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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.

Magazine Review :: Bending Genres Issue 28

Bending Genres online literary magazine logo image

Guest Post by Gabriela Mejia

If you are in the mood to read anything strange and out-of-the-box, Bending Genres is the magazine for you! Issue 28 of Bending Genres has plenty of short genre-mixing (and breaking) pieces of prose, poetry, and everything in between. In “The Grease Ant” by William Musgrove, a man goes about trying to rid his house of grease ants. Only the ants don’t go away, and bit by bit they steal pieces of the man’s life. In “Statue Thinks of Nothing but Murder All Day” by Chelsea Stickle, part short story, part ekphrastic prose, James Pradier’s “Sapho” comes to live in the Musée d’Orsay hell-bent on achieving vengeance. “Kindling” by Keith Powell sees its narrator attempting to live in a house that’s constantly on fire; but the narrator comes to realize that they are steadily being consumed by a “Sisyphean rhythm.” And finally, Lindsey Pharr’s “Circe at the Strip Club” sees its eponymous witch still up to her old tricks in a modern setting.

At times heartbreaking, and heartfelt, Bending Genres’ short works are utterly memorable. For those who wish to find examples of how to mix genres, craft, and form, Bending Genres is the perfect venue to display such experimentations.


Bending Genres, Issue Twenty-Eight. August 2022.

Reviewer Bio: Gabriela Mejia is a Chicago native and an MFA Candidate at Columbia College Chicago.

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Book Review :: Memphis by Tara Stringfellow

Memphis a novel by Tara M. Stringfellow published by The Dial Press book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In Memphis, Tara Stringfellow’s debut novel, she traces three generations of African American women from the 1930s to the early 2000s. The four main characters—Joan, her mother Miriam, her aunt August, and her grandmother Hazel—all encounter the obstacles one would expect African American women living through those decades to struggle against; however, Stringfellow goes beyond stereotypical concerns to craft fully-realized characters who have hopes and dreams of their own. Hazel wants to live a long, stable life with the man she loves; Miriam wants to create a safe space for her and her children while also carving out a meaningful career. August not only nurtures her nieces, but she tries to save her son from the childhood he had, while Joan wants to create art and beauty. As the title implies, they all pursue their desires in Memphis, which changes over the decades but still provides stability in the midst of chaos for each generation. Though some of the references to historical events seem predictable and almost obligatory, Stringfellow’s fleshing out of her characters enables the reader to enter into their lives and their city, to provide the empathy that all literature strives to evoke.


Memphis by Tara Stringfellow. The Dial Press, April 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/.

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Book Review :: Interior Femme by Stephanie Berger

Interior Femme poetry by Stephanie Berger published by University of Nevada Press book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

Among the first four poems of Stephanie Berger’s Interior Femme, the 2020 Betsy Joiner Flanagan Poetry Prize winner, there’s a “Foreword,” a “Prelude,” and a “Preface,” as if there is an anxiety about beginning or that beginning takes time: “she opened up gradually to the possibility of beauty and a city.” The bicoastal cities of San Diego and New York are among the urban settings for these poems as they trace archetypes of the feminine and the matriarchy of family, society, and art—“a lineage // of pain”—focusing primarily on “two subjects: death / & domesticity” while vying for “survival / of the beautiful.” Survival from whom or what might dominate is a central pursuit of these poems. What has power and influence: memories—“a sadness took / my mother to the movies one day / & never brought her back.” The poems puzzle over the implications of the first woman in our lives and the primal feminine being lost to violence. Memories, based in gender dominance and sexual degradation, are “the mercurial knee-jerk / of the patriarchy.” The poet beseeches: “strip me / from what abyss of memory I dragged.” Ultimately, Berger’s is a poetry of ascent; Persephone emerges and “imagination dominates.” In these poems, imagination has the power to counter and save; even “a pit at the bottom // of the kitchen sink, available / for discovery.” Dear reader, in Interior Femme, Stephanie Berger is “a real woman [and poet] / with the scars to prove it,” who understands it is “important to remember / there are windows in the water.” Dear reader, Interior Femme is a window.


Interior Femme, Stephanie Berger. University of Nevada Press, January 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

Book Review :: The Fastening by Julie Doxsee

The Fastening, poetry by Julie Doxsee published by Black Ocean book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In The Fastening, Julie Doxsee’s fifth collection, the poet makes a poetry of unburdening “that feeling / she always felt”: imperiled. At the center of these poems is a “flesh-twin” of childhood that arises when a new mother’s fears for the safety of her children trigger a visitation of memories of her own lack of safety as a child:

When I am old enough, I’ll know
a mother’s sunset can’t blacken out
the underside of the door, I’ll know
I can’t stay by the river in the park
because there’s no protection
from being a girl.

(“Masterpiece of the Hijacked Girl”)

As well as being a book that plumbs the experiences of a childhood, the implications of being a daughter, and the meaning of motherhood, this is a book about survival—the precarious survival of a woman and an artist: the “rough forms of me.” In these poems, there always seems to be something inserting hooks, applying thumbs; something to get out from under so the “body / can shake this debt” of gender-blame in pursuit of the pleasure orbiting connections between life partners and between mother and sons. The pleasure that fastens a woman to her life and a poet to her “imagination— / the strobing mono-light blurring as it wails near.” With narrative concision, lyric urgency, and emotional coherence, Julie Doxsee speaks from “roadways that artists can’t / fake.”


The Fastening, Julie Doxsee. Black Ocean Press, May 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

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Poem Review :: Ode on My Nightingale by Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby headshot

Guest Post by Aimee L.

The nightingale is often considered a songbird well known for its melodies that spur feelings of love and romance in people. It is a bird that symbolizes romanticism, which is something that Barbara Hamby’s “Ode on My Nightingale” captures. Hamby [pictured], like a nightingale, strings together a melody depicting the beauty and terror that nighttime brings—the broken dreams, regrets, the loneliness. But despite these quieter moments, she depicts a sense of wonder. “My nightingale is the conquistador of moonlight.” Reading this opening line, I felt reassured. I realized how life shines in the darkness—in the “derivative of sin,” as Hamby puts it. One passage, in particular, speaks to me: “…and I am your little god, / your drinking water straight from the stream, / for my song is spooling into the night forever / and ever, amen.” It’s a little magical.


Ode on My Nightingale” by Barbara Hamby. 32 Poems, Spring/Summer 2020.

Reviewer Bio: Aimee L. is a regular college student and aspiring “writer.”

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Review :: Two Poems by Maria Zoccola

two poems by Maria Zoccola from Booth online literary magazine link image

Guest Post by Hayley Davis

I came across two striking poems by Maria Zoccoloa while reading Booth online literary journal. I enjoyed the first poem, “helen of troy makes an entrance,” because it is about the beauty of childbirth and compares it to an egg being broken to reveal a baby. The author talks about how she came into this world, a story waiting to be told and with a name meant to be given to her. The second poem I found to be equally interesting. Titled, “loggerhead excavation, tybee island,” this poem is about a biologist hatching babies into the world. It is another poem exploring the gift of life, and how animals and people are born into this world with the intention of living and being free.


Two Poems by Maria Zoccola. Booth, September 2, 2022.

Reviewer Bio: Hayley Davis is 27 years old and living in Honolulu, Hawaii. Hayley is a student at Windward Community College studying for a liberal arts degree.

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Book Review :: We Won’t Be Here Tomorrow by Margaret Killjoy

We Won't Be Here Tomorrow and Other Stories by Margaret Killjoy published by AK Press book cover image

Guest Post by Saga

Suspenseful and thought-provoking, We Won’t Be Here Tomorrow and Other Stories by Margaret Killjoy is a collection that moves skillfully from humor to horror, passing between science fiction and fantasy to depict human strength and determination against forces both supernatural and all too real. Killjoy’s clear, gripping voice comes through as her cast of queer characters face flesh-eating ghouls, murderous time travelers, post-apocalyptic militias — and other, more mundane threats such as law enforcement, fascists, and nature itself. We might not be here tomorrow, they say, but we’ll fight like hell today.


We Won’t Be Here Tomorrow and Other Stories by Margaret Killjoy. AK Press, September 2022

Reviewer bio: Saga is a writer and editor currently working on a publishing master’s degree on the East Coast. Enjoys sci-fi, video games, worldbuilding, and iced tea. Annual National Novel Writing Month survivor and Radon Journal editor.

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Book Review :: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow a novel by Gabrielle Zevin published by Knopf book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

While Gabrielle Zevin’s title might initially make readers think of Shakespeare, she sets her story in the 1990s and 2000s video game culture. Her title refers to the ability to start over in games, to continue playing the game until one figures out how to win. Life, though, doesn’t present that same opportunity, and, while lifelong friends Sam and Sadie are still relatively young at the end of the novel, they have come to the clear realization that they are mortal. They are unable to start over during their experiences of loss, which, at times, paralyzes them; their differing approaches to those occurances often leads to the conflict between them. Sam and Sadie recognize each other’s gifts, but they also know each other better than most spouses, so they also see the other’s shortcomings. They thus often seem Shakespearean, star-crossed lovers who come together to create games, then drift apart, often over miscommunication and misunderstandings. Zevin’s novel explores creative friendships and the conflicts that come with them, but, more importantly, she creates characters one wants to spend time with, even when they are at their most frustrating. In other words, she creates characters who behave like humans, for better and worse.


Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. Knopf, 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/.

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Book Review :: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

Blonde a novel by Joyce Carol Oates published by Harper Collins book cover image

Guest Post by MG Noles

Editor’s Note: While we generally prefer new releases, we love to see contemporary takes on older titles and how readers relate to literature over time. Blonde was originally published in 2000, re-released in 2020, and will appear as a Netflix original film in fall 2022.

Marilyn Monroe’s life story is one that most film lovers assume they know well. However, in Blonde (2000), a fictional account of the legendary actress’s life, Joyce Carol Oates takes readers deep beneath the surface of Marilyn into the hidden crevices of her life and her mind. Oates’ words at times ring out like hammer blows. She writes, “Her problem wasn’t she was a dumb blonde, it was she wasn’t a blonde and she wasn’t dumb.”

Blonde leveled me. After reading it, I found myself dizzy with thoughts of the actress – her struggles, her loneliness, her tragic demise. Oates shows that those who encountered Marilyn saw her sadness firsthand and were touched by her. As described by a pharmacy clerk who waited on Ms. Monroe at Schwab’s Drugstore in Hollywood, “She seemed like the most alone person in the world.”

This book shows a hint of the infinite sadness that lies at the center of Ms. Monroe’s eyes. In films, viewers can see the wells of loneliness behind the technicolor. Reading it now in the #MeToo era makes us see the casting couch and all its cruelty for what it is: a maker of stars and a destroyer of lives.


Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates. Harper Collins, 2000/2020.

Reviewer Bio: MG Noles is a hermit, reviewer, history buff, and nature lover.

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Book Review :: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Small Things Like These a novel by Claire Keegan published by Grove Atlantic book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

With Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan has chosen a title that seemingly fits her work perfectly, in theme, length, and style. Her novella centers on Bill Furlong, a coal and fuel seller in 1980s Ireland. His life seems quite small, as he goes about his daily routine, working hard delivering and selling coal, logs, and other fuel to customers, and striving to provide for his wife and four daughters. As Christmas approaches, though, he has an encounter that will lead him to make a moral choice, forcing him to confront his privilege and decide what his and his family’s life should be like moving forward. Keegan’s sentences crackle with clarity, presenting exactly what the reader needs to know, and little more. The book is brief—just over a hundred pages—a work readers can digest in one sitting. It seems a small thing, much like Furlong’s life, but it contains so much more, as it grapples with Ireland’s recent history of Magdalene houses. At one point, Furlong thinks, “Why were the things that were closest so often the hardest to see?” That one question sums up decades of dark Irish history, but also so many decisions we fail to make in our lives. Keegan’s novella is a great thing, indeed.


Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan. Grove Press, November 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/.

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Book Review :: Wayward by Dana Spiotta

Wayward a novel by Dana Spiotta published by Penguin Random House book cover image

Guest Post by Cindy Dale

A six-hour Amtrak ride from NYC to Syracuse loomed. Searching for something to read, I came across Dana Spiotta’s Wayward, a novel that, surprisingly, takes place in Syracuse. I downloaded the sample on my Kindle, vowing to save the balance of the book for the train if I liked it. But once I started down the rabbit hole with 52-year-old protagonist Sam Raymond, I couldn’t stop. Sam’s having a midlife crisis and impulsively buys a fixer-upper in a sketchy Syracuse neighborhood and announces she’s leaving her husband. Her sixteen-year-old daughter, Ally, sides with dad. But this is not your typical midlife crisis novel! Set just after the 2016 election that upset so many apple carts, we follow Sam as he buys the ramshackle house, joins a radical feminist group, witnesses a cop shoot a young black boy at 3 a.m., does a disastrous night of stand-up at a local comedy club, and grapples with the impending death of her mother from cancer and the daughter who’s no longer speaking to her. Throughout, the history of Syracuse (the city L.M. Baum modeled Oz after!), the backstory about the suffragette icons of the late 1800s, and the etymology of a plethora of SAT words are seamlessly woven into the narrative. There are so many unexpected twists and thought-provoking riffs on getting old and the meaning of life in our wacked, wired world.


Wayward by Dana Spiotta. Penguin Random House, June 2022.

Reviewer bio: Cindy Dale has published over twenty short stories in literary journals and anthologies. She lives on a barrier beach off the coast of Long Island.

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Book Review :: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmin

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus book cover image

Guest Post by Cindy Dale

Take heart would be novelists who are not twenty-something! One of the best debut novels I’ve read this year is Bonnie Garmin’s Lessons in Chemistry. Garmin is 64 and proof positive that it’s never too late! Set in the early 1960s, back when women were still expected to marry, stay home, and raise the kids, the novel follows heroine chemist Elizabeth Zott as she faces prejudice and discrimination head-on. This is not a rah-rah sisterhood woman’s rights novel, however. It’s a nuanced, very witty, thought-provoking novel on life and all its ups and downs. Elizabeth encounters plenty of both. She meets her soul mate, Nobel-nominated fellow chemist Calvin Evans, at a second-tier lab. When he dies suddenly, Elizabeth is left, (unbeknownst to her at the time) pregnant with their daughter, Mad. Calvin’s death results in Elizabeth’s ungracious firing at the lab after which she serendipitously falls into hosting a TV show called Supper at Six. Stubborn and unwilling to play the happy homemaker, Elizabeth turns the show into a chemistry lesson of sorts, infusing the show with lots of lessons on life. Oh, and perhaps the best character of all: Six-thirty, the family’s very smart and loyal rescue dog!


Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmin. Penguin Random House, April 2022.

Reviewer bio: Cindy Dale has published over twenty short stories in literary journals and anthologies. She lives on a barrier beach off the coast of Long Island.

If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Book Review :: A Sybil Society by Katherine Factor

A Sybil Society poetry by Katherine Factor published by University of Nevada Press

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In Katherine Factor’s 2020 Interim Test Site Poetry Prize-winning A Sybil Society, ancient Greek meets textspeak to “tread the treat / trending” and “deliberates its digital” while invoking Ariadne, Pythia, Sybil, Joan d’Arc, and various other goddesses, saints, sisters, and witches. Factor’s is a matriarchal society, celebrating dissidents, “Assembled from the shattered” in order to “find the way back to daylight” (The Sybil to Aeneas, Virgil, Aeneid). There’s delicious revenge in the revisionist retelling of Greek myths of rape and dominance. In another way, the poems act as an erasure of the male point of view and bring to the foreground the female point of view—“we nippled thousands”—allowing those formerly relegated to the lower worlds to rise to the upper and speak. The poems are feminist, but not man-hating; there’s an “Elegy for a Satyr” to prove it! Factor’s is a poetry that strikes with the speed and charge of lightning. Ping, sting, and tingle. Afterward, a “flush and flow.” Yo, goddesses, witches, and sisters—behold, Katherine Factor’s poetic effort to rematriate!


A Sybil Society by Katherine Factor. University of Nevada Press, January 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.

If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Book Review :: What Cannot Be Undone by Walter M. Robinson

What Cannot Be Undone by Walter  M Robinson

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In his collection of essays, What Cannot Be Undone: True Stories of a Life in Medicine, Walter M. Robinson warns readers in his introduction that this book is not full of success stories or happy endings. His book is not for those who want to see people perform miraculous (or even ordinary) recoveries. Instead, he writes honestly about those patients who suffer and, quite often, die. Robinson is a pediatrician who specializes in lung transplants (many related to cystic fibrosis), so a number of the patients he writes about are children or young adults, making the book an especially challenging read for some. However, the book explores important ideas about healthcare, ethics, life, and death, no matter how harrowing the stories he relates. He also includes moments of grace and humor, as those continue to occur even in the midst of death and everything that leads to it. Robinson is willing to share his doubts and fears openly and honestly, which makes him not only a narrator readers can trust, but a doctor one would wish to have by their bedside during those times of loss. He is a doctor who gives the bad news straight, which should only serve as a reminder to celebrate the better moments while they last.


What Cannot Be Undone: True Stories of a Life in Medicine by Walter M. Robinson. University of New Mexico Press, 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/.

If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Book Review :: The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Readers should know something going into Ozeki’s novel: inanimate objects talk to the main character, Benny Oh. One of those items is the book the reader is reading and that Benny is writing, more or less. If you can’t get past that technique, this book isn’t for you, as it’s central to the novel. Benny might be crazy, but he might also simply be seeing more of the world than other people; Ozeki leaves that up to the reader, as it’s a question she believes is worth exploring. Benny struggles with it himself, as does everybody around him, and there is a colorful cast of characters he interacts with. Ozeki tangentially explores a number of relevant social issues, ranging from climate change to consumerism, but she mainly seems interested in how we relate to the universe and those around us. Thus, she uses a variety of characters to explore the things (the actual stuff) that make up our world and our relationships with it, whether we horde them or seek to order them. As a Buddhist, Ozeki believes the world is more alive than most of us would admit and that we are one with it, whether we want to be or not. Most of us just aren’t listening closely enough.


The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki. Viking, September 2021; Penguin, June 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/.

If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Magazine Review :: Crazyhorse Spring 2022

Crazyhorse literary magazine Spring 2022 issue cover image

Guest Post by Cindy Dale

It gets expensive entering contests. So, I love it when a journal includes a copy of the contest issue with the entrance fee. Case in point: Crazyhorse. No, I didn’t win, but the College of Charleston’s Crazyhorse includes a year’s subscription with your entry fee. From the very first story, Marian Crotty’s “Near Strangers,” I was hooked. Crotty masterfully interweaves the story of Betsy’s evening as a hospital volunteer assisting a rape victim with the story of her own fractured relationship with her gay son. Pair this story with Daniel Garcia’s unsettling poem about abuse, “What I’m Trying to Say Is.” Kris Willcox’s “In May” considers the long arc of a woman’s life concluding with, “It’s not the things that matter to me. It’s the choices over what to keep, and what to throw away.” The story closes with the narrator quietly feeding a handful of old sequestered photos into the fire pit. I found myself thinking about old photos again with Gregory Dunne’s poem “Quiet Blizzard.” The Crazyhorse Spring 2022 issue is 165 beautiful pages of an astounding range of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This is an issue to be slowly savored by readers all summer long, and for writers, the Crazyhorse Prizes in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry open to submissions January 1-31 each year.


Reviewer bio: Cindy Dale has published over twenty short stories in literary journals and anthologies. She lives on a barrier beach off the coast of Long Island.

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Book Review :: A Judge’s Odyssey

A Judge's Odyssey by Dean B. Pineles published by Rootstock Publishing book cover image

Guest Post by Kimberly Cheney

Judge Dean B. Pineles’ memoir is a journey through a dangerous forest of uncertain trails and trials, searching for that pinnacle of democracy: the rule of law. It includes a near career-ending event when, as the Vermont governor’s legal counsel, Pineles recommended taking into custody the children of a secretive religious community based on allegations of mental and physical abuse, an event etched into Vermont’s legal and cultural history. Pineles divulges how he subsequently survived a very contentious judicial confirmation process and became a respected Vermont trial judge, inoculated with the wisdom and humility that came from this intense personal ordeal.

Twenty-one years later, after a successful judicial career, Judge Pineles shares how he began another career as an international rule of law adviser in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia. He details how, after rigorous screening by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, he was selected to be an international criminal judge, helping to improve justice in that tortured land. He finds it a maelstrom of complex social, international, cultural, ethnic, and political forces. He recounts many of his cases, including his meticulous fact-finding, and by ignoring these perilous forces he demonstrates how the rule of law should be implemented. Nevertheless, some of these cases have bizarre outcomes which undermine his best efforts. These are compelling accounts that demonstrate a vigorous mind bringing to life important events. Readers seeking an understanding of the frailty of democracy mediated by thoughtful judicial process will find Pineles’ journey intriguing.

Publishers note: Judge Pineles will donate 100% of his net profits to international and domestic refugee relief organizations.


A Judge’s Odyssey: From Vermont to Russia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia, Then on to War Crimes and Organ Trafficking in Kosovo by Dean B. Pineles. Rootstock Publishing, July 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kimberly Cheney is a former Vermont Attorney General and author.

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Book Review :: Loss/Less by Rebecca A Durham

Loss/Less poetry by Rebecca A. Durham published by Shanti Arts book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

The beautifully sounded, ecologically aware, and botanically influenced poems of Loss/Less, Rebecca A. Durham’s second collection, is, to my read, not so much interpretive of loss related to climate crisis, but intends to be reconciliatory: “This is how I enter the forest & this is how it enters me too.” Combining the geological and botanical with the plaintiff and ecstatic, the collection conjures Rumi and Thoreau. One way to read the book is as one long poem, an epistle to Thoreau, challenging his words “nothing could defile this pond.” The poet wonders if the transcendentalist knew that was a “lie.” Is Durham a new transcendentalist in her asking “what kind of extinction is this”; in her call for “a moratorium on cement or at least errant elements”; her command “uncut / all those holy trees”; her recognition that “we are illicitly complicit in disaster”? Like Thoreau, perhaps even if Durham knows it is already “too late,” her poems insist:

this is how we kneel
at the hemlock

pulled back
from the brink

pulled back from the helm
of helplessness, hatred

(from “Arboreal Burial,” 77)

Call to action, educational primer, love song, the poet calls on the many gestures of poetry, creating if not an abundance, less loss. What remains? Loess, a windblown sediment, or as the poet writes: “I gather bitter fruits / map my fissures.” What else is there as “we are primed for decay’s reticent elegance.” A special and compelling book!


Loss/Less by Rebecca A Durham. Shanti Arts Publishing, January 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Book Review :: More or Less by Susannah Q. Pratt

More or Less by Susannah Q. Pratt book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

The premise of Susannah Q. Pratt’s collection of essays is in her subtitle: Essays from a Year of No Buying. After becoming overwhelmed by how much she and her family owned, she convinced her husband and three teenage boys—through her use of a PowerPoint—to go one year without buying anything other than what was necessary. Her project raises questions about what is necessary, what we actually need to live meaningful lives in the twenty-first century, and the importance we attach to what we buy, both in healthy and unhealthy ways. At her best, Pratt’s essays explore important questions of gender, class, and privilege, examining the ways aspects of our identities impact what we’re able to buy and own. While Pratt credits an essay by Ann Patchett in 2017 on a similar subject, I was surprised she didn’t mention Judith Levine’s 2007 book Not Buying It, in which Levine takes on the same project. Pratt’s essays are a solid update to Levine, given how the world has changed in fifteen years, especially as the rise of online shopping has made buying unnecessary items even easier, but interacting with one who came before would make her work even stronger.

More or Less: Essays from a Year of No Buying by Susannah Q. Pratt. Eastover Press, 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/.

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Book Review :: Contain by Cynthia Hogue

Contain poetry chapbook by Cynthia Hogue published by Tram Editions book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In her chapbook Contain, poet Cynthia Hogue responds to artist Morgan O’Hara’s mandala-like series “Nineteen Forms of Containment.” O’Hara made her drawings on the back of The New York Times articles that she read during the height of the pandemic, and Hogue continues that recto-verso interactive throughout her chapbook. The poems on the recto side respond to O’Hara’s drawings and those on the verso side to The Times articles. The correspondences are non-interpretative, various, and layered. In some cases, news stories have been directly quoted to make cento-like poems, and given that the poems stay within the eight- to twelve-line range, the rondeau, triolet, and sonnet forms loom. The variety of poetic containers might be thought of as an analog for the various ways and by what means we each were contained during lockdown—by the coronavirus pandemic—and by social justice-related realities of the “circle wherein we live.” Hogue calls particular attention to first responders, long-haul truckers, food banks, racially motivated murders, and the climate crisis as “a way / of putting word to something / for which there are no words.” By “inward- / turning,” acknowledging the anxiety and isolation of our lives, these tender and humble poems explore the “global operation of containment”—what and who holds us. Which is captivity and which embrace. Beautiful! Hurrah new chapbook publisher, Tram Editions!


Contain by Cynthia Hogue. Tram Editions, June 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.

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Book Review :: Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo

Sankofa a novel by Chibundu Onuzo published by Catapult Press book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Chibundu Onuzo’s novel Sankofa follows Anna Graham—a middle-aged British woman who goes to Bamana, a fictional African country, to find her father—as she tries to understand her mixed-race heritage. Raised by her single white mother, Anna always struggled with her identity, as she knew almost nothing of her Bamanian father. Anna lived a sheltered life with a husband (from whom she is now separated because of his recent affair) who took care of everything for her, so he and their daughter are surprised when she travels to Bamana alone. I have two minor complaints: first, the ending is a bit too neatly tied together in terms of Anna’s understanding of her identity; second, some plot developments similarly seemed too easy to predict, though Anna’s naivete prevents her from seeing what has happened. However, Anna’s grappling with her identity is a useful metaphor for a postcolonial Africa still coming to terms with the multiple strands of cultural history that make the countries what they have become. The novel serves as a healthy reminder to Americans and Europeans that African countries’ histories are more complex than they seem to those on the outside.

Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo. Catapult, October 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/.

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Book Review :: Time/Tempo by Laura Cesarco Eglin

Time/Tempo: The Idea of Breath poetry chapbook by Laura Cesarco Eglin published by Spoonfuls Chapbooks book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In her chapbook Time/Tempo: The Idea of Breath, Laura Cesarco Eglin gives her poetic attention to a “tension of simultaneity,” tracking temporal interruptions, disruptions, and variations, and how those time-based movements affect breath within a particular life that withstands a cancer diagnosis and recovery, illnesses and deaths of beloved family members, and “knowing languages” by undertaking writing and translation. These are poems that want “to keep track of leaving”: the departures of words on breaths and “the hours that come and those that stay, those that leave.” Time unfolds “no matter what.” Yet, there is the recognition that “nothing is lost.” That acknowledgment makes room for inquiry: “What is left of me after I’ve left a place, after it has left me.” One response to that query might be: These poems! The impressions and residues left with this reader—“a scar / of what’s no longer.”


Time/Tempo: The Idea of Breath by Laura Cesarco Eglin. Spoonfuls Chapbooks, April 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.

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Poem Review :: LOVE by Alex Dimitrov

Love and Other Poems by Alex Dimitrov book cover image

Guest Post by Maureen O’Brien

Recently I found a poem that gave me rare permission to admit how much love I feel, even in the face of cynical, worldly evidence I should just close up my heart until I die. Alex Dimitrov’s poem “Love”, first published in The American Poetry Review and then reprinted in The Best American Poetry 2021 guest edited by Tracy K. Smith, spills and sprawls with nine double-spaced pages of sentences, each one beginning with “I love.” It’s a list poem, predictable in structure—“I love looking at someone without need or panic.”—yet sensual: “I love statues in a downpour.” With these declaratives, I adored how I entered effortlessly into the rhythms and curvatures of the poem.

But more than the syntactical ease, it required no intellectual or political bracing. How often do we encounter text that cools, that refreshes? Dimitrov skips comfortably through the narrator’s life, covering various topics—literature, relationship, time: “I love that a day on Venus lasts longer than a year.” and “I love the blue hours between three and five when Plath wrote Ariel.” This poem possesses a wide lens trained on the interior of the heart, the exterior. With a clear emotional bravery, “Love” unabashedly just admits, through a repeated subject and verb, the truth.


“LOVE” by Alex Dimitrov. Love and Other Poems, Copper Canyon Press, February 2021.

Reviewer bio: Maureen O’Brien is the author of the spiritual memoir What Was Lost: Seeking Refuge in the Psalms (Franciscan Media, 2021). Her next book, Gather the Fragments: Finding Everyday Miracles and Abundance is forthcoming from Franciscan Media (January 2023). She is a contributor to St. Anthony Messenger and the online site Pause+Pray. She has also published a novel, B-mother (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and The Other Cradling, a chapbook of poems (Finishing Line Press). Find her on Instagram: maureen_obrien_writer

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Book Review :: Central Air by George Bilgere

Central Air by George Bilgere book cover image

Guest Post by James Scruton

“They resemble Eskimo Pies,” says George Bilgere of his air-conditioned neighbors in the title poem of his latest collection, Central Air, “or boxes of frozen peas.” Characteristically, he goes on to concede, “Not a bad life, I guess,” though admitting he’d miss the crickets “simmering / through summer, and the love / song of cicadas, burning / all night for each other, insect / ecstasies beyond our dreams.” This even-handedness typifies Bilgere’s approach, the poet awed by his good fortune on a pleasant summer evening (“Ripeness”) but also acknowledging the countless daily injustices suffered by others (“Summer Pass,” “For the Slip ‘N Slide”) as well as horrors on a global scale (“Chernobyl,” “Reichstag”). Bilgere delights in detail (“the stalled machinery” of a dead bee) as much as in the acoustics of language and the subtleties of line. Note the fatigue conveyed by the d’s in his description of a waitress’s voice (“tired, / frayed around the edges”) and the sudden, brightening weightlessness of the two-line stanza that follows:

But what she said hung sparkling
in the air, so masterful…

The collection produces the same heartening effect, Bilgere’s work a balance of light and dark, the amusing and the profound.


Central Air by George Bilgere. University of Pittsburgh 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.

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Book Review :: The Silk The Moths Ignore by Bronwen Tate

The Silk The Moths Ignore poems by Bronwen Tate published by Inlandia Books cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

The Silk the Moths Ignore, Bronwen Tate’s debut and winner of Inlandia Institute’s 2019 Hillary Gravendyk Prize, is to be “read as choreography,” marking “what led to this.” In her poems, Tate makes legible what is illegible about rejection as it concerns motherhood and miscarriage—rejection by a newborn of a mother’s breast and by a woman’s body of a fetus. What are the roles of nature and will? These poems “rage at who names a body,” acknowledge that a man and a woman “carry risk unevenly,” and ultimately recognize “the present carries multiples.” Memory and recovery, balance and counterbalance are important to these poems whose forms toggle between lullaby-like short lyrics and Proustian prose poems. Brevity and extension, lines and sentences, meditative and narrative counterbalancing elements “speak a language no known mother tongued.” Tate is a poet willing to sit with the complexity of human connection: “we seek comfort and reject it.” Her poems “swim against / the waves, held by / what resists,” and, it seems in so doing the grief-currents they swim transform into a “less insistent presence.” Isn’t that what loss eventually becomes? The Silk the Moths Ignore is a collection of lyric ache that brims with “artifacts of hope.”


The Silk the Moths Ignore, Bronwen Tate. Inlandia Books, September 2021.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.

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Book Review :: The Murders of Moisés Ville by Javier Sinay

The Murders of Moises Ville by Javier Sinay book cover image

Guest Post by Ira Smith

Published initially in Argentina in 2013, The Murders of Moisés Ville has only now been made available in English with a wonderful translation by Robert Croll.

In 2009, Javier Sinay, an Argentinian author and journalist, received an interesting email from his father. It referred him to an article published in the late 1940s by his great grandfather, Mijl Hacohen Sinay, detailing the murders of Jews committed in one of the first Jewish colonies in Argentina, Moisés Ville. The history of this colony, long forgotten not just by Sinay’s immediate family but by the Jewish community as a whole, prompts him to investigate the crimes that occurred over a century ago, against the backdrop of hardship and violence that afflicted the settlers.

Continue reading “Book Review :: The Murders of Moisés Ville by Javier Sinay”

Book Review :: Hands of Years by Riley Bounds

Hands of Years poetry by Riley Bounds book cover image

Guest Post by Elizabeth Genovise

Hands of Years poetry collection by Riley Bounds chronicles a journey of faith undertaken with open eyes. While stylistically spare (“tall and slim as votive candles”), these poems reach deep, plumbing the seminal moments in the author’s spiritual life and illuminating the healing power of such moments. Death is described as a space where “life simply leaves, vagabond through zodiacal clouds and dust”; to his father, the poet writes, “Your heart was always a war drum, so stay and tithe your noise”; a child’s prayer is “proffered to Who he doesn’t know from the textless hymnal of his solar plexus, the liturgy of bone and marrow.” In the collection’s final piece, Bounds prays that he might one day “hold the hands of years and become the voice I sing, echoing up the wall of our netted souls, refracting each other’s given light.” The power of these poems lies in their meticulous imagery, their brutal honesty, and their bold confrontation with difficult truths. They alternately rattle and soothe, offering a glimpse of light after each forage into the darkness.


Hands of Years by Riley Bounds. Kelsay Press, October 2021.

Reviewer bio: Elizabeth Genovise is an MFA graduate from McNeese State University and the author of four short story collections, the most recent being Palindrome from the Texas Review Press (forthcoming September 2022). www.elizabethgenovisefiction.org/

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Book Review :: Future Shock, Revisited

Future Shock by Alvin Toffler book cover image

Guest Post by Claude Clayton Smith

Having read Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (Random House, 2018), I reread Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (Random House, 1970), which I’d devoured after the Kent State shootings sparked riots nationwide. “Events were transpiring too rapidly for the adaptive powers of the human psyche.” Hold on! That’s from the Introduction to the Romantic Period in the Norton Anthology of English Literature (1962), reflecting the despair felt as England’s agricultural way of life was ripped asunder by the Industrial Revolution. Compare Toffler: “The normal institutions of industrial society can no longer” [endure the] “rising rate of change in the world,” which “disturbs our inner equilibrium, altering the very way in which we experience life.” Toffler quotes Daniel P. Moynihan (1927-2003), then chief White House advisor on urban affairs, who says the United States “exhibits the qualities of an individual going through a nervous breakdown.”

Toffler (1928-2016) witnessed the Vietnam War, Watergate, the 14.5 percent inflation of the ’80s, AIDS, the Gulf War, dot.com bubble, 9/11, the internet, Afghan War, social media, etc. In passing, Future Shock mentions “alterations in climate.” But Toffler missed Donald Trump, COVID, and January 6th. Where would he begin, if still alive, to update a new edition of Future Shock?


Reviewer bio: Professor Emeritus of English at Ohio Northern University, Claude Clayton Smith is the author of eight books and co-editor/translator of four. For details visit: claudeclaytonsmith.wordpress.com.

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Book Review :: Clamor by Hocine Tandjaoui

Clamor nonfiction by Hocine Tandjaoui book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In Clamor, Hocine Tandjaoui’s debut English-language poetic memoir presented in the text’s original French and English translations, the Algerian author tries to make sense of surviving the aggregation: “Life war songs death.” Death and war came early in Tandjaoui’s life: His mother was killed during childbirth by “raging septicemia,” and he was “not even five years old when the war broke,” “not yet seven years old when [he felt] the blast of the bomb.” Tandjaoui was born in 1949 in French-occupied (1830 – 1962) Algeria “that transformed some of the humans that occupied it into half-gods, whereas the others were reduced to subjects without rights.” Outside Tandjaoui’s window, “a musical bath” of warfare’s bullets and bombs “playing simultaneously” to the tortured, pained conversations of colonial society and jazz, blues, and classical music—the “loud speakers were in fierce competition, pushing to the max, projecting a sonorous magma into the surroundings.” Clamor offers Anglophone readers “this setting in which a person comes first to life, then to consciousness”—adult reflections and reminiscences of the sounds of Tandjaoui’s childhood, complete with a discography (Piaf, Simone, Joplin, Holiday, etc.) that was a “resonance chamber” for his grief. Hocine Tandjaoui’s Clamor: “between celebration and weeping, an ululation made of love, despair, and tenderness.”


Clamor by Hocine Tandjaoui; translated by Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio. Litmus Press, April 2021.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.

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Magazine Review :: Youth Communication

Youth Communication My Parents are Anti Vaxxers story image

I curate the NewPages Publications for Young Writers Guide, and as much as I do this to provide a resource for young readers, writers, teachers, and parents, we could all benefit from spending some time reading the voices of young people. I was distracted from my work (a regular occurrence here, as you can imagine) when I came across “My Parents Are Anti-Vaxxers” by an anonymous contributor to YouthComm Magazine. In it, the author recounts how shocked they were when their parents went down the Facebook “Covid hoax” rabbit hole, declined vaccinations even in the face of losing a job/income, and then what they put their children through when one parent contracted the virus and declined medical care. The plaintive yet matter-of-fact style in which the author presents their perspective is frustrating to read, even heartbreaking, “It has made me question the people that I idolized growing up. The people that I believed, in my childhood innocence, could do no wrong.” Yet there is some consolation, “This experience has taught me a lot about the complexities of humans. It’s hard to accept that we can be good people and still go down the wrong paths. That things aren’t always simply black and white, though it’d be easier if they were.” And the final resolution, “But I’ve learned other people can provide guidance when your parents can’t.” It’s a sad commentary on the kind of division this experience created, and that we see continue among family, friends, and communities. It’s tough to imagine these youth experiencing the need to break away from their parents’ ideologies, but at the same time, encouraging that they (and we all) may be better off as adults as a result.

Youth Communication offers short, nonfiction stories and related lessons to help students improve their reading and writing skills, and improve the social and emotional skills that support school success. They provide workshops and publications, including Represent Magazine: Stories by Teens in Foster Care.

Book Review :: Acreage by Stephanie Garon

Acreage poetry by Stephanie Garon book cover image

Guest Post by Christine Scanlon

This wonderful debut collection of poetry, Acreage, written by the visual artist Stephanie Garon, is a product of artistic accumulation where a self-conscious regard for the materiality of words is a characteristic of her poems. Many are finely sculpted pieces like, “Undercurrent,” mimicking the movement of oak leaves caught in an eddy. Repetition of the phrase, “how long can they stay under,” becomes a current pulling down both leaves and poet, and with panic, we realize all may stay “un/der.” Embodiment of a slow-motion disappearance is also a central theme in “Musée des Beaux Arts,” after WH Auden’s poem—where instead of Icarus, the central emptiness in Garon’s poem is represented by the “emptied / stamen” and the carcasses “of eight // stale petals curled.” This carnage, caused by a human hand (“Fingernail-pierced / stems / scattered”), also compromises the poet (“I / too / collapse”), and as we contemplate the artist’s imminent absence, we are left to wonder who will make the marks that cultivate meaning? There is no answer, but Garon gives us a sense in the final poem, “Feral,” that we are nearing the end of something (the Anthropocene) and may all become, like the poet, a “ravaged memory of acreage.”


Acreage by Stephanie Garon. akinoga press, December 2021.

Reviewer bio: Christine Scanlon is a Brooklyn-based poet with a collection of poems, A Hat on the Bed (Barrow Street Press), and work published in such journals as Adjacent Pineapple, Dream Pop Press, Flag + Void, and La Vague. She is a graduate of the New School MFA program.

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Book Review :: Morgan by Boyer Rickel

Morgan (A Lyric) nonfiction by Boyer Rickel book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In Morgan (A Lyric), winner of the 2020 Gold Line Press Nonfiction Chapbook Competition, Boyer Rickel, a most open and ethical writer, writes out of “a sensation so precise” what it means to love—beyond shame or humiliation, in expansive and humble ways—not as “the hero,” but as “the hero’s sidekick.” Were this chapbook a musical composition, the minor scale “branching patterns of sound” referring to the relationship between men and their mothers, the luxury of who gets to age, the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, writing and reading poetry, and listening to music—the harmonic and cacophonic backdrop of lives at the center of a love song. A love story—between one who lives openly as a gay man and one who is more secretive in his choices, one in middle age and healthy, and one in his thirties, living with the complications of cystic fibrosis. The major scale “branching” the complexities of personality (“there might be many Morgans”), relationship (“separate states of extremity”), and eroticism (“denial begets desire”); the trappings of love and illness; the primary and secondary gains of caretaking—“a trade of need for need.” This is elegiac writing that “remove[s] us (readers) from time” as love and death do, but perhaps more than centering on death, this writing exalts lover and beloved—“To touch a boundary, to feel a limit”—leaving as much love on the page as possible.


Morgan (A Lyric) by Boyer Rickel. Gold Line Press, May 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.

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Book Review :: Razzmatazz by Christopher Moore

Razzmatazz a novel by Christopher Moore book cover image

Guest Post by James Scruton

If you need a beach read to get you through high summer, look no further than Razzmatazz, Christopher Moore’s follow-up to his hilarious page-turner Noir. (Make it a full vacation and read both novels.) This time out, our hero Sammy, his main squeeze Stilton (don’t call her “the Cheese”), and their unlikely roster of demi-monde pals must dodge both gangsters and cops to solve a double murder, locate a rich nob’s runaway daughter, and retrieve a mysterious relic before even more chaos ensues in late-1940’s San Francisco. In true noirish fashion, most of the action takes place in the wee small hours, when, as Sammy relates, the fog has “swallowed the city like a damp woolen crocodile.” Zany, with devious plotting and enough wise-cracking dialogue to fricassee a Maltese falcon, Razzmatazz is another healthy serving of Moore’s signature recipe: equal measures of screwball comedy, hard-boiled mystery, and X-Files-like otherworldliness. (Don’t skip the “Afterword and Author’s Note.”)


Razzmatazz by Christopher Moore. William Morrow, May 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.

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Book Review :: Don’t Know Tough by Eli Cranor

Don't Know Tough a novel by Eli Granor book cover image

Guest Post by Ira Smith

Eli Cranor’s debut novel, Don’t Know Tough, published by Soho Crime, an imprint of Soho Press, is not your typical football novel. Rather, it depicts a brutal slice of life in rural Arkansas, where high school football is king and is all that matters. The protagonist, Billy Lowe, is the archetypal angry young man. An ignorant high school senior and star of the football team, Billy’s anger is compounded by his mother’s abusive boyfriend, who lives with them in their trailer in rural Arkansas. After being beaten by the boyfriend and hitting him back, Billy takes his anger out on a teammate during practice, injuring him. Then, his Mom’s abusive boyfriend is found murdered, and Billy becomes a suspect. From that point, the novel hurtles at breakneck speed to its surprising conclusion. I could not stop reading Don’t Cry Tough. Cranor’s writing is riveting, and his characterizations are perfect. Despite my initial impression of Billy as simple and stupid, as the book goes on, the author skillfully transforms him into a complex human being I actually cared for. As for the setting in rural Arkansas, I could picture the trailers, the woods, and the poverty-stricken homes where some of the characters live. The football scenes were quite well done, and rightly so as the author did play professional football. Despite the twists and turns, all the plot lines were brilliantly resolved. This is Eli Cranor’s first novel, and I already can’t wait for his follow-up.


Don’t Know Tough by Eli Cranor. Soho Crime, March 2022.

Reviewer bio: Ira Smith is a retired physician for whom reading has been a lifelong passion. Favorite genres are science fiction, noir, and history.

Book Review :: Let’s Not Do That Again by Grant Ginder

Let's Not Do That Again a novel by Grant Grinder book cover image

Guest Post by Cindy Dale

In Let’s Not Do That Again, Grant Ginder, himself a former political speech writer, has concocted an entertaining, immensely satisfying romp of a novel that definitively proves that just when you think things can’t get worse, you are very, very wrong. They most certainly can.

Tolstoy famously wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same can be said of dysfunctional families, and it applies in spades when that family is in politics. Introducing the Harrisons. Mom, a NY congresswoman who inherited her seat from her long-dead husband, is now running for US Senate. Add her two semi-adult children to the mix—Nick, a gay, adjunct at NYU who’s working on a musical based on the works of Joan Didion on the side—and Greta, who, though a Yale grad, is currently living in a hovel in Brooklyn and working part-time at the Apple store. Greta manages to hook-up with the wrong guy, Xavier, on an online gaming site. Xavier lures her to Paris. He, of course, turns out to be a neo-Nazi anarchist, and sparks (as well as champagne bottles) soon fly—literally and figuratively. The dysfunctional son is soon dispatched to Paris to rescue the dysfunctional daughter and, hopefully, save the floundering election in the process.

Continue reading “Book Review :: Let’s Not Do That Again by Grant Ginder”

Book Review :: Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser

Scary Monsters: A Novel in Two Parts by Michelle de Krester book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Michelle de Kretser’s novel tells two stories, one narrated by Lyle, the other by Lili; which one you read first depends on which side of the book you begin with. Neither story has an intricate plot: Lili’s follows her year as a teacher at a high school in France, while Lyle’s tells about his experience in an Australia in the not-too-distant future. While the two narratives seemingly have nothing to do with one another, they are held together by the question of who or what the scary monsters are. Both main characters are not native Australians, having relocated from what sounds like a Southeast Asian country, Lili when she was younger and Lyle as an adult. These monsters could simply be those who look down on them for their racial and ethnic difference. De Krester explores that idea, but she has broader concerns. Lili struggles with the daily fears of being a woman in a patriarchal society; though nothing violent happens to her, she knows it could. Lyle’s skin is slowly changing to white, a representation of the sacrifices he’s made to assimilate, possibly becoming a monster himself. Ultimately, the systems of power that go unnoticed are the monsters underneath the proverbial beds of the main characters and perhaps the readers, as well.


Scary Monsters: A Novel in Two Parts by Michelle de Kretser. Catapult, April 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 :: In Love by Amy Bloom

In Love: A Memory of Love and Loss memoir by Amy Bloom book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Amy Bloom’s memoir relates her husband’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and their struggle to find a way for him to die as he chooses rather than suffer through years of mental decline. Bloom weaves chapters from the past — as she realizes what’s happening to her husband and the revelation of his diagnosis — with those of Brian’s final days in Switzerland, as well as chapters on the challenges those who want to end their life face. Bloom writes movingly about her love for Brian, consistently reminding the reader through scenes she describes, in addition to her reflections, that her helping him die comes out of that love. As soon as he is diagnosed, Brian asks Bloom to help him, as she has always been the planner in their relationship, and he has begun to lose the ability to do that type of work. This book is a testament to their marriage and their love as much as it is an exploration of why someone would want to end their life and why the person who loves them most would want to help. It is, as the subtitle states, a memoir of love and loss, and the reader feels both equally.


In Love: A Memory of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom. Random House, 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 Book of I.P. (Idle Poems)

The Book of IP (Idle Poems) by Chris Courtney Martin book cover image

Guest Post by Nicholas Michael Ravnikar

This eclectic book from Chris Courtney Martin foregrounds commodified intersections of American culture in light of spiritual awakening. Reclaiming Hollywoodspeak IP to refer to poems written during “idle” time, Martin questions the very idea of value creation. Deploying the true American musical habits of blues (viz “Black Betty” and “Hellhound”) and jazz, these syncopations and melodies transmute the cannibalized, dollar-driven kitsch rituals and artifacts of Americana into talismans for meaning-making. Independent Black cinema is never far from mind, as Melvin Van Peebles and Rudy Ray Moore, for instance, were both threats to and sources for the status quo. Readers dance from piece to piece as rhymes and measures suggest expectations to upend. Consider the first (and last) stanza of “Intuition”:

Who are you?
I been knew.
Who am I?
I, too, fly.

Here’s verse to echo Dickinson, Brooks, and Blake. And Martin’s spiritual grasp can perhaps match theirs, with topics that span Kundalini awakening, paganism, tarot, and hoodoo. There’s depth, too, in Martin’s excavation of how our society manufactures us in the mainstream, particularly in the concluding essay. Therein, these “Idle Poems” suggest the “Intellectual Property” beneath the mirror of any reader’s encounter with art. This is fun, prophetic stuff.


The Book of IP (Idle Poems) by Chris Courtney Martin. Alien Buddha Press, June 2022.

Reviewer bio: Blurring the lines between understanding and overthinking since 1982, Nicholas Michael Ravnikar is a neurodivergent dad/spouse/poet who writes kids books for grownups. He hasn’t made anything from NFTs yet. After working as a college prof, bathtub repairman, substance abuse prevention agency success coach, copyeditor and marketing specialist, he’s been disabled and unemployable following a nervous breakdown. In his spare time, he lifts weights, meditates and plays pickleball. Join him on social media and read more at bio.fm/nicholasmichaelravnikar

Workshop Review :: Writer Mind Marketing Mind

Allison K Williams head shot

I recently attended “Writer Mind Marketing Mind” virtual workshop with Allison K Williams [pictured] hosted by Jane Friedman. And – no – this is not a paid ad. In fact, I paid to attend and am only choosing to run this review because the session was so good along with some absolutely ridiculous elements I can’t help but share.

The 70-or-so-minute workshop was the epitome of the cliche ‘hit the ground running.’ From start to finish, Williams kept an incredible pace of information flowing smoothly from her experience and expertise as social media editor for Brevity and as an editor and writing coach for writers, having helped guide authors to deals with Penguin Random House, Knopf, Mantle, Spencer Hill, St. Martin’s and independent presses among many other publishing experiences. Jane Friedman was also present, helping to manage the session and contributing at different points. If you have not yet read Friedman’s book, The Business of Being a Writer, that’s your first order. She is totally no-nonsense about the reality of writing and publishing, both encouraging and providing much-needed slaps upside the head for anyone who thinks the “business” of publishing is not the responsibility of the writer. It is. Period. This philosophy was echoed throughout “Writer Mind Marketing Mind” – hence the title – but in addition to expressing what writers need to equip themselves with to enter into the business aspects, Williams was also no-holds-barred on what doesn’t work and the misperceptions writers have about those. Much to the satisfaction, I might add, of many in attendance who seemed relieved to let go of those false notions.

As I indicated, there were several ridiculous components to this workshop. The first is that it only cost $25. I’m a bit of a virtual workshop pro by now, and I can say for certain that this is an outrageously low fee for what I got from the session. In addition to all the information that was shared live, participants get access to a recording of the event for a month, we get the full PowerPoint presentation slides, the complete speakers’ transcript, the Zoom chat transcript, a workbook filled with resources that Williams references throughout the workshop, and a separate document with every question that was asked with the answer if it was given during the session as well as answers that were added after the session. And I don’t mean we get some limited access to all of this for a month and then it’s gone. We got access to download and keep ALL of these materials. Additionally, Williams is working on a kind of marketing tracking document that she calls the Marketing Launch Sheet which basically maps out an itinerary for marketing a writing project. This is one step away from being its own app, and it will utterly revolutionize writers’ marketing work. While I say that all of this is ridiculous, it is actually in keeping with Friedman’s philosophy to keep education for writers realistically accessible, and Williams shares in this with her supportive mentoring approach. The concept of community is alive and well here.

The content of the workshop itself opened with misperceptions of marketing that hold writers back, which is where Williams clearly released a number of participants from these impediments as they exclaimed, “Thank goodness!!!” and “Ok, now I love you.” and “I love this webinar already” – and this was just within the first ten minutes. Williams also covered the concept of setting a mission, defining your personal and public self, understanding how writing and selling are both time-consuming activities, which markets are best for your work, what is PR vs. marketing and which are worth your time and/or your money, social media, and various ways to reach readers.

I am personally not looking to market my own writing, but, of course, I have an interest in the business of writing and being a part of the community this creates. For any writer looking to be published, Jane Friedman and anyone connected with her work are going to be your best teachers. Visit Friedman’s website and sign up for everything free that she offers and check out the upcoming workshops. Keep a lookout for where Williams will be presenting next, including another workshop with Friedman, “Why Is My Book Getting Rejected” and writing retreats and intensives with more info at her website www.rebirthyourbook.com. She will also be teaching a novel structure class for James River Writers in October, and a class on “Beautiful Beginnings, Brilliant Endings for Creative Nonfiction” in August, with information on those events not yet posted online. Williams is also the author of three writer’s guides: Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro From Blank Page to Book; Seven Bridges: Platform for Authors Who’d Rather Be Writing (forthcoming); and Get Published in Literary Magazines.

Book Review :: Asylum by Nina Shope

Asylum a novel by Nina Shope book cover image

Guest Post by Stephanie Katz

Nina Shope’s Asylum is an entrancing, fictionized story of French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot and his patient Augustine. In the novel — as in real life — Charcot puts Augustine’s “hysteria” on display in public demonstrations. Through his touch, Augustine’s body convulses and contorts in sexual poses in front of a crowd. The novel vacillates between both characters’ perspectives in a twisted dichotomy of torture and desire. Charcot resists his attraction to Augustine and obtrusively attempts to quantify her illness through hundreds of photographs and measurements: “My body broken down into strange sets of numbers until I barely recognize myself. Everything measured—the time it takes me to raise my arm, the angle of my eye, the number of steps until I find myself at your side.” Shope deftly uses second person POV to show Augustine’s conflicting feelings for Charcot: “I remember years when I could not tell you from me, when you sat inside me as surely as my bones, wearing me from the inside out…There was no part of me not filled by you. Infiltrated as a body is by disease.” Asylum will compel readers to discover Augustine’s fate and learn more about the people who inspired this darkly compelling novel.


Asylum by Nina Shope. Dzanc Books, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Stephanie Katz is a librarian, writer, and editor. She runs 805 Lit + Art and is the author of Libraries Publish: How to Start a Magazine, Small Press, Blog, and More (Libraries Unlimited, ABC-CLIO, 2021). She writes about creative library publishing at literarylibraries.org and lives on an island in Florida.

Book Review :: Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service by Tajja Isen

Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service by Tajja Isen book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Tajja Isen’s collection Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service draws from her background as a Canadian woman of color. However, her writing doesn’t try to explain her pain or oppression, as she asserts in “This Time It’s Personal,” an exploration of the personal essay focusing on who tells their stories (and are allowed to tell their stories) in ways that reinforce that pain. Instead, she examines the systems she’s most familiar with — voice actors in animation, the literary canon and publishing, law, affirmative action, protest, nationality — and points out the ways they cause the pain and oppression individuals endure. She integrates her experiences, and she then critiques the hierarchies and structures that have led to those experiences. Her work reminds readers of the reality behind personal essays, pointing out that lives and essays don’t occur in a vacuum. Instead, people in power (mainly white males) design systems to reinforce their power and to keep other people (primarily people of color, especially women) from obtaining any power of their own. If, like me, you think you already know that to be true, Isen’s essays will help you see it in places you don’t expect and in ways you often overlook.


Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service by Tajja Isen. Atria, April 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 :: Writer in a Life Vest by Iris Graville

Writer in a Life Vest by Irish Graville book cover image

Guest Post by Deborah Nedelman

Iris Graville, author of the award-winning memoir Hiking Naked, lives on an island in the Salish Sea and writes as a citizen of the planet. Writer in a Life Vest as a collection of essays is a journey of discovery and an education about a delicate ecosystem which supports some of the world’s most iconic creatures. The first Writer in Residence on the Washington State Ferries, Iris spent a year riding the interisland ferry through the San Juan Islands of the Salish Sea. Readers cycle with her as the ferry glides and rocks through the home of the endangered resident orcas (killer whales) and meet scientific experts who are devoting their knowledge and energies to saving these rare creatures. As we learn about riding this ferry — including witnessing a moveable ukulele jam, where players board the ferry at various ports, play together for a while and move on — Graville teaches us about the current state of the sea’s health and our connection to it. The multiple essay forms Graville employs keep readers off-kilter, as if standing on the deck of a rocking ship, yet they invite us to hang on and to look deeper. Like Graville, I live on an island in the Salish Sea, though not in the San Juans, and I swim in the sea year-round. It is my concern for the fragile state of this body of water, of the resident orcas, and of our planet that has led me to write this review. Graville’s collection belongs in the genre of books alerting us to the precarious state of our planet, but it stands out by pointing our gaze toward hopefulness and action.


Writer in a Life Vest by Iris Graville. Homebound Publications, March 2022.

Reviewer Bio: Deborah Nedelman, PhD, MFA is co-author of two non-fiction books: A Guide for Beginning Psychotherapists (Cambridge Press) and Still Sexy After All These Years (Perigee/Penguin). Her novel, What We Take for Truth (Adelaide Press, 2019) won the Sarton Women’s Book Award for Historical Fiction. Deborah is a manuscript coach and leads writing and watercolor painting workshops.

Book Review :: Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul

Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul book cover image

Guest Post by MG Noles

Have you ever had an imaginary friend? Someone with whom you could confide anything? A soulmate who loved you no matter what you said or did? Celia Paul’s extraordinary new book, Letters to Gwen John, adopts Gwen as just such an “imaginary” friend/soulmate and listener as she writes all her thoughts and feelings to the long-dead post-impressionist painter who lived in the latter 18th and early 19th centuries. Using a series of letters, Paul reveals her inner thoughts about life, art, men, freedom, and beauty. The book is part memoir and part art history, and it makes a beautiful read. Filled with imagination and insight, Paul examines the meaning of art and life. She shares her vision and makes you believe that communication is possible across space and time. As she puts it, “time is a strange substance.” And somehow, as you read this amazing book, you see Gwen John seated in a cozy room somewhere, like the one she paints in Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris, reading Celia Paul’s letters with a faint smile.


Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul. New York Review Books, April 2022.

Reviewer bio: MG Noles is a sometime essayist, reviewer, history buff.

Book Review :: Spit by Daniel Lassell

Spit poetry by Daniel Lassell book cover image

Guest Post by Catherine Hayes

Daniel Lassell’s Spit harnesses the power of language to contemplate whether to embrace one’s own roots or to cast them off in favor of creating a new identity for a new life, and as such influences our sense of belonging. This conflict is one that Lassell grapples with for many years of his life, blending these two identities of past and future together to become “a city boy inside / the body of a country.” Part one recounts “sopping, hazy Kentucky” and when “a chicken costs 35 cents.” The natural world reigns supreme in this setting. The old barn on the land which “season by season… / have held their angle, onto the metal gate / leaned against a post pile for storage, / some form of pillar” soon gives way as “the field outside waits, / watching the barn’s leaning face / disappear” and nature has won against that which man has made. Yet the supremacy of nature does not last for long, nor does Lassell’s life in the country. The second and third parts make the progressive transition from “a hundred acres / into one” and by the final section, Lassell has completely immersed himself in the “concrete slabs” and “crumbling sidewalk squares” of the city. Yet his years on the farm never leave Lassell, for even in the city he recalls “hoisting bales up to a hay wagon” and “not waking during night / to car lights, sirens, hunger” and how, despite having “climbed from being / of dirt, rough fingernails,” his past will always be with him, no matter the distance or passage of time. Lassell’s poignant yet heart-warming story about what defines “home” presents a new meaning to the influence of upbringing and how sometimes home is not a physical place we return to but the memories we cherish that help guide us into the uncertainty of adulthood.


Spit by Daniel Lassell. Michigan State University Press, July 2021.

Reviewer bio: Catherine Hayes is a graduate student in English at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and resides in the Boston area. She has previously published a nonfiction essay in an anthology with Wising Up Press. When she is not reading, writing, or reviewing she can be found exploring Boston, spending time with family and friends and looking for inspiration for her next story in the world around her. 

Magazine Review :: “The Memory of Clay” by Bruce Ballenger

The Sun May 2022 literary magazine cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

The May 2022 issue of The Sun is loosely tied together by a focus on food or nourishment, so Bruce Ballenger’s essay, “The Memory of Clay,” initially looks like an outlier, as he focuses on his relationship with his father. He uses the metaphor of clay to guide his essay, as Ballenger’s daughter Julia explains why she works with clay, despite its unwillingness to easily follow the form she sets for it. Ballenger struggles to shape his memories of his father, an alcoholic journalist who was abusive toward their family, into something that helps him understand his father. Ballenger works to mold the story he tells about his father, ranging from the narrative of the wronged son to learning why his father never published the book he had a contract for. The essay ends largely unresolved, as Ballenger isn’t sure what to do with the complicated memories he has, but he returns to something else his daughter has taught him about clay. There are times when it resists taking any shape at all, and so there is nothing to do with it but start again. Ballenger leaves the reader and himself there, knowing that that is what we all have to do.


The Memory of Clay” by Bruce Bellenger. The Sun, May 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. You can find out more about him and his work on Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

Book Review :: Bloodwarm by Taylor Byas

Bloodwarm poetry by Taylor Byas book cover image

Guest Post by Catherine Hayes 

Taylor Byas’s poetry collection Bloodwarm is an inspiring and modern commentary on what it means to be a Black woman living in a society where “I’m/seen as a threat” simply because of the color of her skin and sheds new light on the strong presence of racism within a variety of situations. The book opens with the inundation of Tweets surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, capturing “rubber bullets / pinging a reporter and her crew as they run for cover” and “a police car plowing into a peaceful crowd” all while “white friends” will promise to “do better” before they “bullet into our inboxes and ask us to hand them the answers” about what they should do or say. From there, Byas examines other aspects of racism and the lack of representation of the Black community in the media by putting into perspective the archetype of the damsel in distress of a superhero film. Byas describes how the women who “look like Kirsten Dunst or Emma Stone” are “dainty enough to be rescued by a white hero” and any type of confrontation between the speaker and a white woman would lead to “there is an African-American woman threatening me” and “call the police.” Byas does not shy away from reflecting the struggles that the Black community faces, and what it means to “have to stand / between / invisible” simply to avoid unjust persecution based on skin color. Yet peace in the racial conflict is difficult to achieve because “this is / the standard / this denial / the / rebellion against / negotiations”. Byas does not shirk from the ugly truth of the impact racism has had on the Black community, and her openness in discussing these topics allows for the possibility to have more honest and fruitful conversations about how to create lasting and truly impactful change in society.


Bloodwarm by Taylor Byas. Variant Literature, July 2021.

Reviewer bio: Catherine Hayes is a graduate student in English at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and resides in the Boston area. She has previously published a nonfiction essay in an anthology with Wising Up Press. When she is not reading, writing, or reviewing she can be found exploring Boston, spending time with family and friends and looking for inspiration for her next story in the world around her.

Book Review :: The Ache and The Wing by Sunni Brown Wilkinson

The Ache and the Wing by Sunni Brown Wilkinson book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In the chapbook The Ache and The Wing by Sunni Brown Wilkinson, the poet wonders “just what I can seize” while a “homeless shelter bearing some saint’s name / fills up every night.” Welcome to the rodeo of life: a “father plays evangelical AM in the garden… to keep the deer away,” a friend pours gasoline on a “noisy cricket… outside her window” and “the baby arrives but he is dead already.” Humans and animals are “desperate / for life” in towns named “Why” where “none of my questions / were answered: Why / did our son (apple-cheeked, blue-eyed, / four days shy / of due) / have to die?” Wilkinson’s poems explore “hidden bonds” and how not to lose one’s mind when the world is burning. These are poems with “the end of the world” in them. With “much sad truth to say” about “bodies that break, that bear each other, / that hold one another in dark places.” [Readers can download this e-book for free from the publisher’s website link below.]


The Ache and The Wing by Sunni Brown Wilkinson. Sundress Publications, 2021.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.

Book Review :: April at the Ruins by Lawrence Raab

April at the Ruins poetry by Lawrence Raab book cover image

Guest Post by James Scruton

Depending on the reader, the title of Lawrence Raab’s tenth poetry collection, April at the Ruins, might evoke “the cruelest month” of Eliot’s The Waste Land or a postcard from a Henry James character on The Grand Tour. There are glimmers of each here — mixtures of memory and desire as well as travels both real and metaphorical. But more often we find Raab meditating on love and loss (and much besides) with his characteristic sense of gratitude, entire lives suggested by a precise detail or turn of phrase:

… and as they crossed
the street she took his hand,
just as if everything
they hadn’t told each other
had never happened.
(“One of the Ways We Talk to Each Other”)

In “Little Ritual,” stones collected and then forgotten beside a lake become metaphysical emblems, the “zigzags of blue” in a “shiver of quartz” reminding the speaker “that some day everything / I love must be set aside, / or given away, or lost.” Amid the ruin we’ve made or witnessed of this world, Raab nonetheless celebrates an April of the spirit. “Nothing is beyond repair,” he writes. “How can there be a beautiful ending / without many beautiful mistakes?”


April at the Ruins by Lawrence Raab. Tupelo Press, 2022.

Reviewre bio: James Scruton is the author of two full collections and five chapbooks of poetry, most recently The Rules (Green Linden Press, 2019). He has received the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry magazine, among other honors.

Book Review :: On the Verge of Something Bright and Good by Derek Pollard

On the Verge of Something Bright and Good by Derek Pollard book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

On the Verge of Something Bright and Good by Derek Pollard is a collection of poems “not elegiac” but of “another kind of seeing that involves letting go.” That requires “a dream we hold to,” where “orange and quick” fish are held as “dear / … as headstones,” and a guiding question is: “How to love in the midst of tumult?” These poems are too humble and intelligent to answer conclusively. But slant. From a squad car that runs over a squirrel to a child whacked for dropping ice cream, these poems acknowledge the range of “advent, accident, / celebration” in our lives together where either “we take up arms” — “The war / Is a war we all fight, and is near” — or we open our arms to “our / Life together / Quiet / Aimless / And full.” There is love in these poems. Love of life and others. And, love of language: a “ricocheting” “hallelujah” “Heaven” of sound and meaning unabashedly riots throughout — “What care for shame? In any of this?” Lovingly the poems share with the tender reader “the holy / Moment this moment.” Reading this book, “To be sitting / Here, the two of us”: “It felt good. And sad, of course. But mostly just good.”


On the Verge of Something Bright and Good by Derek Pollard. Barrow Street Press, 2021.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems are forthcoming.