The Journey to Peace by Jennifer Stevenson (ADVANCED READERS COPY)


Pages: 56
Genre: Poetry
Format: E-book (ADVANCED READERS COPY)
Self-published
This was received from the author for an honest review

To be quite honest, when it comes to poetry, I like the type that makes me feel. I know I talk about this every time I talk about poetry. Much like how I constantly talk on and on about not having much to say. But sometimes poetry is hard for me to get into, especially since most of the contemporary stuff seems to be either alt.lit or experimental. Which I don’t have a problem with, I enjoy that stuff quite a lot, but it gets stale sometimes.

 Lately, I have been really choosy with the words of poets. Some of them are either too sugary and sentimental with their metaphors or some of them have no sweetness at all. Some of them aren’t “true,” enough, meaning that they beat around the bush too much with what they actually want to say. Then there’s some poetry that I’m absolutely not interested in, or not interested in anymore, like Robert Frost. 

Stevenson’s poetry was sort of a breath of fresh air for me. With topics ranging from family to African Americans and slavery to Sandy in New Jersey to finding peace within the self, to finally accept who you are, which can take decades, maybe never. There were a few about colors and natures. A lot of them had a rhythm and for some odd reason, maybe that was the point, I thought of jazz music. I honestly felt like there were two or three poems that echoed the form of jazz. Maybe a Langston Hughes influence? (I will say that I started writing the review two or three days after I read this, so excuse my mind fog. I knew Hughes came from around that time, but I had to google just to make sure.) 

 It was fresh in a sense where it all actually made sense. It was written with her own mind and her own feelings. The words were not under an experiment, the sentences were not long metaphors for other feelings or images or events. They were just, I guess I can say, her exact words. Sometimes I like to read poetry that is more personal, more written out on a whim, than just focusing too much on poetry and form. Although some were written in the form of sestina? I studied this in high school creative writing, but I don’t remember the names of most of them. It’s poetry all right, with a bit of rhyme that adds a musical feel to it. I’m not speaking clearly here, um, it’s poetry, but it’s a lot more naked in a sense. It is bare and honest. It is not pretty, it is not sweet, it is the words you write when you are really under the waters and you want to make some sort of treaty with yourself that makes you want to seal things up, the pain, and try again, with a view that is worth carrying and learning to love again, not other just others, but yourself, and the very planet you walk on. 

Rating: 4.5/5




The Deepening Shade by Jake Hinkson

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Pages: 141
Genre: Noir, Short Stories
Format: E-book
Published by All Due Respect Books
Borrowed from Kindle Library

EDIT 3/3/15: SO MANY GRAMMAR ERRORS!

When I picked this up, I was on a short story binge. I wish I developed this passion for short stories when I had English classes because you know, you have to read those oversized anthologies, with the terribly small font, and they’re usually classics. Not that I have anything wrong with classics, but I find them hard to get into, especially when you need to read them in a certain span of time. I notice this collection, mostly on my Facebook timeline, was getting some pretty good amounts of buzz. Since I read the novella duo, you don’t exist, why not read this one?

I’m not familiar with Jake Hinkson and I’m definitely not an expert of the noir genre. So I didn’t expect this collection to be so deep. Each story had its own little theme. Unfortunately, when it comes to short stories, I don’t really remember a lot. There’s only a handful of memories, which is usually the amount of the stories I actually liked. So far, from what I’ve read in a noir, The Deepening Shade and Winterswim both have a coating of religion on the immoral activities that go on in these stories. In this collection God seems to be the one critiquing from behind, the characters in most of the stories, argue about what he would think, what he would do. Every one of his emotions is supposed to apparently forgive them and send them off to a wonderful land, where the sins committed are gone. Sweep all of your sins under a rug. And it’s funny because I don’t know how many times I have felt the same way, but yet we keep believing. We believe in hopes of survival. This belief is our temporary placebo, that very short lived hope that tends to wear off or we get used to it real fast while caressing our hypocrisies.

Honestly, there are reviews of this collection that are way better than what I’m writing here. What I really mean is, my words aren’t much different. But one thing I have to say is that this collection is some of the more literary, a human condition noir. The “why do we exist anyway, there’s all this terrible crap within and around us. What does the one in the sky say about me?” Okay, that was the most emo thing I have ever written on this blog and by pure coincidence I am listening to a metal band called Dir en grey, making this feel even more depressing as hell.  I think you guys get what I’m trying to convey, it is true, The Deepening Shade is depressing as hell, as for most noir books I’ve read, but this one kind of has a little bit of mercy, just a tad. Only if you believe in an uncaring god. 

The writing is pretty solid and readable, I’ve set this aside multiple times, but it’s hard not to get absorbed into all of this. Short stories are hard to get into and I find it harder when they’re longer for some reason. I enjoyed the shorter ones better than the longer ones. Some were pretty funny and there was one that was beautifully atmospheric, almost fairy tale-ish, Hinkson wrote a sort of hybrid noir in this collection. And that’s all I have to say here I guess. So here are my favorites in this collection: 

The Big Sister

The Girl From Yesterday

Randy’s Personal Lord and Savior

Aftermath

The Empty Sky

Cold City

The Serpent Box

Night Terrors

Dinner With Friends

The Theologians

Our Violence

Rating: 4/5

Zimbabwe by Tapiwa Mugabe



Pages: 86
Genre: Poetry, Micro Poetry 
Format: E-book 
Self-Published 

Mugabe is a poet that seemed have to come out of nowhere for me, along with Nayyirah Waheed and Yrsa Daley-Ward, but I discovered salt. because I think somebody else was reading it on Goodreads and me being nosey, of course I checked it out, despite not knowing that person at all. That was the best nosey decision ever because I love her and Ward too. Then Zimbabwe came around with them and the first thing I saw was the beautiful painting on the cover. And I wondered, “What are these poems like?” At that time I didn’t know Mugabe had a Tumblr blog. But when I did find it, I read a few poems here and there and then I just started listening to the music from the wonderful playlist on there and doing homework. This has nothing to do with the poetry but this is how I discover most books I love. Out of thin air, or the spaces of the internet. Off topic sentence: My mother got a kindle for Christmas and when this ReadColor free kindle book event came around, I went to her kindle and downloaded all four books onto it. She’s not really into poetry, but I hope she likes these. She’s the reason why I read books in the first place. 

But like I’ve said hundreds of time on this blog, I don’t have much to say when it comes to poetry.  But I do highly recommend it. Zimbabwe is the song of love and family and a constant, tear filled nostalgia for the past or maybe the want for a better one. And then the future, we hope that it’s better than the past, for our children and their children too. I’m not sure what I’m talking about here. Love yourself more than you love anyone else, because usually that love is taken advantage of. But of course, you must love your family members the same way you love yourself. Mugabe’s poetry is filled with loved and  a passion that seems so rare in poetry, the type that actually really touches you and understands you, in such few words. Because honestly, only one metaphors and two stanzas is all you need to reach someone. 

Rating: 5/5 

 

Interview with Candace Habte

Candace Habte is the author all sugar ain’t sweet, a short story collection I enjoyed a few months ago. If you want to read something short, I suggest this collection. 

                                         

1. What do you think is the best in the process of writing? Just going through with it, slamming keys, getting everything down, or reading and editing? 

The best for me is the natural high of a new idea, character, story, etc. But I would say even better is when that “high” is gone, and I start to think “What have I gotten myself into?” Instead of giving up (which I know that feeling too and it stinks), I push through it. Getting over the brink when the words aren’t flowing easily,but sitting down and writing anyway is one of the best feelings for me. I get into the groove of writing even more when I keep at it.

2. Who is your writer crush? 

My first writer crushes were probably Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. Their work was way before my time, and I don’t remember how I got into them, but I’m grateful to have read and absorbed their work at such a young age. They’ve graduated from crushes to first loves. 

Right now, there’s probably several, but I’d say Pearl Cleage (What Crazy Looks Like on an Ordinary Day) and my friend W.K. Tucker whose writer’s voice is so distinct and her imagination is amazing. She definitely inspires me. When it comes to YA, it’s Ned Vizzini all the way. 




3. Do you have a soundtrack when you write? if so, what albums or artists? If silence, where’s your comfy writing spot?

No particular soundtrack, but sometimes I listen to music. It just depends on my mood or what I’m writing. If I’m already distracted, then I try to write in silence (on my couch, kitchen table, or the floor). One of the stories I’m working on now has a heavy hip-hop influence, so I’ve been listening to a lot of hip-hop lately (“90’s Golden Era” or sometimes the Kendrick Lamar station on Pandora).

4. What is that one book you read over and over, or read portions of? That one book you will save from a fire? 


For some reason, I tend to read picture books over and over again. One of my favorite is The Growing Tree by Shel Silverstein. 

5. Who’s that one writer(s) you wish everyone would shut up about?

Well, no one at the moment because I’m not always “in the loop” to know who everyone is talking about. 

At one point, I thought that the hype for John Green was a bit much. Although I’m a fan of his work and own most of his books. But I remember thinking, he didn’t create young adult fiction (or stories with kids dying from cancer). I don’t have any personal resentment towards him or any other uber popular writer for that matter. It just made me think of some of the authors I grew up loving that didn’t get a modicum of that shine. Even other well-known YA authors, such as Walter Dean Myers, are not celebrities. And maybe they wouldn’t want to be (maybe John Green didn’t either—who knows). 

Anyway,I remember reading these One Last Wish books when I was a kid, and the series was about terminally ill kids. I cried a few times even, and though the author may have had some success back then, I had to Google her name just now (Lurlane McDaniels). On the flip side, a name like John Green will forever be etched in my mind because I’ve heard it so many times. He’s pretty much everywhere. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make me think about different levels of success and popularity, what’s “fair”, etc. I suppose, that’s life…

There will always be someone that’s more hyped than others. It’s not a big deal to me. I just try to stay in my lane—read, write, learn my craft—
and maybe one day my books will impact someone. That’s all I can hope for. 

6. What book to movie adaptation disappointed you greatly? 


Strangely, I can’t think of any right now but I’m sure there have been some. One film that I was impressed by was Bridge to Terabithia. I went in thinking the filmmakers would mess it up, but they did a pretty great job all around. 

7. What book(s) is on your current reading list? (It could be on or in your Goodreads, on your night table, book bag, purse, etc.)

There are way too many to name. My to-be-read list is getting ridiculous, especially since I moved close to this used bookstore. Right now, I’m regrettably behind on reading and critiquing a friend’s work, so that’s at the top of the list.

8. What was the worst thing you have ever written?

Probably something I wrote this week. I’m constantly writing something sucky. But every once in a while something good comes of it, and that’s the point. One of the stories that stick out though was something I wrote in middle school–there were ghosts, hospital conspiracies, evil nurses, stereotypes galore, and I threw some Black Panthers in the mix too. It was awesomely bad. 

9. When working on whatever writing project you’re on, do you focus on a schedule of words counts, pages, or just finishing that one chapter? For example, I’ve read that most writers would just write 1,000 words a day. 

I try to stick to tracking my word count using Scrivener just to have some type of structure, but I do focus on drafting scenes too. I don’t have enough foresight to figure out chapters until I’m much further along. 

10. What’s that one book you wish you wrote? There was a guy, I don’t remember his name, but I heard somebody talking about him, who rewrote F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, every word. Just so he could feel what it is to write a hit novel. 

It would have to be 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter. Some may blow it off as a beach read, but I thought it was pretty genius the way she intersected growing up Black and poor, perceptions of beauty, bullying,  adultery, betrayal, 80’s pop culture,and her main character’s“crush” that bordered on obsession. On top of that, each character felt so real, and the plot was multi-layered, but easy to follow…it was a pretty amazing read. 

11. How long have you been writing?

Since I was little kid I wrote poetry and made up stories. I just kept writing (from freelance journalism to short stories, and eventually longer fiction). I have been writing with different levels of consistency and focus (from casual to near obsession) throughout the years. 

12. What do you prefer in reading and writing? A character driven or plot driven story?

Depends on my mood, but I think character will always win this fight at the end of the day. I’ve read stories without clear plots with strong characters that I enjoyed. But I’ve never read a story with all plot and no characterization that I could finish without a struggle. 



13. Do you write during the day or night? 

Mostly during the day (morning), but sometimes late at night if I can’t sleep. 

14. Have you self-published or traditionally published a book (small press or Big Four publishers) or are you in the process of doing that? If so what’s it about? If you haven’t published anything, but was published in a literary magazine or anthology, talk about that. 

I self-published a book of poetry and co-wrote a book of stories and poems years ago. One was under my maiden name, and one was under a pen name. I was proud of publishing at the time, but in a way both of those projects were practice. I made some mistakes, and editing could have been tighter with both. I’ve had short stories published in Blackberry and The Liberator magazines, and a lot of rejections. I would love to be published in an anthology one day. 

Recently, I published a small collection of short stories called all sugar ain’t sweet. It’s a collection of short stories dealing with the complexities of love. I didn’t do much promotion, but I learned a lot from publishing it.  I plan to apply what I’ve learned as I make the leap into publishing longer works of fiction this year and beyond. Right now, I’m just taking the sage advice (as the authors of Write.Publish.Repeat suggested) to keep writing and publishing. So my goals are to publish more consistently, and make sure my work is well edited before I do so. I plan to publish my first full-length book of fiction this summer. It’s called & The Brain Said. It’s a collection of three sci-fi(ish) novellas. 

15. And finally, what’s your quote or motto? It could be one by a favorite writer or your own. 

Besides reading, I’m a music junkie (and Bob Marley is one of my favs). One of my favorite quotes of his is: 

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” 

Misery and Death and Everything Depressing by C.V. Hunt

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Pages: 134
Genre: Short Stories, Horror, Bizarro
Published by Grindhouse Press 
Format: E-book

If somebody asked me who my favorite horror writers are. I wouldn’t be able to answer. Most people will probably say Stephen King, Clive Barker,  maybe even H.P. Lovecraft. I know absolutely nothing about the horror genre, except for the obviously famous writers that excel in the genre. But I have never read enough horror to consider it a genre for me to delve into or crave to read.  I pay attention more to the name of the writers and the style of writing. Honestly, I think my only answer would be C.V. Hunt, Joe Hill, and Andersen Prunty. Horror fiction doesn’t necessarily scare me. I have never been scared by  a book. I have been haunted by disturbing content, such as the skinning of a Japanese soldier in Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I was never scared out of my wits by a horror or thriller novel, like my mother when she watched The Exorcist, when it first came out. When it comes to horror fiction, I tend to focus more on what keeps me glued to the page and what gives off the right atmosphere of darkness and suspense. So in a sense, I sort of read horror novels the same way people read mysteries or detective novels.

Misery and Death and Everything Depressing is a short story collection, containing 6 short stories and a novella or two.  I was already familiar with “The Quarry,” which was in Easy Reading For Difficult Devils and the self-published story “Last Woman on Earth,” was my first experience of C.V. Hunt. All of the others were brand new to me. I enjoyed her latest novel, Hell’s Waiting Room, and expected much of the same from this story collection, which is surrealism and horror that usually contains layers of the frustrations of being a woman in a male centered society or a failure at relationships.  I wasn’t disappointed, there were a  few predictable, horror clichés, but this collection was solid enough to be a good introduction package to  C.V. Hunt for new readers. What I really love about C.V. Hunt’s style of bizarro and horror fiction, is that she tends to be a lot more personal. A lot of what she writes in this genre  tends to be centered around the human condition, a longing to climb out of isolation, and overcome one’s flaws or do nothing, accept it, and basically just be miserable.  She makes you want to puke and cry at the same. She makes you laugh and lapse into the darkness once again when you realize you’re no different. You will find this in “Last Women on Earth,” “The Quarry,” “Baby Hater,” and “Human Contact,” Of course there are other stories that are purely there for entertainment and thrills,  such as  “No Room For a Child,” and “To Say Mother Teresa Was Shocked When She Woke Up In Hell Would Be An Understatement.”

Hunt has a dark sense of humor, even the title of the collection sounds like it might be a joke.  it kind of has this “Everything and everyone is sad and depressing. What else is new?” tone to it. “Baby Hater,” is a perfect example of this. It’s about a woman who is incapable of having babies and because of it, she has become an outcast. This is all due to a  society that expects women to be sitting at home pregnant and cooking for their husbands. And the whole absurdity of this story makes it darkly humorous, but it’s also a social commentary on society’s devaluation of  women who refuse to be a mother or can’t be a mother. 

C.V. Hunt has really become one of my favorite female authors, I really don’t read a lot of female authors, but when I do, they become my writerly crushes, like Zadie Smith and Helen Oyeyemi.  Hunt’s type of bizarro horror is definitely some of the wittiest and charming. 

Rating: 4/5

Shantytown by César Aira

Pages: 162
Genre: Literary Fiction, Spanish Literature, Novella 
Published by New Directions
Format: Softcover

When I got this book during Christmas, I was in love with its tiny size. It’s a novella so of course it’s short, but it’s also tiny. Square shaped and thin, the type of book you can take anywhere. If you’re a man or a person that wears men’s clothing, you will have the privilege of reading this and shoving it in your pocket just like your wallet. Oh I hate you, fashion industry. 

Anyway, to the story. What the hell is this little book about? It’s about a guy who discovers a shantytown, a town with shanty houses and light bulbs everywhere, the presence of this town is bright and aware at night. The guy who discovers it is a bit, I guess I can say, slow and shy. All he has to defend himself are the muscles on his body. He also has a sister and a friend who later discover this town.  This little whimsical town becomes the target of a corrupt police officer named Ignacio Cabezas (I hope this is his name, because I read this awhile ago.) You can guess what happens, this cop or detective wants to end a drug circle thing, and accuses the town of being the place that contains it. He does everything in his power to get there. So, this is sort of a noir. I’ve been reading noirs, shocker. You have to read it to understand what I mean. 

I freaking love this book. It’s really crazy how this guy managed to fit in this mystery in this small book. It’s not long, 162 pages, and I honestly feel like this is the best length for mystery or noir. I tend to get fidgety when I read a mystery book that’s 400-500 pages. But this has been one of my faves of the year so far.

This novella is written in third person, allowing the reader to draw the lines and paint the images, to notice the incoming meteor of evidence, slowly, inch by inch. Aira’s prose is poetic and humorous at times, in third person, his characters are very much alive, without being dry about it. The main character was just so loveable, his shy nature and general ditziness, makes him for a refreshing character. Most muscular characters are strong, brave, and ready to rescue, but in this case, he’s a manchild. 

The plot is itself is simple and the characters are all tied in somehow with the whole plot. Each one has a conflict or some sort of incident to solve. The twist at the end was sort of expected. Actually I don’t think it was a twist. The writing is cinematic and beautiful, almost fairy tale like. I loved the writing more than the plot, which was slightly slow, and not the most original. But the whole little town atmosphere and the lurking darkness beneath, especially when the town began flooding with rain, as if nature itself could sense the incoming evil, can appeal to both noir and literary fiction lovers. The story is a tad bit repetitive and absurd (such as the main characters favorite hobby of pushing shopping carts for the shanty town people) as it grows little by little revealing everything by rotating in the same area, because the small town theme. The guy goes in the same path every day and does the same thing every day. I don’t really have anything else to say, but if you love Roberto Bolaño, I suggest you get on this. I kind of like his writing style better than Bolaño. Please don’t kill me.

Rating: 4.5/5 

Watch the Doors As They Close by Karen Lillis

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Pages: 100
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Format: E-book
Published by Spuyten Duyvil 

Karen Lillis is a librarian and bookseller who runs the small press roulette. If you don’t know what that it is, it’s basically a little vendor store thing she sets up in Pennsylvania. You can also try this on Etsy where you pay a certain amount of money and she will give you a package filled with small press goodies. She also writes books of course. I bought this book off of Amazon over the summer and I read the first few pages, but never really stuck to it until now. 

I regret not finishing it earlier, because it was really a lovely book.  Lovely in the sense that it is bitter, yet with it’s failed romance, it manages to be pretty sweet and refreshing. Jason Pettus from CCLaP wrote a wonderful essay of this on Goodreads, like he always does. So honestly my review of this is a bit useless. Watch the Doors As They Close is a depressing romance novel that reminded me of Norwegian Wood where the main character falls in love with a broken person. But unlike the love interest in Norwegian Wood, this love interest, Anselm, is an insufferable, selfish man. But yet at the same, he also has a lot of internal wars that are maybe the results of this. But at the same time though, I don’t know, he deserves a punch and a kiss from the narrator. Anselm is exactly the type of guy that makes women swoon and want to set fire to their hearts. And I mean set fire as in destroy it, no passion. 

This little novella is a character study of this dude, Anselm, written in journal entries by the narrator. She is trying to figure out where she went wrong, despite that she really do anything wrong, all she did was give herself to him, till she became dry. But the marks he left on her burn so much, she can’t help it. I’m sort of lost for words for this novella. I thought it was such a beauty, yet so depressing. But apparently I love broken heart romance. I never like romances that are too sappy or erotic. Lillis’ prose is sparse but delicate and romantic, feeling almost close to the classics, F. Scott Fitzgerald, with a modern feel to it. If he was a woman and really freaking sad, maybe he would write something close to this. There is no happy ending, it just ends like life itself, love and romance is short lived and usually gives nothing in return. This sounds weird coming from a 19 year old. But romance is pointless when it only comes in distant spurts and selfish individuals.

Rating: 4.5/5