I picked up The Day is Ready for You in April at a Books-A-Million because I’d flipped open to the first poem, “Never”, and it resonated with me straight off. It’s one of those poems that makes you jerk back your neck and think, “Wow, that’s the phrase that describes what I’m feeling. Who knew!” This simple encounter with Malee’s poetry promised a collection that would explore love and loss using vivid and delightful imagery. While the poems are lovely and immersive, the collection also explores complicated interpersonal relationships in a way that was unique but echoes scenarios that every woman has been through at some point.
Poems like “Right” and “Exhales”, explore the ups and downs of a relationship. The poet doesn’t turn away from tension or toxic love, and she gives the reader a close up of the push and pull of entering and leaving a relationship. It was nice to be reminded that art provides a space to think deeply about the nuances of our experiences. Malee showcases the intricacies of love especially well.
In some ways, reading Alison Malee’s poems felt like reading a memoir. Her life is seamlessly woven into the beauty of each line. Most poets draw on their life experiences to write, but Malee’s vulnerability on the page made me feel as if a new friend was sat across from me, rehashing old stories, pointing out her scars. This collection unravels slowly and immersed me like a novel or a good conversation would. Pieces I especially liked were “Never”, “Something Like”, and “Caught”.
In way of critique, I felt that the author, at times, over-explained the scenarios or thought processes in the poems. I crossed through a fair number of lines that stole the mystery. In poems like “Morning” and “Mistaken”, I wanted to wonder at the meaning instead of having it handed to me over the page. I wanted to observe and draw my own conclusions. The writer did not leave the story behind each poem vague, which I was grateful for, but she also pushed the reader’s interpretation to the margins in some cases by explaining its meaning in the very next verse.
“Mountains” and “Learn” seemed only to provide information of the poets overall narrative or promote an ideology rather that set a scene or create an image. Over use of what I would call “outline driven” or “filler” poems is common in contemporary poetry publications and could just be a product of the poet needing to extend the manuscript to a certain page count. While there’s nothing wrong with including works in order to extend a collection, there were a few from The Day is Ready for You that could have been left out. Those pieces only bored me and caused my mind to wander.
I mentioned earlier that the collection as a whole was immersive and that’s true. Filler poems didn’t ruin the reading experience all together, but in my opinion, the pieces certainly did not add to the positive aspects of the collection and seemed to only serve the purpose of meeting a word count for the publisher. Obviously, I don’t know what the publishing process was like for Alison Malee, so take these critiques with a grain of salt.
Poetry can be a very personal act, and I’m so glad to see more poets entering the industry and expanding our ideas of what poetry can be. Do line breaks make a poem? No, and the first critique you here of modern or “tumblr” poetry today is that the poems consist of simple phrases cut up by line breaks.
My gut impulse is to say, “Yes, of course line breaks don’t make a poem a poem!” But we forget to look at the rest of the poem when we critique in this finite way. Is the narrative of the poem nuanced? Does it use cerebral images that make us forget we were reading a book? Do the words seem to curl off the page with a rhythm and cadence? Then, in essence, it is poetry.
If you’ve read The Day is Ready for You, please let me know the thoughts you’re left thinking and your views on modern poetry!
This isn’t going to be one of my normal reviews. It won’t be balanced or critical. I had an overwhelming emotional response when I finished reading. This has been your fair warning: below there may be gushing.
The Charlotte Holmes books have quickly become my favorite series, and I’m not someone who claims favorites. I don’t even like series, but I like Charlotte, Watson, and their story. I could never fit everything that I want to say in this blog post, so I’m going to take a stab at defining the aspects of the book that I find most compelling at this moment. Maybe there will be more Charlotte Holmes blog posts from me in the future, but for now, here it goes.
If you’ve read the books – and you shouldn’t read past here if you haven’t because, damn it, would you be missing out on a gem of a series if you let me spoil you - you know that there is much to unpack as the fourth (and most likely final) book in the series draws to a close.
My heart splintered when I read the last few chapters of A Question of Holmes. The fact that Jamie and Charlotte have had to give each other up so many times actually puts a pain in my chest. It seems like they’re always waiting for each other, which is beautiful in its own right but it leaves me wondering when they will be together for good? When will moving and finding themselves come to fruition and they are able to grow together without being pulled apart again? God, what a heart-wrenching story.
The thing I like the most about Charlotte and Jamie’s relationship is how much it reminds me of my own relationship – which I know sounds utterly conceited, but it reminds me to be grateful. Charlotte and Jamie’s story reminds me how much I’ve been through. It makes me stop and actually feel the pain that I would feel if I had to part with my boyfriend in the same way that Charlotte does (several times) in the series. That sounds a little sadistic, but it keeps things in perspective. Books are supposed to make you empathetic, but Brittany Cavallaro didn’t just make me feel sympathy for Charlotte and Jamie. She makes me feel like I am in Charlotte's body. Reading her prose was an immersion exercise. Books don’t make me feel that often. Despite my belief that reading is an act of empathy. Charlotte’s story did that for me.
I can’t get the image of Jamie crying out of my head. Him wiping the tears away with his knuckles. How he said, you know I’ll wait for you, but I can’t make you feel like this is okay right now.
Are they even together by the end of the book? We know that when Holmes and Watson are healthy, they make the best couple. We know that when they’re living in the same place and healthy, things can only go in a positive direction. Somewhere past the epilogue, Charlotte and Jamie will get back to the happiness they felt that summer in Oxford, but god, I wanted to see the fullness of that joy in the final pages. Not a whole epilogue that lead up to them hinting at being back together. I mean, I know the assumption is “all will be well as long as they’re in the same place”, but the framing of the epilogue leaves a little more doubt in my mind than I want. But again, that’s an aspect of the story that reminds me of my real life. If you focus on the wrong thing - that hint of doubt - you’re going to drown out the joy of the story’s cycle. A happy ending isn’t a permanent ending. People change. In the story that I like to think exists on the other side of the epilogue, Charlotte and Jamie could make the choice not to wait for each other. They could forget how happy they were. So maybe allowing that doubt to linger instead of neatly tidying it up was Cavallaro’s way of letting it be real. Even though that was tough for me to stomach in the first moments after finishing the book, I do think it is the best ending she could have given us. It shows us that Charlotte is building better habits and putting herself first so she can best care for girls like her. It shows us that Jamie is balancing his romanticism with reality. He’s not planning his life unrealistically into the future and getting his heart broken when he finds out Charlotte doesn’t want to fit that mold. They’re healthy. They’re always growing towards each other - even when they’re apart and growing into their own lives.
The weight of these books is so much on me. I know, I sound dramatic. I’ve just finished reading five minutes ago, so of course, the emotions are raw and on full display.
I want to write this so I’ll have something to look back on. I have dark periods sometimes in which it is so hard to remember anything that made me feel something. I hope I look back at this and remember that Charlotte and Jamie mean the world to me. They’ve made me joyful. They've made me cackle, sob, throw things around, get angry. They’ve confused me. They're a little bit mine now that the story is over.
When I was a teenager, this is a book that would have saved my life. It would have pulled me up out of my pit. Despite the sad moments.
Isn’t it weird that something that brought me grief can also bring me so much comfort and raise me up out of my hole? How on earth do books do that? And who would I be without them?
Our Number Days by Neil Hilborn is a collection of poems dealing with grief, mental illness, and the realities of love. Neil Hilborn is a Button Poetry writer who has competed at spoken word competitions all over the U.S. Most recently, he traveled on his own tour reading his spoken word poems to live audiences and promoting his new book. Our Numbered Days is his first full-length poetry collection.
The Good Stuff:
Neil Hilborn does a great job of presenting complex emotions genuinely. If you’ve seen this book on twitter at all, you know that people play up how sad the poems are. Those comments have merit, but I think it short changes the poems to say they’re only sad.
Hilborn’s writing style makes me feel like he’s always choosing to be honest with me as a reader even when the details of the situation he’s referencing are clearly presented from his point of view. In other words, he’s good at speaking his truth but leaves the door open for interpretation.
In my mind, I can hear Hilborn saying the poems aloud, but I can also hear myself saying them. There were a lot of great lines that I connected with profoundly. Many of the poems read in multiple tones because Hilborn integrates complex emotions throughout, and I like the duplicity of that. For instance, I read lines such as “Life on earth will in some ways / be easier. I will not have to return / her phone calls.” From “Our Numbered Days ” with a sense of both mourning and relief. I like that those two emotions are being allowed to coexist without one being edited out to play up the other. Life is like that too – we often experience multiple conflicting emotions at once. I love that Neil captures that so well throughout the collection.
The epigraphs set the tone well for each piece. In several poems a half dozen or more epigraphs appear before a short poem which allows outside voices (of the people being quoted) to influence the piece. It seems like Hilborn’s way of giving us context about what he was feeling and thinking about while writing without oversimplifying it or detracting from the main story of the poem.
The epigraphs are a way of zooming out from the poem while bringing the reader closer to its meaning. That probably sounds ridiculous to some people, but in my head, it’s like unraveling and raveling a piece of yarn each time I read one of the epigraph’s in this collection. It had a strong effect me as a reader.
“MSP PHI LGA ALB PHI MSP”
“Ballad of a Bruised Lung”
“The Red Sheets”
There are several poems throughout the piece which are all titled “Our Numbered Days.” I liked the thread that these poems carry and the way they further developed the title; however, it really annoyed me that they weren’t numbered or distinguished in any way from each other. Every time I came across one, it pulled me out of the book and made me wonder if I had accidentally scrolled back to the beginning of the eBook (I was reading on an iPad, so it wasn’t as easy to recognize where I was in the book right away). It happened several times before I learned to ignore that feeling and stay engrossed in the book. I really didn’t like being pulled out of the book in that way.
There were a few poems that left me wanting more. It’s normal to find a few poems I don’t care for in a given collection, so this isn’t a huge deal, but I wish I’d walked away from those poems with a line or two to think about. “The News Anchor is Crying,” “I’m Sorry Your Kids Are Such Little Shits and that We Are in the Same Zen Garden,” and “Parking Meter Theory,” are examples of poems that left me feeling a little unanchored, a little insecure. I wanted to have more footing in the story of these poems to go along with the images and the voice.
Overall, I thought the collection was enjoyable and found some nice lines to dig into. I consider poems featured by Button Poetry (like many of Neil’s poems are) to be accessible reads for anyone trying to get into poetry and learn more about the craft. If you like poetry that focus on the narrative first, these will be enjoyable poems for you.
If you’ve seen any of Neil Hilborn’s performances on YouTube or read Our Numbered Days, be sure to leave a comment so I can hear your thoughts!
Note: I normally refrain from spoilers when I review books, but in this discussion, I share a few details that you may feel are too specific and spoil the end for you. This is just a heads up, so you can decide whether you want to continue reading this review or not. If you’ve already read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Wink Poppy Midnight is a story about magic, loss, love, and what it means to be a hero. The narrative follows the three title characters – Wink, Poppy, and Midnight – during the summer before their senior year of high school. The whole story takes place over a matter of days. Wink, Poppy, and Midnight take turns recounting the events of that dangerous summer, and leave the reader guessing what will happen until the very end.
The Good Stuff:
The best image I can use to describe this book are the moving staircases in Harry Potter. You start out at the bottom of the staircase thinking you know where you’re going to end up, but by the time you get to the top, the destination has changed three times. You get off the staircase only to see that you must pick a new one to get where you want to go.
Each time the story switches between the three narrators, it’s easy to tell who’s speaking because the voices are distinct. The author manages to maintain an overarching voice of the novel which gives it a feel of mystery and intrigue without compromising the individual voices of each main character. I found Midnights voice to be the more grounding of all the narrators. He is straight forward, honest with himself, and very in tune with his inner life.
Wink and Poppy were also fun to read because they know themselves so well. Even though they are growing and changing throughout the novel, they are incredibly aware of their motives and desires, their faults and their strengths. Seeing such decisive, strong willed female characters was so refreshing.
Wink brings so much magic to the story. She believes in the unconventional, and I love that her whimsical ideas mix with the dark and dangerous situations at the center of the novel to create a haunting, dreamlike story. Wink’s narration leaves room for the reader to wonder. Is she telling us the truth as she sees it or is she covering something up? Is she the damsel or the dragon? I love that she surprises me.
Poppy is an unlikable character and honestly, a little scary, and still, I am drawn to her vivid voice as a narrator. Her deviant personality is clear in the first chapter and the evidence against her only builds. But, what I like so much about Poppy is how aware of herself she is. She knows she’s bad, and she eventually becomes aware of how others perceive her. The fact that the author uses Poppy’s actions and thoughts to reveal her moral character while still making her seems redeemable and capable of change at the very end is admirable to me as a fellow writer.
The character development overall showed that the author put a lot of effort into fleshing out each character while writing, and I find that kind of commitment admirable.
The Bad Stuff:
Some people don’t like plot twists, and if I had read this book over several days instead of in just two, I might have gotten a little aggravated by the plot turning and twisting so much. It can be mentally exhausting for some people to follow a half dozen plot twists while others thrive off the ambiguity. It depends on your taste.
The plot slows down about two-thirds of the way through. Some readers may see this as a needed breather, but I saw it as too slow. Things happen in this part of the book, and I think it serves as an information period in which we’re meant to learn more about the side characters. I would have preferred it to move a little faster while providing the same information though.
I don’t have many negative things to say about this book,. It may be a new favorite of mine. I had a wonderful weekend just immersing myself in this dreamy story.
Overall, Wink Poppy Midnight was an awesome read for me. Mystery readers will like the intrigue and suspense of this novel, and fans of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars will enjoy the strong character development and the way the story pieces itself together. Wink Poppy Midnight gets a strong 95% out of 100% or 5 out of 5 stars from me.
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is a thriller/science fiction novel about destiny, the multiverse, and loss. The novel begins with Jason Dessen’s simple choice to leave the house on a Thursday night but ends with his entire life permanently changed. Readers follow Jason on the hardest journey he’s ever had to take; one that will force him to make hard decisions and confront the many alternate realities at his fingertips.
The Good Stuff
Dark Matter certainly has a lot of ideas for readers to unpack by the end of the novel. My biggest take away is how important choices are in each of our lives. The multiverse is a concept that relies on choice. The premise is that every choice you are faced with is a fork in the road and each side of the fork branches off into its own possible reality and each possible reality forks off into thousands of other choices and realities. I’d heard about the multiverse concept before, but this was the first time I read a thriller based on that premise. The theories surrounding the concept were fun to read about. Crouch has a way of making the theories accessible and intriguing which I really appreciated because it felt like I was getting much more than just the story about Jason.
The theme of loss is also very strong in Dark Matter, and for me, that was the most emotionally engaging part of the novel. Not only are the experiences of loss painful to read about, the nature of the story creates a plot in which loss is experienced over and over again in different ways. I appreciated how Blake Crouch was able to make so many moving parts fit together and then create a functioning machine out of them.
The Bad Stuff
I was really frustrated with the character development in this story. Daniela (Jason’s wife) comes off as a very stereotypical woman and a flat character. She’s quick to get emotional, doesn’t seem to have her own motives as a person, and for some reason, she pushes Jason out of the house in the middle of family night which seemed very odd to me and unrealistic. In general, the women in this book seem to be ploys for emotional resonance used against the reader that just end up not hitting the mark for me. I also saw a lack of character development in Jason at the beginning of the novel, but I felt that his desires deepened, and his abilities became more defined as the novel went on which made him more of a well rounded character.
There were a couple of plot points that seemed too conventional for this kind of story and weren’t as engaging as I would have liked them to be. Without going into spoilers, I’ll say the scenarios in which Jason interacts with the antagonists sometimes feel as if they’re being set up by the author to look like big obstacles but soon, those obstacles are wrapped up rather quickly and smoothly. It felt a little too contrived for me. Some of the dialogue pulled me out of the story for the same reason. It didn’t feel authentic and seemed like easy fixes to the conflicts of the story.
Overall, Dark Matter is an impressive novel given all that it sets out to do. Several of the themes really hit home, and readers can empathize with the overwhelming decisions Jason has to face. For avid readers of plot focused fiction, Dark Matter will stand out for it’s complex story and heavy subject material, but for character focused readers the lack of development may be a little difficult to stick with for the whole 300+ pages. To each his own. For me, Dark Matter is a solid 85 out of 100% or 4 out of 5 stars.
I have a lot of favorite books, so I don’t want to write at length about why I loved them (that would probably get boring for both of us!), but I would like to give a short tidbit about why these books have stuck with me this year in case you were thinking of giving them a try and I can persuade you to give them a chance.
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
I read this in May, and it was the first book of the year to stop me in my tracks. The writing is beautiful, the plot is set up amazingly, and the characters really felt real to me. Some people won’t like this for its “insta-love” aspect, but in my opinion, the quick romance didn't hinder the story at all. An awesome book.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
There’s a lot of great tidbits about writing in Big Magic. I’m still thinking about them months later. It can be a little hokey pokey, but I urge every writer to give it a shot anyway.
Heating & Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly
I read this in one day. It’s short but immersive and expressive. I felt sucked in by the end of the first chapter. I will definitely be keeping this one of my shelf to share with others.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I like stories about brave little girls. Coraline is a gem that I actually couldn’t get into the first time I tried to read it two years ago, but recently, I read it in one sitting and found myself cheering Coraline on and empathizing with her fears.
Turtles all the way Down by John Green
I needed this book. There are a lot of valid critiques out there of John Green’s characters, but I think this book shows just how powerful his characters can be. I needed a book like this to know that I’m not alone, and I am incredibly thankful to Green for publishing it
Animal Farm by George Orwell
I read this late in the year for the first time and really enjoyed it. There’s humor, horror, and familiarity, and it all sums up to a great story.
The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
Again, another book that I needed, full of tidbits that I will take with me. The thing I remember the most from this book is Mark urging the reader to take responsibility for their own happiness. He said something along the lines of, “even if the problem is not your fault, take responsibility for how you will respond to it.” (Paraphrase). I’m still thinking about The Subtle Art months later.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
I devoured this book. I stayed up late to read it and procrastinated on work to finish it. It gave me the encouragement I was looking for and the kick in the butt that always motivates me. I’ve been telling other women (and even men) to read this book since then.
The 4 hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss
There’s some great stuff in here, but unfortunately, the presentation just wasn’t for me. I felt like it was a one size fits all prescription for success when only 20% of it was truly applicable to all people. That doesn’t mean that Ferris doesn’t have some great insights. I believe he does. But based on my reading, there just wasn’t enough room in his ideas for people to do their own thing and do what works best for them personally.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
I really enjoyed the first half of Uglies, but my wave of excitement leveled out quickly. I felt the story dragged out too long. I’m not a fan of super long books unless every single paragraph is critical to the story. Otherwise, I just feel like my time is being wasted. If you like dystopian, you may still like this story anyway, but unfortunately this one wasn’t for me.
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
I expected to really like this book, but it got cliched fast. I hate critiquing a story as “cliche” because I think people misuse the word (especially in writing workshops, but that’s beside the point). What I mean by cliche, is that the same old problems were met with the same old solutions. High school characters were presented in stereotypical ways instead of complexly. Some old tropes of YA lit were met with resolutions that just didn’t surprise me or provide deeper insight at all. I expected more from this book; however, that doesn’t mean someone else won’t like the story.
That's the great and the bad of what I read in 2017. Are there any books you’re dying to get to this year? New genres you want to try? Did any of my favorites or least favorites surprise you? Let’s chat in the comments!
If you've read any of the books on my list, leave a comment and let's discuss!
My Freshman Year of Life
As of the date of this post, I am 24. I've only been out of undergrad for a year and spent that year in a graduate program and living alone for the first time in my own apartment. That year out on my own, tackling graduate school for the first time was incredibly challenging and helped me grow. It gave me the kick in the pants that I needed to start being a successful writer and taught me how to get crap done. I've always liked a challenge and grad school gave me a nice mountain to climb.
I loved that first year for all that it gave me, but decided by May (for a host of reasons) to leave the program.
It was a frustrating decision. I knew it was the best choice for me, but it also made me feel as if the last year of my life didn't count. It felt like it didn't move me forward. It felt like I'd caused myself to fall even more behind than I'd felt when I graduated undergrad a year late after 5 years of trying to take full loads of coursework and never really getting the hang of it, inevitably dropping a class a month into each semester (that's a story of it's own). I was already behind, and now I was stagnant. Or at least, that's the way it felt.
What I learned recently is that my experience is fairly common. It's easy to forget that everyone struggles as they enter new phases of their life. Everyone struggles period, and change will amp up the struggle that much more.
A few weeks ago I read Freshman Year of Life - I collection of essays conceived by the Mindsumo community - and it gave me a whole new perspective on my life and my progress toward my goals. It was incredibly thought provoking and helpful to me over the last couple of weeks, and in this post, I want to share some of the lessons I walked away with after reading it. I am trying for the life of me to hold onto the new perspective I've gained (not that it's hard to forget because it really hit home).
That perspective is this: we are all on our own timeline. If you do things when you're ready, and slow down when you need to, you're still on your own timeline.
You are not falling behind.
What I learned from the Book
When I learned:
-Pretty much everyone feels like they fudged up their first couple years after college. We're all figuring it out. That's okay.
-Just do it. If you want something, it starts with one small action today.
-Don't dismiss the little things you should be doing - taking care of yourself and pursuing your passion - just because you have a day job or need to find a day job. Hold yourself accountable for your health and your dreams.
-Job listings that claim if you need to be this great "self-starter" are probably trying to hide something. You don't have to settle for something that seems shady, and you don't have to take the first offer just because. Or if you do take the first offer just because, you don't have to stay if something better comes along later on.
Some things I learned about writing:
-Ideas can get muddled and confused very quickly. Sometimes the first idea you get is just a lead in to your real idea. Write anyway. Run with it, and you can totally make it happen.
-You already have what it takes inside of you.
-You can always write a "beginning" later.
-Short pieces can feel under developed, but they can also pack a punch with just a snapshot. Shoot for a balance.
Freshman Year of Life is a book I truly needed at this point in my life. If you've read it, leave a comment telling me what you liked about it or learned from it!
Poet. Reader. Lifelong Student.