Quantcast

Wild Embers by Nikita Gill

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 160 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Wild Embers by Nikita Gill is a collection of poems to empower women to embrace all that they are — wild or not — and to inspire them to love themselves enough not to fall into the deadly traps of wolves.

One of my favorites from this collection was “Multiverse” in which the poet examines the concepts of time and universes — parallel lives in which things are better. I also loved “Your Heart Is Not a Hospital” in which the idea of fixing lovers and friends is explored. “Learned Helplessness” and “The Bones of Trauma” also are fantastic. These poems are personal and examine the roots of abuse and learning to move forward and love oneself.

Gill takes on some fairy-tale characters and goddesses and recharacterizes them in poetic sketches. But these are not as in-depth or as powerful as those persona poems created by other poets. They barely scratch the surface of these characters and sometimes read like a litany of characteristics we learned about in school. While the purpose and intent are sound — empowering women — the execution fell flat for me. I far preferred the first half of the book that was more personal.

Wild Embers by Nikita Gill is a good first collection, even if the second half of the collection falls a bit flat. The beginning poems are worth reading more than once and sharing with others.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Nikita Gill is a twenty four year old madness who likes to write short stories that are, kind of like her, barely there. She has recently published her first anthology and is now working on her book of poetry.

How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish

Source: Purchased school book fair
Paperback, 32 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish, is a delightful book for kids this Christmas season. It’s easy enough for them to read on their own if they are early readers and offers a few more challenging words for older readers. The book offers tips to children on how to catch Santa and involve their entire family. It advises that children be clever but gentle in their efforts. Kids should even ask their parents for what tricks they used to try and catch Santa.

Be warned that your child may want to try some of these out and one of them includes an envelope full of glitter so you can track Santa’s movements throughout the house.

I was delighted to see my daughter read this one on her own and sound out the harder words on her own as well.  She loved the colorful pictures of Santa behind piles of letters and so much more. Even Rudolph makes an appearance. How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish, is a warm story for kids who want to keep Christmas adventurous.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author and Illustrator:

Jean Reagan was born in Alabama but spent most of her childhood in Japan. She now lives in Salt Lake City with her husband. In the summers, they serve as backcountry volunteers in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. To learn more about Jean and her books, please visit JeanReagan.com.

Lee Wildish became interested in art at a very young age. He is the illustrator of many acclaimed children’s books, and he has also worked in advertising and greeting card design. Lee lives in Nottinghamshire, England. Visit him on the Web at WildishIllustration.com.

The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins covers a range of emotion, mirroring the title of the collection with the beauty of Portugal and the sadness of the gloomy rain. Some poems are ripe with his characteristic wit, while others (particularly the one about Seamus Heaney) are elegiac. My favorite poems are those in which delightful moments of observation (anticipated or already known) emerge for the reader.

Such as the opening poem, “1960,” where the narrator is listening to an old jazz album, anticipating the moment when a man’s laugh is heard like a discordant note because the album was recorded live in a club. There is that sense of surprise and familiarity because we’ve all had those moments where someone outside of our group is loud enough to be heard over the hum of conversation or the blare of horns. What has happened to this intruder now that time has passed? And yet, it doesn’t much matter because the moment brings you back to a time you remember fondly.

from "Basho in Ireland" (pg. 12)

I am not exactly like him
because I am not Japanese
and I have no idea what Kyoto is like.

But once, while walking around
the Irish town of Ballyvaughan
I caught myself longing to be in Ballyvaughan.

The sensation of being homesick
for a place that is not my home
while being right in the middle of it.

Collins’ poems are nostalgic and questioning, allowing the reader to see how the ordinary can become extraordinary. How do you become homesick for a place you are visiting at that moment and is not your home? As if something has shifted since your arrival that you can’t quite put your finger on. Isn’t that the mystery of existence?

from "Bravura" (pg. 54)

I will never forget the stunner
modestly titled 'Still Life with Roses,'
which featured so many decanters and mirrors
the result was a corridor of echoing replications.

“Sirens” is another poem that has an unexpected turn, but that little gem you’ll have to discover on your own. Collins is examining notions of being present and how one knows when they are there, in that moment and how long does that last? When do you know it has passed? Do you hold on or let it go? What happens if you do one or the other? Themes like these are strongest in “The Present” and “Bags of Time,” but they recur in each poem throughout the collection, leaving readers with much to consider.

The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins is beautifully rendered with so much to ponder about how time passes even when we’re not paying attention, and how little attention we pay to the things that pass before us and around us. What would happen if we paid a little more attention? Would we get lost in the infinite possibilities? Don’t miss this collection.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Billy Collins, is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. In 2016, Collins retired from his position as a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York after teaching there almost 50 years.

Pete the Cat’s 12 Groovy Days of Christmas by Kimberly Dean and James Dean

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Pete the Cat’s 12 Groovy Days of Christmas by Kimberly and James Dean as you might have guessed is a reworked version of the “12 Days of Christmas” song. In Pete’s version, his groovy gift giving begins with the grand road trip to the sea. The text in this song is fun and easy to read for young readers, though I’m not sure what is supposed to be “groovy” about it, unless you find fuzzy gloves and cupcakes groovy.  For kids, this may be the case. Or perhaps it was the use of “far-out” to describe surfboards.

The pictures are what I come to expect from these books with basic designs and colors, animals and shapes to attract children to the page. Many of the animal characters from the previous book make an appearance in this one, and kids will like seeing them in action with their gifts. As the song is really about the extravagance of gift giving, it is kind of appropriate that some of the gifts Pete gives are a bit weird, like sloths. However, I’m not sure that kids will pick up on those nuances as much as adults will, and that should prompt a conversation about Christmas and what it means (i.e. not about getting gifts). The last page of the book should help with that since the friends are all at the beach enjoying their company. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating for any preaching here in Pete the Cat.

Pete the Cat’s 12 Groovy Days of Christmas by Kimberly and James Dean is a fun rendition of a classic carol that will have younger readers singing along with different lyrics if they already know  the song. In our case, it was mom why are you saying the lines like that and I had to explain there was a song with different lyrics.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author and Illustrator:

James Dean’s art has sold in more than ninety galleries and shops across the United States. He has devoted his paintings to Pete the Cat for ten years and has turned his natural love for cats into his life’s work. James published his first adult book, The Misadventures of Pete the Cat, a history of his art work, in 2006. He illustrated his first self-published children’s book, Pete the Cat I Love my White Shoes, written by Eric Litwin, in 2008, and the follow-up book, Pete the Cat: Rocking In My School Shoes, in 2011. James lives in Savannah, Georgia with his wife, Kimberly.

In 2004, Kimberly & James Dean sat down at their kitchen table to work on a children’s book together. Their dream has finally become a reality with the release of this new Pete the Cat book, Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. Both left corporate jobs in the late nineties (James was an electrical engineer, Kimberly worked in the press office of the governor of Georgia) to pursue their passion for art, and they have experienced a life made up of strange and wonderful coincidences ever since. Pete the Cat has brought magic into their lives. They work in side-by-side studios, sharing their home with five cats and Emma the pug.

The Sun Is Kind of A Big Deal by Nick Seluk

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk imagines the sun as a rock star of sorts in the solar system where everyone knows his name and his importance. Even Pluto is in the background of this one. My daughter loves books where she’s learning without realizing it. Nonfiction told in a way that’s fun and engaging will always be a big hit with her. Seluk achieves that for the most part in this book.

The book includes a main dialogue about the sun as well as some sidebars about specific facts on the solar system and space terms like “asteroids.” The pictures are colorful and fun, especially since space can be very black and colorless.  My daughter loved how the planets introduced themselves, with Saturn being the “Hula-Hoop Champion.” And Seluk uses a racetrack to illustrate the rotation of the planets around the sun. Very helpful for younger readers just learning about space. The visuals explaining direct and indirect sunlight and its affect on Earth were helpful as well.

However, there are some larger words like Condensation, Evaporation, and Precipitation that make an appearance in the water cycle section, which younger readers may stumble over. Challenging words, however, should never be a discouraging thing. My daughter and I made a game out of mispronouncing the word and breaking each down into smaller, more pronounceable parts until she got them right.

One of our favorite parts of the book is the visual of the sun’s roll in the water cycle where the sun is putting raindrops down an enclosed slide for precipitation. It’s cute. At first my daughter thought the book was too challenging until she realized how fun the pictures were and the thought bubbles became amusing to her.

The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk is chock full of facts about the solar system, nature’s cycles, and so much more. The pictures are bright and engaging, and the characterizations of the planets and other elements are amusing for young readers.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Nick Seluk worked as a graphic designer before becoming a full-time illustrator. He is the creator of the popular Awkward Yeti comic and author of the New York Times bestselling Heart and Brain, and its follow-ups Gut Instincts and Body Language. His work has appeared on CBSNews.com, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, reddit, and blogs across the internet. Nick lives in Michigan with his wife, three kids, and a very awkward dog.

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, Illustrated by Peter Brown

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 32 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown, is the latest addition to the Jasper Rabbit series and, of course, my daughter had to get this from Scholastic. In this book, Jasper is obsessed with eating wild carrots he finds in the field on his way to and from school. He cannot help but pull them up and gobble them down. In true Jasper style, he begins to sense that something is wrong — could the carrots be following him?

Even as he thinks he sees those carrots from the field, he turns and finds that they are just orange shampoo bottles, etc. Jasper begins to think his imagination is taking over.  His mother and father reassure him that the creepy carrots don’t exist, but in true Jasper fashion, he comes up with his own solution.

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown, is another winner in our house, and my daughter loves that she can read these on her own now. I doubt the two books will be sitting on the shelves until next Halloween.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Aaron Reynolds is a New York Times Bestselling Author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Dude!, Creepy Carrots!, Creepy Pair of Underwear!, Nerdy Birdy, and tons more. He frequently visits schools and his highly participatory presentations are a blast for kids and teachers alike. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife, two kids, four cats, and between three and ten fish, depending on the day.

About the Illustrator:

Peter Brown writes and illustrates books for young whippersnappers. He grew up in Hopewell, New Jersey, where he spent his time imagining and drawing silly characters. He studied Life Lessons at the School of Hard Knocks, and then got his B.F.A. in Illustration from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.

Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds, Illustrated by Peter Brown

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown, follows big bunny Jasper as he travels to the underwear store with his mother. When he sees a ghoulish, greenish glow on the shelves, he has to have those green underwear! He convinces his mom to buy one pair along with the white ones, and he’s simply enamored with them. Eventually, Jasper’s imagination takes over and the creepy underwear begin to follow him everywhere even when he stuffs them in a drawer.

Reynolds knows just how to make a creepy (Halloween read) story come to life, especially when it comes to kids’ active imaginations that see things bumping in the night when there are none. Jasper is a young bunny looking to be seen as a big bunny, but he even doubts himself when the creepy pair of underwear strike. Maybe he isn’t as big as he thought. I’m sure kids of all ages have this feeling as they grow up, even as they put on a brave face.

My daughter loves this book, and it has become a yearly Halloween read since we purchased it a couple years ago at her school book fair. She loves that the main character is a rabbit — her favorite animal of the moment — and that there are creepy things going on. She’s very into Halloween. The illustrations almost give this a graphic novel feel with a noir atmosphere, which makes that green glow all the more creepy.

Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown, is a household favorite. When October rolls around, we reach for this book with several other creepy reads. Now my daughter can read this one mostly on her own, which makes it all the more of a treat for her.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Aaron Reynolds is a New York Times Bestselling Author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Dude!, Creepy Carrots!, Creepy Pair of Underwear!, Nerdy Birdy, and tons more. He frequently visits schools and his highly participatory presentations are a blast for kids and teachers alike. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife, two kids, four cats, and between three and ten fish, depending on the day.

About the Illustrator:

Peter Brown writes and illustrates books for young whippersnappers. He grew up in Hopewell, New Jersey, where he spent his time imagining and drawing silly characters. He studied Life Lessons at the School of Hard Knocks, and then got his B.F.A. in Illustration from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.

Pete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie by James Dean and Kimberly Dean

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Pete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie by James Dean and Kimberly Dean is another book my daughter picked out as a reward from reading this past month. She’s really been a trooper even when she’s frustrated with reading or not concentrated. Pete the Cat is a character that always makes her smile and whose books are easier for her to read in between those more challenging books the school gives her each week.

In this book, Pete loves to dance but Grumpy Toad tells him that he’s not dancing correctly. Pete goes on a journey to learn how to dance the Cool Cat Boogie, even though all the advice he receives are about different types of dances. Pete feels happy when he’s dancing and he wants to learn this dance no matter what. My daughter had a great time reading this one on her own to me.

My one quibble with this book is Pete’s reaction when his friends say “ouch,” and he’s accidentally bumped them or stepped on their toes while dancing. Rather than apologizing, he merely walks away dejected. These are not moments that Pete should walk away from. He should say he’s sorry. If his friends had said that he did the moves wrong or made fun of him, I could see him walking away and not engaging in an argument. This was not the case in these situations.

Pete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie by James Dean and Kimberly Dean even includes a step-by-step guide on how to do the Cool Cat Boogie, which will have kids getting out of their seats and onto the dance floor. It’s good to see my daughter reading on her own, even if the book is a bit simpler than the ones that challenge her from school. At least she’s continuously reading.

RATING: Quatrain

Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean and Kimberly Dean was a reward for my daughter’s efforts in reading the month. After an early start of fighting over reading every night, she’s more willing to read to me, rather than me to her. This is one of the book series she’s found holds her attention. Part of it is because she wants a cat, which we can’t have because one of our dogs would eat it, and the other part is that Pete is just a cute and funny character who finds himself in trouble. Kids like mischief.

In this book, Pete and Gus are looking for a culprit — the one who took the cupcakes. It reminded me of Who Stole the Cookies From the Cookie Jar. My daughter easily read this one on her own, which was a good experience for me as I’ve been worried that she’s falling behind and is less confident in her reading skills than she was last year.

The illustrations here reminded me of drawings that kids would create on their own if asked to draw cupcakes, cats and other animals, which probably appeals to kids’ sensibilities. The colors are bright throughout and this was definitely an easier read that could instill confidence in young readers still learning. It also has a familiar trope about forgiveness when mistakes are made. Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean and Kimberly Dean was satisfactory for me, but my daughter was happy to read the book on her own, which makes it a winner.

RATING: Quatrain

 

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 374 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher is historical fiction at its finest, successfully blending historical fact with characterization and fictional characters. Anyone who knows the history of the Kennedy family or has read anything about the family beyond the famous president, JFK, will love seeing Kick Kennedy take center stage in her own story. Kathleen Kennedy was the second oldest daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy and spent some of her years in London when her father was an ambassador for the United States. In Maher’s novel, she comes to life as a faithful Catholic who is slightly more independent than traditional allows for. Despite her rebelliousness, Kick only goes so far against her parents wishes, even as she sees the folly of her father’s stance on Hitler’s movement across Europe.

“Kick had always been expected to perform better than anyone else, but here in England she wasn’t just Rose and Joe Kennedy’s fashionable daughter, eighteen years old and fresh from school, who could keep up with her older brothers when she set her mind to it. She was the daughter of Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, the first Irish Catholic ever to be appointed to the coveted post in this most protestant of countries. This time, she had to succeed.” (pg. 4)

Unlike the expectations of their father imposed on his sons, Kick felt a different set of expectations from her mother. Catholic upbringing and being a Kennedy were the first and foremost concerns she must deal with no matter the situation. Under intense pressure to maintain her faith and meet the expectations of her family, Kick struggles when she finds herself loving England a great deal more than expected and her eye catches that of William Cavendish. Her world is thrown into chaos when her father is ousted from his position after Hitler breaks an agreement with England. She must leave with her family even if her heart begs her to stay.

Kick’s Catholic upbringing is a major part of who she is, but like her brothers, she also longs to forge her own path. There’s a more delicate balance she must maintain than her brothers merely because of her gender and the expectations of her family that she makes a good marriage, but her independence is also what makes her a Kennedy. Her relationship with her sisters and brothers make this an even richer story, demonstrating not only internal tension as one sibling becomes more favored by their parents. The roller coaster of her family life is only part of the tension in maher’s novel. The world is again at war, and Kick must make decision about how she will make a difference and assuage the longings of her heart without cutting herself off from the family and faith she feels is part of her identity.

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher is a look at how war changes the world and the people closest to you, and how faith can heal and tear people apart, as well as become a salve for loss. Maher has done her research well, and her version of Kick Kennedy would fit right in with the Kennedy clan.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

KERRI MAHER is also the author of This Is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World under the name Kerri Majors. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and founded YARN, an award-winning literary journal of short-form YA writing. A writing professor for many years, she now writes full-time and lives with her daughter in Massachusetts, where apple picking and long walks in the woods are especially fine.

Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose (Giveaway)

Source: publisher
Hardcover, 316 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose is as beautifully written as its cover suggests. Readers will fall in love with Tiffany and his stained-glass windows, as well as his other artisan works. Laurelton Hall is a dream-like world that Jenny Bell falls into when her friend surreptitiously enters her in a competition for a residency. Rose always creates complex characters and settings that you could fall into immediately — this is another case in which I fell in love with art and colorful landscapes. There are so many reasons why Rose is an auto-buy author, no matter her subject. Her tales are hard to put down, and Bell’s story is no different.

What happens when the color drains from your life and you lose everything dear to you? Bell’s life has been incredibly hard, but she still seems to carry her mother’s artistry with her — developing it even if her canvasses remain devoid of color.

Her vibrant laughter sounded like the coppery glitter of her dwelling.

Jenny Bell comes to Laurelton with nothing more on her mind than an experience of a lifetime, and her friend, Minx, has high hopes for her. But Bell learns that there is more to life than creating art in darkness. The light can be found in the best moments of our lives and that light is made up of different hues, some dark blue and deep and others yellow and airy.

Rose is a master at weaving in historical details, mysteries to solve, and a bit of romance. Her vision of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Long Island home for artists is magical and readers will be enchanted. Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose is not to be missed. Fall into this stained glass window and fall in love with the artists.

RATING: Cinquain

ENTER the GIVEAWAY to win a copy of Tiffany Blues. U.S. entrants only. Deadline for comments with emails is Sept. 5, 2018, 11:59 PM EST

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author M. J. Rose grew up in New York City exploring the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum and the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park. She is the author of more than a dozen novels, a founding board member of International Thriller Writers, and the founder of the first marketing company for authors, AuthorBuzz.com. She lives in Connecticut. Visit her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 245 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

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.