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Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Source: gift
Paperback, 30 pgs.
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Kin Types by Luanne Castle, which is touring with Poetic Book Tours, is more than poetry. It is a breathing history of ancestors and how their lives impact the present long after they have left the earth. The poet opens the collection with “Advice from My Forebears,” in which readers are greeted with much the same advice they probably heard from grandparents and others about not spending what you do not have, etc. And much of this is advice about risks we may encounter in life and it sets the tone for the collection. It demonstrates how the past can inform the present and even guide it toward better decisions, but also too calls to the rebels within us who want to go against, even good advice.

Castle’s narrative poems leave the reader with a sense of the past, and through detailed accounts she places us where she wants us to bear witness to the hard lives of these ancestors. Many of these people are immigrants leaving their homes for a better life, or at least what they believe will be a better life. But not all that befalls these men and women is good, but not all of it is bad.

From "New Life, New Music" (pg. 15)

The boy in knee pants didn't notice
the many wrinkles
or if he did they created that comfortable
space between his own raw starch
and her eyes and smile that were only his.

Life us, there are dreams held close among these ancestors. They may have a sense of loss that these dreams were not achieved or even lost, but they never let that stop them from living their lives. In “What Lies Inside,” Castle asks how well we really know our closest family members and speaks to the secrets we hold unto ourselves, as a self that we protect from the outside hardships of our lives. It is one of my favorite poems in the collection, with this haunting line: “If I don’t have this one space, where can I go to protect this self/kept inside only by my thin twitching skin?”

Kin Types by Luanne Castle is haunting and deeply emotional, allowing readers to wander off and discover their own ancestral stories. Perhaps they too will re-create the past and see how it mirrors the present or has shaped who they are.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle‘s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Grist, Copper Nickel, River Teeth, Glass Poetry Press, Barnstorm Journal, Six Hens, Lunch Ticket, The Review Review, and many other journals. Published by Finishing Line Press, Kin Types was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf chapbook contest.

Luanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and creative writing at the University of California, Riverside (Ph.D.); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. For fifteen years, she taught college English. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Visit her website.

Owl Diaries: Eva’s Treetop Festival by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Eva’s Treetop Festival by Rebecca Elliott is a series of books for first and second graders that my daughter was not initially sure she wanted to read.  I bought her a couple books in the series at her book fair after she picked out two books she really wanted.  First, I picked these books because teachers had been talking about how engaging they were, and second, I picked this because it is written in diary form — something my daughter has started doing in her own notebook. It’s a format that she can easily recognize and connect with.

We read a chapter an evening before bed, and sometimes she would read along, and at other times, she sat back and let me read to her.  It was a good experience to see how Eva’s big idea for a festival came into being — not as a solo project but as a team effort from the entire class. Eva is like any kid my daughter’s age, she has best friends and sometimes friends, and there is the one kid that she thinks is mean.

Elliott has a vivid and childlike imagination that kids will immediately connect with, and there are even reading comprehension questions in the back to help young, developing readers think about what they’ve been reading in terms of plot and characterization. Owl Diaries: Eva’s Treetop Festival by Rebecca Elliott is a wonderful series of books that will foster imagination, teamwork, and more. My daughter was eager to read each chapter and she cannot wait to start book 2.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the UK with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

As Close As I Can by Toni Stern

Source: publicist
Paperback, 85 pgs.
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As Close As I Can by Toni Stern looks deeply into what it means to live, presenting the reader with both the good and bad. She begins her collection with “Hwy 154-Between Two Fires” to demonstrate the in between, first calling to mind the adage that “a man alone is in bad company” and juxtaposing it with “hell is other people.” This initial set up allows Stern to call acute attention to appearance of the now versus the individual reality of now.  Like the “towhee” that tweets a song that is enjoyable to the listener, who may find it beautiful, but the listener is unaware that she is a widowed bird longing for someone who has left this life.

Stern has a wry wit, which appears in a number of her poems. I loved the wit on display in “Pine Sol.” Each poem showcases how our life experiences shape us as people, and how not all of these experiences necessarily are good. The title poem speaks of a mother making room for her child in her full life, carving out a space for this young person whose name is like music.  From our first moments, we are given a name, and even just this name and its sounds will shape us.

As Close As I Can by Toni Stern is a collection of life’s beauty, the tarnished and the shiny.  There is life in between those moments that is lived, and those in-between moments are just as precious as the others that are burned into our memories.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Toni Stern enjoyed a highly productive collaboration with singer-songwriter Carole King. Stern wrote the lyrics for several of King’s songs of the late ’60s and early ’70s, most notably “It’s Too Late,” for the album Tapestry. The album has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, and received numerous industry awards.  In 2012, Tapestry was honored with inclusion in the National Recording Registry to be preserved by the Library of Congress; in 2013, King played “It’s Too Late” at the White House. That song and Stern’s “Where You Lead” feature in the Broadway hit Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.  “Where You Lead” is also the theme song for the acclaimed television series Gilmore Girls.  Stern’s music has been recorded by numerous artists throughout the years.

As Close as I Can is her second volume of poetry.  She lives with her family in Santa Ynez, California.  Her website is https://www.tonistern.com.

Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life by Diana Raab

Source: the author
ebook, 238 pgs.
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Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life by Diana Raab is so much more than a book about writing and motivation, it’s about looking inside yourself to find what makes you happy and make it your center. Raab uses her plethora of writing experience and combines it with her knowledge of psychology and meditation to help writers create their own seven-step plan for writing not only about their own lives but other artistic projects too.  This is not a book about writing and selling your art, but about tapping into natural creativity and emotion to improve the whole body and psyche.

“Setting an intention involves focusing your thoughts in the particular direction of what you want to bring about or manifest in your life. … One thing to remember is that, even before you set an intention, you need to make sure you believe in it, .. ” (pg. 51 ARC)

Setting goals often is the easiest part for writers and others, it is the intention and believing in those goals that will ensure you reach them. Raab has fantastic advice about maintaining balance, how to find happiness and maintain it, and how this all falls in line with a writing life. However, those who are not in a place to commit will find it hard to begin, let alone sustain big changes. Raab’s advice is sound and writers who follow it are bound to reach the goals they set for themselves, especially after they have created a space where writing will be done (inside their own heads and in a physical space).

Meditation is a big part of her process, and while many may find this too “new-age” or “hokey”, it serves as a marker — a reminder to slow down and make time to think and reflect.  It does not have to be the standard meditation. It could simply be a walk that clears the mind of clutter or a few moments listening to classic music to relax.  It is about stepping away from the busyness of life to move forward with personal goals.

Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life by Diana Raab will help writers and others focus their energy on their own happiness and show them the way toward fulfillment.  Writers often suffer from writer’s block, and there are a number of options in this book to help you break through.  For those who want to write about the past or the future or their emotional trauma, this guide will surely help them toward healing and toward embracing the truth of their lives. Too often we are busy with other things, but Raab reminds us that to be healthy and happy, we need to be busy with our own bliss.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Diana Raab, MFA, PhD, is a memoirist, poet, blogger, speaker, thought leader, and award-winning author of nine books and more than 1,000 articles and poems. She holds a PhD in psychology—with a concentration in transpersonal psychology—and her research focus is on the healing and transformative powers of personal writing. Her educational background also encompasses health administration, nursing, and creative writing.

During her 40-year career, Dr. Raab has published thousands of articles and poems and is the editor of two anthologies: Writers and Their Notebooks and Writers on the Edge. Her two memoirs are Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal and Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey. She has also written four collections of poetry, her latest collection is called, Lust. As an advocate of personal writing, Dr. Raab facilitates workshops in writing for transformation and empowerment, focusing on journaling, poetry, and memoir writing. She believes in the importance of writing to achieve wholeness and interconnectedness, which encourages the ability to unleash the true voice of your inner self. Dr. Raab serves on the board of Poets & Writers (Magazine Committee), and Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Santa Monica, California. She is also a Trustee at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

Visit her on Twitter and on Facebook.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 52 pgs.
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We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, our book club pick for May 2018, is an adaptation of the author’s TEDxEuston talk in Africa. To talk about gender is often uncomfortable, and it is often met with platitudes, like things are so much better for women now and what’s the big deal if someone greeted the man you’re with but not you. These are statements of dismissal and an attempt to nullify the validity of the discussion about equal rights for all sexes/genders.

Adichie is from Nigeria, but the situations she speaks about are from all over the globe, including the United States.  These are situations in which women (through socialization) feel that they must dress or act a certain way when in the workplace in order to be respected.  However, assertive behaviors in male co-workers are still rewarded but not favorable in women of the same position.  Adichie uses examples from her own life and her interactions with friends to illustrate her points about culture and its need to evolve in order to meet the needs of modern society, as well as the needs of humanity as it continues to evolve.

“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.” (pg. 46)

Her discussion of how many American women strive to be “likeable” demonstrates how women are groomed over time to view their worth as only as a man would perceive them to be.  There are notions of pretending and how women often must pretend that they like something or act a certain way because marriage is the ultimate goal. Because what would women be without marriage? “The language of marriage is often a language of ownership, not a language of partnership.” (pg. 30)

While men and women are biologically different, Adichie explains that today’s society is not as it was when men hunted and women made the home — strength was necessary to lead. Intelligence, creativity, and more are needed in today’s society to keep productive, efficient, and creating a new world in which we can be happier and fulfilled.  When women thank their husbands for doing one chore after both have come home from work but a man does not thank his wife for all the housework she does daily, what does that signify? Shouldn’t we be grateful when either spouse shares the housework load and works a job outside the home? Shouldn’t we equally share the load in family life?

“But by far the worst thing we do to males – by making them feel they have to be hard – is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is.” (pg. 27)

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, our book club pick for May 2018, is thought-provoking and a conversation starter. We cannot pretend that gender discrimination and expectations do not exist any longer. It must be acknowledged before it can be fixed by teaching both boys and girls to be who they are and not to pretend to be a particularly “gender” assigned to them by an out-of-date culture and society.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Inspired by Nigerian history and tragedies all but forgotten by recent generations of westerners, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels and stories are jewels in the crown of diasporan literature.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 12 CDs
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Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan, read by the author and Daniel Halpern, includes not only past experiences with her siblings, her mother, and her father, but also editorial notes and emails between herself and her editor as she struggles to write a book about writing — a book the ends up being a memoir of a writer.

Readers take a journey with Tan through memorabilia and letters between herself and her mother. It is an emotionally read memoir, with deeply sad losses from her childhood and her own internalized memories of slights she received from her parents.  Imagine how children view our comments and reactions to their behaviors; Tan makes a study of those things in her memoir as she strives to assess her own writing and her own quirks as a writer.

Through her creative reflections on her past and her own writing process for The Valley of Amazement and other books, readers are given a glimpse into her life, her emotional baggage, her forward thinking perspective on women and their accomplishments, and her devastation over the recent election. Do not think she’s overly political here, because it is more about her emotional reflections on those events and how she perceived her parents would have voted.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan, read by the author and Daniel Halpern, is a valley of amazement all its own, and readers of her novels will enjoy learning about her struggles with her parental relationships, the secrets she uncovers and speculates about, and her emotional confessions about it all.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Amy Tan is an American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships and what it means to grow up as a first generation Asian American. In 1993, Tan’s adaptation of her most popular fiction work, The Joy Luck Club, became a commercially successful film.

She has written several other books, including The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and a collection of non-fiction essays entitled The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. Her most recent book, Saving Fish From Drowning, explores the tribulations experienced by a group of people who disappear while on an art expedition into the jungles of Burma. In addition, Tan has written two children’s books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series airing on PBS. She has also appeared on PBS in a short spot on encouraging children to write.

Currently, she is the literary editor for West, Los Angeles Times’ Sunday magazine.

A Vintage Halloween by Cat Gardiner

Source: Purchased
Ebook, 56 pgs.
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A Vintage Halloween (Memories of Old Antique Shop #3) by Cat Gardiner is delightful short story in which Elizabeth Bennet is trying her best to put on a brave face as she helps Jane with her wedding preparations to Charlie Bingley and navigating through her mother’s nerves. But what is really getting her down is the absence of her Darcy and the knowledge that he’s in a dangerous place and may not come home to make good on his promise to marry her. Gardiner knows these characters, even her modern versions, so well, that they shine on the pages.  Lizzy is tough, but she’s vulnerable, and Darcy is smart but dutiful.

“In Will’s absence, Fred Astaire wasn’t her hide-out any longer — at least not when she needed a break from her mother.”

Halloween is approaching and Lizzy may not feel like celebrating, but she’s made a promise to the Memories of Old shopkeeper, Doris. A romantic trip to 1944 is what Lizzy needs to recharge, but she’s not the only one missing her sweetie in this tale of ghouls and ghosts. Doris is being mysterious, and Mary joins Lizzy at the shop only to see things Lizzy cannot see.

A trip through a mirror and a masquerade ball may be just what the doctor ordered for Lizzy and Doris.  But who is behind those costumes and masks, and where are all those customers coming from and what are they looking for? Will Doris let Lizzy in on her secrets? Find out in A Vintage Halloween (Memories of Old Antique Shop #3) by Cat Gardiner.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Cat Gardiner loves romance and happy endings, history, comedy, and Jane Austen. A member of National League of American Pen Women, Romance Writers of America, and her local chapter TARA, she enjoys writing across the spectrum of Pride and Prejudice inspired romance novels. Austenesque, from the comedic Christmas, Chick Lits Lucky 13 and Villa Fortuna, to the bad boy biker Darcy in the sultry adventures Denial of Conscience, Guilty Conscience, and Without a Conscience, these contemporary novels will appeal to many Mr. Darcy lovers, who don’t mind a deviation away from canon and variations.

Cat’s love of 20th Century Historical fiction merges in her first Pride & Prejudice “alternate era,” set in a 1952 Noir, Undercover. Her most recent publications are time-travel WWII P&P short stories: A Vintage Valentine, A Vintage Victory, and A Vintage Halloween as part of the Memories of Old Antique Shop Series.

Her greatest love is writing Historical Fiction, WWII–era Romance. Her debut novel, A Moment Forever was named a Romance Finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. She is currently working on her second novel in the Liberty Victory Series.

Married 24 years to her best friend, they are the proud parents of the smartest honor student in the world—their orange tabby, Ollie and his sassy girlfriend, Kiki. Although they live in Florida, they will always be proud native New Yorkers.

The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 400 pgs.
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The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert is a historical fiction novel that is told from both Letti and Marco’s points of view as their lives take different turns than they expect with the rise of Nazism, WWII, and its aftermath. But at its heart it is a romantic novel Lettie finds her soulmate in the most unexpected place.  Joubert’s detail in describing Italy and South Africa create a vivid world in which Letti and Marco live, and these characters face some tough trials.

Marco was a strong character filled with integrity and love and his determination and hope filled these pages from beginning to end.  He infused each character he encountered with a strength they did not know they possessed, and he makes the pages turn.  From his love of history and Da Vinci to his ability to go on even after he loses his childhood sweetheart.

Letti, on the other hand, is weaker, living in the shadow of her friends and feeling out of place next to the beauty of the village and the one from the richer family.  Like her father, she yearns to be a doctor and to care for others, even as she realizes her childhood crush is not meant to be anything more.

“The war seeped into the homes. The lowing winds blew it in through the front door when someone came in from outside. It oozed through the floorboards and the closed shutters.” (pg. 39 ARC)

Lettie’s strength comes later when she leaves for medical school and is on her own, away from the pressures of her friends and family. She’s able to see her goal and reach for it with both hands. Her hard work and thirst for knowledge make her the dedicated village doctor she becomes. But like all of us, even knowledge can take a back seat to fear and loss.

Although the ending for Lettie seemed a bit too convenient, it was understandable given her early years in her home village. The quick resolution so many years after WWII may have been truncated, but The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert is a journey worth taking and it reminds us that life is not a straight line and is very unpredictable. But love and happiness are possibilities that emerge from the ashes of our best laid plans.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

International bestselling author Irma Joubert was a history teacher for 35 years before she began writing. Her stories are known for their deep insight into personal relationships and rich historical detail. She’s the author of eight novels and a regular fixture on bestseller lists in The Netherlands and in her native South Africa. She is the winner of the 2010 ATKV Prize for Romance Novels. Connect with Irma on Facebook.

A Vintage Victory by Cat Gardiner

Source: Purchased
ebook, 54 pgs.
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A Vintage Victory: Memories of Old Antique Shop Book 2 by Cat Gardiner is a short story that takes us back to the time portals of the old antique shop in Meryton where not only Elizabeth and Jane Bennet have taken a trip back in time, but so too has Mr. Darcy.

Charles Bingley has cold feet about his wedding to Jane, but a trip back to WWII through the Memories of Old antique shop might just set him to rights. Gardiner’s short stories and this time portal antique shop always delight, even when the subject matter is the possible loss of lives during a harrowing WWII battle.

Charlie isn’t only experiencing cold feet, he’s also very different from Austen’s young beau in that he has a tough time making decisions and often just lives off his family’s money. Meanwhile, army ranger Darcy finds that the trip is not only the remedy his friend needs to cure his indecision, but also the push he needs to share his feelings with his love, Elizabeth. But can these two men return to the present without dying? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Gardiner is one of the best historical fiction authors I’ve read, and her Pride & Prejudice variations are unique and engaging. Antiques will often transport us to the past and memories we hold dear, but Gardiner takes that one step further in these short tales. Readers will be truly engaged with the present and past, and itching for their own trip into the Memories of Old antique shop. A Vintage Victory: Memories of Old Antique Shop Book 2 by Cat Gardiner is another strong installment in this short story series, and I cannot wait for the next one.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Cat Gardiner loves romance and happy endings, history, comedy, and Jane Austen. A member of National League of American Pen Women, Romance Writers of America, and her local chapter TARA, she enjoys writing across the spectrum of Pride and Prejudice inspired romance novels. Austenesque, from the comedic Christmas, Chick Lits Lucky 13 and Villa Fortuna, to the bad boy biker Darcy in the sultry adventures Denial of Conscience, Guilty Conscience, and Without a Conscience, these contemporary novels will appeal to many Mr. Darcy lovers, who don’t mind a deviation away from canon and variations.

Cat’s love of 20th Century Historical fiction merges in her first Pride & Prejudice “alternate era,” set in a 1952 Noir, Undercover. Her most recent publications are time-travel WWII P&P short stories: A Vintage Valentine, A Vintage Victory, and A Vintage Halloween as part of the Memories of Old Antique Shop Series.

Her greatest love is writing Historical Fiction, WWII–era Romance. Her debut novel, A Moment Forever was named a Romance Finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. She is currently working on her second novel in the Liberty Victory Series.

Married 24 years to her best friend, they are the proud parents of the smartest honor student in the world—their orange tabby, Ollie and his sassy girlfriend, Kiki. Although they live in Florida, they will always be proud native New Yorkers.

Teaching Eliza by Riana Everly

Source: the author
Ebook, 352 pgs.
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Teaching Eliza by Riana Everly is clever and fun, just as George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, aka My Fair Lady the movie, but also witty and romantic like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Everly strikes a perfect balance between the two works and creates her own story for Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet that not only defies convention and societal norms of the time, but also demonstrates how aristocrats and their peers can achieve the ends they seek with a little scheming.

Her Darcy is a bit more Shaw than Austen, but it is what we need in this tale to believe what transpires between Lizzy and himself. When Elizabeth and Professor Darcy meet it is after Charles Bingley has already decided on who his bride will be. He must merely ask her, and in this, Bingley is a stronger character than in Austen. I applaud Everly for giving us a stronger Bingley, even if he is still pleasant and easy-going in most things.

Once the tutoring of Miss Bennet begins and the scheme is agreed to, there is little room for turning back, and Elizabeth laments about her decision to enter into this scheme: “Oh, I find myself dreading a headache which will last six months.” But despite her misgivings, she finds that she enjoys the challenge of transforming her speech and manner as much as Professor Darcy. But like all great creations, they often disagree with their creators, and this makes for entertaining sparring between the two.

Everly clearly knows both of these classics well, and it shows, and while readers will need to be a little flexible in their notion of Regency behavior and expectations, it is well worth the effort to do so. The challenge lies in how Lizzy will overcome her dislike of Darcy when he selfishly pats himself on the back and whether she will see his more endearing nature beneath the cold facade he uses in London. Readers will love her determination and her ability to forgive, and they will certainly challenge this Darcy’s character as Lizzy does.

Teaching Eliza by Riana Everly is a variation I did not want to put down. I was delighted by every twist that brought Darcy and Elizabeth together and enjoyed the entertaining paths they took when they were parted. Darcy has more to learn in this variation but Lizzy also has to make some hard choices that could affect the rest of her life.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Riana Everly was born in South Africa, but has called Canada home since she was eight years old. She has a Master’s degree in Medieval Studies and is trained as a classical musician, specialising in Baroque and early Classical music. She first encountered Jane Austen when her father handed her a copy of Emma at age 11, and has never looked back.

Riana now lives in Toronto with her family. When she is not writing, she can often be found playing string quartets with friends, biking around the beautiful province of Ontario with her husband, trying to improve her photography, thinking about what to make for dinner, and, of course, reading! Visit her website and on Facebook.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 225 pgs.
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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which was our October book club selection, is a deeply emotional book about loss and guilt and letting go. Conor O’Malley is 13, but his burdens are great as he cares for himself the best he can while his mother clearly ill from chemotherapy. She is barely able to wake up and move about. At school, his life is gray and the only color he finds is in his encounters with the bullies at school because they provide him what he wants — punishment.

“It swung him out of his room and into the night, high above his backyard, holding him up against the circle of the moon, its fingers clenching so hard against Conor’s ribs he could barely breathe. Conor could see raggedy teeth made of hard, knotted wood in the monster’s open mouth, and he felt warm breath rushing up toward him.” (pg. 8)

It is a deeply atmospheric novel in which the gray and black emotions of Conor permeate all that goes on.  The Monster who visits him each evening tells him three stories, and Conor expects them to teach him something, but what Conor must learn is something he can only teach himself through experience.  The Monster, however, is not his recurring nightmare.  And the Monster, though fearsome, seems to be the darkness inside him and not an actual monster.  We all carry monstrous emotions and we try to keep them hidden — sometimes even from ourselves.  Through magical realism, Ness has created a tale for teens and adults alike that will ensure they look inward and assess their own pain, guilt, and loss in a new way.

Sometimes people need to lie to themselves most of all.” (pg. 67)

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is deeply affecting.  Readers will long feel the sorrow and the heaviness of this one, but it is darkly humorous in parts.  While one of the monster’s tales is a bit muddled, it could be attributed to the 13-year-old’s imagination in how it fails to fully parallel the other tales.  Ness is a crafty storyteller, and his Conor is every boy ever deeply impacted by loss, abandonment, and other dark emotions.

RATING: Quatrain

What book club thought?

Everyone at the meeting liked the book very well and really felt engaged with the narrative and Conor’s emotions.  The biggest debate was whether the monster was a real entity or in Conor’s mind.  It was interesting to listen to the theories that members had about the individual tales the monster told and how they paralleled Conor’s predicament.

About the Author:

Patrick Ness, an award-winning novelist, has written for England’s Radio 4 and Sunday Telegraph and is a literary critic for The Guardian. He has written many books, including the Chaos Walking Trilogy, The Crash of Hennington, Topics About Which I Know Nothing, and A Monster Calls.

He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award. Born in Virginia, he currently lives in London.

The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman (giveaway)

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 352 pgs.
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The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman offers a platter of new characters set in Detroit, which is beginning its renaissance. Cousins Addie and Samantha risk everything to buy a nearly hollowed out diner and a crumbling home that they divide into two livable spaces. They hope that through the meals they serve, using organic ingredients, they can make a successful eatery. However, they fail to take into account how their new venture will be received by the community.  As pressures mount, their relationship begins to fray and readers will see just how the past and present influence their future.

Through alternating points of view between Samantha and Addie, readers are able to see the quirky characters that make up their diner family. But through the atmosphere built by Lampman, it is clear something ominous is on the horizon, especially after an unexpected letter arrives. The author has drawn not only the main characters well, but also the secondary characters, creating a well rounded meal on which to chew. Some of the best parts of this book involve food and those recipes are in the back of the book, and I loved the material about WWII polish immigrants like Addie’s grandparents.

The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman is a succulent dish served in the evening with wine and a good dose of humor.  Readers will have watering mouths as they work their way through this renaissance for Detroit, Addie, and Samantha.

RATING: Quatrain

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About the Author:

Peggy Lampman was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. After earning a bachelor’s degree in communications—summa cum laude—from the University of Michigan, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a copywriter and photographer for a public-relations firm. When she returned to Ann Arbor, her college town, she opened a specialty foods store, the Back Alley Gourmet. Years later, she sold the store and started writing a weekly food column for the Ann Arbor News and MLive. Lampman’s first novel, The Promise Kitchen, published in 2016, garnered several awards and accolades. She is married and has two children. She also writes the popular blog www.dinnerfeed.com.