ Basilio is rundown and falling apart, with few rooms furnished, a staff that’s very abrasive, and a family with dark secrets.   Samuel’s ailments are a secret as well, as the Basilio family believes him to be merely the victim of a robbery and beating, but there are those in the house who are aware of his true sickness.  Nero Basilio is Samuel’s best friend and when he returns from his trip to Rome, Elena captures his attention.  As he fervently pursues her, Samuel warns her against his darker nature given her virginal innocence, but it’s clear he has designs on her as well.

“When I was finished, the trunk was still half-empty.  So sad, really, that a life could be compressed to so few things.  Three or four books, a photographic portrait of my parents and me.   Should someone wish to write my biography, a paragraph would be enough.” (pg. 88 ARC)

Elena wants more from her life that the future that awaits her if she fails in her mission to return Samuel to health.  Her one mistake led her to this place of desolation, and her success can not only affect her own life, but that of her parents.  Her failure would be devastating for them all.  But even as she finds the palazzo in disrepair and the family without a fortune to repair it, she’s less curious about the house than one would expect in a ghost story, particularly one with Gothic elements.  However, given her heavy guilt, her focus remains where it should be for the most part, though she is not unaware of the oppressive spirit of the house and its former inhabitant.

Chance weaves a captivating story from beginning to end, though Elena could have been a little more perceptive about Nero than she was given her past mistakes, which are referenced a few times.  In the fall season and Halloween around the corner, The Visitant by Megan Chance is a good fit.  It provides enough ghostly elements and enough mystery to keep readers going, and the romantic elements are not over the top.  Another solid novel from this author.

Other reviews:

Inamorata

About the Author:

Megan Chance is a critically acclaimed, award-winning author of historical fiction, including Inamorata, Bone River, and City of Ash. Her novels have been chosen for the Borders Original Voices and Book Sense programs. A former television news photographer and graduate of Western Washington University, Chance lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters.  Visit her Website, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dining With … Monsters: A Disgusting Way to Count to 10! by Agnese Baruzzi

Source: Sterling Children’s Books
Hardcover, 34 pgs.
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Dining With … Monsters A Disgusting Way to Count to 10! by Agnese Baruzzi is a cute children’s book in which young readers can dine with monsters on some of their favorite foods.  From The Beast with Giant Claws and Scales to Mr. One-Eye Not-So-Nice, these beasts eat spiders, frogs, and more.  My daughter has read and re-read this book several times with me and she enjoys flipping open the flaps to count the disgusting creatures being swallowed whole.  Even when we are not reading together, she often opens the book and creates her own stories about these monsters.

The bright, bold colors in these drawings and the short little rhymes are engaging and entertaining, and these characters are scary and funny at the same time. It’s a fun way to count to 10.  At the end, there is even a recap of all the items eaten, so that young readers can recount these items.  Dining With … Monsters A Disgusting Way to Count to 10! by Agnese Baruzzi was a big hit.  Perfect for Halloween and for R.I.P. X.

About the Author:

Qualified from the ISIA in Urbino in 2004, Agnese Baruzzi currently lives in Bologna, Italy. She has been working as an illustrator and has been publishing children’s books since 2001 in several countries. She collaborates with advertising agencies and leads workshops for kids in schools and libraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teacher’s Pets by Crystal Hurdle

Source: Tightrope Books
Paperback, 150 pgs.
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Teacher’s Pets by Crystal Hurdle is ripe with innuendo, secrets, and more. Readers will venture into the wilderness with a class training group, as their instructor Cam teaches them about nature and all of its wonders. Through the interplay of free verse, overheard conversations between students and between teachers, as well as classroom assignments, Hurdle creates an absorbing setting in which the laws of the outdoors are internalized and the students learn to engage with the theory of evolution — “survival of the fittest.”

From "Robert Sedaris" (pg. 47)

He says some trees' taproots
probe and probe,
seek out the heat at the centre of the earth.

Man, I had no idea.
It's as if all my life I was underground
and have just now poked through the surface.

Robert Sedaris is a character full of foreshadowing, and he alludes to many events to come throughout the collection, but his lines are just subtle enough that they read like discussions of nature. In “Robert Sedaris” (pg. 83), “You hear the first little pop/and then so many that individuals can’t be heard,//they are all one./It blows up into something bigger/than you thought possible,/” Working on two levels, Hurdle has crafted a complex collection with multiple moving parts within and around it. In many ways, these little solar systems are orbiting one another and informing a larger sense of action and purpose.

Teacher’s Pets by Crystal Hurdle deals with some heavy issues and lines that should never be crossed — though they often are. These poems are by turns sad and will have readers shaking their heads at naive children, as well as shaking a fist at adults who should know better.

About the Poet:

Crystal Hurdle teaches English and creative writing at Capilano University in North Vancouver. She is the author of the poetry collection After Ted & Sylvia and her poetry and prose has been published in many journals, including Bogg, Canadian Literature, the Dalhousie Review, Event, Fireweed, and the Literary Review of Canada.

 

 

 

 

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 12 discs
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Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella, narrated by Rosalyn Landor, is a wonderful breath of fresh air in which readers are introduced to Lara Lington and her great aunt Sadie Lancaster.  Part ghost story and party mystery, at its heart this is a story about respect, family tradition, and history.  Unlike Kinsella’s hilarious Shopaholic series, there is a great deal more heart and emotion in this one.  Lara is struggling in her new line of work as a head hunter, after her business partner left her in a lurch, but once she’s accosted during a funeral by a ghost, she has little choice but to look beyond her own plans and go on an adventure she’ll never forget.

Sadie and Lara make a fantastic team as they try to locate her great aunt’s favorite necklace, and in the meantime, Sadie’s whispers are making their way through many lives with some hilarious results.  Lara has spent a lot of time hoping for the best and pining away for her ex-boyfriend, pretending that all is well.  But when Sadie enters her life, she’s forced to really reassess where she’s been and what she’s been doing with her life.  Sadie, who didn’t think she amounted to much in 105 years and lost the one true love of her life, spent a great many years having fun and barely committing to anything or anyone.  They are opposites in many ways, but they teach each other how to truly live.  Rosalyn Landor is a terrific narrator who does excellent voices for male and female characters, as well as a stellar British accent.

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella, narrated by Rosalyn Landor, is utterly enjoyable from start to finish, and Kinsella’s characters will have readers itching to break out flapper dresses and dance the Charleston.

About the Author:

Madeleine Wickham is a bestselling British author under her pseudonym, Sophie Kinsella. Educated at New College, Oxford, she worked as a financial journalist before turning to fiction. She is best known for writing a popular series of chick-lit novels. The Shopaholic novels series focuses on the misadventures of Becky Bloomwood, a financial journalist who cannot manage her own finances. The books follows her life from when her credit card debt first become overwhelming (“The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic”) to the latest book on being married and having a child (“Shopaholic & Baby”). Throughout the entire series, her obsession with shopping and the complications that imparts on her life are central themes.

Strange Theater by John Amen

Source: John Amen
Paperback, 112 pgs.
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Strange Theater by John Amen includes surrealism and introspection, as well as poems dedicated to individuals that speak to a broader scope of readers.  It is a peek behind the theater curtain at the backstage machinations of life and the true identity of the theater’s players.  Examining the roles of those on the stage, in the background, the understudies, and the roles that we take in our own lives, Amen takes readers on a roller coaster journey.

From "folk singer" (pg. 91)

of course you're suffering
that goes without saying
alone in yr own private tundra
staggering through the snow

Many of us feel alone with our suffering, and theater, movies, stories, and poetry often help connect us, creating tangential connections between our own suffering to that of others. Some of these poems often draw out the egoism we have about our own lives and suffering, like in “biography,” “ferry approaching in the haze/the monuments he built/he built for himself/for this reason are destined to crumble//” (pg. 17) Many of these players are haunted, haunted by their pasts, their futures, their missteps, and their inability to meet the expectations of others.

from "diaspora" (pg. 30)

last time we talked
I saw deadbolts turning in yr eyes
from light years away you demanded

Amen keeps his readers on their toes as they move from line to line and poem to poem, exploring the uncertainty in all of our lives as it plays out on the biggest stage. Strange Theater by John Amen is wonderfully disconcerting even among the most common of places and people. Imagine looking back on a body of work and seeing only a darkness — a future that hasn’t been written yet — and feel that insecurity that breeds alongside the wondrous possibilities, and you’ll know what it is to walk out on Amen’s poetic stage.

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

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.

A Shade of Vampire by Bella Forrest

Source: Purchased
ebook, 296 pgs.
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A Shade of Vampire by Bella Forrest is a short novella in which Sophia Claremont is kidnapped by vampires and brought to The Shade to become a slave. She’s given to Prince Derek Novak as a gift from his siblings, though his brother Lucas has already claimed her in his mind. Sophia has had a rough time growing up and was finally settled with a neighboring family and her best friend Ben, whom she’s had a crush on for some time. But she also has debilitating anxiety in crowded spaces, almost like she’s on sensory overload.  However, when she finally awakes on this vampire island, very little is seen of her disorders, until she’s attacked one evening.

“She was beautiful because, at a time when she had every right to be terrified, she managed to show comfort to another person who needed it.”

Derek, who has awakened from a 400 year long sleep, cannot stay away from Sophia and he keeps her like a caged bird in his treetop penthouse.  Her humanity has captured his attention, and even though her blood calls to him, he makes every effort to battle his desires.  As she teaches him about technology and he begins to show her respect, their bond intensifies.  Sophia is a naive character who is led by her emotions easily, and in many ways, she falls for the guy who acts like her protector — whether its teenage Ben at home or Derek the powerful vampire on The Shade.

“I know an excuse when I hear one.  Don’t you dare deceive yourself into believing that you’re the victim.”

A mantra that Ben has used many times to snap her out of her anxiety trances, Sophia finds it can be useful in more ways than one, but even as she tames Derek’s inner beast, she fails to see how she is a victim and needs to take action.  One failed escape attempt is all it takes for her to become complacent, which does little for the tension in the book.  While the characters, setting, and world are intriguing, there is little back story, which can leaving the feud between Derek and Lucas seem empty and can leave the lore of this vampire series feel incomplete.

A Shade of Vampire by Bella Forrest provides an engaging way to spend the afternoon, but unless there is more back story in the subsequent novels less telling, rather than showing, it would be hard to sustain interested beyond two more books.  There are 18 books in this series.  It boils down to wanting more from the setting and lore beyond the main characters who are dynamic and troubled.

About the Author:

Bella Forrest is the million-bestselling author of the “A Shade of Vampire” series.

Under the Dome by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 34.5 hours
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Under the Dome by Stephen King, narrated by Raul Esparza, is an experiment to uncover what would happen in a small, 200 year old Maine town, Chester’s Mill, if a dome trapped them under glass for observation.  Some are trapped in the town by their own circumstances, like drug addiction and lack of ambition, while others remain in the town because they can be top dog in a smaller pond.  Dale Barbara, however, is an outsider who had enjoyed his time in town until he was told in no uncertain terms that he should leave.  Too bad the dome blocked his escape.

As many know, this was turned into a television series, and while it varies widely from the book, there are still some core elements that remain.  Fear, greed, and self-preservation drive many in the town to do unspeakable things, and some of the worst were already in positions of power, like Jim Rennie.  There are horrors within the dome walls — and some of them are very graphic in nature — but it is the world that King builds that will have readers riveted.  These characters could be in any small town you’ve lived in or visited, from the nosy neighbor to the mean girls torturing the smart kid.

Under the Dome by Stephen King, narrated by Raul Esparza, is a really well done audio book that will make readers hold their breath and pray for good outcomes, even when there is no hope.  Rather than rely too heavily on supernatural or alien elements, King focuses on the reactions of the townspeople and their inability to see beyond their own issues.  Their myopic view is one element that will have readers pounding their fists in frustration, and while Rennie is easy to hate, it is clear that there are great things at work than the greed of one man.

About the Author:

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King. (Photo Credit: Denver Post)

The Uncertainty Principle: Poems by Roxanna Bennett

Source: Tightrope Books
Paperback, 126 pgs.
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The Uncertainty Principle: Poems by Roxanna Bennett is a debut collection of poems in which the observation of events can have an impact on its outcome on the human and atomic level.  It is broken down into five sections — The Dominant O, Come From Away, Symptoms of the Disorder, The November Revolution, and Diminishing Returns — and each section delves deeper into the murk to uncover the momentum or the setting of events in motion.  Was it the abuse in childhood that forced her to be bitter and angry or was it being stood up that made her demand more power over her own life?

From “The Bottle Genie” (pg. 26-8)

I’m the empty window panes in a scissored newspaper, finger
of air beneath the door. I’m the cold chisel killing the torch singer,

the alembic that distills you to vapour. I’m what analyzes your
labelled slides, you in my eyes, magnified. I’m your cellar door.

Observation is not the mere passing of time for these narrating personas; it is an art form and a curiosity seeking to be quenched, even in the darkness of human suffering. There is a deep need to get at the root of a person, a situation, a motivation, a hurt. Beyond those who are observing, there are those who self-reflect, looking at the choices made and the life they live but from the outside — detaching themselves from those lives. Like in “Uprising” (pg. 31), “Limits of middle age fence/her in, a dozen lives ride/on her decisions. Memories,//raw beauty of teenage selves, memories,/youth that saw thoughtless uprising,/” where the woman is a decision-maker for those around her — probably her children and husband — and she is looking back to a time when she was not bound by her constraints and was free to turn on a dime and do something new without fearing the consequences — at least not having to fear how the consequences would impact those who rely on her.

From “Diminishing Returns” (pg. 121)

“We have navigated our worth
by the map of skin worn by another.”

“Hours dark wing-beats over the contours of her face.
We are the sum of all our choices, the origin of grace.”

Bennett also has a great series of poems in different sections of the collection that rely on echo, in which lines or phrases from one poem appear at the start of the next. These also ratchet up the tension in this collection, as readers are taken on a journey through rough waters and the unpredictability of the churning sea keeps them guessing. The Uncertainty Principle: Poems by Roxanna Bennett is a wounded animal howling in the dark, trying to make sense of the harm that has come and laid its insides bear for the alley cats to sneer and pick at, but it also is an examination of those trials and how they can define us or not, depending on the choices we make.

About the Poet:

Roxanna Bennett studied experimental arts at the Ontario College of Art and Design and creative writing at the University of Toronto. She lives in Whitby, Ontario.

 

 

 

 

The Same-Different: Poems by Hannah Sanghee Park

Source: Academy of American Poets (purchased)
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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The Same-Different: Poems by Hannah Sanghee Park, 2014 Walt Whitman Award winner, straddles the line between myth and reality, as Park examines some global myths from China and India to Norway and Greece.  She uses phonemes to uncover the secrets in the words she’s chosen to get at the heart of their meaning to not only reach an origin but to generate a response.  Upon first reading, these poems seem like an exercise in word play, but reading more deeply encourages readers to see the similarities and differences inhere in the words chosen and how those nuances should be celebrated.

From "Bang" (pg. 3)

Just what they said about the river:
rift and ever.

And nothing was left for the ether
there either.

And if anything below could mature:
a matter of nature.

Here the interplay of words peeks beneath the surface of creation myths from the big bang theory to the story of creation in scripture. Rather than focus on the age-old battle between whether creationism or evolution is the correct theory of what happened, Park asks “to have left the world,/to what is left of it –/could you have anything left to cove?” Rather than battle for the correct theory and covet the glory of being correct, shouldn’t we be more focused on the awe of it all and our minor part in it? Park forces readers to question their perceptions of what is important about life, not just what happens in their own lives but also the life around them.

& A (pg 22)

Being a matter
of importance, there

is no mastering
this but to bind you,

thrash and all, to the 
mast.  O you won't reach

irresistible song,
but the rope will teach

you the body's give.
Go down to the bone,

then tell me again
there what matters.  It

will give you every
-thing you need to know

about what I cannot tell you and then,
just maybe then, could it be enough.

Similarities and differences are looked at with new eyes, and in many ways, those differences can be dangerous. However, these poems suggest that even in these perceived dichotomies there is beauty, something to be savored and to be loved. In the final section of poems — Fear — the sum of the poems reads like a single force, gyrating and churning the seas of perception until the final lines. Park wonders aloud what it means to be the fear-driven species that strives to become the sole survivor and upon reaching the summit what is there left but more fear. From “Beyond the meadow, the horizon fails” (pg. 47), “what then to our victor’s highest marks?/Only fear regrouping in your heart of hearts.” And yet, despite all this dreariness and dark, Park leaves readers with a hope, a bleak hope — “everything in life is a placeholder.” The Same-Different: Poems by Hannah Sanghee Park is stunning in its twists and turns, but it will require several reads and recitation aloud in some cases. But the gems within these lines and phrases are well worth the work.

About the Poet:

Hannah Sanghee Park was born in Tacoma, Washington and earned a BA from the University of Washington and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of a chapbook, Ode Days Ode (Catenary Press, 2011). She is the recipient of fellowships and awards from The Fulbright Program, 4Culture, The Iowa Arts Council/National Endowment for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony. Her work has appeared in various journals and publications, including LVNG, Petri Press, Poetry Northwest, and Best New Poets 2013. In 2014, Park won the Academy of American Poets’ Walt Whitman Award.

Park lives in Los Angeles, where she attends the Writing for Screen & Television Program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

 

 

 

 

Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

Source: Harper
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn, an actress herself, has embarked upon an ambitious collection that looks at the narcissistic and self-mutilating world of Hollywood through the eyes of actresses’ whose lives ended prematurely by their own hands or through the actions of others.  From the famous Marilyn Monroe to the less well-known Barbara La Marr, Tamblyn calls into question the need for perfection among female actresses and how hard it is to find work once these actresses reach a certain age.  There’s also one poem about Lindsay Lohan, which readers may have various reactions to, including shock, dismay, and possibly laughter. (if you want to read what happened when she read the poem, beware it is a bit of a spoiler about the poem)

From "Thelma Todd" (pg. 3-5)

At the bar I run into Nancy,
drinking away her forties,
her eyes are flush broken compasses.
Lost between age fifteen and fifty.

Fermented blood.
Deep-sea drinker.

I do not look into her ocean.
The fish there float to the bottom.
I fear I'll go down there too,
identifying with the abyss.
Washed up.
Banging on the back door of a black hole.

These poems are at best depressing and at worst horrifying. These sparkling actresses are snuffed out by the pressures of Hollywood, but they also have their own demons chasing them. Tamblyn’s sense of the tragic is acute when exposed in lines like these: “But first she said, I’m sorry, Charles, it’s over between us,/tied together the sheets of their love letters,/climbed out the window of his soul.//” (from “Dominique Dunne,” pg. 25) and “I’m going to floss my teeth with the public hair/of the Hollywood night air,/memorize my lines before I snort them.//” (from “Bridgette Andersen,” pg. 30-1) These women’s lives and those of living actress continue to become objectified, and it’s hard to imagine living with that on a day-to-day basis. In many ways, the collection almost suggests to those female actresses who have lived in Hollywood longer, continue to work, and do not fall into a spiral of depression that they are the exceptions.

There is a sense of fight in these poems, as if Tamblyn is calling attention to these tragic stories not only to encourage female actresses to shun these arbitrary pressures, but also to call attention to the public’s role in these tragedies. Celebrity lives have become fodder for the American public, and these poems want to demonstrate the darkness that can follow such attention. Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn is an ambitious collection of poems that will have readers thinking about their own roles in celebrity gossip and objectification.

About the Poet:

Amber Rose Tamblyn is an American actress, author and film director. She first came to national attention in her role on the soap opera General Hospital as Emily Quartermaine. She also starred in the prime-time series Joan of Arcadia, portraying the title character. Her feature film work includes roles in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Grudge 2, The Ring, and 127 Hours; she had an extended arc as Martha M. Masters on the main cast of the medical drama House, M.D. She also had a starring role on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men during its eleventh season as Jenny, the illegitimate daughter of Charlie Harper.

 

 

 

 

LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 176 pgs
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LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart (this has a gorgeous cover) is a collection of essays, many of which were published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, that read not like essays but mini-memoirs. It has been a pleasure to read about Philadelphia — a city I was fortunate to visit briefly and not spend enough time in — through the eyes of someone who loves it dearly. All of its nooks and crannies, its alleys, its rivers, its art, its history — it is all laid bare with Kephart’s fondest memories and recollections. The city comes alive in her hands — it breathes.

The graffiti, the artisans, the food markets, and the University of Pennsylvania are moving through these pages like the Schuylkill River, leaving its gleaming beauty behind in its wake.  She says in the preface, “Love: A Philadelphia Affair is about the intersection of memory and place.  It’s about how I’ve seen and what I’ve hoped for, what ‘home’ has come to mean to me.  It’s about train rides, rough stones, brave birds, rule breakers, resurrectionists, unguided and mostly solo meanderings.  It is experiential, not encyclopedic.  Reflective, not comprehensive.” (pg. x)  In this way, Kephart has enabled readers to ruminate on their own memories, which may or may not be of Philadelphia and only tangentially related to her own.  I’ve remembered train journeys to NYC, ice cream I loved as a kid made in a small Massachusetts town, and a journey to Valley Forge that was at once solemn and beautiful.

“There’s something about standing on the platform watching the curve for the Silverliner.  Something about feeling the rumble in the sole’s of one’s feet.  Something about the rituals of travel.  Leaving and returning — that’s where I’ve lived.  I’m sympathetic to the crossties of the tracks.” (pg. 7-8; “Time In, Time Out”)

Kephart establishes the tone for these essays in these lines, telling her readers that she will straddle the past and present, the before and the after, and the moment and the remembering of the moment.  Many of us do this as our minds wander between where we are and where we have been, noting the connections that are only apparent to us until we voice them aloud.  And in “Psychylustro,” we, like the train, become museums — a collection of our own artifacts, memories, and temporal importance.

One minor thing readers may notice, there are only a few photos at the start of each essay, and more photos would have been a lovely addition.  However, LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart is a love story involving a city, but it’s also a testament to the love we hold and can freely give through art and action — so long as we can check our ego and greed at the door.  We all want recognition and love, but we need to also realize that these do not come without our own generosity.  It is not just the generosity that we show toward others, but also to ourselves and the world around us.

About the author:

Following the publication of five memoirs and FLOW, the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, I’ve had the great pleasure of turning my attention to young adult fiction. UNDERCOVER and HOUSE OF DANCE were both named a best of the year by Kirkus and Bank Street. NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, A HEART IS NOT A SIZE, and DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS were critically acclaimed. In October YOU ARE MY ONLY will be released by Egmont USA. Next summer, Philomel will release SMALL DAMAGES. I am at work on a prequel to DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS, a novel for adults, and a memoir about teaching.