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Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Source: Borrowed
Hardcover, 352 pgs.
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Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto is just what you would expect it to be, especially given that fantastic cover. Vera Wong gets up at 4 a.m. every morning to start her day with texts to her adult son, Tilly, and to have her brisk walk before opening her “world famous” teahouse for business in San Francisco’s Chinatown. There are only two things wrong, she has just one customer, and the sign above the teahouse might just be misrepresenting the establishment as “Vera Wang’s World-Famous Teahouse.” Her son, Tilbert, is less than pleased by this, but since she has few customers, he believes the likelihood that his mother will be sued by the real Vera Wang are small to none.

One morning, Vera finds a dead body in her teahouse, and because the police don’t provide her with the respect she believes she is due and don’t seem concerned with the murder, she takes it upon herself to investigate — complete with her little notebook of suspects.

“Vera’s murder investigation is going so well that she wonders why more people don’t just decide to leave their boring desk jobs and go into detective work. She’s started daydreaming of having the huge VERA WANG’S WORLD-FAMOUS TEAHOUSE sign taken down and replace with VERA WANG: PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR.” (pg. 85)

Her son, Tilly, is a lawyer, but since he rarely keeps in touch, he’s mostly unaware of Vera’s investigation, until of course she starts asking him some very specific hypothetical questions about evidence tampering. Along the way, she begins offering advice to all kinds of potential suspects in the Marshall Chen murder. Sana, Riki, Oliver, Julia, and Emma begin to circle in Vera’s orbit as the search for the killer continues, even as Officer Gray insists that Vera stay out of it.

Like Sutanto’s other books, you are in for a wild ride with some crazy antics. But you will love Vera Wong — she’s a mother/grandmother in search of purpose and with this group, she has a lot of work to do, including solving a murder. I highly recommend Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto. If you read Aunties, you will love this one.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Jesse Q Sutanto grew up shuttling back and forth between Jakarta and Singapore and sees both cities as her homes. She has a Masters degree from Oxford University, though she has yet to figure out a way of saying that without sounding obnoxious. She is currently living back in Jakarta on the same street as her parents and about seven hundred meddlesome aunties. When she’s not tearing out her hair over her latest WIP, she spends her time baking and playing FPS games. Oh, and also being a mom to her two kids.

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

Source: Borrowed
Hardcover, 352 pgs.
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A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum was our August book club pick at work, and even though I had to miss the meeting for another meeting, I’m so glad I read this one. Deya is a high-school student in Brooklyn, N.Y., and her traditional Arab family from Palestine has her meeting with suitors before graduation, despite her hopes for a college education. To preserve their culture in which women are the silent backbone of the family, young women are married to men in their teens to have children and raise the next generation. Like her mother, Isra, Deya is expected to marry someone she barely knows and to start a family.

“A woman is no man,” is an oft repeated refrain from Deya’s grandmother. Told in alternating chapters by Isra and Deya, the narrative is threaded with the past of the grandmother, Fareeda, who also married young but was fortunate enough to flee Palestine after being evacuated to a refugee camp. Her strength is in her faith, but she also is the backbone of her family and the driving force behind their move to America. While both Deya and Isra see the move to America as a gateway to freedom and more opportunities, Fareeda sees it as something that must be guarded against because it will destroy their Arab culture. However, it is clear that Fareeda’s and Isra’s view of their culture stems from similarly abusive relationships with their fathers, and now husbands.

“…yet something about them seemed so American. What was it? Deya thought it was they way they spoke — their voices loud, or at least louder than hers. It was the way they stood confidently on the train, not apologizing for taking up the space.” (pg. 107)

The tension in this book is broken wide open by a family secret. For her entire life, Deya has been told her parents died in a car accident, but the truth will set them free in many ways, allowing a granddaughter and grandmother to bond, a daughter to understand her deceased mother better, and a daughter to have hope that her own hard-line mother may change.

Peeling back these layers chapter by chapter will slow the pace, but Rum’s narrative is this way to demonstrate the repetitive cultural oppression these women experience every day. As a modern reader outside the Palestinian culture, it will seem repetitive and unnecessary, but I would argue it is with purpose that Rum adopts this slower progression. We need to feel that pressure, that weight of oppression and constant restriction to understand how hard it would be to break free from it even as an American immigrant.

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum is an emotional roller coast, and it will have readers shouting at these women to take advantage of their freedom and run away. But when you leave all that you know, it leaves you bare to the harsh realities of being alone in an unfamiliar world. Which is better? Sticking with the devil you know, or striking out into the unknown? Rum has created a multi-layered story that looks at the oppressive nature of the Arab community and religious expectations and the lure of freedom with consequences.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Etaf Rum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She has a Masters of Arts in American and British Literature as well as undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and English Composition and teaches undergraduate courses in North Carolina, where she lives with her two children. Etaf also runs the Instagram account @booksandbeans.

What Follows by H.R. Webster

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 70 pgs.
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What Follows by H.R. Webster is a debut collection of poems that shed light on the darkness and the scars left in the wake of turbulence. The opening poem, “What Follows,” sets the tone immediately: “Every house I’ve ever lived in was filled with snakes./” and “The snakes I live with now leave/quieter marks.” (pg. 3)

These poems try to make sense of the darkness in the world, the men who catcall at every woman and the boys that love the danger of the flips and tumbles of the skate park. What follows that darkness, what’s left behind? Shame? Heartbreak? Desire? It’s not the harm or the dark emotions but the glimmer of light that remains, the hope of beauty and satisfaction. “Look at the stain/in the diamond. It’s not the thing itself,/but what’s left of the light that was swallowed./” (“Occlusion”, pg. 36)

What Follows by H.R. Webster explores the space in between the before and after trauma, reminding us that there is some light in the darkness. Her poems use language that doesn’t focus directly on the trauma. The poems state what the trauma isn’t, outlining the pain with pain that is easier to understand. Readers will learn so much in these poems, through the poet’s dark humor and explorations of deep desires and lashing out. It’s a deeply human collection that reflects on our darkest thoughts and feelings — many of which we bury deep.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

H.R. Webster has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Vermont Studio Center, and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Her work has appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Poetry Magazine, Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, 32Poems, Muzzle, and Ecotone.

The Unempty Spaces Between by Louis Efron

Source: the poet
Paperback, 62 pgs.
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The Unempty Spaces Between by Louis Efron, which is on tour with Poetic Book Tours, is a debut poetry collection that brings readers on a journey of exploration in the natural world to find not empty spaces that must be filled, but spaces that have hidden treasures. In the opening poem, “Beautiful Trees,” readers are shown the dead branches and passed fruit and leaves that have yet to fall, but as the narrator takes us into the earth, we are shown how the rain seeps down and the roots have dug deep and continue to do so. It’s a living being beneath the surface of the earth and it is beautiful.

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “Empty Attics,” in which dusty items sit and wait in the dark forgotten places. Imagine all those souvenirs bought and hidden away, tarnishing in the darkness. “our treasures/memories unlit/by such neglected bulbs/still failing to see ourselves/illuminated/as dust settles again/on the balconies of our mind/” (pg.25) Here we see attics filled with trinkets and memory, but they are rarely accessed. Does this mean we are unknown? Are we in darkness even about ourselves? Efron is showing us the introspection he himself is engaged in through his poems, and on this journey with him, we are exploring the identities of ourselves.

Another poem that will capture the storyteller and listener in all of us is “Rooms Without Nightlights” as Efron takes us inside the dark bedrooms of our past and the fairytales we know by heart. He sheds light on the shadows that scared us from sleeping and kept us on edge in our basements. He asks us to leave those “ruffled sheets/to tend to their own ghosts” but also to be wary of the “inviting masks/fooled only by our children/framed on forbidden trading cards/in palmed devices.” Vigilance can be a tricky skill.

The Unempty Spaces Between by Louis Efron allows readers to fall into the cracks and explore the emotions of our childish nightmares against the backdrop of more adult concerns. In many ways, we are looking for ourselves in that darkness and seeking the truth of it before the door of finality closes on us. What is in those spaces between?

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Louis Efron is a poet and writer who has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, POETiCA REViEW, The Orchards Poetry Journal, Academy of the Heart and Mind, Literary Yard, New Reader Magazine and over 100 other national and global publications. He is also the author of five books, including The Unempty Spaces Between, How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love; Purpose Meets Execution; Beyond the Ink; as well as the children’s book What Kind of Bee Can I Be?

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
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Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, is my 11th book for the 12 books recommended by 12 friends reading challenge, is a novel written with Greek mythology at its base, particularly the labyrinth and its connection to madness or mental health. In Clarke’s novel, Piranesi is given his name by the Other, the only other living person in the House, which is packed with giant statues and a maze of halls — some of which are flooded or partially flooded. From time to time, the main character is visited by birds and he fishes in certain halls for food when the tides are high. He’s a recordkeeper, tracking what’s in each hall and the tides. The Other, however, seems to have access to real-world supplies and knowledge, but relies on Piranesi to map the House for him as he continues his search for the secret knowledge.

This is a mysterious tale with slow reveals, and while clues are dropped along the way, readers may find they, too, are duped by the labyrinth. Who are these mysterious people and how do they have knowledge of the real world if they have only ever lived in the House. What is the point of all this record keeping and traipsing back and forth if there are only two people alive here? Why can they not simply live in one place together and be a society unto themselves? It is clear the relationship is not reciprocal and is lopsided in the power dynamic from the beginning.

The start of this book left a lot to be desired. It was a slow narrative that left me bored initially. I wasn’t interested in the characters for about 40 pages. However, once I got past that point, I started noticing some kernels of how this world was not necessarily real but an amalgamation of things from the real world and that it was not a post-apocalyptic world like I initially thought. Piranesi is the main protagonist and because he doesn’t initially have all of the information needed to unravel this House and its mysteries, neither does the reader. This can be tiresome, but ultimately, the novel revealed itself through a series of events and the dynamic with the Other was more intriguing and less sterile.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is a book that can try your patience and it was not a beach read, which is what I was looking for last week. However, it was interesting to unravel the secrets of the labyrinth. It was more satisfying than I thought at the beginning. I’d recommend this for readers who like to think outside the box and who like mysteries where you are unraveling them with the protagonist.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Susanna Clarke was born in Nottingham in 1959. A nomadic childhood was spent in towns in Northern England and Scotland. She was educated at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and has worked in various areas of non-fiction publishing, including Gordon Fraser and Quarto. In 1990, she left London and went to Turin to teach English to stressed-out executives of the Fiat motor company. The following year she taught English in Bilbao.

She returned to England in 1992 and spent the rest of that year in County Durham, in a house that looked out over the North Sea. There she began working on her first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. She lives in Cambridge with her partner, the novelist and reviewer Colin Greenland.

Exits by Stephen C. Pollock

Source: Poet
Paperback, 54 pgs.
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Exits by Stephen C. Pollock, which is on tour with Poetic Book Tours, focuses on the ultimate exit we all must make and speaks to the fear and acceptance of our mortality. The collection includes not only poems, but also photographs and artwork that inspired some of the poems. They complement one another well.

The opening poem, “Arachindaea: Line Drawings,” and accompanying photograph of a spider in its web begin a symphony to life’s unexpected beauty: “your finest threads are strung with pearls/and you, a brooch with a clasp./” But then darkness comes when we “magnify the shiny spheres/to divine that each conceals/a miniature, an image/of struggling wings, of life undone.” (pg. 1) The poem is multi-layered in its exploration of the predator-prey dynamic, demonstrating the beauty alongside the ultimate demise of the prey. The strings of the web begin a tune, one that cannot be escaped.

Throughout this collection, Pollock looks to nature for not only music, but also beauty in mortality. The flowers in “Seeds” give up everything to insects and birds, breeding new life from their own deaths, ending a lifecycle but also beginning it anew. “So many seeds were borne by each alone,/so many lost with loss of those I’ve known.//” the narrator says. It’s the mortality and the remembrance of those gone before us that enables them to live on, like the seeds from the dying flowers in our garden.

Through a variety of forms and styles, Pollock takes us on a breathtaking journey that reminds us that through the sadness and finality of death and mortality, there’s also things that live on. There are pieces of us in other lives and other places that we’ve touched. In many ways Exits by Stephen C. Pollock is a hopeful collection — a collection looking to provide peace.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Stephen C. Pollock is a recipient of the Rolfe Humphries Poetry Prize and a former associate professor at Duke University. His poems have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals, including “Blue Unicorn,” “The Road Not Taken,” “Live Canon Anthology,” “Pinesong,” “Coffin Bell,” and “Buddhist Poetry Review.” “Exits” is his first book.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 240 pgs.
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My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite was the July selection for my book club at work, and it was a wild ride. Korede is the older sister and she’s a nurse. Ayoola is the youngest sister who says she earns money on YouTube and has a hard time keeping her boyfriends alive. Set in Lagos, Nigeria, this dark thriller plunges readers headlong into criminal activity.

#FemiDurandIsMissing has gone viral. One post in particular is drawing a lot of attention — Ayoola’s. She has posted a picture of them together, announcing herself as the last person to have seen him alive, with a message begging anyone, anyone, to come forward if they know anything that can be of help.

She was in my bedroom when she posted this,…

Since their father’s death, Korede has become Ayoola’s protector. This is her weakness and it ultimately entangles her in her sister’s murderous actions. What unravels here is not the loyalty and bond between the sisters, but the moral constraints that should hold them to societal expectations. Braithwaite’s plot-focused novel reveals each layer of these sister’s personalities and their relationship chapter-by-chapter until you feel as though you don’t know what is true and what is fiction, much like the lives posted on social media.

Korede and Ayoola’s relationship is tested not during the cleanup of murders, but when the doctor Korede has been crushing on meets her beautiful, angelic sister and he asks for her sister’s phone number. Yes, this sounds a bit like a young adult novel, but it is more about how one sister’s protection of her sister becomes the thing that crushes her imagined romance. How can she tell him to stay away from her sister without divulging the truth? It is this absurdity that leaves readers perplexed at this surreal world.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is deceiving in its matter-of-fact tone and simple plot-focused cadence because so many nuances of character are revealed throughout the novel. Definitely a good novel to take to the beach or on vacation.

***It’s very strange that I’ve read 2 books this summer involving serial killer themes.***

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Kingston University in Creative Writing and Law. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo Limited, a Nigerian publishing house, and as a production manager at Ajapaworld, a children’s educational and entertainment company. She now works as a freelance writer and editor. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top-ten spoken-word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam, and in 2016 she was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

Words We Might One Day Say by Holly Karapetkova

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 84 pgs.
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Words We Might One Day Say by Holly Karapetkova pushes the boundaries of reality, incorporating what I would classify as some magical realism in her poems. A prime example of this is the opening poem, “The Woman Who Wanted a Child,” in which a woman wants a child so much that she can no longer sleep at night, visiting the marsh and watching the terns until she too becomes pregnant with a tern and must learn to feed her. “The Lost Mommy” is another delightful fairy tale she creates, woven from tales we all know.

Karapetkova’s poems are magical and imaginative, transporting readers to new places, while at the same time, those places seem familiar. It’s the emotional touch stone of wanting and of something missing that reaches us.

Parts of Speech (pg. 11)

Tomorrow, I will build a universe
of ink and write you subject to my pen,
controlling all you do and think in verse
and changing every loss of mine to win;
for instance, I could start with adjectives,
crossing out the old that I've become,
replacing dull with lovely, or I'd give
your careless words a turn to grateful ones.
And then for nouns -- inscribe your apathy
as care with but a movement of my wrist,
to trade distaste for passion, transform me
into she, and thus by you as her be kissed.
Or better than this wordy love-retrieving
I'll simply stop all verbs, keep you from leaving.

In a variety of poetic forms, including sonnets, Karapetkova is saying those words we might one day say or words we wish we had said to departing partners, almost children, and even our loved ones who are still with us. The collection is alive with wanting and loss, but also hope and love. Words We Might One Day Say by Holly Karapetkova is a storyteller who can transport you to magical places, only to ground you in reality like in “Cadaver Room,” where a cadaver is “an empty house” or in “Love and the National Defense” where a nation is incapable of protecting itself against the infection of love.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Holly Karapetkova is the Poet Laureate of Arlington County and the recipient of a 2022 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship. She is the author of two books of poetry, Words We Might One Day Say, winner of the 2010 Washington Writers’ Publishing House Poetry Award, and Towline, winner of the 2016 Vern Rutsala Poetry Contest from Cloudbank Books. Her current manuscript projects, Still Life With White and Planter’s Wife grapple with the deep wounds left by our history of racism, slavery, and environmental destruction. She is also the author of over 20 books for children. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in English and Comparative Literature and teaches in the Department of Literature and Languages at Marymount University.

The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina (audio)

Source: Borrowed
Audiobook, 10+ hrs.
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The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina, narrated by Amy Melissa Bentley and Roger Wayne, is my 10th book for the 12 books recommended by 12 friends reading challenge. This is a deeply disturbing book in which a fractured family’s second chance is less than ideal as an absentee father fails at every turn to step in and do right by his daughters. Dark and disturbing, so many layers in this twisty novel.

*** Trigger Warning: underage and inappropriate sexual encounters and suicidal ideation, etc.***

Dennis is the least complex of the characters. His main motivation is his writing and his ego, which clouds his view of how to be a father to daughters who unwittingly witness their mother’s attempted suicide. It’s clear that he has a penchant for young ladies and the fragility of Mae’s mind leaves her vulnerable to his influence. Edie, on the other hand, is more independent, yet she falls into a similar pattern with Charlie, the neighbor she cons into taking her from New York to Louisiana to see her mother, who is in a psyche ward.

Apekina is exploring the depths of pain and how it can adversely impact yourself and those closest to you. In these present-tense accounts that shift from the past to the present and into the future, readers are taken on a nearly surreal journey into the lives of these sisters, their relationship with each other and their parents, and the after-affects of mental illness. So much occurs in this novel, but it is best experienced without any preamble from others. It’s deeply disturbing and sad.

The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina was an uncomfortable read and at times confusing, as mental illness can be. I did not really like any of these characters, but I could empathize with these girls and was heartbroken with how each travels on their own dangerous journey. Mae was acutely affected, and how she copes is devastating.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Katya Apekina is a novelist, screenwriter and translator. Her novel, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish, was named a Best Book of 2018 by Kirkus, Buzzfeed, LitHub and others, was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize and has been translated into Spanish, Catalan, French, German and Italian. She has published stories in various literary magazines and translated poetry and prose for Night Wraps the Sky: Writings by and about Mayakovsky (FSG, 2008), short-listed for the Best Translated Book Award. She co-wrote the screenplay for the feature film New Orleans, Mon Amour, which premiered at SXSW in 2008. She is the recipient of an Elizabeth George grant, an Olin Fellowship, the Alena Wilson prize and a 3rd Year Fiction Fellowship from Washington University in St. Louis where she did her MFA. She has done residencies at VCCA, Playa, Ucross, Art Omi: Writing and Fondation Jan Michalski in Switzerland. Born in Moscow, she currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter and dog.

The Last Girl by Rose Solari

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 68 pgs.
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The Last Girl by Rose Solari has a dream-like, otherworldly quality as the poems move from past to present, reality to dreams, memory to heartache. Setting the stage is “Tree House of the Dream Child,” in which we are gathered up to see a tree house that was build long ago by unknown persons but if we’re stealthy enough and believe in the unseen, we can receive a visit from the “dream child.” In this poem, elements are conspiring, the world is wild, and as readers, we are entering Solari’s world where Persephone comes back to earth as a father leaves it.

In “Math and the Garden,” Solari captures grief in a way that few can articulate – through those moments when parents try to impart advice to children who are half-listening, half-dreaming. A tough task depending on the age of the child, but even as adults, we tend to half-listen to our parents.

In “Another Shore,” we experience imagination first hand when apples become part of a schoolroom and a pan of mud becomes quicksand for another adventure. There are prayers and dreams, and day-dreaming throughout the poems as Solari explores the what-ifs of alternative life paths and relationships — the “other” lives we could have led. “You could always//come back. Those are the breaks, your mother would say/if she heard you now, and she’d be right.” (From “Somewhere Between Four and Five A.M.”, pg. 40-1)

There is a deep mourning in The Last Girl by Rose Solari, but there’s also the breath of imagination and memory, a reveling in the past and the what could have been. Delve into this dream-like exploration of loss and imagination, visit island paradises, abandoned tree houses, and so much more.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Rose Solari is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, The Last Girl, Orpheus in the Park, and Difficult Weather; the one-act play, Looking for Guenevere, in which she also performed; and a novel, A Secret Woman. She has lectured and taught writing workshops at many institutions, including Arizona State University’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing; the University of Maryland, College Park; St. John’s College, Annapolis; the Jung Society of Washington; and The Centre for Creative Writing at Oxford University’s Kellogg College.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 12+ hrs.
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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, is my 9th book for the 12 books recommended by 12 friends. Kya Clark is a young girl living in the marshland of North Carolina in the 1950s and 1960s, but her home life is far from calm and loving. Many of her family abandon the marsh and her father, leaving her alone with a man who drinks too much, has a mercurial personality, and can be abusive. She grows up wild like the birds and fish around her, learning about the marsh from the marsh and learns how to fish and find muscles on her own, as she struggles to earn money to live after even her father abandons her.

As you might guess, this marsh girl is shunned by her school peers, forcing her to live in the marsh and evade truant officers. She shies away from town, except for Jumpin’s marina gas station and shop where she strikes deals for gas for the boat and other supplies, mostly grits. He and his wife care from her at a distance, as close as she will let them. Kya is an independent woman who fears everything outside the marsh. And rightly so.

The death of former football star Chase Andrews, however, thrusts Kya into the spotlight and at the center of a murder case, with her life hanging in the balance. I loved all of the poetry in the book. I love that Kya finds solace in poetry and uses it to get through some of her most trying times in this novel. Cassandra Campbell is an excellent narrator, as she dramatized each of the characters well and made them easy to differentiate.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a sweeping tale, and I fell into it and out of it like the tides. Some of the longer descriptive sessions dragged on too long. But overall, I enjoyed the story and Kya’s coming of age story with the backdrop of the marsh and the predator-prey dynamic.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Delia Owens is an American author, zoologist, and conservationist. She is best known for her 2018 novel Where the Crawdads Sing. Owens was born and raised in Southern Georgia, where she spent most of her life in or near true wilderness.

Odder by Katherine Applegate

Source: Borrowed
Hardcover, 288 pgs.
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Odder by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Charles Santoso, is my 8th book for the 12 books recommended by 12 friends reading challenge. Odder is a sea otter who has been raised by humans and released into the wild. She adjusts well, but she seems a bit more daring than her friend. Told in the present and alternating to the past when she was being raised in animal rehabilitation facility, Odder’s life in Monterey Bay, California, is an adventure.

From too late (pg. 4-5)

...

You've been there,
haven't you,
in the cafeteria line
or the breakfast buffet,
taking a chance on
some new food?
Grab, gulp, grimace:
You spit the offending
item into a napkin,
no harm, no foul.

Same goes for the shark,
who quickly 
reconsiders and
retreats.

...
underwater

Underwater
there's no need for noise,
for grunts or squeals or chirps.

Not when you can twist
and pretzel and weave.

Not when you've turned
frolic into art.

Applegate uses narrative poetry to tell Odder’s story. The poems really read more like prose. Odder is a curious otter who loves to swim and dive and push the envelope. But it wasn’t always this way. She’s had to learn how to be an otter after she was discovered by humans as a pup. I won’t spoil the whole story, but it is a heartwarming tale of growing up parentless and learning to discern where dangers lie. It’s also a story about learning to love and evolve beyond what you perceive as your capabilities. Sometimes you can surprise yourself.

Odder by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Charles Santoso also touches on the healing process from trauma. Kids will learn a lot about otter behaviors and how they interact in the wild, what their habitats are like, what they eat, and what animals they fear. I learned a great deal about the rehabilitation process and how humans try to prevent these wild animals from bonding with their caretakers. Applegate also includes resources for kids to check out and learn more about otters and rehabilitation programs.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Katherine Applegate is the Newbery Medal-winning and #1 New York Times bestselling author of numerous books for young readers, including The One and Only Ivan, the Endling series, Crenshaw, Wishtree, the Roscoe Riley Rules chapter books series, and the Animorphs series.

She lives with her husband, who writes as the author Michael Grant, and their children in California.