Author Event: Poetry Reading with Patricia Colleen Murphy

ASU professor and poet Patricia Colleen Murphy will read from her second poetry collection, Bully Love, at Changing Hands Bookstore this upcoming Saturday.

The collection won the 2019 Press 53 Award for Poetry, and it offers glimpses into the harsh but beautiful Sonoran Desert, painful but important memories, and an unexpected but powerful love for landscape and people.

Check out a book review of Bully Love by Spellbinding Shelf’s editor-in-chief here.


Location: Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe

Date: Saturday, November 9

Time: 6 p.m.

For more information about the event, click here.

Author Interview

Interview with Novelist Melissa Duclos

Meet author Melissa Duclos, whose new novel, Besotted, is out now from 713 Books. Listen as staff writer Edward Dolehanty has a conversation with the author about her debut novel, the drafting process, and the work she is doing to shed light on small literary presses!

Melissa Duclos interview

For more information about Melissa Duclose, click here.


Thanks to the publicist at TNBBC Publicity for
providing an ARC and making this interview possible.

Book Review

Relief by Execution by Gint Aras

Publisher: Little Bound Books, 8 October 2019
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 94
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Beginning with an illustration of the “deep connection to the dead” felt from the European cobblestone streets, Gint Aras begins his story when he is just about to visit the Concentration Camp Memorial nearest to his former Lithuanian home for the first time, announcing his intention to imagine himself not as a victim but as a perpetrator. Switching to past tense, Aras describes formative moments and impressions in his life, from a childhood in the violent West Chicago suburb Cicero in a physically abusive Lithuanian immigrant family to his time in Europe and then back in America.

Aras charts his progression from one who silently accepts and ignores abuse to one who identifies and confronts this behavior, whether it be the Lithuanian complicity in Nazi atrocities towards Jews during WWII to more broad racism, Anti-Semitism, and physical violence. He then ends the memoir back with his visit to Mauthausen in present tense recognizing a “relief by execution” for both prisoner and guard.

Thoughts

The tense and section changes in Aras’ work were somewhat disorienting for me personally, but his easy, conversational style immediately made me feel as involved in his realizations as he was. Though I have not suffered PTSD or uncovered a family and national history of abuse and atrocity, reading Relief by Execution allowed me to experience the emotions and sensations of these moments along with Aras.

In my admittedly brief experience, I too “sense a deep connection to the dead any time I stand on cobblestones in Europe” (1). Aras’ narrative provides a clear individual perspective on how the aftermath of WWII still affects thought patterns today, suggesting that we may not have left those atrocities as far in the past as we may wish to believe.

Since Aras provides such a personal and approachable take on the complicated conceptions of ethnic identity, race, nationality, and abuse, I would recommend Relief by Execution to anyone (high school age or older) who seeks to understand how our individual identities are affected by our cultural and familial baggage.


Thanks to the publicist at The Next Best Book Blog for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Wendy Webb: The Queen of Northern Gothic

My favorite book is Jane Eyre, my second favorite being Pride and Prejudice—what can I say? I’m a classics lover.

But now, I have a third favorite book, and it’s all thanks to a magnificent new author on the scene: Wendy Webb. And spoiler alert, it’s not a classic that takes place in Regency Era England. I know, I didn’t think I could be swayed either.

But here we are.

Honestly, I am someone who has a very difficult time branching out and trying new authors. But, as with most good things in my life, I can thank my mom for this one. 

I’ve mentioned this before, but I lived on the gorgeous North Shore of Lake Superior in a quaint little city called Duluth. My second summer of living there, my parents came to visit and see what I kept raving about as “the most beautiful place in the whole world.” 

On one of our excursions, we visited the most charming little town of Grand Marais, and if you know my mom, we inevitably ended up at a bookstore. 

Not just any bookstore. A little Cape-Cod-style cottage painted in pastels that sat just a few hundred yards from the shore of the lake. Oh, and there was a donut shop right next door. I guess this is what they mean by location, location, location.

But I digress. 

In the local authors section (the best section!), she stumbled across a writer named Wendy Webb, someone who had made their debut within the last few years. Trusting the bookstore owner’s incessant praise, my mom purchased the first of many Wendy Webb books we would come to own. 

I remember being hesitant when my mom first suggested I read one of her books. See, Wendy Webb is a Northern Gothic writer—and gothic was not really a genre I tended to dive into. Remember my favorite books? But, I decided to give it a shot and cracked open her most recent novel, Daughters of the Lake. She was a local author after all. 

Best. Decision. Ever. 

While I typically think of mystery/gothic novels as being contrived, Webb was inventive and played with the well-loved framework brilliantly. Instead of being overly-predictable and cheesy, Webb created a believable world that left me guessing until the last chapter. Where I expected flat characters with flatter relationships, Webb breathed raw and wonderful life into every character that graced the pages of her novels. 

But fair warning, her ability to bring a story to life also left me with a fear of turning off the lights some nights. In the best way. 

In the end though, what I found so exciting was that each novel took place along the North Shore of Lake Superior, some even in Duluth—though under different names. It was like a world that she created just for me, because I could envision every town and building she spoke of, having been there myself. 

And so, maybe I’m romanticizing an author because she sets her books so beautifully along the shore I love most in the world—but maybe, just maybe, she really is all I say she is. 

I guess it’s up to you to decide. 


For more information about Wendy Webb, click here.

Wendy Webb’s Full Works: The Tale of Halcyon Crane, The Fate of Mercy Alban, The Vanishing, The End of Temperance Dare, Daughters of the Lake

Book Review

Check Me Out by Becca Wilhite

Publisher: Shadow Mountain, 2018
Genre: Proper Romance
Pages: 358
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Greta’s best friend Will promises that he always delivers on her birthday presents, and this year he out-does himself, fulfilling her wish for a perfect boyfriend. While Greta is shelving books at her job as an assistant librarian, Will arranges for her to meet his cousin, Mac, who is single, incredibly attractive, and even seems obviously interested in Greta, based on his adorably poetic texts.

Greta falls for Mac quickly, enjoying the free hot chocolate at the cafe where he works and his clear interest in her, but she can’t help but wonder why he is always so much better at expressing himself in texts. Busy with research and planning various events to save her beloved library from impending foreclosure, Greta has to recognize what she really wants and whether she is willing to go far enough to get it.

Thoughts

Honestly, I was afraid this book was going to be too cliché, but it surprised me in a great way. I ended up reading it all in one sitting, not even just to see how Greta’s relationship would end up, but also because her character arc was so compelling.

In Check Me Out, Becca Wilhite crafts a charming world where Greta takes the reader between the library and the cafe with increasingly more dramatic stakes and powerful recognitions. The romance is not as uncomplicated as it seems from Greta and Mac’s immediate mutual attractions in the first chapter, and Greta’s purposeful choices provide a sense of more weighty thematic elements than just “and they lived happily ever after.”

Greta has poignant interactions with her mother and the library neighbor Mr. Greenwood, and her friend Marigold is simply delightful in her memorable appearances on the page. In the end, the only aspect that felt too cliché was Mac’s relatively flat character, though I fully acknowledge that that was part of the point of his presentation in the novel. Even with that minor wish for more depth, I still really enjoyed this book! You should all go check it out!


I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good, clean romance, especially all those who can see themselves as readers who are dedicated enough to do anything to save their town’s library.


Author Interview

Interview with Author & Photographer Anna Jean Ouellette

Meet Anna Jean Oulette, a local author and photographer from sunny Arizona! Anna is the author of the Raz series, Soft Soul, and 46 Miles. She is currently working on her sixth book.

1. You’ve already published five books in the past six years, which is certainly a very fast pace! How were you able to keep up this writing speed and motivation? Do you have a regular writing routine?

My writing routine has changed a lot throughout the years. In high school I used to wake up at four o’clock in the morning to walk to the nearest coffee shop and write my stories. Since I was such a morning person, this was a regular routine for me and not a difficult one either. However, when I started college, I no longer had the motivation to wake up at four in the morning, and my writing routine began to slack a lot.

Now, I work full time at a daycare for some extra money, so when my two year olds nap each day, I use that opportunity to write. Even though that is only an hour a day, versus the two to three hours that I used to commit, sometimes even more, words still get on a page, and my creative outlet continues to thrive. Writer’s block is definitely something that has existed, especially when writing 46 Miles. However, I usually overcome it by skipping whatever scene I am working on and writing a future chapter, which excites me enough to continue my current scene.

2. You began writing at a very young age, with your first novel, Raz, published at age 14. Now, six years later, have you noticed any changes in your approach to or relationship with writing?

I unfortunately write considerably less now than I did when I was fourteen. I used to sit in my room all day, challenging myself to test how many words I could write in a single day, one time reaching 20,000 as I was writing Izz. Now, I typically only write 1,000 words a week, but I definitely have a lot more in my life to balance now with two full time jobs, my family, planning a wedding, and writing. I wish I still had as much free time to spend writing, but I definitely take what I can get and make the best of it.

3. How did writing your first book compare to writing your subsequent novels? Did the writing process get easier or did you face any unique challenges with your later writing?

One challenge that presents itself when writing each new book is the need to grow. Each new book needs to be better than the book before, but I think my stories have definitely improved since Raz. There was slightly less pressure when writing my first book both because of that reason and because now people are waiting for the next book to be published. It has been a year and a half since 46 Miles was published, and the pressure of having to finish my next book before people forget about that one sometimes outweighs how much enjoyment I get out of writing. It’s definitely different to write with other people’s opinions in mind, rather than just writing for the sake of the story.

4. Your first book was the product of a NaNoWriMo project, which is a writing challenge to complete a novel of 50,000+ words during November, or National Novel Writing Month. Some writers criticize this challenge, arguing that the process doesn’t encourage enough reflection time. Yet, other writers praise NaNoWriMo, saying that it gives them the motivation they need to devote their time to a single creative project. In fact, several amazing published works started as NaNoWriMo’s, including Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and—of course—your very first novel! What are your thoughts on the NaNoWriMo process? Do you think the challenge helped your writing endeavors? 

I absolutely love NaNoWriMo! I have always been very competitive, so the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month definitely stuck out to me! I did it with some friends, so my competitive side made sure I was always ahead of them and on track to finish. I got trifold boards and planned out all my characters and a basic plot line during October and then actually began the writing process on November 1st. I think having some aspects planned out ahead of time helped a fair amount. This challenge definitely helped me write Raz, and then I made my own personal goals for Izz and Adz. I wrote Izz in a month, as well, and Adz in three weeks. I spent a much longer time revising the second two books, however. 

5. In addition to being a published author, you are also the photographer behind AJ Photography, where you capture headshots, senior portraits, wedding events, maternity photography, as well as photos for couples, newborns, families, models, and more. Do you notice any connections between your creative work as an author and as a photographer?

I brainstorm creative ideas in the same way for photo shoots as I do for my books. I get my inspiration from dreams, things other people say, and ideas that I randomly get and pick apart, until they become an entirely different idea. I am constantly daydreaming, and these daydreams are what turn into my stories and photo concepts.

6.  Although most of your photography is professional work, one of the photo collections that stuck out to me most was your creative project—the Invisible Illness Project—which portrayed eight different mental illnesses in an attempt to defy our modern misconceptions. Can you share a little bit about your creative process in this work? How did you decide the ways you wanted to depict these illnesses?

I definitely got a lot of help from both friends and the internet when brainstorming for this idea. I chose models who have struggled with (or known someone who has struggled with) one or more of the mental illnesses that I chose. The models were then able to help better the ideas that I already had and bring them to life. When I displayed these pieces of art in the RAW Phoenix Gallery, I received enormous appreciation for my work, and many people said that they were able to relate to each piece.

7. And, finally, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read. Are you reading anything exciting at the moment?

My latest read is Different by Janet McLaughlin. It’s definitely an easier read, good for younger ages, but is about a girl with Tourette Syndrome, something I struggle with personally and that very few people write about in books. This author is amazing because she is helping spread awareness and overcome misconceptions of Tourette’s. I think that is why this book speaks to me so profoundly, even though it is written for a younger audience. 


Learn more about Ouellette’s books here. You can also view her photography website here.


Book Review

Atlantia by Ally Condie

Publisher: Dutton Books, 2014
Genre: Dystopian YA novel
Pages: 320
Format: Hardback
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Feeling trapped as a hidden siren in the underwater world of Atlantia and forever recognized as the daughter of the beloved deceased leader Oceana, Rio Conwy is desperate to go Above. But her twin sister Bay unexpectedly chooses to go Above instead, without leaving an explanation. Heartbroken and alone, Rio is forced to find answers from the only family she has left—her mother’s sister Maire, the dangerous siren.

As Rio attempts to find out why her sister left and to get Above herself, she discovers secrets and truths about her family and herself, and the Divide system now separating her from Bay. Rio learns to recognize the strength in her own voice through unexpected ways as she unearths the past and determines her future.

Thoughts

Admittedly, Ally Condie is one of my favorite YA authors, so I was a little biased in favor of Atlantia when I chose it off the shelf. However, even for those unfamiliar with Condie’s other award-winning work, Matched, this stand-alone bestseller is sure to be a satisfying read. Though Rio’s story presents serious themes that are handled justly, the narrative retains a feeling of enjoyable entertainment throughout. In particular, the races in the deepmarket have a pleasantly exciting rhythm. The style of the narration flows and fits well with the subject matter, and the ending is appropriate without being unrealistic.

The romantic relationships in this book were paced well, although some of their dialogue and scenes came off somewhat stilted. The romance was the weakest narrative aspect for me personally. The dynamics between family members or friends felt more natural and engaging. In particular, I felt that the difficult decisions at the end for Rio and Bay were well structured, showing the progress and strength in their connection from the beginning when Rio’s world was ripped apart by Bay not explaining beforehand why she had to go Above.


I would recommend this book to any YA reader who enjoys page-turning dystopian fantasies with beautiful world-building and expert character development.


Book Review

Family of Origin by CJ Hauser

Publisher: Doubleday Books, 2019
Genre: Fiction novel
Pages: 283
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

On hearing that their biologist father Dr. Ian Grey has died, estranged half-siblings Nolan and Elsa Grey reunite. They travel to his island research station and become acquainted with his team, the Reversalists, who study a duck species in an attempt to prove their theory of reverse evolution.

While learning about and searching for the “Paradise Duck” for which their father had been preoccupied, they also learn about their own “family of origin,” uncovering various layers of family secrets and complications. With flashbacks and foreshadowing, Hauser illustrates the complication that comes with determining how much of the past should affect the future.

Thoughts

To be honest, the first time I attempted to read this book, I failed to get through it. I think this is perhaps because I was not in the right frame of mind to make sense of Hauser’s web of themes and stylistic choices. The flashbacks and foreshadowing tell compelling backstories, but are also more complicated to read than a traditionally chronological narrative. I also particularly struggled with her decision to not separate dialogue with quotation marks. This made the conversational flow difficult for me personally to follow.

That being said, I felt like what redeemed this book was its layering of familial secrets, histories, and relationships. This made the characters feel real and the narrative more engaging. As a reader, I wanted the estranged siblings to find out more about their past which would help them to connect in the present. It was interesting to consider family dynamics in relation to the evolutionary theories posited in the novel.

I would recommend this book to adult readers who like learning about backstories, histories, and scientific theories—and who do not mind the absence of dialogue quotes.


Thanks to the author and publisher for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

The Reunion: A Novel by Guillaume Musso

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 273
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: July 9, 2019
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

25 years after his high school love’s disappearance, Thomas returns to his childhood home on the Côte d’Azur to prepare for his former prep school’s class reunion—and his inevitable arrest. 25 years ago, he and his friends, Fanny and Maxime, buried a body in the school’s walls. Their secret is secure until the school plans a demolition for renovations.

However, as the day for demolition draws closer, the three friends begin to discover that perhaps there are far more secrets about to be unearthed than just the body in the wall—and they are caught dead in the center of them.

From France’s #1 author, Guillaume Musso, The Reunion packs everything from friendship and betrayal to affairs and dangerously addicting plot twists. Without a doubt, The Reunion will leave you with one massive book-hangover. Luckily, you can grab another one of Musso’s great books right after. Hair of the dog anyone?

Thoughts

This was my first time reading a novel by Guillaume Musso, and all I can say is that I’ve found one of my new favorite authors. Because the book was originally written in French, I was expecting some of the story to fall through the cracks of the translation; however, I was blown away. The translation was absolutely brilliant, and it felt like no nuance was lost on the pages.

The Reunion is definitely unlike any thriller (or book for that matter) that I’ve read before; I started off feeling like I had the whole story figured out, but each page showed me just how little I knew. It was delightful to unravel the story with the main character, Thomas, and as the novel finished I couldn’t believe how much Musso was able to subvert my expectations of the classic “who-dun-it.”

While thrillers run the risk of feeling dated and dry with the same formula, The Reunion surprised me in the most incredible and exciting ways. I cannot sing high enough praises of Musso’s newest masterpiece!

Due to a few graphic scenes of violence and a some more mature subject matters, I would recommend this book to be read at a high school level or above.


Thanks to the author and publisher for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

The Now Dark Sky, Setting Us All on Fire by Robert Krut

Publisher: Codhill Press, 2019
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 56
Format: Paperback
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Krut’s collection contains three sections: the first two with fourteen poems each and the last one with thirteen. The poems do not necessarily tell a single unified narrative, though they do flow and have a definitively similar tone.

However, it is worth noting that these poems must be read in order to gain a true sense of the collection.

While I cannot claim a perfect understanding of this collection, I can say that the title gives a good indication of the themes, subjects, and images that repeat throughout the collection. The sky is dark “now”, encompasses the immediate value and poignancy of these poems, as well as the action they contain. The striking images of a dark sky setting us on fire illuminates how the natural world has this effect on “us all”, a reminder of a unifying inability to control our own mortality.

Thoughts

When you read a poem, you get a tiny glimpse into the author’s perspective on the poem’s subject filtered through the perception of the poem’s speaker. But when you read a collection of poems, you really get a sense for who the author is, what they feel, and what is on their mind. This poetry collection reveals the mind of a man who has a sharp eye for observation and keen insight into the common experience of human emotions, filtered through startlingly unique and moving imagery.

Krut’s collection surprised me with its portrayals of the world that felt both aptly universal and intensely personal, capturing the essence of the human journey with its yearnings and fears. The most repeated setting, or at least the one that left the deepest impression on me, was the graffitied streets of a city bustling with cabs that was still somehow hollow inside. Krut’s distinctive voice characterized cities and their residents with unique associations that relayed powerful truths.

Though many of the images in Krut’s collection were unsettling, this felt intentional rather than jarring. Each poem had its beauty, albeit an evocative and haunting appeal. My personal favorite, “The Tuning Fork and the Listeners,” was the one that seemed to most aptly characterize the echoing that resounds throughout our world, masterfully applied through the metaphor of song and a tuning fork. Krut’s skill in conveying ideas in a few lines is evident on each page in the collection; the short length is a gift that allows readers to return and glean more insight from the poetry.

Despite the intensity of the imagery and sophisticated writing, I believe high school students and above should be able to understand Krut’s message, or at least, appreciate his thematic and stylistic construction.


Thanks to the author and publisher for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.