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Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 160 pgs.
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Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski provides introductory information about computer science and coding, equating it to “the arts,” which can help kids see how they can use science to create. I liked this perspective in the introduction. I started out by reading the introduction myself and explaining it to my daughter in brief so she could follow along with the activities.

The text is a bit dense for my 8-year-old, but the activities are engaging enough for her education level. Some of these entry-level activities may be too elementary for older kids. To introduce kids to coding, the book explains logical thinking and why coding is necessary. It can help robots find things and decipher codes, and so much more. It was a good idea to share this with our daughter, but some of this may be more advanced than we expected.  It’s definitely a keeper.

Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski offers a lot of computer science inside concepts and activities for kids to try with their parents. On her own, our daughter would probably not have gotten very far because she’s not the right age for it. I think this would be better for older children. We still enjoyed our time with the book.

RATING: Quatrain

The Book of Queens: Legendary Leaders, Fierce Females, and Wonder Women Who Ruled the World by Stephanie Warren Drimmer

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 176 pgs.
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The Book of Queens: Legendary Leaders, Fierce Females, and Wonder Women Who Ruled the World by Stephanie Warren Drimmer breaks down 100 of the top female leaders of our history into bite-sized bits that younger readers can digest. It would be a fantastic addition to any classroom looking to expose students to these extraordinary women — rulers, fighters, entertainers, scientists, and so much more. The book includes a list of familiar names like Joan of Arc, Marie Curie, Queen Elizabeth, Aretha Franklin, Ellen DeGeneres, and Helen Keller alongside less familiar female leaders, like Joan Cooney who helped create Sesame Street, Claudia Alexander who discovered Jupiter’s 21 moons, and Jeannette Rankin who helped get the 19th Amendment passed to give women the right to vote.

My daughter and I started out reading various ladies’ biographies haphazardly as she saw pictures that intrigued her enough to ask questions. We loved learning about the women who were familiar to me, but also those that were not. I love that there were so many women featured from traditionally male-dominated industries like space science. We’ll likely continue looking through this book and learning about different women.

The Book of Queens: Legendary Leaders, Fierce Females, and Wonder Women Who Ruled the World by Stephanie Warren Drimmer is a look at all of the women who have significant influence on politics, the world of science, fashion, music, and so much more. Included are a few short bios of men who may have influenced society as well. Drimmer makes each bio engaging and short enough to keep the interest of younger readers, which will get them thinking about where they can find more information about these famous women and men.

RATING: Quatrain

The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas

Source: publisher/TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 304 pgs.
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Nearly 250 years after Jane Austen’s birth, her popularity continues to gain momentum. With the number of spinoffs, continuations, and variations of her work soaring each year, the impetus of her popularity has been attributed to many things, including the scholarly study of her novels and the relatively relatable topics she explored. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas takes a different approach to the discussion by examining those editions of Austen’s novels that often fell out of circulation, were read until they fell apart, were produced using the same printing plates time and again, and were cheap enough for those of the working class to buy them on occasion.

Don’t be fooled! This is not a book about those illustrious, high-priced, out-of-reach (for most of us) first editions of Austen’s novels.

Complete with 100 full-color photographs of covers that hearken back to the penny dreadfuls, yellow-backs, and dime store copies with pulp-like covers on wire racks, Barchas has sought the history of the mass produced Austen novel. Many of which are held in private hands not by collectors, but by ordinary people. Some of these covers depict Lydia making a fool of herself at Brighton in Pride & Prejudice, Mary Crawford seducing Edmund, and much more scandalous behavior.

“Austen’s reputation has benefited from every significant modern innovation in the making and marketing of cheap books over the past two centuries. That reception history, starting in earnest with her first reprintings in the 1830s, doubles as the story of the increasingly inexpensive book,” says Barchas in the preface.

Richard Bentley is often credited with Austen’s increased popularity, but Barchas makes her case that it was more than his Standard Novels reprint series in 1833. She contends that those novels were still too expensive. Barchas adds that those volumes were soon joined with far cheaper versions of Austen’s novels, which may have had a greater impact on widening her popularity. “Not only was Jane Austen present among the earliest experiments in mass-market paperbacks,” says Barchas, “but these lowly books prove how her entrance into the literary canon occurred in a much cruder fashion than most of her fans today imagine.”

Later, Penguin Books created their own paperback versions that are color-coded by type: fiction, mystery, etc. As we move through Barchas’s nonlinear history of Austen’s covers, some new editions are more elaborate with red cloth covers, cursive writing, and more traditional looks, compared to the melodramatic scenes of previous covers.

Did you know that Austen’s books were used to sell soap? Or that paintings were used as a way to sell Austen’s books? And I bet you thought Austen marketed as “ChickLit” was a recent phenomenon, but it actually first started in the 1840s. Barchas provides readers with not only gorgeously photographed covers, wonderful vignette’s about owners’ copies of Austen’s works, and so much more. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas is a must have for Janeites and Janites alike. If you’re still shopping this holiday season, you cannot go wrong with this book. Remember, most of us read books that were mass-printed paperbacks in school, not the hardcover, first editions that are coveted by collectors today. The mass-printed books are the lifeblood of any author, especially if they hope to survive century after century.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Janine Barchas is the Louann and Larry Temple Centennial Professor of English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity and Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. She is also the creator behind What Jane Saw.

Were We Awake: Stories by L.M. Brown

Source: the author
Paperback, 236 pgs.
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Were We Awake: Stories by L.M. Brown explores our own hidden lives and the lies we tell ourselves just to keep up appearances or bury the pain we feel. Funny thing about lies, they have a way of surfacing when we least expect it. Some lies come to light when we’re children and blow our idyllic lives to bits and change us for years, while others are of our own making and we only hurt ourselves when we refuse to acknowledge them.

Brown’s characters are every day people living sometimes hard lives and other times simple lives, but none of them are easy. Some have lost themselves since marriage or children, while others have never had the chance to find themselves before tragedy strikes. Set abroad in Ireland and other locations, as well as in Massachusetts, these families find that their own lives are not what they thought they were. Brown understands how to write the lives of ordinary people, those who work hard for a living and those who are house wives caring for children. Although these are modern families, in many ways they could be the families in small towns in any time period with a few detail changes.

One of the most harrowing is the tragic death of Nick Moody, and his story reverberates through the tiny community, the life of a young bar worker, Margaret, who runs to Australia, and through the lives of his wife and mistress. This is a death that is as yet unsolved by the police, but despite the speculation of what happened to Nick, the townspeople would be surprised by the hidden lives of his intimate circle, including Nick.

Were We Awake: Stories by L.M. Brown is a collection of stories that is engaging from page one to the end. I couldn’t put it down and read it in one day. I was riveted. Not all of these stories will be for everyone, as there is adultery and other hard topics to read, but there is nothing overly graphic here. Brown is a masterful writer of short stories; you’ll turn the last page and feel as if waking from a dream – a dream you’ll be happy to have left, but conscious of its lessons.

RATING: Cinquain

Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams

Source: Poet
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams, winner of The Backwaters Press Prize for Poetry, is similar in theme to his other collection, As One Fire Consumes Another, in that there is an exploration of dark tragedy, lost identity, and more, but there are moments of hope and light — a common hopeful dream. “Because skin has a memory all its own and because memory is a language that’s survived its skin,” he says in the title poem drawing parallels between the memories and weights we carry through life with the greater memory we leave behind. He reminds us in “Then We Will Make Our Own Demons” that we tend to tie significance to moments in time that are not as earth shattering as we suspect them to be: “When your name is less an arrow/ … /instead it is a thread dissolving/into a forgotten wound. When all woulds/have hints of birds in them…/”

Williams explores the hurts and sadness of childhood, while speaking about how those moments shape us and our worlds when we internalize them, but how those moments often fade into the background becoming less significant. As the collection moves away from growing up into adulthood, Williams speaks about the moments in which we look back and realize our lives have taken turns we never expected.

In “Poison Oak,” there is the helplessness we all may feel some day, particularly when a child becomes ill and all we can do is rock them in our arms and hope they will recover. “I do know there’s a crying boy/the coarse cradle of my hands/cannot rock into immunity,” he says. But he also explores larger societal issues, like the loss of peers in a hail of bullets in “Killing Lesson.” These poems beg us to look at those “earth shattering” moments of our lives with greater perspective. To review our lives with an empathetic eye toward those around us, who may be carrying heavier burdens, having more tragedy than we ever could.

Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams is an amazing collection that tackles large themes while grounding each moment in real life. A harrowing collection that strives for peace and hope, a journey into the self and outside of it. We have a memory, and there’s a memory of life that surrounds us. When the skin of us is gone, where do those memories go, how do they live on? They live on in the words we share, the stories we tell, and the moments we cherish with others. Connection is the greatest gift of all.

RATING: Cinquain

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When Jane Got Angry by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: the author
Audible, 3+ hours
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When Jane Got Angry by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, explores a “what if” scenario regarding Jane Bennet’s reaction to when she learns the Bingley’s have been in London and that Caroline has effectively kept Mr. Bingley in the dark about her presence in the city. This novella will have you on your toes for a bit, especially as Jane Bennet becomes a bit more daring like her sister, Lizzy, and seeks to “bump” into Mr. Bingley on the streets of London.

Kincaid’s Jane has a bit more backbone that Austen’s original, and I enjoyed her “light” scheming. She’s no where near the level of Caroline Bingley, but she does give her a run for her money. We also find a different Mr. Bingley in Kincaid’s work. He’s prone to being led about in Austen’s novel, but when he learns that people he loves have meddled with his happiness look out! Although there are breaks in social convention, there’s nothing overly outrageous — just a pushing of the boundary here and there.

Zimmerman is a fantastic narrator as always, and I never lost interest in the story with her narrative lead.

When Jane Got Angry by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a wonderful addition to Jane Austen-related fan fiction. My one complaint would probably be I wanted to know more of what Lizzy would have thought of Jane acting more like her. Wonderfully written and no loss ends. Kincaid has a talent for these kinds of “what if” stories.

RATING: Quatrain

Don’t Read This Book Before Dinner by Anna Claybourne

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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Don’t Read This Book Before Dinner by Anna Claybourne is perfect for any kid who loves slime and grossness. From rodents and spiders to the uses of spit and the evolution of toilets, this book as it all.

My daughter loves these kinds of books, even if there are things in there that gross her out, like birds that make nests from their spit and then those empty nests are eaten by Southeast Asian people as a delicacy. She was thrilled when she could do an experiment of wiping her tongue dry before putting a potato chip on it — lo and behold, she couldn’t taste it!

There are also quizzes throughout to test what you’ve learned, as well as if you have any common sense. One of my daughter’s favorites was the much needed break of cuteness in the middle of the book.

Don’t Read This Book Before Dinner by Anna Claybourne can provide a couple hours of entertainment for a family, and we enjoyed seeing who got the right answers on the quizzes. We had a really gross time with this one, and we’re all in agreement that we won’t be eating spiders or bugs no matter how much protein they have compared to a burger.

RATING: Quatrain

The Broken God by Laura Roklicer

Source: the poet
Paperback, 89 pgs.
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The Broken God by Laura Roklicer is a slim, questioning collection in which trauma and broken pieces are picked up, rearranged, and reassembled into something hopeful and more beautiful. We all make mistakes and feel pain when we lose someone we love, even those who leave us that we know were no good for us. But like many of us, these poems speak to the root of the problem.

In “Cowards,” the narrator asks, “Can you even tell/the good from the bad?/We’re noble for the world,/cowards for ourselves.” (pg. 37) How many times do we speak for others without raising our own voices for our own selves? How many times do we offer advice to others that we don’t even listen to in our own lives?

From "Follow Me" (pg. 73)

Put some more make up on my soul,
Shape me into something my love wouldn't recognise.
Give me something my hatred won't laugh at.

This fear of advocating for ourselves leaves others to do it for us or no one at all to do it. Roklicer looks at these situations from multiple angles — a person who drinks and drinks, a person who molds into the life of another and loses it all — these are the broken gods. The broken people unable to pick themselves up and rearrange into better people. But all is not lost.

The Broken God by Laura Roklicer explores our turmoil — internal and external — as we search for something outside ourselves to make us feel complete. But what we need — the god we seek — is within us all. We only need to reach out and grab hold.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Laura Roklicer is a 23-year-old freelance writer, scriptwriter, lyricist and a filmmaker, whose educational background is in film production and psychology. She has worked with over a hundred artists worldwide and is a citizen of the world who doesn’t believe in borders that people put up (geographical or mental) and finds her thrill exploring different areas of the world, as well as exploring the cultural differences, individuality, and different worldviews.

She believes the true beauty of nature lays in those differences and the power of subjectivity. Laura is on a mission to contribute to the world change for the better and she hopes to do so through her writing and films. Please view the Book Teaser on Facebook.

View the guest post.

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Other Possible Lives by Chrissy Kolaya

Source: the poet
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Other Possible Lives by Chrissy Kolaya is an exploration of what if — the nature of the other and what it must be to immerse ourselves in those “other” lives. Would they make us long for our own lives more and appreciate them with grace? Or would an exploration of those lives lead us to make drastic changes in our own? These are just some of the questions that underlie these scenarios, ranging from the troubled house sitters in the opening of the collection to the forlorn lover at the end who is bound to make the same error again.

From "How to Leave Behind" (pg. 15)

She said the way to do it was
to look at a photo of them.
Look at it until their faces
melt away into lines,
until words like brother fall away

and swirl around the shape that's left.
To focus on the mouth,
then the eyes,
then the arms and legs as if they all belonged
to different people.

Kolaya’s poems are rooted in the possible lives we could have and allows us to examine the truth of those lives and the truth in our own lives. Other Possible Lives by Chrissy Kolaya answers our “what if” questions but leaves us with so much more. There’s a greater insight here hearkening back to the adage “the grass is always greener on the other side’ at least from where you are viewing it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Chrissy Kolaya is a poet and fiction writer, author of Charmed Particles: a novel and two books of poems: Any Anxious Body and Other Possible Lives (forthcoming fall 2019). Her work has been included in the anthologies New Sudden Fiction (Norton), Fiction on a Stick (Milkweed Editions), and Stone, River, Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems, as well as in a number of literary journals.

She has received a Norman Mailer Writers Colony summer scholarship, an Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies fellowship, a Loft Mentor Series Award in Poetry, and grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Lake Region Arts Council, and the University of Minnesota. As one of the co-founders of the Prairie Gate Literary Festival, she worked to develop the literary arts community in rural western Minnesota. She now teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida.

The Guests on South Battery by Karen White

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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The Guests on South Battery (Tradd Street #5) by Karen White is another page turning mystery with Melanie and her husband, Jack Trenholm, on Tradd Street. Their twins are thriving and growing, but Melanie’s ability to communicate with the dead has been hibernating or intermittent at best. As a year has passed of maternity leave, Melanie is ready to return to her real estate work selling historic homes and more in Charleston.

A call in the middle of the night leaves Melanie questioning the quiet in her life and the possible return of ghosts. She and Jack seem to be on track as he works on a new book, but it is clear that they need more full-time help. A nanny just happens to fall into her lap when she returns to work.

Melanie reverts to her insecurities in this tale even as she strives to be a stronger woman and communicate with her husband. Jack also needs a bit of help in the communication department. While Melanie can be a frustrating character and this mystery is easy to resolve at least where the nanny is concerned, the tale is told in a sufficiently twisted way. The ghosts are malevolent and innocent here in a battle.

The Guests on South Battery (Tradd Street #5) by Karen White uncovers more family secrets that Melanie must deal with, and it is her maturity here that redeems Melanie a little bit. Readers will like the ghosts and mystery in this tale, but Melanie still has some growing up to do.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Karen White is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and currently writes what she refers to as ‘grit lit’—Southern women’s fiction—and has also expanded her horizons into writing a mystery series set in Charleston, South Carolina. Karen hails from a long line of Southerners but spent most of her growing up years in London, England and is a graduate of the American School in London. When not writing, she spends her time reading, scrapbooking, playing piano, and avoiding cooking. She currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two children, and two spoiled Havanese dogs.

Giveaway: Green Card & Other Essays by Áine Greaney

Source: the author
Paperback, 75 pgs.
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Green Card & Other Essays by Áine Greaney is a look at the immigration experience from an Irish American. Although many cite economics as the main impetus for immigration, there are always secondary factors that push people to leave the countries where they were born. And many, even after many years of productive lives as Americans, still have that fear that they will be sent home where they no longer have a connection.

From “Introduction”:

“In the dream, my American venture has suddenly failed and now, I must repatriate to rural Ireland where, in middle age, I have no country and no money. The dream startles me awake. As I lie there staring at the ceiling fan above my bed, I wonder how many of us immigrants live with this persistent fear that one day, all that we have built and loved in America will disappear.”

While not an immigrant myself, I can see how this would be a major concern today and before today. Some of my immediate family are immigrants and struggled hard in their jobs to make ends meet. There many stories about their sacrifices — how my grandmother gave the meet to my father and his brother and ate next to nothing herself every evening. These are the stories of our country. The underlying darkness of these struggles is that not only are immigrants working hard, but they also face discrimination and bias at every turn. Whether its the passing comment about an accent or more blatant comments about their work ethic.

Greaney touches on all of these issues based on her own immigrant experience and her “ah-ha” moment when she realized she carries her own biases against other immigrants. But she also touches on how we all strive to hold up a mirror to the life we wish to have, rather than the reality of our lives. This is ever more pronounced in letters home from immigrants who focus on the moments of joy rather than the daily turmoil in factories, restaurants, etc., which are the main focus of their new lives in America. But all of this struggle is to have that dreamed of better life. Green Card & Other Essays by Áine Greaney is a must read — we need more of these voices to educate us about immigrant experiences to dissipate our false perceptions.

RATING: Cinquain

GIVEAWAY:

  • Comment with your own immigrant story or one from your family or books that stuck with you or changed your viewpoint below.
  • 2 winners will be selected to win a copy of this collection.
  • US Entrants Only
  • Deadline is Aug. 30, 2019 at 11:59 PM EST

Weird But True! USA

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 208 pgs.
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Weird But True! USA from National Geographic Kids is a slim volume of unusual facts about many U.S. states and American history. What state has plastic pink flamingos as their state bird? Which state named their fog Karl? Did you know that there was a dog in WWI who could salute? Did you know Russian salad dressing was not invented in Russia and originally contained part of a sea creature? There’s a really cool gargoyle on the National Cathedral in D.C., which I never knew about! And oh, how I wish I had a time machine to go back and have the original Twinkie filled with banana cream!

My daughter and I read this book off and on over a few weeks. Her favorite facts naturally had to do with ice cream and cats. She also wants to check out whether money is magnetic or not. And there are bound to be some facts that you already know, particularly if you live in the D.C. area — many are well known.

Weird But True! USA from National Geographic Kids is part of a series of books that are always informative, fun, and engaging for the entire family. This fourth of July, why not brush up on some weird facts about our country.  You won’t be disappointed.

RATING: Cinquain