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Trini’s Big Leap by Beth Kephart, Alexander de Wit, and William Sulit

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 44 pgs.
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Trini’s Big Leap by Beth Kephart, Alexander de Wit, and William Sulit is published by Penny Candy Books. Trini is a fearless gymnast and a kid with a can-do attitude. But how she faces a challenge will be a lesson to all her readers. When faced with a challenge, how do you react? Do you give up? Do you ask for help? Do you ask someone to do it for you? Or do you work with others who have different skills.

Trini spies her friends in another room building things with blocks, but no matter how hard she tries, she just can’t build the castle she envisions. When Mr. Ed asks if she needs help, she refuses, even though she’s discouraged and frustrated. She doesn’t understand why she can’t do it.

Sulit’s delightful illustrations bring the bouncy Trini to life, and kids will engage with her high-energy activity. The pages are colorful but soft, and are a great complement to the story.

Trini’s Big Leap by Beth Kephart, Alexander de Wit, and William Sulit is a delightful picture book with a great message about perseverance and discovery. Take a journey with Trini and her friends and see how teamwork can save the day and move mountains.

RATING: Quatrain

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 13+ hrs.
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Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, narrated by Rebecca Lowman, is a true-crime look at murder in Los Angeles through the lens of one reporter and a case of black-on-black crime that was solved. The murder of a black cop’s son, Bryant Tennelle, by a gang member and a young man trying to fit in and stay on the good side of a gang member is not the case I expected to hear about in this book. With all Leovy’s talk about black-on-black crime and how there is a sort of lawlessness and take-it-in-their-own-hands mentality there, I expected to hear about someone other than the “good” son of a cop who chose to raise his family in the district where he worked as a homicide detective and police officer.

The case does highlight a bit of hero-worship on the part of the author with regard to Detective John Skaggs, who led the investigation. Skaggs is a persistent investigator, and Leovy does mention that his skills have closed many cases, which made me wonder why she focused on the case he helped solve related to the death of a cop’s son. Although it seems she is trying to suggest that the case wasn’t solved effectively because the victim was the son of a police officer, her entire book does the opposite, especially when there is no counterpoint to this case. As a reader, I would like to have seen another case in parallel involving another black man who was not the son of a police officer and how that case unfolded in the department.

The most enlightening part of the narrative is the commentary on how the criminal justice system has devalued the lives of all black men in these communities by failing to invest the time and resources necessary to investigate their murders. In her passages about how departments were merely pushing papers around and closing cases without putting the time in — unlike Skaggs who persistently visited and revisited communities to find evidence and witnesses — it is clear that real police work was not being done and that the officers gave up easily and had too little resources to follow-up on evidence or tips, etc. This is not to say that there were not officers and detectives in those departments who were not dedicated to finding the murderers, but without appropriate resources, the deck can be stacked against them actually closing cases.

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, narrated by Rebecca Lowman, takes on a large problem in America — black-on-black on crime. The topic is a bit broad, and while she uses one case as an example, it might be the wrong one for her to have used. In the author’s note, it is clear she relied heavily on reports she wrote for news outlets, and she did offer a great many statistics. But what she espouses is a tougher state-based control over enforcement, and I’m not sure that’s the right answer, especially given many cases of bias, policy brutality, and the over enforcement/sentencing of minor crimes involving black men. This book has a lot of discussion points, however, and would be fantastic for book clubs.

RATING: Tercet

Owl Diaries: Eva and Baby Mo by Rebecca Elliott (book 10)

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Eva and Baby Mo (book #10) by Rebecca Elliott is the 10th book in this series of Branches Books from Scholastic and a favorite series of my daughter. Eva is one curious owl and she’s kindhearted. When she learns about hobbies at her elementary school and she and her classmates are charged with sharing their own hobbies, she realizes that she doesn’t think her parents have hobbies at all. Eva soon learns that her parents once has a dazzling hobby, but with their growing family, they have had little time for it.

My daughter has loved this series since the beginning, and she now is able to read most of these books on her own, which is a delight to hear. She loves reading about Eva and her friends, as well as their plans and projects. In this book, Eva and her friends devise a way for her parents to rediscover their hobby. They offer to babysit Mo. They do not know how hard it will be.

Owl Diaries: Eva and Baby Mo (book #10) by Rebecca Elliott is a delightful book about how sometimes things look easier than they are in actuality. Eva and her friends learn how hard babysitting can be, but they also realize how fun it can be.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the United Kingdom with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

Owl Diaries: Eva’s Big Sleepover by Rebecca Elliott (book 9)

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Eva’s Big Sleepover (book #9) by Rebecca Elliott is the ninth installment in the branches book series and Eva is eager for her birthday sleepover to celebrate her Hatch Day. She wants to invite her class, but Sue is not a particularly nice owl all of the time and Eva is reluctant to invite her. Eventually, she does.

Eva learns that you shouldn’t be mean to someone just because they are not nice to you. She also learns that someone could be simply in a bad mood and unaware of how that mood affects how they treat others. Elliott weaves in these lessons skillfully for children, and with the colorful illustrations, it’s hard not to love this series of books.

I am astounded by Eva’s mom’s bravery in allowing Eva to invite her entire class or a sleepover. I’m not sure that I would be that brave.

Owl Diaries: Eva’s Big Sleepover (book #9) by Rebecca Elliott is another solid read in this series. My daughter has grown as a reader with these books, and she loves Eva’s creativity and kindhearted nature. I’ll probably be sad when she no longer wants to read them together.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

A school project from when Rebecca was 6 reads, ‘when I grow up I want to be an artist and a writer’. After a brief detour from this career plan involving a degree in philosophy and a dull office job she fulfilled her plan in 2001 when she became a full time children’s book illustrator and has since written and illustrated hundreds of picture books published worldwide including the award-winning Just Because, Zoo Girl, Naked Trevor, Mr Super Poopy Pants, Missing Jack and the very popular Owl Diaries series.

She lives in Suffolk in the United Kingdom with her husband, a history teacher and children, all professional monkeys.

Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hours
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Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely — narrated by Andi Arndt, Sebastian York, and many others — is an audiobook I just had to listen to after listening to the short, Lucky Suit, which involves Lulu Diamond’s best friend Cameron. Blakely’s Leo Hennessy is smokin’ hot in a suit and for some reason, Lulu is just noticing this now, at a chocolate convention, after more than 10 years of friendship and a marriage to his best friend. But Lulu is a new woman who is laser-focused on the career she’s always wanted and felt held back from, and she’s not about to let romance get in the way of that again. Leo, on the other hand, has been ripe for romance with Lulu and his opportunity is now, but will guilt hold him back?

The main narrators — Arndt and York — have a believable chemistry and I loved that this audiobook has a full cast of narrators for a lot of characters. I would love to see this as a series of romance movies with all of these characters — Hallmark would definitely have to tone down the smut though.

Leo and Lulu solving riddles together is a delight — another case of witty repartee between characters. Blakely’s dialogue is lovely, and you can see how easily these two fall back into their friendship. There’s a comfort in how well they know each other, but they also are discovering so much more.

Leo and Lulu are endearing together, and I love that they are friends who find they cannot live without each other, but will self-imposed rules get in their way? Or can they learn to reach for the golden chalice? Birthday Suit by Lauren Blakely — narrated by Andi Arndt, Sebastian York, and many others — is like decadent chocolate that you can’t tear your eyes or mouth away from.

RATING: Cinquain

Phoenix: Transformation Poems by Jessica Goody

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 102 pgs.
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Phoenix: Transformation Poems by Jessica Goody offers poems of resilience and transformation, moving beyond tragedy and disappointment to a place of peace and hope. There are times when the readers is left with an ending that has no way forward, and isn’t that the way of relationships. Sometimes they just end, like in “Bitter Tea,” where a a broken relationship cannot be mended with tea.

Or in “Changeling” where it is clear a relationship has ended and while the phone is no longer ringing, the memories of laughter and intense blue eyes are still present. These are the lingering ghosts of our lives — we carry them with us as we move on. While we mourn them, we also realize that they are a part of who we are.

Goody’s poems inspired by art and paintings are vivid and conjure images in readers heads.

From “Blue Landscape” (pg. 37)

(Marc Chagall, “Couple in a Blue Landscape,” 1949)

They lie in the curve of the crescent moon,
a cosmic cradle, a gondola hovering in the sky.
He admires her lapis hair, her bare shoulders

and sodalite skin. A thousand shades of blue flicker,
rendering them luminous and ethereal as mermaids,
blue-green women with bodies as ripe as dark plums.

Her images conjure the feeling of the painting, like the brushstrokes that created it. We are inside the painting, voyeurs just at frame’s edge. While there is beauty, there is also great sadness. The poem, “Memory,” is devastatingly beautiful as a man holds the hands of a woman he loves but who no longer remembers him as her memories have faded … been stolen away. Phoenix: Transformation Poems by Jessica Goody is the embodiment of transformation — it can be beautiful, tragic, sad, and inspiring. Goody’s work is poignant and lasting.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Jessica Goody is the award-winning author of Defense Mechanisms: Poems on Life, Love, and Loss (Phosphene Publishing, 2016) and Phoenix: Transformation Poems (CW Books, 2019). Goody’s writing has appeared in over three dozen publications, including The Wallace Stevens Journal, Reader’s Digest, Event Horizon, The Seventh Wave, Third Wednesday, The MacGuffin, Harbinger Asylum and The Maine Review. Jessica is a columnist for SunSations Magazine and the winner of the 2016 Magnets and Ladders Poetry Prize. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Follow her blog tour with Poetic Book Tours.

The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 3+ hours
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The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams is a quick look at the effects of being out in nature and how it can “calm” the brain. Cognitive neuroscientist David Strayer, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Utah, found in his studies that creativity increases after three days spent in natural settings and his subjects improved in cognitive testing.

She takes several nature trips with different groups of people. The first group of veterans tackles the obstacles and hardships of nature easily, while the second group of women who have faced abuse in the past have a harder time dealing with nature’s struggles. Williams also takes a trip in Utah with her city friend, who writes about the benefits of city living.

Williams clearly sees the benefits of nature, but the 3-day effect may not have the same impact on everyone. The veterans took to the hikes and time in nature as a way to get some peace from the PTSD they normally experience at home with their friends, family, and others. The second group of women needed a bit of modification to see the benefits of nature, as they lived in fear for many years, reinforcing those fears in the elements was not the best option. One women who had been homeless and lived outside expressed serious concerns about camping outside where wild animals would be. Williams’ friend struggled with some of the hiking and was less than convinced that the effort to reach summits was worth it.

The 3-Day Effect by Florence Williams offers some scientific data and testing, but I wouldn’t call this a scientific study as there are no control groups for comparison and many of the data sets are too small. I also wouldn’t recommend this to people who are likely to take these anecdotal experiences and drop their medications and treatments on a whim without medical advice from a professional. I did find the book interesting to listen to and see how people reacted on the hiking trail and sleeping in nature, as well as how they felt afterward and what effects the stint in nature had on their productivity and real life.

RATING: Tercet

Nanopedia by Charles Jensen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 73 pgs.
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Nanopedia by Charles Jensen is the poetry collection you’ve been waiting for all year — or at least I have. Jensen takes a keen look at the America we live in today and examines its past through a different lens. He picks apart the facade of American life, whether as a gay man looking for love in all the wrong places or the search for identity and place in a social structure that demeans us, as it does with millennials. All of these prose poems taken together demonstrate the fractured nature of American society. Beneath the surface of American bravery and diversity are the fissures brought bigotry, classism, and self-hatred.

“Modern Art” (pg. 19)

Absence is a bomb that detonates inward.

Jensen’s lines and his sort poems are like an explosion that obliterates broad perceptions of America. Americans who search for validation in the acquisition of things, Americans who dislike babies but cannot say so, and so many more will be found in this collection. The poems ask for self-reflection and provide it whether the reader is willing to participate or not. The collection is more than short reference entries about American present and past. It’s a mirror of our foibles and hardships — a reflection of things we want to change but are ultimately so hard to change, making it a doubly frustrating and perhaps unattainable.

A powerful collection in which politics and the political landscape are hovering in the background but never quite rise to the surface of these lives, but it is there, waiting to insert itself in every conversation, every look, every moment to muddy the waters even further.

Nanopedia by Charles Jensen uses prose poems to examine the American life whether at a distance or in its most intimate setting between two lovers. His poems reach into the darkness to reveal a tragic comedy of errors, an American history that continues to write and rewrite itself.

RATING: Cinquain

An Everyday Thing by Nancy Richardson

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 57 pgs.
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An Everyday Thing by Nancy Richardson explores what happens in the every day when there is an intersection of politics and society. Many of these based in Ohio or Kent State examine the unimaginable — what happens when guns go off and students are shot or what happens when feelings unexpectedly change and so much more. Richardson’s collection juxtaposes the unthinkable with the idea that it is just an every day thing. It can happen at any time.

The collection’s cover offers the chaotic mess of these events coupled with the symmetry of a square (the intersection) with a focal point in red (is this the blood spilled? or the harm left behind?). Richardson’s verse is peppered with lyrics and notes from trials, and so much more. Providing readers with a lot of food for thought. She explores the nature of Ohio and politics, socioeconomic issues that still create tense relationships, exposing emotional vulnerability. So many links in the chains of these poems. “The words were linked//like small blue train cars, silent, unmoving on their tracks./That’s the trouble with scripts, words chained to one another.//” (from “Transaction” p. 25)

An Everyday Thing by Nancy Richardson is a collection chock full of connections that are begging to be explored. By turns a dark look at the underbelly of America’s history and looks at hopeful moments, Richardson explores blue collar worlds, deep relationships, sadness, and hope that things can change for the better.

RATING: Cinquain

For more opinions, check out the Poetic Book Tours blog tour for the book.

A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 1+ hrs.
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A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain, narrated by Hillary Huber, is a short introduction to Marie Skłodowska, who later marries Pierre Curie, and becomes one of the most famous physicists and chemists of our time. McLain introduces us to a young Marie, who has made it to France to study at the Sorbonne — one of the only women in the sciences. She faces a great deal of criticism from male students who feel she does not belong there, but she also finds that there are those who are willing to help her and believe in her education and work.

This story is relatively short, but it provides a sketch of Curie’s determination and persistence, but also how dealing with prejudice on a daily basis can skew our perceptions of other people’s intentions, particularly those people who actually support us. McLain delves lightly into the subject of overcoming these internal biases to see the good in front of us.

The narration was good, though I felt there was little emotion in the narration. Perhaps due to Curie’s character and her scientific manner, but I would have liked a bit more emotion.

A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain should be its own novel. Curie is a fascinating woman of science who had to overcome a lot and who suffered a great deal for her discoveries. My one complaint is that it should have been a full-length novel.

Rating: Quatrain

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 2+ hrs.
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Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Zachary Webber and Andi Arndt, is a quick listen high on humor and romance. Think Hallmark movie with witty dialogue and flirting. Kristen Leonard has had it with blind dates and looking for love in all the wrong places, but her gramma won’t hear it. She thinks there’s a guy out there for her scientific wiz grandkid and she won’t stop until he’s found. There’s just one kink in the chain, Kristen has decided to place her fate in the hands of internet algorithms and data.

Cameron whisks into town to his uncle’s car auction to visit while in Miami on business. Little does he know that a hot little lady is interested in him and the cars — the cars for herself and him for her granddaughter.

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Zachary Webber and Andi Arndt, is a hot little read with playful dialogue, flirtation, and a lightheartedness I needed.  It had me smiling every time Kristen and Cameron were chatting away.  Her grandmother is a fiery one too, and there is no end to the witticisms involving science. Looking for a fun read to relax with, this is for you. I was smitten with these characters and I might just check out Blakely’s longer works when I need another pick-me-up.

RATING: Cinquain

Have a Nice Day by Billy Crystal (audio)

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain