So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter

Source: GBF
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter, which won the DC Poet Project award in 2021, explores the broken pieces we become to find the whole. Through persona poems, particularly those with the “messy girl” and “candy girl,” Koiter explores what it means to be broken and keep going. The title itself speaks to the overwhelm that many of us have felt at one time or another in our lives, with many of us having that sense during the pandemic. Dealing with grief and sudden loss, Koiter takes us on a roller coaster of emotions, but her words resonate no matter the readers’ experiences.

Her opening poem, “Easter Night,” establishes the atmosphere of hope even in the darkness where there is the chill of services and the heels sinking into grass: “Since yesterday, the earth has tilted./The day’s last light curves/differently over my arm/on its habitual armrest, then dims/and dims to night.//What will I do with darkness in this new life?//” (pg. 1)

Koiter’s poems are otherworldly, like we’re swimming in her thoughts and trying to make sense of things like she is.

In “The Messy Girl Drives Eastward, with Impending Migraine,” her lines call to the beautiful topsy-turvy nature she’s experiencing: “Lines of birds shift in the air like words that cannot stay still/on the page, latecomers looking for a place/in an already crowded field.” Or the young girl pushing her way onto the swing set “as if/I had never left, as if I could insist/there be no world without me” in “Samsara.” (pg. 42)

As readers move through the collection, grief surfaces and falls beneath the surface. In “After Thanksgiving,” the narrator is eating brandied cranberries in yogurt, but not because she loves these leftovers particularly. It is because they make her feel closer to her mother.

The mind is always churning, it is worrying like the narrator who “worries scab after scab” in “The Messy Girl Carries a Torch for the Boy Who Could Not Stop Washing.” And in “Live Portrait” where the painter is getting the model’s image on the canvas and only “The portrait can bear/the weight of all that/looking”.

So Much of Everything by Jenn Koiter a ball of our anxieties unraveled until we can do little more than see them for what they are — weights we place squarely on our own shoulders and those that we don’t. The trick is to discern which anxieties we can handle because they are our own perceptions (which we can change) and those that are heavy with loss and grief and must be accepted. “meaning today I am at my most/human, meaning I am not okay and/I’m okay” (pg.76) And it is okay to be on that precipice of everything.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Jenn Koiter is a writer, marketer, entrepreneur and breathworker. The winner of the 2021 DC Poet Project, Jenn’s debut poetry collection, “So Much of Everything,” was published in 2021 by Day Eight. Her poems and essays have appeared in Barrelhouse, Smartish Pace, Bateau, Ruminate, Copper Nickel and other journals. She lives in Washington, D.C., with three gerbils named Sputnik, Cosmo and Unit. Visit her on Twitter.

Your Words, Your World by Louise Bélanger

Source: the Poet
Paperback, 99 pgs.
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Your Words, Your World by Louise Bélanger, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a collection of nature photography and poetry. To me, however, the poems read more like a daily devotional, something many of us may need as the pandemic continues into its 3rd year. It’s a collection that reminds us of the beauty around us and how we tend to be too busy with our lives to notice the miracles in our gardens or parks.

from "The contest" (pg.19-20)

"And the fragrance of each flower
When mixed together was exquisite."

Then they understood
No flower is the best
Separately they don't win the contest
The winning comes when they are together

Many of these poems are reliant on a faith in God and have a motherly quality to them. Some of the tone is like a mother speaking to a child, expressing ways to better navigate the world. Learning to get along with others, become part of a team, and work toward a common goal, rather than compete with one another in a contest we cannot win.

Many of the photos in the collection are flowers or nature related, but I absolutely loved the clouds paired with the poem “A handful of cloud”. A mother and child are outside together and he reaches for a blue cloud, but it is the wispy nature of the cotton candy that reminds us of pure joy. It is the sweetness of an innocent child, it is the ephemeral nature of life’s moments. Enjoy each one while you have it.

Your Words, Your World by Louise Bélanger can be turned to again and again in times of worry or stress. The photos alone will cause readers to take a breath and smile. The poems will remind them that life doesn’t have to be a frenzy.

Rating: Tercet

Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 336 pgs.
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Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron is like Nancy Drew set during the time of Jane Austen’s life. Part of the title is inspired by the historic eruption of Mount Tambora, which caused some series climate effects, including crop failures, and led to the “Year Without a Summer” in 1816. I loved that Barron stayed true to the whereabouts (based on historic record) of Austen and her sister, Cassandra, when they took a trip to Cheltenham Spa in Gloucestershire.

Things in the Austen household are not all roses, but even as uncertainty lays claim to the family’s fortunes and to the reputation of Austen’s brother Charles, Jane and her sister take the time to travel to the waters, hoping to improve Jane’s health. Once there, the ladies encounter some very dull and dark characters who many of the other guests seem to be avoiding. The spas themselves are not at all what either lady expects, and in fact, they begin to wonder if the waters are bad for people’s health.

When a young lady in a basket chair turns up at Mrs. Potter’s where they are staying, Austen and her sister are even more intrigued. A captain, a devoted friend who protects her friend in the chair, and a mysterious theater dialect coach all add to the mystery when a Viscount shows up claiming the woman in the basket chair is his wife! When a pug ends up dead at Mrs. Potter’s and later a murder occurs at the local masquerade, Austen and the smitten Mr. West work together to uncover the truth of the murder.

Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron is a delightful who-done-it mystery whose main protagonist is one of the great observers of human nature, Jane Austen. I loved that Austen used her keen observation skills to unearth the truth of the mysteries within these pages. All of the characters have their own secrets, and there is even a bit of romance for Jane herself. Highly recommend for Jane Austen readers and those who love a good mystery!

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Francine Mathews was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written twenty-five books, including five novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-Season, Death in Rough Water, Death in a Mood Indigo, Death in a Cold Hard Light, and Death on Nantucket) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the pen name, Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Pinterest, and GoodReads.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 304 pgs.
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Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci is a delight in many ways. It’s food, family, friends, and humor. Growing up in New York State and traveling to Italy knowing little to no Italian was an adventure in itself, but Tucci has led a adventurous life in food and life. Don’t get me wrong, there are personal struggles and losses in these pages, and there is his diagnosis of cancer, but through it all, his love of food and how it brings family and friends together shines through.

I’m utterly delighted by his humor – it reminds me so much of my own father’s family. The devil-may-care attitude coupled with the traditional rules that cannot be broken — what in the world are you thinking? It’s a catch-22 kind of place to grow up. But the food. Italians love food, and I dare say that the Portuguese are the same. We’ve always come to the table ready to eat, course after course. While there is a great deal more pasta in this book, it was so delightful to read his take on how things taste. His descriptions will have you salivating, even as you are smiling and laughing along with him about some story on set, with his family, or on a press junket.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci is a journey in food and it explores how food brings us together as human beings. Some of best times are around the table. Don’t be surprised if you end up hungry several times while reading this. There’s recipes to sate that hunger, if you are feeling adventurous.

RATING: Cinquain

the moon won’t be dared by Anne Leigh Parrish

Source: Poet
Paperback, 150 pgs.
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the moon won’t be dared by Anne Leigh Parrish opens “among the trees” where the forest is populated by trees in competition with one another, yet united in their need of rooting. Lydia Selk’s collage imposes a woman on the forest of birches in the dense foliage, lying with arched back and eyes closed. Here she seems at peace, but as onlookers (like the statue in the foreground), she’s aware of witnesses who may judge her for her sheer presence. This unique collection is not how art informs poetry like in ekphrastic poems, but how the art of Lydia Selk accompanying these poems is informed by Parrish’s words. But that is not all that’s going on in this collection.

Parrish is a great observer of nature and the world around her, and she invokes the power of that world to demonstrate just how insignificant we can be and how natural power continues regardless of what we think or feel. Like in “storm,” the clouds are gathering and rearranging, while the narrator is talking, but her conversation does nothing but bring noise to a building storm that breaks and drifts on a rush of wind.

Some of my favorite poems in the collection are in the mid- to latter-half. From “the plains, as seen from above” where a river’s curves are compared to a woman’s hips and the changes the world and the woman have endured over time to “tutelage” where a woman looks back on all that she’s learned from her mother and other peers in her life, only to find the teachings less than adequate and that she may have more to teach them.

the moon won’t be dared by Anne Leigh Parrish, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a journey into womanhood and nature that leaves you naked in the forest, but unafraid. Readers will see how the artist Lydia Selk was inspired by Parrish’s imaginative poems that reflect on what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated society and what it means to break free and to own who you are.

***Check out my interview with Anne Leigh Parrish***

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Anne Leigh Parrish is the author of nine previously published books: A Winter Night (Unsolicited Press 2021); What Nell Dreams, a novella & stories (Unsolicited Press, 2020); Maggie’s Ruse, a novel, (Unsolicited Press, 2017); The Amendment, a novel (Unsolicited Press, 2017); Women Within, a novel (Black Rose Writing, 2017); By the Wayside, stories (Unsolicited Press, 2017); What Is Found, What Is Lost, a novel (She Writes Press, 2014); Our Love Could Light The World, stories (She Writes Press, 2013); and All The Roads That Lead From Home, stories (Press 53, 2011). Visit her website.

Great Power, No Responsibility (Spider-Ham Original Graphic Novel) by Steve Foxe, illustrated by Shadia Amin

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Great Power, No Responsibility (Spider-Ham Original Graphic Novel) by Steve Foxe, illustrated by Shadia Amin, is classic Peter Porker! This Spider-Ham was seen in multiverse movie for the Spiderman franchise, and in this graphic novel, he is recognized by the city and the mayor gives him a key to the city in thanks. I was intrigued by this because I’ve loved comics since I was a kid, and Spider Pig, as I called him long ago before the Simpsons’ song, was a cartoon on television.

My daughter received this from her school’s Scholastic book club, and she was excited because Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is her favorite movie of late — she’s probably watched it about 10 times. She read this one on her own, but we did talk about what she read, and this story line was easy to follow for her.

Peter Porker has lost the key to the city. Has it fallen into the wrong hands? Of course, our favorite Marvel characters don’t look the same in this anthropomorphic universe — hulk as a giant green bunny? — but it made for some comical interactions. My daughter was often giggling while reading and pointing out some funny bits to me here and there.

Great Power, No Responsibility (Spider-Ham Original Graphic Novel) by Steve Foxe, illustrated by Shadia Amin, offers younger readers a fun story about responsibility with animal-looking characters they know from the Marvel universe. My daughter really enjoyed this book, and the illustrations are vivid and fun. The action scenes are easy to follow along, and she definitely recommends this to others.

RATING: Cinquain

The Extraordinary Life of Serena Williams by Shelina Janmohamed, illustrated by Ashley Evans

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Extraordinary Life of Serena Williams by Shelina Janmohamed, illustrated by Ashley Evans, is another nonfiction title for elementary readers that explores the real life of someone familiar to them. Tennis Star, entrepreneur, and mother Serena Williams. My daughter read this one on her own and was able to recount much of what happened to Serena in her life. She had no trouble reading the text – at least I wasn’t asked what’s this word.

My daughter loved the illustrations and how realistic they looked. This is a story about how dedication and hard work can help you achieve your dreams. There are little bubbles with word definitions, including “criticize.” This is a word that my daughter actually knew on her own, but I liked how the definitions were not too complex.

“You have to believe in yourself when no one else does,” Serena said.

There is a lot of detail about her home life, her father’s dedication to his girls tennis careers, and how they worked hard to get practice time. The book also doesn’t shy away from the violence in her neighborhood and the obstacles she faced. There’s a timeline of her life, as well as some items for young readers to think about.

The Extraordinary Life of Serena Williams by Shelina Janmohamed, illustrated by Ashley Evans, is a well-rounded story about a tennis great. I loved that this book kept my daughter interested and she learned a great deal about perseverance.

RATING: Quatrain

Kaddish: Before the Holocaust and After by Jane Yolen

Source: Publisher for GBF
Paperback, 88 pgs.
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Kaddish: Before the Holocaust and After by Jane Yolen is an exploration of loss that readers will be unable to turn away from. Readers must witness the devastating pain of the holocaust, but Yolen still holds out hope that violence is not the only solution to bullies and violence. In “What About Goliath,” Yolen explores David’s win over Goliath and asks, “Maybe there’s a better way/than slingshots, hot shots, mugshots./Better than becoming Goliath/ourselves.//” (pg. 7)

The poems in this collection explore generational loss and the brokenness that follows genocide. The stories of the dead are only kept alive by those who remember, but the perpetrators often have the luxury of seeing those stories as a past that they can rewrite or at least supplant with their own.

From "Holocaust Stories" (pg. 42)

We make it true again, truer,
because story sticks
when memory fails.

Yolen explores this in “Kristallnacht in Hamburg,” where her poem points out, “Not all Germans remember/this is the night./It is eighty years later,/their great grandparents’ sin,/only a story, a history,/they will have one of their own.// But still, we are all broken./But still, we are all glass.//” (pg. 25) We need to remember that we are all broken by violence. The people we thought our grandparents were when they cared for us, are those same people who harmed others out of hate. We are all part of that broken history. There is always that question in the shadows of how repairing what is broken will still show the cracks of the past.

Kaddish: Before the Holocaust and After by Jane Yolen is heartbreaking in its sincerity. Yolen’s poems provide a frank look at the Holocaust and after, particularly the absence of respect often shown at Holocaust remembrance locations, with teens smiling and laughing. The movement of time often makes memory hazy, which makes these stories all the more important. We need to hear these stories, feel the pain, and learn to move further away from the violence that leads to brokenness.

RATING: Cinquain

The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 366 pgs.
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The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi is such a fun debute novel. While it is marketed as a modern Pride & Prejudice, it really is so much more than that. The women of Bennet House at Longbourn University are like a family – EJ, Jamie, and Tessa. EJ is an ambitious Black engineering student, and Jamie, her best friend, is a transgender woman who’s studying French and theater. Tessa is a Filipina astronomy major with serious guy problems. Bennet House is full of empowerment for these women, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in need of support. EJ, in particular, is a young woman who had to give up her ballet dreams and has fallen into a career path she’s not exactly sure she wants. She’s a very serious student and a caring RA for other women in Bennet House, but she needs to let loose and find herself.

“It was a truth universally acknowledged that a black girl at a mostly white college, in an even whiter college town, must befriend someone who can do her hair.” (pg. 19)

When her friend Jamie falls for campus heartthrob and all-around good guy Lee Gregory, EJ finds herself thrown in the company of his arrogant friend, Will. Jamie is balancing her new identity with her rocky relationship with her mother since her transition and EJ is the one friend who has stood by her. Jamie has issues navigating her new life because there’s a lot of uncertainty in her relationships, but she finds that her core support is her friends at Bennet House.

EJ’s relationship with Will starts off with a bang of an insult and a horrible follow-up encounter at her favorite diner. These two seem to be like oil and water. But things take a turn they don’t expect.

This novel does not shy away from the obstacles faced by blacks in America, nor the struggles of LGBTQ people. I also loved that the author based her writing in places she clearly knows well. As a local D.C. area writer, it was great to see the city and its suburbs portrayed in a way that isn’t focused only on gun violence. EJ’s family is stable and supportive, her sister’s ambitions are realized but she never forgets where she came from, and I loved the talk EJ’s father gives Will.

Appiah-Kubi is a delightful writer who has a firm grasp of what makes any situation humorous. I loved that she took an Austen classic and made it her own. EJ is a strong character and so are her friends, and they face similar trouble that all college students do. How to find their place on campus, how to navigate their courses to plan their future careers, and even how to balance it all with jobs and love.

The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi should be on your holiday shopping list this year for the readers in your life who need a little hope, a little light, and some romance. This book was a read I couldn’t put down, and as many of you know, these last two years I’ve struggled with picking up fiction books and finishing them. I had no problem reading this book in just a few days.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Eden Appiah-Kubi fell in love with classic novels in fourth grade, when her mom read her Jane Eyre, chapter-by-chapter, as a bedtime story. She’s an alumna of a small New England university with a weird mascot (Go Jumbos!), and a former Peace Corps volunteer. Eden developed her fiction writing through years in a small Washington, DC critique group. Today she works as a Librarian and lives in the DC suburbs with her husband and hilarious daughter.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

Source: Gift
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is more than just a memoir of music and the powerhouses in it. This is a story of one man’s complete awe of where his life has taken him and what drives him to keep going even when tragedy rocked his world and threatened to upend it for good. From Grohl’s opening line about aging — “Sometimes I forget that I’ve aged. — readers know they have found a kindred spirit. Aging is a process of time, and more often than not, we’re too busy living to notice that time has passed and we are no longer as young as our heads and hearts may still believe we are. I know I feel this way a lot of the time.

Grohl’s musical career began in his bedroom with a couple of pillows and a dream, but his love of music was with him since birth. From singing in the car with his mother to sharing punk band music with his cousin and taking drumming lessons from a Jazz legend, Grohl was on the path of stardom long before he realized it was his dream.

“At an early age, I started to play drums with my teeth, sliding my jaw back and forth and chomping up and down to simulate the sound of a drum set in my mouth, doing drum rolls and grace notes as if I were using my hands, without anyone ever noticing.”

If you’re looking for gossip of the nastiest kind, forget it. This is a story of hope, perseverance, hard work, and a ton of coffee. That’s my kind of person, though I admit I have never drank pot after pot of coffee and thought I was having a heart attack.

There’s so much memory in this book, and I remember the great Olsson’s Books and Records in Bethesda, so when I saw that in this book (but the Georgetown store), it brought back a lot of memories of my early days in the DMV. Grohl’s writing mirrors the old storyteller who begins a tale, takes a tangential side trip, and gets back to the main thread. But I absolutely loved all the meandering.

When you get to the part about Nirvana, you realize that many fans know him because of this band and its music, but really, Grohl had lived a full musical life before and after Nirvana. He often talks about how he was a nerd/geek and it was clear that the people who grew to love Nirvana over time were those that used to bully him as a kid. The chapter on his grief after lead singer Kurt Cobain’s death is some of the most poignant and real chapters I’ve read on grief. Everyone grieves differently and grief is not the same for each person’s passing.

Grohl may have passed one of the most devastating moments in his life, but he still carries that with him. There are a great may takeaways in this memoir, but one of the best is this: “Courage is a defining factor in the life of any artist.”

Definitely a book that will live on the shelf with my other Rock Stars. The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is one of the most open and heartfelt memoirs I’ve read in a long time. Would I fangirl if I saw Grohl in person – yes, yes I would. But I do that with anyone’s work I admire. Just ask all the poets I talk to and the ones I will meet someday into the future.

RATING: Cinquain

What Mothers Withhold by Elizabeth Kropf

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 36 pgs.
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What Mothers Withhold by Elizabeth Kropf is a slim chapbook of the emotions we hold inside as mothers and women from our parents, our children, and even ourselves. She opens the collection with a mother’s caring hands, wishing to scrape away the plaque in the minds of Alzheimer’s patients and the dirt from the feet of children who are walking to the United States from Honduras. Each poem is searing with its heartbreak over things we cannot control and the truths that cannot be hidden for too long.

from "the cost of obedience" (pg. 3)

naked in a paper gown
I am without a voice
I nod and accept. I do not say no.
Nurses stare at monitors, their backs to me.

Miscarriages, infertility, and other heartaches are often internalized by women. Women are expected to hold these heartaches inside, especially the feeling of failure. In “Upon the birth of my daughter,” the narrator of these poems speaks to those early moments of birth. She says, “let me reclaim the first moment I held you,/handing you back so soon, arms too weak/let me reclaim, reclaim this passage/let me reclaim a tender moment/to remember to tell you again and again//”

In the title poem, Kropf speaks to what it means to protect our loved ones. How we sometimes push them away to protect them, but in some cases when we hide the truth, it’s only for a little while. There are moments when the truth has to be revealed. “as mothers have always withheld splinters of pain/unwilling to prick innocent skin/until the moment the child is ready to hold truth tenderly/,” she tells us.

The collection is not just about what we hold from our children, but also from ourselves. We withhold our dreams, put them off, waiting for that moment. But that moment is now. We need to learn to be more open, to break through the norms and anxieties that hold us back. What Mothers Withhold by Elizabeth Kropf is less about what we withhold and more about what we need to break free.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Elizabeth Kropf earned her Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Perelandra College and is widely published in literary publications, including The Texas Poetry Calendar, The Penwood Review, and Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature.  A dream called her from California to Texas where she now lives with her husband and daughters.

The Extraordinary Life of Anne Frank by Kate Scott, illustrated by Anke Rega

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Extraordinary Life of Anne Frank by Kate Scott, illustrated by Anke Rega, is a book for readers between ages of 7 and 12. My daughter read this one to herself over a week or so, and we’re using it as an experiment to check her comprehension when she reads on her own. After each reading session, I asked her about what she read. While there were occasions when she had to refer to the text, rather than remember it on her own, my assessment is that the book is written in a way that kids in her age group can remember what happened.

There are illustrations of Anne and her family, a map of the Frank’s journey away from Germany during WWII, and even an illustration of Hitler. The back of the book also includes a timeline exploring when Anne received her journal and its journey to publication, as well as a timeline of Anne’s life. My daughter enjoyed learning about Anne and even has asked about the diary, which is now a book. I told her that we’ll have to dig up my copy to read together.

We also loved the inspiring quotes that were pulled out into separate bubbles for your readers. They were positive and focused on the good things in the journey, rather than the bad. That is not to say that the author avoided talking about the persecution of Jews,the War, or even Anne’s death.

The Extraordinary Life of Anne Frank by Kate Scott, illustrated by Anke Rega, is a great way to introduce young readers to Frank and her family. It will teach them about bigotry, persecution, Nazi’s, WWII, and more. The book also offers some things to think about or kids, though I wish at least one of those questions would have touched on what kids thought about the Nazi’s and their persecution of Jews.

RATING: Quatrain