Book Reviews

Check out book reviews of titles from independent publishers and university presses on the NewPages Blog.

Book Review :: Small Craft by Janet Edmonds

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Guest Post by MG Noles

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Book Review :: Insomniac Sentinel by Abraham Smith

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

Guest Post by Nicholas Michael Ravnikar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

enough to veil up a skyfull of featheries

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

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

you can learn a lot from abe smith


Insomniac Sentinel by Abraham Smith. Baobab Press, 2023.

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

Book Review :: Where Was I Again by Olivia Muenz

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

Guest Post by Catherine Hayes

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


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

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

Book Review :: Our Lively Kingdom

Our Lively Kingdom poetry by Julia Lisella book cover image

Guest Post by Chloe Yelena Miller

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

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

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

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


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

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

Review :: “Leaving” by Jesús Papoleto Meléndez

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

Guest Post by Jennifer Grotzinger

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


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

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

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/

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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/

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

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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