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Book Review :: Reward System by Jem Calder

Reward System by Jem Calder book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Jem Calder’s collection of interlocking short stories in Reward System follows a group of British Millennials, focusing on Julia and Nick, as they try to navigate relationships, technology, and jobs during the approaching pandemic. Calder renders his characters with sympathy and compassion, even when they make poor decisions, given the challenges they face. Julia and Nick (and their friends) live with roommates or their parents, move from one job to the next—sometimes by choice, sometimes not—and try to find ways to truly connect with those around them. Society exacerbates all of these problems, whether the structural oppression women (especially) push against or the technology that more often separates than connects (though not always). This focus on technology works especially well in the stories “Distraction from Sadness Is Not the Same Thing as Happiness” and “The Foreseeable.” In “Distraction” a female user of a dating app connects with and meets a male user (Calder uses no names), exploring the new dating landscape, for good and ill. “The Foreseeable” ends the collection, as Julia and Nick are both sheltering with their parents during the pandemic—one more enjoyably than the other—while talking via FaceTime. The connection keeps breaking in and out, a metaphor for all of the relationships in this collection.

Reward System by Jem Calder. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, July 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman

The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

I was expecting Chuck Klosterman’s The Nineties: A Book to bring back vivid memories from the decade I spent in college and graduate school; what I wasn’t expecting was how Klosterman would present the decade’s events, culture, and people differently than I remembered them. Klosterman covers what most readers would expect: the elections—ranging from Ross Perot’s role in 1992 to the Supreme Court’s role in 2000—the rise of the internet; the music that changed the decade, whether Nirvana or Tupac; the stereotypes and reality of Generation X; the video store’s impact on movie making; the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet empire; major news events, such as the Anita Hill accusations, the Columbine shooting, and the O.J. Simpson trial. Where Klosterman shines, though, is in repositioning what he discusses, asking questions about why nineteen percent of the country voted for Ross Perot (full disclosure: I was one of those, and, yes, I regretted it within a year), how the nineties were more about the potential of the Internet than the Internet itself, and how George H.W. Bush lost the 1992 election after having the highest approval rating in history the year before. Rather than a walk through nostalgia, Klosterman helps redefine how we should view the nineties.

The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman. Penguin Books, January 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Undoing the Liberal World Order by Leon Fink

Undoing the Liberal World Order: Progressive Ideals and Political Realities Since WWII by Leon Fink book cover image

Guest Post by Marc Matorell

The central contention in Leon Fink’s Undoing the Liberal World Order: Progressive Ideals and Political Realities Since WWII is that US foreign policy in the decades following the Second World War had an important component of liberal idealism. Fink presents readers with examples of these progressive ideals in practice. Thus, we learn how, after the end of the war, the US promoted democratic decision-making structures for German workers in the industrial sector to thwart Communism in the areas occupied by the Allies.

In Central America, US liberals found an ally in Costa Rica’s President José Figueres Ferrer, who pursued significant social democratic reforms while remaining anti-Communist. Meanwhile, the liberal US ambassador in New Delhi, Chester B. Bowles, coordinated US aid for India’s agricultural development with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Fink is more convincing in arguing that the role of progressive ideals in US foreign policy declined during the last decades than he is in proving that these kinds of ideals were important in the first place. The examples presented in the text are largely in line with the book’s thesis, but readers may legitimately ask themselves whether these cases are representative of a significant trend or the result of very specific conjectures.

Undoing the Liberal World Order: Progressive Ideals and Political Realities Since World War II by Leon Fink. Columbia University Press, January 2022.

Reviewer Bio: Marc Martorell Junyent graduated in International Relations and currently studies holds a joint Master in Comparative Middle East Politics and Society at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen and the American University in Cairo. His main interests are the politics and history of the Middle East (particularly Iran, Turkey and Yemen). He has studied and worked in Ankara, Istanbul and Tunis. He tweets at @MarcMartorell3.

Book Review :: Running While Black by Alison Mariella Désir

Running While Black by Alison Mariella Désir book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Alison Mariella Désir’s Running While Black: Finding Freedom in a Sport That Wasn’t Built for Us is a book runners should read; it’s also a book everybody should read. Désir details how running helps her manage her depression and how she has used running to develop a career and passion that has guided her life. The book not only shows what running while Black is like, it shows what being a Black woman in America is like. While the book is a critique of the whiteness of running in America, Désir uses the lens of running to talk about racism, sexism, and their intersection. The Notes pages illustrate the depth and breadth of her research, as she pulls from newspaper articles; scholarly works on issues such as redlining, Jim Crow, racism in medicine, and contemporary legal issues; social media and podcasts; and well-known writers on race, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ijeoma Oluo. This breadth of research, coupled with Désir’s experiences, makes this book a must for every reader. I expected to see running differently after reading Désir’s book, but I didn’t expect to see so many other aspects of twenty-first-century life and racism in new ways. Any book that can have that effect is worth reading, whether one has ever or will ever run.

Running While Black by Alison Mariella Désir. Portfolio, October 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Review :: “To the Quick” by Karen McPherson

Southern Humanities Review volume 55 numbers 3 and 4 cover image

Post by Denise Hill

“To the Quick” by Karen McPherson is a brief poem made up of three tercets. It’s a poem of wizened recognitions that can truly only come with age, which the narrator acknowledges in her skin, “Hardening. // Softening. Veined and rugose.” where she wears her weariness for “hoarding my personal past while coveting others’ futures – ” (How does McPherson know my mind so well?) The speaker goes on to forgive and make plans, trim a kitten’s claws and compare those clever little mechanisms to her own nails, exposed and absurd as a result of tearing “away soft crescents with my teeth.” “To the Quick” delivers readers as promised, to that pit inside that yearns for understanding and connection while at the same time being fully grounded in the concrete non-attachment to time, which moves steadily forward. We eventually figure some things out, “forgive the lapses,” and remain mystified all the same. McPherson succinctly finds that sweet spot in “To the Quick.”

“To the Quick” by Karen McPherson. Southern Humanities Review, v. 55 nos. 3&4.

Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is the Editor of NewPages.com, which welcomes reviews of books as well as individual poems, stories, and essays. If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Book Review :: Fixed Star by Suzanne Frischkorn

Fixed Star poems by Suzanne Frischkorn book cover image

Guest Post by Jennifer Martelli

Suzanne Frischkorn’s collection of poems, Fixed Star, braids loss and language. In her prose poem, “Nascent,” Frischkorn writes, “The yoked constellations—Capitalist and Communist—rang bright on her skin. Fidel, is it cold in Cuba?” As both the daughter whose “father’s from Cuba” and as the grandmother who will “twine a history with a silver thread,” the speaker cleaves to poetry. Frischkorn’s use of the sonnet crown throughout the book reminds us of her mastery of the craft. The sonnet becomes the braid, twining throughout the book. In “Letra,” Frischkorn writes,

            In Cuba, right now, someone conducts
     a symphony of furtive braiding for a tourist.
     She’ll leave before the last braid is half-done.

The repetition of the sonnet balances the “dissonance” in the first poem, “Cuban Polymita,” which opens with the haunting statement,

     Birth cleaved me in half—
     the sea I grew legs in
     now a dissonance
     a fixed star—

The section closes with the image of cleaving, in “XII,”

                 but all she said
     aloud was, “This is where I’m from.”
     Birth cleaved me in half—

In Fixed Star, Suzanne Frischkorn assures us that, despite displacement and despair, it is the language of poetry that will “coax the palomas to follow you home.”

Fixed Star by Suzanne Frischkorn. JackLeg Press, September 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jennifer Martelli is the author of The Queen of Queens and My Tarantella, named a “Must Read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Her work has appeared in Poetry and elsewhere. Jennifer Martelli has received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She is co-poetry editor for Mom Egg Review.

Book Review :: Foster by Claire Keegan

Foster by Claire Keegan book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Like Keegan’s earlier book, Small Things Like These, Foster is slight in size, but not in emotional heft. This novella tells the story of a nameless girl in the Irish countryside whose parents must send her to stay with neighbors for a summer while her mother is pregnant. The main financial problem seems to be her father who loses cows in card games and has a liquid supper on a regular basis, while her mother has too many children to pay attention to all of them. The Kinsellas, who take the girl for the summer, don’t care much for her father, Dan, and it’s clear he thinks similarly of them. The situation is one of convenience more than care. Or so it seems. The Kinsellas love the girl in a way that neither of her parents do, a care they show in small ways that seem obvious: her new clothes and a bit of spending money for ice cream; a lack of shame when she wets the bed; lessons on how to read and cook. By the end of the novella, the Kinsellas have fostered the girl not only by keeping her for a few months, but by encouraging her, nourishing her, promoting her development, and, most importantly, cherishing her.

Foster by Claire Keegan. Grove Atlantic, November 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Julie Otsuka uses shifting points of view to make her books both universal and specific. In her novel, The Swimmers, she begins with the first person plural point of view to give voice to the titular swimmers, exploring the diversity of their reactions when the pool develops a crack, a metaphor for the loss to come in the second half of the novel. Otsuka sets up the idea of memory, collective and individual, she will explore through Alice, one of the swimmers. The reader learns little about Alice in the second half, though Otsuka shifts to the second person point of view to put the reader in the position of Alice’s daughter (who sounds quite similar to Otsuka, from the few hints the reader receives, including her mother’s interment in camps during World War II, one of the memories her mother holds onto throughout much of her deterioration). The reader sees Alice from a distance as one of the swimmers and up close as a mother who is becoming a different person than the daughter remembers. The reader empathizes with the mother and daughter, but knows, as the doctors make clear, there is nothing to do, but to endure the inevitable loss and rebuild a life after that loss.

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka. Knopf, February 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In her latest novel, Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver updates Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (thus the name of the titular character), moving the story to turn-of-the-millenium Appalachia. This approach tempts those readers who are familiar with Dickens’s novel to play a matching game with characters and events, but Kingsolver’s novel goes much further than a literary exercise that tests readers’ nineteenth-century novel knowledge. Her interest in updating Dickens’ novel is to explore the poverty rampant in Appalachia (as it was in Dickens’s London), a problem made significantly worse because of the opiod crisis. While Dickens’s David struggles through his own forms of exploitation, Kingsolver’s Demon, his friends, and his family are all victims in various ways to the addiction that pharmaceutical companies created in places and people who lacked the means to fight back. As with cases from real life, Demon comes by his addictions innocently, but then struggles with them for hundreds of pages, despite those around him who are trying to help. While Kingsolver shows a community decimated by drugs, she creates characters—as does Dickens—the reader cares about. She puts a face to the headlines many of us have the luxury of skimming over and reminds readers there are too many people whose lives seem destined for destruction, through no fault of their own.

Demon Copperhead by Barabara Kingsolver. Harper Collins Publishers, October 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch, Rivka Galchen uses the story of Johannes Kepler’s mother, whom her neighbors accused of being a witch, to explore how easily people will bow to societal pressures. Katharina is a woman like many in the early 1600s: unable to read or write, but knowledgeable of the natural world. She is also a widow in possession of property. That combination makes her an ideal target for her accusers. Galchen also creates a seemingly innocent bystander—Katharina’s neighbor Simon, who serves as her guardian in the absence of her children—to take down her testimony. The reader watches the world through Simon’s eyes, as well as Katharina’s account of her experiences, and the reader also watches Simon react to the pressures the townspeople put on him. Through Simon, Galchen raises the question of who is willing to stand beside the accused even to their own detriment, as well as exploring what it feels like to be the accused. In her recreation of a time that seems so different from our own, Galchen reminds readers we will all have such moments—both of bearing witness and of standing up for ourselves—turning a time-bound tale into one that is terribly relevant.

Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen. Macmillan, June 2021.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Under My Bed by Jody Keisner

Under My Bed and Other Essays by Jody Keisner book cover image

Guest Post by Olga Montenegro

Jody Keisner’s Under My Bed and Other Essays explores the ritualistic aspect of fear, the summoning of anxiety’s ghosts, and what it means to be a woman living under the promise of male violence. Although Keisner speaks truth to power on what it is like to live with anxiety, it is the exploration of fear and her grandmother that ties the themes of womanhood, illness, and survival. Keisner’s three-section arrangement (Origins, Under the Skin, and Risings) plays an intricate role in how the work is both read and experienced. The reader could interpret the three sections as a balanced academic and creative essay of the Genesis of anxiety, the kinesthetic journey of a disabled body, and the resurrection of Self, which are all ideas Keisner studies deeply about herself.

In “Origins,” the opening essay, Keisner explores her fear as her partner asks, “Why does your mind go down such dark corridors?” This is the premise of the collection of essays in which Keisner, while realizing her own body has an autoimmune disorder, is also realizing that the world is constantly telling women that there is always a threat. Learning how to coexist with this notion, Keisner offers an exploration of female-bodied anxiety through beautifully curated pieces with profound research that both enriches and empowers the reader. Always paying respect to queer and disabled bodies, Keisner unites her voice as part of a symphony of those trying to survive in an increasingly antagonistic world.

To offer a counter point to the deeply embedded fear, Keisner devotes beautiful moments and lyrical prose to speak of her beautifully messy and human grandmother, Grace. Always studying the power behind language, Keisner speaks of her paternal grandmother with admiration and fondness, “My grandmother protected my joy-filled childhood, but to do so, she had to keep a part of herself from me: her pain and suffering.” It is through Grace, ironically, that the readers find a form of respite and the goal that, regardless of how much this world tells us we’re not welcomed, there are ways to not be afraid.

Under My Bed and Other Essays by Jody Keisner. University of Nebraska Press, September 2022.

Reviewer bio: Olga Montenegro is a grad student at Bridgewater State University. She splits her time between Mexico City and Massachusetts. You can find her @ActuallyOlga on Twitter.

Book Review :: Breaking Points by Chelsea Stickle

Breaking Points by Chelsea Stickle book cover image

Guest Post by Matthew Rodriguez

As fearless as she is creative, Chelsea Stickle reaches deep into her bag of tricks to “wow” her readers with every story in her debut chapbook, Breaking Points. Many of these stories captivate the reader in such a way that it feels criminal that they’re only flash fiction pieces, but it’s beautiful enough to accept them as the art forms they are. The courage to experiment with various styles of writing, including a multiple-choice quiz and a flow chart, reveal Stickle’s hidden genius by telling deep stories in unorthodox ways, one that might even spark the beginning of a writing revolution! A standout piece, “How Mature Are You: A Quiz,” exemplifies the glories of pushing conventional boundaries within flash fiction formatting through its whimsical and ironically hard-nosed approach to storytelling with a choose-your-own-adventure type of beat. These kinds of structures, while puzzling at first glance, expand a reader’s view of how effectively a writer can tell a story without falling into familiar patterns. It would not be surprising to see a wide range of unique, personalized styles born from Stickle’s innovation. Ultimately, this collection is more than just an ensemble of witty tales but a mosaic of brilliant artistry.

Breaking Points by Chelsea Stickle. Black Lawrence Press, April 2021.

Reviewer bio: Matthew Rodriguez is a graduate student at Bridgewater State University pursuing his English MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) and currently works as a freshman English teacher at B.M.C. Durfee High School.

Book Review :: The Lonely Stories edited by Natalie Eve Garrett

The Lonely Stories edited by Natalie Eve Garrett book cover image

Guest Post by Sam Tarr

The Lonely Stories: 22 Celebrated Writers on the Joys & Struggles of Being Alone is a collection of distinguished and diverse writers gathered in a volume of unifying isolation narratives, a wonderful contradiction illustrating the affliction or privilege of solitude. Editor Natalie Eve Garrett aimed “to summon cathartic personal essays illuminating the experience of being alone” to challenge the shame and the taboo aspect of discussing one’s loneliness. Collected and crafted before and during the worst of pandemic lockdowns, the stories act upon the hard-learned lessons of the times, showing our isolation was not some passing phase.

Writing can be a punishingly lonely craft, so it’s the writers themselves that tie this collection together best. Each entry is a mosaic showing the complex solidarity of feeling alone. It’s in the “utter brownness” of Claire Dederer’s West Texas landscape and in the silenced pain of Yiyun Li, who “disowned [her] native tongue.” We feel the despair of it in Imani Perry’s hospital room, described as “a funhouse of refracted and repeated loneliness,” and the “different texture” of loneliness in the pre-internet era of Lev Grossman’s “Maine Man.”

Each contribution is a flare sent out of the darkness. In their glare, we see the individual reflections of loneliness. In their glow, we bask in the rebuttal.

The Lonely Stories edited by Natalie Eve Garret. Catapult, April 2022.

Reviewer bio: Sam Tarr is a graduate student at Bridgewater State University and writer living in Weymouth, MA. His work has appeared in 86 Logic and The Bridge

Book Review :: Animal, Roadkill, Ashes, Gone by Emily Pittinos

Animal, Roadkill, Ashes, Gone essays by Emily Pittinos book cover image

Guest Post by Alice Verlezza

In her heartfelt memoir of four chapbook essays, Animal, Roadkill, Ashes, Gone, Emily Pittinos animates familial memories and the personal process of grief. This collection pays tribute, not only to the memory of our passed loved ones, but to the exponential growth of their children in their absence. As we learn the details of her ancestral losses, the narrator weaves in and out of time and space. Through the iterative process of processing her father’s unexpected death we “[become] squires of each other’s grief.” Pittinos’s familiar trauma is rendered stark and bare in this “summary of his body.” 

Our relatable Gen-X protagonist, a wry wit demonstrating vulnerable frankness, reminds us that, “We’ll live in cardboard boxes until we die poor and alone” in the inevitably “promise-less future.” Pittinos’s voice powerfully echoes generational attitudes of frustration and hopelessness without getting bogged down. “Nothing will ever be the same,” and we are “always preparing for the worst,” but these essays gracefully illuminate that “the mind abuses its license to change.” In the face of trauma and loss, the mind finds a way to connect back to its natural state, one of peace, gratitude, and remembrance.

Animal, Roadkill, Ashes, Gone by Emily Pittinos. Bull City Press, November 2022.

Reviewer bio: Alice Verlezza, educator, writer, and mother of two was raised in Rhode Island. An MS graduate of Queens University in Sociology, Alice continues her scholarly work earning an English Masters at Bridgewater State University where she researches gender identity and mental health in narrative.

Book Review :: Souvenirs from Paradise by Erin Langner

Souvenirs from Paradise by Erin Langner book cover image

Guest Post by Shauna Briggs

Grief and loss in Sin City. Erin Langner’s debut essay collection, Souvenirs from Paradise, hits on the allure and beauty of one of America’s favorite tourist destinations – Las Vegas. The backdrop of the classic Vegas casinos led Langner to receive the Wendy S. Walters’ 2021 Creative Nonfiction Book Award from publisher Zone 3 Press. Weaving in the city’s history – the fabled old strip, various casino myths, and celebrity stories – with her own experiences and emotions are what makes this collection so hard hitting. Langner convinces the reader of all the charm and complexity of Vegas’s most popular casinos, driving us with her when she writes about her first road trip into town. She captures the outsider-moved-in perspective seamlessly while reconciling the irreparable pain of loss: “People had been telling me for years that I would love Las Vegas, but I refused to believe them.” Neon lights, ringing slot machines, musical impressions, mob memories, and painful history. . . what’s not to love? Langner expresses a complicated and scintillating love in brilliant lyrical prose.

Souvenirs from Paradise by Erin Langner. Zone 3 Press, November 2022.

Reviewer bio: Shauna Briggs is an English teacher on Cape Cod and is currently pursuing her MA in English at Bridgewater State University. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, dog, and two cats.

Book Review :: If There Is No Wind by Margaret R. Sáraco

If There Is No Wind by Margaret R. Saraco book cover image

Guest Post by R. Bremner

Margaret R. Sáraco’s solid debut poetry collection, If There Is No Wind, begins with a paean to a once-imposing, now-deceased maple tree, skillfully interweaving emotions and memories: “we sat on the stump remains, holding vigil, wishing her well in the afterlife.” It ends with a poem that transforms her into a seabird, exchanging the anguish of being shut in for the joy of freedom, “swimming in warmth, bathing my afterimage away.” In between are 77 pages of sometimes melancholy, sometimes uplifting, but always affecting, poetry. With a personal bias toward surrealism, perhaps my favorite poem in this collection is the lightly surrealism-tinged “Lifeline,” in which Saraco considers that her life has been spent “seated in a kayak / paddling rivers I’ve never seen.” She is waiting for her turn

To pull the kayak
ashore, climb out
discover what
is buried
in my
dense weeds.

In the next-to-last poem in this book, “Quiet Moment,” Sáraco views a reflected moon in a puddle on a clear night and is waiting “for a message / to tell me what this means.” It is indeed a feeling that many of us have had.

If There Is No Wind by Margaret R. Sáraco. Human Error Publishing, September 2022.

Reviewer bio: R. Bremner has been writing of incense, peppermints, and the color of time since the 1960s in journals and anthologies including International Poetry Review and Climate of Opinion: Sigmund Freud in Poetry. Eight published books and chapbooks bear his name, including Hungry Words (Alien Buddha Press).

Book Review :: Borealis by Aisha Sabatini Sloan

Borealis by Aisha Sabatini Sloan book cover image

Guest Post by Alexandria Machado

In Borealis, a stunning long form essay published by Coffee House Press, Aisha Sabatini Sloan reckons with the vast expanse of nature, simultaneously negotiating her relationship to queerness, blackness and the Alaskan landscape. Written lyrically with the use of white space as a conduit for understanding solitude as a person of color in an overwhelming white population, Sloan wonders “when there is no Black figure, what am I supposed to like looking at?” She artfully explores interactions as intimate collisions and reconciliations, whether that be a lover or the way color displays in the sky; all experiences are showcased as this prismatic aurora. Sloan paints her images with dazzling natural light, calling us to take a moment to look and listen to the world around us. Borealis is one great luminous moment, a meditation of self-reflection in contrast to the wilderness. What is similar and what is starkly different becomes resigned to the mystery of images, the way they mimic and shift: “The fog has lowered itself like haunches over a toilet across the tops of mountains.” This essay is as concerned with music as it is silence; we hear “The opening strains of Bjork’s ‘Bachelorette’ play as a bald eagle opens its wings above a lamppost on the spit,” or how “Beaches tend to mean your ear hurts a little; the wind is loud.” Lists give way to observations and letters to a nephew in jail expose how captivity is not just the body in a physical place. Sloan creates collages of color and revelations, “Now I think crying is like touching time. A half-hearted attempt to crash into now.” Sloan’s essay encourages readers to spend time with nature in a way that is patient, humorous and imaginative, with the reminder to not look past any moment, as there is magic and horror everywhere.

Borealis: An Essay by Aisha Sabatini Sloan. Coffee House Press, November 2021.

Reviewer Bio: Alexandria Machado is a graduate student studying English at Bridgewater State University and a writer living in Providence, RI. Her poems, essays and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Boshemia, Vagabond City, The Merrimack Review, 86 Logic and other publications.

Book Review :: I Am Jonathan Scrivener by Claude Houghton

I Am Jonathan Scrivener by Claude Houghton book cover image

Guest Post by Colm McKenna

Orphaned from the age of 19, James Wrexham finds himself employed in a dreary office. Without friends or family, he is merely “a spectator in life”. James’ humdrum existence comes to an end after being hired as secretary to Mr. Jonathan Scrivener, an independent gentleman soon leaving England. He is set to receive a lavish salary and live in Scrivener’s flat while he is away. Scrivener remains a shadowy figure throughout; details about him come from a cast of his friends who in turn come to know James. Initially, they are all unaware of each other, and all describe Scrivener as a completely different person.

I am Jonathan Scrivener revolves around two central themes, the first being the existence of an untapped potential in the men and women of inter-war Britain. Instead of painting his characters as gloomy hollow men (seemingly well adjusted and successful people, yet spiritually bankrupt), Houghton is more optimistic. Wrexham writes countless formulaic job applications, but what he submits to Scrivener is a long epistle about himself, which he doesn’t reread. There is something in Wrexham that Scrivener appreciates, even if he is blind to it himself.

Houghton protects his characters from material constraints, because “leisure reveals us”. Work and physical necessity don’t allow us to understand ourselves: “of course people behave themselves on a treadmill; what the hell else can they do?” Wrexham was a shell of a man before being hired by Scrivener. The job he is hired into plays a minor part in the story. It simply functions as a springboard to leisure, the realm in which introspection begins, as well as life’s “real” problems. Though no doubt controversial, it is a profound thesis.

Although Valancourt Books have republished six of Houghton’s novels, there remains a dearth of content out of print. He wrote essays, theatre, poetry and plays; reprinting these would be a good way to show a newfound audience the other strings to Houghton’s bow. Many of his works are nearing their centenary; as the copyright is coming up for some of his underrated pieces, hopefully someone will resurrect them.

There is no biography on Houghton, and little else remains to pad out his life beyond a brief interview given to a writer’s directory in 1950. I Am Jonathan Scrivener was eventually dramatized in 1953, but this was 22 years after the book’s release, and by then Houghton’s fame had already begun to dwindle. He shared an agent with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie and William Faulkner (to name a few), and had a host of celebrity admirers. Whatever the reason for his lost fame, it will be obvious to his readers that it has nothing to do with literary merit.

I am Jonathan Scrivener by Claude Houghton. Valancourt Books, April 2013.

Reviewer bio: Colm McKenna is a second-hand bookseller based in Paris. He has published and self-published an array of short stories and articles, hoping to eventually release a collection of stories. He is mainly interested in the works of Joh Cowper Powys, Claude Houghton and a range of Latin American writers.

Book Review :: Impossible Naked Life by Luke Rolfes

Impossible Naked Life stories by Luke Rolfes book cover image

Guest Post by Justin Courter

Betcha can’t eat just one! Reading the flash fictions in Luke Rolfes’s Impossible Naked Life, winner of the Acacia Fiction Prize from Kallisto Gaia Press, you’ll tell yourself: Okay, maybe just one more. . . and then read another half-dozen of them. These stories are, by turns (and turns of the pages that keep you wondering what the author will think of next) heartfelt and hilarious. The first sentence of each is a runway from which Rolfes takes an imaginative flight, and the only regret is that sometimes the ride seems too short. Some of the best of these stories are the longer ones—longer, in this case, meaning about ten pages.

One of the funniest, “My Neighbor, Ray,” begins: “On day three of the global crisis, a person crawls out of my mouth. The person is small at first—the size of a marble—but then he grows and grows until full sized.” The person is essentially the narrator’s (Luke’s) alter ego; he befriends the next-door neighbor, who moves in with Luke and his family. Covid cabin fever induces late-night discussions on subjects such as what the concerns of the toothbrush and razor might be if inanimate objects had feelings; and an afternoon when Luke’s kids use some of the overstock of toilet paper to wrap Ray up like a mummy in the backyard.

Not all the stories are surreal but, as does the one described above, all have an emotional accuracy. You aren’t sure where you’re going in Impossible Naked Life, but you’re enjoying a Denis Johnson kind of trip.

Impossible Naked Life by Luke Rolfes. Kallisto Gaia Press, March 2022.

Bio: Justin Courter’s books include the novels The Heart of It All and Skunk: A Love Story. He lives in New York City.

Book Review :: Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Our Missing Hearts by Celest Ng is a dystopian novel in the vein of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Ng says she drew everything in her fictional world from real life, which makes her United States scarily believable. The government has passed the PACT act, which prohibits discussion of un-American ideas; targets people of Chinese descent; and uses the government’s right to remove people’s children as a means of control. This law leads to rampant discrimination and violence against Asian Americans, ultimately forcing the mother of the main character to flee. While there are parts of exposition to explain this alternate America, the heart of the book is Margaret’s difficult decision to leave Bird when he was nine. He has spent several years without her, but he ultimately goes looking for her, partly because of a cryptic note he receives, but also because of the disappearance of one of his classmates, Sadie, who has been removed from her family and relocated. By centering the novel on these relationships and the effects of such a law on parents and children, Ng reminds readers that laws don’t exist in a vacuum: there are always real individuals who suffer, whether we choose to see them or not.

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng. Penguin, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Review :: “Porous” by Jessica Moore

Brick summer 2022 literary magazine cover image

Guest Post by Megan Eralie

Published in the summer 2022 issue of Brick, “Porous” by Jessica Moore investigates motherhood and imagines the many types of containers in and around pregnancy, birth, and life. Moore opens by stating, “I have an affinity for the liminal.” This fascination of “spaces between” opens an exploration of moments and feelings “beyond the physical.” Reflecting on motherhood, both years before and after giving birth to twins, Moore muses on the space love contains and the boundaries, containers for love, that also grow with motherhood. A car crash eight years before giving birth results in a head injury which causes Moore to pay closer attention to losses and to memorize a passage from John Berger that sparks an unintended attention towards how the mind “alter[s] and appropriate[s]” our own words—memorized words are, themselves, unable to be contained. The containment of words read and memorized culminates in an observation that words, like fetal cells from a pregnancy, live in the body long after birth. The essay itself is a container of Moore’s words blended with other writers’, a container that goes on to live within the reader, revealing the liminality of language.

“Porous” by Jessica Moore. Brick: A Literary Journal, issue 108, Summer 2022.

Reviewer bio: Megan Eralie (she/her) is a nonfiction writer, poet, and graduate student living in Logan, Utah, who thinks having two cats is a personality trait. You can find her on twitter @smeggggs.

Review :: “Tom Is Dead” by Catherine Sinow

Marrow literary magazine logo

Guest Post by Virginia

A succinct nonfiction essay by Catherine Sinow, but one that will sit in the mind long after you’ve finished reading it, “Tom Is Dead” is about tragedy befalling a family and the complications of grief that come from no longer being close to that family. The work, published in Issue 3 of Marrow Magazine, is about rifts between people but also about closeness, and how those two things can co-exist sometimes in strange and painful ways. Sinow utilizes the small space the essay takes up well, and while the word count is low, the content is packed with effective language, like these opening lines, “Once I was friends with two brothers. I had a falling out with both of them. Eight months later, their dad was hit by a car and killed.” The blend of craft and content makes the essay a real brain-worm of a piece, and it’s a slightly morbid, slightly bittersweet, altogether powerful read.

Tom Is Dead” by Catherine Sinow. Marrow Magazine, Issue 3, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Virginia is an English graduate student at Utah State University. They like talking with cats better than talking with people.

Review :: “The Sum of Which Parts” by Beth Kephart

Beth Kephart head shot

Guest Post by Zoe Dalley

“Our ideas of love were different, too. I wanted, I was desperate, to know you truly, Dad.”

Beth Kephart’s [pictured] short nonfiction piece “The Sum of Which Parts” focuses on a collection of items belonging to her now deceased father to let readers into his world at the end of his life during the COVID-19 lockdowns. From his wallet to a picture of his Wii bowling team, Kephart uses these items to help us understand what it was like for her father, and, in turn, what it must have been like at a time of extreme isolation for much of the older generation without the access or mastery over technology. Kephart then pairs the physical distance of the lockdowns, where she wasn’t able to visit her father without the barrier of technology, with the emotional distance she feels existed between her and her father. Beautifully weaving the two together, “The Sum of Which Parts” effectively tackles the complexity of parent/child relationships, in particular during strange and unforeseen circumstances, such as a global pandemic.

“The Sum of Parts” by Beth Kephart. Upstreet, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Zoe Dalley is a graduate student specializing in literature, composition and culture. They have a particular interest in horror, experimental literature, and anything within the realm of the bizarre.

Book Review :: Powder Days by Heather Hansman

Powder Days: Ski Bums Ski Towns and the Future of Chasing Snow by Heather Hansman Hanover Square Press November 2021 book cover image

Guest Post by Keegan Waller

Through a mix of literary journalism and memoir in Powder Days: Ski Bums, Ski Towns and the Future of Chasing Snow, Heather Hansman asks the question: is the ski town dream dead, and did it ever exist in the first place? Hansman uses her own connections and experiences as a former ticket checker, ski patroller, and restaurant worker in a Colorado ski town to tell a story of the realities of working-class skiers who are still “living the dream.”

“We moved to the mountains and let the other facets of our lives fall into place from there.” In dispelling the common perceptions of the archetypical ski bum, Hansman paints a picture of communities in crisis due to stagnant wages and rising housing costs, mental health issues among ski industry workers, racial tensions, and the ever-looming threat of disappearing snow due to climate change. All framed by her nostalgic, months-long road trip to ski towns across the country. Anyone who has ever loaded everything they owned into their car and moved to a ski town – or even considered doing so after a weekend on the slopes – will find something to relate to in Powder Days.

Powder Days: Ski Bums, Ski Towns and the Future of Chasing Snow by Heather Hansman. Hanover Square Press, November 2021.

Reviewer bio: Keegan Waller is a graduate student in Utah State’s creative writing program. His writing has been featured in Door is a Jar, Boston Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @keeg_wall.

Review :: “Sufjan Stevens and How I Taught Myself to Cry” by Robin Gow

Mina Weeks review of "Sufjan Stevens and How I Taught Myself to Cry" by Robin Gow published in Cream City Review literary magazine cover image

Guest Post by Mina Weeks

Like the famous Milwaukee cream-colored bricks, Cream City Review’s Winter 2021 issue stands out from the crowd with its focus on marginalized works and experiences. In Robin Gow’s “Sufjan Stevens and How I Taught Myself to Cry,” the beauty and heartache of the trans experience dance with the anguish of familial trauma and bittersweet aftertaste of romance gone wrong. The inability to cry—and its ties to testosterone and holding oneself together with mere stitches—explores the helplessness of bottled-up emotions through the lens of singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens, whose famously morose lyrics wield the power of tightened chests and melancholic sighs. Through this, Gow expertly captures the trans experience and its ties to emotional suppression and release.

“Sufjan Stevens and How I Taught Myself to Cry” by Robin Gow. Cream City Review, Fall/Winter 2021.

Reviewer bio: Mina Weeks (they/she) is a multi-marginalised K-pop stan who tweets, teaches, and writes fanfiction to get them through their existence. Find them on Twitter @minami_noel or on Instagram @meena.noel.

Review :: “A Place I Didn’t Try to Die in Los Angeles” by Jenny Catlin

Taylor Franson review of "A Place I didn't Try to Die in Los Angeles" by Jenny Catlin published in The Gettysburg Review headshot image of Catlin

Guest Post by Taylor Franson

Jenny Catlin’s [pictured] essay, “A Place I Didn’t Try to Die in Los Angeles,” touches on themes of shame, women’s lack of power, and personal agency. Throughout the piece are moments of dry humor, contrasted with surprising moments of tenderness. Catlin’s prose is both incredibly poignant and incredibly scathing. Her ability to create stark and bold images, while commenting on societal issues is phenomenal. You cheer for her, as she decides not to die, and moan as she makes other choices detrimental to her life. You cannot help but cry with her as she cries in “the Nut” (the now-closed seedy Nutel Motel), and understand what she means when she writes, “There is a kind of alone that only exists in cities as big as Los Angeles.” The piece is infused with emotion and power. Catlin’s diction carries the essay and sets the tone for the entirety of the piece as they expertly balance harsh realities with the inner turmoil that follows. Many women who have felt powerless and forced into difficult choices will not only relate to Catlin’s essay but may see a direct reflection of themselves here as well.

“A Place I Didn’t Try to Die in Los Angeles” by Jenny Catlin. The Gettysburg Review,

Reviewer bio: Taylor Franson Thiel is a creative writing graduate student at Utah State University. She wrote this review because she had to for a class, but she means every word. She can be found on Twitter @TaylorFranson

Review :: “Shame” by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers

"Shame" by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers review by Lauren McKinnon from Cincinnati Review issue 19.1 2022 literary magazine cover image

Guest Post by Lauren McKinnon

Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers explores isolation, class, and gender in her nonfiction essay, “Shame.” Set mostly in Guilford County, North Carolina, Rogers recollects her complicated relationship with her grandparents who live secluded on a gothic farm. Rogers sympathizes with her grandmother’s inability to escape a marriage to a man who acts as a family patriarch and predator. When Rogers graduates high school and attends Oberlin University, she fulfills a dream of higher education her grandma could never afford. Despite the liberal, nerdy, queer community Roger finds on campus, she feels out of place and looked down upon because of her ties to small town Guilford County. Rogers explores how humans value themselves above others based on class and education, both unearned privileges. She uses humor and calculated characterization of her grandmother to show readers how isolating it is to exist on the edges. The essay ends with a haunting image of Roger’s grandma, trapped behind the glass window above her sink, washing the dishes, staring at the view of an eroding barn and fields of clay. The image humanizes isolation as women observe the world around them but are unable to fully participate.

“Shame” by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers. The Cincinnati Review, 19.1, Spring 2022.

Reviewer bio: Lauren McKinnon is a creative writing master’s student at Utah State University. She teaches English and is the Assistant Graduate Director of Composition. Lauren is currently writing her first book of poetry about the Southern Utah desert, motherhood, and woman’s bodies.

Review :: “Deathbed” by Anna B. Moore

Pembroke Magazine number 54 print literary magazine cover image

Guest Post by Sandra Edwards

Anna B. Moore’s “Deathbed” essay in Pembroke Magazine describes the end of her father’s life from her perspective as his primary caretaker. As a narrator, she questions her relationship with her father, but her feelings seem to change as she navigates his dying state. Rather than being a story of redemption or some other giant paradigmatic shift, it is instead one of understanding as she reflects on her father’s character. Interwoven with this narrative is her experience staying in a rented basement apartment while she is away to take care of her father.

Each scene offers details that serve to characterize her father, such as the description of his bedside table in the hospital: “Cluttered with old books, used drinking glasses, folded newspapers, used Kleenexes, his wallet, some coins and pens, a magnifying glass.” She also emphasizes his breathing throughout the piece, almost rhythmically, so that we not only see his physical deterioration into death, but also gain insight into his feelings just as she does. A seemingly simple piece on the surface, Moore captivates the reader and approaches the subject of death in a familiar yet sincere way.

“Deathbed” by Anna B. Moore. Pembroke Magazine, #54, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Sandra Edwards is a college student and aspiring writer currently pursuing her master’s degree.

Lit Mag Review :: Reckoning – Issue 6

Reckoning literary art magazine issue number 6 2022 cover image

Guest Post by Jacob Taylor

The sixth issue of Reckoning: Creative Writing on Environmental Justice gathers the words of diverse writers from around the world as they grapple with the future of our planet. This collection of fiction, essays, and poetry tells unflinching stories of Earth’s recent past and speculates on its future in vivid detail. Brothers dive for rare silvery sludge in the submerged streets of Oakland; wildfires tear through dry forests while governors calculate how much the burning lumber is worth (not enough to put out the fires); teens turn into trees (they thought it was just a phase at first), and then mothers do too; another strange chemical leaks into our water supply (GenX); oil rigs rape Mother Earth, and she retaliates without apology; Orocobix battles island-eating machines, and a trash compacter engineered to clean up Earth while humanity evacuates decides to nurture a colony of rats instead. The complex worldbuilding throughout the speculative pieces is particularly engaging and provides a nice contrast to the pieces that evaluate Earth’s present state. Much of the writing draws clear inspiration from recent social movements and the COVID-19 pandemic, making this publication both relevant and relatable.

Reckoning: Creative Writing on Environmental Justice, Issue 6, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jacob Taylor is a queer writer based in northern Utah, where they are currently completing an MA in creative writing at Utah State University.

Review :: “Plague Novel” by George Estreich

George Estreich author of "Plague Novel" published in Southern Humanities Review v55 n2 2022 headshot image

Guest Post by Zackary Gregory

In the short essay “Plague Novel,” published in Southern Humanities Review, George Estreich [pictured] uses Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One to make sense of his lived experience through the outbreak of Covid-19.

The essay begins in a small room filled with the “breath and bodies” of people slowly exiting a literary reception. A poet approaches and asks, “You write about science. Should we be worried about this coronavirus thing?” Estreich responds by “disavowing expertise,” but states that from what little he has read, “our behavior mattered.” In “a few weeks the great blur would begin,” people would start hoarding rolls of toilet paper in sparse grocery stores and his “hands would be cracked and raw” from applying hand sanitizer.

Estreich threads in a rich literary analysis of Zone One, drawing parallels and using scenes from the novel to name the mania caused by the pandemic. He describes Americans responding to crises like the characters in the novel, “Zombie-like, they cling to old routines, old stories, as the world falls apart around them.” Estreich claims the novel was “an escape true to the present’s depths,” depths he wouldn’t be able to plumb without Whitehead’s novel.

Plague Novel” by George Estreich. Southern Humanities Review, v55 n2, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Zackary Gregory (He/him) is an English grad student at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. He likes bikes and books.

Book Review :: God is a Black Woman by Christena Cleveland

God is a Black Woman by Christena Cleveland published by HarperOne book review by Jack Bylund book cover image

Guest Post by Jack Bylund

In God is a Black Woman, author and professor Christena Cleveland confronts the faults of the mainstream Christian deity, whom she refers to as “whitemalegod.” A perpetrator of endless wrongs in society, the whitemalegod that Cleveland interrogates is found at the heart of racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and toxic masculinity, among others. Cleveland makes her case for mainstream Christianity’s role in these issues succinctly and effectively, providing compelling evidence from recent events and her own upbringing in Christianity; stories drawn from her life prove as compelling and honest as they are tragic and too common.

All the while, Cleveland presents a narrative of her travels through France on a pilgrimage seeking out Black Madonnas—statues of the Virgin Mary throughout the world who are Black. In her efforts to connect with these works of art, she enumerates the multifaceted ways in which Black Madonna—the titular figure of the book—contrasts with and rejects the white supremacist ideals of whitemalegod. She applies Black Madonna ideology to modern issues and rhetoric. Most of all, Cleveland gives hope for people in need of a God who truly loves amid the post-Trump rise in Christian hatred and nationalism.

God is a Black Woman by Christena Cleveland. HarperOne, February 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jack Bylund teaches and studies English literature and fiction at Utah State University. He loves contemporary lit, Panda Express, and books about the end of the world.

Book Review :: Cost of Living by Emily Maloney

Cost of Living, essays by Emily Maloney published by Henry Holt and Co. book cover image

Guest Post by Jackie Martin

Emily Maloney’s memoir, Cost of Living, is an exploration of “an expense that’s hard to bear.” In the sixteen essays that make up the collection, Maloney introduces readers to a roster of memorable characters and generously shares stories that explain – but never excuse – the financial and metaphorical costs of the American healthcare system. Maloney employs a surgeon’s precision to cut into the business of health, revealing unethical prescribing, inequitable resources, medical sexism, inadequate mental health care, and other malignancies that hide beneath the surface. Her insights come from time spent as a patient as well as an employee: her background includes such varied work as an emergency room tech “expected to guard against the depletion of resources,” an EMT trainee who learned “it was never about the patients themselves,” and a “medical publications manager” who was tasked with schmoozing doctors at conferences. Though Maloney’s essays inspire a multitude of reactions from melancholy to righteous anger to utter disbelief, her writing is never preachy or overwrought. Her personal stories serve the greater narrative, reminding us that there are real people behind the bloated price tag of even simple curative procedures. With an artful, sardonic humor and a refreshingly straightforward perspective, Maloney stitches medical facts together with personal experience and observation to investigate the “enormous cost” of trying to stay healthy in America today.

Cost of Living by Emily Maloney. Henry Holt and Co., February 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jackie Martin is a writer and teacher from the Boston area. Her stage plays have been produced around the U.S. and published by Heuer, Applause, and others. She is currently pursuing her MA in English at Bridgewater State University.

Book Review :: Lightning Flowers by Katherine E. Standefer

Lightning Flowers by Katherine E. Standefer published by Little, Brown Spark book cover image

Guest Post by Elizabeth Robin

“On the last morning of my first life,” are the words that haunt the second chapter of Katherine E. Standefer’s debut memoir, Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life. In her early twenties, Standefer is confronted with the ghosts of her past — a genetic heart defect hidden within her bloodline for generations (called Long QT syndrome) — and must now learn to navigate young adulthood while simultaneously trying to reconnect with her body which, she states, has “become a stranger.” This book is as much about the grief of a life-changing diagnosis as it is a biting criticism of the broken medical system housed under capitalism, which holds “inordinate power” over a vulnerable population. Standefer, who begins her Long QT journey uninsured, finds that she’s unable to afford the life-saving care that she needs without significant help from her family, friends, and charitable doctors; she writes that she “was paying in other ways” as by having to rearrange her life around her symptoms and medical appointments. As an activist, Standefer feels hesitant about getting a doctor-recommended defibrillator, which could be made from conflict metals. She is then forced to question if her life is worth more than those who work to mine the metal. Standefer’s work portrays the intense and complex feelings of having a chronic illness, and the desperation of an American bound to a broken system. However, there is hope and love found within these pages, too. Through this journey, Standefer grows closer with her family and her own sense of self. It serves as a reminder that there is “hard work that lies before us,” and it is our responsibility to change a broken system.

Lightning Flowers by Katherine E. Standefer. Little, Brown Spark, November 2020.

Reviewer bio: Elizabeth Robin is a student at Bridgewater State University and a teacher. She live in the Boston area with her partner and their two cats.

Book Review :: The Slain Birds by Michael Longley

The Slain Birds, poetry by Michael Longley published by Wake Forest University Press book cover image

Guest Post by James Scruton

The late Seamus Heaney titled his first collection of poems Death of a Naturalist. Michael Longley, his friend and fellow poet from Northern Ireland, has devoted decades to just the opposite principle: celebrating the flora and (mostly avian) fauna of Carrigskeewaun, in County Mayo of the Republic. In The Slain Birds, Longley continues this project, his imagination sparked by bog asphodel and snowdrop, white helleborine and sneezewort, some of the flowers, like some of the townlands (Carricksnashinnagh, Barnabaun, Kinnakillew) sounding made up, invented—and yet, what names are not? Flowers, he declares, seem the “Secret of the cosmos,” some house martins “God-spark . . .dream birds.” But Longley’s practice is less an Adamic naming than an honoring, an affirming of love, family lore, and local custom even as he draws parallels from Homer, modern war, and recent pandemic. Whether his eye falls on lupine and catkin or follows the flight of plovers and godwits, whether his ear is attuned to the ”cheer-up-cheer-up” of nightingale or the “wind’s / Vocal cords,” Longley pays tribute. From the elegiac to the exuberant, the poems brought together here form a lyrical, joyous extension of a sparkling poetic career.

The Slain Birds by Michael Longley. Wake Forest University Press, 2022.

Reviewer bio: James Scruton is the author of two full collections and five chapbooks of poetry as well as dozens of reviews, essays, and articles on poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.

Book Review :: The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui

The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui published by Picador book cover image

Guest Post by Marc Martorell Junyent

The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui offers a particular glimpse into the drama of the Syrian Civil War. The author, a correspondent for the French newspaper Le Figaro in Istanbul, happened to find on Facebook a picture of two men in a library in 2015. The caption of the picture informed her that the library was located in Daraya, a suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus besieged by Bashar al-Assad’s troops since 2012.

Throughout numerous interviews conducted over Skype, which stretched for almost a year, Minoui got to know first-hand about the bombing and lack of food and medicines the inhabitants of Daraya had to endure. At the same time, however, Minoui learned more about the project a group of revolutionaries had managed to build in the midst of general destruction: a secret library with books rescued from the bombed ruins of Daraya. Minoui describes the secret library as “a hopeful page in the dark novel that is Syria.”

When interviewed by the author, Ahmad Muaddamani, one of the co-founders of the library in 2013, explained that creating a site of culture and sharing information about it on Facebook was a way to send a powerful message to the world. As he explains, “What better way to defy Syria’s leader than to contradict his narrative of a terrorist opposition? Another of the organizers of the library, Shadi Matar, tells Minoui how the group organized English lessons in the library and describes these moments as “a feeling of normalcy.”

The Book Collectors of Daraya is the result of Minoui’s conviction that, despite her inability to travel to Syria and cover what was happening on the ground, the story of the Daraya library deserved to be told. And the French author does so in a most convincing way.

The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui. Picador, March 2020.

Reviewer bio: Marc Martorell Junyent graduated in International Relations and currently studies holds a joint Master in Comparative Middle East Politics and Society at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen and the American University in Cairo. His main interests are the politics and history of the Middle East (particularly Iran, Turkey and Yemen). He has studied and worked in Ankara, Istanbul and Tunis. He tweets at @MarcMartorell3.

Book Review :: Stone Junction by Jim Dodge

Stone Junction fiction by Jim Dodge published by Grove press book cover image

Guest Post by Colm McKenna

This year saw the re-release of Jim Dodge’s 1990 cult classic Stone Junction. While Fup remains the cornerstone of Dodge’s legacy, his first full novel is considerably more ambitious. Inexplicably, it is yet to be made into a film.

The story follows Daniel Pearse, a child taken in by AMO – Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws alongside his mother Annalee. Following her murder early on in the story, Stone Junction evolves into a bildungsroman, with Daniel being brought up by an eccentric cast of criminals and wizards. His unconventional education occurs alongside a search for his mother’s killer and an attempt to steal a supernatural diamond from the U.S. government.

Daniel and Annalee’s relationship is a driving force of the story, even after her death. Their situation is unusual, but their bond means they never feel unrelatable. Early on, Daniel offers his mother a piece of tear-soaked birthday cake he had just smashed; he was angry that she couldn’t tell him who his father was even if she wanted to. This moving scene of reconciliation takes place on a boat for magicians and outlaws, perfectly displaying the book’s capacity to juggle emotionally heavy themes and a more playful side.

With the recent success of literary adaptations (The Queen’s Gambit, Shadow and Bone, etc.), re-printing Stone Junction feels appropriate if a film is ever going to come. The novel appeals both to young and old readers; it is an emotionally intelligent coming-of-age story, but also engages with adult themes, ranging from grief to impotency. Dodge’s oeuvre has a minor place in 20th Century American Literature, and I hope this re-print of Stone Junction can help it receive the recognition it deserves.

Stone Junction by Jim Dodge. Grove Press, July 2022

Reviewer bio: Colm McKenna is a second-hand bookseller based in Paris. He has published and self-published an array of short stories and articles, hoping to eventually release a collection of stories. He is mainly interested in the works of Joh Cowper Powys, Claude Houghton and a range of Latin American writers.

Book Review :: Out Here on Our Own by J.J. Anselmi

Out Here on Our Own: An Oral History of an American Boomtown by J.J. Anselmi with photography by Jordan Utley published by Bison Books book cover image

Guest Post by Raymond Jenkins

The spirited voices of Rock Springs, Wyoming come to life in J.J. Anselmi’s retelling of an American boomtown’s prosperous but turbulent history. Out Here on Our Own: An Oral History of an American Boomtown captures the history of Rock Springs by chronicling the town’s boom and bust cycles through personal narratives from locals alongside his own personal account of the coal-mining town.

Shining a light on the amoral history of Rock Springs, Anselmi reflects on the way of life of the residents impacted by the oil drilling industry that seized their community. The toils from the laborious coal-mining operation are gathered candidly from the voices of residents who shared witness to the troubles that plagued the area, such as widespread alcoholism and a disturbing increase of mental and physical health illnesses.

Out Here on Our Own offers a candid view of Rock Springs through honest words from people who call the boomtown home and are accompanied by Jordan Utley’s fascinating photographs. Words capture the stark truth and pain of living in Rocksprings during booms and recessions. The photos provide a glimpse of their reality, showing the bleak lifestyle of Rock Springs without denying the sheer beauty of the region’s landscape. Although Anselmi admits after moving away, “I may never be a resident of the town again . . . ” the fascinating stories from the residents of Rock Springs show that the value of the town is not from the coal-mining industry, but rather the reverence that persists in the people who choose to stay and tell their stories.

Out Here on Our Own: An Oral History of an American Boomtown by J.J. Anselmi; Photographs by Jordan Utley. Bison Books, October 2022.

Reviewer bio: Raymond Jenkins is a student at Bridgewater State University, in the English MA program with a concentration in Creative Writing. Raymond is an emerging writer residing in the Boston area. He enjoys long hikes with friends, binge watching tv shows and drinking tea during sunset.

Book Review :: Double Negative by Claudia Putnam

Double Negative memoir by Claudia Putnam published by Split Lip Press book cover image

Guest Post by Mark Guzman

“The intimacy of housing another body and soul inside your own body and soul is indescribable,” writes Claudia Putnam in her debut nonfiction chapbook Double Negative, winner of the 2021 Nonfiction/Hybrid Chapbook Contest. In this short memoir, Putnam engages her reader with this connection of mother and child. It is an intimate portrait of a mother who welcomed her son, Jacob, into the world, only to see him pass so soon in his infancy. Putnam is cerebral but genuine, her prose approachable. She contemplates life and death, the soul, where and how it arrives and departs, the beforehere and the afterhere.

Putnam writes this some three decades after losing her son, Jacob, and what she would have done for him. “Hack and splice, sure. I would have let them cut out my heart if it would have cured my son. It would not have.” This willingness of Putnam to offer her own body in sacrifice for her son, her very heart, echoes the deep bond between mother and child, of souls interwoven even in death. Admitting that this sacrifice would not have saved him is harrowing. She leaves the reader to consider that even if Jacob was saved, his would have been a life of constant struggle and pain. Putnam wants us to consider what it must be like to live beyond the unimaginable.

Double Negative is a meditation on life and death, of parenthood, of the soul and spirit, of dreams and the often-harsh reality that comes with living. Putnam successfully invites us to reflect on the concept of how we live, oftentimes so close to death.

Double Negative by Claudia Putnam. Split Lip Press, March 2022.

Reviewer bio: Mark Guzman lives and teaches in Massachusetts. He is currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree in English at Bridgewater State University.

Book Review :: When They Tell You To Be Good by Prince Shakur

When They Tell You To Be Good a memoir by Prince Shakur published by Tin House Books book cover image

Guest Post by David Sohboff

In his debut memoir, When They Tell You To Be Good, Prince Shakur traverses geography and time to answer a question that has “haunted” him since adolescence, “Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?” There’s Shakur, a Jamaican immigrant, searching for a better life only to have his father murdered. There’s the closeted Shakur who faces his truth as well as his family’s violent proclivities. There’s Shakur, who travels the globe because, “If America could not deliver me what I deserved as a young and curious Black person, I deserved to try to find it where I could and not be overpowered by the kind of son or citizen I needed to be.” There’s Shakur, the revolutionary, who combats racism, homophobia, and colonialism. There’s Shakur, the humanist, who learns that “one of the best ways we can love people is to not be afraid of them.” There’s Shakur, the provocative writer who becomes “grateful for my body, my heart, my mind, and all the people who loved me and asked questions.” This speaks to the power of “Who Am I,” which Shakur asked early on and ultimately transcends to a universal query in this artful debut.

When They Tell You To Be Good by Prince Shakur. Tin House, September 2022.

Reviewer Bio: David Sohboff is an educator in Massachusetts and a student at Bridgewater State University, pursuing an advanced degree in English. 

Book Review :: Stay True by Hua Hsu

Stay True a memoir by Hua Hsu published by Penguin Random House book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In his memoir Stay True, Hua Hsu explores identity through three different lenses: race/ethnicity, friendship, and music. Music is by far the dominant way Hsu defined himself when he was in college, the years he focuses on in this work. He uses his love of music partly to define himself as different than others—as a way to carve out an identity for himself—and to judge others—as a way to keep others at a distance. He becomes friends with Ken, a student unlike Hsu in almost every way, including musical tastes. Despite those differences, Ken becomes a friend who helps Hsu grow and change, slowly moving past his easy judgments about others. Ken and Hsu are both Asian Americans, but Ken is Japanese American. His family has been in the United States for generations, while Hsu is the son of Taiwanese immigrants, leading Hsu to feel less settled in his racial/ethnic identity. All of these strands help Hsu talk about who he was then and how that time has shaped him into who is, but the main concern of the memoir is a specific event in his relationship with Ken, one Hsu is still coming to terms with years afterward.

Stay True by Hua Hsu. Penguin Random House, September 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Review :: “How to Pray for Your Enemies” by Cristina Legarda

Cristina Legarda headshot

Post by Denise Hill

Like many well-intentioned meditators, I struggle with the concept of metta, that effort to show loving kindness both to ourselves and others, including our enemies. “Be like the Dalai Lama…” To which I respond, “We cannot all be Dalai Lamas.” However, “How to Pray for your Enemies” by Christina Legarda [pictured] from the most recent issue of Sky Island Journal has been the keenest instructional I have encountered.

It begins, “First, get the fantasy of vengeance / out of your system. The way / you would core them out / with your sharpest knife…” which is the most un-Dalai Lama thought we might gravitate toward (and which Mindset author Carol Dweck says is prevalent in both the fixed- and growth-minded). After filling out this fantasy with additional detail (which feels more disturbing than satisfying – and rightly so), Legarda moves the reader to the next phase, to cry and “collect all your tears / and put them in the sun till all you have / is their salt [. . . ] and how tiny / the heap will seem to you, after all / those tears, a little mountain no bigger / than the print from your thumb.” While that may seem dismissive, it actually acknowledges how the internalized pain and torment we manifest results in very little that is tangible or beneficial to us. It is both a validation and a call to “move on.”

Legarda moves on by taking the experience from the external to within, taking the reader to go “sit alone in the desert” until the vision of a child comes, “the hungry child, crying child / hiding behind your enemy’s face,” telling the reader to embrace this child, “until you no longer wish / to cut out your own core; / until the child inside you / weeps no more.”

With this, Legarda brings the instruction full circle to that initial vengeful evisceration, showing us how there is no other. The damage we do, we do to ourselves, and that child is our own self who needs loving kindness.

“How to Pray for Your Enemies” by Cristina Legarda. Sky Island Journal, Fall 2022.

Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is the Editor of NewPages, which welcomes reviews of books as well as individual poems, stories, and essays. If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Book Review :: Small Craft by Janet Edmonds

Small Craft poetry by Janet Edmonds published by Sea Crow Press book cover image

Janet Edmonds’s debut poetry collection from Sea Crow Press, Small Craft, seeks to answer two fundamental questions regarding the relationship between language and setting:

Is it possible to capture the essence of a certain place with words?

How is one able to properly articulate the aspects that define a space or a place, and implement language to reflect the attributes at the core of a location?

These poems immerse readers in the sights, sounds, and experiences that encapsulate a life in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. From the spring tides “disporting with each new and full moon, / tuned to waxing lunar cycles” to the sand where “each page of wind and ice grinds out / …eroded fossils, rocks, and minerals” to the rainbow’s “ascension of raindrops refracting reflections / of ages and places traversing the harbor,” no aspect of the natural landscape remains untouched or forgotten by Edmonds. Cycling through the seasons to present a rich image of a place during all walks of life, the reader goes on a journey from the “Dogwood, cherry, lilac blossom, petal” of the spring to the “Light streaks of long nights’ shooting stars” of the winter solstice. Time has no influence on this place, for no matter the time of year or how much time has passed since setting foot in this landscape, there is a certainty in the continuous beauty. “Across the dunes, the Province Lands: / Roiling crests crash the swash,” she writes, “and mulct the shore of every trace / Of time / And tracks / And tendered hand.” Edmonds’ poetry is a beautiful testament to the nature of Cape Cod, and the way she implements language to highlight the aspects which enhance the individuality and uniqueness of her chosen place makes her reader feel like they are coming home – or discovering home for the first time.

Small Craft by Janet Edmonds. Sea Crow Press, March 2022.

Reviewer bio: Catherine Hayes is a graduate student in English at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and resides in the Boston area. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Blood & Thunder: Musings of the Art of Medicine, Atticus Review, NewPages, and an anthology with Wising up Press. She can be found on Twitter @Catheri91642131

Book Review :: README.txt: A Memoir by Chelsea Manning

ReadMe.txt: A Memoir by Chelsea Manning book cover image

Guest Post by MG Noles

Chelsea Manning’s astonishing new book README.txt: A Memoir reads like a spy novel of the highest order. Imagine John Le Carre or Graham Greene at their best, and you will get a sense of how good the memoir is.

As Ernest Hemingway writes, “A writer’s job is to tell the truth.” Manning seems to follow this credo throughout her gripping memoir. Rich in detail, Manning examines her life through multiple lenses: from the lens of a lost trans kid in Oklahoma, from the lens of a talented Army operative analyzing war, and from the lens of a person entirely disenchanted with the horrors she witnesses firsthand on the ground in Iraq.

As her story as an intelligence analyst unfolds, Manning decides to leak documents showing episodes in which the military kills innocent civilians in the Iraq war. Not only do the soldiers kill them; they celebrate it. This is the turning point, the denouement, of her life. It is her truthfulness and her inability to turn a blind eye to this inhumanity that leads to her undoing.

The documents she leaks expose the hideous underbelly of war and cast the U.S. government in a negative light. As a consequence, she endures the hell of a court martial and a lengthy imprisonment. She comes through it bruised but not broken. Though she says she is still unable to tell us many of the details of her experience, she tells us enough to paint a vivid picture of a whistleblower’s life, and the consequences of telling the truth. Her ultimate conclusion: “The U.S. intelligence community is in a very poor position to be trusted with protecting civil liberties while engaging in intelligence work.”

Manning’s book is a watershed and a gripping read.

README.txt: A Memoir by Chelsea Manning. MacMillan, October 2022

Reviewer bio: MG Noles is a writer, history buff, and nature-lover.

Book Review :: Insomniac Sentinel by Abraham Smith

Insomniac Sentinel poetry by Abraham Smith published by Boabab Press book cover image

Guest Post by Nicholas Michael Ravnikar

reading’s at a loss for punctual and capital in abraham smith’s 125-page Insomniac Sentinel so’s that the rarely contractions and possessions make em half known

each poem puts on a voice that’s not his self’s but’s still his own, like “Hoodwink Aubade” leans on a big stick to jaw about u.s. gun culture’s manliest ideas

the enjambments leave “a black eye / everywhere on the body” & insist asking how’s the commonplace meet divine as “god does / teeth to babies”

you start to notion how well organized & awake verge on disorder maybe or past it

it’s often we see little how “we / are one musical family” yet the book stays awake & ever watchful over tercet-storied dialects interjecting bits of punt nonce scents and elide how endings end in ing

that hurts to watch if you’re not so careful as him

here’s then tales to hand stories over to unspeaking & such fanciful finds we earn in the barest sense of the word

enough to veil up a skyfull of featheries

there’s cranes or crayons to keep color in the clouds run through all the pages

you’ll see for yourself if you’ve the patience & alertness

you can learn a lot from abe smith

Insomniac Sentinel by Abraham Smith. Baobab Press, 2023.

Reviewer bio: Nicholas Michael Ravnikar is a disabled neurodivergent writer, artist & critic who lives in southeast Wisconsin. He once ate peanut butter off a landline. It’s a long story. A father and spouse, he enjoys lifting weights, yoga, and meditation in his spare time. Connect with him on social media and download free books at bio.fm/[email protected]

Book Review :: Where Was I Again by Olivia Muenz

Where Was I Again by Olivia Muenz published by Essay Press book cover image

Guest Post by Catherine Hayes

Where Was I Again, Olivia Muenz’s debut nonfiction chapbook from Essay Press, presents readers a glimpse into the mind of a neurodivergent reader and uses the power of language to emphasize how “we are in this together” by inviting all types of readers into her mindset and personal struggles. Muenz’s work reads like one is living inside the fragmented and constantly shifting mindset of a human. Her writing style consistently shifts between fragments, short paragraphs, and pages dedicated to a single sentence. Drifting like a “dusty balloon” she captures the truth of processing life as small moments that continue to live with us. “I am a big memory box,” Muenz proclaims, a statement that all readers can relate to yet one that distinctly reflects the author’s neurodivergent experience, the truth of her personal journey. She manages to reach her audience without compromising her own narrative. Muenz is not looking for her reader to sympathize with her or pity her, and she makes it clear that if her readers do not enjoy her narrative or don’t agree with what she says, they don’t have to stay. “I’m giving you an out,” she writes. “Well if you don’t want to take it. That’s not on me.” Her unapologetic attitude and conviction in her narrative are an admirable display of strength, especially in the face of talking about being in such a vulnerable state. Muenz expertly shows the ability of language to articulate the difficulties of reconciling body and mind, and the power of the written word to unite people in an understanding of the basic habits that all humans experience, no matter their background.

Where Was I Again by Olivia Muenz. Essay Press, May 2022.

Reviewer bio: Catherine Hayes is a graduate student in English at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and resides in the Boston area. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Blood & Thunder: Musings of the Art of Medicine, Atticus Review, NewPages, and an anthology with Wising up Press. She can be found on Twitter @Catheri91642131

Book Review :: Our Lively Kingdom

Our Lively Kingdom poetry by Julia Lisella book cover image

Guest Post by Chloe Yelena Miller

Julia Lisella’s title poem, “Our Lively Kingdom,” opens with the lines, “Our lively kingdom’s now broken / into village plots that others love to visit.” Themes of brokenness, healing, and finding joy weave through these poems like a river through a private landscape. My nine-year-old noticed the cover looks like a map with “tracks like a secret language.”

The covering painting, “Stories Untold,” by Sharon Santillo, sets the tone for the reader. Lisella illustrates a life of attention with lines like “All life is like that / a pursuit to satiate hunger” from “Thoughts About Hunger on a Morning Walk,” and “Is that the way of my work these days, conjuring you into existence . . . ” from “In At Home Depot 15 Years After Your Death.” Indeed, these poems resurrect and remember.

The poem "Hot Flash" has my heart (hormones?) forever. Previously, so little has been written wisely about perimenopause and menopause. Lisella writes, “is my body just grieving” and “The body’s history feels different than mine / as does the earth’s, and yet in unions / we keep telling this short story without words / with spasm and fit     like lyric     like labor."

The poems in Our Lively Kingdom give glimpses of time from the narrator’s childhood through to the pandemic, from private and familial places to nature and to her classroom. In “I’m Receiving Now,” Lisella ends the book with the line, “I’m receiving all the grief here it is here it is.” This ars poetica offers instructions on life and the poetic craft.

Our Lively Kingdom by Julia Lisella. Bordighera Press, October 2022.

Reviewer bio: Chloe Yelena Miller lives in Washington, D.C., with her family. She is the author of Viable (Lily Poetry Review Books, 2021) and Unrest (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Chloe teaches writing at American University and University of Maryland Global Campus, as well as privately. Find her at chloeyelenamiller.com and @ChloeYMiller.

Review :: “Café Loup” by Ben Lerner

The New Yorker August 8 2022 cover image

Guest Post by Sade Frame

“I started to narrate my choking to myself, as if transforming it into a story would keep me connected to a future in which I might tell it.”

Ben Lerner’s New Yorker short story, “Café Loup,” describes, in an almost comedic manner, the narrator’s fear of dying, his skepticism regarding the circumstances surrounding death, (how his family would react if he passed, the manner in which it happened, et cetera), life regrets, and the concept of mentally postponing his own demise. The piece opens, “When I became a father, I began to worry not only that I would die and not be able to care for my daughter but that I would die in an embarrassing way. . . ” In the story, the narrator chokes on a piece of steak at a restaurant, and in the first few moments, he looks back on his life. Readers get glimpses of his past, his values, his inner turmoil, and his regrets through Lerner’s use of exemplary imagery with each of his rambling – though always connected – thought loops. One of the more important elements highlighted in this piece was his relationship with his daughter, and how he felt that he deserved to die in the cafe because he wasn’t adequate enough or somehow deserved it. It truly highlights that we cannot afford to take any moment for granted, for we do not choose our time.

Café Loup” by Ben Lerner. The New Yorker, 29 Aug. 2002.

Reviewer bio: Sade Frame is a Hawaii resident who is an aspiring recording artist and avid book reader.

Review :: “In January, My Body Becomes a Graveyard of Want” by Sydney Vogl

Booth literary magazine issue 17 2022 cover image

Guest Post by Sophia Kaawa-Aweau

Dreams of relationships past and romances dead are a bittersweet experience; a haunting reminder of what almost was and a bubble of joy amidst otherwise bleak times. In Sydney Vogl’s “In January, My Body Becomes a Graveyard of Want,” the willful delusions of our dreamer manifest in the form of a lost lover.

Vogl delivers a hauntingly charming image of a willfully ignorant romance, which sneaks by the problems present in their bond rather than addressing them. “i don’t want to / talk too loud. i’m worried one of us will wake up. / we walk by a field of tulips & i almost notice / each one is shaped like an open wound, but i don’t.” They happily ignore the disturbances of their flower field, choosing to not address things in fear of waking the other up to the problems present.

It’s a gripping narrative that almost inspires a yearning to experience love and loss so strongly it haunts my dreams. “i wake up / alone. it’s february.” is a line piercing in its finality but perfectly embodies the loneliness and sense of grief that causes her dreamscape to feel like a graveyard.

In January, My Body Becomes a Graveyard of Want” by Sydney Vogl. Booth, 8 July 2022.

Reviewer bio: Sophia Kaawa-Aweau is a college student, looking to improve her understanding and writing of poetry and literature.

Review :: “Leaving” by Jesús Papoleto Meléndez

Borracho [Very Drunk] Love Poems & Other Acts of Madness by Jesus Papoleto Melendez book cover image

Guest Post by Jennifer Grotzinger

“Leaving” by Jesús Papoleto Meléndez comes from his poetry collection, Borracho [Very Drunk]: Love Poems & Other Acts of Madness, first published in 2020 by 2Life Press and now available to read on the Poetry Foundation website. If you are a sucker for love poems, “Leaving” will take you down a path to feel the hurt and the emotions from the point of view of the significant other. It starts, “The storm came.” Meaning a fight just happened or an argument just occurred. The speaker goes into how they saw it coming, the tension was building, “We had already felt / the tremor / of its warning. . . ” It was there, and at any time, it was going to explode, it was just a matter of when. When it did explode, the partner realized that no fight is worth losing someone you love and care about. However, the end is what made me sympathize with the speaker: “But you walked out, / To meet the wind / & the rain / intotheStorm / without me.” It makes my heart break a little to feel the hurt when the speaker realizes that they just lost someone they truly love and care about. That they are never coming back. This poem is short, yet it speaks so loudly.

Leaving” by Jesús Papoleto Meléndezcomes. Poetry Foundation, reprinted by permission of 2LeafPress, 2020.

Reviewer bio: Jennifer Grotzinger is a student in an intro to poetry class. Her Instagram handle is @jenniferrodd_

Magazine Review :: Red Rover

Red Rover Magazine online literary magazine logo image

Guest Post by Mandy Medina

Although the online Red Rover Magazine is fairly new and has only produced one annual issue in Winter 2021, what they have holds deep messages for those who need them. I was particularly drawn to the poem “valleys to the heart” by Marciel Laquindanum, which speaks of how there are those who have gone through similar situations before:

there i saw in the reflection of the river
people who found their emotions
and cried because they saw them
for the first time . . .

But also, how they were (and now the speaker is) able to find their way through the hardships that filled their short lives:

and at that moment
i knew

those before me needed to cross the valley
to see what was in their heart
so now i walk through this valley
with their flowers in my hand
ready to see what is in mine

Red Rover is a publication focused on mental health but does not limit itself to works of “well-being as a product.” Rather, the editors “are more interested in works that inspired well-being as a process.”

As a resource for those who are dealing with mental issues, magazines like Red Rover show that they are not alone, what they are going through is normal, and there are people out there who have gone through similar situations. Having magazines with a mental health and well-being focus allows people to have creative outlets to share their stories through poetry, photos, and fiction. It gives them a sense that they are not alone and perhaps gives them the strength to move forward in their life so they can also assist someone else who is lost.

Red Rover is currently accepting submissions through October 31, 2022, for its second issue.

Red Rover Magazine was founded by James N. Pollard in March 2020.

Reviewer bio: Mandy Medina is a game enthusiast who uses creative writing and music to make it through the day.