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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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too many questions about strawberries hirtBrandi Pischke’s cover art of sparkly strawberries invites us into Jen Hirt’s book of poems, Too Many Questions About Strawberries. Can we expect a romp through a garden or farmer’s market? Not necessarily, though Hirt’s book takes us through fun, rowdy poems, as well as challenging ones that do, in some cases, concern plant life.

Let’s start with “Why not malachite for resurrection.”  In this poem, an apartment’s appeal is heightened because its back steps are perfect for a container garden.

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big muddy v18 n2Big Muddy has proven to be one of my most favorite journals to read. The topics of its many stories and poems speak to that downhome, simpler type of life, even if sometimes it may not be a positive image or experience for those involved.

Within its pages, you’ll find fiction, poetry, and essays that really make you think about life and the situations we find ourselves in. Most of the work and topics are directly related to the ten states bordering the Mississippi River, all the way from the U.S./Canada border to the Gulf Coast through Louisiana.

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country house barberKnowing you can no longer build
with it or kill, a needle-point-covered brick
hugs itself.

          —from “Doorstop”

At eighty-nine pages, plus extensive notes, Sarah Barber's Country Housewinner of the Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry—offers a plethora of material for a reader to draw out shared experience, contemplate history, raise questions, engage thoughtful research, and marvel at linguistic nuances. My own way into the text is undoubtedly as personal as it is unique, and I believe another reader would see something slightly, or maybe completely, different than I do in the poetry.

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patron saint of lost girls aitkenMaureen Aitken’s linked short stories, The Patron Saint of Lost Girls, is the winner of the 2018 Nilsen Prize, awarded to American writers who have not yet published a novel. The fourteen stories follow Mary, a sometimes artist, struggling through the economic recession in Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s. Told in the first-person point of view, Aitken’s stories are intimately close to Mary’s life and relationships all the while reflecting more broadly on the Midwest. Aitken’s stories are small and intimate but backed by the weight of broader themes: urban decay and what it means to survive as a woman.

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leopard lady valerie niemanValerie Nieman’s Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse sweeps aside everything you might think about sideshow and carnival performers of the mid-20th century. Her poems open up the private life of a mixed-race woman, Dinah, the titular Leopard Lady.

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southern review v54 n3 summer 2018Sitting on the shelf of my university library, the Summer 2018 issue of The Southern Review intrigued me with its curious cover art by Gina Phillips, a New Orleans–based artist. Upon close inspection of the issue, I found quite a generous collection of portraits created by using mixed media and titled Friends and Neighbors. Gina Phillips shares her process of creating these portraits:

I begin by photographing the subject multiple times. Then I sketch from the photos, sometimes combining elements of several photos into one sketch. After the sketch is complete, I trace the drawing onto a transparency and enlarge the figure using an overhead projector; then I redraw it on a piece of plain muslin. At this point, I use acrylic washes to complete an underpainting. After the underpainting is dry, I load the piece onto a long-arm quilting machine and begin the process of appliqueing various combinations of fabric, thread, yarn, and hair. After rendering the figure with fabric and thread, I cut it out of its background and pin to the wall.

The results of this unique process are strikingly vibrant. As the artist notes, these portraits reflect the essence of the people and animals depicted in them.

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valley voices v18 n2 fall 2018As John Zheng shares in his introduction to the Fall 2018 “Rivers and Waters” issue of Valley Voices: A Literary Review: “Rivers are lifelines of all things in this world, and river plains are cradles of ancient civilizations. [ . . . ] We need the river to live; we need the river to enrich our spiritual life and inspire our creative writing as well.” This beautiful introduction about the importance of rivers and waters in all our lives—in fact, in the very evolution of humankind itself—sets the mood to all of the beautiful poems and images about the rivers and waters that follow.

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cream city review v42 n1 spring summer 2018Cream City Review, named for the cream-colored bricks that made Milwaukee famous, is anything but brick-like. The Spring/Summer 2018 issue is slim and elegantly designed, decorated front and back with intriguing teardrops, a blue glow, the earth, and what look like gravestones. In a letter to their readers, editors Mollie Boutell and Caleb Nelson write, “The daily news cycle is a swirl of darkness and absurdity, so it should not surprise us that the landscape of contemporary literature reflects a similar mood.” The current issue plays with darkness and light, sometimes descending deeply into the former, but always doing so for the sake of art, illuminating through darkness, showing both the path and the ways that we humans are led astray.
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boardman review i6If your interest is in the outdoors as well as the arts, something fresh and new, The Boardman Review is an excellent choice. Subtitled “the creative culture & outdoor lifestyle journal of northern Michigan,” this print and digital journal includes literature, music, lifestyle profiles, and documentaries that focus on the work and lives of creative people who express their love of the outdoors without trying to promote their talent. This last issue of 2018 provides a promise of even more fascinating work during the coming year.

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