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How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa hadn’t even been out of the package more than 10 minutes when my daughter snapped it up to read on her own after her first day of class. She is an artist, but sometimes she is not confident in what she chooses to create. In some cases, she creates something that is temporary and can be discard or transformed into something else. This is part of her process, I think, and I try not to interfere even if I want to keep her art permanently — this is where my phone camera comes in handy.

Krysa has created a book that artists and those who are just starting to get interested in art will love. It tells children that there are artists everywhere and that there a number of art jobs available for those who decide to make art their career. My daughter’s favorite part of the book is when it is interrupted for an important message about art bullies or as my daughter called the image on the page “the art blob.”

How to Spot an Artist by Danielle Krysa is a delightful read about being yourself and how art can turn into not only a career but also a lifelong passion. The goal of this book is to inspire kids to just create no matter what it looks like. The pictures are colorful and engaging, and the page on glitter is fantastic and so true. We really enjoyed this one.

RATING: Cinquain

When Mary Met the Colonel by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 2+ hours
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When Mary Met the Colonel by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a delightful novella with a meet-cute between Mary Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam at the wedding breakfast of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy at Longbourn. Mary is considered the religious one, but what if there was a bit of rebel in her too? Perhaps she’s more like Elizabeth than anyone suspects — she does do quite a bit of reading.

Zimmerman is always a delightful narrator and her inflections are fantastic. She makes the perfect match here as Mary’s voice, but even the men are narrated well. I expect nothing less.

Kincaid’s novella is short and sweet, and sadly that was the one drawback for me. I wanted to see more of them together and apart. I wanted more of the colonel in the battle scenes and more of his military mind explored on the battlefield. However, I did love the bits of impropriety here and thought that they worked out well. But once the cat is out of the bag, I suppose I expected a bit more “proper” response from Elizabeth and Darcy, but perhaps marriage has softened them.

Mary Bennet is full of surprises, and like her elder sister has a sharp mind and a bit of mischief in her. I was delighted to see a better side of Mary in this novella, and I loved that the Colonel could appreciate her. Their story is short and sweet, but there is no lack of tension when a lord comes to call at Matlock House and disrupts the whole will-they, won’t-they drama. This is the moment where having more would have helped the story line. I wanted to see how this Lord had become interested in Mary and what their interactions were like so when he arrives, I’m less surprised and confused by his sudden ardor.

When Mary Met the Colonel by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a satisfying story for a young lady too often left in the background, but here, she is center stage and shines brightly, especially when she gets her happily ever after.

RATING Quatrain

See my other reviews.

Pounce! a How to Speak Cat Training Guide

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain

Fetch! A How to Speak Dog Training Guide

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

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain

Tapping Out by Nandi Comer

Source: NetGalley
Ebook, 96 pgs.
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Tapping Out by Nandi Comer relies heavily on imagery and language tied to lucha libre, or Mexican freestyle wrestling, as she explores the roles of identity, changes in our identities, and the masks that we often wear when faced with violence, trauma, and other situations. The poems are like the high-flying maneuvers of the wrestlers in lucha libre and many times Comer references the colorful masks of the wrestler-narrators in the poems to explore unsettling realities of migrant and immigrant experience. There are bumps and bruises along the way, and it’s hard to turn away from Comer’s poems. Reality is harsh and she displays it all.

From "Rudo"

I am always undoing the language of my body.
my arms, my hair say
Black. Dark. English only.

From “Tecnico :La Mascara,” “In a year you can go to a mall or grocery store, walk through the dust of a market and everyone will know the bottom lip and callused forehead I have kept so long inside. M’hijo, before I let go of your face, someone will have to rip me apart.” Here the wrestler is concerned about how they will be remembered and how long it will take them to return to regular society because to be unmasked in the ring is career ending. There is a deep exhaustion throughout these poems — whether exhaustion from the identities assumed and being outside of the true self or from the fighting for just a piece of happiness and fleeting joy. But the wrestlers, just like the immigrants and minorities, do not have the option of “tapping out” from their lives. They have no choice but to keep fighting — or face death head on.

Tapping Out by Nandi Comer is a collection of narrative poems that melds the Mexican wrestling world with the realities of immigrants and minorities. It’s match after match, fear around the corner at every turn, and constant exhaustion in fighting to live. To ignore these narratives, is to ignore the humanity of all of us. To ignore the injustices of the world, is to be an ostrich with its head in the sand.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

NANDI COMER received a joint MFA/MA in Poetry and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University. She has received fellowships from the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Cave Canem, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center for the Arts. Her poems have appeared in Detroit Anthology (Rust Belt Chic Press, 2014), Blue Shift Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Green Mountains Review, Pluck!, Prairie Schooner, and Southern Indiana Review.

Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun by Paul Farrel

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Card set
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Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun by Pail Farrel is a box set of full color cards that you can interlock to create castles of traditional architecture or even something a little bit different. This set is for ages 3-5 years old, but I suspect younger kids would need help from their parents. I would venture to say this collection of cards is more for 5-8 year olds. There are 64 cards in the box with different architectural elements, which are explained in the pamphlet. The hefty card stock is useful in building sturdy structures, but the instructions are very minimal, which is why I would recommend this activity for older kids or as an activity for parents and kids to do together.

My one quibble would be the directions are not very clear for younger kids, so I definitely needed to show her what some of the photos were referring to — think IKEA directions. But my daughter and I had a great time, as you’ll see from the pictures below:

Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun by Pail Farrel was a fun afternoon activity amid COVID-19 quarantine. We had a good time building castles and towers for princesses with long hair. We’ll likely build again, but for now, the castles are disassembled and returned to the box. You need a new kind of activity for kids, this one could be the right one. Make sure you build on a stable surface!

RATING: Quatrain

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner (audio)

Source: Publisher
Audiobook, 9+ hours
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The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, narrated by Richard Armitage, combines not only my love of Jane Austen and her novels, but also WWII. Armitage does an admirable job narrating all eight of the main characters from the steadfast and stoic Dr. Gray to the U.S. starlet of Mimi Harrison. Each of the characters’ lives — Adam, Adeline, Andrew, Evie, Frances, Dr Gray, Mimi, and Yardley — are revealed slowly throughout the novel and how they connect to one another reminds me of those moments in movies where chance meetings create a lasting bond. Some of these characters also mirror those in Austen’s novels, like the awkward shyness of Dr. Gray and the forward-thinking Adeline. WWII is a perfect time period for these characters because of the loss endured by those whose family die in the war and how Austen’s novels tangentially spoke about the tensions between England and France. Set in Chawton, England, what better place for a Jane Austen society to form?!

“I just feel, when I read her, when I reread her–which I do, more than any other author–it’s as if she’s inside my head. Like music. My father first read the books to me when I was very young–he died when I was twelve–and I hear his voice, too, when I read her.”

Jenner’s novel pays homage to Austen in a way that many other variations don’t. She understands the Austen characters and their motivations, but in creating her characters and their motivations they are not talking to us as Austen’s characters but fans of Austen’s words, her thoughts, her dreams. Jenner’s characters want to talk about Austen in a way that helps them deal with their own losses and pains, but they also want to preserve Austen’s great novels for generations to come and to do so by preserving her home in Chawton, even if it is against the wishes of the owner, Mr. Knight.

I loved how class lines are crossed in Jenner’s novel and how forward-thinking women drive the action, but the men can be so obtuse sometimes. The funny little moments of misunderstanding are definitely reminiscent of Austen, but I was irked that Mimi failed to see the opportunist streak in Jack Leonard after awhile. She saw it at the beginning, but once she got comfortable, she lost all sense where he was concerned.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, narrated by Richard Armitage, is a book not to be missed by Janeites. I really loved Armitage’s narration — he was so soothing to listen to and he carried the character-driven novel really well. Do not miss out on this gem.

RATING: Cinquain

Check out an excerpt from the audio read by Richard Armitage:

Spotify users can access a playlist for The Jane Austen Society.

About the Author:

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. Visit her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and GoodReads pages.

Magnolia Table, Volume 2: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 352 pgs.
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Magnolia Table (Vol. 2): A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines is the second volume of recipes from Gaines, and this one was more thought out and planned than her previous volume, according to the introduction. Her previous volume focused on family favorites that she makes all the time, while this one chronicles her journey to learn about new foods, ingredients, and more. I really loved the substitutions chart because that will help me a great deal when I don’t have certain ingredients. I never know what to substitute. There are some great full-color photos in the book, but given the pandemic, there are some things that I couldn’t do at all, especially recipes requiring yeast (this has been non-existent for months).

The first recipe I tried was for Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes. We had just gotten some delivered from the local farmer’s market, so I was eager to try this recipe. One drawback is that there were not pictures for this recipe, but we assumed that Gaines cut the potatoes into french fry form, which is what we went with. It was pretty easy to follow, though for my family, I would definitely cut back on some of the rosemary and black pepper — several people said it was too spicy (my daughter included). The other thing I found was that 40 minutes was too long at 450 degrees. My over charred some of these fries, so I think next time I’ll just cook them for 30 minutes or keep a closer eye on them. But they still were tasty.

Gaines recommends serving these with Rib Eye Steaks, but we didn’t have any of that. We had meatloaf with beans.

The next recipe I tried was for French Silk Pie, which had some really easy to follow steps. I really enjoyed this recipe and will be making it again, since it was a big hit even if there was a problem with my crust. I think pre-made crust is best for me. This recipe does have a full-color picture that helped me determine if my ingredients were working together as they should.

Everyone ignored the terrible crust and said the pie itself was delicious. I really enjoyed making this one, and I’ll be happy to make it again. I already have plans to try making it with a graham cracker crust.

While I didn’t get to make the pizzas I wanted to because of the lack of yeast, I plan to make those when things are more available in the stores. Some of the recipes in this book, however, we probably won’t make unless my kiddo and mom become more adventurous in their eating. I do want to check out the first volume of recipes in the first book, because I suspect those recipes will be better for my family.

Magnolia Table (Vol. 2): A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines is a good cookbook with a ton of information for budding chefs at home. While not everything suited my family’s taste, I’m sure that it will be a big hit with others. I do wish there were more pictures in the cookbook, but that’s because I love full-page photos of food. It helps me see how delicious it will look when I’m done cooking.

RATING: Quatrain

Turn It Up! A Pitch Perfect History of Music That Rocked the World

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 192 pgs.
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From National Geographic Kids, Turn It Up! A Pitch Perfect History of Music That Rocked the World, is a collection of fun music facts in a condensed format with colorful photographs and more. I enjoyed the parts about sound waves, and rhythm (which I don’t have) and harmony versus melody as a way of introducing music fundamentals to kids. My daughter was amazed that the earliest instrument was 40,000 years ago and was a flute made of bone. She was a bit creeped out by that knowledge, but she did find the other early instruments inside the book interesting. She already knows a little bit about the types of notes, thanks to Yunique Music School.

The most fascinating parts of this book for me were there tidbits about the actual musicians, like how Niccolo Paganini had sold his soul to the Devil in order to play so well every time he appeared before an audience while on the road. I enjoyed learning about Antonin Dvorak, one of my favorite composers, and the influence of America and Native Americans in his work — which makes absolute sense when you listen to his New World Symphony. I also learned something I didn’t know about one of my mom’s favorites, Glenn Miller, who apparently vanished while fighting in WWII. Cab Calloway is a figure I vaguely recall seeing as child and probably on Sesame Street, but I just loved his energy as a kid, and I had no idea that he used cartoon characters as part of his shows.

From National Geographic Kids, Turn It Up! A Pitch Perfect History of Music That Rocked the World, is chock full of information about musical composers, instruments, and the evolution of music, but it also has so much about recent musicians toward the end. It seems like it is heavy on new artists, which is probably because of the younger audience, but it is good to see how these younger artists are being remembered now, rather than years and years into the future.

RATING: Quatrain

The Floating Door by M. E. Silverman

Source: the poet
Paperback, 92 pgs.
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The Floating Door by M.E. Silverman is a collection of poems that explores several schoolyard rhymes — “Step on a Crack” — and the experience of growing up in America, alongside the feeling of being an outsider in “The Last Jew” in Afghanistan. Silverman’s poems are a spiritual journey that is at times disconcerting, but also comforting. His poems look at American consumerism in a way that causes the reader to look at the life they imagine — the clean lines and everything in its place — and the life they lead, full of chaos and love.

One of the best looks at this is “Sitting in a Simulated Space at the Atlantic Station IKEA in Atlanta, Georgia,” in which the speaker is comfortably sitting in one of those staged rooms that the store is famous for, takes a book of poems from the shelf and begins to read. In this moment the speaker becomes part of the simulated room. But the illusion is broken when he decides to save the pages and rips them from the book and is caught by the eyes of a child in the store with her family. Silverman’s poems have children or child-like reactions in them to call attention to how discerning kids are to social cues and the visual moments around them, even if they don’t necessarily understand the words. In “‘I Don’t Believe,’ She Said, ‘In You.'” the narrator says, “He listened the way a/child presses an ear to a keyhole,” and readers can see the intensity of that moment — a spying on an adult conversation when one adult is exasperated with the other. The whole of the poem calls attention to a lack of attention we all have in arguments and moments of frustration — when we take less care in choosing our words and how those words can be interpreted by the listener a different way than what they were intended.

Silverman’s imagination is on full display in his descriptions, like this from “Response to: I Can’t Get Off the Couch”: “Look, the couch/would love nothing more than to waste the day caped with a shawl, laying/ burdened on someone’s back like Atlas, but honestly the couch is waiting for/the right cover to turn it almost youthful & beautiful, waiting for the vibrating/wonder of the vacuum so it can come clean, eyeing the shapely Victorian/curves of the love-seat, waiting & waiting for it to make the first move.” Oh, this unrequited love, the longing from across the room. Just beautiful.

Many of these poems offer surprise reactions in them: sensuality, families that have grown distant except for the love of a child that appears constant, and mirror images of suffering and displacement. There is a disconnect that is explored between being American and the Jewish religion, but within that feeling of disconnect, the narrator of the poems takes a journey to reconnect. The Floating Door by M.E. Silverman is a collection that moves the reader in and out of detachment in an effort to demonstrate that the feeling is fleeting and there is more to connect us with others than first appears to the eye.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

M. E. Silverman is the author of The Floating Door (Glass Lyre Press, 2018), The Breath Before Birds Fly (ELJ Press, 2013). The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary American Jewish Poetry (2013), which he co-edited with Deborah Ager, The Plume Anthology of Long-ish Poems (Madhat Press, 2018), which he co-edited with Andrew McFayden-Ketchum, and a forthcoming Holocaust anthology co-edited with Howard Debs. His work has appeared in over 90 journals including: Crab Orchard Review, Blood Orange Review, December, Town Creek Poetry, Chicago Quarterly Review, North Chicago Review, Battersea Review, The Naugatuck River Review, Many Mountains Moving, Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology, The Los Angeles Review, Pacific Review, StorySouth, I-70 Review, UCity Review, Tupelo Quarterly Review. You can also check out his journal, Blue Lyra Review, and his press, Blue Lyra Press.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens

Source: Author
Paperback, 292 pgs.
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Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens is the story of women in the workforce in the 1980s, long before the #MeToo movement began and when women endured workplace harassment and abuse with little recourse other than to quit or change jobs. Shelby Stewart is an intern at a PR firm in Boston where Astrid Ericcson is an up-and-coming account executive who is looking to make it to the top soon. Astrid’s flirty personality is in stark contrast to her cold shoulder she gives her coworkers and is juxtaposed with Shelby’s practical attitude. Both women hail from humble beginnings, but they are both eager to make their own way in the PR world.

Shelby has some demons to work through, and as she ignores them, those memories begin to flit into her consciousness and affect her health. She struggles on the dating scene and can’t figure out why until she finally admits what happened in her past. Meanwhile, Ericcson realizes that her flirty nature may have been interpreted in a way she didn’t intend when her boss comes sniffing around, making innuendos and sexual quid pro quo statements.

These women cannot be in one another’s company, but eventually the ice melts between them and they become a trio with Shelby’s friend Tina — the most well adjusted of the bunch. I liked that these women soon focus on themselves and become a supportive group, but they rely far too heavily on alcohol and dance club, one-night stands until nearly the end.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens is a look at the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace during the 1980s and how women were stuck with few options — tough it out or move to another company. It also examines the lasting effects of sexual molestation and abuse that occurs too often in the home — forever shaping the worldview of the children it directly impacts. Stevens is a talented storyteller and the book is a page-turner.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

S.M. Stevens began writing fiction during back-to-back health crises. First, she broke her pelvis in three places in a horseback riding fall, and used the recuperation period to write Shannon’s Odyssey, a middle-grade novel for animal-lovers. Soon after, Stevens was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. During her five months of treatment and subsequent recovery spell, she wrote Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers for musical theatre-loving teens. Two additional Bit Players novels followed. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is her first adult book. After watching reactions to the #MeToo movement, she decided it was time for a novel that takes people into the minds of victims so they can understand why many women don’t speak up about their harassment or assault, and why some do. When not writing, she provides marketing and public relations services to solar energy companies. She is from Gorham, Maine, and now lives in Clinton, Mass., and Washington, N.H. She has also lived in Italy and in the U.K., where she was Group Public Affairs Director for National Grid. Visit her Website, Facebook, on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, GoodReads, and on Amazon.

We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum is an adorable photography spread that will melt your heart with cute little baby animals. Esbaum uses rhyme to pinpoint the different aspects of these babies from webbed toes to wings. There are babies big and small, furry and feathery, and all full-fledged cute.

The book is for kids just learning words and different shapes, but my daughter loves cute baby animals (don’t we all). We would argue that this is a photography book for all ages. The images are crisp and detailed, and some are down right fun to look at. Esbaum’s witty rhymes make the book even more enjoyable for younger children — it’s almost song-like.

We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum is a great way to introduce young children to the natural world, different species of animals (which are all labeled in the final pages), and words like big and small. These images will make you smile, which is another reason just to have this book around.

RATING: Cinquain