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Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 496 pgs.
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Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which was out June book club selection, demonstrates the best of Chekhov’s short story writing. He uses an economy of words to depict the every day lives of clerks, former actresses, professors, young boy orphans, and so much more. His stories carefully illustrate the mundane lives of these Russian people and the struggles they faced. There are tales of lost love, actresses who want more than to be a pretty face, and men who strive to be more than they are and fail.

For the book club, we chose to read and discuss 10 of the stories in this collection: The Death of a Clerk, Small Fry, The Huntsman, The Malefactor, Panikhida, Anyuta, Easter Night, Vanka, The House with the Mezzanine, and The Lady with the Little Dog. I have read the others since the meeting, except “The Boring Story” that I had previously and had turned me off Chekhov until college when we read his plays.

What I love about Chekhov is his sparse language and his ability to paint a full picture of someone’s life in so few words. Each word matters, and he often will choose words for a dual purpose, like the use of the word “stranger” in “The Huntsman.” It can literally be someone who is unknown to you or someone you haven’t seen in a long time and you feel that they have become a stranger. I found this translation very readable and the stories relatable even today — these stories were written in the late 1800s.

Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky will keep readers on their toes, as some situations can be a bit odd. However, the concepts of lost love, jobs that are unsatisfying, and husbands who become strangers to their wives are issues that persist even today.

RATING: Quatrain

What the book club thought:

We found a great deal to discuss in these stories, even though some were just 2-5 pages. It is fascinating how so few words can generate so much discussion, even for stories that we barely understood.We had a great deal of discussion about “Chekhov’s Gun” about the functionality of every element in a story and the idea that promises are made and should be kept.

Everyone seemed to find reading these short stories worthwhile, even if not all of them were enjoyable. There are some fascinating pieces in this collection.

About the Author:

Anton Chekhov was a Russian playwright and short-story writer, who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 44 pgs.
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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman celebrates inclusiveness and diversity, sending the message to parents and kids that everyone is welcome in their school, in their class, and even outside the confines of school. The colorful illustrations remind kids that the world is a rainbow and that as individuals come together we are a beautiful kaleidoscope.

The simple rhymes will be easy for younger children to follow as their parents read to them, and reading for beginning learners will be smooth. Although the kids will not see the names of the children depicted, there are kids like themselves drawn in these pages — those with dark skin, light skin, full head coverings, curly hair, straight hair, wheelchairs, and so much more. This is a book that reflects the reality of not only the United States but the world.

It’s not a book that points out differences for inspection, but demonstrates the fun that can be had together in a group even if we are different. The focus is on the things we can do together — games on the playground, art and music created, the class participation when the teacher asks questions, the discoveries that can be made.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman, which emerged from a poster that went viral, is delightful, colorful, and just what kids need to remind them that divisiveness is unnecessary and not the way to live.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Authors:

Alexandra Penfold is the author of Eat, Sleep, Poop (Knopf, 2016) and the forthcoming picture books The Littlest Viking (Knopf) and Everybody’s Going to the Food Truck Fest (FSG). She is also a literary agent at Upstart Crow, where one of her clients is Suzanne Kaufman! Learn more about Alex on Twitter at @agentpenfold.

Suzanne Kaufman is an author, illustrator, and animator. Over the years she’s done everything from animating special effects for Universal Television and the Discovery Channel to animating award-winning video games for children. She’s the illustrator of a number of books for children including Samanthasaurus Rex by B. B. Mandell, the forthcoming Naughty Claudine by Patrick Jennings, 100 Bugs by Kate Narita and her own book, Confiscated! among others. Learn more about Suzanne online at suzannekaufman.com or on Twitter at @suzannekaufman.

Villa Fortuna by Cat Gardiner

Source: Purchased
EBook, 342 pgs.
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Villa Fortuna by Cat Gardiner begins when three girls are read the will of their aunt in New York, a place Lizzy Clemente has not lived since the death of her father. They soon learn that they have inherited a prize piece of property in “Snobsville” but to keep it, they must go to confession at church and make other changes.

Her sisters, Gina and Nikki, are eager to open up their own salon in the building and start earning their own money, and Lizzy begrudgingly stays to help them. She’s got her work in Los Angeles as a podiatrist, and she’s hoping that she can return to that life soon before the Italian-American heritage she’s buried for so long sneaks up on her. But her flight back to LA has her thinking about the altar boy she glimpsed at the church when her sisters were making confession.

“Seven figures a year, a body like David with a face like Cary Grant and you resort to selling yourself like a used Mercedes in need of an overdue tune up.”

Little does Lizzy know that her dreamboat has a conniving grandmother who is after Villa Fortuna, which she claims is rightfully hers and stolen by the Clemente sisters’ long dead mob-tied relative. Stella De Luca is a grandmother no one wants meddling in their lives, and Dr. Mike Garin is no exception. Gardiner has a flare for the dramatic in this variation of Pride & Prejudice, which strays far from the original as it must given the modern setting. I loved the characters, particularly Toni(y) the cross-dressing salon receptionist with a heart of gold and Rusty (the rival hair stylist) at Halo. These characters are hilarious, as are the situations they find themselves in. But readers will love the heat between Dr. Garin and Dr. Clemente.

Villa Fortuna by Cat Gardiner is a modern love story with mobster vendettas, over-the-top drama, and salon gossip to get you in trouble if you believe it. Lizzy and Dr. Garin must use their heads to lead their hearts, but sometimes assumptions can lead to trouble, especially when there are Machiavellian strategies afoot.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Cat Gardiner loves romance and happy endings, history, comedy, and Jane Austen. A member of National League of American Pen Women, Romance Writers of America, and her local chapter TARA, she enjoys writing across the spectrum of Pride and Prejudice inspired romance novels. Austenesque, from the comedic Christmas, Chick Lits Lucky 13 and Villa Fortuna, to the bad boy biker Darcy in the sultry adventures Denial of Conscience, Guilty Conscience, and Without a Conscience, these contemporary novels will appeal to many Mr. Darcy lovers, who don’t mind a deviation away from canon and variations.

Cat’s love of 20th Century Historical fiction merges in her first Pride & Prejudice “alternate era,” set in a 1952 Noir, Undercover. Her most recent publications are time-travel WWII P&P short stories: A Vintage Valentine, A Vintage Victory, and A Vintage Halloween as part of the Memories of Old Antique Shop Series.

Her greatest love is writing Historical Fiction, WWII–era Romance. Her debut novel, A Moment Forever was named a Romance Finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. She is currently working on her second novel in the Liberty Victory Series.

Married 24 years to her best friend, they are the proud parents of the smartest honor student in the world—their orange tabby, Ollie and his sassy girlfriend, Kiki. Although they live in Florida, they will always be proud native New Yorkers.

Mr. Darcy to the Rescue by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: the author
Audiobook, 5+ hours
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Mr. Darcy to the Rescue by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Emma Lysy, is the audio version on Kincaid’s delightful re-imagining. I’ve reviewed the paperback version previously and found it delightful. Unlike traditional tropes in which women need to be captured from dire circumstances, Kincaid creates a scenario in which Darcy does ride to Elizabeth’s rescue, but soon finds that he is the one in need of rescuing.

Lysy is a wonderful narrator; she pulls her listeners into the story as she takes on the roles of Lady Catherine, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins, and Elizabeth. Her inflections and intonations, effectively capture the mood of each scene and the emotions of Kincaid’s characters.

I loved revisiting Kincaid’s version of an in-love Darcy and an Elizabeth caught up in the horrifying reality of her decision to marry Mr. Collins. Mr. Darcy to the Rescue by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Emma Lysy, is just delightful on audio.

***Please do check out the guest post from Victoria on the rescue trope found in many romance novels.***

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

The author of numerous best-selling Pride and Prejudice variations, historical romance writer Victoria Kincaid has a Ph.D. in English literature and runs a small business, er, household with two children, a hyperactive dog, an overly affectionate cat, and a husband who is not threatened by Mr. Darcy. They live near Washington DC, where the inhabitants occasionally stop talking about politics long enough to complain about the traffic.

On weekdays she is a freelance writer/editor who specializes in IT marketing (it’s more interesting than it sounds) and teaches business writing. A lifelong Austen fan, Victoria has read more Jane Austen variations and sequels than she can count – and confesses to an extreme partiality for the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice. Visit her website. View her blog, visit her on Facebook, GoodReads, and on Amazon.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 376 pgs.
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A shadowy mist of sin plagues this wagon train led by the Donner family as a group of families make their way west to California. The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a story that creates an unsettling atmosphere as the pages turn, and as the party nears the mountain range where most of us know they became trapped by an early and heavy snowfall, readers will feel the darkness closing in on them even as the bonfires are lit to keep the darkness at bay.

“Everyone agreed it had been a bad winter, one of the worst in recollection.” (pg. 1)

“It was untrustworthy, that snow: It hid crevices, steep drop-offs. Snow kept secrets.” (pg. 2)

Throughout the novel, Katsu draws in her readers with the tales of woe that follow many of the wagon train’s members, including Charles Stanton, James Reed, and Tamsen Donner. These characters are integral to the success and failure of the wagon train, but they also enable Katsu to weave in her supernatural element with roots in Native American myth. Even the trail becomes a character, offering false paths, danger, and hope.

Katsu has a deep understanding of how humans act and react in scary situations, particularly those in which a wrong move could lead to death. From a man so eager to lead even when he doesn’t have the necessary experience to the man on the outskirts of the group because he is a single man in a wagon train of families, Katsu’s characters are nuanced, dynamic, and struggling internally as much as they are with the harsh environment they agreed to take on. Her writing just gets better and better with each book; this is one of her best written to date.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu creeps into your soul, searching for the wisps of guilt that hide in our own shadows and whispering dark thoughts that will leave you awake at night. This is suspenseful and horrifying, and it’s not just the expected cannibalism that will eat away at you.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent. She has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a contributor to The Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Master’s writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University. Prior to the publication of her first novel, Katsu had a long career as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies and is currently a senior analyst for a think tank. She lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Source: publisher
Paperback, 48 pgs.
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We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins is a delightful book that teaches children about how to fit in with new classmates, especially after a rough first day of school.  Penelope is a T-Rex and she finds children tasty. Unfortunately, her classmates are children and she does the unthinkable.

Thankfully, no real harm was done and the teacher gets her to spit them out. Penelope has to learn how to co-exist with her classmates, even if she finds them tasty. Higgins uses a T-Rex to demonstrate how hard it is to join a new class and to start school when you’ve never been before. Her parents have prepared her for lunch at school, or did they?

Her teacher is very adamant about treating her classmates not as food, but even her initial attempts are rebuffed. When she returns home, her father gives her some advice about how children at the same on the inside as Penelope herself. This is a big lesson for all children. But like human children, Penelope fails to learn her lesson until someone treats her just as badly.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins has colorful images of the Penelope T-Rex and her classmates. I found the text easy to read for early readers, and the message is appropriate for this age group.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Ryan T. Higgins is five feet eleven inches tall and has no sense of smell. He doesn’t like to wear shoes, but he does like salmonloaf and bike rides (not together). Instead of reading a long author’s bio, Ryan would rather you forget about him and visit the website!

Poe: Stories and Poems adapted by Gareth Hinds

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 120 pgs.
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Poe: Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Gareth Hinds into a graphic novel, is gorgeous from the cover to the very last page. Hinds has a firm grasp of Poe’s macabre style and his illustrations are complementary to Poe’s prose and poems. In many ways, Hinds’ dark imagery enhances Poe’s words for the modern audience. I loved that there were several poems included and not just Poe’s stories. While Gothic horror is often thought of in prose form, many of Poe’s poems are just as haunting and macabre.

Hinds also includes a checklist of Poe’s favorite themes and corresponding images — from death depicted as a skull to insanity depicted as a straitjacket – -that he uses as a key for each story and poem. Hinds also offers some insight into his selections for the collection, which is by no means comprehensive. I loved that he included my favorite story — The Masque of the Red Death — which he says is the least well-known. I’ve always felt that in some ways, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Mask of the Red Death scene in The Phantom of the Opera was in some ways inspired by this story.

Poe: Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Gareth Hinds into a graphic novel, is a welcome and permanent addition to my personal library. I’ve loved Poe for most of my life, and this volume breathes life and vibrancy into these classics. I cannot recommend this enough, and I’m looking forward to getting more of his graphic adaptations.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Illustrator:

Gareth Hinds is the author and illustrator of critically-acclaimed graphic novels and picture books based on classic literature and mythology. Through his work he shares his love of literature with readers young and old. His recent adaptation of The Odyssey received four starred reviews, and he is the recipient of the Boston Public Library’s “Literary Lights for Children” award. He lives in the Washington, DC area with his wife. When he’s not working on a book he enjoys painting landscapes and practicing aikido.

PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 228 pgs.
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PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey is a comprehensive resource for poets who want to gain a wider audience for their work. For novice marketers, Gailey includes in each chapter an overview of marketing terms and set of action items that poets can tackle within an hour to get themselves started.  What’s beautiful about this book is how well various aspects of marketing are explained from the platform to website to social media interaction.

It’s clear that she’s taken her experience marketing her five poetry collections to create this guide, which poets who have a website or don’t can use to market their art. Overall, much of poetry marketing begins with community. Creating a community online, creating a community in your neighborhood or city, and giving back to those communities through helping other poets with reviews, sharing their books, and even smaller things.

I cannot wait to start putting PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey into action when my manuscript is done and publishable. There are some really challenging parts for me in this book, particularly reaching out to libraries and others to promote my future book.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter and, Field Guide to the End of the World, the winner of the Moon City Press Book Award and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. She also wrote a non-fiction book called PR for Poets to help poets trying to promote their books. Her poems have been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and on Verse Daily; two were included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She was awarded a 2007 and 2011 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize for Poetry and a 2007 Washington State Artist Trust GAP grant. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner.

Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 28 pgs.
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Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez is an eye-opening chapbook of poems and essays about what punishment actually is — beyond the concrete walls and bars on the windows and doors. This is a chapbook that packs a serious punch in the gut from the title poem, “Punishment” to the essays on how poetry not only taught the prisoners how to see beyond their four walls but the poet how to see things and people differently.

From "Punishment" (pg. 7)

The men tossed entire libraries. A rage of books.
Lobbed in high arcs like footballs,
or pitched overhand like grenades.

When caged like an animal and treated inhumanely how would you react if you did not have a blanket and the prison was unbearably cold? Would you have an ability to make a reasonable argument with the prison staff, or would you resort to the basest of reactions? Would you give up that which is most precious to you, like a family bible with calming words or a photo album that comforts you in darkness when your family cannot be near? Readers are asked to think about these questions and to see beyond the crimes and the violence of these men to see the humans broken here.

Gomez deftly places readers inside the prison with her students who still tentatively work on poems and show small kindnesses to one another even as they know once outside the classroom they must return to their “hard” selves — no longer showing emotion or kindness. Even though she is given permission to teach poetry to the prisoners, the staff make not effort to welcome her, but in fact remind her in the least subtle of ways that she is under their control and direction and that her freedoms are left outside.

From "Echo" (pg. 15)

by rain and wind. Absence
expands inside him like smoke.

Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez is an exploration of how poetry and words can provide hope and satisfaction to those who have none. It can help them explore what is good without compromising their prison personas. Gomez is asking the reader to see these men as human beings — men with hopes, deep losses, and so much more.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Nancy Miller Gomez grew up in Kansas but currently lives in Santa Cruz, California. Her work has appeared in River Styx, Rattle, Bellingham Review, Nimrod, and elsewhere. She has a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing from Pacific University. She has worked as a stable hand, an attorney, and a TV producer, and volunteers as the director of the Santa Cruz Poetry Project, an organization that provides poetry and writing workshops to incarcerated men and women. For more information on the Santa Cruz Poetry Project, visit their website.

Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe Lobell by Joe Lobell

Source: Free on Lulu.com
Ebook, 139 pgs.
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Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe Lobell by Joe Lobell is a collection of poems that span about 20 years, beginning in 1986. Through careful, detached observance, the narrator of each poem takes an unfettered look at humanity — it’s fruitless hopes and desires and the inevitability of death.

From "City Opus" (pg. 47)

The buildings are like dead gods, and where a
god lies dead, no one speaks, but shadows of
shadows, dreams of dreams commiserate.

Many of these poems read like stories, dark tales of harm and sadness. The beautiful daughter, the well-liked cop, the mountain climber, the lunberjack — no one is immune to the darkness of life. There is a distinct New York city atmosphere to many of the grittier poems, like “Vision of God” about the struggle with addiction and the need for the next fix.

Chrysalis: Collected Poems of Joe Lobell by Joe Lobell is not a collection for those looking to escape the dark city streets. It’s a reflection of reality amped up on its drug of choice — cold hard reality.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Poet, Playwright, Performer; multiple appearances at the Nuyorican Café including the Proofrock Festival, Knitting Factory and numerous other venues. As a performer combines Urban Poetry with rock jazz and performance. Collaborated with Jazz Musician, Conductor Composer, Butch Morris on Musical Theatre Play “Fire” produced by the Medicine Show Theatre.  Composed Poetry Radio Play “Times Square” in Collaboration with Jazz Composer and Band Leader Joe Gallant which was performed live on WBAI.  Also appeared in numerous venues with Joe Gallant and Illuminati and the Body Electric Fusion Jazz Band.  Collaborated with Blues Musician Popa Chubby on Poetry Play “City Opus” produced at Medicine Show as well as producing “City Opus” Blues Rock Poetry CD Popa Chubby. Numerous individual readings in NYC, Woodstock, and NY State venues.

Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 286 pgs.
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Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard mixes a modern day teenage story of geeky Callie Montgomery with a loosely based historical fiction of Pride & Prejudice involving England’s peerage. In the time travel piece of the story, readers will have to suspend disbelief, forego an explanation, and go with the flow. But for summer reading, this book as the romance, comedy, and social angst readers look for.

“Sometimes I feel more alone when I’m surrounded by my classmates than I do when I’m actually by myself.” (pg. 3)

Callie finds herself in England on a school trip, but in her efforts to impress the popular girls in her class so they invite her out and she doesn’t have to spend another day and night alone in her room — chaperones say they must travel in pairs — her clumsiness pegs her as an outsider. But an epiphany strikes and she heads out to the shops where she buys red Prada heels to fit in. She’s sure the heels will have her invited to the club with the popular girls. Only trouble is she trips and knocks her head on the sidewalk before waking up in 1815.

“I have to pull it together. I can’t just lose it like that, throwing my shoes like I’m in a shot-put competition.” (pg. 53)

Hubbard’s teen protagonist is a believable girl who has issues fitting in, but placing her in 1815 makes her stand out even more, especially when she has little control over her responses to social norms of the time. This makes for some hilarious scenes, but it also could make readers notice the things out of place in 1815 a little bit more. If you’re a stickler for historic detail, this book will drive you crazy. However, if you’re just looking for a fun read, this is definitely that.

There are scenes when Callie commits several faux pas and she would be in hot water for sure, but it’s a good thing the duke she’s falling for is sweet on her. The end also wraps up quickly and in a very predictable and cinematic way. Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard is a fun and quick read for those looking for a cute fish out of water story.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Mandy Hubbard is the author of PRADA & PREJUDICE, YOU WISH, and FOOL ME TWICE, as well as BUT I LOVE HIM (written under the psuedonym Amanda Grace). She lives in Enumclaw Washington, with her husband and daughter.

The Minor Territories by Danielle Sellers

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 85 pgs.
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The Minor Territories by Danielle Sellers explores the uninhabited emotional landscapes scarred by loss and trauma. Many of us live our lives as best we can even if the past haunts us, but those memory ghosts are not the places where we live in the now and they are not the places we choose to remember. These are the places that shape us into who we are, determine our strength, and force us to reassess our own outlooks and life paths.

From "A Photo of the Euphrates" (pg. 16)

Since then, his tongue has changed
the river's story. He's killed strangers
on its shore. I imagine him lying
on the dusty floor of a marble palace
at sundown, breathing red air,
waiting for the comfort night gives.
"When Asked to Say Something Nice About My Ex-Husband" (pg. 59)

I recall his chest, how sometimes he tolerated
my head on it, strong as a door
skimming the surface of a dark ocean.

In a deeply personal collection in which she shares words from her own daughter about her absent father, Sellers explores the pain deeply, attentively until a hope emerges, whether in the comfort of the night air in a war zone or the smell of yeast while baking bread and waiting. Her images are vivid and juxtapose the emotional ups and downs of being in love with a soldier and finding them changed after war. Mourning the loss of the person they used to be and yet loving them still. Moving forward in life without them because you must to emotionally survive. Sellers’ poems are love letters filled with heartbreak, love, and so much more — forgiveness.

The Minor Territories by Danielle Sellers is a story told through poems and like all stories leaves a powerful impression in the sand, but it is one that cannot be erased by the tides of time, only partially worn down.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Danielle Sellers is from Key West, FL. She has an MA from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and an MFA from the University of Mississippi where she held the John Grisham Poetry Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Subtropics, Smartish Pace, The Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. Her first book, Bone Key Elegies, was published by Main Street Rag. She teaches Literature and Creative Writing at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Texas.