REVIEW: Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers by Kelly McQuain


To read Courtney Bambrick’s review of “Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers by Kelly McQuain, click HERE.


Artist/writer Kelly McQuain is the author of VELVET RODEO, which won the 2013 Bloom Chapbook Prize, judged by poet C. Dale Young. The collection includes poems published in several national journals, including “Scrape the Velvet from Your Antlers”, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the journal Kestrel. McQuain is a writer, artist and college professor now living in Philadelphia. He grew up in West Virginia surrounded by Monongahela National Forest, and his family back home still lives where they did when Kelly was born, on a dirt road bearing the family name.



Courtney Bambrick is poetry editor at Philadelphia Stories. Her poems are in or forthcoming in Inkwell, Invisible City, New York Quarterly, Beyond Words, The Fanzine, Philadelphia Poets, Apiary, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Mad Poets Review, Certain Circuits. She teaches writing at Thomas Jefferson University’s East Falls campus in Philadelphia.


REVIEW: An Oral History of One Day in Guyana by Shannon Frost Greenstein


Review by Amy Wilson

In “An Oral History of One Day in Guyana,” Shannon Frost Greenstein begins her story in 2018 with Aisha Allen, sitting down with a reporter after 50 years of silence on the subject that changed her life, Jonestown. Aisha is nervous but determined to share her family’s story, recounting how she and twin sister, Imani, became involved with the People’s Temple in Spring of 1965.

Incorporating an astonishing number of poetic forms and structures, Greenstein tracks the sisters’ involvement from 1965 to 2018. She also includes a final obituary from the future in 2053. In the space of less than 30 pages, Greenstein spanned decades of storytelling by creating artifacts including police transcripts, diary entries, letters, physician’s charts, reporter’s transcripts/archives, and traditional third-person narration. Each segment includes a date, source, and the reporter or other professional’s name(s) to inform the reader of the perspective shift. The many formats helpfully remind the reader that the massacre impacted the lives of hundreds of people across the globe. This global tragedy connected reporters of small presses to major newspapers, politicians, social justice activists, detectives, and importantly, family members like Aisha and real-life reporters such as Reiterman, referenced by Greenstein.

Throughout the book, the reader comes to understand the complicated relationship between Aisha and Imani. We recognize their bond to one another and the deep pain caused from their separation. We can sympathize with both sisters’ worries – Imani’s fear of stagnation by staying in Indiana and Aisha’s worry of exploitation and instability from leaving. We can also see that Imani wasn’t a thoughtless follower (as cult members are often described), but a passionate crusader for the integration and equality that Jones spoke about. Tragically, Imani’s restless search for justice delivers her into an exploitative cult while Aisha’s decision to stay behind means a lonely and painful safety. Again, Greenstein has widened the lens on the tragedy to show the losses beyond the massacre in Guyana.Beyond choosing new subjects (aside from Jones), Greenstein subverts the story’s usual culmination. Instead of the action evaporating after the massacre of 1978, the reader follows as Aisha Allen narrates on the legacy and outcomes of the events decades afterwards. Despite its short length, readers of “An Oral History of One Day in Guyana” will consider questions of survival, instinct, family, grief and more stretched across decades, continents, and backgrounds.


Shannon Frost Greenstein is the author of “The Wendigo of Wall Street,” a forthcoming novella with Emerge Literary Journal, “An Oral History of One Day in Guyana,” a fiction chapbook with B*llshit Lit, “These Are a Few of My Least Favorite Things,” a full-length collection of poetry from Really Serious Literature, and “Pray for Us Sinners,” a short story collection by Alien Buddha Press.She has been a multi-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, a SAFTA writer-in-residence, and a NASA social media intern. Shannon resides in Philadelphia with her children and soulmate, where she works as a writer and freelancer. She writes literary fiction, CNF, satire, poetry, and anything else which needs to be said. #RiseUp


Amy Wilson is a graduate of Carleton College who has found a home in Philadelphia. She loves the Free Library of Philadelphia and finds joy in managing Hilltop Books, a project of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library. 


REVIEW: At the Seams by Pamela Gwyn Kripke


Review by Constance Garcia-Barrio

In the novel, At The Seams by Pamela Gwyn Kripka, a feisty eight-year-old Katie learns from her mother that years ago, her grandmother had a baby that died under mysterious circumstances. Despite Katie’s questions, her mother refuses to say more about the event. However, “images of dead babies” haunts Katie for a time. She senses that the infant’s demise continues to affect her family. Readers follows Katie from girlhood into her forties as she chips away at her family’s silence about the baby’s death.

Katie also grows up with the family’s cherished tradition of designing and making clothes, which gives the book its name. As Kripke shows how designing and sewing clothes unites the family, she shares secrets of dressmaking: “The dart is the lifeblood of dressmaking.” The lush descriptions of color bathe readers in rainbows.

At The Seams hinges on a traumatic event. The story regales readers with striking images, such as an arm that whips down “like a knife,” or dresses that “…appeared on the screen, like playing cards flipped from a deck.” The novel has comedic episodes, history, sparkling dialogue, and a crisp pace throughout. Kripke offers a clear-eyed, compassionate look at the strengths and struggles of a family and the cost of unacknowledged grief.


Pamela Gwyn Kripke is an award-winning writer whose feature stories and essays have run in newspapers, magazines and online news publications including The New York Times (Sunday Review, National, Real Estate), The New York Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Dallas Morning News, Elle, Seventeen, New York Magazine, Newsweek, D Magazine, D Home, D CEO, Metropolis, American Homestyle, Martha Stewart Living, This Old House, Southern Accents, Crain’s New York Business, American Way, Southwest Magazine, Modern Luxury, Redbook, Child, Family Circle and American Baby.Pamela’s debut novel, At the Seams, was published by the traditional small press, Open Books, in May 2023. It won the Arch Street Press First Chapter Award and was excerpted in several literary magazines. Her story collection, And Then You Apply Ice, is due out from Open Books in Spring 2024.


A native Philadelphian, Constance Garcia-Barrio has published articles about the city’s Black history. She also writes a monthly column for Grid magazine, and occasional opinion pieces for The Philadelphia Inquirer. She won a magazine journalism award from the National Association of Black Journalists for a feature on African Americans in circus history.


REVIEW: The Elephant’s Mouth by Luke Stromberg

Reviewed by Donna Di Giacomo

“The Elephant’s Mouth” is Luke Stromberg’s much anticipated debut poetry collection, defies conventional poetry. It reads more as biography and memoir–a conversation the author is having with his readers regarding his upbringing. Themes in this poetry collection consist of violation (“The Mugging”) the price of fame, (“Masked & Anonymous”) and the outright mundane (“Personal Grooming”).

In the poem, “The Mugging” is a prime example of how Stromberg uses elements of fiction and journalism in his poetry. He uses minimal space to convey the depth of violation and emotion so the reader can experience being robbed at gunpoint. He makes us think about how it’s not just the act itself which violates a person:

As much as the gun, the robbery, the lifting/Out my wallet, himself, from my back pocket,/His hand’s invasion, was what was violating./ After, the thought of that’s what made me vomit.”

Stromberg’s writing style can draw in people who are not poetry fans with ease, making them think they’re not reading poetry at all. by making us understand that moment in time is intended to linger with the narrator long after the act is done:

Stromberg means exactly what you’re seeing in black and white. He imparts the aftereffects of being robbed “My private world lost its private affect/Now, even sitting in my kitchen alone/I fear I cannot live my life apart … I’ve felt the condensation of his breath/Against my ear in the newly pregnant dark.” As a reader, you want to know how the narrator is getting on in life today.


Luke was born and raised in Upper Darby. The Friends Southwestern Burial Ground was his literal playground as a child, and he pays tribute to the place in his appropriately named poem:

The place is loaded up with dead, but still/The low white tombstones hunkered in the grass/Are baby teeth that bear us no ill will…/Outside its gates, this life’s so thick with grief/That we can hardly wait for that relief.

The title poem discusses how his father’s venture putting his head into an elephant’s mouth as a child in Upper Darby after taking up circus performing on a dare. He brings readers back in time to a visiting circus that stopped coming to town long ago, to Upper Darby that has long since changed.

Following the tradition of songs such as Bob Segar’s “Turn the Page” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive,” Stromberg explores the theme of the price of fame, in the poem, “Masked & Anonymous”:

Passing a diner and looking through the window/he’ll see the people at the tables … and know that, if he entered, took down his hood/that they might suddenly forget how to act/and when someone approaches, nervously, to ask/’Excuse me, are you – him?’ he has to wonder, ‘Am I?

In the poem, “Night Hours” Stromberg challenges the reader to approach something so cliché from a fresh perspective.

          I think of the individual lives/closed up in houses on narrow streets the morgue’s inventory of cold bodies with purple gun-shot wounds and men in high offices make decisions about the weather.

Finally, on the theme of routine life tasks, Stromberg takes us on a journey of shaving in “Personal Grooming”:

Three times a week, in a mask of foam, with a Bic/disposable razor in my hand, I search/for my face, scraping the stubble from my cheek./The man I see, when I splash myself with water/and wipe the steam off of the mirror, could be me/He stares back at me with a long and searching look.

In his unique way, Stromberg makes a mundane task full of introspection.

“The Elephant’s Mouth” allows readers an opportunity to glance into Luke Stromberg’s life and memories. From his family’s roots in Upper Darby, to documenting his father’s memory of sticking his head into that elephant’s mouth before he lost the ability to recall it, to exploring random themes of everyday life, Stromberg’s writing is clear and concise.


Luke Stromberg’s poetry has appeared in Smartish Pace, The Hopkins Review, The New Criterion, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Golidad Review, Think Journal, The Raintown Review, ONE ART, Cassandra Voices, and several other venues. He also serves as the Associate Poetry Editor of E-Verse Radio. Luke works as an adjunct professor at Eastern University and lives in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.


Donna Di Giacomo is a third-generation Philadelphian. She has been reading Philadelphia Stories since its inception and is elated to finally be reviewing for them. She holds an A. A. and Creative Writing Certificate from Community College of Philadelphia, and a B. A. in Journalism from Temple University (’22). She is the author of Italians of Philadelphia (Arcadia Publishing, 2007). She lives in Philadelphia with her two angels/cats, and enjoys doing genealogy in her spare time.


REVIEW: Phedippides Didn’t Die by Autumn Konopka

Review By Nicole Conti

 Pheidippides Didn’t Die is a captivating romance novel that Autumn Konopka sagaciously weaves topics of  grief, mental illness, and trauma into a heartwarming love story. With the makings of a romantic comedy, the reader will inevitably blush, laugh, and shed a tear (or many) at the gripping poetic portrayal on deep themes Konopka bravely and unapologetically delves into.

The novel opens from the perspective of Libby is running en route to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and she has a very blunt candor about her intentions. With ten-pound ankle weights strapped to her ankles, the reader is led to believe that she is on a casual run to the bridge, until Libby eventually reveals her secret mission is to commit suicide. She is interrupted by the novel’s second protagonist, Mac, who pulls her into conversation with his blubbering, awkward charm. He is handsome, goofy, boyish, and utterly at her disposal. The reader is instantly drawn to the contrasting characters, along with the jarringly atypical way they meet. He indirectly talks her off the bridge, and they go to a coffee shop. The narration then shifts from her perspective to his, as it does this throughout the novel, resulting in reliable and trustworthy narrators as the reader gets to enjoy both of their inner monologues.

Libby has a history riddled with sexual trauma, grief, and heartbreak. She has only been truly loved by her best friend, Helen, who influences her to reconnect with her brother. Her brother wants nothing to do with Libby, so she must learn to grieve someone who is still living. Despite all of this, she never once victimizes herself through her poignantly tragic history. It is sheerly evident through every word, even when struggling or descending, that she is stronger than most. This character is framed in wondrously lyrical and keenly self-aware diction, making her likable and real to the reader in every mental breakdown or stride.

Mac also grieves for his brother, who has been dead for years. He deals with anxiety and the daunting responsibility of being strong for his family in his secret emotional suffering. To make his family and his brother proud, he asks Libby to help train him for the marathon his brother participated in every year. This interlocks their fates in a symbolic process of running and training whereas they are mending together in their shared grievances. Despite her valiant emotional guard and his several mistakes, you will root for them the entire way, flipping through all the chapters to see their end result.

Libby and Mac are a paragon of how two people do not enter a relationship perfectly unscathed. Their flaws prove that healing and the art of loving is not linear, deeming it a realistic portrayal that merely informs, not romanticizes. Both Mac and Libby realize together that even though they are dealing with differing forms of grief, that it is all the same in the end, and all grief is to be alleviated the same way: unconditional love, understanding, and reassurance. This story is a hopeful allegory for the people who have the same struggles Mac and Libby do. A much-needed modern take on love that does not shy away from the brutalities of mental illness, grief, and sexual trauma. It proves that characters can be traumatized, but also be funny, sexy, and charming. Konopka sheds candid glaring light on the obscure bravery of navigating romance with mental/emotional hardships, and that there is more nuance to trauma than being healed or not healed, being okay or not okay. So yes, you will undoubtedly race through this novel, but it will sit with you long after the finish line.


Autumn Konopka is a writer, runner, trauma-informed teacher, and coffee lover. She teaches, parents, and tries to make the world a better place in and around Philadelphia. Her poems have appeared in Coal Hill Review, Main Street Rag, Apiary, Literary Mama, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. Her chapbook, a chain of paper dolls, was published by the Head & the Hand Press (2014, Philadelphia). She blogs regularly for the Mad Poets Society. In 2016, she was poet laureate of Montgomery County, Pa., selected by Pulitzer-prize winning poet Carl Dennis. Autumn has a BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA in poetry from Antioch University. Currently, Autumn teaches writing courses in and around Philadelphia.



Nicole Conti is currently a student at Monmouth University in New Jersey studying English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. She is an aspiring author pursuing a career in publishing commercial fiction. Her writing is often inspired by women’s rights and her feminist poem, “july twenty-first” won her school’s Toni Morrison Day creative writing prize.


REVIEW: Sink by Joseph Earl Thomas

Review by Ashley Swallow

Navigating life in Philadelphia never came easy for Joey, the protagonist of Sink by Joseph Earl Thomas. Being a person of color, living in poverty, and being Keisha’s son came with endless expectations and rules rooted in violence, threats, and a never-ending tough persona. Since Keisha’s addictions came first to Joey, he became all too used to fending for himself and growing up without his mom around. As a result, the young child was often under the care of his Popop and Ganny.

Becoming the cornerstones of the imaginative, fantastical mindset that would carry and protect Joey, Pets, Pets, Pets located on Frankford Ave, Spike his garden snake, Joey’s complex relationship with Tia, and gaming were some of the small escapes that the young boy found reprieve in.  Throughout Thomas’ memoir, he touches on a desire to be cared for and led, and as the book and narrator move forward, readers learn and watch Thomas’ difficult journey to become the thing he needed.

At odds with the culture he was born into, much of Thomas’ memoir reads as stories of survival. Hope, heartbreak, and home are some of the core themes that bounded Joey’s story of retaliating redemption. His Popop waited for him to defend his little sister with violence and slurs, keeping watch in class for roaches running out of his backpack, cutting even more grass to buy back his Sega that Joey’s Ganny sold to the pawn shop: Optimism was a trait that Joey seemingly despised. Rising above to meet himself, Sink shared Joey’s persevering perspective through it all.

One excerpt of the book illustrated both Joey’s perspective and the issues that persistently plagued him. Thomas wrote, “How do you add and subtract? And for what? What is deodorant? And toothpaste? Why the stupid teachers think I have time to read the stupid books? Why does everybody wanna know about my winkey or doin it or not and with who and how and when and at what time of the day? And why do they care about God and don’t care about no people? And where is God?” Despite this all, Joey was constantly told he was spoiled.

Thomas’ choice to narrate the majority of the memoir from the eyes, ears, and mouth of Joey is a testimony to the author’s ability to deliver the stories of his childhood both unscathed and untouched. The third person narration adds to the book’s authenticity and relevance. It is as if Joey has returned from the past to tell his truth. In the best way possible, the authentic prose and perspective comes across free of consideration, reflection, logic, and time. Sink is a narrative of, in Thomas’ words, when, “Possibility exceeds reality.”


Joseph Earl Thomas is a writer from Frankford whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in VQR, N+1, Gulf Coast, The Offing, and The Kenyon Review. He has an MFA in prose from The University of Notre Dame and is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Pennsylvania. An excerpt of his memoir, Sink, won the 2020 Chautauqua Janus Prize and he has received fellowships from Fulbright, VONA, Tin House, Kimbilio, & Breadloaf, though he is now the Anisfield-Wolf Fellow at the CSU Poetry Center. He’s writing the novel God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer, and a collection of stories: Leviathan Beach, among other oddities. He is also an associate faculty member at The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, as well as Director of Programs at Blue Stoop, a literary hub for Philly writers.


Ashley Swallow is a freelance writer from Philadelphia. In addition to being a contributing writer for Showbiz Cheat Sheet, Accept This Rose, and Sportscasting, she is a local standup comedian. Ashley earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education English and communications from Pennsylvania State University.


Having Witnessed The Illusion by Nicole Greaves

Review by Amy Small McKinney

In Nicole Greaves’ book, Having Witnesses The Illusion, the first poem, “Prelude” from Section I. Another Country invites us into her world of deep imagery and lyricism joined with storytelling. Though you know nothing about this world and the person she is addressing yet, you learn quickly that the search for others, connection in the midst of disconnection, and the desire to be both part of and out of this world is a central theme. In this introductory poem, Greaves begins with a girl’s love of horses:

There was a year when you thought of nothing

but horses, from wild mustangs to thoroughbreds,


And then, the first mention of language, how it is both “arrow” and forgiveness:

For a year you felt too massive to stay,

too wounded to move forward. You listened for bells,


for the precision in a sentence that held the shape of an arrow,

one that knew how to find the heart


Until finally, the possibility of connection:


It was then you began to realize that there might be others

who thought they could become horses too, and you called to them (1).

Throughout this book, Greaves also alludes to dark and light, hidden and revealed. In “Conventicle,” there is “Moonlight, the crack of stone / inside a hidden doorway” and “no men // for miles, only us, here / in this country between countries, // in this light of refuge” (2).


In “Sacks of Scarabs, Greaves continues this theme of dark and light, foreign and hopeful belonging as she and her mother held hands through the museum:


The museum’s glass box was hidden from light

            in between the hopeful columns, the scarabs swarming in a pool

            of fabric. Somehow they made the presence of my mother’s body

            more familiar, in the way her shadow made it more foreign (3).


This sense of foreignness linked arm and arm with togetherness continues throughout the book

in many disguises, including and especially, the power of language. For example, in the poem, “Mine,” Greaves writes, “Through the keyhole of my ear / where I was locked in / to what my mother and tía / were saying, the disagreement / of their silhouettes / in their first language, / language of sails and conquest, / where azul is closer / to the blue in fire, / hija closer / to the thread in daughter, / and mía closer to mine” (4).


Greaves often weaves Spanish into English, including when her beloved mother tries out idioms in English, saying: “Don’t look a dark horse in the mouth”(5). As a child, a teacher scolded Greaves for rolling her r’s too much, an allusion to her mother tongue. Greaves uses language to highlight lack of language, words like “stutter” and “the anticipation of sound.” And she returns to the horse frequently, whether in lines from “Caning”: “When he tightened the strands he leaned // back as if pulling on reins, the horse / the night before him when silence / magnifies the anticipation of sound” (13). And to the sense of being different—an outsider listening in, an outsider wondering: Will I always be the sum / of my poverty? (11)


Section II. The Waiting Room, confronts other ruptures, the loss of the beloved dying mother as well as the author’s own miscarriage where, after watching a child and father at a playground, she says during her own winter, “this is the sugar the body craves.”  (41)


In this section focused on grief, the title poem, “Having Witnessed The Illusion” is written in tercets, emblematic of mother, daughter, and death waiting in the wings, and returns us to the same sense of struggling to see inside, through a peephole or listening from outside a door: “to reveal just enough to say there was more // in the way a knitted sweater is a series of portholes, / and the body, the ocean, the thing contained / in its projection, a ship in a bottle, a cancer in its cell, // or the waiting room itself. (29)


In “Moments In The Trees,” Greaves continues:


when the mind is years ago


            in the village that no longer is

            a village, thinking of that boy who no longer is


            a boy. Her brow furls like someone

            blowing into a reed


            to push music through, tightening

            the pitch into its eye, sharpening


            until the voice is gone. (45)


Greaves finds her way back to her mother,  through her mother’s words that become her own in Section III Reclaimed. In “Awakening To My Mother’s Voice From Beyond:” Maybe, hija, you should go to the / planetarium today and watch the universe / expanding (55).


Greaves moves her readers away from the peephole, away from the porthole, away from the small openings between herself and the world, including the mother’s world before America, and into something larger. Now there are doors and windows into the world, a house painted “cerulean blue / like the house in my mother’s story, // the one in her village, made of water,” and then: “In this house, my mother said, // there are no masculine or feminine words, / the spoons were always joyous // and women always safe.”  (“Mi Casa” 57)


And in “Sorting Through My Inheritance,” Greaves admits: “Sometimes there’s no translation. / A word so much a word that you can’t speak it. More taste. Filament.” and how “All through adolescence, I was always both awake and asleep. / You would ask me:¿Entiendes?/ Then quickly remembered English: Do you understand?/ “Entiendo, Mamá.” And finally, “After you are dead, I’m happiest becoming you.” (73)


And as a mother to her own children, Greaves, in “Epilogue,” while painting wooden boxes, tells her readers, “Then we went to the fields / to be with the horses, but we could only hear them. // The smallest muñeca said to me, / You can’t tell if they’re coming or going.” She answers: “No, my lovely little nut, I said, / they are one and the same.” (75)


By the end of the book, Greaves has brought us full circle, moving us from the experience of being different, to loss, and to finally finding what she has gained and who she has become. In struggling to understand her single mother’s immigrant experience, and her own shuttling between languages and profound sense of feeling like, and being viewed by others, as an outsider, we journey with Greaves as she, daughter, teacher, mother, and writer, moves closer to belonging. “In the last bench in Meeting I am / all the other women” (“Faith And Practice” 63).

Nicole Greaves’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary reviews––including SWWIM, Cleaver Magazine, Matter Poetry, American Poetry Review; Philly Edition, Radar Poetry––and was awarded prizes by The Academy of American Poets and the Leeway Foundation of Philadelphia. She was a finalist for the 2020 Frontier Digital Chapbook Contest and a 2015 finalist for the Coniston Prize of Radar Poetry, who also nominated her for The Best of the Net. She was selected by Gregory Orr as the 2003 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. 

Reviewer: Amy Small McKinney: Amy Small-McKinney is a Montgomery County PA Poet Laureate Emeritus (2011). Her second full-length book of poems, Walking Toward Cranes, won the Kithara Book Prize 2016 (Glass Lyre Press). Her chapbook, One Day I Am A Field, was written during COVID 2020 and her husband’s death (Glass Lyre Press, 2022). Her poems have been published in numerous journals, for example, American Poetry Review, The Indianapolis Review, The Inflectionist Review, Baltimore Review, Pedestal Magazine, SWWIM, Persimmon Tree, ONE ART, and The Banyan Review, and she has contributed to several anthologies, including Rumors, Secrets, & Lies: Poems about Pregnancy, Abortion, & Choice (Anhinga Press, 2022) and Stained: An anthology of writing about menstruation (Querencia Press, 2023), among others. Her poems have also been translated into Romanian and Korean. Her book reviews have appeared in journals, such as Prairie Schooner and Matter. She has an MFA in Poetry from Drew University and currently resides in Philadelphia.

Esprit de Corpse by EF Deal

Review by Anna Huber

Esprit de Corpse is a unique tale of adventure and mystery set in a french steampunk setting, largely separating the book from novels that traditionally place the steampunk universe in England or America. The novel makes use of different religion, socioeconomics, and even languages to both fill the book with depth and richness.

Esprit de Corpse begins with introducing the reader to the two protagonists of the book, Jacqueline and her sister Angélique. One may want to continue reading the book purely for fascinating characters. These two draw the reader into the story vivaciously, captivating readers with their quirks, flaws, and overall passionate personalities. Their story begins with a train ride and an automaton that literally falls into their path- a scene which both brings to light how skilled Jacqueline is with machinery, but also begs the first question, is this a story about ghosts in the machine?

From there, the mystery and intrigue continues to build as an unknown man breaks into Jacqueline’s workshop and attempts to steal back a component from the automaton. Though his plan is stopped by a quick thinking Angélique, there is more to this man’s plans and his motives than meets his eye, and before too long he becomes another intriguing character and suggestive love interest.

Then, in an attack, Angélique is kidnapped- or as luck would have it- secretly rescued. Jacqueline is then tasked with two difficult tasks- rescue her sister while trying to discover the mysteries of the automaton who brought the struggle and bad fortune to her and her sister. Joined by a lively and heroic Torque warrior, Jacqueline races to beat a mysterious Count whose ties to her family go further than even she realizes.

One of the masterful things accomplished by Esprit de Corpse is the commentary provided on traditional ideas about female autonomy and women’s possession of their own body. Trigger warning, the book does deal largely with themes of sexual assault and rape, offering a unique view and imagery of how it can effect both the body, the survivor, and family members of survivors. Note, the way this material is handled in the novel may be disturbing to some readers, but the ultimate message of how it can change a person is not to be overlooked. However uncomfortable the topic may be in the novel, it is worth noting that some may agree with the unorthodox and even uncomfortable opinions held by characters- opinions that some survivors may side with. The book also works to provide views of how many women working in predominantly male-led fields may feel in trying to forge paths of their own.

Ultimately though, the book does work to find coalition and common ground between good people- women and men alike- all fighting to stop a common evil and bring peace back to their home. By the end, families both unite and grow. Through pain, hardship, and bravery, the book does end with a fulfilling resolution- completed with even a few good and unpredictable twists. Unity is a word that captures the message of the book, as well as best conveys the real spirit behind Esprit de Corpse.

EF Deal lives in Haddonfield, NJ with her husband and two chow chows. Her work has been published in a variety of ezines and anthologies as well as in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She is assistant fiction editor at Abyss&Apex and video editor for Strong Women ~ Strange Worlds.

Reviewer: Anna Huber: Anna Huber is a Graduate Student in the MA in English Literature Program at Monmouth University in New Jersey. Her love for literature began at a young age as her mother was (and still is) an English teacher who read to her often and imparted to her a love of stories. She plans to pursue a career in higher education and impart an understanding and greater respect for literature to future students.

Gala by Lynne Shapiro

Review by Susan Williams

The poetry collection Gala by Lynne Shapiro is a transcendent collection exploring in detail the intricacies and themes of art by using a few specific works pictured in the book to guide the reader through her experience. Akin to taking a slow walk through a gallery, the reader is pulled along by a thread as the collection circles around and back again, creating an image all its own using themes of discovery, recollection, and identity. Throughout each reading of this collection, readers will find themselves discovering something new and exciting, perhaps an image they had glazed over or a connection from one piece to another. This collection is beautifully unfolding onto itself into a larger and more complex work of art. Over the course of the collection, works tie and weave into one another creating a delicate and sophisticated braided structure that keeps the audience anticipating the next strand and wondering how its themes will further expand and saturate the collective themes of musing and art.

Shapiro uses physical pieces of art as framing devices for her poetry throughout the collection, often showing them in photographs to give the reader an image to ground themself in while they read, but it often is presented after the text, which seemingly gives the reader an option to read it in their own way, they can choose to look at the presented image and factor that into their reading experience or choose to form their own image based on the text alone. It is also important to note how Shapiro uses the page space, allowing for the text to have whatever space it needs in order to breathe and hold its full effect. It frames each of the paragraphs like a piece of artwork hanging on the white walls of gallery, much mirroring the subject matter of the collection itself and yields to just a slight disruption of the eye that keeps the audience guess and looking for more. Throughout the work, you can take note of how Shapiro sees art and the reverence with which the admires different pieces, and yet also see glimpses into her wit as she includes asides throughout the collection as cheeky jokes between her and the audience themselves.

Throughout the book I found several lines to be irreverent and particularly hard-hitting. In “The Gala Apple” the audience is given two simple lines, “Is the original sin the desire for originality? – Is it the immortality that we’re after?” It is this two lines I find will resonate in the hearts of all people who desire to create or consume art in any medium, as all art stems in at least some capacity from originality. There is this ongoing idea of the apple and sin throughout the collection, which ties back not only into christian mythology but is connected to so many other mythological beings in the collection as it clings tightly to the themes of temptation.

I would greatly recommend “Gala” by Lynne Shapiro to everyone I know who has appreciated art in their life time. For both poetry aficionados and to those who are rather unfamiliar with the genre, this collection is an excellent read to get you thinking about the nature of art and how it is created, not to mention what it all means on both a worldly and personal scale. “Gala” highlights the importance of the consumption of art in our everyday lives and how doing such can build connections and widen our view to a perspective beyond our own sometimes narrowed views of the world.

Lynne Shapiro is a poet and essayist living in Hoboken New Jersey.  Originally from Ozone Park, Queens, Lynne moved to Culver City, California when she was a pre-teen. She studied Comparative Literature at San Diego State and Brandeis University, where she earned an MA.  After graduate school, she moved to New York City to work at Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing company.  For over a decade she worked at the Whitney Museum of American Art and was a member of the faculty at Parsons/The New School in New York and at Hudson County Community College in New Jersey.  Culture and nature intertwine in her work to reveal a desire for wildness, magic, rootedness and authenticity.

Reviewer: Susan Williams is a graduate of Susquehanna University and writes fiction.