Skeins follows a group of Indian woman as they travel through Europe learning something about life, each other, and themselves. What served as your inspiration for this uplifting novel?
Both my novels relate to a world well-known to me: urban educated India. I have been travelling a great deal for the past 14 years and I undertake at least one group tour overseas each year. Though the itinerary for the tour described in Skeins is similar to that of a group tour I undertook with Cosmos© in 2015, the similarity ends there as the tourists in the latter included men and women of varied nationalities. Also, when I had traveled to Ireland in 2016, my suitcase had not been transferred in time to the connecting flight by the airline staff at Munich airport during transit. These experiences sparked off my imagination, which led to the birth of Skeins.
There is a great collection of women from several generations in this group. Who was your favorite character to write for?
It’s like asking someone who is your favourite child. Each woman character is alive in my imagination with her own distinct personality, dreams and circumstances. They are all resilient as I don’t sympathize with whiners. I like women who get back on their feet after a hard tumble and find their own path in life without seeking sympathy or support. However, I particularly empathized with the characters Sandra D’Souza and Vidya Rao who are caught in a conundrum and need to make tough decisions.
I enjoyed how the characters each had their own story that contributed to the depth of their character. What were some themes you wanted to capture in this book?
Though the novel is a breezy read, it deals with serious societal issues related to women. I feel very strongly about the thwarting of women’s emotional, professional and intellectual independence and expression by a patriarchal society and a dominant partner who limit her role to that of a mother and a comfort provider. The novel also depicts the generic issues of social hierarchy, aspirational lifestyles, the violence within and without our homes, loneliness and dementia.
What is the next novel that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have a few ideas that I am exploring. When that creative spark is ignited, I know I will not take longer than two months to pen the story and edit it.
With a galaxy of identifiable characters from modern urban India depicted with light-hearted mirth in a travel environment, the novel explores serious issues, such as the quest for an independent identity and economic independence, the violence within and outside our homes, the loneliness of old age and the need for constructive channelization of youthful energy. Spanning events across a little more than a year, Skeins depicts how self-expression and a supportive environment trigger a cataclysmic effect and stimulate the women to realize their dreams.
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Tonya Barbee’s memoir, I am Still a Rose, details the struggle of a modern woman to find stability and true love for herself and her ever growing family. This book is Tonya’s version of events of her childhood, tumultuous love life and her change of heart. She has written this aiming to promote a healthy understanding and level of accountability for bad relationships and to educate women, young and old, about the dangers of unhealthy partnerships.
The book is refreshing to read. It’s a text about relationship struggle that does not place all of the blame on the male perpetrator or plead for sympathy from the readers. It is actually written in a very matter-of-fact and frank tone. Even when there are episodes with heightened emotion, which often occur in life, they certainly seem to have been written with a clear head.
One of the most prominent themes is the importance of family and motherhood. Tonya seems to rate her confidence in her weddings based on how many of her family turn up, and she is always grateful for the help her family, particularly her mother, provides in times of need – when she cannot rely on her current husband. Throughout her adult life she always does her best to provide for her children and stresses the importance of financial stability, which she did not have when she was growing up. Even when she suffers periods of illness and relationship breakdown, she still goes to work and earns a living for her family. She choses each man believing they will be beneficial for her children, as well as herself, always wanting to complete her family.
Due to her hard-working attitude, she represents female empowerment. She is the only constant parent in her children’s lives, despite her efforts. None of the fathers come to visit the children so she has to be both mom and dad. She even makes sacrifices for children that aren’t hers – as she wants her children to know their siblings. Whatever trouble comes her way she always bounces back, ready to conquer the next hurdle. Throughout her many relationships and responsibilities, she continues to climb the ladder at work and gain qualifications.
Tonya clearly explains that she takes responsibility for not listening to her gut instincts and the mistakes she has made and works to overcome them. Admitting this takes guts, and to admit it publicly and open yourself up to the world in writing takes bravery and pride. She uses her life experience with the view to educate women and to encourage them to listen to their own and their family’s instincts. She wants women to trust themselves enough to make bold decisions and to go it alone if they have to, because she knows they are more than capable.
She might not have had the fairy tale ending like she wanted, but did end up with a great sense of pride and independence and a very strong bond with her children and family.
Pages: 159 | ASIN: B07DSTYFWR
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Liberating Inner Eve tackles the many perspectives Christians have on the story of Eve. What was your inspiration that made you want to write this book?
What inspired, or more accurately, “compelled” me to write “Liberating Inner Eve” were a couple of influences that crossed their paths during my life’s journey.
One was my ongoing professional dedication to nurturing high levels of confidence and self-love in my clients. Part of this calling always involved being aware of the many factors that restrict their experience of high self-worth, including those less obvious such as layers of historic conditioning (for example those relating to women being less encouraged to pursue self-development outside of their caring roles (than men)).
Another influence that inspired me to write “Liberating Inner Eve” was my journey as a mother. When introducing my son to characters from Bible stories, I found myself being very mindful of the messages that society’s common interpretations of popular Bible stories (like the account of Adam and Eve) continue to send to our future generations. For example, the popular depiction of Eve as Adam’s helper in many of today’s children’s Bibles often falls short of placing enough emphasis on Adam and Eve’s calling towards a complementary, mutually supportive union, as interpreted by JPII.
In every chapter of “Liberating Inner Eve” I decided to explore a theme that I frequently address as a counselor, presenting it as a holistic marriage between cultural, historic, and psychological influences. And pair it with those strategies that I found to be most effective in helping to transform it, so it resonates with the Gospel’s message of inclusion and empowerment.
I wanted to write “Liberating Inner Eve” from the heart, sharing my own journey of transformation with my readers, as well as the lessons I’ve learned from having the privilege to listen to so many female voices.
What do you find is a common misconception people have about the Genesis account of Adam and Eve?
As a counselor I appreciate the power that visualization has in stimulating the various sensory pathways and emotional patterns within our brains. There is much written about the power of visualization and metaphors in influencing our subconscious mind.
What I love about the Bible is the way it abounds in metaphors and analogies that describe not only the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven but also the many aspects of our humanity.
What I find most concerning about the common interpretations of the account of Adam and Eve, that is the ones that imply in some way that Eve is the more inferior of the original pair, is how this emphasis has been represented in art throughout history, as well as how influential it was in the forming of subsequent theological reflections and practices.
I feel that Adam and Eve’s calling towards a complementary, mutually supportive union (as interpreted by JPII) and her release from blame for mankind’s downfall (which I address in “Liberating Inner Eve”) needs a lot of reinforcement. So that in the midst of today’s “movement of equality” we can prevent many women from turning away from the depth and beauty of Christian spirituality, because of these and many other historic/social misconceptions.
I found this to be a soothing book that also serves as a guide to self reflection. What do you hope readers take away from your book?
My aim for “Liberating Inner Eve” is to raise awareness in relation to the many historical/social pressures and restrictions that impact on women’s experience today (as awareness is the first step towards transformation). I would also like to offer tools that empower women to manifest Christian values of equality, freedom, and mutual care in their life’s unique circumstances.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
My next book, on which I am working on with much excitement and enthusiasm, will be another “Reflective Journey for Women, within Christian values” book, about the importance of deepening the experience of our “connection” with ourselves. I hope to make it available within 6 months 🙂
I wrote “Liberating Inner Eve” as a result of my encounters with female clients from a Christian background who struggle to find a sense of personal strength, high self-worth, love, and acceptance.
“Liberating Inner Eve” offers psychological insight around the impact of commonly found interpretations of the teachings of the Old Testament (in particular the Genesis account of Adam and Eve) and New Testament (the lifetime of Jesus), on various themes relevant to women’s daily lives, such as how they experience their identity, self-acceptance, and self-worth.
Every Chapter of this book includes simple exercises, encouraging readers to take time to review their thoughts and feelings, relating to a particular topic.
Through “Liberating Inner Eve” I long to share with others how empowering the Bible can be in helping women find self-love, self-acceptance, and personal strength.
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A massive tsunami destroys the island home of a little girl. Left without a family, she is rescued by missionaries who name her ‘Patchula’ or ‘Patches’ and take her to Darwin, Australia. What follows is a story of misfortune and tragedy; adoption, death, abuse, forced prostitution, but also of hope as Patches finds joy and meaning, especially in her talent for photography and singing, in spite of the pain. Spanning Australia, America and Japan The Three Lives of One by Lesley J. Mooney is a sweeping tale which carries us across time and continents in search of love and fulfillment.
The book is written in beautiful yet un-flowery prose which is at times poetic. Mooney conjures up place incredibly well, and I found the movement between different continents particularly fascinating –the depiction of the sights, sounds and geography of these places gave me total wanderlust! The description of the tsunami and the wreckage and devastation that follows is extremely affecting and pulled me into the narrative immediately. Mooney is also skilled at portraying her time periods, which begin in the 1920s and move to the 1980s, and the changing biases and turbulent politics of the times.
There are many themes running through the narrative including womanhood, nature and environment, religion, the importance of family, and the value of keeping faith and resilience in times when despair seems never-ending. Although many terrible events occur in Patchula’s life, the book is ultimately about hope in the face of the unknown and what we can achieve if we have the strength to carry on.
Mooney has written a large and diverse cast of characters, and the world she has developed seems utterly real. Patches in particular leaps off the page as a fully-formed individual. Some of the mistreatment she endures is quite harrowing and difficult to read, but it feels very honest. Her hardships elicit great empathy in the reader; I was constantly rooting for her to overcome all of the tragedy in her life and felt completely invested in her development. The more peripheral characters are also well-drawn and prove to be quite emotive, some invoking feelings of intense anger!
One aspect of the book that bothered me slightly was the pacing. We are introduced to Patchula’s predicament, and the narrative subsequently moves very swiftly through the first part of her life and I would have liked this introduction to the story to be slightly more drawn out. Despite this, the rest of the book has a really good tempo, and because there are so many unexpected twists and turns I was always eager to find out what would happen next in Patches’ story.
This book moved me to tears, but it also gave me a great sense of hope. I finished it feeling as though I had been on a long journey–and an extremely rewarding one at that.
Pages: 361 | ASIN: B074M3LW12
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Liberating Inner Eve: A Reflective Journey for Women, is the brainchild of author Bozena Zawisz, counselor and Christian. Zawisz tackles the many perspectives Christians have had on the story of Eve over the years. She balances her examination of Eve by dissecting Eve’s famed weaknesses while shining a light on her strengths. Zawisz peppers the reading with opportunities for readers to journal, work out thoughts, and respond to introspective questions based on the reading. The author’s work as a counselor is evident throughout the book as she consistently provides helpful hints for women regarding regular reflections and ways to be mindful and find an inner peace.
Zawisz has a soothing way with words. Her writing, geared toward women who are questioning their own situations and facing obstacles within their lives, is a much-needed calm amidst the storm of everyday life. I felt a warmth and genuine concern from Zawisz as I read her descriptions of her own parenting and the way in which women tend to take blame upon themselves. The author’s empathy is clear and appreciated.
Christian readers will welcome Zawisz’s thoughts on women like Saint Faustina. The author’s admiration for Faustina is obvious as she shares the story of her perseverance and strength. In the face of opposition, and with a limited educational background, Faustina leans on her faith to succeed. She is just one of the women offered by Zawisz as a positive example.
I especially appreciated the numerous Bible verses and quotes presented by the author. My grandmother was a devout Christian, and Zawisz’s faith reminds me of her daily devotions. There is a definite peace that comes from reading the author’s favorite verses and the ways in which they have impacted her life. Among the many quotes she includes, readers will find inspiration and support during the most difficult of times.
I was rather taken with the beautiful poetry included in each chapter. Zawisz’s poetry is as eloquent as her narrative is comforting. She closes out each of her chapters with a unique bit of verse based on the topic at hand.
One of the most striking aspects of Liberating Inner Eve is the examination of the story of Adam and Eve. I found this to be most interesting. As a child, I was raised to believe the two were real people who started humanity down a path of sin away from righteousness. I had never been introduced to the many interpretations of the creation story. The notion that Adam and Eve might not have been real but a mere representation of humankind’s evolution was new to me. However, Zawisz emphasizes that the depiction of Eve as being, in many ways, inferior to Adam is woven into almost version of the story.
Zawisz’s work is for any woman seeking a book designed exclusively to uplift, empower, and encourage self-reflection. I would recommend this book to any Christian reader or any woman looking to explore Eve’s story and better understand her own struggles.
Pages: 173 | ASIN: B074HB5Q8Z
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Phoenix, written by Arti Chugpai, tells the story of Sonam Aggarwal and her trials and tribulations as she builds her life as a woman in India. Sonam is a complex character with beautiful soul, intelligence and integrity. Her presence demands authority, and as the Director of Publishing for a branch in India, she has certainly earned respect and accolades. However, there is a part of her that is broken by a moment in her life that she explicitly calls “The Betrayal”. Her family and friends judge her by her relationship failings rather than her career successes, leaving Sonam feeling lost and alone. Will Sonam be able to rise above the stereotypes and convictions of her family and friends to find true happiness?
Phoenix is a novel based on love, life and conforming to gender stereotypes. It’s the year 1998, and there’s a budding romance growing between a middle-aged business tycoon by the name of Kunal Vats and the main leading lady, Sonam Aggarwals. Set in India, Phoenix explores Sonan Aggarwal’s life through her ever-changing family, relationships, career aspirations and friendships.
The story then flits between two different eras of Sonam Aggarwal’s life, one part telling her life as it is in 2017 and the other turning back the clock to the year 1998. It’s here we learn about her life and the changing family dynamics and reoccurring expectations that seem to haunt Sonam, no matter how old her or her family members are.
It was refreshing to read a novel based on someone who is aged between their 40’s-60’s. Most modern love stories center around young adults in their twenties and Phoenix was a gentle reminder that age is no barrier when it comes to pursuing love and happiness. I enjoyed the sense of realism as the characters experienced a love that did not always result in happy endings. Instead, Phoenix dove deep into a raw and personal kind of love, where abuse, betrayal and forgiveness are all prominent players in the relationship game.
Phoenix also explores the events of Sonam’s life so thoroughly that at times you feel as though you are almost reading a biography of a real person. The novel also went into depth to showcase some of India’s culture, including foods, family life and working conditions. Arti Chugpai’s style of writing is confident and expressive, using strong descriptive words and phrases to demonstrate their points within the plot line. Fitting, considering the main character Sonam is a publisher herself.
Phoenix also brings to light the society changes and gender differences in India, and how things change over a period of time. It shows the difference in expectations between men and women, especially when it comes to love and relationships. Women are considered to be successful if they maintain a healthy, happy family, with their career aspirations and achievements often shadowed by the relationship, falls they have had in their life.
I would recommend this for anyone looking for a novel about budding romance, rising above the gender stereotypes and Indian culture.
Pages: 232 | ISBN: 1543701043
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East of Mecca is beautifully written and addresses a subject that is rarely discussed. Why did you want to write about Middle Eastern culture?
I lived in Saudi Arabia for a year when my husband accepted a job with Aramco Oil Company. We lived on a company compound called Ras Tanura, located on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Within the compound were beautiful, white, sandy beaches, and flat, desert terrain filled with exotic, thorny scrubs. The sun rose every morning over the sea and set each evening over the desert. Both events were in stunning Technicolor!
Throughout my year in Saudi, I was exposed to camels, Bedouin markets, delicious food, beautiful art, jewelry, and architecture, and haunting Middle Eastern music. I even learned to belly dance!
Although we lived on the company compound, I quickly discovered the male-dominated, fundamentalist Islamic Kingdom’s rules for ex-patriot women were not so different than those for Saudi women…loose, modest clothing, driving or riding bicycles off the compound is forbidden, as is leaving the compound unless accompanied by your husband or in Aramco approved transportation.
My first day in Saudi, I was fingerprinted, photographed holding a placard with my husband’s ID number, and my passport was confiscated by Aramco. It would only be relinquished to my husband after he had applied for an exit-visa and it had been approved. I had my first panic attack when I realized I couldn’t just get a cab to the airport, board a plane, and go home.
In one day, I lost both my identity and my freedom.
As an American Clinical Psychologist not affiliated with Aramco, I had other women from the compound (American, European, Saudi and other Arab women) literally knocking on my door for counseling. I practiced secretly and illicitly (without a work-permit) the entire year I was in Saudi.
Off the compound, restrictions against women were much more apparent. Ruled by sharia law, Saudi women are required to be covered head-to-toe in black long-sleeved, ankle length cloaks called abayas, hijabs (headscarves), and face-masks called niqabs. All these were then covered with veils that render women completely invisible. Religious police called matawain patrol the streets of villages and cities arbitrarily deciding whether or not a woman (Saudi or Western) is properly dressed and properly behaved. Unless restaurants have screened off “family” sections, women are not allowed inside.
It was in Saudi, through my work with other women, where I learned firsthand about oppression and some of the other appalling conditions Saudi women face, including being under complete control of their husbands, fathers, or other males in their family, lack of personal autonomy, being forbidden to drive, honor violence, arranged marriage, child marriages…all in addition to the rigid clothing restrictions…being totally cloaked in black, even in sweltering weather.
The Middle East is a complex culture, rich in contrasts. And yet, little is written about the treatment of women in Saudi. Inspired by my own experiences and those of the women I worked with, writing East of Mecca became my passion project. I wanted to convey the exotic and the beautiful, while respectfully educating Western readers on the appalling conditions of women living under sharia law. I wanted to take readers beneath the veils that make Saudi women “invisible” and give them faces. I wanted to give a voice to those women forbidden to speak for themselves. My greatest hope is that education can lead to advocacy and action toward change.
Sarah is a fascinating character and a strong woman in her own right. What were the driving ideals behind the character’s development throughout the story?
Sarah is, first of all, devoted to her husband and children. And, with a social work background and aspirations to be a Clinical Psychologist, Sarah is a caregiver by profession and by nature. However, like most Americans, she is naïve to the experiences of others in totally different cultures. Initially, she views life in Saudi Arabia as a wise financial investment and a grand adventure. Throughout the story, with all she personally experiences and witnesses happening to other women in Saudi, especially through her relationship with Yasmeen, Sarah becomes an advocate for human rights on a much more personal level.
I truly enjoyed Yasmeen’s character and thought she brought depth and nuance to an intriguing culture. What was the inspiration for the relationship Sarah and Yasmeen have?
While it’s easy to have sympathy for people in other cultures, or those who are different from us, empathy is achieved by the ability to understand and share the feelings of another…from their perspective. To actually feel what they are feeling. My goal in creating Yasmeen’s character was to have my readers truly know her as a person, not just a face hidden behind a veil. I want them to experience her personality and empathetically relate to her joys and her struggles. The deep friendship Sarah and Yasmeen share, shows how they…and women everywhere…are the same, no matter how different their cultures might be.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I am currently working on my second novel. Orchard Road is about a Clinical Psychologist, with a very dark past, who is triggered into violence by one of her patients. The time and setting is both current day Chicago, and Singapore in the 1970’s. Since I’m still in the midst of writing, I don’t know when it’ll be published, but I’m hoping it will be available within the next two years.
This moving and unforgettable novel, East of Mecca, tells a timely, harrowing, and heartbreaking story of love and betrayal, the transcendent power of sisterhood, and the ultimate price of oppression. Driven by financial desperation, Sarah and Max Hayes are seduced by promises of a glamorous expatriate lifestyle in Saudi Arabia. Sarah surrenders her career when Max accepts a prestigious job with Ocmara Oil Company and they relocate their family to the shores of the Persian Gulf. Locked inside the heavily-guarded Ocmara compound, Sarah becomes invisible within the male-dominated, fundamentalist, Islamic Kingdom, which is governed by sharia law. Gradually, she is drawn into a clandestine, illicit friendship with Yasmeen, a Muslim Saudi woman. Together they find freedom beneath the veils and behind the walls of the Saudi women’s quarters—until inconceivable events force Sarah to make life-or-death decisions. Told with riveting authenticity and exquisite detail, East of Mecca explores gender apartheid through the abuse of absolute power with an elegant balance of cultural nuance and moral inquiry. Long after you have turned the last page, you will be haunted by the vivid characters and powerful scenes illuminating this tour de force.
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Mari Reiza, author of Room 11, gives readers two women’s accounts of the same events via their own dreamlike states. A comatose woman and her doting husband are tended by a dedicated but overly-involved nurse. The nurse, focused heavily on the needs of the adoring husband, gives her account of the meticulous care he shows his bedridden wife underscored by her own daydreams which reveal an intense yearning to take his wife’s place. In alternating chapters, Reiza allows the reader to hear the wife’s dreams loud and clear via her own tangled memories. Hers are dreams peppered with fantasies based on the events taking place around her.
The style Mari Reiza has chosen to use in writing Room 11 offered me quite a different reading experience. I enjoyed the alternating chapters revealing the two different points of view of both the needy nurse and the comatose wife. About halfway through the book, it became more obvious that Reiza was revealing dreams from the wife that painted a picture of her immediate surroundings and her husband’s desperate efforts to rouse her.
I did find it much easier to follow the nurse’s daydreams than the wife’s fantastical retellings. At times, the wife’s chapters became very difficult to follow. There are many lines that are effectively repeated to make an impact on the reader. Reiza has succeeded in expressing the wife’s distress over her own inability to have children. However, much of the wife’s narrative becomes a series of rambling and repetitive lines.
The author paints a clear picture of the man in Room 11, as the nurse refers to him throughout the book. His love for his wife is heartrendingly obvious. His dedication to her care and, most of all, her dignity in her current condition is indeed enviable. Any person who has been the caretaker for a relative or patient will relate to the exhausting amount of effort the man in Room 11 bestows upon his ailing wife day in and day out.
Throughout the dreams and musings of both women, multiple settings are incorporated into the story. Among them are Ghana and Northern Spain. Though the reader slowly discerns the main setting is in the United Kingdom, both women’s tales reveal troubled pasts beyond its borders. The author has created a vision of a tormented life for both characters. Living in vastly different economic circumstances, the nurse and the wife both expose the anguish of devastating losses. The two women share a common bond they will likely never realize.
As I read, I was both fascinated by and disturbed by the nurse’s infatuation with the man in Room 11. Reiza has created a memorable character with the nurse as she divulges dark, almost sinister, feelings toward her helpless patient. Her increasingly stalker-like behaviors leave the reader both intrigued and uncomfortable. It is a given that the reader’s compassion should be directed to the wife in her unfortunate state, but the nurse is a character much more worthy of pity.
Though the language is beautiful and the story woven by the two women is fascinating, I found their dreams difficult to follow. I feel that too much repetition, especially in the wife’s dream sequences, took away from the book’s overall appeal.
Pages: 128 | ASIN: B06XJ3X7JZ
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In Between… Life by Luiz Valério de Paula Trindade is a collection of 30 of the Brazilian poet’s English-language works. Each poem is headed by a full-page, colour photograph that is related to the topic of the poem, showcasing the poet’s other loves of photography and travel. In the introduction, he states that his vision for the collection was to capture a range of human emotional experience in the most apt words possible, but without making the poetry feel inaccessible and distant. It’s supposed to feel like a conversation with a friend.
I loved the idea behind this collection, of sharing poetry as widely as possible. I can certainly imagine philosophising about some of the topics late into the night with a friend. Unfortunately, in places this aim detracted from the poetry itself, leading to the telling-rather-than-showing, shallow exploration of Human Dignity, or some of the repetitive, clichéd references to an unapproachable woman in impenetrable armour.
In other places, though, there was evocative imagery that I instantly related to; Turning the Page is a mature description of unrequited love, and it’s expressed as a rounded story. Many of my favourite poems appeared in the latter half of the collection, and most had this same characteristic. The well-chosen order of the lines and stanzas of You Don’t Know allowed me to travel with the main character as their feelings developed, and the ending felt like the cliffhanger in a novel – I wanted to find out what happened next!
Love is a common theme, but I felt as though more aspects of it could have been covered besides the romantic one – Especially For You was a notable exception. Within the romantic poems, Today stood out for me, written with a beautiful simplicity that was still deeply imbued with meaning. The repetition of similar phrases has a strength of several other poems. How combines this with descriptive imagery which really got me feeling its frustration! The rhythm adds to this nicely, but I thought the ending of it was a little awkward. I put this down to the occasional, unnatural syntax. I can imagine that in the poet’s native Portuguese these phrases would flow smoothly.
The last two poems I want to mention are Why I Write and Words. As a writer, their content resonated with me, and I think their description of the process and the importance of writing could help people who have different creative outlets to understand why I spend so much time doing it!
Overall, I believe the collection did cover a range of aspects of the human experience, and although it didn’t work for all of them, the poems that did benefit from the simple phrasing were very effective in bringing the emotions alive for me.
Pages: 94 | ISBN: 154303988X
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