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Scattered Clouds by Reuben Jackson

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 130 pgs.
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When you have fate kick your butt and keep you from getting a poetry collection you’ve been eager to read (especially when you want to be at a reading), does that lead you to enjoy the collection even more when you finally get a copy?

This is my question because this was my journey to getting Reuben Jackson’s new collection. But I digress.


Scattered Clouds by Reuben Jackson is like a best hits record, but it’s also a deeply personal look at Washington, D.C., love in all of its incarnations, and the power of music (in this case Jazz). “Fingering the Keys” is a section of previously published poems by Jackson, giving readers some initial flavor of his work as he reflects on his younger years, roadtrips with his father, the harsh realities of being black in America. But as a kid you don’t always understand why you can’t do certain things like stay in that roadside teepee shaped motel in South Carolina. In “on the road,” the narrator speaks about the bargain struck with his dad to stay the night, but then says, “it worked,// so why did he return without/room keys?”

Each of these line breaks and pauses are like an interlude in which the undercurrent of the head in the music of Jackson’s poems comes to the fore full force, knocking the reader off their feet and sending their mind into overdrive. There are many of these “aha” or “Mmmhmmm” moments where readers are like I understand and I see where you are and what’s going on, even in the most innocent of moments. When we’re young and trying to find out who we are and want to be, we experiment, but there are those of us judged more harshly for experimenting outside “the comfort zone.”

a lonely affair

even the most die-hard liberals
have their moments;

like the man wearing the
end apartheid button
who followed me across his bookstore;

Jackson is well aware of the power of word choice when he speaks about the man’s bookstore, knowing full well that though this man is liberal, the narrator is from outside his known community and should be followed. Is he following him because he wants to talk, to share, or simply to monitor, to prevent, to presume? In “a lonely affair,” our narrator continues along his path, lonely as it may be, to ensure revolution does not fizzle out. By being there, out in the world and reading his poems, he’s affecting change.

“sunday brunch” has to be my favorite poem in this collection. The matter-of-fact response and sarcasm is priceless. I refuse to ruin the surprise, but how would you answer “Where do your parents summer?”

The section of “city songs” will transport you D.C. and beyond in ways you don’t expect. Readers are thrown into the deep pit of tragedy and sorrow, of borrowed breaths, and deep loneliness even in urban landscapes. The intimacy of the first section gives way to the wider world — it intrudes upon the intimacy and wrenches away the slightest sense of shelter. We’ve moved into a world where culture bears heavily down on those who do not fit neatly in it. Rather than change the tone, Jackson’s language almost lulls the reader into each situation, letting the reality of them seep under the skin.

“sky blues” is the crescendo of the collection, exploring the beauty of late-in-life love — a mutual respect and passion for the fullness of who we are. In the poems of the “Amir & Khadijah: A Suite,” Jackson becomes lyrical with love, the kind of love that can buoy a spirit in rough tides and become a lift of spirit. It’s Jackson’s song of hope, either for himself or for all of us. His heart is full of love and it is reaching out to us in line after line searching for connection.

Here, too, we find Jackson’s poem for Trayvon Martin as an angel guides the young boy home, away from danger. These final poems nod to the past and the struggles, with a hope for the future. Scattered Clouds by Reuben Jackson is the balm for the sting of “real” American life, laced with a hope that we can overcome, persevere, and take the lessons we’ve learned from those lost to us and apply them to our future selves to create a better tomorrow. It’s the coverage we need away from the storm without forgetting that storms do come.


I cannot urge you enough to buy these collection. Rarely do I outright tell you to buy something, but if you buy one poetry collection this year, let it be this one.


RATING: Cinquain

Two More Days at Netherfield by Heather Moll

Source: Publisher
ebook, 406 pgs.
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Two More Days at Netherfield by Heather Moll finds Elizabeth Bennet and her sister at Netherfield like they were in Jane Austen’s novel, Pride & Prejudice.

While at Netherfield nursing her sister back to health, Elizabeth comes to realize that her first impressions of Mr. Darcy may have been wrong. At the same time, through teasing, she makes him realize that he may have been hasty in his opinion of her. As they continue to be in each other’s company, will they come to realize that they are more alike and complementary to one another than they initially thought?

These two begin to share their love of poetry and intellectual conversation. They start to view one another as friends, even if they do continue to verbally spar. Mr. Wickham arrives on the scene and their friendship, which is blatantly obvious to the scoundrel, hatches a plan.

“She has no beauty! I have twenty thousand pounds!”

Moll’s Elizabeth is outspoken and braver than the Lizzy in Austen’s novel. She makes the first move in some situations where she should be reserved. This, however, is not to say that she diverges too far from Austen’s character. The machinations of Mr. Wickham and Miss Bingley, though not in concert, are even more devious. I love that Moll made Wickham and Bingley more evil than in Austen’s book. Both of these characters know what they want and what their motivations are and they are committed to the last. Watch out Elizabeth and Darcy.

Bingley and Jane find their happiness more quickly but little else has changed, though there is no chance meeting at Hunsford for Darcy and Elizabeth. All of these changes are well done and not missed when Moll’s book unfolds.

Unfortunately, after Darcy and Lizzy get together and past all of their misconceptions and worries, the pace quickens. The novel fast forwards to when they are already married. As these chapters propel the reader into the future of their lives, I felt as though I was missing some great moments of connection between them. Aside from that, Darcy and Lizzy have a balance in their relationship that they hadn’t had before. Two More Days at Netherfield by Heather Moll is a heartwarming novel that brings Darcy and Elizabeth together in a way that makes them partners in all things. Partnerships in love are the best kind.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Heather Moll is an avid reader of mysteries and biographies with a master’s in
information science. She found Jane Austen later than she should have and made up for lost time by devouring Austen’s letters and unpublished works, joining JASNA, and spending too much time researching the Regency era. She is the author of Two More Days at Netherfield and His Choice of a Wife. She lives with her husband and son and struggles to balance all of the important things, like whether to clean the house or write. Connect with her on Facebook,
Goodreads, Instagram, and Twitter.

GIVEAWAY:

Quills & Quartos Publishing is giving away one ecopy at each blog stop of the Two More Days at Netherfield blog tour. All you need to do to enter the giveaway is comment on this blog post, and Quills & Quartos will randomly choose one random winner after Feb. 21, 2020. So, make sure you join in the conversation!

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens

Source: Author
Paperback, 292 pgs.
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Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens is the story of women in the workforce in the 1980s, long before the #MeToo movement began and when women endured workplace harassment and abuse with little recourse other than to quit or change jobs. Shelby Stewart is an intern at a PR firm in Boston where Astrid Ericcson is an up-and-coming account executive who is looking to make it to the top soon. Astrid’s flirty personality is in stark contrast to her cold shoulder she gives her coworkers and is juxtaposed with Shelby’s practical attitude. Both women hail from humble beginnings, but they are both eager to make their own way in the PR world.

Shelby has some demons to work through, and as she ignores them, those memories begin to flit into her consciousness and affect her health. She struggles on the dating scene and can’t figure out why until she finally admits what happened in her past. Meanwhile, Ericcson realizes that her flirty nature may have been interpreted in a way she didn’t intend when her boss comes sniffing around, making innuendos and sexual quid pro quo statements.

These women cannot be in one another’s company, but eventually the ice melts between them and they become a trio with Shelby’s friend Tina — the most well adjusted of the bunch. I liked that these women soon focus on themselves and become a supportive group, but they rely far too heavily on alcohol and dance club, one-night stands until nearly the end.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens is a look at the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace during the 1980s and how women were stuck with few options — tough it out or move to another company. It also examines the lasting effects of sexual molestation and abuse that occurs too often in the home — forever shaping the worldview of the children it directly impacts. Stevens is a talented storyteller and the book is a page-turner.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

S.M. Stevens began writing fiction during back-to-back health crises. First, she broke her pelvis in three places in a horseback riding fall, and used the recuperation period to write Shannon’s Odyssey, a middle-grade novel for animal-lovers. Soon after, Stevens was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. During her five months of treatment and subsequent recovery spell, she wrote Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers for musical theatre-loving teens. Two additional Bit Players novels followed. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is her first adult book. After watching reactions to the #MeToo movement, she decided it was time for a novel that takes people into the minds of victims so they can understand why many women don’t speak up about their harassment or assault, and why some do. When not writing, she provides marketing and public relations services to solar energy companies. She is from Gorham, Maine, and now lives in Clinton, Mass., and Washington, N.H. She has also lived in Italy and in the U.K., where she was Group Public Affairs Director for National Grid. Visit her Website, Facebook, on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, GoodReads, and on Amazon.

We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum is an adorable photography spread that will melt your heart with cute little baby animals. Esbaum uses rhyme to pinpoint the different aspects of these babies from webbed toes to wings. There are babies big and small, furry and feathery, and all full-fledged cute.

The book is for kids just learning words and different shapes, but my daughter loves cute baby animals (don’t we all). We would argue that this is a photography book for all ages. The images are crisp and detailed, and some are down right fun to look at. Esbaum’s witty rhymes make the book even more enjoyable for younger children — it’s almost song-like.

We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum is a great way to introduce young children to the natural world, different species of animals (which are all labeled in the final pages), and words like big and small. These images will make you smile, which is another reason just to have this book around.

RATING: Cinquain

Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus is the fourth book in the series and is riddled with actual dialogue that a younger kindergartner would use. Junie B. loves to sneak around and spy on her family but when they explain that she shouldn’t be doing that, she still considers herself a sneaky spy. When she spies on the wrong person, it could spell big trouble.

My daughter had a hard time with some of the misspelled words. But she started to learn to correct them as she read aloud. We like Junie B. and her antics, even if she gets in trouble, but her misspelled words were troublesome, especially for my daughter who continues to struggle with reading. This is a fun series, but I’m not sure we’ll read more of these as part of her nightly practice.

Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus is a cute book with a mischievous girl who likes to see the world without anyone knowing she’s there. She just doesn’t understand the concept of privacy.

RATING: Quatrain

Yuletide edited by Christina Boyd

Source: Purchased by my Secret Santa
Paperback, 190 pgs.
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Yuletide edited by Christina Boyd includes short stories around Christmas time in Pride & Prejudice‘s Darcy and Bennet households in Regency and modern times from Amy D’Orazio, Caitlin Williams, Anngela Schroeder, J. Marie Croft, Elizabeth Adams, Joana Starnes, and Lona Manning. Each story holds true to the characters, but places them in different situations at Christmas time.

Caitlin Williams’ “The Forfeit” has Elizabeth Bennet acting as frivolous and giddy as her younger sisters as she gets ready for the local ball. Her little wager with Mr. Darcy is one that could leave her vulnerable at the hands of a wealthy man, but readers know that the wager is friendly and Mr. Darcy is a stand-up guy of character. “It was only when she was sunk deep into the iron tub that she realised she had spent the last two hours in much the same fashion as Lydia and Kitty, minus, thankfully, some very silly giggling.” (pg. 20).

Other stories in the collection find the married Darcy’s enjoying some old and new traditions, together. But one of my favorites is “The Wishing Ball” by Amy D’Orazio engages readers in a mystery where Darcy has made a wish without actually making a wish, causing some confusion to a lonely single man of great fortune. But it also provides some comedy when his sister learns about the wish inside. “‘So some other man…another man, with the initials FDG and a tendency to make the letter I like he went to prep school in England, bought this ball, wrote a wish, placed it inside, then sealed it up, and returned it. Then I, your sister, just happened to come along and buy it? That’s your hypothesis?'” (pg. 52)

All of the stories in the collection will provide readers with a glimpse of Christmas time festivities in the Darcy and Bennet houses, but they also offer a unique look at how the Christmas spirit can enable Darcy and Lizzy to rethink their behavior towards one another and learn to be more charitable and forgiving.

Yuletide edited by Christina Boyd is a delightful collection of short stories with some of our favorite Pride & Prejudice characters learning to be more patient, kind, and forgiving. It was the perfect read for the holiday season.

RATING: Cinquain

The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is the sixth book in the series and was a joy to read. My daughter loved the colorful pictures and the adventure story. Plus princesses that become superheroes, how could you go wrong with this one.

Princess Magnolia has a poster for the science fair, but some of her classmates have created elaborate projects including a Bucket Boosting Teeter-Totter and a volcano. A volcano that talks? That can’t be right. The princess and some of her fellow students soon realize the volcano is carrying a goo monster, who is threatening to take over the entire science fair. Princess Magnolia soon transforms into The Princess in Black and spring into action to save the school’s science fair. Lucky for her she has a few helping heroes and princesses.

These princesses are savvy and work well together under pressure. My daughter loved reading how they solved the problem and determined how best to deal with the goo monster. Don’t worry, no goo monsters were harmed (too much) in the making of this adventure.

The illustrations are vibrant and action-packed just like the story. They enhance the tale. The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is a delightful book about the power of teamwork and how every day people can be heroes. And princesses don’t have to be rescued, but they can take action and solve problems on their own.

RATING: Cinquain

Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 160 pgs.
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Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski provides introductory information about computer science and coding, equating it to “the arts,” which can help kids see how they can use science to create. I liked this perspective in the introduction. I started out by reading the introduction myself and explaining it to my daughter in brief so she could follow along with the activities.

The text is a bit dense for my 8-year-old, but the activities are engaging enough for her education level. Some of these entry-level activities may be too elementary for older kids. To introduce kids to coding, the book explains logical thinking and why coding is necessary. It can help robots find things and decipher codes, and so much more. It was a good idea to share this with our daughter, but some of this may be more advanced than we expected.  It’s definitely a keeper.

Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski offers a lot of computer science inside concepts and activities for kids to try with their parents. On her own, our daughter would probably not have gotten very far because she’s not the right age for it. I think this would be better for older children. We still enjoyed our time with the book.

RATING: Quatrain

Poetry Reading Challenge 2020

 

While I spend the year encouraging people to read more poetry, I’ve often focused on increased reading of poetry books.

This year, I’d like to try something a little different.

There will still be a few options.

  • One of the easiest, and possibly most difficult, will be getting people to sign up to read a poem-a-day through the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day service. The challenge is to read a poem-a-day for a week once per month and write about which poems were your favorite and why. You can write up a short blurb on your Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, or your blog. I’d love for you to share your experience in the comments each month.
  • Second, read at least 1 book of poetry (doesn’t have to be cover-to-cover) and write about your favorite poems and what you learned about yourself while reading those poems.
  • Third, if you want to go all out, feel free to read as many books of poetry as you can in one year and link to your reviews in the comments.

If you accept one of the options or the whole challenge, leave a comment with where you will be posting about your year in poetry.

Christmas Poetry to Inspire by Jean Kay

Source: Purchased by Bookish Secret Santa
Paperback, 30 pgs.
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Christmas Poetry to Inspire by Jean Kay is a slim collection of poems about the beauty of the Christmas season and the celebrations Christians engage in. Kay speaks about a call for peace not only at Christmas time, but also throughout the entire year. There are a couple of lines that rang bitter in the first poems about changing “merry Christmas” to happy holidays, but overall, I think the poems stayed true to their message of peace and love.

In “Christmas Gatherings,” Kay’s lines speak about the burdens we all sometimes face and how God never burdens us with more than we can handle, but we all wish that we were not burdened with so much. She speaks of how Mother Theresa even felt the same, but this never deterred her from doing the great work she did throughout her life. In “Encouraging Peace,” Kay speaks about the power of peace as a state of mind and how if we encourage it in ourselves and others, it can spread like wildfire — hopefully ending the need for war and strife.

Jean Kay’s Christmas Poetry to Inspire aims to not only spread Christmas cheer, but also speak about the power of peace and our need to spread good will to others. One of my favorites in this collection was “Christmas Music,” in which Kay tells us a story with song titles from the season. Very unique and engaging.

RATING: Tercet

The Book of Queens: Legendary Leaders, Fierce Females, and Wonder Women Who Ruled the World by Stephanie Warren Drimmer

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 176 pgs.
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The Book of Queens: Legendary Leaders, Fierce Females, and Wonder Women Who Ruled the World by Stephanie Warren Drimmer breaks down 100 of the top female leaders of our history into bite-sized bits that younger readers can digest. It would be a fantastic addition to any classroom looking to expose students to these extraordinary women — rulers, fighters, entertainers, scientists, and so much more. The book includes a list of familiar names like Joan of Arc, Marie Curie, Queen Elizabeth, Aretha Franklin, Ellen DeGeneres, and Helen Keller alongside less familiar female leaders, like Joan Cooney who helped create Sesame Street, Claudia Alexander who discovered Jupiter’s 21 moons, and Jeannette Rankin who helped get the 19th Amendment passed to give women the right to vote.

My daughter and I started out reading various ladies’ biographies haphazardly as she saw pictures that intrigued her enough to ask questions. We loved learning about the women who were familiar to me, but also those that were not. I love that there were so many women featured from traditionally male-dominated industries like space science. We’ll likely continue looking through this book and learning about different women.

The Book of Queens: Legendary Leaders, Fierce Females, and Wonder Women Who Ruled the World by Stephanie Warren Drimmer is a look at all of the women who have significant influence on politics, the world of science, fashion, music, and so much more. Included are a few short bios of men who may have influenced society as well. Drimmer makes each bio engaging and short enough to keep the interest of younger readers, which will get them thinking about where they can find more information about these famous women and men.

RATING: Quatrain

Diary of a Pug: Pug Blasts Off by Kyla May

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Diary of a Pug: Pug Blasts Off by Kyla May is another Branches book from Scholastic, which are books aimed at readers on the cusp of transitioning to chapter books and who are independent readers. We’ve read a number of books in the Owl Diaries series, but this is a new series my daughter found at her school book fair. She was able to buy this one while at school on her own, and I’m glad she did.

Baron von Bubbles, also known as Bub, is a pug who loves his owner, Bella. Bella is a smart, creative kid, who loves to invent things, and she’s getting ready for the school fair. Bub wants to help in any way he can. My daughter can read most of this book on her own, which is great because when she wasn’t tired one evening after her activities, she asked to read just one more chapter on her own before bed. The next day, she happily told me what happened, so I wouldn’t be lost when we picked up with the reading the following night.

Bub does not like to be wet, but he does love belly rubs, his skateboard, and peanut butter. In this adventure, Bub takes flight in his quest to retrieve his favorite teddy bear from Nutz, the squirrel. I was surprised Bub made it back home in one piece.

Diary of a Pug: Pug Blasts Off by Kyla May is full of fun adventure, and Bub is just adorable. My daughter really likes this series, and I think that she’ll likely be reading more.

RATING: Cinquain