Mailbox Monday #614

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what we received:

Emerge by Francesca Marais for review.

Out of the crushing comfort of the womb-dark ocean, the poems in Francesca Marais’s Emerge rise up to the surface and breathe deeply. “Blood surges through my body, / Refusing to gently creep into the shores / Of my heart’s quiet,” she says. Untangling the tentacles of family and romance and imagination, the poet carries the reader along on a journey toward self-love and acceptance. Her advice to us? “Cherish then savour / The salt of the pain, / Lick your fingers dry.” Salt of tears, of stinging wounds, of breaking waves—to know the self requires all of these. There is ache here, but also nourishment. Emerge shows us how to stop holding our breath; how to see our own reflection in the ocean’s blue eyes.

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve, which I purchased.

In October 1947, Grace Holland is experiencing two simultaneous droughts. An unseasonably hot, dry summer has turned the state of Maine into a tinderbox, and Grace and her husband, Gene, have fallen out of love and barely speak. Five months pregnant and caring for two toddlers, Grace has resigned herself to a life of loneliness and domestic chores. One night she awakes to find that wildfires are racing down the coast, closer and closer to her house. Forced to pull her children into the ocean to escape the flames, Grace watches helplessly as everything she knows burns to the ground. By morning, her life is forever changed: she is homeless, penniless, awaiting news of her husband’s fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. With courage and stoicism, Grace overcomes devastating loss and, through the smoke, is able to glimpse the opportunity to rewrite her own story.

How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo, which I purchased.

Do you remember your first visit to where the wild things are? How about curling up for hours on end to discover the secret of the Sorcerer’s Stone? Combining clear, practical advice with inspiration, wisdom, tips, and curated reading lists, How to Raise a Reader shows you how to instill the joy and time-stopping pleasure of reading.

Divided into four sections, from baby through teen, and each illustrated by a different artist, this book offers something useful on every page, whether it’s how to develop rituals around reading or build a family library, or ways to engage a reluctant reader. A fifth section, “More Books to Love: By Theme and Reading Level,” is chockful of expert recommendations. Throughout, the authors debunk common myths, assuage parental fears, and deliver invaluable lessons in a positive and easy-to-act-on way.

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White, which I purchased and reviewed.

A lyrical, genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a queer, Black, Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.

“This beautifully, honestly conceived genius of a book shook me to the core.” —Dara Wier

“What she gives us are archives, allegories, and wholly new songs.”—Terrance Hayes

“In these crisply narrative poems, which unreel like heart-wrenching fragments of film, Arisa White not only names that gaping chasm between father and daughter, but graces it with its true and terrible face.” —Patricia Smith

What did you receive?

Best Books of 2020

2020 felt strange. It was by turns too busy and too erratic, and my reading reflected that.

January: 8 books                                July: 8 books

February: 9 books                              August: 9 books

March: 6 books                                   Sept.: 7 books

April: 5 books                                      Oct.: 11 books

May: 8 books                                       Nov.: 5 books

June: 6 books                                      Dec.: 10 books

As you can see, it seems like when the pandemic first hit here and kids were sent home from school for virtual learning in March, my reading fell off. That is not unexpected. I’m not sure what was going on in June that dropped my reading, but at the end of the year, November was the most stressful at work in terms of workload. December was still stressful for other reasons at work, but I had more days off that month to read and just relax.

Here are some other reading stats I compiled because I was curious in this year of COVID-19 and political unease.

# of Books Read: 95

# of Books Reviewed: 91 (some will be reviewed in 2021)

# of Audiobooks: 17

# of Kids books: 34 (this is where I spent a lot of time with my reluctant reader)

# of Nonfiction: 11

# of Adult Fiction: 23

# of Memoir: 7

# of Poetry: 24

Some of these numbers will include books that crossover into another genre or category. For instance, some memoir were also poetry, while others were audio as well as fiction.

Now, for what you’re all probably curious about — My favorite books from 2020.

Not all were published last year.

I picked my top 2-3 in each category (but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have other books that I considered top books)

Top Kids Reads in 2020:

Katt vs. Dogg by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein was my daughter’s favorite book last year, and she wanted this to be a series, but when we checked there was no book 2. Our review is here. We call this one a “page turner.”

Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, which we both wanted to continue reading past her bed time to solve the mystery. Our review is here. “What I love about this series is the harder words that she has to sound out.”

Top Nonfiction:

America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs, published by National Geographic. Our review is here. I said that this “is a love story for our nation.”




Top Memoir:

Memorial Drive by Natasha Tretheway is a riveting “tale of healing and reconciling the past. Trethewey relies not only on her memory but on her mother’s own writing, testimony, and recorded phone conversations. I was emotionally wrecked by this memoir.” My review is here.

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White, which actually will be published in 2021, but my pre-ordered book came quickly and I couldn’t wait to read it. This is a “journey into the poet’s past as she reconciles the abandonment of her father and her struggles with connecting to others. The poetic memoir is beautiful and the landscapes within it (emotional and physical) are tumultuous and heartbreaking.” My review is here.


Top Fiction:

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Buchanan is a book that surprised me this year. It started off slowly, and I typically don’t read this time period, but as Buchanan built the world of the Druids in Britannia, I became more captivated. It’s like the book wove a spell over me. The book depicts a “struggle for survival amid a world of secrets and lies, political gains and losses, and magic.” My review is here.

The Deep by Alma Katsu is a gothic tale aboard the Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic. This novel is atmospheric and has ghosts. How can you go wrong with this tale? “Katsu has a wide cast of characters in this novel, but she balances them very well against the historical details, and the suspense is palpable.” I also loved that the ocean played a major role in this tale and became a character all its own. My review is here.

My final pick in this category is actually a tie:

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, which surprised me because it “pays homage to Austen in a way that many other variations don’t. She understands the Austen characters and their motivations, but in creating her characters and their motivations they are not talking to us as Austen’s characters but fans of Austen’s words, her thoughts, her dream.” It also doesn’t hurt that Richard Armitage narrated this audiobook. My review is here.

Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl edited by Christina Boyd is a collection of short stories that skillfully depict the inner thoughts and character of Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet in a variety of modern and historical periods and situations. These stories hit it “out of the park with a range of angst, love, prejudice, and pride.” My review is here.


Top Poetry:

Raising King by Joseph Ross demonstrates the strength of compassion and empathy as a way forward in building a community that will no longer tear at its own foundations and rise up. My review is here.

Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen explores female identity, speaking to the harmful tropes and labels of society. It is a “map in the darkness …” on a road to healing. My review is here.

My Name is Immigrant by Wang Ping is ripe with ghosts who haunt these pages. The collection “haunts, sings, rages, and breathes.” My review is here.


The poetry selections were tough for me this year, because I originally had 8 collections on my list. I pared it down to these three.

What were your favorite reads from 2020? I can always use recommendations (or can I?)

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White

Source: the poet

Preordered book, 138 pgs.

I am an Amazon Affiliate

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White, on tour with Poetic Book Tours, is a poetic memoir in which the poet explores the absence of her father in her life, how it has impacted who she has become, and how she can reconnect with her absent father in adulthood.

“When it came to the conjunction “and” I was illiterate. For it makes you larger, more. Expands into distances beyond my eyes.” (pg. 124)

White articulates deftly the nuanced feelings of a desire to belong and the sense that belonging requires the reconnection with an absent father. While she has others in her life who love and care for her, there are traumas that she faces while her father is absent. But reconnecting with a man ejected from the United States and back to Guyana and who fails to even write a letter or call her is a tall order.

“Am I a site of abandonment?” (pg. 97)

“Guyana is abandonment from my father. I feel the weight of the people in me and I in them, guilt I carry myself alone.” (pg. 108)

The poetic memoir begins at home in the United States, as Arisa grows up in a broken home, a home of harsh realities. These realities are not my own, but this collection creates a palpable reminiscence of sorrow, anger, confusion, absence, and more. Despite these trials and her struggles with connections, she is a strong woman — caring for herself, willing to reach out to someone who abandoned her, and seeking self-care and healing.

What she finds in this journey is a man incapable of giving her a sense of belonging — a man who rambles just to hear himself speak, to make him relevant to those who hear him.

“Breaks my heart along the same fault lines that ache for him.” (pg. 83)

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White is a journey into the poet’s past as she reconciles the abandonment of her father and her struggles with connecting to others. The poetic memoir is beautiful and the landscapes within it (emotional and physical) are tumultuous and heartbreaking. White is a deft storyteller, and readers will be emotionally spent by this poetic memoir.

RATING: Cinquain

Follow the rest of the blog tour with #WhosYourDaddyMemoir #ArisaWhite

Photo Credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

About the Poet:

Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow and an assistant professor of creative writing at Colby College. She is the author of four books, including the poetry collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, and coauthor of Biddy Mason Speaks Up, winner of the Maine Literary Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for Middle-Grade Nonfiction. She serves on the board of directors for Foglifter and Nomadic Press. Find her at arisawhite.com.

Interview With Poet Arisa White

As National Poetry Month winds down with the month of April, I hope the tour was able to inspire you to read different poetry books and poets.  Today, I’ve got a special edition to the blog tour, an interview with poet Arisa White, author of Hurrah’s Nest, which I reviewed earlier last week.

I really enjoyed the variation in this collection, the imagery, and the personal story.  If you’re looking for poetry that makes you think, but is entertaining at the same time, White’s work is for you.

Without further ado, please welcome Arisa White:

1. What are your poetic roots? When did you begin reading and writing poetry and who has influenced you?

My family is an artistic bunch. There are poets, rappers, and writers, and dancers, and shit-talkers, which takes skill and craft as well! It’s in the blood and some of us have been fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue those dreams.

When my aunt, the oldest of seven, found out that I was writing and publishing poetry, she would call me on the phone and read me her poems and tell me her ideas for writing a memoir. It’s beautiful to be a source of inspiration for a woman I admire.  My paternal uncle Aubrey has a book of poetry published called Implantation. It’s funny how you look back on your life and can see that this has always been your path.

I began writing poetry in elementary school, really took a liking to limericks in junior high, and in high school I won a city-wide contest for a poem I wrote about women’s history month and I just kept going from there. I frequented the Brooklyn spoken word scene and was influenced by Jessica Care Moore, Mahogany, Saul Williams, Carl Hancock Rux, even the movie Love Jones had a positive impact.

My first book of poetry was an anthology of women poets, given to me by my global studies teacher. From that book, I memorized “Nikki Rosa” by Nikki Giovanni. Even at one point, I interned and was mentored by a local Brooklyn poet, India DuBois (I wonder how she’s doing?) who wrote Jazz and the Evening Sun. It is when I went off to Sarah Lawrence, I feel like the reading and delving into the craft of poetry began.

2. Hurrah’s Nest is a lot about the scars that shape us. How much of your poems are autobiographical?

Hurrah’s Nest is an autobiographical collection, rendered poetically. Mostly and lately, I have been writing from personal experiences–through the lens of self.  I’m making sense of what’s going around me, as well as to investigate what is going inside of me. Who am I? I feel that urgency to know, even more so, having relocated to the West six years ago and removed from the people, places, and things that I have defined myself with and by. The poems I’m writing now are an expression of my heroic journey.

3. As an MFA graduate, how do you feel the degree has helped you and/or hurt you? And what made you decide to obtain your MFA from UMass Amherst?

The MFA degree was what I wanted to get–I wanted to be skilled in my art. To be seen as an artist. I wasn’t really thinking about how I could use it. I don’t think I have consciously used my degree to get a job or a teaching gig–it’s been my writing and experiences I have relied so much on to open doors for me. In the end, it all works together.

I loved my MFA program at UMass, Amherst. It’s a three-year program and it’s a perfect amount of time. I received a three-year fellowship that covered my tuition, health care, and I gained valuable teaching experience. Also, the time to write was priceless. When deciding on MFA programs, this was my criterion, in order of importance: region, financial support, and faculty. At the time, I was living in NYC and I wanted to be somewhat close to my hometown. Also, I didn’t want to add to my debt. I really wanted to be financially supported so that I could concentrate on writing. UMass, Amherst, has a great faculty (Peter Gizzi, James Tate, Dara Wier) and is a part of the five-college system (Amherst College, Smith College, Hampshire, and Holyoke). In addition to my graduate course work, I took poetry and dance classes at Smith–I had a wonderful time during my graduate years. Because I did not have the distraction of NYC, I really focused in on my writing and point of view. Hurrah’s Nest is essentially my thesis (thank you, Dara!).

4. Poetry is often solitary, more so than other art forms on occasion, because it is deeply personal, but there are efforts like the Split This Rock Poetry Festival and others that attempt to bring poetry to the masses and to bring about a social connection and call attention to a particular cause. Do you feel the need to do the same in your work? If so, why or why not? What do you think of these poetic movements?

I totally feel the need to call attention to particular causes in my writing. As a poet, it is how I engage–by interrogating how we relate or are not relating to each other and the social, economic, and political ramifications that has on certain groups within our culture. Poetry can be humanizing and restorative and believing that gives my poetry purpose, gives me purpose.

In thinking about the work I’ve created and want to create, I’m moving from the personal and to a social “I”. Hurrah’s Nest looks closely at the family unit, where it all starts, where we form a sense of self and how that self relates to others and the world. Then we step outside of the home and often time are in the habit of repeating what we have been told about who we are and what we can do.

I think we have to know our particular stories, so we can take responsibility for how they shape and recreate experiences. My second collection, A Penny Saved, which will be published by Willow Books in 2013, is about a woman who was held captive in her home for 11 years. I loosely based the collection on Polly Mitchell, a Nebraskan woman who finally escaped from her home and husband, with her four kids, in 2003. It’s mind blowing what we do to each other!

I’m in the process of adapting Post Pardon, a chapbook length long poem that explores the post-partum experience, into a libretto. My composer friend Jessica Jones is writing the music. And then, I’m applying for grants and residencies to write a series of eclogues that depict the lives of four sexually-exploited minors and their pimp, in an urban setting. For me, I’m very much focused on writing about women in extreme situations, calling attention to those realities.

5. What are you reading now in poetry and what poetry would you recommend others read and why? Also feel free to share anything about your upcoming poetry collections and projects?

Right now, I’m reading me and Nina by Monica Hand and Ardency by Kevin Young.

I would recommend others read Bitters by Rebecca Seiferle, Cranial Guitar by Bob Kaufman, Sleeping with the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen, leadbelly by Tyehimba Jess, Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine, and anything by Medbh McGuckian, because these poets have these fresh ways of saying/seeing things, a charge that makes you love and appreciate poetry, and an intelligence that makes me jealous! There are so many more poets whom I’m discovering too–so I recommend: never stop reading.

Thanks Arisa for answering my questions. I look forward to reading A Penny Saved and your eclogues.

***For Today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop, visit Reading Rendezvous.

Hurrah’s Nest by Arisa White

Hurrah’s Nest by Arisa White is an illustration of the “untidy heap” or “tangle of debris that can block a stream” that family can become, and it will remind readers how birds create their nests out of the most unwelcome or tossed aside elements of the world from hair to fabric strings and twigs.  There are scars here, deep ones rooted in absentee parents and relatives whose ways of doing things countered the practices the narrator was taught.  Minor acts of rebellion scream out in dreadlocks and boyish haircuts on girls.  There are other poems with child-like qualities in which panties become parachutes and beaded braids become like seaweed in “Last Bath,” which represent happier memories and playfulness shared by young siblings with great imaginations.

In “Portrait Painter” (page 19), White’s narrator ponders the evident differences between herself and her brothers, whom she is called out of childhood into adulthood at a moment’s notice to help raise.  “It’s different/how our mother looks at us/with sweet and brick/of romances gone,” she observes.  A deep sadness and resentment pervades the poems in this collection as the narrator looks back on the waffling of her mother who in turns cares for and gives up care of her children, and threatens them with foster care when they’ve not behaved as they should, particularly in “Chore.”

Ostracization happens inside and outside the family for the narrator as she experiences typical classroom jokes coupled with the laughing she endures from her mother, brother, and step-father.  Her mother even chastizes her for her sensitivity, saying that it is like a “broken leg” in “Helicopter, Heliocopter Please Come Down. If You Don’t Come Down, I’ll Shoot You Down.” (page 28).

In “An Albatross to Us Both” (page 41-3), the theme of protection and strength is strongest as the narrator and her siblings “wear each other like amulets.”   Hurrah’s Nest by Arisa White is a lesson to us all that despite all of the “mess” we create with our lives and the messes that we live through, there are nuggets of wisdom and strength that we carry with us and nurture.  Strong imagery combined with themes of loss, separation, and togetherness create a powerful collection about the beautiful mess that families are and how they shape us.

Poet Arisa White

ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess and Post Pardon; she was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List. Member of the PlayGround writers’ pool, her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of PlayGround Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet. A blog editor for HER KIND, and the editorial assistant at Dance Studio Life magazine, Arisa is a native New Yorker, living in Oakland, CA, with her partner. Her debut collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was published by virtual artists collective.

****Check out today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop at Seer of Ghosts and Weaver of Stories.


This is the 10th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.



This is my 28th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

Mailbox Monday #165

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is the Metro Reader.

Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.

Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1. Nostalgia for the Criminal Past by Kathleen Winter, which I purchased.

2. The Receptionist by Janet Groth, which came unrequested from Algonquin.

3. A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez, which came unrequested from Algonquin.

4. Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear, which I receive from Harper.

5. A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear, which I received from Harper for a TLC Book Tour.

6. Hurrah’s Nest by Arisa White, which I received from the poet.

7. Real Courage by Michael Meyerhofer, which came from the poet.

8. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, which I bought at Novel Places for the WWI Read-a-Long this year.

9. Harlem’s Hell Fighters by Stephen L. Harris, which I bought at Novel Places.

10. Star Wars & Philosophy by Kevin Decker and Jason Eberl, which I bought at Novel Places for Book Club in March.

11. City of Thieves by David Benioff, which I bought at Novel Places for Book Club in May.

What did you receive?