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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.
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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

The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 2+ hours
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The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, narrated by Andi Arndt and Sebastian York, is a short novella similar to a Hallmark movie in which a young professional finds a certain young man from another division at her company annoying. Riley Kennedy‘s emails keep being sent to Kennedy Riley, who works in another division at the same company. But rather than simply forward her replies, he has to offer his two-cents. Clearly, writing personal emails to an advice columnist is ill-advised from a work email account, but Riley’s really bummed about the holiday’s and her mother’s bragadocious Christmas letter to everyone in the family about her siblings.

Kennedy offers her an out — take him home for the holidays as her boyfriend.

Yes, Hallmark lane, here we come. Is it cheesy? predictable? Ultimately, yes. However, we all need that feel-good, hilarity once in a while, and this one fit the bill for me. It doesn’t hurt that my ears have a crush on Sebastian York’s sultry voice, either.

The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, narrated by Andi Arndt and Sebastian York, is fun, funny, and delightful. Complete with the white horse and city streets of New York.

RATING: Cinquain

The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas

Source: publisher/TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 304 pgs.
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Nearly 250 years after Jane Austen’s birth, her popularity continues to gain momentum. With the number of spinoffs, continuations, and variations of her work soaring each year, the impetus of her popularity has been attributed to many things, including the scholarly study of her novels and the relatively relatable topics she explored. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas takes a different approach to the discussion by examining those editions of Austen’s novels that often fell out of circulation, were read until they fell apart, were produced using the same printing plates time and again, and were cheap enough for those of the working class to buy them on occasion.

Don’t be fooled! This is not a book about those illustrious, high-priced, out-of-reach (for most of us) first editions of Austen’s novels.

Complete with 100 full-color photographs of covers that hearken back to the penny dreadfuls, yellow-backs, and dime store copies with pulp-like covers on wire racks, Barchas has sought the history of the mass produced Austen novel. Many of which are held in private hands not by collectors, but by ordinary people. Some of these covers depict Lydia making a fool of herself at Brighton in Pride & Prejudice, Mary Crawford seducing Edmund, and much more scandalous behavior.

“Austen’s reputation has benefited from every significant modern innovation in the making and marketing of cheap books over the past two centuries. That reception history, starting in earnest with her first reprintings in the 1830s, doubles as the story of the increasingly inexpensive book,” says Barchas in the preface.

Richard Bentley is often credited with Austen’s increased popularity, but Barchas makes her case that it was more than his Standard Novels reprint series in 1833. She contends that those novels were still too expensive. Barchas adds that those volumes were soon joined with far cheaper versions of Austen’s novels, which may have had a greater impact on widening her popularity. “Not only was Jane Austen present among the earliest experiments in mass-market paperbacks,” says Barchas, “but these lowly books prove how her entrance into the literary canon occurred in a much cruder fashion than most of her fans today imagine.”

Later, Penguin Books created their own paperback versions that are color-coded by type: fiction, mystery, etc. As we move through Barchas’s nonlinear history of Austen’s covers, some new editions are more elaborate with red cloth covers, cursive writing, and more traditional looks, compared to the melodramatic scenes of previous covers.

Did you know that Austen’s books were used to sell soap? Or that paintings were used as a way to sell Austen’s books? And I bet you thought Austen marketed as “ChickLit” was a recent phenomenon, but it actually first started in the 1840s. Barchas provides readers with not only gorgeously photographed covers, wonderful vignette’s about owners’ copies of Austen’s works, and so much more. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas is a must have for Janeites and Janites alike. If you’re still shopping this holiday season, you cannot go wrong with this book. Remember, most of us read books that were mass-printed paperbacks in school, not the hardcover, first editions that are coveted by collectors today. The mass-printed books are the lifeblood of any author, especially if they hope to survive century after century.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Janine Barchas is the Louann and Larry Temple Centennial Professor of English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity and Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. She is also the creator behind What Jane Saw.

Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams

Source: Poet
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams, winner of The Backwaters Press Prize for Poetry, is similar in theme to his other collection, As One Fire Consumes Another, in that there is an exploration of dark tragedy, lost identity, and more, but there are moments of hope and light — a common hopeful dream. “Because skin has a memory all its own and because memory is a language that’s survived its skin,” he says in the title poem drawing parallels between the memories and weights we carry through life with the greater memory we leave behind. He reminds us in “Then We Will Make Our Own Demons” that we tend to tie significance to moments in time that are not as earth shattering as we suspect them to be: “When your name is less an arrow/ … /instead it is a thread dissolving/into a forgotten wound. When all woulds/have hints of birds in them…/”

Williams explores the hurts and sadness of childhood, while speaking about how those moments shape us and our worlds when we internalize them, but how those moments often fade into the background becoming less significant. As the collection moves away from growing up into adulthood, Williams speaks about the moments in which we look back and realize our lives have taken turns we never expected.

In “Poison Oak,” there is the helplessness we all may feel some day, particularly when a child becomes ill and all we can do is rock them in our arms and hope they will recover. “I do know there’s a crying boy/the coarse cradle of my hands/cannot rock into immunity,” he says. But he also explores larger societal issues, like the loss of peers in a hail of bullets in “Killing Lesson.” These poems beg us to look at those “earth shattering” moments of our lives with greater perspective. To review our lives with an empathetic eye toward those around us, who may be carrying heavier burdens, having more tragedy than we ever could.

Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams is an amazing collection that tackles large themes while grounding each moment in real life. A harrowing collection that strives for peace and hope, a journey into the self and outside of it. We have a memory, and there’s a memory of life that surrounds us. When the skin of us is gone, where do those memories go, how do they live on? They live on in the words we share, the stories we tell, and the moments we cherish with others. Connection is the greatest gift of all.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hrs
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I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss is a look back at the hard road of comedy and the bumpy road to stardom, but it is also explores Hart’s own life and how it impacted his future career and family. Hart pulls no punches in this one and lays everything bare, including his problems with alcohol, domestic abuse, and more.

Growing up near Philadelphia was hard, especially with a strict single mother and a father who was addicted to drugs and hardly ever home. His stories about his family are outrageous to say the least, and Hart will say that he couldn’t have made them up if he tried.

Throughout the book he offers advice he received from other comics on the scene in Philly, New York, and LA. But he also offers lessons from his own life. One takeaway that really resonated with me is that even though his mother forced them to take public transportation even when they had another option, trained him for his rigorous show schedule and the waiting on TV and movie sets that can be not only frustrating but tedious. His mother’s tenacity also inspired him to keep striving for his goals, as he faced empty bank accounts and non-paying venues.

Hart is funny throughout the audio, which he narrates, but there are moments of crassness early on when he talks frankly about becoming an adolescent boy and later in life when he’s in Hollywood. These are part of his story, and if you don’t like profanity or detailed information about sex, you may want to skip this one or those parts.

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss was wildly entertaining, funny, and enlightening. I learned a great deal about where my own determination and drive comes from by Hart reminding me of those restrictive days as a kid in my parents’ home. I can now see how those restrictions helped me become the disciplined person I am. Hart’s still on a journey, but his journey is now aimed at improving the lives of his children, encouraging him in the way his mother did, and ensuring they don’t think they can skip school and do the things that he did. There were many laugh out loud moments, but there are lessons that you won’t soon forget.

RATING: Cinquain

Fables by Arnold Lobel

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Fables by Arnold Lobel includes beautiful illustrations with one-page fables, some of which still apply today. There are a few fables that could use better messages for kids, which is why parents should carefully choose which fables to read their children. This book is a bit challenging to read for my daughter, but we’ve talked about each fable and parsed the story to find the meaning of each tale.

One of our favorites was the “The Poor Old Dog,” who has no home and a worn coat and shoes until one day he finds what he thinks is a magic ring. In this story, readers learn that wishes may not always come true immediately after making them and that patience is key in making wishes, as well as ensuring they come true. “The Ostrich in Love” is a tale my daughter thought was odd because the Ostrich never talks to the girl he loves, but he does all of these nice things for her. “Love is its own reward,” the tale says, but my daughter is not convinced — she’s still young yet.

“The Hen and the Apple Tree” is a tale with a wolf naturally and an inquisitive and skeptical hen — and well she should be. My daughter liked this one, even when we discussed how hard it is to be something we are not. Another favorite was “The Hippopotamus at Dinner,” which is appropriate considering this is the holiday season in which we all tend to overindulge a bit.

Fables by Arnold Lobel provides some unique stories for kids to read together or to have read to them. The illustrations are colorful and realistic, which makes the tales all the more real for kids. While some of the lessons are outdated and could be updated a bit for kids of the modern era, parents can take that extra time to explain those stories to children in a way that makes more sense.

RATING: Tercet