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The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (audio and print)

Source: Purchased
Paperback and Audible, 447 pgs. or 14+ hours
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The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, which was a book club pick from last year and took me more than the month allotted to read, is a look at Chicago’s endeavor to build a World’s Fair to rival that of Paris. Larson attempts to contrast the beauty of the white city created by some architectural greats with the dark serial killings of  H. H. Holmes. The story is one of a city growing up and expanding, which generally brings with it the darker elements of crime. As women began to seek out jobs and not marriage, many were preyed upon by criminals, including Holmes. These comparisons are easy to see, but the main bulk of this book is focused on the political issues of the 1893 World’s Fair and its construction.

“Jane Addams, the urban reformer who founded Chicago’s Hull House, wrote, ‘Never before in civilization have such numbers of young girls been suddenly released from the protection of the home and permitted to walk unattended upon the city streets and to work under alien roofs.'” (pg. 11)

“To women as yet unaware of his private obsessions, it was an appealing delicacy. He broke prevailing rules of casual intimacy. He stood too close, stared too hard, touched too much and long. And women adored him for it.” (pg. 36)

Like the previous book I read by Larson, the narrative is big on detail — too much detail in some places — and this often bogs down the narrative and leaves the reader wondering if the book is about the fair or the serial killer. To finish this pick, I ended up reading along with the audiobook to keep my attention focused, as I found it wandered too much just listening to the audio and too much when reading the book — I started scanning pages rather than reading them.

The most interesting parts of the book for me were those short chapters about Holmes, and it makes me wonder if Larson had a hard time finding enough about him and his crimes to write about him alone — hence the need for the World’s Fair and its comparison with the darker side of Chicago. This was less boring than the previous Larson book I read, which isn’t saying much.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson was a mixed bag for me. The World’s Fair parts of the book were interesting but too long winded, while the parts about Holmes are too little throughout the book until the end. Saving the show-stopper for last is a detriment for this book. These subjects are not really related to one another, and the only thread holding them together is Larson’s slight juxtaposition of them and the fact that they both occurred around the same time. It would make readers wonder if Holmes would have been as successful as a serial killer if the World’s Fair had not distracted the police, officials, the government, and tourists alike.

RATING: Tercet

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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

Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 64 pgs.
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Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic is a cookbook for younger kids to start learning how to cook simple meals with the help of an adult. The recipes come with a little bit of story from Shimmer and Shine and their friends, as well as an ingredient list and step-by-step instructions. These recipes are easy enough to read that early readers can follow along themselves. Some elements will require help, including pre-heating the oven and taking the items in and out of the oven, etc. I will caution that there are some odd recipes in here for Pizza and ice pops, but they do make for healthy alternatives.

My daughter loves helping in the kitchen with recipes and the Blue Apron boxes (which I have 5 free boxes to give out so if you want one, let me know — you can’t have been a previous customer or previously received a box before).

For her first recipe, she selected Sparkle Cakes from the book, though we did not have the ingredients to make the frosting. We did have some other store-bought frosting, which we used on the cupcakes and improvised with the fruit topping since we also didn’t have raspberries. The recipe for the chocolate cupcakes was easy to follow, though when we added the hot water at the end after everything was mixed, it took a bit to get the right consistency for the mix before putting it into the cupcake pans. Since I’ve baked before, I knew the consistency wasn’t right when we poured it in, so I had to help her mix it more thoroughly. For this recipe, I would have added the water earlier in the recipe.  Otherwise, the cupcakes turned out nice and fluffy and moist.

 

Our second recipe, Cheesy Noodle Flowers, was messy and fun to make, though we had no-bake lasagna noodles, which made it a little harder to roll our flowers up. Eventually we got them rolled up and ready for the oven, even though some noodles cracked and broke.  Despite the messy look of this one, I can tell you it was a big hit in the house and was nearly eaten in one evening with very few leftovers. My daughter was extremely proud of how well it tasted and how much everyone ate.

Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic would make a perfect gift for kids who want to cook with their parents. It makes cooking more of a family activity and helps kids see how things are measured, how long they take to cook, and how much prep time is needed for some recipes. In today’s instant gratification world, kids can learn that taking our time and putting in additional work can lead to some great results.

RATING: Quatrain

The Sun Is Kind of A Big Deal by Nick Seluk

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
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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.

Fly With Me by Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 192 pgs.
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Fly with Me: A Celebration of Birds Through Pictures, Poems, and Stories by Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple is gorgeous. The photographs and reproductions of artwork are stunning, bring each bird to life for young readers. With these colorful pictures, it will be hard for young readers to turn away, and parents will be able to use this as a resource for not only the biology of birds, but also in geography lessons in which state birds are talked about. The giant state bird map is wonderfully detailed, as are the pages about migration, ancient birds, evolution and extinction, and so much more.

I originally wanted to review this book because poetry is included, and Yolen’s poems are always accessible to a number of audiences. I wasn’t wrong about that here, either, as her poems in this book are a great way to introduce young readers to birds. There also are poems from Heidi E.Y. Stemple, which are equally accessible. I loved sharing with my daughter how Stemple’s poem, “Vee,” not only examines the migration of geese but is also shaped like the “V” formation of geese.

Fly with Me: A Celebration of Birds Through Pictures, Poems, and Stories by Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple is a collection that the whole family can share. It was big hit for its colorful pages and its poetry, but there is so much more to explore in these pages.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Authors:

JANE YOLEN is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature.

HEIDI STEMPLE was 28 years old when she joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published 20 books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.
Stemple, her two daughters, her mom, and a couple cats live in Massachusetts on a big old farm with two houses.

JASON STEMPLE is an author and photographer. He lives with his wife and children in Charleston, South Carolina.

ADAM STEMPLE is a novelist and musician. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: Cinquain

PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 228 pgs.
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PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey is a comprehensive resource for poets who want to gain a wider audience for their work. For novice marketers, Gailey includes in each chapter an overview of marketing terms and set of action items that poets can tackle within an hour to get themselves started.  What’s beautiful about this book is how well various aspects of marketing are explained from the platform to website to social media interaction.

It’s clear that she’s taken her experience marketing her five poetry collections to create this guide, which poets who have a website or don’t can use to market their art. Overall, much of poetry marketing begins with community. Creating a community online, creating a community in your neighborhood or city, and giving back to those communities through helping other poets with reviews, sharing their books, and even smaller things.

I cannot wait to start putting PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing by Jeannine Hall Gailey into action when my manuscript is done and publishable. There are some really challenging parts for me in this book, particularly reaching out to libraries and others to promote my future book.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter and, Field Guide to the End of the World, the winner of the Moon City Press Book Award and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. She also wrote a non-fiction book called PR for Poets to help poets trying to promote their books. Her poems have been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and on Verse Daily; two were included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She was awarded a 2007 and 2011 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize for Poetry and a 2007 Washington State Artist Trust GAP grant. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner.

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russel Hochschild (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hours
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Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russel Hochschild, narrated by Suzanne Toren, was our book club selection for February, but I missed this meeting as well. Hochschild focuses on communities in rural Louisiana to learn more about the Right and how they come to hold somewhat contrary beliefs about the government and what it should do and how it is not helping them. Her main focus was on environmental pollution, which helped her keep the study narrower, though I’m sure more issues affect the decisions of voters identifying with the Tea Party and the conservative Right.

Many of these conservative right leaning citizens of the United States seem to be motivated by taxes, faith, and honor, she says, as well as their own personal wishes. Part of the paradox is that while some see the need for regulations to say protect the environment and themselves from toxic pollutants, they also distrust the government. Additionally, these locally rooted people view Washington, D.C., as too far away, and many believe the federal government has taken away their local identities.

Hochschild also postulates that much of the issue stems from the loss of the Confederate South’s honor and the imposition of the North’s values on the South after the Civil War and during the Civil Rights Movement. Now the Tea Party has tapped into the need for honor with those who, even though poor and struggling, identify with the rich “plantation” owners and want an end to government handouts for those they see as “cutting in line.” Many of those line cutters are strangers and the government helps them but not you, and then you are viewed as “backward,” many of these Louisianans say. In many ways, her study suggests that the Rich are seceding from the Poor, even though many of the people she talked to are not wealthy at all.

In the election process, President Donald Trump become a totem that unifies the Right and provides them with a focus on their own improvement and lifting them up from their own emotional quagmire. The hats, signs, and branding push them together in an uplifting way, while pushing out the “other,” who the groups see as “line cutters.” The rallies also freed the Right from “feeling rules” that these people saw as imposed on them by the liberal North.

Rather than consider themselves as victims, they often take pride in their struggles, no matter how emotional draining it is. They tend to view their world optimistically — they look forward — and often trust the free market to do the right thing, even though research shows companies tend not to protect workers, the environment, or other aspects of society. Telling in the book is how Blue states benefit from the lax regulations of Red states, enabling them to reap the benefits of products produced without having the waste/pollution in their own backyard.

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russel Hochschild, narrated by Suzanne Toren, may offer a depressing view of the Right and their own paradoxes, but the book offers a sense of hope that the “empathy” wall can be overcome through conversation and practical cooperation. Although there were some repetitive pieces in this book and judgment peppered throughout, readers will find it informative as to why President Trump spoke to these people who felt like strangers in America, even though they were born here. As the media and political pundits and speakers push for division, the best medicine for democracy is cooperation and compromise — the middle ground.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Arlie Russell Hochschild is one of the most influential sociologists of her generation. She is the author of nine books, including The Second Shift, The Time Bind, The Managed Heart, The Outsourced Self, and Strangers in Their Own Land (The New Press). Three of her books have been named as New York Times Notable Books of the Year and her work appears in sixteen languages. The winner of the Ulysses Medal as well as Guggenheim and Mellon grants, she lives in Berkeley, California.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 10+ hours
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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, narrated by the author, was our April book club selection. This memoir will have you wondering where child services was for most of Jeannette’s life. Her parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, had three other children and were often negligent in their parenting, and even dangerous — placing their kids directly in dangerous situations or failing to prevent them from being in such places. The family moved a lot in the early days until her mother inherited some money that would have allowed them to live comfortably if budgeted well, but as her parents were very bohemian, practicality was outside their comfort zone.

Each child in this family was forced to find their own way to cope and survive, and some did so better than others. In many cases, the children went their separate ways, but there were times when they defended on another from their parents and from those willing to abuse them. Clinging to one another was an option, but eventually, West Virginia’s harsh landscape and judgment on outsiders forced the older children to seek their fortunes in New York City.

Walls has some tales to tell and many of them sound like they couldn’t possibly be true — did she really cook hotdogs by herself at age 3? While I wonder about the recollection of some events, I see that her point is not the chronology but the need for her to survive on her own most of the time, even though she had both parents at home. The kids acted more like adults on some occasions and when the kids called them out for it, they were punished because they were expected to respect their elders no matter what.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls at is core is a story of hope and survival. Walls should be commended for her bravery in speaking about her childhood, especially after hiding it for so long as she climbed the ladder in the world of journalism. Well written and engaging, this is a memoir that will have you regretting anytime you fought with your less bohemian parents.

RATING: Quatrain

What the Book Club Thought:

Everyone finished the book and thought the writing was very fluid. They were appalled by how the Walls’ children were treated by their parents and how the mother and father neglected their responsibilities on so many levels. There were moments in the book where some members wanted more information, particularly about the youngest child, but agreed that maybe Jeannette did not have memories of her youngest sister’s plight beyond what she wrote. This book was well discussed and raised a lot of issue as to whether the parents had an over-arching philosophy for how they lived their lives or whether it was merely selfishness. Very good discussion book.

About the Author:

Jeannette Walls is a writer and journalist. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, she graduated with honors from Barnard College, the women’s college affiliated with Columbia University. She published a bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle, in 2005.

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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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy

Source: School library
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, is currently the oldest U.S. Supreme Court justice, but she’s also a woman who understands what it is like to be told she cannot do something because she is female or because she is Jewish. Even as these moments must have been disheartening and made her sad, she persisted and resisted. These are phrases that are common in today’s world as many women are finding their voice and standing up for greater equality for all — men and women alike.

Imagine a time in history when women were told to find a husband instead of go to college or even law school. Imagine being one of 10 female students in law school where there were 500 men in one class. Imagine doing your best and there were still impediments to getting the job you wanted. These are the obstacles Ginsburg dealt with as a young woman and mother, but these are also the same obstacles that many minorities still face even in the 21st Century.

When reading this book with my daughter, she thought it was weird that Ginsburg was told she couldn’t be a lawyer because she was a mother and that she wouldn’t pay attention at work. She also thought it was mean that Jews were not allowed in certain places.  My daughter’s world is different in many ways, but in many ways still the same. I loved how Levy portrays Ginsburg’s tenacity without preaching and how she makes her relateable to elementary school kids, but does not talk down to them.

Ginsburg’s career and its law speak may be hard for some kids to understand, even the word “dissent” may need explanation. But this book will open a dialogue with children. I love that Levy has created a downloadable curriculum guide for classrooms, as well as the Glorious RBG Blog.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, is a wonderful addition to my daughter’s library at school, and funny enough, I purchased her a copy for her upcoming birthday this week.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Debbie Levy writes books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for people of all ages, particularly young people. Before becoming an author, she was a newspaper editor with American Lawyer Media and Legal Times; and before that, Levy was a lawyer with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (now called WilmerHale). She lives in Maryland with her husband, Rick Hoffman.

Finding Momo by Andrew Knapp

Source: gift
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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Finding Momo by Andrew Knapp is photography-activity book for young and old alike. If you ever had fun looking for Waldo, you’ll have fun looking for Momo. Knapp’s photos of Momo are inventive.  Whether in fields or outside homes, Momo is easily spotted with his black-and-white fur, but there are some instances where he blends right in. Knapp even includes a key in the back if you need a little bit of help.

My daughter had a good time when this book arrived.  I spent another day on my own checking out Momo and seeking his cute little face.  It’s clear this dog and his owner go on a lot of adventures together. I may just have to follow Momo on Instagram where it all began.  How about you?

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Andrew Knapp, born in Sudbury, Ontario and has travelled extensively with his border collie. In his first book, New York Times Bestseller Find Momo (2014), the reader is introduced to the hide-and-seek loving Momo who is cleverly camouflaged in each photo. His second book, Find Momo Coast to Coast to be released May 19th, 2015, and features photos of landmarks and odd finds on a road trip from coast to coast across the United States and Canada in a VW camper van. Andrew is also the co-founder of We Live Up Here, a multimedia project founded to connect and inspire folks in his hometown and across the world through collaborative art.