I am very pleased to welcome Nicola Mar to Modern Jo March. Nicola is an author, poet, and essayist. She is the author of five books, including three poetry collections, and several short stories. Her latest release is Roses by Moonlight, a wonderful collection of poems and prose that was released in June.
MJM: You were born and raised in the Caribbean. I would imagine your surroundings had an impact on your writing, or at the very least, your early writings. Would that be a fair assumption?
Nicola: Absolutely. In fact, my first novel, A Red Tale, is a young adult fantasy about a girl who lived in the Caribbean. Most of my poetry is also pulled from images and memories growing up on St. Maarten. For example, I write about the ocean, sun, stars, and just feelings of peace and tranquility because those are the memories that have stayed in my mind all these years. It's funny how a moment in nature can linger in your mind for a lifetime.
MJM: I can relate to that, being affected by nature myself. I was born, raised, and still reside in Upstate NY, in the foothills of the Adirondacks, and the scenery here has had a huge impact on my own writing. Nature is the ultimate beauty, it’s art in its purest form.
Nicola: I have been there; it's so beautiful! Eventually, I hope to leave the city and settle down in a house in the woods. I have been living in NYC for 10 years now, and I love it, but I do miss the quiet, peaceful moments that country living can provide.
MJM: According to your bio, you started writing at the age of 7. What got you started?
Nicola: When I was a kid, I always loved to read, but I also had such a vivid imagination that sometimes I remember being disappointed with the endings of stories. I started coming up with different, more unusual and surprising, endings for my favorite books. And naturally, at some point, it clicked that if I didn't like a story, I could just write my own! Thankfully, I had a teacher who encouraged me to write, so at age 7, I wrote my first short story, and it ended up being published in my school's yearbook. That solidified my decision to keep writing and made me believe that I may be good at it!
MJM: That’s a wonderful story. It only takes one person to believe in you and encourage you. You moved to the US at the age of 18 to attend college. How did that come about? Were you at all apprehensive about moving to a new place, starting a new life, so to speak?
Nicola: I was always excited about traveling, so naturally, when my mother wanted me to attend a US college, I was pretty excited. You see, St. Maarten is lovely, and I miss it terribly, but when you're young, you take everything for granted, so when people told me I lived in paradise on the beaches, all I could think about was that I wanted to see snow. I grew up watching the holiday movies with the white Christmases, so that was something I wanted to experience. By the time I was 25, I had visited 15 countries in Asia, traveled to Machu Picchu in Peru, and took a safari in Africa. Best decisions I ever made!
MJM: Wow! You’ve lived quite an interesting, full life already. I would imagine all of those experiences and places just broadened your writing/story possibilities.
Nicola: Absolutely. I always pull from those experiences when writing. I feel so blessed to have had those opportunities so young. I'm forever grateful to all who helped and encouraged me to chase my curiosity and dreams.
MJM: I read that you earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a specialty in creative writing. Could you tell me what drew you to anthropology and how that has shaped your approach to writing?
Nicola: St. Maarten has over 100 different cultures represented on its small 37 square miles, so I was always around people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. That's where I fell in love with people, so to speak. People have always fascinated me, because here we all are, living to tell our unique stories and what our cultures mean to us. And I was always definitely more of a listener. So, from a young age, I knew I was interested in studying people. When I got to college, I didn't know what I wanted to major in until I took a cultural anthropology class. I never knew that I could actually major in studying people! Those classes have definitely shaped my writing because I am able to incorporate more unique characters into my novels.
MJM: That’s wonderful! It’s amazing how things fall into place perfectly in order to help shape and prepare you for the future. You started writing at the age of 7, as we’ve already mentioned, but I’m wondering how did you get your start writing professionally?
Nicola: Even though I majored in anthropology in college, I knew I wanted to continue to develop my writing, so I decided on a minor in creative writing. Those classes definitely helped lay the groundwork for my writing career. Although I was writing for years, it was in college that I really learned how to write by using technical steps to develop a novel properly. My writing classes also inspired me greatly and taught me that writing is a disciplined profession just like anything else. Sometimes you will wake up and won't want to write, but it's something you have to commit to if you want to succeed. A few years after I graduated college, I started writing my first novel, which was published in 2014.
MJM: You went on to release your second and third books, and then you released your first collection of poetry and prose. Have you always had an interest in poetry, or was it a new outlet for you?
Nicola: I've always loved poetry since I was a child. My mother bought me Shel Silverstein's books Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic when I was around 10 years old, and I fell in love with his funny poems and drawings. It was at that time that I started trying to write my own poems. In college, as part of my writing minor, I was required to take a poetry class, which brought back memories of reading Silverstein's books with my mom. I really enjoyed that class, and my professor encouraged me to continue with poetry.
MJM: Your collection of poems and prose in Roses by Moonlight is truly beautiful and meaningful. The connecting themes are love and relationship. What was the inspiration for this collection? How did it come to existence?
Nicola: My poetry is inspired mainly by my mother who passed away in 2010. It is about things she taught me, things I learned through her example, and feelings that developed from her passing. When you experience tragedies like this in life, you must find a way to allow grief to expand and then dissipate. For me, that was through writing poetry. But what I love about poetry is that it's really just words that an individual assigns their own labels and feelings to. I can write a poem about my love and loss of my mom, and another can interpret it as a poem about a lost love, a hard breakup, or even the death of a beloved pet. At the end of the day, words do not hold the same meanings for everyone, and poetry is a way to combine words to make a person feel that a poem is speaking uniquely to them.
MJM: I’m sorry for your loss, but glad that you’ve found such a beautiful way to channel it. I think that’s the beauty of poetry, that it’s not really black and white or concrete. It’s open for interpretation more so than any other form of writing, and in return, I believe it’s easier to fully relate.
Nicola: Absolutely. Anyone dealing with a loss and finding trouble speaking about it should really try writing poetry. Emotions and words you may not expect somehow come out on paper. And they help you make sense of what's going on in your mind.
MJM: What are you currently working on? Will we see a new book or collection from you in the near future?
Nicola: I have been working on (and really trying to finish) a time-travel novel for longer than I care to admit. But I keep getting distracted by the poems that randomly pop into my mind. Every time that happens, I text myself the poems and then type them up when I have some time to write. So, I guess I am working on two different projects; we'll see which one crosses the finish line first. Time will tell. :)
MJM: I would like to thank Nicola for taking time out of her schedule to chat with me, it was both fun and insightful, and I look forward to her next publication, whatever it may be! Thanks Nicola!
Be sure to grab a copy of Nicola Mar's latest release, Roses By Moonlight. You can buy the book here.
In Remember God, Annie F. Downs questions whether God is truly, deeply, always kind. We know He is all powerful, we know He is loving, we know He is good, but is God always kind?
Faced with hard situations and dreams that just aren't coming true while others seem to be soaring high, is enough to make anyone wonder why that is. What makes them successful and achieving their dreams, while others who work hard and believe their whole lives never see their dreams and goals come to fruition? Is God really the kind God we think He is? How can He be? How can He watch us struggle and hurt, without doing anything about it (to our view)?
Annie addresses this through her own story, in a very real and honest way. I commend Annie for the ending of this book. I'm sure she was tempted to just sugarcoat things, wrap the ending up in a nice little red bow, all neat and tidy, but instead she was honest. Life is rarely neat and tidy, and for those who are bewildered and confused, hurting and struggling, we needed to see that. We needed to know that it's not just us that are questioning and struggling. We also needed the message this book carries, God is kind. God is with us and for us. No matter what. Even in the dark times, the hard times, and the broken hearts and unfulfilled dreams.
I personally needed this book. I didn't realize I needed it, but after listening to an advanced audiobook copy, I was hit with a sudden realization about my own life. It was eye-opening and enlightening, and a true gift from God. Thank you Annie, for the book, for sharing your honest story, and for being willing to be vulnerable with the world.
I would highly recommend this book, which releases the first of October.
I give it an 8/10.
Atticus, who is the internationally bestselling author of Love Her Wild, recently released, The Dark Between Stars, a new collection of heartfelt, whimsical, and romantic poems. Atticus has captured the hearts and minds of his nearly 700k followers (including stars like Emma Roberts, and Alicia Keys),with his beautifully raw and descriptive poems and continues to stun poetry lovers with his latest release.
Everything about The Dark Between Stars is thoughtfully crafted, from the enchanting cover art to the beautiful photographs that accompany the poems fittingly. I'm a recent convert to poetry myself. I've been writing my own poems for quite some time, but never actually read poetry in general. I decided that I needed to change that and broaden my horizons, not to mention my understanding of the genre, earlier this summer. So I'm still fairly new to poetry, but I've caught on fast to what works for me and what doesn't. Atticus' poetry works for me. I love it. I find it relatable, whimsical, dreamy, and beautiful.
This collection of poetry is divided into three sections: Stars, Between, and The Dark. I devoured this book in one sitting, I just couldn't put it down. The poems spoke to my soul.
I particularly loved this poem:
"She was powerful
not because she wasn't scared
she went on so strongly
despite the fear."
I highly recommend this collection. You can get it here.
I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel, released September 4th, is an absolute joy to read. This book is a beautiful love letter to all the bookish souls out there. This wonderful collection of essays takes you on a journey through a book lover’s life, prompting the reader to remember the book that first got them hooked on a story, when and where they first fell in love with reading, and all their bookish quirks. The reader will find themselves relating wholeheartedly to each chapter. Book and reading enthusiasts will nod their heads and say “me too!” with each new antidote.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It truly spoke to my bookish soul and I felt that I had found a kindred spirit amongst the pages. In chapter 3, “I’m Begging You to Break My Heart”, Bogel’s description and explanation regarding when she read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Abraham Lincoln biography Team of Rivals, reminded me of the time I read James Donovan’s The Blood of Heroes. Bogel had said that Goodwin had written the life and assassination of Lincoln so beautifully well, that even though she knew how Lincoln died, she still found herself feeling great emotion over the ending. I felt the same way when I read The Blood of Heroes, which is about the siege of the Alamo. Donovan handled it in such an incredible and reverent way that I couldn’t help cheering the Alamo men on, though we all know it was to no avail. I felt that book deeply and this chapter made me remember it.
Another superb chapter was chapter 5, “Hooked on the Story”, which explores the first book that got Anne hooked on a story, as opposed to just enjoying reading in general. This chapter will take the reader back to the first book that got THEM hooked and my, what beautiful memories. For me, that book was Louis L’Amour’s The Lonesome Gods. I just could not put it down. I was in 7th grade, my father had handed me the book (from his own collection) and, knowing that I loved western movies, said that I might like it. I was hooked immediately and it actually pained me whenever I had to put it down to do something else. Needless to say, I finished it quickly. It was the first time a story drew me completely in and held me captive until the very end. Even now, it still stands as one of my absolute favorite books, 15 years later. It’s a book I make a habit of reading every year.
Believe me when I say, this is not a book you want to miss out on. It’s like sitting down with a very dear friend and having a deep conversation, sharing memories and secrets that only a select few would understand and appreciate. If that’s not enough to get you to read this book, might I also mention that Anne devotes a little part of this book to discussing the bookish movie You’ve Got Mail? I loved and agreed with her take on the character of Kathleen Kelly and her concern that so much of what she saw in real life reminded her of something she read, when in reality, shouldn’t it be the other way around? Kathleen was concerned that her experiences were cheapened because she had read about it beforehand. Anne makes an excellent argument against that view and I couldn’t help but pump my fist and say “here, here!” Way to go Anne! ;) Well done.
I give it a 9/10.
Beauty in the Breakdown: Choosing to Overcome by Julie Roberts releases a week from today, on September 18th. It is a truly inspirational, fascinating story of hope, struggle, faith, resilience, and perseverance.
Julie Roberts certainly has lived an interesting but hard life. She achieved country music fame with her breakout single "Break Down Here" in 2004, which was a Top 20 hit, and her album by the same name, which was certified gold. She released her Men & Mascara album in 2006, which ended up charting even higher than her Break Down Here album. I personally became a fan after hearing "Break Down Here" for the first time, and have been a fan ever since. Needless to say, I was very excited to hear that Julie was releasing a book about her life.
Julie has lived an inspirational life so far. She survived a household that experienced domestic abuse at the hand of her alcoholic father, has navigated the whirlwind music industry with getting record deals, tours, promos, and losing record deals, to the diagnosis of MS, and surviving a horrific flood...… Every time, Julie has come back strong in her resilience and her faith. I would highly recommend this book to any country music fan or anyone looking for a great memoir. I look forward to hearing more from Julie, especially musically. ;)
I give it an 8/10.
It's official, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows deserves all the hype it has received. It is a superb novel, with a gripping, fascinating storyline.
January 1946, writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.
This novel was absolutely breathtaking. Taking place right after World War Two, the reader is taken on an interesting journey right along with Juliet Ashton, as she learns more about the charming island of Guernsey, the reason behind the formation of the Society, and falls in love with its inhabitants, all while a mystery unfolds. The book is composed entirely of letters and correspondence between the characters, which is such a charming way to form a novel. I rather like it.
Though all rules of literature point to Juliet being the main character, it is really the character of Elizabeth that seems to be the connecting thread throughout the book. I will not give any spoilers away, but I will say that there are a few twists and turns you won't see coming. I felt great emotion when we learned something important about one character in particular. The story is enchanting, fascinating, and hooks you in immediately. The characters are unique, interesting, and earthy. This novel deserves all the raves and hype it has received and I would highly recommend it. It's one of the best books I've read in years!
I give it a 9/10.
As an aspiring photographer, I latched onto Ansel Adams’ work early in my photography journey. He has become my greatest inspiration/role-model for photography. I am forever in awe of his artistic ability and his work. Among my favorites of his photographs are his stunning photographs of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, in California. He had a true talent for making photographs, the kind of talent that seems rare these days. All this said, I was surprised to find out that he had written an autobiography, and more surprised that I hadn’t heard about it up until a month ago!
I actually spent July reading both versions of Adams’ autobiography, the paperback and the hardcover “coffee table” version. The only difference between the two is the fact that the hardcover features a great deal more photographs and is of far better quality. The paperback is a great option for those who want a book that can be easily held in your hands and one that you can carry with you with ease, while the hardcover is a must have for diehard fans who want the information housed in a book of excellent quality and to peruse the accompanying photographs while reading through the chapters. The hardcover is one you’ll want to leave out on a table or stand for guests to look through. The reader can choose which one fits their needs/wants best.
This book is extremely well written and has stayed true to Ansel Adams’ personal style and voice. You are immediately struck by the sheer intelligence Adams’ possesses. He is a well-rounded, cultured, learned individual. I found his life story absolutely fascinating and inspiring. He holds nothing back and gets very candid in his autobiography. He makes no effort to sugar coat things and you get the feeling that he has painstakingly made sure to speak the truth of his life. The chapters are arranged, not chronologically, but are organized under categories that are named for important periods, places, and people in his life.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his background history and his childhood/education, which spans the first four chapters. Adams had a fascinating and unconventional education, one that will leave you with envy. He devotes several chapters to particular people who have had a great influence on him, such as Stieglitz & O’Keefe (chapter 10), Edward Weston (chapter 16), and The Newhalls (chapter 14), along with places such as Yosemite (chapter 5), The Sierra (chapter 11), and Carmel (chapter 21).
This is a book that you will not be able to put down. I just couldn’t read enough! Far from dry and boring, this autobiography reads like a superbly interesting, animated conversation. I was thoroughly impressed with Adams’ honesty, wit, humor, and intelligence. I would HIGHLY recommend this book to Adams’ fans, photography fans in general, and those readers looking for a great autobiography to read. You will definitely not be disappointed. I find myself already wanting to read it again, and predict that this will be a multiple read for me.
I give this book a 9/10.
Meet Me at the Museum is Anne Youngson’s debut novel, released in early August of this year, and it is absolutely a must read. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style and structure of the book. It is the perfect weekend book, as it is a short, easy read.
The book is under 300 pages, and revolves around letter correspondence between two people. Literally, the whole book is made up of strictly letters between a man and a woman. I believe this is why it is so spellbinding. You are immediately caught up in the conversation between Anders Larsen, professor and curator of the Silkeborg Museum, and Tina Hopgood, a farmer’s wife and mother. They live vastly different lives in different places, with different experiences, but they find that they have quite a bit in common and that their differences complement each other’s.
Meet Me at the Museum is a beautiful tribute to love and friendship, ordinary life and being brave enough to make/accept changes. I found this novel fascinatingly interesting as the characters helped each other work out their thoughts, life crises, and quandaries. To have a friend whom you can be so open and vulnerable with is a true treasure. I found it interesting being able to see the slow evolution from strangers to friendship to something deeper, in the way they addressed each other and signed their letters, and also in the details that they shared with each other. You could watch the friendship take root and grow. It was beautiful.
I highly recommend this book, it’s a quick, easy read, but one that will surprise you in its depth and longevity. It will stay with you long after you close it. Meet Me at the Museum is officially on my list of favorite 2018 reads. Well done.
I give it a 8/10.
Sometimes to find out where you’re going, you have to discover what you’ve left behind......
You Are Here by Jennifer E. Smith is a delightful Young Adult read with surprising depth. It follows two characters, Emma and her neighbor Peter, who find that they don't really understand or fit in with their families.
Emma finds it hard to believe that she is biologically related to her brilliant, intellectual professor parents and highly intelligent siblings. Being the "average" one in a family of geniuses, Emma doesn't know exactly how to fit in or engage her family. Where does she belong? How does she fit into the puzzle? For Emma, there seems to be something missing. On the other hand, her extremely intelligent neighbor Peter has no trouble fitting in with her family. Peter can talk with authority on anything from the Civil War to Mayan rituals. What Peter does have trouble with is understanding and getting along with his own father. Peter has spent his whole life planning and preparing to make his escape from a dingy house and a father who has never understood him and doesn't even seem to like him.
I enjoyed this book immensely, far more than I thought I would. Up to now, I wasn't a huge fan of YA books, feeling that they didn't quite have what it took to hold my interest. They seemed to lack depth. You Are Here changed my view. This book had real depth, I found the characters well developed and relatable, and the plot interesting. I could particularly relate to Emma, as she finds out that she had a twin brother who passed away shortly after birth. Emma coming to terms with that newfound knowledge is one of the main forces driving the book. I can relate because I had a brother (we were triplets) who passed away when we were only three months old. So I've had to come to terms with that knowledge myself.
I would definitely recommend You Are Here to readers looking for a good, enjoyable read with a solid story and relatable characters, and a happy ending to boot. ;)
I give it 7/10.
Roses by Moonlight is a beautiful collection of poems and prose by Nicola Mar, a Caribbean native who currently resides in New York City with her two dogs. I admit I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mar resided in New York and that she had two dogs, as I also live in New York (state) and have two dogs, and of course I always love finding fellow dog lovers. ;)
The cover for Roses by Moonlight is beautiful yet simple, and fits the title well. The format for the pages/poems is simple: words on a page, with the first word of each poem or prose in bold, no frills, no pictures. This book is a quick, easy read, but one that you'll find yourself thinking about long after you've finished. I can guarantee that you'll find at least a handful of poems/prose that will stick out to you and speak to you in some way. I particularly enjoyed the poems on pages 3, 5, 17, 18, 59, and 130. I loved the lines from page 3's poem, "damaged is what I say but not broken." I also loved page 5's, "the only stillness that can creep into my heart is the moonlight-- a magical creature that gives a new start."
I enjoyed Nicola Mar's writing style and found her poems both relatable and containing great depth. Mar is definitely one to keep your eye on and has become one of my favorite contemporary poets. I would definitely recommend this wonderful collection.
I give it a 7/10.
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....