The Assumption of Death by Anthony David Vernon


The Assumption of Death by Anthony David Vernon
Publisher: Alien Buddha Press
Genre: Non-Fiction, Poetry
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“By turns charming and deeply disturbing, this collection of poems and meditations enthralls and mystifies. This is an engaging and mesmerizing kaleidoscope of ideas about mortality, infinity, and the very essence of being, and it is one of the most captivating hybrid collections I have ever read. I expect that Anthony David Vernon, this exciting new voice in literature, will be thrilling his readers for many years to come.”
– José Sotolongo

Don’t look away from death. Ask it questions instead.

My favorite passages were the ones that used metaphors from nature to explain concepts that could be a little slippery on their own. For example, one poem reminded the audience that “a spider must work with the web that they weave,” and another one made me smile when it said “time to time I come to paths that result in dead ends. But I found that dead ends can lead to clearings.” It was easy for me to imagine those scenes and then play around with them to understand why it’s important to work with the tools you’ve been given or what the advantages are to following a thought to some of its natural conclusions even if it wanders off of the beaten path at first.

The speakers in this collection kept circling around to the idea that death might not happen to everyone. They gave examples from stories about people who either never died or ended their lives in mystical ways. I kept wishing the speakers would go into greater detail about what they meant and how those statements should be woven into some of the other sections that only seemed tangentially related to immortality at first glance.

Some of the most intriguing sections were the ones that teased out the difference between dying and death. There are numerous records of people’s experiences with dying, but death itself cannot be charted in quite the same way. Most books that explore this concept do so from a particular religious perspective, but Mr. Vernon did not do that. His thoughts on the topic could be applied to people from any religion just as easily as they could be applied to people who aren’t interested in that subject at all. Death is a mystery, and the author embraced every aspect of it.

The Assumption of Death had a unique perspective on the topics of death and immortality.

The Cool and Warmth of Hearts by J.A. Santana


The Cool and Warmth of Hearts by J.A. Santana
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The Cool and Warmth of Hearts is a poetic compilation of fiery romance, harrowing heartbreak, cosmic union, and the sheer enigmatic nature of it all. Masterfully bridging the gap between Shakespeare-inspired styles and modern romantic poetry, J.A. Santana invites the reader to contemplate love’s euphoric crests and inevitable troughs, and find serenity when that tumultuous oscillation quietens. Whether these poems conjure nostalgia, hope, anguish, or joy, one thing is for certain: they will awaken the parts of the heart that have remained dormant for eons. The poignant words upon these pages will linger in one’s psyche, long after they have been read…

Love has a power that is all of its own and nothing stirs the human heart more than poetry that explores this sensitive emotion and brings it to life in a vibrant and compelling explosion of verse. You will discover a collection of romantic love poems that transcends time and brings every aspect of love to the forefront of your imagination.

And whether you are in love and are drinking in all of its pleasures or are mourning the loss of something you once held dear, The Cool and Warmth of Hearts offers flashes of solace and something for everyone in their moment of need. Dip in and out at your leisure and contemplate the moments that love shares with us in life’s journey, whether they still remain or have been lost forever.

Love illuminates some of the best and worst moments in life.

It was delightful to see how many references the author included to classic love poems, myths, and stories from many different eras and cultures. Some of them were as simple as him mentioning the names of famous lovers, while others took a little more time to piece together since he switched between dancing around those topics and describing his speaker’s own beloved in vivid detail. I enjoyed the layers of meaning all of this brought to his poems, especially when they could be interpreted in multiple ways depending on the reader’s preference.

Speaking from a stylistic perspective, I would have liked to see more predictable rhyming schemes in these poems. Some of them included few to no rhyming words at the end of each line while others rhymed words far more often. I enjoy many different types of poetry and am generally just as comfortable with rhymes as I am without them, but it did feel a little odd to me to leap between multiple styles in the same collection. This was even more true for the poems that seemed to change style midstream.

One of the things I appreciated the most about this collection was how it described every stage of romantic love, from the first warm and gentle twinges of a crush to the fiery heat of a love affair to the ashes that overflow everywhere when a romance ends. The fire metaphor was an excellent one for this topic, and I continued to be surprised by the many parallels the author pointed out between literal and metaphorical flames.

The Cool and Warmth of Hearts was an apt read for Valentine’s Day.

Power by Geraldine Anello


Power by Geraldine Anello
Truth Series

Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Power is Geraldine Anello’s latest poetry book from her series Truth. Power takes heartbreak and turns it into self-empowerment. The most inspiring poetry told over the course of just one week, this fast-paced collection of deep thought-provoking poems leads the reader on a journey to personal development.

Love has many faces.

One of the things I appreciated the most about this collection was how it focused on the quiet little moments in a romantic relationship. Something as simple as listening to a partner breathe can be romantic if it’s approached with the right frame of mind. It was delightful to slow down and savor these glimpses of love that are beautifully ordinary.

There were multiple times when I wished these poems were more detailed. For example, “Casualty” spoke of a protagonist who had been badly hurt by his or her ex-partner. The anger of the speaker bled through perfectly well, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether the pain they felt was physical or emotional in nature. It could have been interpreted in so many different ways that it sure would have been nice to have a clearer understanding of what was going on. This was a pattern that repeated it so often I felt the need to give a lower rating than I might have done so otherwise.

With that being said, there were times when the minimalistic nature of the author’s writing style worked beautifully. “Moth to a Light” was a good example of this. It was written from the perspective of someone who kept attracting new partners only for them to realize that the speaker wasn’t necessarily the best person for them to spend time with. I enjoyed getting to know this character and seeing the world from their unique perspective.

Power was a thought provoking collection that I’d recommend to anyone who appreciates romantic poetry.

Collector of Things & Other Poems by Riya Aarini


Collector of Things & Other Poems by Riya Aarini
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Collector of Things & Other Poems is an illustrated collection of light verse for children. Featuring whimsical characters, like Millionaire Montgomery and the Bigalaboo, this collection of over one hundred humorous poems is sure to inspire bellyfuls of giggles!

Sometimes the smallest things in life turn out to be more important than anyone would have imagined.

One of my favorite themes that was explored here had to do with how we should all respond to people who are different from us in some way. “Country Twang” talked about a farmer who pronounced certain words so similarly that no one could tell which one he meant. What made me smile as I read this was how gentle and accepting the narrator was of his uncommon speech patterns. His accent was one of the unique things about him, and the audience was encouraged to embrace him exactly as he was. This theme continued on with entries like “Long Underwear,” in which Benny Blare insisted on wearing long underwear everywhere he went. That’s the sort of message I love seeing, especially when it’s written for impressionable kids who might be confused by someone who speaks a little differently from others or who dresses out of the norm for whatever reason.

There were some poems that I wasn’t sure many children this age would understand due to their subject matter or the open-ended way their final lines were written. For example, “Sweet Deal” discussed a kid named Lou who agreed to eat all of his meals if candy was the only thing he was expected to eat. The premise was adorable, but the final lines were so vague about why his deal didn’t go through that I’d expect to need to explain them to the little ones in my life. “Conversation,” a poem about gossip, was another example of this. It’s point was once again hinted at but never outright stated. The pattern repeated itself with other poems, too. This technique works well for adult readers, but it’s not something I think is as effective for kids who are still such concrete thinkers.

With that being said, there were moments of pure delight in this book. “Contagious” appeared early on and it made me rethink my understanding of that word in the most lovely way. Without giving away too many hints about that one, diseases aren’t the only things we can catch from each other! “Chocolate Sea” was another winner in my opinion. The title was beautifully descriptive and the sea itself sounded like my version of paradise. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by chocolate, after all? The author was at her best when she took common words or phrases like these and examined them from angles that most people wouldn’t think to use.

Collector of Things & Other Poems was a whimsical collection that I’d recommend to poetry fans of all ages.

Hearts and Spears by Somto Jefferson Uwazie


Hearts and Spears by Somto Jefferson Uwazie
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Poetry, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A breathtaking poetry collection that holds political leaders to account, appreciates women and draws readers into nature’s bosom with masterfully woven words.

Divided into four sections: Anger & grief, Women, Nature and Happiness, and spiced with wise quotes and beautiful sketches, Hearts and Spears, encompasses a wide range of human emotions. It awakens readers to the steady deterioration of our standard of living and the lackadaisical attitude of those in power towards topical issues like climate change and unending military interventions. In the second section, the life experiences and triumphs of women are fully appreciated. The third section, Nature, sings effervescent praise to the most revered African wildlife that now stand on the verge of extinction. The last section, Happiness, is filled with joyous poems that will gladden the hearts of readers and lighten their mood.

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This was the first poetry collection I’ve read that mentioned the Covid-19 pandemic. Like everyone else on Earth, the author has spent well over a year now living with uncertainty and fear. Those emotions spilled out onto the page as he described what it felt like to read updates on this pandemic and the often-evolving advice on how to reduce one’s chances of getting sick. What really made his poetry special was how he responded to this pandemic once the first few months of it had passed by and he had a chance to immortalize his experiences. No, I can’t go into specifics here. It’s best if every reader can be surprised by the twists and turns in his journey for themselves, especially later on once he began to make references to his previous points . What I can say is that his perspective was simultaneously a unique look into how his mind worked and a chance to think about the many ways in which all of our responses to this disease have often overlapped.

While I liked the way everything was sorted out into four different sections by theme, the topics themselves were so different from each other that I did briefly wonder why the author decided to include them all in the same collection. Sometimes it felt a little odd to me to leap from one subject to the next like that. It was like reading four different books that weren’t quite similar enough to each other to be discussed in the same conversation. Had they either been separated or included poems that better wove all of the themes together, I would have felt comfortable giving this a higher rating.

Some of the best poems in my opinion were the ones that talked about how humans react to people who don’t look, think, or act the way they do. This ran the gamut from ideological differences to racial ones, and even that was only scratching the surface of the multitude of topics he covered. I often found myself nodding along with the author’s thoughts on how people should treat folks they don’t like or understand, especially when that feeling between the conflicting groups was mutual. Other passages he wrote made me wish I could sit down with him and dissect them with him. Body language and tone of voice matter just as much when it comes to interpretation, and I would have loved to hear and see how he’d make these poems come to life in person. This is definitely something that should be savored as one reads it.

Hearts and Spears was a thought-provoking collection I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys free verse.

Unsaid by Asmita Rajiv


Unsaid by Asmita Rajiv
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The fallen autumn leaf laid on the grass…

Quivering yet unafraid
completely devoid of any shame
It let the earth embrace its pain
‘cause in healing there is no shame.
When I turned the leaf over
I found my face smiling back at me
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I found a piece of my broken me.

‘Unsaid’ is a collection of heartfelt poetry and prose attempting to make sense of these broken pieces. It invites you to explore the subtleties of love, companionship, and self-discovery. In today’s world of never-ending chaos, the book presents a refreshing opportunity for us to pause and reflect. It is written in a way that allows us to pick up any random page on a given day, reflect upon a thought, make it our own, and then move on to the next one.

Just by listening to our hearts, we can finally let the unsaid be said.

Almost everyone has thoughts they never share with anyone.

I appreciated the way all of the poems and essays in this collection were loosely connected to each other. They certainly stood as independent works, too, but there was something special about reading all of them and looking for their similarities. Together they created a complex and thought-provoking portrait of some of the most private parts of the author’s mind. I’d never met her before, and yet I finished this with the feeling that I’d somehow made a new friend because of how much of herself Ms. Rajiv freely shared with her audience.

With that being said, there were times when the subject matter jumped around a little too much for my tastes. I’ll discuss the two main topics in a moment, but there were many other subjects the author included in her work. Some of them were mentioned once or twice while others came up over and over again. It would have been helpful for this reader to have the entries that talked about the same or similar subjects to be grouped together so that I could better know what to expect next.

Building self worth and self esteem were among the most common themes of this book. The author had clearly spent a lot of time figuring out why she struggled with these things and trying all sorts of techniques to improve her opinion of herself and her abilities. This is a topic that isn’t given enough attention, especially in poetry. It was delightful to spend so much time reading about what did and didn’t work for her as well as seeing how she took pieces of her journey and created lovely poems about them. Here is just one of the beautiful tidbits I was lucky enough to read: “The more we accept each fallen piece, the less broken we are.”

If you love self-reflective poetry, Unsaid might be right up your alley. I know I certainly enjoyed it!

Consciousness Detoured by Miladine Etienne


Consciousness Detoured by Miladine Etienne
Publisher: Molding Messengers
Genre: Inspirational, Contemporary, Poetry
Length: Short Story (42 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In this collection of short poems, the author uses her words to take readers on a journey through their most personal thoughts. The emotions captured on these pages are things we all experience and feel, and that allows the context to be extremely relatable. Get lost in this book as love, family, pain, and self-care are discussed. Truly a comfort read.

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This is the sort of poetry that thrives when it’s read out loud. I liked it when I read it silently, but I enjoyed it even more when I heard myself speak the words in it and noticed alliterations and rhyming schemes in some of them that weren’t as obvious the first time around. They were marvellous.

There were several different types of poetry represented in this collection. Most of it was free verse, but there were also some poems that stuck to fairly regular rhyming schemes. I liked the fact that they all covered such a wide range of topics, but I couldn’t help but to wonder if it would have been better to either stick to one type of poetry or bundle all of the poems on the same topic together into the same book. It was a little jarring for me as a reader to not only jump around in subject matter constantly but to also leapfrog from poems that followed predictable rhyming patterns to ones that did not.

One of the best parts of this collection was a poem called “Haitian.” It was so short and pithy that I dare not quote a single word of it or say which part of Haiti’s history it was referring to, but I thought it represented the author’s talent with drilling down to the heart of the matter nicely. If other readers are planning to read this collection out of order, I’d definitely recommend starting here.

Consciousness Detoured should be read by anyone who loves poetry or the inspirational genre.