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Among the Lost (In Dante’s Wake) by Seth Steinzor

Source: the poet
Paperback, 220 pgs.
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Among the Lost (In Dante’s Wake) by Seth Steinzor, which is book 2 (see my review of To Join the Lost), that modernizes Dante’s Purgatorio. The poems are told in cantos and the entire book can be considered an epic poem. Readers who have never read Dante’s epic poems or have no knowledge of his work should at least get the Cliff Notes version before reading Steinzor’s books, just get the basic idea of what happens.

Following in Dante’s wake is an apt reference, as Seth (the narrator, not the poet) is mostly on his own in Purgatorio and interacting with modern inhabitants, including Abraham Lincoln. The arc may be similar between the two, but Steinzor’s work is very modern and can be followed from a contemporary viewpoint. Emerging from Hell, Seth and Dante witness the miracle of birth and, in this first canto, it is both beautiful and painful to watch. In this experience, the narrator calls to mind the connections we all share with one another through this miracle and how despite the severed umbilical cord we remain connected like the roots and branches of a larger tree (one not always visible to the naked eye).

In this way, Steinzor draws in the reader to a more personal journey, allowing us to recognize are own struggles with the seven deadly sins and the decisions and situations we make for ourselves. Even as some of the more modern references to Bush and war, Katrina, and other events are now in the past, the struggle to see the humanity in decisions made by leaders and others reflects the continued struggles of our own modern society, which appears ready to rip apart under the current administration.

From “Canto VIII: Delinquent Leaders”

but I barely paid attention: the room
had begun to spin, and I was drawn –
it must have been up, but it seemed like down – into
the darkness welling in Lincoln’s eyes.

Seth (the narrator) is looking to reunite with his lost, first love, Victoria, who has tapped Dante to be his guide to her. While he’s unsure what motivated his love for Victoria, he strives onward through purgatory — observing and interacting. With Dante less than attentive, Seth is forced to find his own way with little direction from his guide, and in many ways, this mirrors the modern world in which children are forced in many instances to navigate the world on their own as their parents are working more than one job or are inattentive themselves.

From “Canto XVII: Smoke and Morals”

“‘Mountains of faith erode much faster than those
pushed up by plate tectonics,’ I say.
‘The mountain formed by Satan’s falling through
the core of the earth might better be likened
to an igneous intrusion than an
upthrust plate,’ comes his rejoinder,
‘but, you’re right, yet it erodes'”

Among the Lost (In Dante’s Wake) by Seth Steinzor is rich in modern story and, having read the first book, it seems bleaker than the trip through hell as an almost hopelessness pervades each canto as Seth (the narrator) makes his way to his lost love. Readers will be forced to look at the modern world in which we live and decide whether their role in it should change, just as Seth is so challenged.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

To Join the Lost

About the Poet:

Seth Steinzor protested the Vietnam War during his high school years near Buffalo, New York, and his years at Middlebury College, advocated Native American causes after law school, and has made a career as a civil rights attorney, criminal prosecutor, and welfare attorney for the State of Vermont. Throughout he has written poetry. In early 1980s Boston he edited a small literary journal. His first, highly praised book, To Join the Lost, was published in 2010.

50 States, 5,000 Ideas by Joe Yogerst

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 288 pgs.
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50 States, 5,000 Ideas by Joe Yogerst is a gorgeous guide to the 50 U.S. states and 10 Canadian provinces. Each section breaks down the state or province into cities and landscapes, offers tourist information, provides a background on capitalism, and offers highlights of local favorite foods and drinks and festivals or other events. Some states have hidden treasures, while others include road trip suggestions or trivia about movies, art, or music that came from that location. Yogerst also includes little known facts in some states as well, which could be fun to test on a road trip with family or friends. Rounding out the book are gorgeous, full-color photographs of landscapes, local hubs, monuments, and animals. These provide users with a sense of what to expect when visiting these locations.

My family and I have looked through this book several times, and I took extra care in revisiting some of the states we’ve already visited, just to see what Yogerst recommended. We also checked out what he recommended within our immediate area — Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia. For D.C., there is the typical Smithsonian and government buildings listed, as well as our personal favorite The National Zoo, but there were no local flavors listed such as the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl. I also noted that the National Arboretum, the Maine Avenue Fish Market, President Lincoln’s Cottage, and others were not included. Each section is probably kept minimal, but there are some great hidden treasures that shouldn’t be missed.

On the other hand, I was thrilled to notice my favorite museum as a kid, the Worcester Art Museum, made it into the list for Massachusetts. But again, here there were no mentions for the EcoTarium or the Blackstone Valley River Valley National Heritage Corridor, which has a series of trails and more for exploring the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. My hometown is the home of the Asa Waters Mansion, which was part of the Underground Railroad. Maybe I’m just being a bit too picky.

50 States, 5,000 Ideas by Joe Yogerst is not as comprehensive in finding some hidden treasures as I would prefer, but when visiting new places, the treasures he points out are just what most people would like to see. I think as a beginners guide to traveling the 50 states, this works well. There is enough within each state to occupy those interested in culture, history, and nature. I’ve had the travel bug since I was younger, and while I dreamed of visiting all 50 states someday, I’ve only seen about 19. Wish us luck as we try to tick other states off the list!

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

During three decades as an editor, writer, and photographer, Joe Yogerst has lived and worked on four continents—Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. His writing has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Islands magazine, The New York Times (Paris), and numerous National Geographic books. During that time, he has won four Lowell Thomas Awards, including one for Long Road South, his National Geographic book about driving the Pan American Highway from Texas to Argentina. Buy the book at the National Geographic Store.

Magnesium by Ray Buckley

Source: MindBuck Media
Paperback, 98 pgs.
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Magnesium by Ray Buckley is an independent poetry film that explores the dark moments of breakups and the struggles people have with lost attachments to people they relied on in their lives. “Stay with me. Assure me of things I know I can’t be assured of. Press your will against the arguments which mortality makes against us,” the narrator says in “Assure Me”. “Say to me the work I do will keep us persistent through the years we were not allotted.”

Artists often want their work to stand the test of time, but it’s more than just the art or the poetry or the words, it’s us, a part of us, that can live on and demonstrate that we were here. Our time is precious and to create a lasting impression is something many of us want for ourselves, even if it is to just be remembered fondly by friends and family. However, we can never truly be assured of our place in others’ lives, no matter how much they assure us of their love, devotion, and care.

Many things are left unsaid between people, even close family, and these unsaid moments become an obsession for those left behind when someone passes away. Like the narrator tells Ray in “Untitled” (pg. 21), “I’m sorry that there’s nothing I can say to you ever again. I’m sorry that we’ll never know each other.”

However, there are digressions and movements in time that are not linear, and readers will just have to go with the flow and ponder the events after taking the journey. Digressions into politics and the need of politicians not to have their own opinions and not care about things but only do what the people of their area tell them is particularly poignant in today’s times (“A Minor Digression”, pg. 54-5). However, it also speaks to the ridiculousness of this expectation. People have opinions and emotions and those are what guide them daily.

Magnesium by Ray Buckley burns the oxygen around it, and while some poems are brighter than others, they call attention to the emotional baggage we all carry.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Ray Buckley is an American author, actor, and cinematographer from Portland, OR.

Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey by Ginger Monette

Source: the author
Paperback, 413 pgs.
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Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey by Ginger Monette is the second book in a series of Great War Romance novels, and while you could read this as a stand alone novel, I wouldn’t recommend missing the two-book experience. Set during WWI, Monette captures the uncertainty of war-time romance with Pride & Prejudice‘s most beloved characters. If Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy were able to overcome their preconceived notions about one another in a shorter period of time, but become separated by the war, would their love endure the miles and trauma of war?

With all of Darcy’s resources would he be able to find Elizabeth if she disappeared, even as he is stuck at the front in battle? Could spies and Germans keep them apart with their war efforts, or would love and chance find a way to keep them close? Without giving away the details of this book, readers will find that the hardened Darcy of book one has been softened by his love for Elizabeth. But in this one, Elizabeth is wary of discovery as she strives to hide and protect her loved ones from reputational harm.

Monette’s settings and characterizations are in line with the time period, when women were gaining ground in male-dominated roles and expectations of marriage as the only option beginning to wane. The tension between Lizzy and Darcy has dissipated somewhat as they face new challenges outside their control, and they must not only learn to make their own decisions but also bear in mind how those decisions could impact the ones that they love. Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey by Ginger Monette is a solid follow-up to the first book, and I loved every minute of it. She has a strong sense of historical facts and the original Austen characters. This is by far one of my favorite P&P re-imaginings. Don’t hesitate, get books 1 and 2.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes

About the Author:

The teacher always learns the most. And in homeschooling her children, Ginger Monette learned all the history she missed in school. Now she’s hooked—on writing and World War I. When not writing, Ginger enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon.

Her WW1 flash fiction piece, Flanders Field of Grey, won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s 2015 Picture This grand prize.

Ginger lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she happily resides with her husband, three teenagers, and two loyal dogs.

Visit Ginger Monette on Facebook, on GoodReads, or on her website. Purchase the book here.

Giveaway- – Downton Abbey Tea!

Three lucky winners will each receive a tin of Downton Abbey Tea!
(Open to US residents only)

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 327 pgs.
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A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams is set in the early 1920s when times were beginning to change and women were feeling a little freer to do more than marry and have children. Told from the points of view of Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue, New York, and Miss Sophie Fortescue, a naive younger daughter of an inventor who recently became wealthy, Williams weaves a mystery that can only come to light when the intersection of two similar panes of a prism come together unexpectedly. (I’ll leave the final panes of that prism a mystery) The novel brings to life the cloistered life of a newly rich family as a juxtaposition to old, wealthy families in New York society. Even as the clash of new and old money continues on the surface, bubbling underneath is a desire of women in both realms to break free into the world of Jazz, booze, and freedom.

“‘Still, it was a passion of yours, wasn’t it? There was a reason you loved it, there was a reason you loved flying that had nothing to do with shooting down other airplanes and killing people. So that reason must still exist inside you, waiting for the — the — tide to go back out.'” (pg. 110)

Theresa’s marriage has grown stale, as she’s tolerated her husband’s discreet dalliances and the birth of a child just months after her own first born. As she strives to take a risk and begin her own affair, she finds herself caught up in the same traditional web of matrimony and security as the young man she falls into bed with seeks more. A principled man, an ace pilot during WWI, Octavian Rofrano grabs onto her offerings like a life preserver. It is not until he becomes Sophie’s cavalier that he begins to see that there can be more to life than a casual love affair with a married woman.

Meanwhile, Theresa’s bachelor brother Ox has fallen in love with the slip of a girl, whose innocence has been cracked by a trip to Europe with her inventor father and her sister. Sophie has fallen for his charms, until she begins to see the wider world around her, and all of its possibilities. How these lives become tangled into a treacherous web will rivet readers to every word on the page. Williams has created a socialite set and a set of new money players who are drawn into tragic circumstances beyond their control. A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams raises questions about experience and innocence, age and beauty, love and lust, and emptiness and fulfillment — how do we reach our full potential without knowing our past and leaping into the future? Can scandal ruin it all?

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.

Find out more about Beatriz at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton

Source: the author
Paperback, 320 pgs.
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Sandlands by Rosy Thornton is a devastating collection of short stories, some of which shift between the present and WWII and some of which occur during WWII. These 16 short stories are set near the village of Blaxhall in coastal Suffolk, England, and it is Gothic in many ways as Thornton creates micro-worlds in which her characters are haunted or lost. These characters dwell in an ethereal world in which nature itself becomes a character of its own, including the owl who keeps secrets.

Each story is a magical world in which anything is possible, though some have a more meditative pace than others. There are two in particular that have a crescendo that will leave readers breathless and devastated — “The Watcher of Souls” and “Stone the Crows.”

In the “Watcher of Souls,” an older woman takes walks in the woods daily and comes across an owl, and they have a moment in which their eyes lock. This connection becomes something she seeks to explore after she’s read about the legends and myths of owls. When she discovers the owl’s home in a hollow of a tree, she also discovers a tale of love and sadness. This story enables her to connect with others in a way that had been lost to her since her children moved out and began their own adult lives and she was left to live alone. It’s a touching story about human connection, love, and the solace it can bring, even just through words from the past.

These stories are complex puzzles with dynamic characters who are developed in a short span by Thornton, but who will leave an indelible impression on the reader. The setting is steeped in myth and historical legends of witches and witch hunters, WWII POWs, pagan religions carried on in the iconography of Christian churches, and folklore. In Sandlands, Thornton has created an absorbing atmosphere that envelops readers like the fog, providing them just enough to discern a path forward but not enough to see the end before it arrives.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Rosy Thornton is an author of contemporary fiction, published by Headline Review. Her novels could perhaps be described as romantic comedy with a touch of satire – or possibly social satire with a hint of romance. In real life she lectures in Law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. She shares her home with her partner, two daughters and two lunatic spaniels.  Visit her Website.

Marlene by C. W. Gortner

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 432 pgs.
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Marlene by C.W. Gortner is a glittering historical novel of the famed actress Marlene Dietrich who defies her mother to become an actress after she realizes she will never become a famed violinist as her mother expected. Oblivious to her sexual appeal and to the rumors at the academy in Weimer where she studies violin with a private tutor, Marlene believes she has improved her talent, until her tutor divulges why he forged her grades. Rather than do her duty like her sister would have done, Marlene takes a different approach to this realization, seeing it as an opportunity to escape from under her mother’s strict rules.

“The first time I fell in love, I was twelve years old.” (pg. 3)

Her cloistered life with her mother and sister could not shield her from the theater or life in the limelight, as her uncle held events in his home with local actresses, writers, and others. She was drawn like a moth to the flame, and she could do little to stop herself from taking the path that lay before her — no matter the consequences, disapproval, or hardships. For all her unconventional behavior and antics, she was a woman of conviction and an iron will to achieve her goals. She survives WWI and WWII but not without permanent scars, but her strong character helps her survive even Hollywood and her critics.

“Few took him seriously — in fact, most scoffed at his diatribes — but his party had gained momentum, winning twelve parliamentary seats in the recent elections. His followers wore distinctive swastika-emblazoned armbands, marching down the boulevards and handing out crude pamphlets on corners, extolling a rabid nationalistic agenda that I found contemptible.” (pg. 170)

Marlene by C.W. Gortner will not disappoint fans of Gortner’s previous works, which also have exalted the profiles of other strong and unconventional women throughout history. He is their champion. Marlene is strong and unconventional, but her eccentricities shine through in Gortner’s novel, illuminating her complexities as a woman in a new country making a career and a woman who still believes that Germany is her home even if the Nazi’s rendered it asunder.

RATING: Quatrain

For more information about the book, check out Harper Collins’ website.

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

C.W. Gortner is the author of The Last Queen, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici and The Tudor Secret. He holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California.

In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall and experienced life in a Spanish castle. His novels have garnered international praise and been translated into thirteen languages to date. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights and environmental issues.

He’s currently at work on his fourth novel for Ballantine Books, about the early years of Lucrezia Borgia, as well as the third novel in his Tudor series,The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles (US) or Elizabeth’s Spymaster (UK).

Half-Spanish by birth, C.W. lives in Northern California.  Visit him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Animal Adventures: Sharks

Source: publicist
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Animal Adventures: Sharks by Cynthia Stierle is a box full of undersea wonder, with 6 plastic sharks, 20 fact cards about different species, a diorama to create, and four 3D puzzles. This was another activity that my daughter snatched up the minute it came and opened it right away. The box is eye-catching and full of sharks and other activities. Stickers complete the package.

We worked on the diorama of coral and other life together as she wasn’t sure how to get them to stand up in the cardboard base. Other than that, she put together the 3D sharks herself and set about telling her own sea stories with the diorama once we’d finished.

sharkadventure

She did ask about some of the sharks and I read some of the information on the cards to her. We enjoyed Animal Adventures: Sharks by Cynthia Stierle. We’ll likely get back to playing and learning soon.

RATING: Cinquain

A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe

Source: publicist
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe — which is the 5th book in a series but can be read as a standalone novel — is set in McClellanville, S.C., a small town with a very tight-knit community.  The McClellan family has lived there for generations, but when the shrimp industry dries up forcing Captain Alistair to give up his boat and find odd jobs to make ends meet, the family is faced with tough choices. Miller is 10-years-old and he has little concept of his family’s finances. He goes to school, misses his brother who is at war, and wants a puppy for Christmas. Jenny, his mother, has better news for her family when she learns her oldest son, Taylor, is coming home.

“You might not believe me, but the desert and the ocean are similar. They’re both immense in a way that defies comprehension. I’ve ridden in a Humvee across miles of endless sand under a merciless sun and sailed a shrimp boat on the dark sea when the dawn broke across the horizon, and in both places I felt the vastness. It made me feel small and insignificant. Isolated and alone. Both desert and sea are unforgiving terrain and don’t tolerate fools.” (pg. 10-1)

Monroe’s prose is meditative as it alternates from Miller, Jenny, and Taylor’s points of view. The coming home of Taylor is much anticipated by Jenny, and while Miller is thrilled, he’s still longing for the pup his father has said they cannot afford. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, soon becomes the storm cloud that further darkens the McClellan’s door. The story would only be partly told without all three points of view, as Monroe provides a broader view of how PTSD affects not only the patient but also the family around them.

“He might have been hurt by a bomb, but he made this house like a minefield for the rest of us.” (pg. 158)

A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe is a heartwarming story about how to heal after trauma and how important family support can be for those with PTSD.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe found her true calling in environmental fiction when she moved to coastal South Carolina. Already a successful author, she was captivated by the beauty and fragility of her new home. Her experiences living in the midst of a habitat that was quickly changing gave her a strong and important focus for her books.

Mary Alice Monroe writes richly textured books that delve into the complexities of interpersonal relationships and the parallels between the land and life. Monroe’s novels are published worldwide. She has achieved many lists, including the New York Times, USA Today and SIBA. She has received numerous awards, including several Readers’ Choice Awards.

Make and Move: Shark

Source: publicist
Hardcover, 28 pgs.
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Make and Move: Shark by Jen Green includes a 28-page book and 20 pieces to build a 37-inch shark floor puzzle. The puzzle is easy enough for a Kindergartner to put together on their own with little help. My daughter set to work on the puzzle the moment it arrived on the doorstep. She loved how there were pieces that moved like joints and fins that moved as if the shark could swim. We talked about the jaw and the internal organs we put together.

makeshark

The book itself is attached to the box with the puzzle pieces, and it explains what sharks are, how they swim, what senses they have, and how they breathe underwater. There were many different types of sharks in the book, and each has a different body shape. My daughter was fascinated that there were sharks that hunted food by spiraling.

Make and Move: Shark by Jen Green provides kids with educational material and a fun activity. My daughter was eager to do the puzzle again after the first time.

RATING: Quatrain

Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer

Source: Tightrope Books
Paperback, 100 pgs.
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Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer explores our emotional responses, particularly what it means to be happy and how we account for happiness. This is Cayer’s third collection of poetry, and while I haven’t read others, it is clear that Cayer views the world in complex and unusual ways.  She looks at emotions with a practical and razor-sharp precision.

In “Acts of Confiscation,” the narrator commits new crimes to fill the emotional gaps left when the high from the previous ones wears off.  “I commit new crimes      to push/down the line     the unbearable ones/” she says, noting “I’m going in the red     direction/commit acts the size of ( )    always/some hole with fallen edges/a same-shaped desire waiting to fill it/” (pg. 23)  Cayer uses each poem to illustrate a different kind of happiness, and if readers look closely, they will see the happiness tied to mental illness or instability in some cases.  For instance, “Travelling without Moving” seems to illustrate an obsessive-compulsive who always works in a particular way — rearranges things to relax — and does these actions in a way that they are routine and unrecognizable as his/her own actions.  “it relaxes me to sort and rearrange, I’m pretty sure it was me/in the cupboards and boxes,”  (pg. 28)

Through the lenses of psychology and other sciences, Cayer looks at what it means to emote, to feel, and to strive to recreate those moments of happiness.  And beneath these studies is a certain trepidation about the future and whether the happiness will run out or be lost.  Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer is a complex collection that requires rumination and exploration beyond the page into the self and the world around us.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Lori Cayer is the author of two volumes of poetry: Stealing Mercury and Attenuations of Force. She serves as co-editor of English poetry for CV2 and is co-founder of the Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry/Prix Lansdowne de poésie. Lori works by day as an editorial assistant for a scientific research journal.

Stuck on Fun! Play with Patterns, Sticker Tape, and More! by Jannie Ho

Source: QuartoKnows
Hardcover, 36 pgs.
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Stuck on Fun! Play with Patterns, Sticker Tape, and More! by Jannie Ho has stickers, pop-out characters to dress up, and patterned paper and stencils to create clothes and accessories. The paper patterns are mostly flowers and other embellishments, though there are a couple that are geometric or have animals. The stickers you can use to make belts and other accessories are a wider variety. The book also contains several scenes that kids can use to create their own stories, such as going to shopping or going on a trip to outer space.

Here’s some of the fun creations we made (she made them; I was just the assistant):

The book tells you what materials are available inside and what additional materials you’ll need, such as scissors and glue. You can also add your own pom poms and glitter if you have those on hand. There are other project ideas inside as well. This book could offer kids hours of fun, especially if they like to create their own characters. We really liked that there were a variety of characters, including an alien. One draw back for us was that you couldn’t remove the stencils from the book, unless you cut the cardboard to take them out. It makes it hard to trace the clothing patterns inside the book because of how many stencils are inside.

Stuck on Fun! Play with Patterns, Sticker Tape, and More! by Jannie Ho is a great book to use on a rainy or wintry day with kids. Have a blast; get creative.

RATING: Quatrain