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Wild Blues by Beth Kephart, illustrations by William Sulit

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 336 pgs.
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I think Beth Kephart is the most reviewed author on my blog. And you will probably understand why when you realize that many of her books are like prose poems that tell stories with big themes and complex and colorful characters. She is one of my favorite authors, and I especially love that her husband is illustrating some of her more recent books.


Wild Blues by Beth Kephart, with illustrations from William Sulit, is as beautifully poetic as Kephart’s previous novels, but this one is suspense wrapped in the wilds of the Adirondacks. Taking inspiration from a prison break at the Clinton Correctional Facility and the family heirlooms — Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart — in her father’s home, Kephart has woven an inspirational tale of courage tugged from 13-year-old Lizzie’s connections with her family and dearest friend, Matias. This middle-grade novel will charge young readers to think about their own lives and whether their willing to go the distance to save their own family and friends.

“I don’t remember if I ran, but maybe I did. I don’t remember how my heart felt, except for the squirm of it, like it was riding a carousel inside my chest.” (pg. 96)

Using the victim impact statement as a story-telling device, Lizzie takes us on the road to recovering her missing Uncle Davy and her friend Matias, but to take the journey, she says we must first understand who they are. We’re given glimpses of life in Matias’ homeland of El Salvadore — the beauty and the violence — and in many ways Lizzie’s journey to save them is like stepping foot into those El Salvadorean jungles where fear takes hold and makes things larger than life, scarier than they may be … at least in the Adirondacks. William Sulit’s watercolor renderings from Matias are beautiful and add a sense of wonder to the story, providing us a glimpse of what his art could be.

“‘I heard it roar. The loudest commotion you ever heard. Like an old man snoring through a megaphone that had been slapped against my ear.'” (pg. 289-90)

I was swept up in this story of Lizzie, her famous antique finding Uncle Davy, and her artistic friend Matias. I loved that Lizzie wanted to be brave and to find her family but at the same time her limitations are realistic. The woods carry a mystical quality for our young biologist, especially since she’s as entranced by her friend Matias’ paintings as she is enchanted by the natural world. She holds tight to memories and her family, but she also holds tight to knowledge, including the knowledge in The Art of Keppy, a practical guide for woodland explorers. My only moment of confusion and pause came when a character (who really isn’t) appears as Lizzie tells us what happened to the escapees and how this “character” had been tricked. This sequence took me out of Lizzie’s story and I was disoriented for a moment. I’ve debated whether this was intentional or not, but regardless, I wanted back into Lizzie’s world … to know what happened.

Wild Blues by Beth Kephart, with illustrations from William Sulit, looks at the consequences of choice for the young protagonist, Lizzie. She chooses to leave her mother alone for the summer and be with her uncle in the woods and with her summer friend. She chooses to run after Matias when she learns he is missing, getting lost herself. When she returns home to find her uncle gone and police looking for escapees, she must make another choice and that choice can have the most dire of consequences. Would you have the same courage, touched with naivete? Does she make the right decisions? Many of these questions are not answered, but it would be a great book club discussion.

RATING: QUATRAIN

Other Books Reviewed:

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’s most recent book—This Is the Story of You—was published by Chronicle and is a Junior Library Guild and Scholastic Book Club selection, on the 2017 TAYSHAS list, a VOYA Perfect Ten, and a Top Ten New Jersey Book.

Kephart will release two middle grade books with Caitlyn Dlouhy of Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. She is the co-founder of Juncture Workshops, offering memoir workshops and resources to writers across the country

Scattered Clouds by Reuben Jackson

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 130 pgs.
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When you have fate kick your butt and keep you from getting a poetry collection you’ve been eager to read (especially when you want to be at a reading), does that lead you to enjoy the collection even more when you finally get a copy?

This is my question because this was my journey to getting Reuben Jackson’s new collection. But I digress.


Scattered Clouds by Reuben Jackson is like a best hits record, but it’s also a deeply personal look at Washington, D.C., love in all of its incarnations, and the power of music (in this case Jazz). “Fingering the Keys” is a section of previously published poems by Jackson, giving readers some initial flavor of his work as he reflects on his younger years, roadtrips with his father, the harsh realities of being black in America. But as a kid you don’t always understand why you can’t do certain things like stay in that roadside teepee shaped motel in South Carolina. In “on the road,” the narrator speaks about the bargain struck with his dad to stay the night, but then says, “it worked,// so why did he return without/room keys?”

Each of these line breaks and pauses are like an interlude in which the undercurrent of the head in the music of Jackson’s poems comes to the fore full force, knocking the reader off their feet and sending their mind into overdrive. There are many of these “aha” or “Mmmhmmm” moments where readers are like I understand and I see where you are and what’s going on, even in the most innocent of moments. When we’re young and trying to find out who we are and want to be, we experiment, but there are those of us judged more harshly for experimenting outside “the comfort zone.”

a lonely affair

even the most die-hard liberals
have their moments;

like the man wearing the
end apartheid button
who followed me across his bookstore;

Jackson is well aware of the power of word choice when he speaks about the man’s bookstore, knowing full well that though this man is liberal, the narrator is from outside his known community and should be followed. Is he following him because he wants to talk, to share, or simply to monitor, to prevent, to presume? In “a lonely affair,” our narrator continues along his path, lonely as it may be, to ensure revolution does not fizzle out. By being there, out in the world and reading his poems, he’s affecting change.

“sunday brunch” has to be my favorite poem in this collection. The matter-of-fact response and sarcasm is priceless. I refuse to ruin the surprise, but how would you answer “Where do your parents summer?”

The section of “city songs” will transport you D.C. and beyond in ways you don’t expect. Readers are thrown into the deep pit of tragedy and sorrow, of borrowed breaths, and deep loneliness even in urban landscapes. The intimacy of the first section gives way to the wider world — it intrudes upon the intimacy and wrenches away the slightest sense of shelter. We’ve moved into a world where culture bears heavily down on those who do not fit neatly in it. Rather than change the tone, Jackson’s language almost lulls the reader into each situation, letting the reality of them seep under the skin.

“sky blues” is the crescendo of the collection, exploring the beauty of late-in-life love — a mutual respect and passion for the fullness of who we are. In the poems of the “Amir & Khadijah: A Suite,” Jackson becomes lyrical with love, the kind of love that can buoy a spirit in rough tides and become a lift of spirit. It’s Jackson’s song of hope, either for himself or for all of us. His heart is full of love and it is reaching out to us in line after line searching for connection.

Here, too, we find Jackson’s poem for Trayvon Martin as an angel guides the young boy home, away from danger. These final poems nod to the past and the struggles, with a hope for the future. Scattered Clouds by Reuben Jackson is the balm for the sting of “real” American life, laced with a hope that we can overcome, persevere, and take the lessons we’ve learned from those lost to us and apply them to our future selves to create a better tomorrow. It’s the coverage we need away from the storm without forgetting that storms do come.


I cannot urge you enough to buy these collection. Rarely do I outright tell you to buy something, but if you buy one poetry collection this year, let it be this one.


RATING: Cinquain

Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 68 pgs.
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Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, is another adventure with kindergartner Junie B. She’s a child whose had the full attention of her parents for all five years of her life, but things are changing, and she’s about to get a baby sibling.

What happens when she learns her baby broker is a cute little “monkey” is hilarious.

Junie B. believes her brother is unique and now sees why her parents wallpapered the baby room in a jungle theme. This little monkey will make her the most popular kid in school, especially when her two best friends vie for the honor of the first to see him in person. My daughter and I are having a grand old time laughing at Junie B. when she often repeats “and so” and “guess what … that’s what.”

My daughter is also still correcting Junie B.’s words like “bended.” I love that she’s paying attention to what she’s reading and correcting Junie B. This means she’s making progress in her reading skills, and that couldn’t make me prouder after these last two years of struggles.

Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, is a fun story about not taking advantage of your friends and learning to pay closer attention to what adults are saying and not taking it so literally.

RATING: Quatrain

The Joy Delivered Duet by Lauren Blakely (audio)

Source: Audible Purchase
Audiobook, 19+ hours
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The Joy Delivered Duet by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Sebastian York, is a delectable treat with the uber sexy voice of Sebastian York at the help. The duet of books in the series follow Joy Delivered CEO Jack Sullivan and Co-CEO Casey Sullivan as they navigate not only sex toy business affairs, but also unexpected seduction. This steamy set of books will hear up your days and are what I would call ear candy. Very light on complex plots but heavy on seduction and play.

In “Nights with Him,” what can Jack Sullivan do when he realizes his one night stand is the same Dr. Milo he has a therapy appointment with the next morning? Sullivan is in need of therapy after losing his fiancée in a tragic accident for which he blames himself but not in the way the wonderful paparazzi and media think. Michelle Milo is a no-nonsense woman who is very focused on her career and earning respect from her colleagues. In a business deal, therapy is punted to another therapist while he pursues more than a one-night stand with Michelle. But perhaps this kind of therapy is what he needs.

In “Forbidden Nights,” Casey Sullivan has been direct and a true business leader, but some of her boyfriends have said they don’t like her controlling ways in the bedroom. Hotel mogul Nate Harper has been her friend for many years, and he’s her best guy friend, but what happens when they cross that invisible line when Casey asks for his help in letting go? Nate agrees because his fantasy can become reality but he knows he cannot be her true love. Being with his best friend, Nate soon begins to realize what he’s been missing since his divorce. How will they navigate their new relationship? Will they both back away and return to friendship land, or will they take a leap into the unknown, all the while screaming into the passionate night?What happens when years of desire and lust ignite a passion that can’t be denied?

Both of these are high on sex, low on plot and complexity. The characters become entangled with one another at any time, any place, and any where. The scandal with Michelle and Jack is wrapped up quickly and vanishes just as fast, even as it was the biggest obstacle to their kinky happily ever after. Meanwhile, Nate and Casey’s story is a bit more sweet, romantic, and sexy. The Joy Delivered Duet by Lauren Blakely, narrated by Sebastian York, is a piece of dark chocolate that you want to swallow whole while also wanting to let it melt in your mouth. Delectable, at times dirty and erotic, but entertaining.

Rating: Tercet

Other Reviews:

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 69 pgs.
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Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, is the first book in the series, and it is clear that Junie B. is not ready for kindergarten. But really, what kid is ready? She struggles with riding the bus, how to behave in class, and a whole host of other things, but this is normal behavior for a kindergartner.

My daughter and I have been reading these together, though she’s the one reading to me. The “wrong” words like “bended” and “funner,” etc., do continue to make her stumble while reading but she seems to be getting a better handle on correcting Junie B.’s words as she reads. In some ways, these “wrong” words appear to make her a stronger reader. She’s critically thinking about what she’s reading as she goes. While these words make me cringe, I can see how they’ve helped my daughter with her reading struggles over the last two books.

Junie B. can be a bit sassy and so can her friends, but this is part of finding our place in the world as a kid — learning boundaries, and making friends of strangers. Park really understands how children at this age think and act. What happens when Junie B. doesn’t get on the bus to go home after school? Will she be found out? Are her parents frantic? Is Junie B. scared? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, was a fun read and gave us a lot to think and laugh about. We learned about how kids can be mean sometimes, and how we have to learn how to cope with change.

RATING: Quatrain

OTHER Reviews:

Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus is the fourth book in the series and is riddled with actual dialogue that a younger kindergartner would use. Junie B. loves to sneak around and spy on her family but when they explain that she shouldn’t be doing that, she still considers herself a sneaky spy. When she spies on the wrong person, it could spell big trouble.

My daughter had a hard time with some of the misspelled words. But she started to learn to correct them as she read aloud. We like Junie B. and her antics, even if she gets in trouble, but her misspelled words were troublesome, especially for my daughter who continues to struggle with reading. This is a fun series, but I’m not sure we’ll read more of these as part of her nightly practice.

Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus is a cute book with a mischievous girl who likes to see the world without anyone knowing she’s there. She just doesn’t understand the concept of privacy.

RATING: Quatrain

Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Snow Day by Kyla May

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Snow Day by Kyla May is the second installment in this delightful series for early readers. My daughter loves books with mysteries and animals. This pug is adorably drawn, is curious, and loves his owner Bella so much that he’ll even risk getting wet, which he hates.

Baron von Bubbles or Bubby has no idea what snow is, but the Duchess the Cat knows a secret. Snow is wet. When Bella has a snow day from school and wants to go outside, Bubby has a decision to make. His first experience with snow does not go well, but after some careful preparation, he’s ready for his next adventure. Carefully clothed and gorgeous, Bubby ventures into the snow and finds he loves building a snow fort with Bella, loves making Pug angels, and more.

My daughter loves reading about fashion-conscious Bubby and his adventures with his bear and Bella, and we both know that Nutz the squirrel is up to no good when he offers to help. When a strange beast moves in next door, Bubby and Bella grow anxious about meeting the new neighbor on a play date later that week. My daughter and I had fun trying to guess what the beast in the next yard was, and we were both way off. But at least we know our imaginations are in tact.

Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Snow Day by Kyla May is a fantastic book that teaches kids about how to step outside their comfort zones and how to deal with anxious moments. Bubby is quite a character, like most dogs, and Bella is a sweet girl who loves her pooch. We highly recommend this series and await the next book, which doesn’t come out until July!

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Kyla May is an Australian illustrator, writer, and designer. She is the creator and illustrator of Lotus Lane and Diary of a Pug, two early chapter book series. In addition to books, Kyla creates animation. She lives by the beach in Victoria, Australia, with her three daughters.

Owl Diaries: Eva’s Campfire Adventure by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Eva’s Campfire Adventure by Rebecca Elliott is a nice installment in the series of books that have kept my daughter excited about reading. She loves Eva and all her friends. In this book, Eva and her classmates do an overnight camping trip in the woods. Their teacher instructs them to complete a project with materials from the forest to make a useful tool by the end of the week. Eva’s classmates are quick to pair up and seek out material for their projects, but Eva and her best friend Lucy are too excited about the prospect of Nellie Wingdale’s legendary treasure.

My daughter could not wait to start this book after she received it for Christmas. I’m thankful she has more than one series of books that she loves now because there is a long wait for next owl book. She begged me to read just one more chapter on a few nights, which is why we finished this one so fast.

Owl Diaries: Eva’s Campfire Adventure by Rebecca Elliott is definitely one of our favorites in the series because the owl’s work together to find Nellie’s treasure, while striving to finish their class projects using materials from the forest. There are good lessons about cooperation and team work, as well as not taking on too many projects at once because, as Eva found out, you may fail to meet the deadline of one or more projects if you spread yourself too thin. It’s a good lesson for kids and adults.

RATING: Cinquain

Yuletide edited by Christina Boyd

Source: Purchased by my Secret Santa
Paperback, 190 pgs.
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Yuletide edited by Christina Boyd includes short stories around Christmas time in Pride & Prejudice‘s Darcy and Bennet households in Regency and modern times from Amy D’Orazio, Caitlin Williams, Anngela Schroeder, J. Marie Croft, Elizabeth Adams, Joana Starnes, and Lona Manning. Each story holds true to the characters, but places them in different situations at Christmas time.

Caitlin Williams’ “The Forfeit” has Elizabeth Bennet acting as frivolous and giddy as her younger sisters as she gets ready for the local ball. Her little wager with Mr. Darcy is one that could leave her vulnerable at the hands of a wealthy man, but readers know that the wager is friendly and Mr. Darcy is a stand-up guy of character. “It was only when she was sunk deep into the iron tub that she realised she had spent the last two hours in much the same fashion as Lydia and Kitty, minus, thankfully, some very silly giggling.” (pg. 20).

Other stories in the collection find the married Darcy’s enjoying some old and new traditions, together. But one of my favorites is “The Wishing Ball” by Amy D’Orazio engages readers in a mystery where Darcy has made a wish without actually making a wish, causing some confusion to a lonely single man of great fortune. But it also provides some comedy when his sister learns about the wish inside. “‘So some other man…another man, with the initials FDG and a tendency to make the letter I like he went to prep school in England, bought this ball, wrote a wish, placed it inside, then sealed it up, and returned it. Then I, your sister, just happened to come along and buy it? That’s your hypothesis?'” (pg. 52)

All of the stories in the collection will provide readers with a glimpse of Christmas time festivities in the Darcy and Bennet houses, but they also offer a unique look at how the Christmas spirit can enable Darcy and Lizzy to rethink their behavior towards one another and learn to be more charitable and forgiving.

Yuletide edited by Christina Boyd is a delightful collection of short stories with some of our favorite Pride & Prejudice characters learning to be more patient, kind, and forgiving. It was the perfect read for the holiday season.

RATING: Cinquain

The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is the sixth book in the series and was a joy to read. My daughter loved the colorful pictures and the adventure story. Plus princesses that become superheroes, how could you go wrong with this one.

Princess Magnolia has a poster for the science fair, but some of her classmates have created elaborate projects including a Bucket Boosting Teeter-Totter and a volcano. A volcano that talks? That can’t be right. The princess and some of her fellow students soon realize the volcano is carrying a goo monster, who is threatening to take over the entire science fair. Princess Magnolia soon transforms into The Princess in Black and spring into action to save the school’s science fair. Lucky for her she has a few helping heroes and princesses.

These princesses are savvy and work well together under pressure. My daughter loved reading how they solved the problem and determined how best to deal with the goo monster. Don’t worry, no goo monsters were harmed (too much) in the making of this adventure.

The illustrations are vibrant and action-packed just like the story. They enhance the tale. The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is a delightful book about the power of teamwork and how every day people can be heroes. And princesses don’t have to be rescued, but they can take action and solve problems on their own.

RATING: Cinquain

Pug Pals: Yay for Vaycay! by Flora Ahn

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Pug Pals: Yay for Vaycay! by Flora Ahn is the second book in the series in which Rosy and Sunny are off on an adventure far from home and without their human. While their human is away on vacation, Rosy and Sunny are spending time at the grandparents’ house. Sunny remembers the house, but this is the first time Rosy has been without their human and she’s a little nervous, until she begins to follow Sunny’s lead. Rosy and Sunny really enjoy watching TV with grandpa, even if the shows with Sherlock Holmes are not as exciting as the ones they watch with Officer Bert.

Rosy and Sunny are soon banished to the inside of the house after grandma suspects they’ve been eating all of her veggies and fruits in the garden. The pugs know that it wasn’t them, but they have no other suspects in sight and are prepared to accept their fate. That is until they remember Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. It’s time for a quick costume change and a skip out the door.

While looking for clues, they run into Clover. He seems like a nice enough groundhog, and he’s intrigued by their efforts to find the thief. My daughter knew early on who the thief was, but it took the pugs a bit to figure it out.

Pug Pals: Yay for Vaycay! by Flora Ahn is a delightful story in which Sunny and Rosy are tasked with finding the thief and clearing their names in the eyes of grandma. In the end, everything works out and they are reunited with their human. My daughter loves these books, and we hope there are more to come. Rosy and Sunny are funny and really cute when they put on costumes — Rosy’s mustache had us laughing.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Christmas Poetry to Inspire by Jean Kay

Source: Purchased by Bookish Secret Santa
Paperback, 30 pgs.
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Christmas Poetry to Inspire by Jean Kay is a slim collection of poems about the beauty of the Christmas season and the celebrations Christians engage in. Kay speaks about a call for peace not only at Christmas time, but also throughout the entire year. There are a couple of lines that rang bitter in the first poems about changing “merry Christmas” to happy holidays, but overall, I think the poems stayed true to their message of peace and love.

In “Christmas Gatherings,” Kay’s lines speak about the burdens we all sometimes face and how God never burdens us with more than we can handle, but we all wish that we were not burdened with so much. She speaks of how Mother Theresa even felt the same, but this never deterred her from doing the great work she did throughout her life. In “Encouraging Peace,” Kay speaks about the power of peace as a state of mind and how if we encourage it in ourselves and others, it can spread like wildfire — hopefully ending the need for war and strife.

Jean Kay’s Christmas Poetry to Inspire aims to not only spread Christmas cheer, but also speak about the power of peace and our need to spread good will to others. One of my favorites in this collection was “Christmas Music,” in which Kay tells us a story with song titles from the season. Very unique and engaging.

RATING: Tercet