Guest Post

Book Review :: Let’s Not Do That Again by Grant Ginder

Let's Not Do That Again a novel by Grant Grinder book cover image

Guest Post by Cindy Dale

In Let’s Not Do That Again, Grant Ginder, himself a former political speech writer, has concocted an entertaining, immensely satisfying romp of a novel that definitively proves that just when you think things can’t get worse, you are very, very wrong. They most certainly can.

Tolstoy famously wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same can be said of dysfunctional families, and it applies in spades when that family is in politics. Introducing the Harrisons. Mom, a NY congresswoman who inherited her seat from her long-dead husband, is now running for US Senate. Add her two semi-adult children to the mix—Nick, a gay, adjunct at NYU who’s working on a musical based on the works of Joan Didion on the side—and Greta, who, though a Yale grad, is currently living in a hovel in Brooklyn and working part-time at the Apple store. Greta manages to hook-up with the wrong guy, Xavier, on an online gaming site. Xavier lures her to Paris. He, of course, turns out to be a neo-Nazi anarchist, and sparks (as well as champagne bottles) soon fly—literally and figuratively. The dysfunctional son is soon dispatched to Paris to rescue the dysfunctional daughter and, hopefully, save the floundering election in the process.

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Book Review :: Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser

Scary Monsters: A Novel in Two Parts by Michelle de Krester book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Michelle de Kretser’s novel tells two stories, one narrated by Lyle, the other by Lili; which one you read first depends on which side of the book you begin with. Neither story has an intricate plot: Lili’s follows her year as a teacher at a high school in France, while Lyle’s tells about his experience in an Australia in the not-too-distant future. While the two narratives seemingly have nothing to do with one another, they are held together by the question of who or what the scary monsters are. Both main characters are not native Australians, having relocated from what sounds like a Southeast Asian country, Lili when she was younger and Lyle as an adult. These monsters could simply be those who look down on them for their racial and ethnic difference. De Krester explores that idea, but she has broader concerns. Lili struggles with the daily fears of being a woman in a patriarchal society; though nothing violent happens to her, she knows it could. Lyle’s skin is slowly changing to white, a representation of the sacrifices he’s made to assimilate, possibly becoming a monster himself. Ultimately, the systems of power that go unnoticed are the monsters underneath the proverbial beds of the main characters and perhaps the readers, as well.


Scary Monsters: A Novel in Two Parts by Michelle de Kretser. Catapult, 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/.

Book Review :: In Love by Amy Bloom

In Love: A Memory of Love and Loss memoir by Amy Bloom book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Amy Bloom’s memoir relates her husband’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and their struggle to find a way for him to die as he chooses rather than suffer through years of mental decline. Bloom weaves chapters from the past — as she realizes what’s happening to her husband and the revelation of his diagnosis — with those of Brian’s final days in Switzerland, as well as chapters on the challenges those who want to end their life face. Bloom writes movingly about her love for Brian, consistently reminding the reader through scenes she describes, in addition to her reflections, that her helping him die comes out of that love. As soon as he is diagnosed, Brian asks Bloom to help him, as she has always been the planner in their relationship, and he has begun to lose the ability to do that type of work. This book is a testament to their marriage and their love as much as it is an exploration of why someone would want to end their life and why the person who loves them most would want to help. It is, as the subtitle states, a memoir of love and loss, and the reader feels both equally.


In Love: A Memory of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom. Random House, 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/.

Book Review :: The Book of I.P. (Idle Poems)

The Book of IP (Idle Poems) by Chris Courtney Martin book cover image

Guest Post by Nicholas Michael Ravnikar

This eclectic book from Chris Courtney Martin foregrounds commodified intersections of American culture in light of spiritual awakening. Reclaiming Hollywoodspeak IP to refer to poems written during “idle” time, Martin questions the very idea of value creation. Deploying the true American musical habits of blues (viz “Black Betty” and “Hellhound”) and jazz, these syncopations and melodies transmute the cannibalized, dollar-driven kitsch rituals and artifacts of Americana into talismans for meaning-making. Independent Black cinema is never far from mind, as Melvin Van Peebles and Rudy Ray Moore, for instance, were both threats to and sources for the status quo. Readers dance from piece to piece as rhymes and measures suggest expectations to upend. Consider the first (and last) stanza of “Intuition”:

Who are you?
I been knew.
Who am I?
I, too, fly.

Here’s verse to echo Dickinson, Brooks, and Blake. And Martin’s spiritual grasp can perhaps match theirs, with topics that span Kundalini awakening, paganism, tarot, and hoodoo. There’s depth, too, in Martin’s excavation of how our society manufactures us in the mainstream, particularly in the concluding essay. Therein, these “Idle Poems” suggest the “Intellectual Property” beneath the mirror of any reader’s encounter with art. This is fun, prophetic stuff.


The Book of IP (Idle Poems) by Chris Courtney Martin. Alien Buddha Press, June 2022.

Reviewer bio: Blurring the lines between understanding and overthinking since 1982, Nicholas Michael Ravnikar is a neurodivergent dad/spouse/poet who writes kids books for grownups. He hasn’t made anything from NFTs yet. After working as a college prof, bathtub repairman, substance abuse prevention agency success coach, copyeditor and marketing specialist, he’s been disabled and unemployable following a nervous breakdown. In his spare time, he lifts weights, meditates and plays pickleball. Join him on social media and read more at bio.fm/nicholasmichaelravnikar

Book Review :: Asylum by Nina Shope

Asylum a novel by Nina Shope book cover image

Guest Post by Stephanie Katz

Nina Shope’s Asylum is an entrancing, fictionized story of French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot and his patient Augustine. In the novel — as in real life — Charcot puts Augustine’s “hysteria” on display in public demonstrations. Through his touch, Augustine’s body convulses and contorts in sexual poses in front of a crowd. The novel vacillates between both characters’ perspectives in a twisted dichotomy of torture and desire. Charcot resists his attraction to Augustine and obtrusively attempts to quantify her illness through hundreds of photographs and measurements: “My body broken down into strange sets of numbers until I barely recognize myself. Everything measured—the time it takes me to raise my arm, the angle of my eye, the number of steps until I find myself at your side.” Shope deftly uses second person POV to show Augustine’s conflicting feelings for Charcot: “I remember years when I could not tell you from me, when you sat inside me as surely as my bones, wearing me from the inside out…There was no part of me not filled by you. Infiltrated as a body is by disease.” Asylum will compel readers to discover Augustine’s fate and learn more about the people who inspired this darkly compelling novel.


Asylum by Nina Shope. Dzanc Books, 2022.

Reviewer bio: Stephanie Katz is a librarian, writer, and editor. She runs 805 Lit + Art and is the author of Libraries Publish: How to Start a Magazine, Small Press, Blog, and More (Libraries Unlimited, ABC-CLIO, 2021). She writes about creative library publishing at literarylibraries.org and lives on an island in Florida.

Book Review :: Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service by Tajja Isen

Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service by Tajja Isen book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Tajja Isen’s collection Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service draws from her background as a Canadian woman of color. However, her writing doesn’t try to explain her pain or oppression, as she asserts in “This Time It’s Personal,” an exploration of the personal essay focusing on who tells their stories (and are allowed to tell their stories) in ways that reinforce that pain. Instead, she examines the systems she’s most familiar with — voice actors in animation, the literary canon and publishing, law, affirmative action, protest, nationality — and points out the ways they cause the pain and oppression individuals endure. She integrates her experiences, and she then critiques the hierarchies and structures that have led to those experiences. Her work reminds readers of the reality behind personal essays, pointing out that lives and essays don’t occur in a vacuum. Instead, people in power (mainly white males) design systems to reinforce their power and to keep other people (primarily people of color, especially women) from obtaining any power of their own. If, like me, you think you already know that to be true, Isen’s essays will help you see it in places you don’t expect and in ways you often overlook.


Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service by Tajja Isen. Atria, 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/.

Book Review :: Writer in a Life Vest by Iris Graville

Writer in a Life Vest by Irish Graville book cover image

Guest Post by Deborah Nedelman

Iris Graville, author of the award-winning memoir Hiking Naked, lives on an island in the Salish Sea and writes as a citizen of the planet. Writer in a Life Vest as a collection of essays is a journey of discovery and an education about a delicate ecosystem which supports some of the world’s most iconic creatures. The first Writer in Residence on the Washington State Ferries, Iris spent a year riding the interisland ferry through the San Juan Islands of the Salish Sea. Readers cycle with her as the ferry glides and rocks through the home of the endangered resident orcas (killer whales) and meet scientific experts who are devoting their knowledge and energies to saving these rare creatures. As we learn about riding this ferry — including witnessing a moveable ukulele jam, where players board the ferry at various ports, play together for a while and move on — Graville teaches us about the current state of the sea’s health and our connection to it. The multiple essay forms Graville employs keep readers off-kilter, as if standing on the deck of a rocking ship, yet they invite us to hang on and to look deeper. Like Graville, I live on an island in the Salish Sea, though not in the San Juans, and I swim in the sea year-round. It is my concern for the fragile state of this body of water, of the resident orcas, and of our planet that has led me to write this review. Graville’s collection belongs in the genre of books alerting us to the precarious state of our planet, but it stands out by pointing our gaze toward hopefulness and action.


Writer in a Life Vest by Iris Graville. Homebound Publications, March 2022.

Reviewer Bio: Deborah Nedelman, PhD, MFA is co-author of two non-fiction books: A Guide for Beginning Psychotherapists (Cambridge Press) and Still Sexy After All These Years (Perigee/Penguin). Her novel, What We Take for Truth (Adelaide Press, 2019) won the Sarton Women’s Book Award for Historical Fiction. Deborah is a manuscript coach and leads writing and watercolor painting workshops.

Book Review :: Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul

Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul book cover image

Guest Post by MG Noles

Have you ever had an imaginary friend? Someone with whom you could confide anything? A soulmate who loved you no matter what you said or did? Celia Paul’s extraordinary new book, Letters to Gwen John, adopts Gwen as just such an “imaginary” friend/soulmate and listener as she writes all her thoughts and feelings to the long-dead post-impressionist painter who lived in the latter 18th and early 19th centuries. Using a series of letters, Paul reveals her inner thoughts about life, art, men, freedom, and beauty. The book is part memoir and part art history, and it makes a beautiful read. Filled with imagination and insight, Paul examines the meaning of art and life. She shares her vision and makes you believe that communication is possible across space and time. As she puts it, “time is a strange substance.” And somehow, as you read this amazing book, you see Gwen John seated in a cozy room somewhere, like the one she paints in Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris, reading Celia Paul’s letters with a faint smile.


Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul. New York Review Books, April 2022.

Reviewer bio: MG Noles is a sometime essayist, reviewer, history buff.

Book Review :: Spit by Daniel Lassell

Spit poetry by Daniel Lassell book cover image

Guest Post by Catherine Hayes

Daniel Lassell’s Spit harnesses the power of language to contemplate whether to embrace one’s own roots or to cast them off in favor of creating a new identity for a new life, and as such influences our sense of belonging. This conflict is one that Lassell grapples with for many years of his life, blending these two identities of past and future together to become “a city boy inside / the body of a country.” Part one recounts “sopping, hazy Kentucky” and when “a chicken costs 35 cents.” The natural world reigns supreme in this setting. The old barn on the land which “season by season… / have held their angle, onto the metal gate / leaned against a post pile for storage, / some form of pillar” soon gives way as “the field outside waits, / watching the barn’s leaning face / disappear” and nature has won against that which man has made. Yet the supremacy of nature does not last for long, nor does Lassell’s life in the country. The second and third parts make the progressive transition from “a hundred acres / into one” and by the final section, Lassell has completely immersed himself in the “concrete slabs” and “crumbling sidewalk squares” of the city. Yet his years on the farm never leave Lassell, for even in the city he recalls “hoisting bales up to a hay wagon” and “not waking during night / to car lights, sirens, hunger” and how, despite having “climbed from being / of dirt, rough fingernails,” his past will always be with him, no matter the distance or passage of time. Lassell’s poignant yet heart-warming story about what defines “home” presents a new meaning to the influence of upbringing and how sometimes home is not a physical place we return to but the memories we cherish that help guide us into the uncertainty of adulthood.


Spit by Daniel Lassell. Michigan State University Press, July 2021.

Reviewer bio: Catherine Hayes is a graduate student in English at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and resides in the Boston area. She has previously published a nonfiction essay in an anthology with Wising Up Press. When she is not reading, writing, or reviewing she can be found exploring Boston, spending time with family and friends and looking for inspiration for her next story in the world around her. 

Magazine Review :: “The Memory of Clay” by Bruce Ballenger

The Sun May 2022 literary magazine cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

The May 2022 issue of The Sun is loosely tied together by a focus on food or nourishment, so Bruce Ballenger’s essay, “The Memory of Clay,” initially looks like an outlier, as he focuses on his relationship with his father. He uses the metaphor of clay to guide his essay, as Ballenger’s daughter Julia explains why she works with clay, despite its unwillingness to easily follow the form she sets for it. Ballenger struggles to shape his memories of his father, an alcoholic journalist who was abusive toward their family, into something that helps him understand his father. Ballenger works to mold the story he tells about his father, ranging from the narrative of the wronged son to learning why his father never published the book he had a contract for. The essay ends largely unresolved, as Ballenger isn’t sure what to do with the complicated memories he has, but he returns to something else his daughter has taught him about clay. There are times when it resists taking any shape at all, and so there is nothing to do with it but start again. Ballenger leaves the reader and himself there, knowing that that is what we all have to do.


The Memory of Clay” by Bruce Bellenger. The Sun, May 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. You can find out more about him and his work on Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.