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Cloud Hopper by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 332 pgs.
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Cloud Hopper by Beth Kephart is a novel of adventure in the eyes of three teens who have found their own family among one another. K, Wyatt, and Sophie look to the skies as Sophie’s Grandma Aubrey wove tales of her namesake, Sophie Blanchard, aeronaut extraordinaire. A cloud hopper comes to life in a young migrant girl who falls from the sky one summer as the trio are watching. When they scramble to save her from the wreckage, the trio begin a journey of self-discovery and shared secrets that has little to do with the hopper herself. Sophie must become more at ease in the air, like her namesake, if she is to come terms with all that happens in this novel.

Kephart’s lyrical prose creates a sense of urgency to find the migrant girl’s family without them being caught by ICE or worse, as the hospital will only keep her so long as she heals. Sophie’s grandmother’s multiple sclerosis is progressing at the same time. Sophie is pulled between her friends and the mission and the love of her grandmother who needs her most. What Kephart does so well is create a vivid scene in each moment, making the reader feel they are there on the forest floor searching, in the Cessna circling, at the hospital appeasing, and striving for a resolution and a happy ending, even if they know not all endings are happy.

“You pick the best people for your life, Grandma Aubrey always says. And you stick with them.” (pg.78)

“‘Nothing that is not to be expected,’ she says, but it takes her way too long to say it, and my thoughts are worries, and my worries are like the black storm in the sky that came upon the hopper and threw her to the ground.” (pg. 129)

Like many other Beth Kephart books, readers will be swept into a new world — a world that is both real and fantastical. It’s poetic, it bends the rules, and it soars. Cloud Hopper by Beth Kephart is like the hopper, flying perilously toward danger without a safety net, but the journey is well worth the unpredictability.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of twenty-two books, publishing memoir, young adult literature, a corporate fairytale, an autobiography of a river, and an essay/photography collection.

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir (Gotham), based in part on Kephart’s teaching at Penn (where she won the 2015 Beltran Teaching Award), won the 2013 Books for a Better Life Award (Motivational Category), was featured as a top writing book by O Magazine, and was named a Best Writing Book by Poets and Writers. Small Damages (Philomel) was named a 2013 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book and a best book of the year by many publications. Going Over (Chronicle) was the 2014 Parents’ Choice, Gold Medal Winner/Historical Fiction and a Booklist Editor’s Choice. One Thing Stolen (Chronicle) was a 2015 Parents’ Choice Gold Medal winner. Kephart’s 2014 Shebooks e-memoir is Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss One Wing at a Time. Her 2013 middle grade historical novel, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent (Temple University Press), was named a top book of the year by Kirkus.

Kephart is a National Book Award nominee and a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize. She writes a monthly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune, has given keynote addresses on the state of literature and teaching, and served as a judge for the National Book Awards, the National Endowment for the Arts, and PEN. 

Kephart was one of 50 Philadelphia writers chosen for the year-long Philadelphia’s Literary Legacy, exhibited at the Philadelphia International Airport. Excerpts from her Love: A Philadelphia Affair were the subject of a six-month Airport exhibit. She is a Radnor High Hall of Fame.

Kephart is the co-founder of Juncture Workshops, offering memoir workshops and resources to writers across the country.

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Source: publisher
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
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Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan is like the oral tales of old where facts are distorted by the story teller from ear to ear. During the Roman invasion of Britannia, we meet the Smith family in which Hobble is a runt because of her gait issues, her mother is a healer for the tribe at Black Lake, and her father is the blacksmith. Like the lake with its dark, unknowable depths, much of the nature-based religion and philosophy of the Druids leaves the village’s families tentative in their dealings. With certain families currying favor with hunted meat and others who are too meek to stand up to a dying religion, there are mysteries lurking.

The Smith family was once considered among the best and most generous, but their fall from First Family has left Devout, Hobble, and Young Smith doing their best to appease the lone druid who comes to Black Lake and the Hunter family, who now holds that coveted place in society, are just waiting to pounce and reclaim their place.

Hobble has been training with her father to run fast despite her disability. Weak members or runts are considered possible sacrifices to appease the gods if needed. Devout, her mother, has a secret, and like the Black Lake she is impenetrable, at least in Hobble’s eyes. Their relationship is muddied by the secrets she holds, even as Hobble displays a gift of foresight and an ability to “see” the truth. She is unique compared to the other bog dwellers, but her vision of the invading Romans becomes a serious concern for her family, the village, and the lone druid who comes to seek brave men to join his rebellion.

“Though we do not speak of my birth, I can describe the deep blue veins webbing my mother’s breasts, the slight tremble of my father’s hand as he clenched his knife, and above all, the way she hid the crescent from his view. The finer points of the scene glinted before me with the exactness of a sharpened blade, same as they had for that vision of R0mans at Black Lake.” (pg. 3)

This mystical tale is woven like a tapestry with each strand hard to hold onto until it comes together with the other colors to create a full scene of village life under the druids and the change that hovers on the horizon under Roman rule. In the backdrop the struggle for power plays out just as it does in the foreground between the Smiths and Hunters where the power shifts from one to the other. Buchanan’s story unfolds in a deliberate way to immerse the reader in this ancient time when even writing was not done and knowledge was passed from person to person. Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan is a struggle for survival amid a world of secrets and lies, political gains and losses, and magic.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Photo Credit: Heather Pollack

About the Author:

Cathy Marie Buchanan is the author of the nationally bestselling novels The Day the Falls Stood Still and The Painted Girls. She lives in Toronto. Find out more about Cathy at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.

 

EXCERPT:

Join us for a fun tour with reviews accompanied by progressive excerpts on the blogs and a game of finding out your “Black Lake name” on Instagram beginning Oct. 8!

Please use the hashtag #daughterofblacklake, and tag @tlcbooktours, @riverheadbooks, and @cathymbuchanan.

Devout was once a maiden of thirteen, wandering the woodland at the northern boundary of the clearing at Black Lake. She felt the sun reaching through her skin cape and her woolen dressas she walked, gaze sweeping the curled leaves, twigs, and fallen branches of the woodland floor. She bristled with anticipation. Now that she had begun to bleed, that very evening she would join the rest of the youths eligible to take mates in celebrating the Feast of Purification. Together they would mark the advent of a new season, and in doing so leave behind the cold, bitter season called Fallow and welcome the slow thaw of the season called Hope. At such a promising juncture, Black Lake’s boys offered trinkets to the maidens. With a polished stone or an opalescent shell, a boy made known his desire to take a particular maiden as his mate, and with that gift accepted and then a witnessed declaration, a maiden cast her lot.

Devout told herself not to beselfish, not to set her heart on holding in her cupped palms evidence of a boy’s yearning. It was her first Feast of Purification, and the possibility of a mate remained as unfathomable as the distant sea. Still, the idea of a trinket, of being singled out, of wide eyes and maidens gushing that she had drawn affection—all of it glinted like a lure before a fish.

She stooped to peer beneath a bush, looking for the bluish‑purple petals of the sweet violet she had come into the woodland to collect. The flowerheld strong magic: A draft strained from a stew of its boiled flowers brought sleep to those who lay awake. A syrup of that draft mixed with honey soothed a sore throat. A poultice of the leaves relieved swellings and drew the redness from an eye. She touched her lips, then the earth. “Blessings of Mother Earth,” she said.

Mother Earth would come that night, and in Devout’s mind’s eye, she pictured her arrival, imagining it much like the mist rolling in from the bog. Mother Earth would glide into the clearing, permeate the clutch of roundhouses, and in doing so chase away vermin, dis‑ ease, wickedness. The cleansing put the bog dwellers at ease. Though the Feast of Purification came at a time when the days were growing longer, still night ruled. After a daythat was too short for the bog dwellers to have grown tired, they tossed amid tangles of woven blan‑ kets, furs, and skins, worry creeping into their minds. Would the stores of salted meat, hard cheese, and grain last? Was there enough fodder left for thesheep? Had slaughtering all but a single cock been a mistake? Were the ewes’ bellies hanging sufficiently low? Were their teats adequately plump?

Check out the next stop on the blog tour and the next excerpt at Lit and Life.

National Geographic Kids: Beginner’s United States Atlas and United States Atlas

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperbacks, 128 pgs and 176 pgs.
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National Geographic Kids has a new 2020 edition of both the Beginner’s United States Atlas (3rd edition) and the United States Atlas (6th edition). The Beginner’s atlas includes the basics about what a map is, the land, the people, and the national capital, as well as individual maps and facts about each states. The atlas divides the country into 5 regions designated by different colors, and the back of the book contains a glossary, postal codes, and metric conversion chart. We love the full color topographical maps in this volume and the large text that makes the information easy to read.

My daughter and I will spend a great deal of time learning about maps and what features on the map signify, as well as the importance of the scale and compass. The full color photos in the atlas are gorgeous and vivid. They include natural features and animals, historical elements, and the state birds and flowers, among other things. The beginner’s atlas is a great place to start with elementary school students to help them learn about the different states in our country. We’ve already checked out our home state of Maryland.

The United States Atlas is a smaller paperback atlas that also includes full color photos and is chock full of information. This atlas includes information about the physical aspects of our country, including its climate and natural hazards, and information about our population, energy, the national capital, and people on the move. Again the atlas is broken up into 6 regions (one of which includes the U.S. Territories) that are color coded. There are facts and figures, postal abbreviations, map abbreviations, place names in an index, and more. This one has more in-depth information than the beginner’s atlas.

We love that both of these provide text and facts, but that they also provide photos that bring each state to life. National Geographic Kids’s new 2020 edition of both the Beginner’s United States Atlas and the United States Atlas will be a great addition to homeschooling and virtual schooling this year. With the topsy-turvy COVID-19 pandemic still underway, this will give us a needed break from Zoom classes and allow her to explore the country — at least in a book.

RATING: Cinquain

You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 5 hrs
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You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham, narrated by the author, is a hard and fast look at budgeting. The first big takeaway for me was that budgets are not rigid tools, but are meant to be flexible. You can visit the website and signup for the software and more too.

Here are your four rules for budgeting:

  • Rule One: Give Every Dollar a Job.
  • Rule Two: Embrace Your True Expenses.
  • Rule Three: Roll With The Punches.
  • Rule Four: Age Your Money.

For couples, this means you have to also embrace the goals and expenses of yourself and your spouse and some goals and expenses may belong to both people in the relationship. No one goal or expense (that are necessary or desired expenses) supersede another.

The biggest rule for me that made me rethink budgeting is rule two because it shouldn’t just include the mortgage or the utilities and food, but also large, less-frequent expenses like holiday gifts, car repairs, etc. I need to break them into manageable, monthly “bills” that we assign dollars to — giving them a job.

One of the hardest lessons will be this: commit to the process of planning. You can stop timing bills to a specific paycheck — this is probably a foreign concept for many people, especially those not taught about finances. Much of what I’ve learned about finance is on the fly and with many failures. For couples, the biggest lesson will be communicating about spending on a regular basis, which can mean a monthly meeting.

One of the best parts of the book is the chapter on teaching children about money and how to talk to them about money without freaking them out. My one issue is that it talks about how he plans to not save for his kids’ college education and that he expects them not to take out student loans. I found this section a bit “pie in the sky” given the high cost of tuition in America. I did like the allowance portion of the book, however, because it enables kids to be kids and spend their money how they want and learn that they might have wanted to save that money they spent for something else. This turns into practical lessons.

You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham is an intriguing listen with real-world examples of people paying off debts, learning how to budget as a couple, and more. But I think I would have preferred a print version that I could mark up. It’ hard to mark up and audio. Good thing there’s a website with free tools and more.

The Engagement Gift by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Audible freebie
Audiobook, 2+ hrs.
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The Engagement Gift by Laura Blakely, narrated by Elena Wolfe and Teddy Hamilton, is a short, erotic novella in which a young engaged woman debates in her head and with her friend whether she should ask her intended for a secret fantasy. Lily is adventurous in the bedroom and so is her fiance, Finn, but there’s one thing she struggles to ask her mate to do because it could ruin the intimacy they’ve created.

For me, this novella was steamy and erotic, but the characters felt a little flat and the relationship between Lily and Finn was one dimensional. I understood that they were hot for each other and obsessed with adventure in the bedroom, but it felt like that was all there was between these characters and for a marriage, I think you’d need more than that.

The Engagement Gift by Laura Blakely, narrated by Elena Wolfe and Teddy Hamilton, is a short read and I think that was part of the problem if you’re looking for character development. If you’re looking for a quick “romp in the hay,” however, this might be for you.

RATING: Epitaph

Afterland by Mai Der Vang

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Afterland by Mai Der Vang, whom I was lucky enough to hear read at a virtual event for Pedestal Magazine, explores the after effects of the Secret War in Laos, during which the Hmong people became a surrogate army of the CIA. The war and its effort to disrupt traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail caused the significant displacement of numerous villagers over a nine year period. Der Vang opens her collection with “Another Heaven,” which sets the stage for her song of the Hmong people: “When funeral recites/The supper gardens of my forefathers,/Cross-stitch from my mother kin,// Then I will come to you/” Der Vang is stepping into the shoes of the Hmong, trying to make sense of a secret war and its consequences.

This initial poem sets the tone for the entire collection, an ethereal, out-of-body reminiscence of a people displaced from their homeland and they must learn to rebuild and grow again. “It’s when the banyan must leave/Relearn to cathedral its roots//” (“Dear Exile, pg. 22) Der Vang’s vision of the world will have readers imaging a world through new eyes. How do you regrow your roots in a new land? Readers will step inside the imagined journey and emotional roller coaster of being displaced. What is this “afterland” — is it a return to the old ways in a new country, the return to an old country, or the adoption of a new country and new ways?

One of my favorites in the collection is “Cipher Song”:

It's come to this. We hide the stories
on our sleeves, patchwork of cotton veins.

Scribe them on carriers for sleeping
babies, weave our ballads to the sash.

Forge paper from our aprons, and our
bodies will be books. Learn the language

of jackets: the way a pleat commands
a line, the way collars unfold as page,

sign our names in thread. The footprint
of an elephant. Snail's shell. Ram's horn.

When the words burn, all that's left is ash.

The poem reminds me of the family stories that are sometimes hidden because relatives aren’t asked or they are unwilling to share them, especially if they are painful. I recalled a time when my grandfather told us tales of the “old country” when he was willing to speak about WWII, but peppering him with questions would shut his mouth and the stories would stop. Der Vang is an archeologist bringing the Hmong back into the light, breathing life into their stories, like the “Phantom Talker” “with creosote mouth//hiding behind/your silent head/in the vermilion portrait.//”

Afterland by Mai Der Vang is full of haunted lines and ghosts, and her poems are beautiful like “a cello slinks/From every strand.//Vineyards ribbon/Inside the intimate air.” (To the Longhorn Hmong, pg. 59) Der Vang circles back to her own ancestral history in the penultimate, title poem. Readers get the sense they are coming full circle.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Mai Der Vang is an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle. Her poetry has appeared in the New Republic, Poetry, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, and her essays have been published in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post. Her debut collection, Afterland, received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She lives in California.

The Haunted Library: The Secret Room by Dori Hillestad Butler, Illustrated by Aurore Damant

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Haunted Library: The Secret Room by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is another adventure in which Kaz must use his newly learned ghost skills to help Claire and his friends. Kaz finally learned how to pass through walls without feeling “skizzy” in the last book, but he’s still reluctant to use his skill, until his little brother “Little John” goads him into it. But now he has a new mystery on his hands in Beckett’s secret room inside the library.

There are a bunch of ghostly objects that don’t shrink when Kaz and his friends hold them while shrinking, and they are dying to know why. They also discover a secret envelop that they want to show Claire, but can’t because it won’t pass through the wall. Meanwhile, Claire goes on a class trip and learns a bit of history about the library before it was a library, as well as some family secrets.

My daughter loves this series of books from the mysteries to the funny antics of Kaz, Claire, and now his little brother and his dog. I’m not going to spoil any of the secrets in this one. The Haunted Library: The Secret Room by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is a fun ride and will keep you guessing.

RATING: Cinquain

Owl Diaries: Eva in the Spotlight by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Eva in the Spotlight by Rebecca Elliott, which is the 13th book in the series, and thrusts Eva into a new friendship role once again. Eva and Sue tend to clash on things, and when Sue is cast as the lead in Treetop Owlementary’s new play, Snowy White, Eva is disappointed. But she is cast as the mirror and as Sue’s understudy (which was a new word for my daughter to learn) and she gets to help with making costumes.

Eva’s a creative little owl, but she gets disappointed and jealous like other kids. She even finds that telling a white lie to her grandmother weighs heavily on her, but she learns that telling the truth doesn’t mean that her grandmother will love her less. Her grandmother assures her that she’ll love her even if she’s the mirror and not the lead role.

My daughter really loves this series and while most of it is graphics/illustrations and diary entries, she really feels like Eva is a close friend and she gets to see what Eva is thinking and feeling. This is the kind of book that can help kids learn how to process their emotions. There are some words she has a tough time sounding out, but she eventually gets them down pat, as some of those harder words are repeated throughout the book. Teachers could use this series to teach kids larger compound words in a context.

Owl Diaries: Eva in the Spotlight by Rebecca Elliott is another stellar edition to the series, and my daughter will likely continue reading this one. It’s easier for her to read and it’s a good in-between book when I have her read more on-grade-level books in the evenings. This series has been a real winner.

RATING: Quatrain

Other reviews of this series.

How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa hadn’t even been out of the package more than 10 minutes when my daughter snapped it up to read on her own after her first day of class. She is an artist, but sometimes she is not confident in what she chooses to create. In some cases, she creates something that is temporary and can be discard or transformed into something else. This is part of her process, I think, and I try not to interfere even if I want to keep her art permanently — this is where my phone camera comes in handy.

Krysa has created a book that artists and those who are just starting to get interested in art will love. It tells children that there are artists everywhere and that there a number of art jobs available for those who decide to make art their career. My daughter’s favorite part of the book is when it is interrupted for an important message about art bullies or as my daughter called the image on the page “the art blob.”

How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa is a delightful read about being yourself and how art can turn into not only a career but also a lifelong passion. The goal of this book is to inspire kids to just create no matter what it looks like. The pictures are colorful and engaging, and the page on glitter is fantastic and so true. We really enjoyed this one.

RATING: Cinquain

When Mary Met the Colonel by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 2+ hours
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When Mary Met the Colonel by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a delightful novella with a meet-cute between Mary Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam at the wedding breakfast of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy at Longbourn. Mary is considered the religious one, but what if there was a bit of rebel in her too? Perhaps she’s more like Elizabeth than anyone suspects — she does do quite a bit of reading.

Zimmerman is always a delightful narrator and her inflections are fantastic. She makes the perfect match here as Mary’s voice, but even the men are narrated well. I expect nothing less.

Kincaid’s novella is short and sweet, and sadly that was the one drawback for me. I wanted to see more of them together and apart. I wanted more of the colonel in the battle scenes and more of his military mind explored on the battlefield. However, I did love the bits of impropriety here and thought that they worked out well. But once the cat is out of the bag, I suppose I expected a bit more “proper” response from Elizabeth and Darcy, but perhaps marriage has softened them.

Mary Bennet is full of surprises, and like her elder sister has a sharp mind and a bit of mischief in her. I was delighted to see a better side of Mary in this novella, and I loved that the Colonel could appreciate her. Their story is short and sweet, but there is no lack of tension when a lord comes to call at Matlock House and disrupts the whole will-they, won’t-they drama. This is the moment where having more would have helped the story line. I wanted to see how this Lord had become interested in Mary and what their interactions were like so when he arrives, I’m less surprised and confused by his sudden ardor.

When Mary Met the Colonel by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a satisfying story for a young lady too often left in the background, but here, she is center stage and shines brightly, especially when she gets her happily ever after.

RATING Quatrain

See my other reviews.

The Institute by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 18+ hrs.
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The Institute by Stephen King, narrated by Santino Fontana, is a really long listen and probably would have went much faster if I had read the print book or ebook, but the audio was enjoyable. Tim Jamieson is a young man on the road, seemingly aimlessly wandering after something tragic happened. He lands in DuPrey, South Carolina, as a night knocker. But his story is put on pause once he gets there and starts talking with the police department and settling into his life. (He’s clearly a plot device)

Shifting the story to the trail to The Institute, we’re introduced to genius boy, Luke Ellis. He is the latest child taken to The Institute, which has a room that looks just like Luke’s, except there is no window. Luke is unclear what has happened and why. He begins wandering the sterile halls where he sees kids like him but who smoke cigarettes and behaving oddly. He vaguely realizes he’s been kidnapped and begins to puzzle out what has happened and what is going on in The Institute. His high intelligence enables him to determine what is going on, but when Avery Dixon comes on the scene, the ball game changes and the scales tip in favor of the kids — the kids with telekinesis and telepathy.

Luke makes friends with those kids in Front Half — Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. But like those before them, they will “graduate” to Back Half where the real work begins. From the sinister Mrs. Sigsby to Trevor Stackhouse, there are men and women pulling the strings of the institute, but there is clearly a larger organization or group of people behind the scenes. Kids are punished and given tokens when they’re good — tokens they can be used for candy, food, cigarettes, and alcohol.

The Institute by Stephen King, narrated by Santino Fontana, is part dig at Trump and the administration and the wide reaching conspiracy theories that have been bandied about for decades about secret government groups controlling the world. The only twist is that King leans on previous work like the clairvoyance and the need to save the future in The Dead Zone and other work. This one seemed too long in places and in need of editing. I think the political commentary about the current administration, though it isn’t much in the greater scheme of things (though some can draw parallels if they look hard enough), could be grating to some looking for an escape.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

Other reviews can be found here.

My Name Is Immigrant by Wang Ping

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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My Name Is Immigrant by Wang Ping is a collection of immigrant stories and songs of hardship and perseverance in a country that welcomes immigrants so long as they can be used and serve a purpose. Ping’s tales in some cases are like odes to immigrants who lost their lives pursuing their dreams or who were forced to give them up and return to their home countries. Her poems express a range of emotions that immigrants feel from anger and disappointment to shame and sometimes hope. There also are ghosts haunting these pages.

“All we want is a life like others/…Now the tide is rising to our necks/” (from “Cockle Pickers: Xu Yuhua, Liu Qinying)

In “How to Cross the Line,” Ping’s depiction of a border crossing runs readers through a litany of emotions. The patting of pockets as the immigrant approaches customs, the absence of luggage, and the deliberate choice to forgo identification — signaling that their past and their name are no longer theirs. The cry for asylum — a cry of many facing gangs, violence, poverty — is an echo throughout the collection. It is a cry for not only shelter from outside forces and fear, but also a cry for a chance to help themselves achieve their own dreams.

From Calling Ghosts from the Golden Venture (pg. 38-43)

and here we are
hovering around this New Jersey cemetery
our bodies gone
but our souls still hanging
like curtains soaked in rain
our summer clothes so thin!
so thin our dream!

How beautiful and harrowing language can be. These ghosts from a cargo ship bringing labor to America from China, who hang around waiting for their dream to be realized — a dream that died with them. The thinness of the dream — slipped from their grasp. It’s devastating. Ping provides some background stories for these poems, but even without them, these immigrant stories live and breathe. In “The Names You Call Me,” Ping calls out the hypocrisy of the names that immigrants are called, especially by those who actually embody those names. Throughout this poem, she refutes these names and descriptions and she rages against them in the only way she knows — through poetry. “I’m your parents on the road … your children in cages … named or nameless …I’m Truth that defies your lies … I’m Conscience that jolts you awake in a cold sweat … I’m Poetry that sails hope across the sea and desert.” (pg. 68) And from “Immigrant can’t write poetry,” “poetry, born as beast/move best when free, undressed//” (pg. 73)

My Name Is Immigrant by Wang Ping haunts, sings, rages, and breathes. It is more than a collection of immigrant stories and struggles, it is a homage to their lives and it is a commentary on the nation that claims to be the land of the free and the place where dreams can come true for all who enter and live here.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Wang Ping was born in Shanghai and grew up in the East China Sea. Loves the body of water, its sound and smell, loves the touch of the muddy beach and golden sand.