Author: Julia

Cassie Pruyn’s ‘Lena’: A New Kind of Elegy on Love and Loss

After reading Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey and feeling all the raw emotion she so skillfully conveys in her poems, I said to myself, “I will never experience that level of emotion in a book of poetry ever again.”

coverI now stand before you utterly and entirely corrected, as Cassie Pruyn has done that very thing in her collection of poetry, Lena Pruyn brings new meaning and understanding to the elegy, asking not only why we grieve and why we love, but how these experiences have changed us; how the people we love and grieve for have changed us. She skillfully tells a story of love, heartbreak, and loss in one collection of poems. To me, the speaker of each of the poems in this collection is the same woman. The series of poems follows a non-linear timeline, often seeming like the speaker is reliving old memories she made with Lena as she walks in the present time through New Orleans, Louisiana. As she visits various solitary places in New Orleans, like St. Louis Cemetery and Royal Street and the river, and visits in her memory places in New England where she lived in college and where she met Lena, shethe speaker illustrates these memories and the deep and sometimes conflicting emotions they evoke. I felt her passion and her love for Lena, as well as her pain when she and Lena parted ways. I was often overcome with emotion and felt the urge to hug the speaker and tell her everything was going to be okay.

This one tops my list of best poetry collections I have read to date; perhaps, I daresay, even higher than Milk and Honey.

Julia ‘Delights’ in Sharma’s short stories

life of adventure and delightAkhil Sharma’s third book, a collection of eight short stories entitled A Life of Adventure and Delight, is complex in a way that I did not anticipate. Throughout their individual stories, a host of interesting characters find out what it means to be a good person. Each story has a way of making you think it is over, but each leaves the reader with the sense there is always so much more to it. Each story holds so much emotion and feeling. Along with an ever-present theme of loving despite flaws, there is an overarching theme of exposing the inner workings of the human heart juxtaposed with the deepest traditions of Indian culture. At times both darkly comedic and deeply emotional, these eight stories present the many different complex relationships between humans which require love: husbands and wives, parents and children, and even friends and enemies.

I am not sure I have ever read a more moving collection of short stories. Each story seems to have its own individual impact on the reader. I was riveted from the very beginning. This collection is immensely enjoyable, lovable, and quotable.

“It’s a big world. A lot of people are worth loving. Why love someone mediocre?”

The Adventures of an 18th Century Rogue Lord: ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’

Let me start out by saying that I love historical fiction set in Europe, like, a lot. I love historical fiction for all ages, as well. It is one of my favorite genres, so when I saw this book in a box full of Young Adult advance reader copies, I HAD to read it. And it did not disappoint. Finally, it is out in hardback and I can tell you all about the story that made me laugh, swoon, and cry, all in one beautifully bound novel.

gentlemans gt vice & virtueIn The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee’s fabulous adventure novel set in the eighteenth century, two best friends set out on their European tour. Monty, son of a lord, and his best friend Percy are accompanied by Monty’s sister Felicity, and, much to Monty’s dismay, a chaperone. Their chaperone is there to make sure Monty and Percy stay out of trouble, which could include drinking too much, gambling, and Monty sticking his foot in his mouth. Despite this, Monty, Percy, and Felicity continue to find themselves in a multitude of tight spots. To top it all off, Monty harbors a massive crush for Percy; feelings which he is unsure would be reciprocated by his (mostly) rule-following best friend.

Their journey begins in France with an ill-fated night at Versailles, where we witness the theft of an object very valuable to the Duke of Bourbon, Monty getting caught in the Duke’s quarters with a girl in a very compromising position, and their embarrassing departure. After that, the inexperienced trio, having lost their chaperone, travel alone through multiple countries on a secret mission (I don’t want to give away the biggest plot twist in the book, so that’s all I’ll say about that). As their Grand Tour derails in the most spectacular fashion, they encounter marauders, pirates, and gypsies, who will either help them or try to kill them. Hilarity ensues.

To tell you all the truth, I was so enraptured with this book, loved it so much, that I reread most of it before I started writing this blog. Mackenzi Lee is a master of historical fiction that includes a hybrid language: a mix of historically-accurate speech and speech that teens can relate to. Monty, Percy, and Felicity are a perfectly orchestrated team. Somehow, they find themselves getting out of every bad situation imaginable to a group of teens, with only a few scrapes and bruises.

If you’re like me and enjoy European tales of adventure, with a few mishaps along the way (and just a touch of romance), then you’re going to love this book.

Do You Promise Not to Tell?: ‘It’s Not Like It’s a Secret’ by Misa Sugiura

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura is a young adult novel is about the daughter of Japanese immigrants who struggles to find her place in the world of teenagers. The novel begins when Sana, the daughter, learns that her family is moving to California from Wisconsin because her father has gotten his dream job at a start-up company in San Jose. She thinks that being uprooted from her life in Wisconsin is going to be just awful–but she soon finds that her life in Wisconsin is nothing compared to her life in California. She meets new people who she has more in common with, and slowly stops thinking about Wisconsin altogether.

I really like this book because author Misa Sugiura talks openly about race. Sana’s new school in California is entirely unlike her school in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, Sana was the only Asian in the school, and the other girls in her class never let her forget that fact. In California, she is immediately taken in by a group of Asian girls. These girls befriend her, love her, and she accepts their friendship because she relates to them as children of immigrants, even though their parents are all from different countries. As a school, many of the different ethnicities band together in separate groups, and this is something Sana rejects. She breaks away by hanging out with other groups; at different points of the school year, she finds herself having lunch with the “goth” white kids as well as with her girlfriend Jamie and Jamie’s friends, who are Hispanic. I got the feeling that before Sana came to the school, the kids all stuck to their respective ethnic groups; Sana’s appearance at the school seems to have changed that.

Sugiura is also incredibly informative about different cultures throughout this book. Sana’s parents are Japanese. Later in the novel we learn that they come from ancient, noble families in the countryside. Consistently throughout the book, Sana’s mother talks about Gaman. The concept of Gaman is about tradition and honor: getting married and having children; marrying someone in the same class as you; staying with the person you married, even if you’re unhappy. Sana’s parents are not overly affectionate with each other or with Sana, which Sana attributes to their culture. There are no family pictures or baby pictures of Sana around the house, but when Sana visits her girlfriend’s house, Jamie’s family is affectionate to each other, hugging and kissing each other hello and goodbye, and Jamie’s mother keeps photos of Jamie and her siblings on almost every surface. This is very different than what Sana is used to in her family’s culture.

My favorite thing about this novel is that Sugiura incorporates poetry into her novel, a fact that I greatly admire because I think it is important for young people to know about poetry and come to appreciate it. Sana not only enjoys keeping a poetry journal for one of her classes; she adores Emily Dickinson, and she and her girlfriend exchange poems as love notes to each other. Her attempt to win Jamie back after a breakup includes the use of poetry to convey her regret in losing Jamie, as well as her feelings for her. It is all very sweet and made me smile, and it works, of course. After the ending, Sugiura includes a short explanation as to why she used poetry in the book and the main reasons why she loves poetry. She also includes a list of all the poems she references in the novel so that you can read them yourself.

I’ll wrap up this blog by saying that I think this is a fantastic novel about family and about finding your place in the world. As a kid who moved around a lot in high school, I appreciate any novel whose main character is “the new kid,” and Sana navigates that role with grace. Sugiura’s use of poetry really rounded out the novel for me, and the diversity of the students is fantastic in a young adult novel such as this.

National Poetry Month (An Ebullient Elegy)

You guys! It’s National Poetry Month! Unfortunately, it’s almost over. Fortunately, poetry is for all seasons. And I am here to talk to you about POETRY!


National Poetry Month was started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets as a way to celebrate all that poetry has to offer. National Poetry Month seeks to show people the wonders of poetry, and its place in our culture and in the literary world.

In my belief, and I’m sure in many others, poetry is the oldest tradition in the literary world. Epic stories were often told in verse form; we are all at least a little familiar with Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey as well as epics like Beowulf and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which is mostly in verse. We all know the classic poetry, the most famous poets. We may all even be a little familiar with the different forms poetry has taken and the different eras it has gone through in the course of history. These are the things I find most beautiful about poetry: its ever-changing, ever-evolving, yet persistent and immortal nature. Poetry is everywhere, and will always be everywhere.

Now, I may not be in the same camp as some readers, but in the past, I have found myself desperately wanting to like certain canonical poets and poetry, but finding myself disenchanted with a lot of it. Don’t get me wrong, I have found a few favorites in the poetry of old: T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, and John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” being a few. I greatly admire Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Edgar Allan Poe, as well. I also really liked, in a strange, sort of morbid way, John Donne’s “The Flea.” Sadly, however, I have to say that most of the time in my undergraduate poetry-as-literature class at LSU, I did not enjoy many of the poems our professor assigned to us, even some by poets that I really thought I would enjoy.

Don’t hold that against me, though, because during the next semester, I took a poetry writing class rather than a poetry-as-literature class, and that is when I discovered much more recent poetry that I naively (I’ll admit ignorantly) thought existed only online. Thanks to Mrs. Wilky, I discovered more female poets, which was something I had hoped to learn about in my poetry-as-literature class. In her class, I learned the most wonderful thing I had yet to learn about poetry: there is so much poetry out there that you can always find something you enjoy reading and can relate to.

insomniaI am happy to say that since I started working at Lemuria, I’ve discovered wonderful contemporary poets who write poetry that I can relate to. In one of my first blogs for Lemuria, I took on Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey,feeling like no amount of words could do it justice. I have just recently finished Linda Pastan’s Insomnia: Poemswhich was wonderful, and highly relatable for me; I feel the same way about it as I did Milk and Honey. It is a short little volume about living life and living it well in this incredibly fast-paced world, which I think many would love as much as I did. I have discovered books by other young poets, such as Tyler Knott Gregson; I found his “Typewriter Series” online years ago, but I never knew about his books, such as Wildly into the Dark.

Anyway, I wrote about all my experiences with poetry to tell you that poetry is one of those things that I didn’t really enjoy until I related to it, and I am sure I am not alone in this. I have been grateful for the last few years to learn about the wonders of poetry, the versatility of poetry, through classes and amazing events like National Poetry Month, as well as just browsing the shelves at Lemuria. john keatingThe versatility of poetry is one of the things that drew me to it in the first place; poetry has many different uses: to convey love (or even hate) and other emotions, to appreciate nature, to appreciate culture, and to encourage activism. Whatever your interest, there’s going to be poetry out there for you to discover. Come and see sometime what poetry has to offer you.

The Night the Lights Went Out: ‘You Will Not Have My Hate’ by Antoine Leiris

You Will Not Have My HateL’amour plus fort que la haine.

Love is stronger than hate.

This is the central theme of Antoine Leiris’s memoir, You Will Not Have My Hate.

On November 13, 2015, a Friday night in Paris, Leiris’s wife, Hélène, was killed by members of an ISIL terror cell. She was enjoying the night at a rock concert at the Bataclan, a beautiful red-and-yellow painted theater in the 11th arrondissement, the heart of Paris, when gunfire erupted across the city. A heartbreaking and terrifying event in and of itself, it is even more heartbreaking to know that people were there on a fun night out after a long week at work; there to listen to music, not expecting anything bad to happen. Not a single person, Parisian or visitor, who decided to attend the concert, or the football match, or any of the restaurants throughout Paris that were attacked, expected to be killed or wounded that night. That is not how life works.

Hélène and Antoine certainly didn’t expect to never see each other again.

Leiris’s book was born from an open letter to the terrorists who besieged the city on that fateful night. He posted the letter to Facebook three days after her death (authentic translation here), where it almost instantly became viral. After inserting his original open letter in the book, he tells the reader he began writing the book the next day. The book chronicles the night his wife died, and the three days following, how he struggles with finding the right words to tell their seventeen-month-old son that his mother has died, how he has to be present for the next few days, taking care of their son as well as making funeral arrangements, when he really wants to crawl into a hole and mourn “the love of his life.” He ends the memoir by saying he and his son will overcome, that they have each other to love and will miss Hélène, but will be okay in time.

Beautifully written in French by Leiris and translated into English by Sam Taylor, the book, although leaving me in tears each time I went to read another chapter, is an incredibly moving account of the night the lights went out in Paris. He writes so openly and unashamedly about his pain and grief that by the end, I felt like I knew him; had met him and his little boy and spoken personally with him about that night and the following days. His book drives home the sentiment echoed by millions each time another city is attacked: love will always conquer hate. Through this book, this message is universal and eternal in a world filled with so much hatred.

Get to Know Julia

JuliaBefore we start I’d like you to know I love lots of things, so this is going to include the word “love” approximately one hundred times.

How long have you worked at Lemuria?  Almost two months.

What do you do at Lemuria? I am currently working in the fiction room. I am also starting to learn about the First Editions Club at Lemuria.

Talk to us what you’re reading right now.  I just finished Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and, just as everyone else has, I absolutely LOVED it. I also read the June First Editions Pick, Miss Jane by Brad Watson. I’m working on three books right now: Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift, We Come to Our Senses by Odie Lindsey, and Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant. So far, I’m loving We Come to Our Senses and Mothering Sunday. My dad and I are passing Dispatches back and forth, so there’s no telling when I’ll finish, but so far it is a hilarious read and living up to its reputation for me.

18387c20-0252-0133-501f-0ec273752cbdWhat’s currently on your bedside table (book purgatory)? Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (which apparently will never get finished), A Thousand Miles From Nowhere by John Gregory Brown, and The After Party by Anton Disclafani. Also, candy. Because I love candy.

How many books do you usually read at a time?  Usually no more than two, but I’m being ambitious this summer and trying for three to four.

I know it’s difficult, but give us your current top five books.  Oh, man…
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
The Descendants – Kaui Hart Hemmings
The Revolution of Little Girls – Blanche McCrary Boyd
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin (I had to include an all-time favorite)
Sleeping on Jupiter – Anuradha Roy

Favorite authors?  I have so many… I love them all…
Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Blanche McCrary Boyd, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Kate Chopin, Edwidge Danticat, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, J.K. Rowling, Anuradha Roy, Suheir Hammad…
I love every author I’ve ever read, honestly. These are just some of my top favorites. We’d be here all day if I kept listing them!

Any particular genre that you’re especially in love with? Generally speaking, fiction is my favorite. More specifically, it’s a toss up between Southern Lit and Expats.

What did you do before you worked at Lemuria?  I graduated from LSU in May, and my parents took my siblings and I to Hawaii, so basically I was crying on my couch because we couldn’t stay there forever.

If you could share lasagna with any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you ask them?  This is also a hard question… I think right now I’d like to meet J.K. Rowling and ask, “what’s your secret?”

Why do you like working at Lemuria?  I really love literature. I love talking about literature, reading it, and writing about it.

If we could have any living author visit the store and do a reading, who would you want to come?  There’s quite a few authors I’d like to hear read, but I’d probably go with Suheir Hammad, because listening to her read her poetry is life-changing.

If Lemuria could have ANY pet (mythical or real), what do you think it should be?  A phoenix because they are awesome and Dumbledore had one.

If you had the ability to teleport, where would you go first?  Probably Paris, France, and then Hawaii. Then back and forth until I decided which I loved more.

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