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Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 224 pgs.
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Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey is an emotional roller coaster that I read in a couple of days. I’ve read much of Trethewey’s poetry in the past, so I was aware that her memoir would be well written. Growing up the daughter of a white father and a Black mother in the south was hard for her parents, but for the most part, they tried to shelter her from the darkness of bigotry and the still segregated south (Yes, the laws had changed, but attitudes and operations definitely had not). But this memoir is not about the fight for equality so much as a mystery slowly unraveled by Trethewey herself. She’s avoided parts of her past surrounding the murder of her mother by her stepfather. In many ways, the memoir reads like an intimate look at her own unraveling of the past and a stitching of herself into a whole being after splicing herself into the girl she was before she saw the apartment where her mother was slain and the woman she became afterward.

“‘Do you know what it means to have a wound that never heals?'” (Prologue)

“I chose to mark the calendar year just after my mother and I left Mississippi as ending, and the moment of loss — her death — as beginning.” (pg. 51)

Trethewey will take readers on a very emotional journey, and I rarely cry at memoirs. This was a tough read from beginning to end, as Trethewey came to terms with her biracial heritage, the divorce of her parents, and the fateful entrance of her stepfather. When she and her mother move to Atlanta, founded as “Terminus” or the end of the line, their perspectives on the move are very different. A child missing her close-knit family life in Mississippi and her mother reaching for a new life. When Big Joe comes into their lives, there’s an immediate sense of dread and fear as he takes her on long rides on the 285 as punishment (mostly for things she didn’t do). But Trethewey still blames her silence for what happened to her mother, even if it is less pronounced than it must have been years ago. Silence is a conundrum for her. “…I can’t help asking myself whether her death was the price of my inexplicable silence.” (pg. 83) When she returns to Atlanta after fleeing the place, she avoids the past and takes any roads that are not 285.

“The truth, however, was waiting for me in my body and on the map I consulted to navigate my way around: how the outline of 285 bears the shape of an anatomical heart imprinted on the landscape, a wound where Memorial intersects it.” (pg. 86)

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey is a gripping tale of healing and reconciling the past. Trethewey relies not only on her memory but on her mother’s own writing, testimony, and recorded phone conversations. I was emotionally wrecked by this memoir. The love she had as a child from both her parents provided her with the strong foundation she needed to revisit this tragic part of her past and to heal herself (at least I’m hopeful that she’s healing).

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Natasha Trethewey is an American poet who was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 2012 and again in 2013. She won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her 2006 collection Native Guard, and she is a former Poet Laureate of Mississippi.

Other Reviews:

Pounce! a How to Speak Cat Training Guide

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 176 pgs.
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Pounce! a How to Speak Cat Training Guide by Dr. Gary Weitzman and Tracey West is a comprehensive look at cat behavior, full magazine-quality images, and so much more. Kids ages 8 and up can learn not only how to gauge when a cat is anxious or angry, but they can also learn about what it means when cats purr. There’s even a quiz about cats that kids can do to learn not only about their diets but also whether cats do have nine lives. Cats can be trained, which is true if you think about how they have to be trained to use a litter box — why wouldn’t you be able to train them to do other things?

We don’t own a cat, but my daughter’s best buddy in the neighborhood has several and she loves playing with them (when we’re not in a pandemic). I think this book would help her friend learn more about cat behavior and how to recognize when the cats have had enough. Beyond training cats to use the litter box and putting on a color, kids and parents can learn to train their cats to come when called, go into a carrier for the vet visit, and using a cat door, as well has how to play with a ball. We learned that much like dogs, cats can be trained to sit, stay, and beg, as well as shake paws.

There are even tips to help with destructive behavior and so much more. Pounce! a How to Speak Cat Training Guide by Dr. Gary Weitzman and Tracey West demonstrates that many animals can be taught tricks. Cats are likely candidates, and kids can be kept safer by learning how to read cat behavior.

RATING: Quatrain

Fetch! A How to Speak Dog Training Guide

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 176 pgs.
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Fetch! A How to Speak Dog Training Guide by Dr. Gary Weitzman and Aubre Andrus is another fact-filled guide from National Geographic Kids for kids ages 8 and up. The book provides practical guidance on how to train a dog to sit, stay, and so much more. Our dog already knows some tricks, so our daughter wants to work with her on the harder activities and I’m hoping to train her how to catch a Frisbee. Our live-in dog, who belongs to my parents, has zero tricks. My first trick will be to teach him how to hush. He barks way too much for my liking. Wish me luck, since he’s a notoriously stubborn dog.

There are activities like ringing a bell, jumping through a hoop, and so much more. Maybe we’ll train these dogs for the circus? Not likely, but it will be a good idea for her to try and train her own dog and learn how to be responsible for her pets. The book has some vivid color images of different dogs, which was another fun topic of conversation. She’ll know more about different dog breeds than I did as a kid.

Inside, kids can learn not only how to train their own dogs, but learn from other dog owners who’ve tried to train their own pooches. There are other fun activities for kids to where they can make their own dog toys or learn what type of dog they are. My daughter was happy to learn that she’s at least part Siberian Husky like her own dog. There are even vet tips and information on how to read your dog’s body language. The back of the book also offers resources for further information.

Fetch! A How to Speak Dog Training Guide by Dr. Gary Weitzman and Aubre Andrus provides a lot of activities for kids to learn how to interact with their dog and teach them good behaviors, but it also can become an interactive activity for dogs to enjoy — especially since many of the tricks require rewards in treats.

RATING: Quatrain

Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun by Paul Farrel

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Card set
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Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun by Pail Farrel is a box set of full color cards that you can interlock to create castles of traditional architecture or even something a little bit different. This set is for ages 3-5 years old, but I suspect younger kids would need help from their parents. I would venture to say this collection of cards is more for 5-8 year olds. There are 64 cards in the box with different architectural elements, which are explained in the pamphlet. The hefty card stock is useful in building sturdy structures, but the instructions are very minimal, which is why I would recommend this activity for older kids or as an activity for parents and kids to do together.

My one quibble would be the directions are not very clear for younger kids, so I definitely needed to show her what some of the photos were referring to — think IKEA directions. But my daughter and I had a great time, as you’ll see from the pictures below:

Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun by Pail Farrel was a fun afternoon activity amid COVID-19 quarantine. We had a good time building castles and towers for princesses with long hair. We’ll likely build again, but for now, the castles are disassembled and returned to the box. You need a new kind of activity for kids, this one could be the right one. Make sure you build on a stable surface!

RATING: Quatrain

Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 8+ hrs.
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Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos, a memoir of creativity read by the author, explores a variety of political climates through the lens of an adult. When Amos was playing piano bars in Washington, D.C., the hotbed of political machinations, at age 11 in the 1970s, she was likely not aware of the political situation as much as she is as an adult. She brings her knowledge of now when she looks back on those experiences, but what sticks with her was how a marginalized group took a chance on her young talent as a pianist to provide entertainment for the political elite. Growing up in music bars throughout the city and in hotels where lobbyists made their deals with politicians provided Amos with a window into the truth of our Republic. Young people learning about our government and its structure often have a naive view of how our country is run, and I can tell you from experience that it is devastating when you learn how deals are struck and powerful men always seem to have the upper hand even if the side they are on is clearly wrong and devastating.

I love the structure of this memoir and how Amos uses her song lyrics to discuss her inspiration, the process of creativity, and what aspects of the wider world helped fuel her muses. While some of the songs may seem only tangentially connected to the world affairs she connects with them, that’s the beauty of art. It grows beyond the original intent or words to paint a wider experience of the world around us and help us to see our part in that world.

While Amos’ creative process will not be something that everyone can ascribe to or understand, it is an intriguing journey that she’s made with her family and alone. She speaks about the death of her mother briefly, which must have been particularly devastating. But it is clear that her strength as an artist and women comes from her mother and the inspiration and direction she received from her.

Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos is a memoir that I’ll remember for a very long time, and is definitely a step above compared to her first, Tori Amos: Piece by Piece. Each artist comes to their work in a different way, and while some may be excellent performers, there is a richness that comes with artists’ like Amos who create work that deeply affects their own soul, as well as those around them. Her memoir is even more relevant today that it was when it was written — before the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the COVID-19 pandemic and ignorance of society about public health protections and so much more.

RATING: Quatrain

Magnolia Table, Volume 2: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 352 pgs.
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Magnolia Table (Vol. 2): A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines is the second volume of recipes from Gaines, and this one was more thought out and planned than her previous volume, according to the introduction. Her previous volume focused on family favorites that she makes all the time, while this one chronicles her journey to learn about new foods, ingredients, and more. I really loved the substitutions chart because that will help me a great deal when I don’t have certain ingredients. I never know what to substitute. There are some great full-color photos in the book, but given the pandemic, there are some things that I couldn’t do at all, especially recipes requiring yeast (this has been non-existent for months).

The first recipe I tried was for Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes. We had just gotten some delivered from the local farmer’s market, so I was eager to try this recipe. One drawback is that there were not pictures for this recipe, but we assumed that Gaines cut the potatoes into french fry form, which is what we went with. It was pretty easy to follow, though for my family, I would definitely cut back on some of the rosemary and black pepper — several people said it was too spicy (my daughter included). The other thing I found was that 40 minutes was too long at 450 degrees. My over charred some of these fries, so I think next time I’ll just cook them for 30 minutes or keep a closer eye on them. But they still were tasty.

Gaines recommends serving these with Rib Eye Steaks, but we didn’t have any of that. We had meatloaf with beans.

The next recipe I tried was for French Silk Pie, which had some really easy to follow steps. I really enjoyed this recipe and will be making it again, since it was a big hit even if there was a problem with my crust. I think pre-made crust is best for me. This recipe does have a full-color picture that helped me determine if my ingredients were working together as they should.

Everyone ignored the terrible crust and said the pie itself was delicious. I really enjoyed making this one, and I’ll be happy to make it again. I already have plans to try making it with a graham cracker crust.

While I didn’t get to make the pizzas I wanted to because of the lack of yeast, I plan to make those when things are more available in the stores. Some of the recipes in this book, however, we probably won’t make unless my kiddo and mom become more adventurous in their eating. I do want to check out the first volume of recipes in the first book, because I suspect those recipes will be better for my family.

Magnolia Table (Vol. 2): A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines is a good cookbook with a ton of information for budding chefs at home. While not everything suited my family’s taste, I’m sure that it will be a big hit with others. I do wish there were more pictures in the cookbook, but that’s because I love full-page photos of food. It helps me see how delicious it will look when I’m done cooking.

RATING: Quatrain

Turn It Up! A Pitch Perfect History of Music That Rocked the World

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 192 pgs.
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From National Geographic Kids, Turn It Up! A Pitch Perfect History of Music That Rocked the World, is a collection of fun music facts in a condensed format with colorful photographs and more. I enjoyed the parts about sound waves, and rhythm (which I don’t have) and harmony versus melody as a way of introducing music fundamentals to kids. My daughter was amazed that the earliest instrument was 40,000 years ago and was a flute made of bone. She was a bit creeped out by that knowledge, but she did find the other early instruments inside the book interesting. She already knows a little bit about the types of notes, thanks to Yunique Music School.

The most fascinating parts of this book for me were there tidbits about the actual musicians, like how Niccolo Paganini had sold his soul to the Devil in order to play so well every time he appeared before an audience while on the road. I enjoyed learning about Antonin Dvorak, one of my favorite composers, and the influence of America and Native Americans in his work — which makes absolute sense when you listen to his New World Symphony. I also learned something I didn’t know about one of my mom’s favorites, Glenn Miller, who apparently vanished while fighting in WWII. Cab Calloway is a figure I vaguely recall seeing as child and probably on Sesame Street, but I just loved his energy as a kid, and I had no idea that he used cartoon characters as part of his shows.

From National Geographic Kids, Turn It Up! A Pitch Perfect History of Music That Rocked the World, is chock full of information about musical composers, instruments, and the evolution of music, but it also has so much about recent musicians toward the end. It seems like it is heavy on new artists, which is probably because of the younger audience, but it is good to see how these younger artists are being remembered now, rather than years and years into the future.

RATING: Quatrain

We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 224 pgs.
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We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai is a collection of essays written by women who also fled their homes due to violence, persecution by rebels or government forces, and more. Yousafzai recounts some of her own refugee story as an opener to the collection, but readers will see the parallels of her story and the stories of these women. Many of these women had very strong convictions like Yousafzai either before they were forced to leave their countries or after they had grown up and learned why their families fled their homes.

“I wrote this book because it seems that too many people don’t understand that refugees are ordinary people. All that differentiates them is that they got caught in the middle of a conflict that forced them to leave their homes, their loved ones, and the only lives they had known. They risked so much along the way, and why? Because it is too often a choice between life and death. And as my family did a decade ago, they chose life.” (pg. x1)

It is a sad commentary on an American perspective that cannot see these refugees for who they are — average people with happy lives who have one choice: stay in their homeland and die or leave and live. Many of the women in these essays were just teenagers or younger when they left their homes; some of them left with their parents, while others fled their countries on their own after their parents or families were murdered or died. The essays highlight some of the political and societal upheavals occurring in countries across the world, but they are very light on how these women transitioned to their new lives and how hard it was. Many of the essays felt like surface retellings of their stories, which may be because of language barriers or because these are short essays and not entire memoirs — it’s probably very difficult to talk about and condense these experiences into emotional essays.

We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai provides a set of stories that will showcase the struggles other people face in different countries, perhaps encouraging readers to get more involved, but at the very least to be a little more compassionate than they have been. For me, I wanted more emotion from the essayists, and I wanted to learn more about their displacement in many cases (some essays were more detailed on that), and what they were doing now.

RATING: Tercet (3.5)

Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 160 pgs.
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Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski provides introductory information about computer science and coding, equating it to “the arts,” which can help kids see how they can use science to create. I liked this perspective in the introduction. I started out by reading the introduction myself and explaining it to my daughter in brief so she could follow along with the activities.

The text is a bit dense for my 8-year-old, but the activities are engaging enough for her education level. Some of these entry-level activities may be too elementary for older kids. To introduce kids to coding, the book explains logical thinking and why coding is necessary. It can help robots find things and decipher codes, and so much more. It was a good idea to share this with our daughter, but some of this may be more advanced than we expected.  It’s definitely a keeper.

Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski offers a lot of computer science inside concepts and activities for kids to try with their parents. On her own, our daughter would probably not have gotten very far because she’s not the right age for it. I think this would be better for older children. We still enjoyed our time with the book.

RATING: Quatrain

The Book of Queens: Legendary Leaders, Fierce Females, and Wonder Women Who Ruled the World by Stephanie Warren Drimmer

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 176 pgs.
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The Book of Queens: Legendary Leaders, Fierce Females, and Wonder Women Who Ruled the World by Stephanie Warren Drimmer breaks down 100 of the top female leaders of our history into bite-sized bits that younger readers can digest. It would be a fantastic addition to any classroom looking to expose students to these extraordinary women — rulers, fighters, entertainers, scientists, and so much more. The book includes a list of familiar names like Joan of Arc, Marie Curie, Queen Elizabeth, Aretha Franklin, Ellen DeGeneres, and Helen Keller alongside less familiar female leaders, like Joan Cooney who helped create Sesame Street, Claudia Alexander who discovered Jupiter’s 21 moons, and Jeannette Rankin who helped get the 19th Amendment passed to give women the right to vote.

My daughter and I started out reading various ladies’ biographies haphazardly as she saw pictures that intrigued her enough to ask questions. We loved learning about the women who were familiar to me, but also those that were not. I love that there were so many women featured from traditionally male-dominated industries like space science. We’ll likely continue looking through this book and learning about different women.

The Book of Queens: Legendary Leaders, Fierce Females, and Wonder Women Who Ruled the World by Stephanie Warren Drimmer is a look at all of the women who have significant influence on politics, the world of science, fashion, music, and so much more. Included are a few short bios of men who may have influenced society as well. Drimmer makes each bio engaging and short enough to keep the interest of younger readers, which will get them thinking about where they can find more information about these famous women and men.

RATING: Quatrain

The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas

Source: publisher/TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 304 pgs.
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Nearly 250 years after Jane Austen’s birth, her popularity continues to gain momentum. With the number of spinoffs, continuations, and variations of her work soaring each year, the impetus of her popularity has been attributed to many things, including the scholarly study of her novels and the relatively relatable topics she explored. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas takes a different approach to the discussion by examining those editions of Austen’s novels that often fell out of circulation, were read until they fell apart, were produced using the same printing plates time and again, and were cheap enough for those of the working class to buy them on occasion.

Don’t be fooled! This is not a book about those illustrious, high-priced, out-of-reach (for most of us) first editions of Austen’s novels.

Complete with 100 full-color photographs of covers that hearken back to the penny dreadfuls, yellow-backs, and dime store copies with pulp-like covers on wire racks, Barchas has sought the history of the mass produced Austen novel. Many of which are held in private hands not by collectors, but by ordinary people. Some of these covers depict Lydia making a fool of herself at Brighton in Pride & Prejudice, Mary Crawford seducing Edmund, and much more scandalous behavior.

“Austen’s reputation has benefited from every significant modern innovation in the making and marketing of cheap books over the past two centuries. That reception history, starting in earnest with her first reprintings in the 1830s, doubles as the story of the increasingly inexpensive book,” says Barchas in the preface.

Richard Bentley is often credited with Austen’s increased popularity, but Barchas makes her case that it was more than his Standard Novels reprint series in 1833. She contends that those novels were still too expensive. Barchas adds that those volumes were soon joined with far cheaper versions of Austen’s novels, which may have had a greater impact on widening her popularity. “Not only was Jane Austen present among the earliest experiments in mass-market paperbacks,” says Barchas, “but these lowly books prove how her entrance into the literary canon occurred in a much cruder fashion than most of her fans today imagine.”

Later, Penguin Books created their own paperback versions that are color-coded by type: fiction, mystery, etc. As we move through Barchas’s nonlinear history of Austen’s covers, some new editions are more elaborate with red cloth covers, cursive writing, and more traditional looks, compared to the melodramatic scenes of previous covers.

Did you know that Austen’s books were used to sell soap? Or that paintings were used as a way to sell Austen’s books? And I bet you thought Austen marketed as “ChickLit” was a recent phenomenon, but it actually first started in the 1840s. Barchas provides readers with not only gorgeously photographed covers, wonderful vignette’s about owners’ copies of Austen’s works, and so much more. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas is a must have for Janeites and Janites alike. If you’re still shopping this holiday season, you cannot go wrong with this book. Remember, most of us read books that were mass-printed paperbacks in school, not the hardcover, first editions that are coveted by collectors today. The mass-printed books are the lifeblood of any author, especially if they hope to survive century after century.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Janine Barchas is the Louann and Larry Temple Centennial Professor of English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity and Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. She is also the creator behind What Jane Saw.

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hrs
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I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss is a look back at the hard road of comedy and the bumpy road to stardom, but it is also explores Hart’s own life and how it impacted his future career and family. Hart pulls no punches in this one and lays everything bare, including his problems with alcohol, domestic abuse, and more.

Growing up near Philadelphia was hard, especially with a strict single mother and a father who was addicted to drugs and hardly ever home. His stories about his family are outrageous to say the least, and Hart will say that he couldn’t have made them up if he tried.

Throughout the book he offers advice he received from other comics on the scene in Philly, New York, and LA. But he also offers lessons from his own life. One takeaway that really resonated with me is that even though his mother forced them to take public transportation even when they had another option, trained him for his rigorous show schedule and the waiting on TV and movie sets that can be not only frustrating but tedious. His mother’s tenacity also inspired him to keep striving for his goals, as he faced empty bank accounts and non-paying venues.

Hart is funny throughout the audio, which he narrates, but there are moments of crassness early on when he talks frankly about becoming an adolescent boy and later in life when he’s in Hollywood. These are part of his story, and if you don’t like profanity or detailed information about sex, you may want to skip this one or those parts.

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss was wildly entertaining, funny, and enlightening. I learned a great deal about where my own determination and drive comes from by Hart reminding me of those restrictive days as a kid in my parents’ home. I can now see how those restrictions helped me become the disciplined person I am. Hart’s still on a journey, but his journey is now aimed at improving the lives of his children, encouraging him in the way his mother did, and ensuring they don’t think they can skip school and do the things that he did. There were many laugh out loud moments, but there are lessons that you won’t soon forget.

RATING: Cinquain