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Poe Won’t Go by Kelly DiPucchio and Zachariah Ohora

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 40 pgs.
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Poe Won’t Go by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora, is a tale to teach young and old a little patience, compassion, and kindness. Poe is a rather large elephant who impedes the flow of traffic in a town that is full of pushy people. He won’t budge, no matter what they say or do to him. He’s there for a reason, a young girl says, and she takes charge to find out why.

Marigold demonstrates compassion for Poe, speaking to him in a kind way to find out why he’s come to their town. Stop and listen and you might know why.

Zachariah Ohora’s simple, colorful images are perfect for young readers. They provide easily recognizable shapes and animals to make it easier for them to infer the story. Coupled with DiPucchio’s story, Poe Won’t Go, is a delight.

RATING: Cinquain

Our Situation by W. Luther Jett

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 27 pgs.
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Our Situation by W. Luther Jett is a powerful chapbook in which the poet explores the uncertainty of not only the state of politics in the United States, but also events that jar us from our routine lives and remind us that trauma can occur unexpectedly. Despite the keening (there is a poem with such a title about a dying nation) in the volume, there are glimmers of hope to be had.

"Keening" (pg. 2)

My country is dying and I,
I am singing the night to sleep.

While fireflies rise from their
diurnal graves to torch the dark, I sing.

While the owl's great winds sweep
clean the sightless air, I sing.

From the mountains to the prairies
I sing, and from ocean to ocean, we weep.

We weep together for our song
is as much a lament as it is a battle-cry."

Jett’s imagery in these poems, like in “Spinning,” place the reader at the center of the action. Readers will feel the body in the air after the car makes contact, and the hot breath of the wolf at the narrator’s back in “Canary.” Many of these images are at first subtle until their power creeps up on the reader, and it is perfectly on display in “Canary” and many other poems.

Our Situation by W. Luther Jett does not strike heavily with its message about the current political and social situations we find ourselves in as a nation, like the narrator says in “Canary:” “A wolf is walking/down my backbone — and you don’t/believe me.” and “he’ll lunge and bite — and you/you won’t believe it’s happening/even as you watch me/disintegrate into a smear of viscera./” (pg. 5) And in many ways, Jett gives many the hope they need that we can recover from the darkness, like in “Love Song for A Dismembered Country:” “A voice you have forgotten/will return, wearing/night-colored slippers// Then these words at last/may roll the way honey does/over your parched tongue.//” (pg. 24) Don’t miss this collection.

**Note: Jett is part of a poetry workshop group to which I belong.**

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

W. Luther Jett is a native of Montgomery County, Maryland and a retired special educator. His poetry has been published in numerous journals, such as The GW Review, Beltway, Potomac Review, and Little Patuxent Review as well as several anthologies, including My Cruel Invention and Proud to Be. His poetry performance piece, Flying to America, debuted at the 2009 Capital Fringe Festival in Washington D.C. He has been a featured reader at many D.C. area venues. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Not Quite: Poems Written in Search of My Father, released by Finishing Line Press in the fall of 2015, and Our Situation, released by Prolific Press, summer, 2018.

The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 17+ hours
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The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery, narrated by Barbara Caruso, was our September book club selection (unfortunately, I missed the meeting). Aurelia is a young girl who lives with her housekeeper mother in a Catholic school until her mother falls ill before they are set to embark with her uncle to Japan. Without her mother, she becomes despondent and longs for a home, but her uncle, a priest, is less equipped to provide that for her, even in Japan. When a fire rips through the area, Aurelia is alone and hiding in the grounds of the Shin family when the daughter, Yakako, finds her. She’s soon adopted into the family, less as a daughter and more as a servant.

Tea ceremonies are the life blood of the Shin family, but in the late-nineteenth century, the nation faces a number of political changes. Even though she is young and eventually reaches puberty in the Shin family, she becomes integral to the household and feels more at home with them than those from the West. There are still moments where she stumbles, unsure of the customs and eager to indulge Yakako’s need for freedom, until they paint themselves into a corner with her father.

Caruso’s voice is a perfect fit for a novel about tea ceremonies in Japan, a ritual only executed by men. Like many women in Japanese society, their actions are based on ceremony and deference to the men in their lives — a father and a husband — but even then, they can find small comforts among themselves. Aurelia is no different. There is much hard work, conflict with the father, and anxiety due to the changes in Japan — a westernization that could brush aside the importance of tea ceremonies.

There are moments when readers will have to suspend disbelief — how can Aurelia (Urako) learn about Japan from books in 1866? Or learn the language to make it passable just from those books and a cook on the ship over — but the interactions of Aurelia with her protector Yakako are delightful as they navigate the differences in their cultures and misunderstandings. But the narrative gets bogged down in the historical detail, leaving readers wondering what the point of it all is and why they didn’t just pick up a history book instead.

The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery, narrated by Barbara Caruso, spans about 40 years and much of the Shin family’s time is spent decrying the modernization and westernization of Japan, which is reasonable given the dedication the family has to tea ceremonies. However, Aurelia seems to merely be an observer in her life most of the time, doing little to grow other than what her benefactors tell her. A well-researched and written novel, but the plot and characters plod along in what seems to be merely a history lesson from the eyes of a westerner thrust into a the role of imposter as the Shin family adopts her as their own servant. Her return home is less than climatic.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

The only writer ever to have received the American Library Association Stonewall Award for Fiction twice, Ellis Avery is the author of two novels, a memoir, and a book of poetry. Her novels, The Last Nude (Riverhead 2012) and The Teahouse Fire (Riverhead 2006) have also received Lambda, Ohioana, and Golden Crown awards, and her work has been translated into six languages. She teaches fiction writing at Columbia University and out of her home in the West Village.

DC Super Hero Girls: Search for Atlantis by Shea Fontana, illustrated by Yancey Labat

Source: DC Entertainment
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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DC Super Hero Girls: Search for Atlantis by Shea Fontana, illustrated by Yancey Labat, is an original graphic novel about teamwork and learning to see how differences in personalities can not only be complementary to our own but also an asset to a team. Mera, a resident of Atlantis, tries to fit in at Super Hero High and finds a friend in Wonder Woman. This causes conflict with Wonder Woman’s friend Bumblebee who views Mera as someone taking her friend away, even though this is not the case. When the super heroes find that Atlantis has vanished during a school field trip about weaponry, the heroes must learn to work together to save the underwater city.

The pages of the graphic novel are just what you’d expect to find in the comics, but on glossy paper and in a bound format, the super hero girls really come to life. Not only does each hero have his/her own powers that make them unique, but they also have different personalities that provide a new set of challenges.

Each part of the story is broken up into chapters, allowing younger readers to take breaks in between each segment. These breaks also enable young readers to absorb what has been happening between the characters and how far the mission has moved forward with its objectives. DC Super Hero Girls: Search for Atlantis by Shea Fontana, illustrated by Yancey Labat, introduces some familiar characters from the comic book world and perfectly dovetails with some of the social issues found on the cartoon.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Shea Fontana is a screenwriter for film and television, as well as a comic book writer. Her work includes the original graphic novels in the DC Super Hero Girls line, as well as TV shows The 7D, Doc McStuffins, Whisker Haven Tales with The Palace Pets and more.

Nevertheless, We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage Foreword by Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
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Nevertheless We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage with a foreword by Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a collection of essays from some of the bravest humans in society — those who have taken bad experiences, traumatic events, and more  and come out the other side into a brighter future for themselves. What’s inspiring about these people is not how they have taken their hard journey and learned lessons, which they applied to their own lives, but that they have taken these hardships and lessons and used them to create better futures for others facing similar obstacles.

Each essayists’ style is different and each journey is nuanced. At the heart of this collection is the strength of the human mind and its emotional and psychological flexibility to recover and to move forward and to contribute to society in the best ways. From a Holocaust survivor to an actress who saw acting as a way to be someone other than herself, these essays are about perseverance and strength.

Alia Shawkat’s career, for example, was no longer a way to escape, but a way for her to embrace who she truly is and to show that to others — breaking down those stereotypes. These essays are inspiring. The young and old should read this collection. Jump in head first and learn to let go of the fears that hold them back.

“Music would be no longer something to dabble in but something to swallow me whole if I surrendered to it. Like the ocean, I both longed for it and feared it.” (pg. 102, “You, Sailor” by Erin McKeown)

“It can be a lonely business, this persisting.” (pg. 104, same essay)

The collection touches not only on those most marginalized by society as a whole, but also those lives in the shadows of great basketball players and others finding their own way out of the darkness. Nevertheless We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage with a foreword by Sen. Amy Klobuchar is a collection that should be on everyone’s shelves, and read and discussed by book clubs, friends, strangers, and more.

RATING: Cinquain

Silver Girl by Leslie Pietrzyk (audio)

Source: Instagram giveaway win
Audiobook; 10+ hours
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Silver Girl by Leslie Pietrzyk, narrated by Cassandra Morris, is a startling and uncomfortable novel about female friendship between an unnamed narrator from a small Iowa town and a poor family and a rich girl, Jess, in college in Chicago.What would it be like to escape a suffocating small town where nothing happens and where the only things that happen are dark and unsatisfying? Can you escape the past?

The narrative is disjointed and jumps in time – back-and-forth – as she strives to make sense of what happened. There is so much desire here — a need to belong, a need to be more, get more, and see more — and in many ways that desire takes over all rational thought and leads the narrator astray on more than one occasion. She’s a hard character to like, and in some ways you won’t. She’s striving to fill deep holes within herself, and her holes go deeper than any canyon the shallow, rich girl she rooms with could imagine.

Set during the 80s and the Tylenol poisonings in Chicago, the narrator shifts from the uncertainty in her own life to the investigations, mirroring her paranoia about someone finding out that she does not belong at this upper crust college. For all her talk about herself and her family, she fails to realize that even her roommate’s family is as screwed up as hers. As she strives to hide her true self and her home life from her roommate, she spends a lot of time judging Jess and those she encounters at school.

Silver Girl by Leslie Pietrzyk is a complex story about social class, female friendship, and feels like Plath’s Bell Jar with a main character spiraling out of control emotionally.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of the novel Silver Girl, released in February 2018 by Unnamed Press, and called “profound, mesmerizing, and disturbing” in a Publishers Weekly starred review. Her collection of unconventionally linked short stories, This Angel on My Chest, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Kirkus Reviews named it one of the 16 best story collections of the year, Her previous novels are Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. Short fiction and essays have appeared/are forthcoming in Southern Review, Ploughshares, Gettysburg Review, Hudson Review, The Sun, Shenandoah, Arts & Letters, River Styx, Iowa Review, Washingtonian, The Collagist, Cincinnati Review, TriQuarterly, New England Review, Salon, Washingtonian, and the Washington Post Magazine. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Pietrzyk is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program and often teaches in the MA Program in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. Raised in Iowa, she now lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Visit her website.

Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 245 pgs.
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Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully is a WWII tale that has roots in WWI and surpasses all of that history in its tale of enduring love, family bonds, and secrets. Young bookstore owner, Maya Wissberg, has felt adrift since her grandmother disappeared after she went on a study abroad trip and left no indication as to why she left or to where. It is not until the police in upstate New York come calling about her grandmother’s remains that Maya begins to rethink her relationship with her father, grandmother, and ex-boyfriend Michael. Tully takes us back into the past when her grandmother, Martha, meets a young German she pegs as the bad influence in her twin brother’s life.

“Maya was completely and utterly lost, cursing herself under her breath.” (pg. 67)

As the Nazis came to power, many Germans were caught up in the fervor of nationalism, including Martha’s brother, but Martha was a stronger woman who saw the writing on the wall. Eventually she found a kindred spirit in her brother’s friend, even though he warned her away from becoming involved with the resistance, which was still in its infancy in the late 1930s. Readers will lose themselves in Martha’s story as it is woven slowly to reveal how first impressions can be stripped away by truth and trust. Maya’s story disappears in the background for a while, until the reader returns to the present.

Maya has aviophobia, but this seems like a fear that she can overcome through determination. Her episodes on the plane over to the United States from Germany are barely seen, and for the amount of time Maya talks about the phobia, readers may want to see more of how she coped with it. In a way, this seemed like an unnecessary detail or a device that was used simply to explain why she had never gone many places. This is a small concern.

Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully is a strong debut that delves into the climate in Germany at a time when nationalism and fascism was on the rise. It depicts a chaotic world for the German people, but also a world in which hope can turn into something disastrous quickly. At its heart, the debut novel is about the enduring power of love and the beauty of forgiveness.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

DANIELA TULLY has worked in film and television for decades, including with famed film director Uli Edel. She has been involved in projects such as the critically acclaimed Fair Game, box-office hits Contagion and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, as well as the Oscar-winning The Help. She splits her time between Dubai and New York. Inspired by a real family letter received forty-six years late, Hotel on Shadow Lake is Daniela Tully’s first novel. Visit her website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon

Source: Purchased
eBook, 108 pgs.
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Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon creates its own gallery of art in which human interaction with artists’ work, ranging from Andy Warhol to Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe, is on display for readers to generate yet another level of interaction and interpretation. These poems are similar to the recursive style of painting in which a painter is seen painting himself inside of painting, etc., or something similar.

Agodon leaves readers with a number of verses to think on, including: “You said, Sometimes I still want to be needed, so I let our kitchen become a flood of time and you” and “To be master of your own fate means sometimes you have to rip up the instruction manual” and “to know the theme parks in our minds are really just a hall of mirrors.”

Even as she explores art that is recognizable, she’s also exploring human behaviors and how in some ways we self-sabotage and in others we seek solace and find little. I found many lines rang true, especially: “Poem: a form of negotiation for what haunts us.”

Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon has an apt title in which human interaction with art is explored and the reality remains that our time is finite. She raises questions about societal norms, including the urge to thank fathers for taking their daughters by friends and teachers as if those fathers are not related to their children and not equally responsible for their care. Such innate reactions to simple acts of parenting bring this collection to life, grounding it in the personal.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Kelli Russell Agodon is the author of Hourglass Museum (White Pine Press, 2014). She lives in the Seattle area and is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press. Visit her website.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 44 pgs.
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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman celebrates inclusiveness and diversity, sending the message to parents and kids that everyone is welcome in their school, in their class, and even outside the confines of school. The colorful illustrations remind kids that the world is a rainbow and that as individuals come together we are a beautiful kaleidoscope.

The simple rhymes will be easy for younger children to follow as their parents read to them, and reading for beginning learners will be smooth. Although the kids will not see the names of the children depicted, there are kids like themselves drawn in these pages — those with dark skin, light skin, full head coverings, curly hair, straight hair, wheelchairs, and so much more. This is a book that reflects the reality of not only the United States but the world.

It’s not a book that points out differences for inspection, but demonstrates the fun that can be had together in a group even if we are different. The focus is on the things we can do together — games on the playground, art and music created, the class participation when the teacher asks questions, the discoveries that can be made.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman, which emerged from a poster that went viral, is delightful, colorful, and just what kids need to remind them that divisiveness is unnecessary and not the way to live.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Authors:

Alexandra Penfold is the author of Eat, Sleep, Poop (Knopf, 2016) and the forthcoming picture books The Littlest Viking (Knopf) and Everybody’s Going to the Food Truck Fest (FSG). She is also a literary agent at Upstart Crow, where one of her clients is Suzanne Kaufman! Learn more about Alex on Twitter at @agentpenfold.

Suzanne Kaufman is an author, illustrator, and animator. Over the years she’s done everything from animating special effects for Universal Television and the Discovery Channel to animating award-winning video games for children. She’s the illustrator of a number of books for children including Samanthasaurus Rex by B. B. Mandell, the forthcoming Naughty Claudine by Patrick Jennings, 100 Bugs by Kate Narita and her own book, Confiscated! among others. Learn more about Suzanne online at suzannekaufman.com or on Twitter at @suzannekaufman.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Source: publisher
Paperback, 48 pgs.
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We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins is a delightful book that teaches children about how to fit in with new classmates, especially after a rough first day of school.  Penelope is a T-Rex and she finds children tasty. Unfortunately, her classmates are children and she does the unthinkable.

Thankfully, no real harm was done and the teacher gets her to spit them out. Penelope has to learn how to co-exist with her classmates, even if she finds them tasty. Higgins uses a T-Rex to demonstrate how hard it is to join a new class and to start school when you’ve never been before. Her parents have prepared her for lunch at school, or did they?

Her teacher is very adamant about treating her classmates not as food, but even her initial attempts are rebuffed. When she returns home, her father gives her some advice about how children at the same on the inside as Penelope herself. This is a big lesson for all children. But like human children, Penelope fails to learn her lesson until someone treats her just as badly.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins has colorful images of the Penelope T-Rex and her classmates. I found the text easy to read for early readers, and the message is appropriate for this age group.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Ryan T. Higgins is five feet eleven inches tall and has no sense of smell. He doesn’t like to wear shoes, but he does like salmonloaf and bike rides (not together). Instead of reading a long author’s bio, Ryan would rather you forget about him and visit the website!

Poe: Stories and Poems adapted by Gareth Hinds

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 120 pgs.
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Poe: Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Gareth Hinds into a graphic novel, is gorgeous from the cover to the very last page. Hinds has a firm grasp of Poe’s macabre style and his illustrations are complementary to Poe’s prose and poems. In many ways, Hinds’ dark imagery enhances Poe’s words for the modern audience. I loved that there were several poems included and not just Poe’s stories. While Gothic horror is often thought of in prose form, many of Poe’s poems are just as haunting and macabre.

Hinds also includes a checklist of Poe’s favorite themes and corresponding images — from death depicted as a skull to insanity depicted as a straitjacket – -that he uses as a key for each story and poem. Hinds also offers some insight into his selections for the collection, which is by no means comprehensive. I loved that he included my favorite story — The Masque of the Red Death — which he says is the least well-known. I’ve always felt that in some ways, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Mask of the Red Death scene in The Phantom of the Opera was in some ways inspired by this story.

Poe: Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Gareth Hinds into a graphic novel, is a welcome and permanent addition to my personal library. I’ve loved Poe for most of my life, and this volume breathes life and vibrancy into these classics. I cannot recommend this enough, and I’m looking forward to getting more of his graphic adaptations.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Illustrator:

Gareth Hinds is the author and illustrator of critically-acclaimed graphic novels and picture books based on classic literature and mythology. Through his work he shares his love of literature with readers young and old. His recent adaptation of The Odyssey received four starred reviews, and he is the recipient of the Boston Public Library’s “Literary Lights for Children” award. He lives in the Washington, DC area with his wife. When he’s not working on a book he enjoys painting landscapes and practicing aikido.

Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 28 pgs.
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Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez is an eye-opening chapbook of poems and essays about what punishment actually is — beyond the concrete walls and bars on the windows and doors. This is a chapbook that packs a serious punch in the gut from the title poem, “Punishment” to the essays on how poetry not only taught the prisoners how to see beyond their four walls but the poet how to see things and people differently.

From "Punishment" (pg. 7)

The men tossed entire libraries. A rage of books.
Lobbed in high arcs like footballs,
or pitched overhand like grenades.

When caged like an animal and treated inhumanely how would you react if you did not have a blanket and the prison was unbearably cold? Would you have an ability to make a reasonable argument with the prison staff, or would you resort to the basest of reactions? Would you give up that which is most precious to you, like a family bible with calming words or a photo album that comforts you in darkness when your family cannot be near? Readers are asked to think about these questions and to see beyond the crimes and the violence of these men to see the humans broken here.

Gomez deftly places readers inside the prison with her students who still tentatively work on poems and show small kindnesses to one another even as they know once outside the classroom they must return to their “hard” selves — no longer showing emotion or kindness. Even though she is given permission to teach poetry to the prisoners, the staff make not effort to welcome her, but in fact remind her in the least subtle of ways that she is under their control and direction and that her freedoms are left outside.

From "Echo" (pg. 15)

by rain and wind. Absence
expands inside him like smoke.

Punishment by Nancy Miller Gomez is an exploration of how poetry and words can provide hope and satisfaction to those who have none. It can help them explore what is good without compromising their prison personas. Gomez is asking the reader to see these men as human beings — men with hopes, deep losses, and so much more.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Nancy Miller Gomez grew up in Kansas but currently lives in Santa Cruz, California. Her work has appeared in River Styx, Rattle, Bellingham Review, Nimrod, and elsewhere. She has a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing from Pacific University. She has worked as a stable hand, an attorney, and a TV producer, and volunteers as the director of the Santa Cruz Poetry Project, an organization that provides poetry and writing workshops to incarcerated men and women. For more information on the Santa Cruz Poetry Project, visit their website.