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Obliterations by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza

Source: Jessica Piazza
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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With the media overload of the 21st Century, poets are bound to ask: How much of this information sticks and is it absorbed in the way that is expected? Obliterations: Erasures from the New York Times by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza, one of the best new authors according to CBS Los Angeles, explores that process by taking articles found in a variety of sections of The New York Times, including real estate and obituaries, and erasing words until a poem emerges from the detritus. Neither poet knew what the other created, and what has emerged is a collection that speaks not to ephemeral constructs but to concrete concerns and connections.

Most of us know that people who hear or read it at the same time never absorb information in exactly the same way, but what’s most fascinating about this collection is how many of the poems seem to respond to one another when placed side by side. Piazza and O’Neill’s poems for Education use the article “Varied Paths Toward Healing for Sites of Terrorized Schools” by Winnie Hu for inspiration, exploring the aftermath of school shootings. “Healing” provides a sharp, zeroed in image of red, a shade that cannot be forgotten because the memory of that violence is seared into the mind’s eye. In answer, “Toward Healing” takes a look at the broken pieces of the school, the touch of violence only to reclaim those terrifying memories to create a “shrine” of hope. Both poems parallel Hu’s article. Violence of this nature is deeply affecting, and people internalize it in different ways, taking from it a sense of hope for the future in those who survive or feeling that deep pessimism that comes from loss of young potential.

In these poems, Piazza and O’Neill are not only looking at how information is internalized and processed, but they are commenting on the information’s presentation by the journalists who wrote the articles. In most of these poems, it is clear that journalists no longer just report facts and data, but also offer a personal perspective on their subject matter.

For instance, the obituary of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the technical director of the Manhattan Project, explores the man’s career and his regret over how the atom bomb was used, but it also discusses the disconnect he saw between what scientists create and how it is used. “Bomb” and “Atom Bomb Pioneer” both pay homage to the creation of science but never shy away from the connection – both good and bad — between its development and its use.

From “Bomb”, “Art was delicate work. Sciences,/a celebrated ivory-tower, almost/wholly divorced from its gravity.// A change of direction that added/sinister overtones to the awakening/world.// A love affair, now dead.// A continuing fury that unified/the immense, tension-filled world.” But in “Atom Bomb Pioneer,” we see Oppenheimer in a different way with the telling end line, “I have known sin,/ he offered.//” Piazza and O’Neill bring the full weight of that creation to the fore, asking us to consider the consequences not in retrospect but in the present. They also take up that mantle of perspective to show readers a new outlook on the subject at hand.

In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” Obliterations: Erasures from the New York Times by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza leaves us with the digestible pieces that can be easily swallowed and endured. But within these pieces, we realize that the whole is not destroyed but enhanced in this innovative poetry collection.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Jessica Piazza is the author of three poetry collections: “Interrobang” (Red Hen Press), “This is not a sky” (Black Lawrence Press) and, with Heather Aimee O’Neill, “Obliterations” (Red Hen Press, forthcoming). Originally from Brooklyn, NY, she holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and English Literature from the University of Southern California, an M.A. in English Literature /Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University. She is co-founder of Gold Line Press and Bat City Review, and curates the Poetry Has Value blog, which explores the intersections of poetry, money and worth. You can learn more and read her work at www.jessicapiazza.com and www.poetryhasvalue.com.

About the Poet:

Heather Aimee O’Neill is the Assistant Director of the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and teaches creative writing at CUNY Hunter College. An excerpt from her novel When The Lights Go On Again was published as a chapbook by Wallflower Press in April 2013. Her poetry chapbook, Memory Future, won the University of Southern California’s 2011 Gold Line Press Award, chosen by judge Carol Muske-Dukes. Her work was shortlisted for the 2011 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Award and has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is a freelance writer for publications such as Time Out New York, Parents Magazine and Salon.com, and is a regular book columnist at MTV’s AfterEllen.com.

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Language of Stones by M.J. Rose & Giveaway

Source: France Book Tours
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
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M.J. Rose is an author who can transport you into any time and place, weaving in the occult and the mysterious along with history. It is utterly believable. Opaline Duplessi is one of the descendants of La Lune, a famous witch, and whose mother is featured in The Witch of Painted Sorrows, which I loved. In The Secret Language of Stones by M.J. Rose, Opaline has fled her parents and returned to the former home of La Lune — Paris. Rather than live with her great-grandmother, who also prefers to avoid the occult, she lives beneath the jewelry shop where she works for a family of Russian emigres, the Orloffs, who long for tsarist Russia to return from the hands of the Bolsheviks.

Her work with stones in the shop leads her to use her gifts from La Lune to help the mothers, daughters, and wives left behind by the deceased soldiers of WWI. These soldiers have fallen while protecting Paris and others from the Germans, many lying in the trenches alone. Through her gifts, the crushed stones, and other engravings, Opaline is able to reach through the ether and provide these women with a bit of solace in their despair. Motivated by her own loss, and her inability to provide hope to a fallen soldier of her own, Opaline sees it as her duty to help these women with their grief.

Rose has created an entire mythology with the Daughters of La Lune, but readers can read these books individually, though they’d have a richer experience reading them together. Her characters are dynamic and strong-willed women who navigate the unknown and often dark mysteries of the worlds beyond reality. Rose packs her narrative with history and artistry in a way that will fully absorb readers from page one. The Secret Language of Stones by M.J. Rose is captivating, feel yourself being drawn into the netherworld page by page, moment by moment, and uncover the mystery alongside Opaline.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

M.J. Rose grew up in New York City exploring the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum and the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park — and reading her mother’s favorite books before she was allowed.  She is the author of more than a dozen novels, the co-president and founding board member of International Thriller Writers, and the founder of the first marketing company for authors, AuthorBuzz.com.

She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut. Please visit her website, her blog: Museum of Mysteries.  Subscribe to her mailing list and get information about new releases, free book downloads, contests, excerpts and more. Or send an email to TheFictionofMJRose-subscribe at yahoogroups dot com

To send M.J. a message and/or request a signed bookplate, send an email to mjroseauthor at gmail dot com

Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Science Verse by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Science Verse by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith, is a delightful children’s book that meshes poetry and science.  Although some of these concepts may be tough for kids in kindergarten to understand, kids will enjoy the delightful illustrations and the fun verses that poke fun of critters and teachers.  My daughter particularly liked that the teachers are the reason dinosaurs died — of boredom, naturally — and not meteors.  She doesn’t really understand that dinosaurs are gone over in several grades or that they died because of meteors, etc., but she like the idea of the dinosaurs falling dead at the feet of teachers with their tongues hanging out.

My favorites were about the water cycle and amoebas, as well as the poems about evolution from apes and black holes.  Scieszka is creative and his verse is witty.  The rhymes make it easy for younger kids to follow along, and parents have something to work with when explaining the science concepts to younger children.

Science Verse by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith, is delightful and fun for kids and adults.  It’s a great way to introduce kids to science concepts from evolution to the water cycle.  Now all it needs is some experiments to get kids interacting, something parents could look into as supplements to the text.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Jon Scieszka is a writer and teacher. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and two children. Occasionally he has been known to howl at the full moon. –from the dust jacket of “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs”

Jon Scieszka is also the author of the best-selling ALA Notable Book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, as well as Knights of the Kitchen Table, and The Not-So-Jolly Roger. He teaches as The Day School in Manhattan where he is known as Mr. Scieszka. He lives with his wife, and two children in Brooklyn where he is known as Dad. –from the dust jacket of “The Frog Prince Continued”.

About the Illustrator:

Smith was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but moved to Corona, California at a young age. He spent summers in Tulsa, however, and cites experiences there as inspirations for his work, saying that “[o]nce you’ve seen a 100-foot cement buffalo on top of a donut-stand (sic) in the middle of nowhere, you’re never the same.”

He studied art in college at the encouragement of his high school art teacher, helping to pay for it by working as a janitor at Disneyland. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration, and moved to New York City, where he was hired to do illustrations for various publications including Time, Mother Jones, and Ms..

Smith is married to Molly Leach, who is a book designer and designed the Smith/Scieszka collaboration.

 

 

 

 

 

Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio

Source: Penguin
Paperback, 224 pgs.
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Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio is a memoir written as a series of personal essays that’s not only about the writing life, but also loving what you do so much that no matter how on the outside you are, you keep plugging away. Addonizio never shies away from her less than sober moments or her self-doubt.  She takes life on full force, and she makes no excuses for that.  It’s what life is for — living.  In “Plan D,” she talks about having a plan to give you some sense of control, but in all honesty, those plans don’t always work out.

As many of you know, I’ve written poems and submitted them and received a ton of rejection of late.  This book hit my bookshelf at the right time.  “How to Succeed in Po Biz” brings to light the difficulty with being a poet, what it takes is determination and a will to struggle through it all to achieve even just a modicum of success.  Royalties are small and many poets find other sources of steady income or work toward small awards and fellowships to keep working on their craft without the drudgery of a full-time job, or at least only requiring a part-time job.

Addonizio has always been a fresh poet to me, and as she writes in her essays she remembers those very low moments when she met failure, thought about giving up, and went forward anyway.  This perseverance, sheer will is what poets need.  She’s by turns vulnerable and well shielded from the barbs that come with writing poetry — the title of the book stems from one critic’s comment about how she was Bukowski in a sundress.

Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio is utterly absorbing.  I read it in a day, and I’m still thinking about everything she said and how it applies to my current struggles with poetry and the publishing industry, especially as someone outside academia.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

She’s the author of several poetry collections including Tell Me, A National Book Award Finalist. My latest, My Black Angel, is a book of blues poems with woodcuts by Charles D. Jones, from SFA Press. I published The Palace of Illusions, a story collection, with Counterpoint/Soft Skull in 2014. A New & Selected, Wild Nights, is out in the UK from Bloodaxe Books.

Due summer 2016: Mortal Trash, a new poetry book, from Norton. And a memoir, Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life, from Penguin.

I’ve written two instructional books on writing poetry: The Poet’s Companion (with Dorianne Laux), and Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within. Visit her website.

 

 

 

 

 

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After Alice by Gregory Maguire

tlc tour hostSource: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 304 pgs.
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After Alice by Gregory Maguire is a bit like being at the tea party with the Mad Hatter.  Everything is topsy-turvy in the real world and in Wonderland, but the only difference is that readers are familiar with the characters in Wonderland.  Ada, a girl who has a steel corset to keep her erect, finds herself falling down the rabbit hole after Alice.  While she spends a lot of time looking for Alice and meeting the characters her friend has already met and interacted with, she makes little impact on the Wonderland world and it seems to have little impact on her until nearly 200 pages into the story.

Maguire makes a point of highlighting Ada’s disability, but when she seems to freely wander about Wonderland without the aid of her corset, Ada, herself, does not appear to reflect on that much.  Readers could deduce that 10-year-old Ada is free of the constraints of society, the vicarage, and proper behavior once she sheds this corset, but there is little time spent on that.

“‘Perhaps I could join your troupe.  I should like to go to the garden party, too,’ said Ada. ‘I am hunting for a friend, you see.  I’m afraid that she may be lost.’

‘She’s no more lost than Paradise,’ said the Tin Bear.  Everyone looked at him. ‘Do you think even Paradise Lost could find itself in this fog? Really.'” (pg. 126)

There are a great many references to Noah’s Ark, Paradise Lost, and the like, and while readers can presume they are meant to be amusing in the land of wonder, they tend to fall a bit flat as there’s no real context or build-up to their usage.  For much of the novel, readers wonder why they are transitioning from the present to Wonderland — following Ada who is following Alice and following the governess and Alice’s sister, Lydia.

Although framing stories are often irksome, in this case, a frame might have improved the narrative here.  Allowing Ada to be the beginning and the end, while we examined what life was like without Alice in England.  However, even that would have made for a mostly uneventful story.  After Alice by Gregory Maguire is really just a case of a story chasing its own tale to no avail.

RATING: Couplet

About the Author:

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; Lost; Mirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includesWicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Now a beloved classic, Wicked is the basis for a blockbuster Tony Award–winning Broadway musical. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.  Find out more about Maguire at his website and follow him on Facebook.

Ming Goes to School by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Maja Löfdahl

Source: Sky Pony Press
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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Ming Goes to School by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Maja Löfdahl, is an introduction to school in a way that downplays the scary idea of separating from a parent and highlights the best parts of school.  Ming meets new friends, she learns to color and play, and she learns to let her imagination take wing.  Löfdahl’s soft watercolor illustrations are gorgeous, producing a calming effect that is matched by the simple text provided by Sullivan.

Ming Goes to School by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Maja Löfdahl, is a good introduction for younger kids who have not been exposed to preschool or kindergarten yet.  My daughter was less than enchanted with this one, which I suspect is because she’s heading into Kindergarten and already has graduated from Junior K.  For younger kids, this could help ease them into a big transition by focusing on the positive aspects of school and growing up.

RATING: Tercet

The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor by Teddy Durgin

Source: Gift
Paperback, 212 pgs.
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***I want to disclose that I’ve known Teddy a very long time and he’s my co-worker and friend, but this has very little influence on my review of this novel.***

The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor by Teddy Durgin is a mystery novel chock full of 1980s movies, music, and nostalgia.  Sam Eckert is a 15-year-old boy living in Laurel, Md., and he’s one of those boys who is on the outside looking into the popular crowds.  Since entering high school, he’s experienced bullying and lived an ordinary life, even as his friend and crush Barbara makes her way to the in-crowd via Muffy McGregor.  Summer 1986 is Sam’s time to make something happen, and he figures if he takes a job at 16 Plus, he’ll have a chance to interact with Barbara and maybe get her to go out with him.

Chip Roundtree and Buddy Bradford are his best friends — the ones that trade movie quotes and other pop culture moments.  When a explosion rocks the Laurel Center Mall, Sam is thrust into the center of a murder mystery.  Who killed Muffy McGregor, the most popular girl in high school?  Was it her jock boyfriend, Brent, or was it a jealous friend, like Barbara, or maybe it was someone no one knew?  Sam decides to team up with Private Investigator Rabinowitz to solve the murder after a newspaper article about her death hurtles him head first into popularity.

Durgin certainly has a firm grip on the 1980s, and his movie references are spot on, and make this mystery funny in several places.  He’s adhered to the culture of the time and references stores that are no longer in business.  Readers will see how much life has changed for teenagers, but also how much it has stayed the same.  His characters are quirky and fun, but they also must deal with real-life issues like bullying and how to interact with the most popular kids in school without looking like total buffoons.

Readers will have to suspend disbelief that a private investigator would allow a teenage boy to help him solve a murder, but in Sam’s case, even if Rabinowitz had not taken him along, he would have likely done it on his own.  It also seems as though Sam’s friend, Buddy, disappears almost entirely from the narrative.  Despite these quibbles, the novel is a quick read for the poolside this summer. The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor by Teddy Durgin is a satisfying trip into the 1980s, and the mystery is well crafted. I do hope that there are future installments.

RATING: Quatrain (really this is 3.5 for me, but I round up)

TeddyDurginPicAbout the Author:

Teddy Durgin is a devoted film lover and a trained journalist who has reported on the entertainment industry since 1997. He runs Teddy’s Takes, a movie review subscription service, which is equally as amusing as this book and is a mere $20 for Baltimore-Washington area subscribers who attend free preview screenings he sponsors and $12 for those elsewhere.  He’s also a writer for several newspapers and journals, as well as a senior editor at SmithBucklin.

The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews

Source: Tandem Literary
Hardcover, 464 pgs.
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The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews is a summer beach read in which the Belle Isle residents view the vacationers as “weekenders” and pay them as little attention as possible, but Riley Nolan’s family has been on the island since it’s inception.  Her marriage to Wendell Griggs may be rocky, but her family’s business has kept the destination raking in the tourists, even if Wendell has grander plans for the place than she or her family imagined.  Andrews’ books are usually fast-paced, romantic reads that are perfect for the beach bag and summer, but this one seemed too jammed packed with too many subplots and mysteries.

Riley uncovers a great many misdeeds by her husband after his death, and she’s forced to rethink her cushy life as a stay-at-home mom to a diabetic daughter, Maggy, who worshiped her father.  Much of the book is spent on the mystery involving her husband’s death, but there are also mysteries and reveals that seemingly come from no where.  They’re woven in so quickly to provide a new suspect that some are just not believable.  Maggy also is a pre-teen and she acts more like a teenager, sneaking out and hanging with the wrong crowd.  Her attitude is reprehensible, and while it might be believable to a certain extent given the sudden death of her father, readers may tire of it.

The quick reunion of Riley and her college crush at the end is sweet, but it’s the initial meeting and build up of their relationship that will leave readers breathless.  It’s clear that they are right for one another, and they want the same things, but will a broken-hearted child break them up for good?  The Weekenders by Mary Kay Andrews is a good read, and it’s entertaining with all the twists and turns in the mystery, but it seems as though some aspects could have been tightened up to keep the pace on track.

RATING: Tercet

Other Books Reviewed:

About the Author:

Mary Kay Andrews is the author of the New York Times bestselling SAVANNAH BREEZE and BLUE CHRISTMAS, (HarperCollins) as well as HISSY FIT, LITTLE BITTY LIES and SAVANNAH BLUES, all HarperPerennial.

A former reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she wrote ten critically acclaimed mysteries, including the Callahan Garrity mystery series, under her “real” name, which is Kathy Hogan Trocheck.

She has a B.A. in newspaper journalism from The University of Georgia (go Dawgs!), and is a frequent lecturer and writing teacher at workshops including Emory University, The University of Georgia’s Harriet Austin Writer’s Workshop, the Tennessee Mountain Writer’s Workshop and the Antioch Writer’s Workshop. Her mysteries have been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha and Macavity Awards.

Mr. Darcy’s Refuge: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Abigail Reynolds (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 9+ hrs
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Mr. Darcy’s Refuge: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Abigail Reynolds, narrated by Pearl Hewitt, is a variation that begins in a flood — a flood of the river near Hunsford during the disastrous proposal of Mr. Darcy and a flood of emotion.  Thankfully, Darcy’s proposal is interrupted by the villagers who seek refuge at the house and in the nearby barn, requiring Darcy to focus his energies on those he deems it his duty to protect and care for, including Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who happened to be at Hunsford because of a headache.  Reynolds carries the characteristic banter and misunderstandings through this variation, but given the current situation, Miss Bennet may be viewed as compromised unless Darcy marries her.

An entertaining variation, but it could be viewed coolly by some readers who prefer certain characters to remain as they view them in Austen’s original work.  Mr. Bennet, for example, is not his laid back, mocking self so much as an ogre spurred by adolescent grudges from his own past, and Colonel Fitzwilliam, who is jovial, seems a bit less enamored with Miss Bennet than readers may expect.  Despite these character changes, the kernel of Austen’s characters remains beneath the surface.  Readers, however, will most likely object to Jane Bennet’s new perspective and on Bingley’s less than amiable nature.  Of all the variations available, Reynolds is testing her readership’s preconceptions and she’s forcing them to consider something very new.

The narrator does a commendable job, but at the beginning, I was less-than-impressed by her voice for Mr. Darcy — he sounded very angry all of the time, but that tapered off about halfway through.  Her narration of the other characters was wonderfully done, though Charlotte sounded very high-pitched and very similar to the young girl rescued during the flood.

Mr. Darcy’s Refuge: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Abigail Reynolds, narrated by Pearl Hewitt, will test readers’ notions about Austen’s characters.  Most of the plot centers on Darcy and Elizabeth, as readers would expect, but the subplots — especially those involving Jane, Bingley, and the Colonel — seemed rushed and under-developed.  This was a satisfying listen over a few days in the summer heat, but this reader wanted more from the secondary characters and the bit about the rescued girl seemed very rushed.

RATING: Tercet

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Abigail Reynolds has spent the last fifty years asking herself what she wants to be when she grows up. This month she is a writer, a mother and a physician in a part-time private practice. Next month is anybody’s guess. Originally from upstate New York, she indecisively studied Russian, theater, and marine biology before deciding to attend medical school, a choice which allowed her to avoid any decisions at all for four years.

She began writing Pride & Prejudice variations in 2001 to spend more time with her very favorite characters. Encouragement from fellow Austen fans convinced her to continue asking ‘What if…?’, which led to seven other Pemberley Variations and two modern novels set on Cape Cod.

How the Crayons Saved the Rainbow by Monica Sweeney, illustrated by Feronia Parker Thomas

Source: Sky Pony Press
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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How the Crayons Saved the Rainbow by Monica Sweeney, illustrated by Feronia Parker Thomas, is a delightful book that will remind young readers of their own drawings with pencil and crayons.  The sun and clouds are best friends, but one little disagreement puts them at odds and drains the colors from the world.  A forgotten box of crayons in a desk draw escape and are appalled at the doom and gloom of grays, blacks, and whites.  They set forth creating rainbows to restore some cheer.

When they see that their efforts to get the attention of the sun and clouds goes unnoticed, they strive to make their displays bigger and better.  Like children looking for attention, their efforts often get bigger and more ostentatious, often pushing the buttons of their parents.  However, this is not the same.  These crayons are developing gorgeous rainbows and make one of the biggest to get the sun and clouds to remember their own fondness for making them.

How the Crayons Saved the Rainbow by Monica Sweeney, illustrated by Feronia Parker Thomas, aims to demonstrate how children can have disagreements with one another, but how those disagreements can be overcome and resolved without coming to blows.  The illustrations will capture the attention of young children easily and may incite them to create their own rainbows.  My daughter has been drawing them for several weeks since reading this one.

RATING: Quatrain

Sweets & Treats With Six Sisters’ Stuff

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 176 pgs.
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Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters’ Stuff: 100+ Desserts, Gift Ideas, and Traditions for the Whole Family is a fun book for the sweet-tooth in your family or for those gatherings, like book club, where you’re sick of making the same old treats.  The Six Sisters are masters at combining ready-made products in the grocery store with original recipes, as well as creating recipes from scratch.

When I got this book out of the library, we went through and selected recipes we all wanted to try.  My husband chose Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches for a gather we had with several kids, and the kids loved making them.  I’d recommend this for hot summer days when you have cookies and ice cream on hand or you could make your own cookies.  I chose to make Oatmeal Scotchie Blondies, which we shared with our daughter’s preschool class, since it made more than a dozen.  These were more like bars and something happened with the recipe that made these harder than expected.  Perhaps it was because I had to substitute some brown sugar for white sugar.  I’m not a culinary expert.

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The final recipe we made, and one we’ll likely make again, was shared with book club in June.  Mint Oreo Brownies were easy to make, using brownie mixes and Oreo cookies, as well as marshmallow creme.  The recipe called for food coloring and mint extract to make a light green colored marshmallow and frosting.  These were such a hit with book club that we only had two left, and I also cut the recipe down to one box of brownie mix.

Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters’ Stuff: 100+ Desserts, Gift Ideas, and Traditions for the Whole Family has recipes that are so easy to use, and as long as, users know how many people they are feeding, the recipes can be adjusted.  The cookbook includes recipes for other brownies, cakes, cookies, and bars, as well as pies, no-bake treats, and ice cream.  It’s definitely a cookbook to keep on hand.

RATING: Cinquain

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The California Wife by Kristen Harnisch

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity
Paperback, 432 pgs.
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The California Wife by Kristen Harnisch is everything readers will want in a sequel and more.  I would recommend reading this after reading The Vintner’s Daughter.

***Spoilers for previous book below***

The Lemieux family has a wide open future ahead of them as their California vineyard seeks to become one of the best. Sara continues to be independent and strive for the revival of her family’s vineyard in France, while her husband continues to perceive himself as the lone captain of the family ship. He’s as hard-headed as she is, but when it comes to the wine business, they both know their stuff. Unfortunately for him, his wife has a mind of her own and will not back down when she sets her sights on something she wants for herself and their future. As they navigate their new marriage, their family faces threats from within their neighborhood and from outside — competing vineyards plagued by phylloxera and the price wars and prohibition. Although their love has been tested in the previous book, it remains to be seen if that love can overcome their headstrong notions about winemaking and their roles in that business.

Harnisch’s characters are wonderfully drawn, and while Sara is independent and a bit childish at times when she wants her way, it’s not surprising given the age difference between herself and her husband. She’s a bit more emotional given the tragedies she’s dealt with beginning in early adolescence, while he’s a bit more practical, working through all the facts and figures to find the best solution to their business problems. Aurora remains the mother Sara doesn’t have in California, guiding her through grief and disagreements, but she’s also a mother to her husband, helping him realize his dreams and steering him to less volatile waters where his wife is concerned. She’s an excellent sounding board.

Even though readers may want to see more of the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, Harnisch provides enough of a glimpse to understand the role American winemakers played in the competition and how they were viewed by the rest of the world. As the Lemieux family navigates the world stage, some of their old friends come back into their lives, including midwife Marie Chevreau, who embarks on a struggle of her own against patriarchy. The California Wife by Kristen Harnisch is a saga you’ll want to read over the summer with a glass of white or red wine, most likely from Napa Valley, and soak in the tannins and ferment.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Kristen Harnisch’s ancestors emigrated from Normandy, France, to Canada in the 1600s. She is a descendant of Louis Hebert, who came to New France from Paris with Samuel de Champlain and is considered the first Canadian apothecary. She has a degree in economics from Villanova University and now lives in Connecticut. The Vintner’s Daughter, her debut novel, is the first in a series about the changing world of vineyard life at the turn of the century.