Guest Post

Book Review :: The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui

The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui published by Picador book cover image

Guest Post by Marc Martorell Junyent

The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui offers a particular glimpse into the drama of the Syrian Civil War. The author, a correspondent for the French newspaper Le Figaro in Istanbul, happened to find on Facebook a picture of two men in a library in 2015. The caption of the picture informed her that the library was located in Daraya, a suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus besieged by Bashar al-Assad’s troops since 2012.

Throughout numerous interviews conducted over Skype, which stretched for almost a year, Minoui got to know first-hand about the bombing and lack of food and medicines the inhabitants of Daraya had to endure. At the same time, however, Minoui learned more about the project a group of revolutionaries had managed to build in the midst of general destruction: a secret library with books rescued from the bombed ruins of Daraya. Minoui describes the secret library as “a hopeful page in the dark novel that is Syria.”

When interviewed by the author, Ahmad Muaddamani, one of the co-founders of the library in 2013, explained that creating a site of culture and sharing information about it on Facebook was a way to send a powerful message to the world. As he explains, “What better way to defy Syria’s leader than to contradict his narrative of a terrorist opposition? Another of the organizers of the library, Shadi Matar, tells Minoui how the group organized English lessons in the library and describes these moments as “a feeling of normalcy.”

The Book Collectors of Daraya is the result of Minoui’s conviction that, despite her inability to travel to Syria and cover what was happening on the ground, the story of the Daraya library deserved to be told. And the French author does so in a most convincing way.

The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui. Picador, March 2020.

Reviewer bio: Marc Martorell Junyent graduated in International Relations and currently studies holds a joint Master in Comparative Middle East Politics and Society at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen and the American University in Cairo. His main interests are the politics and history of the Middle East (particularly Iran, Turkey and Yemen). He has studied and worked in Ankara, Istanbul and Tunis. He tweets at @MarcMartorell3.

Book Review :: Stone Junction by Jim Dodge

Stone Junction fiction by Jim Dodge published by Grove press book cover image

Guest Post by Colm McKenna

This year saw the re-release of Jim Dodge’s 1990 cult classic Stone Junction. While Fup remains the cornerstone of Dodge’s legacy, his first full novel is considerably more ambitious. Inexplicably, it is yet to be made into a film.

The story follows Daniel Pearse, a child taken in by AMO – Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws alongside his mother Annalee. Following her murder early on in the story, Stone Junction evolves into a bildungsroman, with Daniel being brought up by an eccentric cast of criminals and wizards. His unconventional education occurs alongside a search for his mother’s killer and an attempt to steal a supernatural diamond from the U.S. government.

Daniel and Annalee’s relationship is a driving force of the story, even after her death. Their situation is unusual, but their bond means they never feel unrelatable. Early on, Daniel offers his mother a piece of tear-soaked birthday cake he had just smashed; he was angry that she couldn’t tell him who his father was even if she wanted to. This moving scene of reconciliation takes place on a boat for magicians and outlaws, perfectly displaying the book’s capacity to juggle emotionally heavy themes and a more playful side.

With the recent success of literary adaptations (The Queen’s Gambit, Shadow and Bone, etc.), re-printing Stone Junction feels appropriate if a film is ever going to come. The novel appeals both to young and old readers; it is an emotionally intelligent coming-of-age story, but also engages with adult themes, ranging from grief to impotency. Dodge’s oeuvre has a minor place in 20th Century American Literature, and I hope this re-print of Stone Junction can help it receive the recognition it deserves.

Stone Junction by Jim Dodge. Grove Press, July 2022

Reviewer bio: Colm McKenna is a second-hand bookseller based in Paris. He has published and self-published an array of short stories and articles, hoping to eventually release a collection of stories. He is mainly interested the works of Joh Cowper Powys and a range of Latin American writers.

Book Review :: Out Here on Our Own by J.J. Anselmi

Out Here on Our Own: An Oral History of an American Boomtown by J.J. Anselmi with photography by Jordan Utley published by Bison Books book cover image

Guest Post by Raymond Jenkins

The spirited voices of Rock Springs, Wyoming come to life in J.J. Anselmi’s retelling of an American boomtown’s prosperous but turbulent history. Out Here on Our Own: An Oral History of an American Boomtown captures the history of Rock Springs by chronicling the town’s boom and bust cycles through personal narratives from locals alongside his own personal account of the coal-mining town.

Shining a light on the amoral history of Rock Springs, Anselmi reflects on the way of life of the residents impacted by the oil drilling industry that seized their community. The toils from the laborious coal-mining operation are gathered candidly from the voices of residents who shared witness to the troubles that plagued the area, such as widespread alcoholism and a disturbing increase of mental and physical health illnesses.

Out Here on Our Own offers a candid view of Rock Springs through honest words from people who call the boomtown home and are accompanied by Jordan Utley’s fascinating photographs. Words capture the stark truth and pain of living in Rocksprings during booms and recessions. The photos provide a glimpse of their reality, showing the bleak lifestyle of Rock Springs without denying the sheer beauty of the region’s landscape. Although Anselmi admits after moving away, “I may never be a resident of the town again . . . ” the fascinating stories from the residents of Rock Springs show that the value of the town is not from the coal-mining industry, but rather the reverence that persists in the people who choose to stay and tell their stories.

Out Here on Our Own: An Oral History of an American Boomtown by J.J. Anselmi; Photographs by Jordan Utley. Bison Books, October 2022.

Reviewer bio: Raymond Jenkins is a student at Bridgewater State University, in the English MA program with a concentration in Creative Writing. Raymond is an emerging writer residing in the Boston area. He enjoys long hikes with friends, binge watching tv shows and drinking tea during sunset.

Book Review :: Double Negative by Claudia Putnam

Double Negative memoir by Claudia Putnam published by Split Lip Press book cover image

Guest Post by Mark Guzman

“The intimacy of housing another body and soul inside your own body and soul is indescribable,” writes Claudia Putnam in her debut nonfiction chapbook Double Negative, winner of the 2021 Nonfiction/Hybrid Chapbook Contest. In this short memoir, Putnam engages her reader with this connection of mother and child. It is an intimate portrait of a mother who welcomed her son, Jacob, into the world, only to see him pass so soon in his infancy. Putnam is cerebral but genuine, her prose approachable. She contemplates life and death, the soul, where and how it arrives and departs, the beforehere and the afterhere.

Putnam writes this some three decades after losing her son, Jacob, and what she would have done for him. “Hack and splice, sure. I would have let them cut out my heart if it would have cured my son. It would not have.” This willingness of Putnam to offer her own body in sacrifice for her son, her very heart, echoes the deep bond between mother and child, of souls interwoven even in death. Admitting that this sacrifice would not have saved him is harrowing. She leaves the reader to consider that even if Jacob was saved, his would have been a life of constant struggle and pain. Putnam wants us to consider what it must be like to live beyond the unimaginable.

Double Negative is a meditation on life and death, of parenthood, of the soul and spirit, of dreams and the often-harsh reality that comes with living. Putnam successfully invites us to reflect on the concept of how we live, oftentimes so close to death.

Double Negative by Claudia Putnam. Split Lip Press, March 2022.

Reviewer bio: Mark Guzman lives and teaches in Massachusetts. He is currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree in English at Bridgewater State University.

Book Review :: When They Tell You To Be Good by Prince Shakur

When They Tell You To Be Good a memoir by Prince Shakur published by Tin House Books book cover image

Guest Post by David Sohboff

In his debut memoir, When They Tell You To Be Good, Prince Shakur traverses geography and time to answer a question that has “haunted” him since adolescence, “Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?” There’s Shakur, a Jamaican immigrant, searching for a better life only to have his father murdered. There’s the closeted Shakur who faces his truth as well as his family’s violent proclivities. There’s Shakur, who travels the globe because, “If America could not deliver me what I deserved as a young and curious Black person, I deserved to try to find it where I could and not be overpowered by the kind of son or citizen I needed to be.” There’s Shakur, the revolutionary, who combats racism, homophobia, and colonialism. There’s Shakur, the humanist, who learns that “one of the best ways we can love people is to not be afraid of them.” There’s Shakur, the provocative writer who becomes “grateful for my body, my heart, my mind, and all the people who loved me and asked questions.” This speaks to the power of “Who Am I,” which Shakur asked early on and ultimately transcends to a universal query in this artful debut.

When They Tell You To Be Good by Prince Shakur. Tin House, September 2022.

Reviewer Bio: David Sohboff is an educator in Massachusetts and a student at Bridgewater State University, pursuing an advanced degree in English. 

Book Review :: Stay True by Hua Hsu

Stay True a memoir by Hua Hsu published by Penguin Random House book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In his memoir Stay True, Hua Hsu explores identity through three different lenses: race/ethnicity, friendship, and music. Music is by far the dominant way Hsu defined himself when he was in college, the years he focuses on in this work. He uses his love of music partly to define himself as different than others—as a way to carve out an identity for himself—and to judge others—as a way to keep others at a distance. He becomes friends with Ken, a student unlike Hsu in almost every way, including musical tastes. Despite those differences, Ken becomes a friend who helps Hsu grow and change, slowly moving past his easy judgments about others. Ken and Hsu are both Asian Americans, but Ken is Japanese American. His family has been in the United States for generations, while Hsu is the son of Taiwanese immigrants, leading Hsu to feel less settled in his racial/ethnic identity. All of these strands help Hsu talk about who he was then and how that time has shaped him into who is, but the main concern of the memoir is a specific event in his relationship with Ken, one Hsu is still coming to terms with years afterward.

Stay True by Hua Hsu. Penguin Random House, September 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

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 :: 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 and @ChloeYMiller.