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Published July 19, 2019

rise fall lesser sun gods bondPerhaps it is because this was written in January, and in my part of the world, the temperature was hovering around 0 degrees. Maybe it is the hours I had spent hibernating and devouring hours of classic movies from the 1940s and 50s aired on TCM. Or maybe it’s simply the idea of a ‘radio in the sand’ emitting static and faint music from another place in the universe—Hollywood.

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Published July 16, 2019

language of bones spraginsElizabeth Spencer Spragins’ passion for bardic verse in The Language of the Bones is irresistible. I can’t imagine a writer who, after reading this, wouldn’t try her hand at it or even use this as a class text to inspire students. Though Spragins does not provide ‘guidelines’ for the forms she utilizes – four Welsh (cywydd llosgyrnog, rhupunt, clogyrnach, cyhydedd hir) and one Gaelic (rannaigheacht ghairid) – a Google search offers plenty of resources (including an article by Spragins herself).

This “American Journeys in Bardic Verse” takes readers from Virginia to South and North Carolina, the deserts of the Southwest, the forests of the Northwest, and all the way to Alaska. Each poem is accompanied by endnotes to provide historical and cultural contexts. Because Spragins has specifically chosen to give “voice to the unspoken, the overlooked, and the forgotten,” these poems require prior knowledge for greatest appreciation, and each is a kind of history lesson. The “starving time” in colonial Jamestown; the forcible removal of the Cherokee Nation from their homeland; people, events, and landmarks of the American Civil War and the south are subjects Spragins educates her readers about through deftly crafted meter and rhyme which, she instructs, is traditionally read aloud.

Spragins also includes contemporary issues and does not shy away from controversy, as in her poem “At Standing Rock,” commenting on the treatment of Lakota Sioux. “Polar Night,” “Hunters,” and “Northern Lights” stand in witness to the devastations of climate change. And the book closes on a series of poems that return to places where nature and spirituality intersect, in “Sedona,” “The Garden of the Gods,” the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (“Sacred Songs”), and Muir Woods (“Spires”). A looking outward from who and where we are physically to something much greater and beyond.

Read more about Elizabeth Spencer Spragins and The Language of the Bones in an interview with Ceri Shaw on AmeriCymru.

 

Review by Denise Hill

Published July 06, 2019

this is portland barrett dicksonI walked into Powell’s City of Books for the first time, turned left, and there it was proudly displayed on a table of Portland wares and other travel books: This is Portland, 2nd ed. But, allow me to back up and tell you the whole story from the beginning . . .

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Published July 05, 2019

ill angels di stefanoDante Di Stefano creates a fascinating read of precise opinions and clever phrasing with poetry in his new book, Ill Angels. If I were to divide it roughly into subject chapters, one would be musicians, another would be portraits, then love poems to his wife, verses about America, and poems for his students. Throughout the book, a characteristic worthy of attention is his skill in giving fresh meaning to words.

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Published June 24, 2019

did you know wolfSubscribers to Rattle received a bonus with their Summer 2019 issue: Rattle Chapbook Prize winner Did You Know? by Elizabeth S. Wolf.

When her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 60s, Wolf’s father conspired with doctors, friends, and family to conceal the truth from her, a secret he ends up taking to the grave, a family member the one to finally break the silence. Wolf’s poems are about this time in her family’s lives, the title drawing from the conversation in which Wolf finds out about her mother’s illness:

“Did you know?” she asked.
“Know what?” I responded.
“Did you know the secret?” she asked.
“What secret?” I responded.
[ . . . ]
Now there was an “us”:
the ones who did not know.

Following the revelation about her health, Wolf’s mother challenges the life she created behind the shield of her husband’s secrecy; Wolf the voice in her ear urging her to finally do whatever she wants.

Wolf writes in a straightforward voice, never losing readers in overly flowery language, instead focusing on clearly relating her mother’s story, giving her a voice when she was denied one by her husband for so long.

Reading Did You Know? is an intimate peek into an archaic practice—a husband able to dictate his wife’s medical care while hiding it from her—but as women are currently fighting for bodily autonomy while access to abortion is challenged, the chapbook ends up feeling incredibly current.

 

Review by Katy Haas

Published June 19, 2019

one little secret cate holahan"People in glass houses should not throw stones"

One Little Secret by Cate Holahan is a brilliantly written novel enabling the reader to feel suspense as they whizz through the chapters.

The characters within the novel are very thought out, and the reader is able to visualize their appearance as well as learn about their personalities through the words on the page. Gabby, who is a detective, is a strong female lead, and this is nice to read as she is seen as a feminist character. Each character adds their own input into the story and their lives are all intertwined through a series of events which will be revealed within the novel.

Each chapter is full of suspense, and they are  short, so the reader is not left hanging or bored with the content. The plot is structured into two strands: before and after the murder.

The settings are beautiful within the book, and they can only be described as a  paradisiacal haven where only the rich of the rich get to go. The story is set, for the most part, in a huge glass rental house, and though cliché, the saying “people in glass houses should not throw stones” perfectly applies to this novel. Pathetic fallacy is used a lot to set the tone of each chapter as the plot twists and turns.

As the reader, you go through a roller coaster of emotions throughout, deciding who to side with and trying to work out who is lying and who is telling the truth. And you constantly question yourself as to whodunit.

Overall, this was a very good novel by Holahan, and I will not hesitate to pick up another of her books in the future, as I read this one in only one weekend!

 

Review by Tom Walker

Published June 16, 2019
bicycle race lugoIn “Bicycle/ Race: Transportation, Culture and Resistance,” Dr. Adonia Lugo brings her anthropology dissertation research into a readable and accessible book, documenting the intersection of race, transportation inequality and bicycling. As a mixed race Chicanx, having grown up in Orange County, California, Lugo explores resistance against car culture as well as her own place in bike activism. Where does she stand in a majority white-led movement? Lugo’s book forces readers to understand the stakes of cars versus bikes, with particular consideration to history, race, and who gets left behind. Read more...
Published June 14, 2019

author is dead ches smithIt’s nothing new for a novel’s key character to share his name with the book’s author. Past examples are Stephen King in Song of Savannah, Paul Auster in New York Trilogy, and Philip Roth in Operation Shylock. But Ches Smith’s protagonist, Ches Smith, is something apart and definitely a standout character in Smith’s new book, The Author is Dead. Try not to speculate on any detail in this book that might be drawn from the author’s life, except that it’s about a writer who writes a book titled The Author is Dead.

We meet Ches, the character, at Sugarville Mall. He carries his writings, his so called “loose-leaf chronicles,” in a black binder that’s always with him. Ches is intrigued by Thalia, lead singer with the Zombie Cowgirls, a “punk-country fusion” band. One short conversation with her and he’s hooked. It won’t be giving anything away to tell that Thalia very soon becomes his ghostly muse, since her otherworldly presence is key to this story’s setup.

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Published June 13, 2019

living midair olsonLiving Midair by Karen June Olson is the newest offering in the 2River Chapbook Series. Numbering 26, these chapbooks are available open access online as well as free download using the PDF or "chap the book" feature which provides a booklet formatted print copy.

Author Karen June Olson is Professor Emerita of Early Care and Education at St. Louis Community College. Her poems in this collection examine nature, rural life, writing class, grief, death, and the familial relationships between daughters, mothers, grandmothers, and grandfathers.

From the title poem, "Living Midair":

That night we sat on a veranda, 
our glasses clinked a cheer or two 
and we noticed the moon rise 
from the water as waves 
seemed to give the needed lift 
and curled around its bright edges.

Published June 05, 2019

wonderling bartok“Have you been unexpectedly burdened by a recently orphaned or unclaimed creature? Worry not! We have just the solution for you!” Welcome to the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures!

Author/illustrator Mira Bartók’s debut novel follows the story of a one-eared fox groundling (human-animal hybrid) named Thirteen. As if having one ear isn’t bad enough, Thirteen was abandoned in a grim-filled orphanage under the control of a wretched villainess called Miss Carbunkle. But the turn of events led to unexpected paths, both good and bad. Thirteen’s gut-wrenching encounters with brutality, deprivation, and unappetizing Dickensian roads are intertwined with gentle humor, uplifting vibes, and epic journeys.

Music and friendship play essential roles in the story. This explains why, in spite of the rouge-ish undertakings of rouge-ish characters, any reader will surely immerse oneself with the rollercoaster ride of events and keep the pages turning. Bartók’s writing draws rich kaleidoscopes of characters, steampunk setting, and sensational quests. The delightful illustrations brought a new level of charm to this adventure, making the whole experience undeniably jam-packed with surprises to the brim.

Blend in Miss Peregrine’s characters with the woeful mishaps in A Series of Unfortunate Events, then top it off with the legendary tale of King Arthur, and there you have it! The Wonderling! In a nutshell, The Wonderling takes its readers into a world of infinite possibilities.

Don’t let people tell you that this book is just for children, because adventure has NO age limit!

 

Review by Mary Kristine P. Garcia

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