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The Haunted Library: The Five O’Clock Ghost by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 114 pgs.
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The Haunted Library: The Five O’Clock Ghost by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is the fourth book in the series in which Claire and Kaz embark on mysteries involving ghosts. This young girl has befriended a ghost, Kaz, who found himself blown away from his family and alone in her grandmother’s library. Following the last book, another student has decided to hire Claire and her detective agency of two, though solids think Claire is the only detective. She heads over to David Jeffrey’s house to investigate with Kaz and Cosmo, Kaz’s dog, safely tucked into her water bottle. We really get a kick out of the ghosts searching the house while Claire is talking to her fellow solids.

Will this ghost who only appears at 5 p.m. come out and reveal himself? Kaz tries his best to uncover the ghost but to no avail, but he is beginning to suspect that an older sister is behind the happenings in the Jeffrey’s house. My daughter loves these because she get to keep on guessing as clues are revealed, and sometimes she gets it right. That wasn’t the case with this mystery, however. But it’s fun to try, right?

We suspect that throughout this series we’ll meet up with more of Kaz’s family, and we have fun guessing which ghost relative we’ll run into next. Beckett, the other ghost who haunts the library, has also become a favorite, as he tries to teach Kaz some new ghost tricks. Kaz is a very reluctant student, and sometimes their interactions are reminiscent of a parent-child relationship. The Haunted Library: The Five O’Clock Ghost by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, was a good mystery with an unusual ending that taught my daughter about electromagnetic interference in a simple way. But we’re ready for the next book, we’ve been dying to know what’s in that secret room at the library since the first book.

RATING: Cinquain

Katt vs. Dogg by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Anuki Lpez

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
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Katt vs. Dogg by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Anuki Lpez, is set in the world of animals who are civilized, except when it comes to dogs and cats. Dogs and cats are still sworn enemies and whenever they’re near each other, look out. Oscar’s dog family runs into Molly’s cat family on the way to the Western Frontier Park. The size of this book was a bit daunting for my daughter, so she had me read this to her, but I assured her that the text was definitely on her level and she could read it herself. But this book worked as a great motivator in that I would only read to her if she read from her book for a certain amount of time. So as a reward, this book fit the bill because the story was engaging from the beginning with the dogs and cats already fighting before they even got to the park. You can only imagine how much worse it got when Oscar and Molly end up missing in the wilds of the park where the magical creatures — weaselboars, mountain lions, and bears. Luckily, Oscar is a Dogg Scout, which can help them both out of scrapes in the wilderness but only after they decide to call a truce and work together.

My daughter loved the conflict, the silly names, and the fun information about cats and dogs. We loved how these young “kids” navigated the dangers of the woods, and it was nice to see that the wild was a little more nice than expected. Molly and Oscar also learn some valuable lessons about how differences can be an asset, as well as how they can learn to get over past expectations to see their “enemy” in a different light. This is a great story about coming together to solve problems and leveraging the positive qualities of each animal to do that. In the end, this is a fun story about a new friendship against the odds.

In true James Patterson fashion, Katt vs. Dogg by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Anuki Lpez, is a page turner. My daughter often asked me to read another chapter, even if we had already read several. She wanted to know what happened next. She is, however, disappointed that this is not a series of books. She really wanted to read another book about Oscar and Molly or even some of the other animals in this newly created world.

RATING: Cinquain

Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen, which was on tour with Poetic Book Tours, is a map in the darkness like the map the mother reads in “Death Valley” because it outlines the roads women often travel and the bumps along the way that often scar us when the men and others in our lives think they are mere blips on the road of life. Repeated “Devices” often weigh heavily on our psyche — she’s a fox, he’s a dog, she’s a bitch. Hazen says in the opening poem, “We’ve been called so many things we are no,/we startle at the sound of our own names.//” (pg. 3) While our personal experiences may not be the same as those in every poem, the universal nature of being treated as “other” and “not good enough” and “a thing” will resonate with many women and men, minorities, and the disabled. Society has a strange fetish for calling out “other” when they fail to empathize or understand someone who is not neatly defined as “normal” or “one of us.”

There are so many ups and downs to life, most of us are blind to them when we’re young. In “After the Argument,” the narrator asks, “When did this space/around me deepen//into trenches?”(pg. 6) When we finally recognize the extent to which our circumstances have changed, it often leaves us baffled — what choices led us there? when did it become the point of no return? where do we go from that dark moment? how do we pick up again? Hazen’s existential questions are found in each image created and are universal. For this reason, Hazen’s poems will speak volumes to those who listen.

She tackles the big questions of where do we go from the bottom? How do we reconcile all the selves within us when society expects certain things of a gender? How do we move forward and why? Her poems do not hold all of the answers readers may need, but they will offer one look at how to struggle to the surface and move past the self-hate and the society expectations of us without destroying all that we are. “By the time I reach the h, the E/has disappeared//” says the narrator in “Death Valley.” We cannot linger too long in the past. It is carried with us, but it should not define who we become. Let that first letter written in the fog on the window vanish as you move forward, Girls Like Us have nothing to lose by doing so and everything to gain.

RATING: Cinquain

The Cowherd’s Son by Rajiv Mohabir

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 84 pgs.
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The Cowherd’s Son by Rajiv Mohabir, winner of the he Kundiman Poetry Prize, crafts a “Body of Myths” that readers will unravel one poem at a time. From the opening poem, which is the title, to the final prayer in “Unwitting Pilgrim,” readers are taken through a literal and spiritual journey that will expend their energy and emotion, laying it bare on the book’s pages. Through sensual and sometimes unexpected violence in word choice, readers must enter a surreal world of juxtaposition and irony. The narrator of these poems explores the familial and religious expectations of his upbringing with the realities of who he is. In “A Body of Myths,” the narrator says, “In Union Square a kiss betrays…/not to a crest of thorns, but to a hail of fists.” There is a war raging.

A Prayer at Nauraat

Mother
       I hold the clay lamp until
my fingers are tongues of flame
that scribe in soot. I am smoke

that's never stopped curling. See
what smolders in the field,
cane, toil, or the corpse of colony.

Reincarnation or renewal begins in the collection as the narrator on this geographical and spiritual journey begins to understand himself and make peace with the expectations he cannot fulfill. “This mask of clay will smash/against the river stones and I will sail/Snow Moon into the pollution of years//” begins the transformation in “Mantra,” as the narrator reminds us that “I was once as you are. Fixed/to a base or brushed in camel hair” to demonstrate that growth can only be accomplished with conscious change. It is a process that requires attention, a discernment for detail and specific change. To fly from our cages like the “macaw” in “Manhattan” we all must take risks. In “Haunting,” readers are reminded that the past cannot be left behind and discarded because we carry the ghosts of it with us, even as we change. These memories and ghosts are here to remind us that more change is coming and that we need to be prepared to move forward again and again.

The Cowherd’s Son by Rajiv Mohabir is a well crafted collection that will require a great deal of meditation (and in my case, research — as I was unfamiliar with some of the stories referred to in the collection), but even without looking up the unfamiliar, Mohabir’s poems evoke strong emotional reactions from the reader. At once they are beautiful and devastating.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:
Rajiv Mohabir’s The Taxidermist’s Cut was Winner of the AWP Intro Journal Award and the 2014 Intro Prize in Poetry from Four Way Books. Recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant, he has also received fellowships from the Voices of Our Nation’s Artist foundation, Kundiman, and the American Institute of Indian Studies language program. He received his MFA in Poetry and Translation from at Queens College, City University of New York, and his PhD in English from the University of Hawai’i, where he teaches poetry and composition

Tapping Out by Nandi Comer

Source: NetGalley
Ebook, 96 pgs.
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Tapping Out by Nandi Comer relies heavily on imagery and language tied to lucha libre, or Mexican freestyle wrestling, as she explores the roles of identity, changes in our identities, and the masks that we often wear when faced with violence, trauma, and other situations. The poems are like the high-flying maneuvers of the wrestlers in lucha libre and many times Comer references the colorful masks of the wrestler-narrators in the poems to explore unsettling realities of migrant and immigrant experience. There are bumps and bruises along the way, and it’s hard to turn away from Comer’s poems. Reality is harsh and she displays it all.

From "Rudo"

I am always undoing the language of my body.
my arms, my hair say
Black. Dark. English only.

From “Tecnico :La Mascara,” “In a year you can go to a mall or grocery store, walk through the dust of a market and everyone will know the bottom lip and callused forehead I have kept so long inside. M’hijo, before I let go of your face, someone will have to rip me apart.” Here the wrestler is concerned about how they will be remembered and how long it will take them to return to regular society because to be unmasked in the ring is career ending. There is a deep exhaustion throughout these poems — whether exhaustion from the identities assumed and being outside of the true self or from the fighting for just a piece of happiness and fleeting joy. But the wrestlers, just like the immigrants and minorities, do not have the option of “tapping out” from their lives. They have no choice but to keep fighting — or face death head on.

Tapping Out by Nandi Comer is a collection of narrative poems that melds the Mexican wrestling world with the realities of immigrants and minorities. It’s match after match, fear around the corner at every turn, and constant exhaustion in fighting to live. To ignore these narratives, is to ignore the humanity of all of us. To ignore the injustices of the world, is to be an ostrich with its head in the sand.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

NANDI COMER received a joint MFA/MA in Poetry and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University. She has received fellowships from the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Cave Canem, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center for the Arts. Her poems have appeared in Detroit Anthology (Rust Belt Chic Press, 2014), Blue Shift Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Green Mountains Review, Pluck!, Prairie Schooner, and Southern Indiana Review.

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

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain

Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James

Source: JAFF Get-Together Book Swap
Paperback, 168 pgs.
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Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James re-imagines the Netherfield Ball in which Mr. Darcy is accused of compromising Elizabeth Bennet and forced marriage takes place.How will Elizabeth cope in a forced marriage to a virtual stranger, someone she’s only sparred with verbally while tending her sick sister? What other changes will happen as a result. I really loved the plot and changes in this story to Austen’s original, but at the beginning I was put off by the exposition of the plot before the ball. I think this story could have started with minimal exposition and continued from the ball. This is told from Elizabeth Bennet’s point of view, which limits the narration and keeps readers in the dark about things Elizabeth doesn’t know or experience, which really helped build the tension in the latter part of the story.

Here Mrs. Darcy is striving to prove herself worthy and to please her husband, whom she doesn’t really know, because the situation is so new and she doesn’t want to harm their potential happiness, even if their marriage doesn’t start off well. She must learn to find her way back to her forthright self in this novel, which could be hard for some readers to bear, but given the forced marriage to a man she barely knows and certainly doesn’t understand, it makes sense that she would be more timid than she would have been as a single woman. However, I do think her better nature would have come out sooner, if in more mild ways to ensure her husband was aware of her feelings. I did love her blowout with Darcy; it was well executed.

Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James is a variation that makes for a quick read in the summer afternoon; I was pleased to finally read a book cover to cover in a weekend, especially since the pandemic has upended my normal reading. I really enjoyed some of the changes James made in this story, with a new marriage for Mr. Collins and a meaner/more spiteful Lady Catherine. I also loved seeing the sisterly relationship between Elizabeth and Georgiana grow. Overall a good read.

RATING: Tercet

Spirit Riding Free: The Adventure Begins by Suzanne Selfors

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
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Spirit Riding Free: The Adventure Begins by Suzanne Selfors is the tale of Lucky Prescott and her family’s move out west while her father works on the railroad expansion through the west. On her ride from the city to Miradero, Lucky sees a mustang riding fast and is amazed. But when the mustang is captured, Lucky is devastated, especially when she learns from her father that he’ll likely be broken and sold to someone, essentially losing his freedom.

Lucky has some trouble fitting in, especially when her aunt Cora insists that she wear a dress in the heat. She’s no longer learning to be a proper lady in the city and when she gets to school, most of the girls are wearing pants. She has a misunderstanding with Pru and Abigail, but Maricela seems to want to be her friend — too bad she’s a bit stuck up and hates horses.

My daughter loves this television show on Netflix and watches every season. This book follows much of what happens in the first season of the show, so we were not surprised by what happens. She still enjoyed reading this together at night before bed. She still wanted more pictures. This was definitely a book you’ll want to read with younger kids, not let them try to read it on their own. The language should be easy to follow, but the lack of pictures makes younger kids get bored easily, even when they are 9.

Spirit Riding Free: The Adventure Begins by Suzanne Selfors was a good book for gals who like horses and adventure, but this was definitely a book that adults will want to read with younger readers who still need pictures to pay attention. We really loved riding along with Lucky and watching her navigate a new place and find new friends.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Suzanne Selfors lives on an island near Seattle where it rains all the time, which is why she tends to write about cloudy, moss-covered, green places. She’s married, has two kids, and writes full time. Her favorite writers are Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Dickens, and most especially, Roald Dahl.

Frankie Sparks and the Class Pet by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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Frankie Sparks and the Class Pet by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, is a third grader who loves her best friend, Maya, and loves science. When her teacher informs the class that they are going to get a class pet, she has her heart set on getting a rat. Her teacher lays out the criteria:

1. Fit in aquarium.
2. Cost less than $50.
3. Be easily portable.
4. Be able to be left alone for the weekend.

While she completes all of her research on rats at home through the internet, books, and information from her aunt Gina, her other classmates have barely begun. Her aunt works with rodents at her job, and Frankie must solve the one problem with her rat idea — how to feed them every day even when the kids are not at school to do it. My daughter struggled to read some of the larger scientific words in this book, but I loved that they included explanations for the kinds about what those words mean. I also liked that Frankie loved science and that it was incorporated into the book without being overly boring.

My daughter’s favorite part is the end of the book, even after the class pet is selected, and when Frankie realizes that she shouldn’t force Maya to vote for the rat when she wants a betta fish and when she apologizes to her friend for being not so nice. Frankie Sparks and the Class Pet by Megan Frazer Blakemore, illustrated by Nadja Sarell, is a great introductory book for early readers to learn about science, experimenting, solving problems, and being good friends.

RATING: Quatrain

Lantern Puzzle by Ye Chun

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 68 pgs.
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Lantern Puzzle by Ye Chun, which was Winner of The Berkshire Prize for First or Second Book chosen by D. A. Powell, opens with an earthquake. The world is shaken beneath the reader before the journey has even begun. In the Map section of the book, Chun pains a picture of each town/city in a way that leaves the reader wondering when the next explosion will happen and upend everything we know. The pent up unpredictability of life is felt in each of these poems, and not all of these poems are about China — the narrator explores Kansas City, Washington state, and Texas. In “Guangzhou,” the narrator says, “if only I knew the safe land–/the world terrifies me too, the world that is no/stranger than before.” We are all vaguely aware that the world is not entirely safe, but we must have courage to face it head on. How can we do that without a loved on to lean on or an amulet to protect us?

Photo of My Father at Eleven

Your father had decided to find you
in the year after the war. He, an officer,

remarried. You and your sisters and mother
feed on banana and church congee.

Your mother's sorrow hangs like a wisteria bud;
she leans her head in the north-facing room.

Father, I have your eyes and mouth.
I wore the same Youth Pioneer band on my neck,

its knot also bigger than my throat.
In a few years you will find the words

to speak to your father. But for now,
lost in bricks and gray asphalt,

let us hold hands and hum together.

Chun leads us into the second section, “Amulet,” where the journey traverses through a prison, a broken home, the Andes, and more. There is an urgency to run toward forgiveness even as the narrator is unable to do so. The idea that forgiveness must be given to move on is strong, but the mind can sometimes move faster than the heart and body are able to when they are harmed. “Peachwood Pendant” is one of the most beautifully haunted poems in the collection where the narrator is still unable to hold and carry the unloved or those not loved enough even if they should be loved. Ending the section with “Photo of My Mother at Twenty-Five,” brings us full circle to the broken home and the plight of a single mother, but there is beauty in her struggle, at least as seen through the narrator’s eyes — “It’s spring again./Look at those yellow flowers.//I feel so light,/slipping from your body.”

In the final two sections, “Almanac” and “Window,” we begin to explore important dates from a great flood to the first moon. These are windows into the past. Through these events we are given a window through which the narrator can journey into the future without the weight of the past bogging them down in the river. In “Chrysanthemum is Prettiest in the Ninth Moon,” the narrator says, “The window has moved./My gray-haired elders are still there,/counting chrysanthemum petals in the sun,/each petal a sad shoe.” When we get to “Off Year,” the narrator has “swept spiders off the walls” moving forward into the future.

Lantern Puzzle by Ye Chun is meditative in its journey of unraveling the self and the past, winding and unwinding it to view it from different angles to achieve a peace with the past and the future. Chun’s use of language is deeply rooted in nature, but it also adept at capturing the abstract emotions of life in a way the breathes new life into family history.

RATING: Quatrain

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain

Finna by Nate Marshall

Source: NetGalley
eARC, 128 pgs.
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Finna by Nate Marshall explores identity within the Black community, while looking not only at the dark past of America but also its hip hop present. “when America writes/about Black life/they prefer the past/ tense,” the narrator says in “When America Writes.” Many of the early poems explore identity, a young man who wants to learn and go to college, choosing something more than the gangs and drugs he sees in the community. But even then, there is that push and pull of becoming a learned person and the person the community nurtured.

In “another Nate Marshall origin story,” the narrator says, “perhaps our rage at the other is just the way we fill what we don’t know about ourselves.” A deep look at who we are is integral to our development no matter what stage of life we are in, but many times we skip this step and force ourselves into certain roles in our environments or in our families. For a young boy of five to already know lyrics about the deaths seen regularly in the Black community is a strong judgment on our society’s treatment of those who are not white. He delves further into the saddest commentary on our society in “I thought this poem was funny but then everybody got sad” — “what has a black body/& is read all over?/I mean is read all over/I mean/that’s the punch/line.”

publicist

a mentor told me
to consider writing
essays that commemorate
days that relate to my book.
it's a good way to insert
your work into the public
conversation. well motherfuckers
spend every day killing
a Black somebody in Chicago
& every next day the whole world
practices saying silences like
Black on Black
gang related
violent neighborhood
so I guess I owe a
million essays.
i guess my book
will be huge.

Finna by Nate Marshall expresses the struggles of Black America using familiar cultural vernacular and Hip Hop to bring readers into a world masked by white institutions and standards that are imposed upon these Americans. Nate Marshall’s narrator speaks about the other Nate Marshalls of the world and how he is not like them. But they are connected in how their life’s struggles can emotionally wear them down. What Marshall brings to life in this collection is that we are all human and empathy is something we need to relearn in order for us to connect.

RATING: Quatrain