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Make This! Building, Thinking, and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You by Ella Schwartz

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 160 pgs.
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Make This! Building, Thinking, and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You by Ella Schwartz is a magazine quality book chock full of experiments for kids to do with one another or with a supervising parent over spring break or summer break from school. This allows kids to learn how to create functioning items out of recyclable materials and repurpose them. It has been a delight to watch our daughter choose a project and run with it.

My daughter made the solar oven mostly on her own over spring break, but our weather was uncooperative most of the time for her to see it in action making s’mores. Once she was back at school, we had a sunny day so I put the solar oven outside for her. The chocolate on the s’mores did start to glisten and look a bit melted, but unfortunately, her pencil that held the foil at an angle kept blowing open, making it hard for the heat to be sustained and actually make the s’mores.

Since initially getting this review ready, my daughter spent some more time with the book and picked out a project she was confident in tackling on her own. She was on a break from electronics on a rainy day, and this one fit the bill. She built her own catapult.

Not too many supplies were needed, and she even let me take a video of her trying it out. There were several takes in making this video, but she was happy with this one.

Make This! Building, Thinking, and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You by Ella Schwartz is a book that every inquisitive kid should have at home. I’m sure we’ll be using this one again and again, especially when I hear the phrase, “Mom, I’m so bored.” She needs direction now and this book will get her active and creative at the same time.

 

RATING: Cinquain

Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha

Source: Premier Virtual Author Book Tours
Paperback, 312 pgs.
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Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha is a tale of enduring love, nearly senseless sacrifice, and a war that not only divided a country and its people, but also cut a great number of lives short. Le Giang is a North Vietnamese man who defected during the Vietnam War, who works at an inn doing odd jobs, driving tourists, and more. His story is woven together with Catherine Rossi and her search for the resting place of her son Nicola. Rossi’s son, who served during the Vietnam War between 1966 and 1967, died in battle and all she has left of him is a young Vietnamese daughter she adopted and his letters. Ha carefully shifts from the current story in 1987 (20 years after Rossi died in the war and 10 years after Le was imprisoned for defecting) to the letters from Rossi’s son and the memories Le shares with Rossi’s adopted daughter and Rossi herself.

“You can’t tell a Vietnamese skull from an American skull.” (pg. 158)

Until Mrs. Rossi arrives, Le is content in the life he leads and the job he has at the inn, dealing very little with the life he had before. He is forced to look on that life and come to terms with not only his own sacrifices, but also the ultimate tragedy of war — no one is innocent and no one is not touched by its bloodshed.

Through the Mekong Delta and the U Minh forest, Ha’s characters travel inside, outside, and alongside the horrors of war — the most gruesome things imaginable, including the burning flesh after a napalm attack. These images stay with the reader throughout out Rossi and Le’s journey to the River of White Water Lilies. The river becomes a mythical piece in which the characters must cross over in order to make peace with the war and the role they played in it and on the outside of fit. The ghosts of lost soldiers, innocents, and others are within the ripples waiting for a moment to reach out and be heard.

Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha is less atmospheric and dream-like as I’ve come to expect from Ha’s work. This does not detract from the ability of Ha to craft a multi-layered story that leaves a lasting impression. The Vietnam War was a complicated war tactically, politically, and socially not only for American soldiers (as many other books will attest) but also for those who live in Vietnam. Some families found themselves torn apart, others saw sons leave for war and never return, and many soldiers were conscripted against their desires or beliefs and had little to do but fight for their own survival (sometimes an endeavor in futility). Ha is one of the best writers in this genre and his novels always leave the reader with a great deal to think about — especially when it comes to American preconceptions about the Vietnam War. I never say “no” to reading Ha’s books, and this, his third, is the best yet.

RATING: Cinquain

Enter the giveaway.

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About the Author:

Khanh Ha is the author of Flesh (Black Heron Press) and The Demon Who Peddled Longing (Underground Voices). He is a seven-time Pushcart nominee, a Best Indie Lit New England nominee, twice a finalist of The William Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Award, and the recipient of Sand Hills Prize for Best Fiction, and Greensboro Review’s Robert Watson Literary Prize in fiction. The Demon Who Peddled Longing was honored by Shelf Unbound as a Notable Indie Book. Ha graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hours
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Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal is another Audible original that will delight listeners. The comedy begins at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but the subject is at once unexpected and humorous. With Kevin Cline, Annette Benning, and so many others (including a star from Moana), the anonymous and unexpected nature of death is explored through humor and ridiculous situations in the public eye, as President David Murray appears to be losing his mind as he talks to himself in grocery stores, etc. Even as his conversations appear one-sided, he actually spends a great deal of time speaking to the anonymous grim reaper (Billy Crystal) and coaching him on how to be a good angel of death.

Even though there are twists in the story, which I found a bit predictable, I laughed a number of times while listening to this comedic story. It’s a tale of humor, but also demonstrates how we never know when death comes for us and we should live our lives with purpose and be sure things are in order before the angel of death does come. There are no second chances or do-overs for most of us.

Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal was a delightful surprise. With the award winning cast, it should not have been. Aesop in comedic form.

RATING: Quatrain

Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hours
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Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is an Audible original that mixes  Smith’s memoirs, poetry, and music into one live performance. In spoken-word style and deadpan tone, Smith takes listeners on a journey into her creative life where they will meet Robert Mapplethorpe, Allen Ginsberg, and so many others. She talks about her early nomad days in New York and the freedom it afforded her, but also the deep hunger for food she couldn’t afford. Working to feed her belly became an early goal.

Her children, Jackson and Jesse Paris Smith, accompany her performance as well, making this a delightful family affair. Even though I’ve read her memoirs, I really loved hearing them spoken aloud in her own words and accompanied by her music. It creates an intimate portrait of the singer and writer. Patti Smith at the Minetta Lane by Patti Smith is a great addition to her memoirs on the shelf and the music in your ears.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred debut albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Eraser by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Source: Purchased
ebook, 21 pgs.
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Eraser by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant, is a delightful children’s book exploring the nature of not only creativity but also team work. Kang’s character, the eraser, finds that all of her friends — pencil, crayon, etc. — get all of the praise for their creative and productive work. Only Ruler and Pencil Sharpener seem to appreciate her friendship and hard work. She’s bummed that she’s not as creative as the rest of the school supplies. She decides to leave and most everyone isn’t sad to see her go.

While she’s gone, the pencil and others soon realize that eraser enabled them to have a second chance when they made mistakes. Second chances are important in life, and she was a big part of their team.

Kang’s story is filled with not only puns and humor, but life lessons for parents and kids alike. We all have our own talents and we must learn to embrace them and the roles we can play in our own lives, especially as part of a team. Eraser by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant, should be part of every kid’s home library.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Authors:

Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant are the creators of Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small and its follow-ups, That’s (Not) Mine and I Am (Not) Scared, as well as Can I Tell You a Secret? and Will You Help Me Fall Asleep? Christopher’s work can be seen regularly in The New Yorker, and his cartoons are syndicated worldwide. As an author, Anna routinely goes through first, second, and third drafts; Chris wears down many erasers while making his art. This husband-and-wife team lives in New Jersey with their two daughters and their rescue dog. Visit Anna and Christopher at www.annakang.com and www.christopherweyant.com.

These Dreams by Nicole Clarkston (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 26+ hours
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These Dreams by Nicole Clarkston, narrated by Leena Emsley, is a novel that catches Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in a ancestral dispute with ties to Colonel Fitzwilliam’s past in Portugal as an soldier. Clarkston’s supporting characters in Portugal and England will keep readers on their toes with suspense and a mystery to unravel. All the while, their hearts will be ringing out with pain for the anguish off Elizabeth Bennet who fears the man she loves will never know her true heart and for Mr. Darcy who languishes, imprisoned against his will with no inkling of why.

In the darkness, Mr. Darcy reaches for the Elizabeth he hopes can love him after he’s tried to right the wrongs to her family before his capture, and in turn, she spends many sleepless nights searching him out in the dark prison. She fears she’s losing her mind over these ghostly encounters, but she does not want them to stop because she aches for him to live. He believes his dreams to be just that as he fears she will find another before he can escape and return to her.

Meanwhile, Colonel Fitzwilliam takes center stage and has his hands full with manipulative relatives trying to wed him to a grieving niece and a mystery surrounding the death of his cousin. Clarkston has ramped up the tensions in her novel, creating a web of lies and mystery for readers and the Colonel to unravel together. Lest we forget about Wickham, he rears his ugly head as well, though he’s not as irredeemable as we think.

I was riveted the entire time, and though the audio seems longer than most, it was well worth every minute. I was never bored or wishing for the pace to pick up. Emsley does an admirable job in narrating each of the Portuguese characters and the English characters, making each on distinct, which was a tall order with this large cast. Her grasp of the Portuguese was pretty close to what I remember of my grandparents’ speech. It was wonderful to hear.

These Dreams by Nicole Clarkston, narrated by Leena Emsley, is angst inducing, will make you cry, will make you scream at the injustice, and will have you deliriously happy when it all ends. My only wish is that there is a sequel to explore Colonel Fitzwilliam’s days in Portugal before this saga even began.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Nicole Clarkston is a book lover and a happily married mom of three. Originally from Idaho, she now lives in Oregon with her own romantic hero, several horses, and one very fat dog. She has loved crafting alternate stories and sequels since she was a child watching Disney’s Robin Hood, and is never found sitting quietly without a book of some sort.

Nicole discovered Jane Austen rather by guilt in her early thirties- how does any book worm really live that long without a little P&P? She has never looked back. A year or so later, during a major house renovation project (undertaken when her husband unsuspectingly left town for a few days) she discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and fell completely in love. Nicole’s books are her pitiful homage to two authors who have so deeply inspired her.

Beautiful Justice by Brooke Axtell

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 241 pgs.
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“Although approximately one in six women will be sexually assaulted, more than 90 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.” (pg. XI)

Beautiful Justice by Brooke Axtell will inspire those who have been abused, trafficked, and left feeling unworthy to rebuild their self-esteem, create their own sacred places, and heal from their abuse. Axtell’s memoir is more than a look at her life and recovery, it is a call to those with similar stories and experiences.

She asks nothing of them but to care for themselves, to rediscover their own worth, and to find a community that can support them in that endeavor. Throughout the memoir, she offers poems she wrote throughout her experiences as a way to speak about the suffering and long road of recovery.

“Beautiful Justice is the art of taking back our lives and reclaiming our worth after abuse. It is a form of Justice that does not depend on what happens to our perpetrators. It is centered on our recovery as a creative process.” (pg. X)

Axtell’s recovery from abuse and trafficking was a long one. But with the help of her parents after a tumultuous time, she had two champions for her self-worth. At one point, her father praises her and reaffirms her as an intelligent young woman, while her mother helps her find places to seek out the help she needs. Even as she succeeds in some areas of her life, she is still battling demons.

“I strive for perfection in every dimension of my life — my dance, my studies, my spiritual path. I want to shine so brightly the shadows cannot consume me.” (pg. 16)

Axtell does not dwell on the horrors she experienced, but on the emotional trauma, the PTSD, and the dark shadows that follow her. Her recovery also provides lessons in how you can fool yourself into believing that all is right with your own world, even when you have not resolved the darkness that follows you. She offers moments of joy, her struggles, and her poetry in an effort to demonstrate the hard road of recovery but also the hope that can be found around you, if you are willing to ask the right questions of yourself. What makes you happy? How can you reclaim your life? How can you rebuild your worth without connecting it to what happens to the perpetrators of your abuse?

We are the untamed.
We are the unashamed.
We are beautiful justice
Just watch us rise. (pg. 143)

In addition to her story, she offers journal prompts in the back to help other survivors get started on their own recoveries, she provides them poems of strength and hope, and she provides mantras they can use to reaffirm their own worth. While she speaks a lot about how her ties to Christianity helped in her recovery, she also cautioned readers on how some doctrine and those who offer it can lead you away from your recovery journey. Axtell says that you need to find your own touchstones and paths to recovery, and many of the answers are within yourself. Self-reflection, self-care, and creativity can help those in recovery blossom and rebuild their lives. Beautiful Justice by Brooke Axtell is a journey of reclaiming self-worth and identity, while manifesting the beauty inside in the form of art and celebrating the value we bury inside.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet and Author:

Brooke Axtell is the Founder and Director of She is Rising, a healing community for women and girls overcoming gender violence and sex trafficking. Her work as a human rights activist led her to speak at The 2015 Grammy Awards, The United Nations and the U.S. Institute for Peace.

Her work as a writer, speaker, performing artist and activist has been featured in many media outlets, including the New York Times, LA Times, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal, CNN and The Steve Harvey Show. Brooke is an award-winning poet, singer/songwriter and author of the new memoir, Beautiful Justice: How I Reclaimed My Worth After Human Trafficking and Sexual Abuse.

Just Universes by Diana Smith Bolton

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 32 pgs.
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Just Universes by Diana Smith Bolton, which won the 2016 Mid-Atlantic Chapbook Series from L+S Press, is an exploration of the universes we immerse ourselves in as children, the moments in time that etch themselves on our psyches, and so much more. It is a collection that speaks to the immensity of moments in our lives and the connections we feel and lose, but also the longing we have for moments that have passed long ago. “How to get back to you, Barcelona,/to nineteen years old, to fervent and pious trust/” the narrator laments in “To Barcelona”.

Time can pass quickly in some of these poems, like in “Mrs. Stockwell” where as a girl she watched the antics of boys dismissively only later to become a first grade teacher. Her universe became that school yard she remembered as a girl, and she lives her life there.

Bolton encapsulates moments in her poem that are chock full of emotion and wonder, as if she is gazing at the vast, starry sky trying to puzzle out the constellations. Just Universes by Diana Smith Bolton is a powerful chapbook collection. Don’t miss it.

RATING: Cinquain

So Speak the Stars by Tawni Waters

Source: the publisher
Paperback, 154 pgs.
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So Speak the Stars by Tawni Waters, a collection of prose and poetry, is an exploration of the soul, a look at a soul struggling to love itself. This self-discovery journey travels from trailer parks to Paris and more internal worlds of faith, love, and self-confidence. Some of the poems exploring faith were meandering, like most journeys of faith can be, and often lost me on where they were going or what they wanted to say. But there are poem that read like confessions in personal journals and diaries. Some are incredibly raw and those are the poems that spoke the loudest about the pain of the journey and the sense of loss. Like in “AWOL Icon: A Love Song Without Music” (pg. 15), the narrator says, “Thunder breaks something and it’s not just the sky.”

From "Luster (Less)" (pg. 29)

Bad whiskey tastes sick sweet
like     forgetting
and that's enough to make me
              suck
      it
down.

Waters’ daughter, Desiree Wade, illustrates a few panels of comic like prose poems and the images are just as jarring and heartbreaking as the poems themselves. This team has great potential if they work together again on a graphic novel or another poetry collection.

These poems are fierce, particularly “Labor Pains,” which speaks about a mother’s fierce love and need to protect her child from the world. It’s beautiful and desperate and loss because as mothers we all know that our powers of protection are limited — inside and outside of the womb.

So Speak the Stars by Tawni Waters looks to foster self-love and faith and explore those concepts through religious-like experiences as told through poems and illustration. There is a lot to digest in this collection, but it is a journey worth taking. You may learn something about yourself along the way.

RATING: Quatrain

For Every One by Jason Reynolds

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 112 pgs.
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For Every One by Jason Reynolds is a poetic letter to dreamers, those who find themselves longing for something outside of their current lives — whether a poet looking to write poems or an artist looking to paint a masterpiece. These dreams may or may not come true in two years, thirty years, or at the end of their lives, but the point is that they continue dreaming and moving toward that dream.

All of us out here,
slumped over wearing
weird fake
broken smiles,
trying to avoid the truth:
that we all got road rage.

Although there is no sage advice from Reynolds about how to make that dream come true, he does offer a sense of camaraderie with the dreamers. He’s here in the trenches with you. He understands your passions and your need to achieve that impossible-possible dream, and he knows your heartbreak. For Every One by Jason Reynolds is a realistic pep talk for those frustrated with their own lack of progress toward their dreams, even if those dreams are simple ones like having a spouse and children. Just remember that you need to take that leap!

RATING: Quatrain

The Real Sky by Valerie Fox and Jacklynn Niemiec

Source: the poet
Paperback, 30 pgs
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The Real Sky by Valerie Fox and Jacklynn Niemiec is a chapbook that melds imagery with poetry so that readers look beyond the confines of structure to see the potential in each poem and drawing. Fox’s poems explore reality with surreal or dreamlike sequences, but they also are grounded in situations that readers will recognize from their own lives.

In “Ribs, Cat Claws,” Fox examines the notion that we all must “grow up sometime” with a cast of characters who on one hand seem to be out of their minds with mental lapses and disease and on the other hand lament the dreams they once had that are not fulfilled. Other poems delve deep into the unwritten rules of following doctors’ orders, only to secret believe they are useless orders — like many of the unwritten rules of society we follow. Should we just blindly follow them? Question them, only to follow them anyway? Or simply throw the rules out the window?

Fox’s slanted perspective on life and how rules guide us and are so easily set aside — our societal structures are artificial and yet they confine us. Where is the “real sky?” How do we break those invisible binds to see the light and the expanse of possibility? Niemiec’s sketches dovetail into these themes nicely, painting a physical picture for the readers.

The Real Sky by Valerie Fox and Jacklynn Niemiec is a multilayered collection that bends genre to incorporate not only the visual, but also fictionalized accounts and reality into a surreal mesh for readers to fall into and explore. A great deal of food for though in this slim volume.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Authors:

Valerie Fox’s most recent book is Insomniatic [poems] from PS Books, and her other volumes include The Rorschach Factory (Straw Gate Books) and The Glass Book (Texture Press). Her poems and stories have appeared in The Cafe Irreal, Juked, Sentence, Across the Margin, Cleaver, Hanging Loose, West Branch, Ping Pong, and other journals.

She has taught at various institutions, including Peirce College (Philadelphia) and Sophia University (Tokyo). Currently she teaches writing at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she is a writing fellow with the Writers Room. Much interested in collaboration, Valerie has published writing (poems, fiction) with Arlene Ang in journals such as Blip, Cordite, Apiary, Qarrtsiluni, and New World Writing. Ang and Fox also published Bundles of Letters Including A, V and Epsilon (Texture Press).

Jacklynn Niemiec teaches with the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University in the foundation year design studios, and coordinates their architectural representation sequence. Her creative interest and research lies in developing visual methods for understanding and representing space with the added and intangible layers of time, movement and memory. Her current creative work and interdisciplinary research project is Variable Space.

Jacklynn is a Registered Architect in the State of Pennsylvania and is LEED Accredited. She received her undergraduate degree at Pennsylvania State University and Master of Architecture degree at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Lieutenant’s Nurse by Sara Ackerman

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 352 pgs.
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The Lieutenant’s Nurse by Sara Ackerman follows Eva Cassidy aboard the Lurline on its way to Hawaii where she will serve as an army nurse in Pearl Harbor. She has secrets, and she’s hoping that despite her new name and faked documents, she will be able to use her nursing skills and send money to her sister, Ruby, who was struck with polio, in Michigan. Aboard the ship, she is immediately drawn to Lieutenant Clark Spencer, a man with secrets of his own.

“He reminded Eva of her father, who was always requiring her to answer her own questions and solve her own problems.” (pg. 29)

Ackerman’s WWII setting is well rendered, and the scenes where the Zeroes attack and the harrowing chaos of the hospital are vivid and frightening, especially viewing it from the point of views of her characters. Whether with Spencer trying to save himself and the men around him as bullets shower down on them or with Eva running from a lecture hall to the hospital.

“With fewer new injuries coming in, the nurses busied themselves cleaning up the place in between surgeries and tending the wounded. You could hardly see the linoleum under mud, soot, and blood. Beds and sheets were soiled, and so were the men.” (pg. 250)

The love triangle between Eva, Clark, and Billy — her hometown boyfriend who helped her get her job and wants to marry her — is wrapped up a little too neatly in the end. There also is a government conspiracy that is a little too thin, given that one of the key players is not as high level as one would expect, as well as some other nuances. None of this detracted from Ackerman’s lovely story about a woman wronged and looking to still fulfill her dreams and build a new life in paradise. The attack on Pearl Harbor looms large but it is not the heart of this story.

The Lieutenant’s Nurse by Sara Ackerman’s well-researched novel is a delight in terms of its heart. The resilience of humanity and its ability to pull together in times of crisis are its main themes. Eva Cassidy is a strong woman who lost her compass — her father — only to find she’s as strong as she was when he was alive. She just needed to tap into her strength for herself and those around her.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Sara is the bestselling author of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. When she’s not writing or teaching, you’ll find her in the mountains or in the ocean. She currently lives on the Big Island with her boyfriend and a houseful of bossy animals. Find out more about Sara and her books at www.ackermanbooks.com. Connect with Sara: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram