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Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

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

Other Reviews:

The Migrant States by Indran Amirthanayagam

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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The Migrant States by Indran Amirthanayagam is part homage to Walt Whitman and homage to the globetrotter seeking a home in any state or country they land in. Whitman was often fond of wandering by foot, and like many other globetrotters or travelers of today who use planes and other means of travel, the happenstance of meeting others on the road was a call to which they heed. Born in Ceylon, a country Amirthanayagam says no longer exists (it is now Sri Lanka), it is clear that Whitman’s journeys spoke to him and helped him hear the muse for these Migrant states. The reader travels with the poet to Texas, Florida, Lima, and many more states, like Whitman in “Starting from Paumanok.”

In the opening poem, “Mind Breathing,” Amirthanayagam says, “I bear witness to these losses//here as my own attempts to speak, in breaths,/shall infuse a poem able still to coagulate, distill,/strain a few thousand disparate disappearances into verse.//” The reader knows that the poet plans to take us on a journey not only to different geographies but to different states of mind/emotion to ensure that these disappearing migrant states live on and breath. Whitman is always with us on the journey, as he’s recalled by the poet and spoken to about the way things have deteriorated environmentally (plastics in the rivers) in “Ode to and from Whitman.”

Through Amirthanayagam’s journey from punk rocker where he built nothing with a band that only wanted to cover other people’s songs to a “holy” man creating a world of poetry in “When I Left Punk and Took Holy Orders,” readers see that like us, he bucked the system, fought against an establishment. Poetry has a rebellious quality to it even as it is quiet and observing. Many of these poems are quietly rebellious in nature, with just one look at “Written in Advance” (my favorite poem in the collection) recalling the vans that take innocents away for expressing themselves and leaving a poem with editors across the land to tell the true tale.

The Migrant States by Indran Amirthanayagam is a journey into a community that is not housed in one place — it spans the whole of the human race. The poet understands that to commune with others, one must be part of the world, observe, and express the truths that are hardest to hear. To change the world, we must be in it. Engage with it. Mingle with others. Learn together and grow before time is up.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Poet, essayist, and translator Indran Amirthanayagam was born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He was raised in Sri Lanka, London, and Honolulu. Amirthanayagam has authored numerous poetry collections, including The Elephants of Reckoning (1993), Ceylon, R.I.P. (2001), The Splintered Face (2008), Uncivil War (2013), and Coconuts On Mars (2019). He writes, translates, and publishes poetry and essays in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole.

Pounce! a How to Speak Cat Training Guide

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain

Fetch! A How to Speak Dog Training Guide

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

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain

Diary of a Pug: Paws for a Cause by Kyla May

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Diary of a Pug: Paws for a Cause by Kyla May is the third book in this delightful diary series for first and second graders. My daughter loves this series, which is why we keep reading them, and any practice she can get is fine by me. In this installment, Baron von Bubbles and Bella discover a lost kitten and they are only able to take care of him for the evening before Bella’s mom tells her she has to bring him to the animal shelter. When they drop off the kitty reality hits hard for both Bella and Bub. They soon realize that animal shelters have money for food and little else to keep these soon-to-be-adopted pets happy. Bella and Bub decide it’s time to help.

What we love about this series is that these characters have big hearts and big ideas. Maybe the first try doesn’t always work successfully, but they continue to try harder and make some headway. They take a step back, reassess, and begin again. Some times they have a little help and a little inspiration from others. But through perseverance, they’re able to find a solution and reach the goal they set out for themselves.

Diary of a Pug: Paws for a Cause by Kyla May has some great illustrations, characters, and thought bubbles. Don’t forget the thought bubbles that show how Bub is truly feeling about a situation. The final page always has some great questions to get the kids thinking about what they just read as well as how they would react in certain situations. It’s a great way for parents and kids to engage with the text and have a conversation.

RATING Quatrain

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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