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My One Week Husband by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Audible Purchase
Audiobook, 7+ hrs.
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My One Week Husband by Lauren Blakely, another audiobook with a full cast, is delightful in terms of romance and sexual tension, but my favorite parts are the musical interludes as we learn about the secret past of Daniel Stuart. His past is integral to how he acts, reacts, and engages in relationships with women and why his drive is so business focused. Like Daniel, Scarlett Slade is a savvy businesswoman, and as the newest business partner of Daniel and his college buddy Cole, she brings a bit of sexy into Daniel’s life, but she is far more than just a body to ogle. She is smart and she holds secrets that driver her in business.

Daniel and Scarlett are flirty, fun, and made for each other. And their relationship goes from business to red hot once they decide they need to scope out their next hotel chain acquisition by pretending to be newlyweds — hence the title. These two gamble in business day in and day out, but when their hearts are on the line, can they take the risk?

Lately, I’ve been on a Paris kick — watching movies and reading books set in Paris — I am longing to travel somewhere, and Paris is romance. Here Daniel is English, and that accent and Paris are a lovely combination. Add in classical music and violins (see videos for some of the pieces mentioned – Beethoven is one of my favorites), and I am over the moon with this romantic tale. My One Week Husband by Lauren Blakely is one of her best — there is a ton of character development here and hot, steamy scenes.

RATING: Cinquain

When I Bleed: Poems about Endometriosis by Maggie Bowyer

In simplified terms, symptoms of endometriosis may include: excessive menstrual cramps, abnormal, or heavy menstrual flow and pain during intercourse.

Endometriosis affects an estimated 2 to 10 percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 40. Go here for more information on Endometriosis.

Source: the poet
Paperback, 118 pgs.
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When I Bleed: Poems about Endometriosis by Maggie Bowyer is a collection that will open your eyes to what it is like to be chronically ill and to struggle to find not only a diagnosis and treatment but also acceptance among friends, family, and loved ones when you cannot even get out of bed some days. This collection also includes some information about online support groups and places to seek out information on this baffling ailment that can sometimes take more than a decade to diagnose.

From "2020" (pg. 2)

But all the laughter
Has been compressed out of me

Chronic illness can be debilitating, so much so that Bowyer says, “It’s like once I was done healing/I ceased to be.” (pg. 4) Bowyer not only tackles the exhaustion and pain of the disease in their poems, they also tackle misconceptions about endometriosis in “Dirty Girls’ Disease.” Readers can expect to take an emotional roller coaster ride with Bowyer, who speaks in verse about their experiences, emotions, and emptiness of battling the disease alone.

From an untitled poem (pg. 24)

I am a kitchen
Without plates,
Pots,
Pans.
I can burn
Pain into
My skin
On the burners;
I can gut myself
With utensils
That seem to serve
No other purpose.
What is the point
Of a kitchen
When my home
Has been destroyed?
Pain Erases People (pg. 51)

There are versions
Of myself
I will never recover,
Stolen by moments
I will forever remember.

This collection will shed light on an illness not many people know about and even fewer understand. This collection spoke to me among the many pitches because it is something a family member has dealt with and others have dealt with in the past. While I do not have it myself, it was important to me to learn more about how this illness affects others, especially those in my family. When I Bleed: Poems about Endometriosis by Maggie Bowyer can provide others with greater empathy and provide a cathartic experience for those with the disease, demonstrating that they are not alone in this battle.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Maggie Bowyer (they/them/theirs) is a poet and the author of The Whole Story (Margaret Bowyer, 2020) and When I Bleed: Poems about Endometriosis (2021). They are a blogger and essayist with a focus on Endometriosis and chronic pain. They have been featured in Germ Magazine, Detour Ahead, Poetry 365, and others. They were the Editor-in-Chief of The Lariat Newspaper, a quarter-finalist in Brave New Voices 2016, and were a Marilyn Miller Poet Laureate. Visit their website.

Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter

Source: FSB Associates
Paperback, 352 pgs.
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Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is a book focused on not letting rejection and negative thoughts get in the way of your dreams. Carter’s book guides writers through the doubts, negative thoughts, roadblocks, and obstacles of writing and publishing, helping them review their own perspectives and how to change their mindsets.

She begins by talking about her hammock where she daydreamed and thought about her writing, but one day, her neighbor cuts the shade tree down in his yard and the hammock is now not “perfect.” Carter’s thoughts are consumed by the loss of shade and the bright sun, but her husband suggests she moves the hammock to another spot. She’s unwilling to do that, until she realizes that sometimes obstacles pop up when we need to change direction.

“I had traded the powerful peace that I am for the illusion that somebody had taken it,” she says. “You may think, as I did, that someone or something outside you is responsible for your upset. As convincing as this appears, it’s a misconception. Our peace and happiness come from within.”

Our internal demons and thoughts are those that keep us from reaching our dreams, and she urges us to stop being rats on that spinning wheel and get off. We need to release ourselves from the “cage of our own making.” In order to do this, however, you need to know wholeheartedly what you want, especially from your writing. You need to have a clear vision of the writing and its purpose. Without it, agents and external forces can push you in directions that are not a perfect fit for you. While some may provide additional opportunities that you may want to pursue, other opportunities may not be a right fit. The trick is to have a clear vision at the start to recognize those right opportunities.

“We cannot control outside circumstances or thoughts, we can choose how we relate to them.”

Carter does offer some writing advice, but her book is less about craft itself and more about the mindset you need to create freely. She does offer a great deal of insight about choosing agents and publishers and learning what route is best for your writing. Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is part spiritual journey, part publishing advice, and part writing craft advice.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Bella Mahaya Carter is a creative writing teacher, empowerment coach, speaker, and author of an award-winning memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, and a collection of narrative poems. She has worked with hundreds of writers since 2008 and has degrees in literature, film, and spiritual psychology. Her poetry, essays, fiction, and interviews have appeared in Mind, Body, Green; The Sun; Lilith; Fearless Soul; Writer’s Bone; Women Writers, Women’s Books; Chic Vegan; Bad Yogi Magazine; Jane Friedman’s blog; Pick The Brain; the Spiritual Medial Blog; Literary Mama, several anthologies’ and elsewhere.

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield (audio)

Source: Freebie
Audible, 2+ hrs.
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The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield is a hommage to Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac that relies on Rolling Stone magazine’s extensive archives. It is clear from Rob Sheffield’s effusive narrative that he loves Stevie Nicks, considers her songwriting genius, and her style transcendent. He clearly loves Stevie Nicks and he takes listeners on a journey through her music with the band and as a solo artist. I loved learning that Nicks wrote songs and that none of them were earmarked ahead of time for the band or her solo albums. She just couldn’t help but write songs all the time.

I liked the light-hearted nature of this nugget, as I’m not as familiar with Nicks’ work as others might be. I’ve listened to Fleetwood Mac many times, and I enjoy their music, but I was interested in her as an artist, who seemed to be a force in the band and on her own. I would probably seek out a more in-depth look at her work and her life, but this provided a nice overview without too much “romance/breakup” gossipy stuff, which I tend to not like as much.

The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks by Rob Sheffield is one fan-boy’s love of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks told by the man himself. It does provide a great overview for the curious who might not want to be too invested, but if you want something more than squealing about how great she is, you might want to try something different.

RATING: Tercet

Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 128 pgs.
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Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells from National Geographic Kids is another stunning book from this publisher. The full-color pictures, the facts throughout the book, and just how the book is put together is fantastic. For kids who are curious about the world around them and pick up rocks and stick them in their pockets as they walk through the park, this is a book for them. This book will open their eyes to the wonderful world of rocks, minerals, and shells.

The introduction gives parents some basic information about how the book rolls out its information, from fact boxes to interactive questions for the kids and the parent tips at the back of the book. This book offers parents a starting point for exploring the natural world with their kids and rekindling some of the curiosity they once had as children. I remember taking earth science in school, but this rock cycle graphic is a great refresher about how all rocks can come full circle.

In addition to pictures of mountains and natural formations that are comprised of rock, the book points to man-made structures that use different types of rock. Kids will learn about rocks in their own backyards, as well as rocks they don’t see every day. I learned about rock that floats like an island in the South Pacific. The interactive map of rocks in different locations is a fun matching quiz for parents and kids alike.

Kids also will learn about shells and mollusks and turtles and so much more. Don’t forget about the minerals. We love discovering new minerals and the matching game where kids are asked to match minerals like topaz with their natural forms, rather than their refined gem looks.

My daughter has collected rocks for as long as I can remember and when we visited Myrtle Beach she started collecting shells. This book has so much information, you may get overloaded if you read it in one day, but as a resource you can come back to again and again, it is a gem of a book. We’re always amazed by how National Geographic Kids puts its informational books together and makes them interactive, and Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells is no exception.

RATING: Cinquain

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 12+ hours
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Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton, read by the Gary Sinise, explores his upbringing, wayward years, and his stumble into acting and building a theater in Chicago from the ground up. These stories are full of antics, and spontaneity, but they also demonstrate the tenacity of a young man who has found his calling. It is this determination that will carry him not only throughout his acting career, but family trials and his charity work with veterans and children.

Sinise is most well-known for Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump and CSI NY but among veterans, he’s Lt. Dan — yes, military personnel have called him that more than one time. While not a veteran himself, Sinise understands the sacrifices many military men and women make for our country and how heavily the PTSD and wounds weigh on not only those sustaining them, but also those caring for the wounded. Listening to this on audio, I was engaged in the story most of the time, unless he was listing accomplishments.

Despite that drawback, Sinise provides a good look at how his wayward early years and stumble into acting not only set him up for success in film, theater, and television, but also in using that success to help others tasked with protecting our freedoms. While there are moments in the memoir where he references things that later proved false (like WMDs in Iraq), the focus on his work is not political — it is humanitarian. This is the work and the part of the memoir that was the most “real” to me. He seemed to genuinely care about the people he tries to help through his foundations and other organizations, and it is clear that he believes in his purpose.

Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise and Marcus Brotherton is an exploration of one man’s journey away from his own concerns and career to a life of service. He’s clearly done a lot of good from uplifting the morale of troops overseas to providing children with school supplies in war zones and ensuring that veterans return home to a place where they can thrive and do more than just survive from appointment to appointment. This is the work to be proud of, work he plans to continue, and work that will leave a lasting impression.

RATING: Quatrain

Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum from National Geographic Kids offers a look at the sea habitats of sea turtles, including the leatherback, green turtle, hawksbill, and more. Like Go Wild! Pandas, this books includes vibrant photographs and a ton of facts about turtles. There is so much variety in these turtles and what they eat and where they live. The book opens with a beautiful photograph of a sea turtle gliding through the water and a child-like poem about turtles, the reptiles of the world’s oceans.

Turtles live in so many oceans around the world, except the Arctic. The book talks about the turtles’ anatomy, and you learn about how the leatherback doesn’t have a traditional shell and that sea turtles cannot retract their head and legs inside their shells like land turtles can. We learn about how vulnerable these animals are to our own trash, which are dumped in the oceans, as well as how we can help turtles recover and thrive by protecting their habitats and dimming city lights so the babies can find the sea. There are simple things each of us can do, including take a few hours to clean up our own waterways and beaches.

Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum has a great deal of information about habitats, eating habits, dangers, and human interventions. Like the other book reviewed this week, this one offers tips for parents on how to engage their children in learning more about turtles from writing stories to holding plays. It also has a few games for kids so they understand what they’ve read. Definitely a book you’ll want for your little naturalist.

RATING: Cinquain

Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian from National Geographic Kids is chock full of panda facts and vibrant photographs. Kids will open the book to find a panda hugging a tree, but when they turn the page, they’ll be greeted by the smiling panda face and a riddle. Kids will be learning in a fun and interactive way with this book.

We loved all of the facts, the pictures, the riddles, the quiz at the end, and the call to action on how kids and parents can help pandas. Pandas, as many know, are endangered and most of that is because their habitat is disappearing. There are also tips on how to engage your children in learning about pandas beyond reading the book. Some of the ideas include adopting a panda online, doing some math about how much pandas eat vs. how much the child eats, and putting on plays about pandas. The book also contains a glossary for words in the book from “habitat” to “reserve.”

Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian is a great starting point for young readers interested in the natural world. From its interactive quizzes and riddles to its plethora of facts and photos, National Geographic Kids has created a book that can create a lifelong learner and spur kids to explore the world beyond the page.

RATING: Cinquain

Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss (giveaway)

Source: Graywolf Press
Paperback, 152 pgs.
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Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss is a collection that, at times, tried my patience with its contradictions. But isn’t that what life is — a bucket of contradictions? She says in one of her opening sonnets: “The problem with sweetness is death. The problem/with everything is death. There really is no other problem/” Death is a final stop, and it toys with many of us, taking our friends or family too soon, putting us in situations where death could take us but doesn’t, and it looms in the close distance for us to get there.

Seuss pulls no punches in this collection and remains forthright in her depictions of giving birth, aging, abortion, abandonment by a drug-addicted son, and so much more. Aging is a central theme, even when she speaks of her childhood self. Poetic subjects waste away with AIDS, fade into the distance of space or recollection, or remain behind the larger death that pierces the happiness or contentment she seeks. She explores the falseness of faith in Catholicism, the nationalistic scourge that America finds itself consumed by, and the undercurrent of poverty and it’s traumatic scars. She sees the “undershirt” of it all.

“We all have our trauma nadir,” is the sonnet that guts us. We are her and she us. We all have trauma; we are told to lock it away (get over it); but what place is big enough to hold all of that trauma away so that it will no longer affect us? She adds in a later sonnet, “I can’t live up to normal.” Isn’t normal a fallacy? What exactly is normal and how can you be expected to achieve it when no one knows what it is? Despite these dark topics, it is clear that to live is to live with “sharp things.” Without these traumas and disappointments, where would we be?

Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss is a winding trail of darkness that teaches readers about the beauty in that darkness. It is an exercise in owning our own disappointments and traumas and learning how to let them go and move forward with our lives. It is a tough medicine to take, but Seuss is confident that we can take it or nearly die trying.

RATING: Quatrain

To Enter the giveaway: Leave a comment with your email address by June 30. Must be age 18+ and have a U.S. postal address.

Forward by Abby Wambach (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook; 5+ hrs.
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Forward by Abby Wambach, read by the author, explores her need for soccer in her life and her early hatred of the game and her talent. But at its heart, it is also a memoir that explores identity and self-love. A lot of her high school and soccer years are spent trying to be seen, but even as she is seen by the public more and more, she feels more unloved. This vacancy in her heart leads her to destructive behavior and she becomes very unbalanced. There is one moment where she turns the tables on herself — asking herself if she knows who she is.

Her life is a roller coaster of emotion where she is on highs and slumps into lows, exchanging booze for pills. However, I feel like when she decides to kick these habits, they are still there but she places less emphasis on them. She talks a lot about getting fit and kicking habits, but she still allows for medications that can be addictive. I found this a bit hypocritical, especially since they mask a larger problem. I sense that there is still denial here in how these pills mask her underlying issues. It begs the question of whether more time apart from soccer and the publicity would have given her more time for reflection and self-assessment, perhaps growth.

Forward by Abby Wambach is an inside look at a woman who has a hard time letting go of control, cannot have faith in others, and learn to love herself and know that she is worthy of love. Soccer is always there for her, even when she doesn’t want it to be. Soccer fans will love the recounting of her championships, Olympics, and more, but these are wider examples of her need for adrenaline and attention. Wambach struggles to be alone and love herself, but she never really recognizes this in the memoir. I think with more distance and further reflection, she would have written a deeper memoir.

RATING: Tercet

a more perfect Union by Teri Ellen Cross Davis

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 70 pgs.
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a more perfect Union by Teri Ellen Cross Davis opens with “The Goddess of Blood,” a poem emerging from the blood of birth and death, much like a nation ripping itself from it’s parent nation. Davis’s collection doesn’t directly make these parallels but much of it is implied, and the subtlety of it can be overlooked as you get lost in the sensuous language of being a woman, birthing children, and much more in the opening poem. “my sacrifice, a carmine current soaked/the delivery bed.” (pg. 4)

In her narrator’s journey from Washington to Ireland to Kenya, we see a woman who is cognizant of how color is perceived in different situations — the blackest of the blackberries and the darkest current being the sweetest while teasing out deeper tones of darkness in Kenya in the sun is something never considered in the United States. Readers will note in “Black Berries” that there is this sense of forbidden, but we must stop and ask ourselves why is it forbidden when the blackest of berries yields the sweetest, most pleasurable taste?

From "3939 Strandhill Road, Cleveland, Ohio"

. . . Grief unravels

my tightrope. I rage at seeing the ground
rush up, my center of gravity gone.

Davis’ poems leave readers tumbling at times, hearing and seeing the past and the grief, but also the rage at what transpired. It is an anger that boils beneath, and there is a strong sense of family throughout the collection. It is of the utmost importance, so much so, there are gods among us. Stories we haven’t heard. “Baby Girl” is one of the most powerful poems I’ve ever read, and while I don’t want to spoil the read for you, I will say that it could be triggering for those who have experienced sexual assault and other similar traumas. Davis does not shy away from the big issues facing our children today, especially Black boys. In “Knuckle Head,” she takes them head on: “My son cannot continue this path. Black boys/can’t lose control at twelve, eighteen, even forty-three./they don’t get do-overs.”

In the second part of the collection, we’re taken not only a musical journey, but on a journey that creates for us new gods and goddesses — ones that speak the truth no matter how difficult and ones that see sexuality as freedom. “The First Gospel of Prince,” speaks: “The air sears between hips, this melody/is a startled beauty – breathe in halting sips.//” These poems are a musical treat, a homage to musical gods, and a look at how sensuality and sexuality don’t have to be hidden or set aside as we age.

One of my favorite poems, “This Poem Suggests Revolution,” speaks to the America we’ve seen — the one that is asleep at the wheel, coasting along the road with its eyes closed, only startled awake by the “occasional” beeping horn. “If the pursuit of happiness,/life, and liberty came from the creator, she is/about to backhand you in the face.//” We see that anger against an America that is willfully blind to its past and its continued faults. It seethes, but there is still a sense of hopefulness in a “rewriting” of the American story, a move toward an America closer to its ideals. The road is harsh, but the poet, the narrator, and the reader will come away believing in “a more perfect Union.”

a more perfect Union by Teri Ellen Cross Davis was a roller coaster of emotions, as it should be. It begs readers to see the America we are from the perspective of someone we are not (or even may be) and whose history we do share (even if we ignore it) in order to elicit empathy and action. We’re beyond the platitudes here. We are in the thick of the struggle, and we are called to action.

RATING: Cinquain

Don’t forget to check out my interview with Teri.

About the Poet:

Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of a more perfect Union, 2019 winner of The Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize and Haint winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She’s a Cave Canem fellow, member of the Black Ladies Brunch Collective, and lives in Maryland.

Becoming the Enchantress by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut, illustrated by Coley Dolmance Ferragut & Giveaway

Source: Author/Publisher
Paperback, 34 pgs.
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(full disclosure: Kristin Ferragut is part of my poetry workshop and I was part of a workshop that helped her hone this story)

Becoming the Enchantress by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut, illustrated by Coley Dolmance Ferragut, uses fairy tale-like elements to explain transgender to younger children. It’s an introductory story to help start conversations with kids about large themes, but at it’s core, this is a story about feeling comfortable in your own skin, loving yourself, and finding acceptance and love in your own family and friends.

The Wizard and their children, the Knight and the Dragon, are getting ready to trick-or-treat. When kids and their parents meet the Wizard and their family, they see a loving family eager to celebrate Halloween together. But kids will hear that the Wizard has an unspoken desire. With a quick costume change, the Wizard and their children are out the door. They are laughing and playing and magical things happen.

The streets may be crowded, but they are having a great time together, especially the Wizard. They receive compliments from strangers about their well behaved children, but many of them mistake the Wizard for a mom. Ferragut has created a magical way in which a transgender person finds not only their identity but peace in their own skin.

The illustrations by Ferragut’s daughter are colorful and expressive. The smile on the Wizard will make children smile. It just exudes such happiness. The final scene in the book is beautifully rendered. I look forward to more of her work.

Becoming the Enchantress by Kristin Kowalski Ferragut, illustrated by Coley Dolmance Ferragut, establishes a starting point for conversations about transgender and finding the home in your own skin and family. It will enable parents to talk to their children openly about their own identities.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Kristin Kowalski Ferragut is the author of the poetry collection Escape Velocity (Kelsay Books, 2021). She teaches, writes songs, poetry and prose, hikes, and participates in readings and workshops in Maryland, where she lives with her two creative, lively, and supportive children. Her work has appeared in Beltway Quarterly, Fledgling Rag, Bourgeon, Mojave He[Art] Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Little Patuxent Review, among others. For more information, visit her website: www.kristinskiferragut.com

About the Illustrator:

Coley Dolmance Ferragut is an animator, digital artist, and actor who investigates themes of class and social justice in her work. A high school senior, this is Coley’s first published book.

GIVEAWAY:

1 copy of Becoming the Enchantress to 1 U.S. reader.

Deadline to enter is June 15, 2021.

Leave a comment with your email so I can contact you if you’re the winner.