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We Will Tell You Otherwise by Beth Mayer

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing
Paperback, 140 pgs.
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We Will Tell You Otherwise by Beth Mayer, winner of the Hudson Prize, is a collection of short stories with quirky characters. Readers will be exposed to the unexpected, as the dead teach us that there is not a moment to waste and the mentally ill provide us with greater clarity than we expect about our lives.

Characters in these stories are frustrated and lost, but they find directions they never expected. With sly irony, Mayer has crafted a set of stories that will open readers’ minds to new points of view, forcing us to examine our own lives and how we perceive others, especially those living just outside the mainstream. Many of these characters are on the verge of irrevocable change in their lives, and there are moments that happen that can change it all.

While of the stories in We Will Tell You Otherwise are vastly different, at their heart, Beth Mayer takes her readers on a journey to explore human fragility and faults, while not losing their sense of hope. These characters have a lot to tell readers.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Beth Mayer’s fiction has appeared in The Threepenny ReviewThe Sun Magazine, and The Midway Review. Her stories have been anthologized in New Stories from the Midwest (Ohio University/Swallow Press) and American Fiction (New Rivers Press), and have been recognized by Best American Mystery Stories among “Other Distinguished Stories.” Beth’s collection was a finalist for the 2016 Orison Book Prize and the 2015 Many Voices Project. The Missouri Review’s 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in fiction named her a finalist and her work in Jet Fuel Review has been nominated for the 2017 Best of the Net. Beth holds an MFA from Hamline University, was a Loft Mentor Series Winner in Fiction for 2015-16, and coordinates the Creative Writing Certificate at Century College. She lives in Minneapolis/St. Paul with her family and impossibly loyal dog.

Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews

Source: St. Martin’s Press
Paperback, 448 pgs.
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Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews is slightly different from the lighter side of her other novels. Drue Campbell’s life is turned upside down with the death of her mother, the reappearance of her estranged father, an accident that takes away the one thing that eases her mind, and the loss of her job — a job she hated. Campbell hasn’t had an idyllic life, but with her mother she was at least grounded. Now, she’s adrift and wary of accepting her father’s help, especially after being estranged for so long.

When she arrives in St. Petersburg, Florida, she is given her inheritance from her father – her grandparents’ cottage on Sunset beach. But the gift is not without its own headaches — a leaky roof, nasty color scheme, and so much more. While clearing out the trash from the previous hoarder tenant and cleaning up the cottage, Drue uncovers a mystery in her own attic. When she heads to the office to work for her father, she also discovers his new wife is her former best friend and there’s a mystery at the law office that needs a second look.

Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews is a complex read of a young woman finding her place in the world after losing so much, but it’s also chock full of murder mysteries that Drue Campbell and you can’t help but dig into.

RATING: Quatrain

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About the Author:

Mary Kay Andrews graduated from the University of Georgia with a journalism degree in 1976.  She worked as a reporter at a number of papers, and spent 11 years as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before leaving to write fiction full-time in 1991.  She published ten mystery novels under her own name between 1992 and 2000, and since 2002, she has authored a number of best-selling books as Mary Kay Andrews.

The Daughter’s Tale by Armando Lucas Correa

Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
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The Daughter’s Tale by Armando Lucas Correa is a framed story in which Elise Duval must confront a past she has forgotten. A young woman and her daughter visit Duval and return to her items that were lost after the World War II. This is just the opening of the book of Duval’s journey from the present into the past.

“She knew well that no matter how the author fashions his characters, no matter which words he chooses, it is always the reader who holds the power of interpretation.” (pg. 12)

In 1939, Amanda and Julius Sternberg are a young family who find their home in Berlin is turning into something very ugly as the Nazi’s grow more powerful. Amanda owns a bookshop. Julius is a cardiac doctor but soon finds he’s no longer allowed to practice because he’s Jewish and when he is taken away from his family, Amanda is left to make decisions on here own for herself and her two daughters. Much of the WWII history is familiar in this story, but the connection between a mother and her daughters becomes a heavy theme throughout the book.

How do you decide what is best for yourself and your children when there is pressure not only from a government that has branded you an undesirable and from those willing to help you because they feel an obligation to your arrested husband. Correa’s novel is heartbreaking for more reasons than how many people are abused, murdered, thrown out of the only homes they have ever known, and separated from their families. Amanda has to make some tough choices and place her children’s safety above her own.

“We distance ourselves from the past far too quickly,” she told herself. (pg. 86)

Fleeing to southern France, her family finds a bit of peace. Living with Claire Duval, an old family friend, the Sternbergs fall into a rhythm of helping out at the farm and going to school. This lull is only a respite from the hunters conquering those around them. Amanda is again forced to make one of the biggest decisions to save her family.

It’s very easy to fall into this story and to feel the deep rip of these decisions and the far-reaching effects of these decisions not only on the mother, but also on the daughters. Mixed into this dynamic is Claire Duval and her own daughter, Danielle, and how they act and react to the Sternbergs and the struggles they face simply because they are offering them shelter. The bonds between these mothers and their daughters are like steel, even when memories begin to fade and details get a bit fuzzy for the children as the war continues and seems endless.

The Daughter’s Tale by Armando Lucas Correa is a beautiful tale of resilience and survival. My only complaint was that I wanted more about Viera, the eldest daughter, and I wanted more about Elise after the war. Perhaps there is a sequel in the works? I would love that! This was a wonderful story and stands as a testament to the families that faced death and horror during WWII and came out the other side more resilient than anyone would have expected.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Armando Lucas Correa is an award-winning journalist, editor, author, and the recipient of several awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the Society of Professional Journalism. He is the author of the international bestseller The German Girl, which is now being published in thirteen languages. He lives in New York City with his partner and their three children. Connect: Website | Facebook | Twitter

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Source: Berkley
Hardcover, 400 pgs
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The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner is a novel of lasting friendship — one that surpasses the bounds of culture and war, as well as separation. Elise Sontag, a German American, finds that life during WWII becomes increasingly complicated when her father is arrested by the FBI in Davenport, Iowa. When her father is gone for months, his bank accounts are frozen, and the family is left to fend for itself, Elise learns that her school chums can be less mean than the world around her. Although she’s shunned at school, the sneers of passersby and neighbors, as well as the distrust from her father’s co-workers, are far worse. Through it all, she must be strong for her mother.

“Months later, in the internment camp, Mariko would tell me she believed there were two kinds of mirrors. There was the kind you looked into to see what you looked like, and then there was the kind you looked into and saw what other people thought you looked like.” (pg. 28)

When the entire family is reunited in Crystal City, an internment camp, she learns that even among the perceived “sympathizers” there are more Americans like her. But camp politics can be hard to navigate as someone who doesn’t see how she is perceived by those in the camp. Her focus is on trying to return to a normal life at the Federal School in the camp and befriending Mariko Inoue, a Japanese American from Los Angeles, who also feels more American than Japanese.

Meissner tackles a lot of larger themes, but the theme running through Elise Sontag’s narrative is one of identity. When our home country considers us the enemy, how do we reconcile that with who we know ourselves to be? How can we retain the goodness of our souls without succumbing to the perceptions of others? Can we hold onto what we know about ourselves when others see us as the enemy and send us to a place we feel is hostile to us because they also see us as the enemy?

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner is a stunning novel about the last year of World War II from the untenable situation of a young American girl thrust behind enemy lines by her own nation. It is about the friendship that can blossom amidst terrible and heartbreaking conditions. This is a WWII novel that will grip your heart, squeeze it and leave readers wanting more. (I personally would want to read Mariko’s story!)

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Susan Meissner is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction with more than half a million books in print in fifteen languages. She is an author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include As Bright as Heaven, starred review in Library Journal; Secrets of  Charmed Life, a Goodreads finalist for Best Historical Fiction 2015; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University and is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.

Visit Susan at her website; on Twitter at @SusanMeissner or at Facebook.

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories by Sarah Lerner

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 192 pgs.
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Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories edited by Sarah Lerner is deeply moving and filled with passion — a passion for making a difference and a passion for the lives that were cut too short and should be remembered. From students to teachers, these essays, poems, photos, and drawings will make you an emotional mess. Reading through this collection, you can tell how scared these kids were when the shooting occurred on Feb. 14 , 2018. The lives of these unsuspecting students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was upended by one school shooter.

The initial reaction was disbelief because many thought the second fire drill was just routine, but the rapid fire soon became the scariest thing they had ever heard. Many lamented they didn’t stick to their routines and wait for friends, while others wanted to have done more to save their friends. There was the interminable wait for their friends to respond, but the silence was deafening. The heavy weight of sadness was soon wielded as a weapon against those who dare not to talk about gun reform, with many kids marching and lobbying for change still.

From “Can’t You Hear?” by Alyson Sheehy

You can blame what you want, pull on whatever thread
Bully us into silence and treat us like we don’t matter.
However, don’t forget there is no future when all of us are dead
Although it seems that is still not enough for all lives to matter.

Can’t you hear the screams now? Cause they are only growing louder.

The speech from Emma Gonzalez is widely known, but it bears repeating.

From “We Call BS” speech by Emma Gonzalez

“The students at this school have been having debates on guns for what feels like our entire lives. AP Gov had about three debates this year. Some discussions on the subject even occurred during the shooting while students were hiding in closets. The people involved right now, those who were there, those posting, those tweeting, those doing interviews and talking to people, are being listened to for what feels like the very first time on this topic that has come up over 1,000 times in the past four years alone…”

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories edited by Sarah Lerner must have been a cathartic experience for the writers, artists, and photographers who participated in sharing their stories, emotions, and trauma with readers. It’s a must read for anyone who does not understand the movement toward gun control. Our world has changed, our children are no longer safe in school, and more guns are not a viable solution.

Rating: Quatrain

Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, Illustrated by David Bucs

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, illustrated by David Bucs, is a delightful read full of adventure and riddles for young readers to solve. A trio of friends, including the birthday boy Mason, are invited to have a sleepover at the museum. This is an adventure that they will never forget, as it tests their knowledge of history, evolution, and biology. These friends work well together solving the riddles and in the process Mason gets to imagine what it would be like to sleep in each of the rooms at the museum. Which one will he actually pick, is something readers will have to find out for themselves.

This was a book that my daughter and I read together over several days as she did her nightly reading. There were some large words like “biodiversity” and “behemoth” that were a challenge for an early reader, but sounding out smaller chunks helped her get through them. She loved reading the riddles with Mason and his friends and even figured some out on her own. She was very proud that she knew some of the answers. The images are detailed and colorful and will have kids looking at everything all at once.

Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, illustrated by David Bucs, will test kids’ imaginations and knowledge, as well as ensure they strengthen their vocabularies. My daughter was thrilled with this book, and enjoyed following Mason on his birthday trek through the various parts of the museum.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Karen LeFrak is a creative and philanthropic New Yorker. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Mt. Holyoke College. Karen continued her education earning an MA in Music History from Hunter College. Her thesis “In Search of the New Classics,” which surveyed the commissioning activity of the New York Philharmonic from 1842-1986, won the Dean’s Award in Arts and Humanities. Karen’s education also includes courses in archival management and historical editing at New York University. In 2010, in recognition of outstanding achievement, the Hunter College Alumni Association elected her to the Hunter College Hall of Fame.

About the Illustrator:

David Bucs studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. After working in the animation industry in Los Angeles as an art director and character designer, David moved to Beijing, where he was a designer in a 3D animation studio. He loves to create characters, bringing them to life through strong expression using digital media. David is the illustrator of Sleepover at the Museum by Karen Lefrak (forthcoming from Crown/Penguin Random House). He has also created artwork for Capstone, Highlights magazine, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt leveled readers. David lives with his wife and young son in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where life is sweet. Find him online: @davidbucs / davidbucs.com.

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

Pat Review: Button Man by Andrew Gross

Source: Tandem Literary
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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About the Book:

Morris, Sol, and Harry Rabishevsky grew up poor and rough in a tiny flat on the Lower East Side, until the death of their father thrust them into having to fend for themselves and support their large family. Morris, the youngest, dropped out of school at twelve years old and apprenticed himself to a garment cutter in a clothing factory; Sol headed to accounting school; but Harry, scarred by a family tragedy, fell in with a gang of thugs as a teenager. Morris steadily climbs through the ranks at the factory until at twenty-one he finally goes out on his own, convincing Sol to come work with him. But Harry can’t be lured away from the glamour, the power, and the money that come from his association with Louis Buchalter, whom Morris has battled with since his youth and who has risen to become the most ruthless mobster in New York. And when Buchalter sets his sights on the unions that staff the garment makers’ factories, a fatal showdown is inevitable, pitting brother against brother.

My mom picked up Button Man by Andrew Gross as soon as it entered the house — I barely saw the book. With so many changes in the last year and a big move at the end of last year, I’ve had very little time to read review books. Mom, however, seems to find a great deal of time to read and her access to those unexpected review copy surprises makes dad happy that the book budget is smaller. I digress.

Mom is a big fan of Andrew Gross’ books, and this one was no different. She read through this one in a couple of days, riveted by the story and the historical setting. It was intriguing how an unexpected moment can change someone’s life, she says. She thought it was very well written and loved the suspense.

She would give it 5 stars.

About the Author:

Andrew Gross is the author of New York Times and international bestsellers The Blue Zone, Don’t Look Twice, and The Dark Tide, which was nominated for the Best Thriller of the Year award by the International Thriller Writers, Reckless, and most recently, Eyes Wide Open. He is also coauthor of five number one bestsellers with James Patterson, including Judge & Jury and Lifeguard. He lives in Westchester County, New York, with his wife, Lynn. You can follow Andrew Gross on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and at AndrewGross Books.com.

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!

Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Today’s review is not for poetry as expected this month, but rest assured, the author is a poet.

Sweta Vikram’s poetry has appeared on this blog previously, and I’m humbled to call her a friend. She is particularly talented as you can tell from her previous books and this debut novel.

Happy launch day, my friend.

***Mark your calendar DMV residents! Sweta Vikram will be at the Curious Iguana bookstore in Frederick, Md., on May 27 4-5pm***

I’ll be there, but will you!

Source: publisher
Paperback, 268 pgs.
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Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is more than just a novel that captures our current time where the Internet is pervasive and many of us have allowed our walls of privacy to fall. It is a novel in which Ahana Chopra is forced to live her own life and discover on what terms she wants to live that life — a woman no longer under the wing of her mother and no longer under the thumb of her husband in New Delhi, India.

A quote from Socrates — “To find yourself, think for yourself.” — is a perfect summation of a novel in which the protagonist goes on a spiritual, emotional, and physical journey to self discovery, like that of Vikram’s Ahana. Vikram’s main character has a strong voice, even if her convictions waver from time to time as the shroud of mourning gathers about her unexpectedly. But once outside her cloistered world, she has no choice but to examine her world and her place in it. She must make choices that can either lead to her own happiness or force her down the same dark path she walked before.

“At social gatherings, I want to disappear and become invisible.” (pg. 1 ARC)

The dark threads of the novel outline the loneliness of marital abuse and the sinkholes the Internet can disguise when catfishers seek new prey, but the light threads are the inner strength Ahana cultivates as she strives to make a safe place for women who’ve been victims of abuse. She also has solid friendships — with Rohan and others — and family relationships to lean on. As her mother’s wise words come to Ahana, she gains strength and learns to move forward, if cautiously.

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” (pg. 182 ARC)

Vikram’s novel is a tapestry of hope sprung from pain and shines as a beacon for those who need a gentle push away from the darkness in their lives. Fiction can be an escape and showcase an amazing story, but Vikram uses her words and characters to help change lives and give strength to those who need it. Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram takes readers on a multi-continental and multi-cultural journey that mirrors our own world today, but it begs us to make changes.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a best-selling author of 11 books, a wellness columnist, and a mindfulness writing coach.  Featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” Sweta writes about women, multiculturalism, and identity. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nice countries and three continents. Louisiana Catch (Modern History Press 2018) is her debut U.S. novel. Born in India, Sweta grew up between the Indian Himalayas, Northern Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories. Exposure to this vast societal spectrum inspired her to become an advocate for social issues and also to get certified as a Holistic Health Counselor. In this avatar, Sweta is the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife through which she helps people elevate their productivity and creativity using Ayurveda and yoga. A certified yoga teacher, Sweta also teaches yoga and mindfulness to female survivors of rape and domestic violence. She lives with her husband in New York City.

Enter to win 1 copy of Louisiana Catch by Sweta Vikram (Kindle ebook for international entrants or print copy for U.S. residents)

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Walk With Me by Debra Schoenberger

Source: the author
ebook, 108 pgs.
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Walk with Me by Debra Schoenberger is just that a journey along with the photographer as she explores not only her own city of Victoria, British Columbia, but places to which she’s traveled. Her pictures range from the mundane moments of empty chairs in a restaurant to the pilled moisture on fruit. Her macro shots are detailed and well contrasted, and her close-ups of people illustrate the unbridled joy found in daily jaunts.

Schoenberger chooses to frame not only every day moments, but also colors that we often forget we see.  Highlighting the rainbows present in our busy lives demonstrates to readers of her book that there is more to our life than those scheduled appointments and deadlines. We need to remember those colors, those giggles of children’s laughter, and soft touch of petals on our skin. We can breathe in the scent of life to calm us and look at our neighborhoods to find the humor lost in large window displays.

Walk with Me by Debra Schoenberger is a journey, a meditation, and a pause for readers. I would like to have known where some of the photos were shot because there are some really interesting places captured here. They could be anywhere in the world, or right down the street.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Debra Schoenberger aka #girlwithcamera

“My dad always carried a camera under the seat of his car and was constantly taking pictures. I think that his example, together with pouring over National Geographic magazines as a child fueled my curiosity for the world around me.

I am a documentary photographer and street photography is my passion. Some of my images have been chosen by National Geographic as editor’s favorites and are on display in the National Geographic museum in Washington, DC.  I also have an off-kilter sense of humor so I’m always looking for the unusual.  Website ~  Facebook ​~ Instagram ~  Pinterest

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