Book Review: The Murmur of Bees

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The Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia

When Amazon put a couple of international novels for free, I was one of those readers who was ecstatic about this opportunity. The Murmur of Bees was the one that intrigued me most, both because of the beautiful cover and the title — who doesn’t love bees? Fortunately, the quality of the book satisfied the excitement I had to read it.

From the start, we are greeted with prose that is beautifully written; vivid and poetic. Here’s a description of Nana Reja:

“All those years on the rocking chair caused the townspeople to forget her story and her humanity: she had become part of the scenery, put roots down into the earth she rocked upon. Her flesh had become wood and her skin a hard, dark, furrowed bark.”

Once I read that, I was sold. I would read the whole novel, and I’m glad I did. It did take me a couple of chapters to completely grasp the setting and the story, as there is a bit of a time jump and a change in POV between one chapter and another. I usually have my reservations about this type of narration, because I often find it confusing, but I found that Sofía Segovia did it in a way which was clear when and where each chapter took place from their first paragraph.

The novel is mainly historical fiction with some manipulated elements to break the realism. It takes place in the early 1900s in Northern Mexico, and I believe it is inspired by a lot of real events. I became quite invested in each of the characters, perhaps because that is the strongest suit of this novel. You know how in some stories you just want to know what the resolution is, or how the protagonist solves the problem, or just how the book/series ends? I didn’t have the feeling with this novel. No, I wanted to read about this family. I wanted to follow them through their lives, the ups and the downs. And I dreaded the ending, because I want more of them.

The author is am impeccable storyteller, and I could feel the suspense coming when they wanted to do so. No part of the novel disappoints, and I am low-key obsessed with this book. It’s something that I don’t have to think about twice to rate 5 stars. It deserves it. I keep thinking about the characters every now and then, because they have permeated into my mind. And by living vicariously through them, I have learnt a lot. This book is such a great reading experience, that I truly recommend others to read it.


Links

Goodreads: The Murmur of Bees

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Poetry Book Review: Forgiveness, by Chelsea Bunn

Forgiveness by Chelsea Bunn (Finishing Line Press, 2019)

In Forgiveness, Chelsea Bunn struggles with forgiving herself. In this book, you could peel layers upon layers of vulnerability, penned ever so delicately. I have been struggling to translate my reading experience into words, and have been rewriting this book review for a couple of weeks. The poetry was so intimate that I almost want to keep it for myself, a private dialogue between the words and I.

To show you a clearer idea of what the chapbook entails, I selected two extracts. “These Stories Are True” is an erasure poem in which Chelsea adapted from the statements of men accused of sexual misconduct. The following lines are an erasure of Senator Al Franken’s statement:

“The first thing is the most
important thing.

Only you care—
I don’t.”

These Stories Are True (p. 3)

Isn’t this the most genius thing I’ve ever read? To take words of the accused and form the implied reality. I was stricken by both the idea and the delivery of the poem.

Later on in the book, I was completely blown away by “The Meeting”, both due to its emotional strength and its craft. The writing appears to be like a ramble, backtracking at every few lines, giving us pieces of the story in a way that, although disjointed in time, is understood by the reader. Chelsea writes about attending a meeting in which, finally, she has finally found others who understand her drinking. She writes,

“I was there because that is all I ever wanted—
for someone to see exactly
and entirely what I felt
and what I had done and to tell me
that it wasn’t my fault”

The Meeting (p. 12)

I thought the overall poem was beautiful, and perhaps the extract doesn’t do justice to the context. I have highlighted several other lines, but for the same reason of being water down outside their context, I decided not to show them here. There is a wholeness to each poem and to the collection as it is presented.

On a critical note, I may have not completely liked certain forms used, but enjoyed others. It is one of my pet peeves that indentations and line breaks should help the reading process. Each reader is an individual, and I acknowledge that it is perhaps an issue with how I read, but I felt interrupted (in a non-productive way) with some of the forms, as if the choice was aesthetic but not functional.

Having said that, it does not take away from the solid writing and the emotional delivery of the chapbook. I have reread this four times by now, and each time is like the first, and perhaps that is a testament to the poetry. I am left haunted by some of Chelsea’s poems and the need for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is available to pre-order and will be published on 21st June, 2019.


I received an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.


Links:

Book: Forgiveness by Chelsea Bunn (Finishing Line Press, 2019)

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Poetry Book Review: pomegranate seeds

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pomegranate seeds by melissa jennings

This microchap contains six poems about unrequited love. Although the author describes the book as exploring polyamory, I wouldn’t have realised without being explicitly told. In general, the poems seem to be dedicated to a specific person. Each title is dual, portraying a contrast within itself. I liked this aspect of this collection, as the titles give us multiple lenses to read the poems through.  

you said you didn’t like the taste.
you said things always taste better if they are fresh.

IT WOULD KINDA BREAK MY HEART / MY HEART IS ALL OVER THE PLACE

In these lines, jennings explores the polyamophobia of a person they were interested in. The metaphor speaks well for the reality of how polyamorous hearts are sometimes observed as rotten or corrupted — as if our love is any lesser, less satisfying. When reading (critically), I got the message, yet I didn’t quite feel it the same way I expect to when reading poetry.

Even after reading each poem multiple times, some of their meanings still elude me.

I don’t want it, not like that, you said.
that’s why I want you to have a piece of it;
maybe it could feel something other than a burden.

I MISS YOU / IT WAS A MESS

I personally see the words dampen what the author intends to say. The other person not wanting the heart is similar to the first poem. I know several readers who like a challenge when deciphering what a poet meant or what you are getting as a reader. I am not one of those readers. I prefer the concrete and the clear, and due to that factor, I found it challenging to enjoy jennings’ writing.

Overall, I consider this book as average, rating it at 3/5 stars. The poems had a natural progression and they had some pleasant imagery. I did find it somewhat frustrating at times since the writing style does not fit my personal preference — it must be said that it is not bad writing. I admire the author’s commitment to exploring polyamory and polyamophobia, and it piqued my interest in reading and writing poetry around this topic.

pomegranate seeds will be published on 21st June, 2019. I have received a free advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.


Add pomegranate seeds to your to-read-list on Goodreads.

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Book Review: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Months ago, a friend of mine recommended me Jeanette Winterson, and as much as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit seemed interesting, I was attracted to her memoir Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? With a title like that, I knew I had to give it a read.

I don’t recall having read a memoir before, so I went in without much expectations. In some passages, I wasn’t even sure if I was reading fiction or non-fiction, partly because of the eccentricity of Jeanette’s mother, Mrs Winterson, and partly because the prose is written so beautifully.

The memoir takes us on a journey and exploration of happiness. Much of the book is dedicated to growing up in Accrington, specifically focusing on the author’s relationship with her adoptive mother. Jeanette was a feisty kid from the likes of it, and this has often led her mother to say that the devil led them to the wrong crib. Feeling unwanted is one of the worst things a child can feel when growing up.

Jeanette lets us into her darkest thoughts and does not keep secrets when it comes to her emotions. It’s such vulnerability that makes the memoir so compelling. From the exterior, perhaps to her teachers and family, Jeanette seemed very angry and rebellious. But what child wouldn’t be when you put them in that kind of life?

I find it also important to discuss queer issues especially when they centre so much on one’s destination in life. When it was discovered that Jeanette was seeing a girl, her mother led her into an exorcism. I can only begin to fathom how traumatic that was. Jeanette writes about her past in a somewhat distant and detached way, letting us observe what happened without drowning us in her emotions. This event might have happened decades ago, but the truth is that queer people still suffer from these experiences, and part of our duty is to talk about it and raise awareness. Nobody deserves to go through that, and I think it’s useful that there are people like Jeanette Winterson who discuss and show us these awful experiences.

Towards the second half, we are taken into her adulthood, briefly through her writing career and to where she is now. Overall, it is a story of inspiration on multiple factors. Firstly, because she is self-made, making it out of Accrington as a very successful author. Secondly, because there is paramount honesty about the self and how her trajectory isn’t linear, but it is continuous and the seek for happiness and personal growth does not end with success.


Link: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Do you like what I post? Support me on Patreon or donate directly to my PayPal. For a list of my published works, take a look at Publications and consider getting a copy of my full-length collection, Welcome to the Sombre Days.

Poetry Book Review: If My Body Could Speak

I couldn’t quite put “If My Body Could Speak” down, but I couldn’t finish it in one sitting because each poem tore me apart (it was intense beauty). Baird writes about anorexia, being queer, sexual assault, misogyny, and much more. In each of these topics, she writes from a place of honesty, of hurt — it demands the reader to listen, to feel the pain she goes through.

Right off the bat, she starts with the poem “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny,” which had gone viral when Baird performed it. I was struck by several stanzas, but perhaps my favourite lines are the ending:

when I was little,
someone asked me

what I wanted to be
when I grow up

and I said,

small

When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny

Even when taken out of the context of the poem, these lines are thunderous. I was struck with how Baird was able to take these small words and create something big. She didn’t have to bring out some crazy vocabulary, but rather use language that reflects the core innocence of childhood and how terrible it is for a child to feel these things.

Baird doesn’t miss a beat with the consequent poems, each one taking my breath away. In a way, it’s difficult to review the collection without being able to divulge in each poem. “Girl Code 101” stood out to me more than the others:

13,
the year dad says wearing short skirts in the city
is like driving without a seatbelt.

Girl Code 101

The comparison shows not only the danger but the messed-up mentality of putting the responsibility on the [potential] victim. The tone is nonchalant, showing how normalised it is for a thirteen-year-old girl to be ‘taught’ to behave in certain ways. It is her delivery of this tone that makes the writing so heavy-hitting and poetic. I loved the use of Biblical imagery to discuss the roots of misogyny in religion. In the same poem, Baird writes:

Give me one accomplishment of Mary’s
that did not involve her vagina.

Girl Code 101

This was so fucking bold, but yet fitting. It speaks volumes of how society (and religion) have been consistently tools of the patriarchy which dictate the value of a woman related to her procreativity and other feminine standards. She doesn’t hide behind words in delivering this.

On a similar note, “Pocket-Sized Feminism” is another banging poem:

Once, my dad informed me sexism is dead
and reminded me to always carry pepper spray

Pocket-Sized Feminism

The paradox comes out effortlessly, partly because this is a widespread belief. These line should also be taken into the context of the poem — Baird shows us how it is like to be constantly harassed and to made feel guilty and responsible for not putting an end to it. There’s the delicate dance where standing up for yourself or for other woman will risk her losing friends and get harassed for it (and this would be especially true during teenager years). It’s a lose-lose situation which amplifies the pain expressed throughout.

I found both “The Way I Was Taught to Love” and “An Invitation” to be heart wrenching and realistic queer poems — I could relate quite personally to these. The former of these is about the intense relationship with her mother during the coming out period, and frankly, if I had to quote a line, I’d quote the whole poem. In the latter, she also writes about her mother:

She hates my selective memory.
            She says, You only ever
remember the slammed doors,
            But why don’t you
ever write about how I used
            to sing to you before
bed every single night?

An Invitation

I’ve had similar conversations with my mother, and seeing these lines written caught me off-guard. The mother knows how she nurtured her daughter for so long and remembers all the sweet things she done, and this is contrasted with the pain where Baird focuses on the painful events. These poems are not only important because they tell the poet’s story, but also because many queer people can relate and understand their relationships better.

As the collection progresses, the poetry becomes even more emotional and strong as sexual assault becomes the pivotal topic. Baird writes:

To live in the body of a survivor
is to never be able to leave
the scene of the crime.

To live in the body of a survivor

The simile is powerful because in reality, it is not a simile — it is the truth. We’re ordered to avoid crime scenes; they are closed from public access. Trust me, if you ever experienced something negative, most likely, you would avoid that place, partly to avoid future instances, and partly because of triggers and flashbacks. As assault survivors, we don’t have that luxury. You get to see the victim every time you look in the mirror. You get to experience the whole ordeal when your mind ‘goes there’. This also has implications for one’s identity: the ‘I’ tends to become depersonalised and is disconnected from the body — the crime scene. This is shown in the use of ‘the’ in the title, “To Live in the Body of a Survivor.”

Towards the end, Baird presents “Yet Another Rape Poem”, which is exactly what it claims to be. It’s aimed at the criticism that she writes too much about rape:

“I know you are threatened
because I am
a thunderstorm of a woman.”

Yet Another Rape Poem

Baird has a voice that commands attention. Poetry was a safe place for her to share her story. It not only takes talent to create masterpiece poems like these, but a poet also needs to be as brave as Baird is in sharing them. Even to be honest with oneself is difficult, let alone to read these poems in public and print them in books. As a reader, I felt mightily empowered by this poem and how Baird refuses to be silenced. Truly, I’ve only got praise for her.

Throughout the collection, I was vulnerable and connected intimately to Baird’s words. The rhythm flowed effortlessly, almost in a tone of a bedtime story in which all that should be shocking is normalised. We’re not given any punch lines or twists, but constantly gut-wrenching pain. This style also reflects the reality of millions of people, of how harassment and assaults aren’t a one-time event but are repetitive, occurring daily and how we suffer the consequences without pause. Amidst the hurt of it all, I found comfort in Baird’s brave poems that left me feeling that I am not alone, that we are stronger together.


I received an Advanced Review Copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.


Sources and Links:

Book: If My Body Could Speak (Button Poetry, 2019)
Book Cover: Goodreads

Do you like what I post? Support me on Patreon or donate directly to my PayPal. For a list of my published works, take a look at Publications and consider getting a copy of my full-length collection, Welcome to the Sombre Days.

Poetry Book Review: He Tried to Drown the Ocean, I waved


He Tried to Drown the Ocean, I Waved
Kai Naima Williams

I must admit, there’s an indescribable difficulty in reviewing this chapbook. I read the collection three times and I’ve enjoyed it each time. It is evident that Kai Naima Williams is a spoken word poet, as is reflected in the work, but this doesn’t take anything away from the written word.

This chapbook is a personal, self-empowering anthem, as is the first poem called, “Anthem”. In this, the poet established her voice and hooked me in; I wanted to hear what she wanted to say. Immediately after, we are taken into a vulnerable place:

“she tells me we cannot move backwards
her fingers return to the ridge of her scar”


(allegory of the cave, p. 3)

There’s a uniqueness to Kai Naima Williams’ writing. Yes, she uses well-thought metaphors and pleasant imagery, but what I like most is how she subtly weaves them into her poetry. As in the two lines above, we are shown the unsaid.

The chapbook explores the author’s identity and ends with the strongest poem, “the black woman is god/the back woman is not god.” I loved the elements of holiness and royalty, and how love is contrasted with worship. In a series of hard-hitting images, she portrays this:

“He said, you are as unconquerable to man as the ocean
I said that doesn’t mean I can’t be drained”


(the black woman is god/the back woman is not god, p. 33)

I am enamoured with this section of the poem; it’s a beautiful way of owning her own worth without forsaking her from vulnerability and humanness. I felt her pain when she described it. It shows that one can be valued and idolised while still being excluded and lonely, and if that’s not the story of my life, I don’t know what is. I’m honestly astounded with how she managed to convey such a feeling through words (although as a poet, I should never be so surprised, should I?)

Overall, albeit difficult to summarise and review, I truly liked this book. I’m a sucker for poetry that explores the poet’s identity. Even though it is relatively personal, it is still valuable for the reader, and probably even more for readers that can relate better to these experiences.


Hyacinth Girl Press sent me a free copy in exchange for an honest review. I must praise them for sending me a beautiful product! It’s the kind of love every collection deserves from its publishing press. Get the book here.

Advanced Book Review: Little Pills

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Little Pills by Melody Dodds

Little Pills is a novel written in verse, following a seventeen-year-old teen with her drug addiction. I found the novel to be creative in its delivery and I couldn’t put it down even though I wasn’t in love with the writing.

What’s surprisingly good is that in a small number of pages, the author developed several characters and relationships; most characters made me feel something. There’s a solid backstory to the characters, and it highlights how drug addiction cannot be extracted from the environment. Having said that, towards the ending, my emotional investment faded — something was missing, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. It could easily be the one-note direction of character development, that although interesting, was predictable.

As a novel in verse, I have to consider (even more than usual) the style of writing. Overall, it was rushed and nowhere near fresh. I’d consider this to be an early draft, with the layout put to structure, but not yet embellished with writing. Many poems brushed the surface of conversations and didn’t delve as deep into the character as I would’ve liked. Moreover, formatting was somewhat basic, especially when it comes to several ALL CAPS sentences to show anger. It doesn’t help convey the anger, it only makes me want to skip to next page. At some points, it becomes the author writing poems to tell us a story, and it rarely feels as if it’s the main character talking to the paper, which is a huge loss in a first-person novel in verse.

To sum up, I’m on the fence about this novel. Although I discussed several negative points, at the end of the day, I still enjoyed reading it. Rated as average, I consider that it was worth reading, but I wouldn’t quite recommend it to friends. I’ll leave it in your hands to decide with this one.


I received an Advanced Review Copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review


Sources and Links:

Book: Little Pills
Book Cover: Goodreads
You could support by donating to my Ko-Fi or PayPal.me

Book Review: “Damage” by Poornima Manco

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Damage” by Poornima Manco

Damage is a collection of 16 fiction short stories that take place in Indian Societies, both in India and elsewhere. The overarching theme of this book is how those who cause harm to others have grown up damaged. Dark tones progress along the book, from extramarital affairs and gun violence to rape.

The book delivers what it promises. The reader is shown realistic and believable sections of Indian society as Manco writes parts of dialogues in native language[s] to make the characters as authentic as possible. While doing so, the author also embellishes the prose with rich vocabulary and fascinating images. However, stringing pretty words is not sufficient in storytelling.

I enjoyed most plots, yet they felt artificially construed. The characters did not go through sufficient development within the stores, and I felt that these characters were created to show us a story that Manco wants us to see. It was only until the last few stories that I truly enjoyed reading. My favourite was the 11th, “Palindrome”, which started, continued and ended poetically. I’d have loved the whole book to contain a similar structure in which the main premise doesn’t drown the flow of the story — especially in the cases when the story’s rushed with time jumps at every other paragraph.

Along with the previous point, the characters lacked depth. The author provides us with a description of physical appearances but fails to create personalities that would stick with the readers. Moreover, the physical descriptions of each character were freakishly objectified and sexualised. Arguably, most stories involved love affairs and sexual intimacy; but this objectification at times is described by those characters who would be children when they ‘observe’ such things.

One of my other issues with this book is its strong suit: the eloquent writing. Undoubtedly, Poornima Manco is skilful, using a varied repertoire of vocabulary. This is an unfortunate choice when this voice doesn’t suit the narrative. I found it off-putting, distancing me from the main character. Moreover, adverbs and adjectives weakened various paragraphs. In addition, I noticed a few breaks in point-of-view, but an average reader might turn a blind-eye to these.

Overall, Damage is a collection of okay stories and a few hidden gems. Although the themes are gruesome, the realism in each story comes across easily. If you can get past these few pet peeves of mine, I’m confident you’d enjoy the writing. I also think this collection would be particularly interesting to the Indian community as the subtle social criticism may be quite striking.


I received a free Review Copy from Reedsy in exchange for an honest review.


Sources and Links:

Book: Damage
Book Cover: Goodreads
You could give your support by donating to my Ko-Fi or PayPal.me

Poetry Book Review: The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One

Amanda Lovelace’s third book in the “Woman Are Some Kind of Magic” was published just last week. The main themes include sexual assault, survivor identity and past relationships, and thus is at times powerful and emotional.

Compared to other mainstream books of the same publisher, this collection included a wider variety of imagery and metaphors, which I did enjoy. Yet, upon reading a long collection, the voice gets lost. The tone doesn’t vary, and it gets repetitive, even though the vocabulary progresses.

One of my issues with the book is the formatting, mainly the line breaks. Having a line break after every one or two words is frustrating. It breaks rhythm. It makes it impossible (for me) to read and it distracts me a lot. In some ways, the good poems are drowned
by other
poems
that
make
you
want to
stab
your eyes.

In addition to Lovelace’s poems, the book features a number of guest poets. Their work was placed between Lovelace’s poems, so that we alternated from an author poem to a guest poem. For me, the guest poems were a breath of fresh air — I found myself looking forward to the next guest poem but not to Lovelace’s one. This led me to realise that I was liking the author’s poems less than I thought, and evidently led to my rating drop down to a simple “it was okay.”

All in all, the collection has potential. It has solid metaphors and emotion behind the poetry. I’m not sure that the author managed to deliver what she intended. Would I recommend this book? No. I mean, if you like mainstream poetry or her previous collections, go ahead. But I don’t see this book as being something anyone must have on their bookshelf.


I received an Advanced Review Copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review


Sources and Links:

Book: The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One
Book Cover: Goodreads
Help me read more books by donating on Ko-Fi or PayPal.me

Poetry Book Review: “Bleed Like Me: Poems for the Broken”

I received an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.


I rarely accept requests and do not finish reading, but this was an exception. Unsurprisingly, several other reviewers failed to finish it, and within good reason.

With an incredible cover, the book promises a dark, gothic collection of poetry. The imagery lives up to this expectation. However, the descriptions were quite repetitive. The lines were quite verbose, and I doubt they were given a proper round of edits. I hate to be this person, but although they have poetic potential, these only seem to be drafts of poems — they require more attention to the craft.

This adds to the problem of a poetry eBook that is entirely centred — big cringe! Now, it’s not always a negative thing and sometimes the helps portraying the message, but it’s not the case with this book. Especially with digital reading, where font sizes can be adjusted, the presentation will vary, and any intended shape will be lost. This also ruins any rhythm that would have been present within the poems, if there was one to begin with.

All in all, I don’t think this is a worthy buy for anyone. There are hundreds of books out there and our money is limited, so we must spend it on books that will be of value to us. As much as I hate shutting down someone else’s work and even if the poet has some good ideas, the overall product isn’t totally there.


Sources and Links:

Book: Bleed Like Me: Poems for the Broken
Book Cover: Goodreads
Support by donating on Ko-Fi or PayPal.me