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Crazy Brave–memoir of the U.S. Poet Laureate
by Joy Harjo
When the Poet Laureate of the United States writes a memoir, you can expect it to deviate from the standard timeline format, and Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave is anything but formulaic. She divides her book into four parts according to compass directions. As a Creek Indian, directions, nature, art, music, and family provide her orientation to life. Each section begins with poetic prose.
“East is the direction of beginnings.” She begins her tale this way and it is a little difficult to settle into the story as she shares her views from the eyes of a child filled with a mix of fear and adoration.
“North is the direction where the difficult teachers live.” In the second section, Harjo shares the realities of a brutal and abusive childhood in a time and culture that viewed spousal and child abuse and drunkenness as family problems to be either dealt with or endured within the family. After I read the book, I learned later through a webinar that this section was a very difficult one for Harjo to write. In fact, she got stuck for years on this part of her story with the book taking fourteen years to complete. There is redemption in her story, however, as education offers Harjo, as a teenager, a way out of her circumstances.
“West is the direction of endings.” In this section, Harjo describes her young adulthood as she becomes a teenage mother and finds herself trying to live in poverty, at odds with her mother-in-law, and responsible for a stepchild. What happened to her hopes and dreams for a creative life?
“South is the direction of release.” Probably the most poetic and visionary of the sections, “South” continues Harjo’s fight to survive but also interprets her dreams and visions as short stories and poems. She creates an interesting mix of fiction and nonfiction in her writing featuring monsters, eagles, demons, and ancestors.
Harjo describes her panic attacks as monsters. She labels the instincts that help guide her decision making as the “knowing.” She refers to her ancestors, those who have passed, as guardians in her life, and she speaks to them through her poetry. This memoir is a mix of what really occurred, her perceptions of those events, and flights of fantasy taken from her dream world; she melds poetry and prose in mind bending impressions.
Crazy Brave personalizes for me the individual and tribal struggles of Native Americans. Although the abuse tied to alcoholism is difficult to read about, it is an important part of Harjo’s experiences and of understanding the Native culture that helped shape her voice as an author and artist.
Notes: Harjo is currently writing another memoir to continue her story where Crazy Brave left off.
Publication: July 9, 2012—W.W. Norton & Co.
Because music is a language that lives in the spiritual realms, we can hear it, we can notate it and create it, but we cannot hold it in our hands. Music can help raise a people up or call them to gather for war.
Though I was blurred with fear, I could still hear and feel the knowing. The knowing was my rudder, a shimmer of intelligent light, unerring in the midst of this destructive, terrible, and beautiful life. It is a strand of the divine, a pathway for the ancestors and teachers who love us.
It was in the fires of creativity at the Institute of American Indian Arts that my spirit found a place to heal. I thrived with others who carried family and personal stories similar to my own. I belonged. Mine was no longer a solitary journey.
The Dog Who Lost His Bark–pet therapy works both ways
The Dog Who Lost His Bark
by Eoin Colder
illustrated by P.J. Lynch
Oz is a sweet puppy traumatized by a bad experience with a mean family. He ends up in a dog shelter where Patrick discovers and adopts him. Patrick comes from a musical family, and music emerges as the key to socializing Oz who has remarkable pitch when he whines. He starts with “Ode to Joy,” but expands his repertoire quickly. After Patrick’s breakthrough with Oz, he decides he needs to teach him to bark.
In the background of the puppy drama, we can tell, as can Patrick, that something is wrong with his father who is supposedly in Australia playing with his band. Patrick decides that if he gets rid of Oz, his father, who is allergic to dogs, will return to be a part of the family again. Oz goes back to the pound, but Patrick is no happier and Oz is very sad. Patrick learns that his mother and father are separating, but that his dog loves him and will always be his best friend.
The Dog Who Lost His Bark is a sweet story, especially for dog lovers. It could be helpful for children whose family structure is in transition, providing opportunities for discussions of the feelings the various characters have. I would encourage parents to read this book to their child or for a child to read it independently. Sharing with a group is probably not the best choice. The issues could be a trigger for sensitive children and problematic depending on the family situations of the children in a group.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Candlewick Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: This chapter book is intended for children:
Publication: September 10, 2019—Candlewick Press
This boy seemed kind right now, but that was people’s CLEVER TRICK, to be happy until it was time to be ANGRY. Dog was not going to fall for that one again.
“…teach your dog to bark. Because when a dog barks at something, that dog isn’t so afraid of that thing anymore.”
“You have a friend, Patrick. You have the best friend a boy could ever have. And he loves you even when it looks like you don’t love him anymore.”
If I Built a School–school can be fun!
If I Built a School
written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Jack uses his imagination to create the perfect school in If I Built a School by Chris Van Dusen. Written in rhyme, the first verses immediately bring Dr. Seuss to mind:
Jack, on the playground, said to Miss Jane,
This school is OK, but it’s pitifully plain.
The builder who built this I think should be banned.
It’s nothing at all like the school I have planned.
Unlike Dr. Suess, Van Dusen sticks to real words and the book is ripe with opportunities for vocabulary study—after a long period of enjoying the story and illustrations.
As Jack takes his teacher on a tour, we see his ideas play out in colorful and fun illustrations. His concept includes puppies and a zoo in the lobby, hover desks, and hologram guests. This is such a fun book; I think it would be a particularly good read in the classroom lending itself to much discussion and creative followup as children illustrate and write about their own notions for a perfect school.
Warning to school administrators: there is no mention of testing in this book because as Jack concludes:
On a scale, 1 to 10, it’s more like 15!
And learning is fun in a place that’s fun too.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Dial Press (Penguin) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Ages: 5-8
Publication: August 13, 2019— Dial Press (Penguin)
Past Due for Murder–complications and resolutions
Past Due for Murder
by Victoria Gilbert
Amy, a library director, juggles many roles from hosting special events to encourage community involvement to maintaining an archive to preserve local history. In Victoria Gilbert’s Past Due for Murder, Amy finds herself in the middle of a myriad of questions. Some are personal and others extend to the community: Why is her boyfriend Richard acting differently and lying? What happened to the missing student Lacey? Why does graduate student Trish hate Lacey so deeply? Did Charles, Amy’s ex-boyfriend, steal another professor’s ideas and why is he back in town? Is there blackmail going on at Clarion University? Who would be motivated so strongly that they would commit murder? As Amy discovers the answers to some questions, more arise and they form a tangled mess which gets unraveled in the end. This cozy mystery is a page turner you won’t want to miss.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: # 3 in the Blue Ridge Library Mystery Series, but works as a standalone.
Publication: February 22, 2019—Crooked Lane Books
I thanked her and went back to compiling statistics from our integrated library system. It was a part of my job that I hated, which made it a perfect match for my mood.
I stared at him, struck by the knowledge that his polished appearance couldn’t hide his true nature. He was obviously someone who always had to be right, who’d always demand blind obedience from his family and friends. In short, he was a bully, and no amount of tailoring and expensive haircuts or handcrafted shoes could hide that truth.
“Time don’t change who you are, just what you look like.”
Our Gift-Giving God: A Devotional
Our Gift-Giving God: A Devotional
by Andrea Levin Kim
In Our Gift-Giving God, Andrea Levin Kim centers the devotional around eight gifts from God to us, each paired with a traditional Christmas symbol. The author suggests beginning on the first day of December and learning about and meditating on each gift for three days. Each gift and supporting Bible verses are followed by questions and a prayer. The book concludes with the gift of Christmas. Alternate schedules are provided for those who would like to associate the gifts with Hanukkah or with the use of particular Christmas symbols throughout the season. Regardless of how you choose to use Our Gift-Giving God, you will be blessed as you prepare for Christmas by studying Scriptures that focus your thoughts on the role of Jesus in your life, not only as a child in a manger or a humble miracle-working man, but as the Savior of the world who sacrificed his own life so that you can have eternal life.
Our Gift-Giving God is sweetly illustrated by Carissa Robertson with simple line with watercolor pictures. The symbols are traditional for Christmas but may be associated with a gift you might not have anticipated. For example, a decked out fireplace is paired with new beginnings and angels with the concept of mercy. Andrea Levin Kim makes her points quite well, and you will come away with a deeper understanding of God’s love, provision, and sacrifice. I recommend this book for a scripturally based devotional with a fresh approach to the Advent season.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Lucid Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Religious
Notes: 1. The purpose of this book is not to address the historical origins of various Christmas symbols, but to help prepare the reader’s heart for a celebration of the birth of Christ.
2. The suggested timelines for reading the book are truly only suggestions. I worked my reading of it into my schedule and was blessed by it.
Publication: November 19, 2018—Lucid Books
Accepting this gospel gift of approval humbles us and fills us with a deeper desire to love and serve the Giver with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love others out of that secure place of the covering of His approval. He will never love you less and He cannot love you more because His love and approval are perfect…
God’s words about real joy are like notes that together sing of the truth of a gospel gift that cannot be drowned out, that never lies, that is never upstaged or outshined by an emotion or circumstance, a song that never gets old or outdated but invites us to dance in step with Him. His word reveals a joy that is not only catchy, but catching, not only memorable, but lasting; not only uplifting, but a reminder that the Savior raises us up and seats us with Him.
The secret ingredient of the Lord’s gift of joy is the Lord Himself—God with us, Immanuel. It’s not what He can do for us or the multitude of blessings He delivers, although they are certainly good.
I Can Only Imagine–the inspiration behind the song
I Can Only Imagine
by Bart Millard
What will it be like for a believer in Christ to die and go to heaven? Bart Millard’s answer is “I Can Only Imagine.” If you have not heard this beautiful worship song, I encourage you to go to YouTube and listen right now. Then read the memoir I Can Only Imagine written by Bart Millard, lead singer and organizer of MercyMe and writer of this song. God inspired him to write the song, and he had it down on paper in ten minutes, but as legendary Christian singer Amy Grant told him, referring to his background, “Bart, you didn’t write this song in ten minutes. It took a lifetime.”
Millard’s memoir details what a movie by the same name could only highlight. A product of a severely dysfunctional family, he suffered extreme physical, verbal, and emotional abuse followed by a long period of neglect which could still be punctuated by paternal outbursts of anger. But through it all, God had a plan. This book details Bart’s relationship with God and the dual miracles He worked in the life of Bart and his dad. How could Bart’s father morph from a monster into a role model? How could Bart forgive his father for the horrible abuses wrought on him and go on to become a kind and loving father and husband himself? The answer to these mysteries is summed up in one word—God. More exactly, the miraculous power, love, and mercy of God.
The book also shares how the band MercyMe was formed and worked its way up the ladder in the dog-eat-dog competitive music industry while remaining true to God’s calling for them. Theirs was not a path of instant success, but it was one that glorified God and reflected His plan and goals.
This memoir is well written and honestly reflects the struggles Bart had in his personal as well as musical endeavors. The part of the book that deals with abuse is, of course, difficult to read, but Millard shares enough that the reader understands the depth of what happened without being drawn into lengthy descriptions of the brutality. Millard shares his pain but also inspires with the wondrous miracle of God’s love.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson (W Publishing) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publication: February 13, 2018—Thomas Nelson (W Publishing)
But through all that noise in my life, whenever I heard perfect union of melody and lyric in a song, something traveled from my ears to my heart and made me feel alive.
I embraced the truth that no matter what happened or what Dad did to me, God was ultimately in control. I became more vocal about my faith, less afraid to ask questions about the Bible, and more confident to state what I believed. What I discovered is that there’s personal empowerment that comes with a relationship with Christ, and this, coupled with a newfound identity in Him, brings real healing to suffering people.
The maddening thing about verbal abuse is how the words you’ve heard replay in your head hundreds of times, even when the person is not around or has stopped saying those things to you.
We all face really hard seasons when it seems as if the entire world is against us, when we think we just cannot win. But when we keep standing strong, following the Lord, and obeying His calling, He will see us through and keep us on His path.
How to Stop Time–historical fiction with a science fiction twist
How to Stop Time
by Matt Haig
The typical work of historical fiction takes a character from a specific time and place and imagines, hopefully based on some research, what life would have been like for that person. How to Stop Time is not a “typical work of historical fiction.” Author Matt Haig dares to explore what would happen if certain people were naturally genetically designed to age slowly, to live hundreds of years. What would life be like for that person? What would the response of others be to them? How do you form a relationship with someone who will certainly age at a different rate? What if one of these “albatrosses” becomes powerful enough to use various means to control the others?
How to Stop Time follows Tom Hazard as he negotiates life in the twenty-first century and reflects on events in his past spanning multiple centuries, locations, careers and aliases. He is musically inclined and along the way discovers an aptitude for teaching history.
Tom is a likable character whose situation is in some ways different from the circumstances of “normal” human beings. In many aspects, however, his struggles are the same as he tries to fit in, decides how open to be with those he meets, and battles with opening his heart. We all on occasion want to stop time to savor the moment, to revisit past decisions, and to look ahead into the future.
How to Stop Time is an excellent work of fiction, well-written and interesting. It introduces historical characters such as Shakespeare and Captain Cook, but there are equally fascinating fictional characters who convincingly embody the everyday men and women of past generations. With its fast-moving storyline, this book is one I recommend you add to your To Be Read list.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to the Penguin Group (Viking) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Historical Fiction
Publication: February 6, 2018—Penguin Group (Viking)
I had no idea I had been looking for her, but now I had found her, I had no idea what would happen. I felt like I was spinning fast and out of control, like the seed of a sycamore, traveling on a changing wind.
I kept going cross the desert and over dry hills and mountains and past a large quarry that seemed to my delirious mind like the blackness of death itself calling me towards it like the River Styx.
I can’t right now think of a better purpose in life than to be a teacher. To teach feels like you are a guardian of time itself, protecting the future happiness of the world via the minds that are yet to shape it.
The Boyfriend Swap–great beach, plane, or cozy afternoon
The Boyfriend Swap
by Meredith Schorr
I like to vary my reading occasionally by throwing in a Chick Lit book. Meredith Schorr’s The Boyfriend Swap was a good change of pace at the the right time. The first half established characters, varying the viewpoint in clearly marked divisions between elementary school music teacher Robyn and hard driven lawyer Sidney. It is quite funny as they both have family situations coming up at Christmas where they don’t want their families to meet their respective boyfriends for various reasons.
When the boyfriend swap occurs, the book still has humorous moments, but things don’t always turn out as expected so there are some anxious times as well. Is swapping boyfriends a good idea in anyone’s mind? Will it all work out in the end for Robyn, Sidney, and their boyfriends? Come along for a fun read, but don’t model your romantic life on theirs!
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Women’s Fiction, Romance
Publication: November 7, 2017—Henery Press
How were children supposed to nurture their creative sides if schools focused entirely on academics?
Giving him a quick once-over as he absently pulled his finders through his longish hair, I was taken aback by his blatant beauty. The gods of looks certainly didn’t hold back the day Perry was born. Too bad they were so stingy with his humility.
Usually, the scent of garlic from my mom’s roasted chicken made my mouth water, but the guilt-and-anxiety cocktail I was drinking rid me of an appetite.