Monday, September 29, 2014

Bilbao Beetle Learns to Share

Bilbao Beetle Learns to Share
By Andrea Saint James

A book review by Ginger Dawn Harman

One of the first lessons we’re taught as young children is about the importance of sharing. Author Andrea Saint James has accomplished this with her children’s book, Bilbao Beetle Learns to Share. Mama beetle was nearly at the end of her patience after a long day of Bilbao and Betty arguing. After being sent outside, the fighting continues over who gets to bring the first flower to mother beetle. The reader is then introduced to Axel Ant when Bilbao finds himself in trouble. This is where Andrea Saint James emphases the idea of sharing and is able to engage the reader.

 Through the characters, the value of cooperation is displayed from scaling mailbox posts to the rationing of food. Furthermore, the author cleverly entwines the insect and human world to reinforce the importance of social responsibility and responsibility to others, as well as the ability to engage in teamwork, empathy, and kindness. For example, Little Johnny decides to play a prank on Jill. This action leads to both negative and positive consequences that can be a great springboard for discussion with children after reading.

Roger Kabler has created illustrations that are lifelike to this reader which helps develop the characters beyond what is written in words. A great example of this is 59% into the Kindle book where children are resting in the grass looking into the insect jar. The play of light on the grass and children brings a warmth and gentleness within nature. Moreover, the illustrations help establish a tense mood and add depth to the story as the hammer is embedding a nail into the jar lid with Bilbao and Axel inside. This was brilliant because it creates empathy for Bilbao and Axel Ant while offering lessons on perspective.

Author Andrea Saint James has crafted a five star children’s novel that demonstrates the bravery, kindness, and humanity of ordinary people and the world of nature. Her characters find adventure and magic in everyday life lessons that can carry over into family and classroom discussion. I highly recommend Bilbao Beetle Learns to Share by Andrea Saint James.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Fifteen Houses
By Jeanne Claire Probst
A book review by Ginger Dawn Harman

I purchased this book for myself as a Christmas present. Unfortunately, I was not able to begin reading it as soon as I wanted. Upon first impression, I thought the book would be about the struggles of a young woman finding her way. I was not disappointed. The Fifteen Houses by Jeanne Claire Probst is engaging, heart rending, and has characters that are so plausible that one will believe they are true. The reader feels immediately invited into the personal account by the cover image of a rose tea cup with a lovely view from the window. The soft colors on the cover provide a façade to the disorder and betrayal written inside. The author reveals within the pages haunted memories of Julianne, the main character of the novel. Each chapter digs through the layers of emotional scars, enmeshment with dysfunctional family, and long held secrets that are slowly revealed.

Probst has a gift with the use of rich imagery. The novel begins with children gathering eggs, smells of newly washed laundry on a clothesline, daddy-long-legs sunning themselves near the hollyhocks which are nestled beside a pale yellow house. Yet, what is often on the outside is not what is portrayed within. This theme is continued from the cover to the personal recollections of the narrator. A four-way affair between David, Irene, Gerard and Edith has become a reality for Julianne and the other nine children within the household. Due to the wife swapping, biological identities were askew between the siblings. Sexual/physical abuse, and the further neglect created crippling effects for the children as neighbors, family, and inquisitive strangers began to question the family during the early 1950’s.


As Julianne grows from child to young bride, her struggles continue as she must now raise a family often moving from home to campground with no support system. One of the most touching parts for me as I read was when Julianne finds her own passions such as music. Singing with her sisters Aude and Chloe, Julianne was able to, “disquiet the hidden emotions they had.” However, it is when Julianne finds the courage to stand up to Charlie and rediscovery her own self-worth that the reader no longer sympathizes but visualizes her inner strength.

I truly enjoyed The Fifteen Houses by Jeanne Claire Probst. I tend to look over spelling and grammar errors but I did find it difficult with some of the redundancy in the writing. For example, “There was a special kind of peace that came over me when I sat there on a bed of needles that had fallen between the rows of pine trees. This bed of needles was so thick and so soft, it dared you to want to lay your head down and rest. It looked as if these pine needles…” This short description does too much telling and is repetitive about the pine needles to the point that I felt like skipping over it. I found this similar with the visit to the duck pond. My only other complaint with the book, is that at the end of several paragraphs, some of them emotional, the author would add little quips such as, “Here we go again,” “Big Surprise,” “Oh Dear,” and “End of Story.” This made me feel as if someone was reading over my shoulder and I felt it very distracting as I read. However, I am an older reader so the younger generation might find this as a way to connect more with the author.
I do feel that this book is an above average read and would make a great series comparable to books written by Maeve Binchy. Each further novel could enlighten the reader with characters introduced in this novel that will provide life lessons, personal growth, and discovering your own personal journey. For a first novel, I feel that Jeanne Clair Probst has done a wonderful job. The Fifteen Houses by Jeanne Claire Probst, skillfully weaves personal discovery with fiction, making for a satisfying, poignant, and a recommended read.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Alive As the Grave By Mark Van Aken Williams

Alive As the Grave

By Mark Van Aken Williams

A book review by Ginger Dawn Harman

I purchased a copy of this book from a notification sent to me by Amazon that Mark Van Aken Williams had a new book for purchase. I immediately purchased a copy and a few months later I found the quiet opportunity to read this gem. I was not disappointed. Mark Van Aken Williams is a genius of understanding and analyzing language and integrates his knowledge into amazing poetry. It's essentially impossible to define his writing style because it manifests on a very high intelligent level: blindingly theatrical in one poem (Mozart’s Grave pg. 58) and subtle semblance in another (The Dreams which Mock Us pg. 75). Yet, the harmony of words, images, and tone creates a meditative-like state for this reader. I simply read and reread each poem several times gaining a philosophical interrogation of the soul.

With psychological observation and insight; unexpected language kick and spin this book of poetry which will have you looking for references to Homer, Ennius, biblical references, and “onus probandi.”  Alive As the Grave is well balanced in cleverness and language as well as mood. Some of the poetry is hot, some cold. For example, in Micah’s Answer to the False Prophets, I felt the author took a rather hot topic of sin and promised judgment to evoke a perspective of formulated retaliation. However, a colder approach was used with the poem titled, With a Broken Heart where little emotion is used but more of a chastised repose of attitude is displayed.  

The purchase price of this book is appropriate and I would recommend the paperback version such as I have purchased. Janice PhelpsWilliams has done a wonderful job through the book creating illustrations that enhance the poems. The cover art is thought provoking with hints of dendrite branching extensions of neurons in the title and the tree. I feel that Alive As the Grave would be most appropriate for the intellectual adult or college age student.  This book of poetry would provide great academic debate and discussion.   

Julius Meinl once stated, Poetry is an intellectual emotion such as creating, day dreaming, crafting, imagining or simply just having conversations – you alone decide what poetry is for you.”  

From Author's Preface in "Alive as the Grave": The poems in this volume contain a speculative philosophy based on ancestral slime, incremental change, evolutionism and revolution, tempo, continuity, corridors, and whirligigs; the veil of an indefinable wisdom, moving invisibly beyond the limen of nothingness, returning to the realm of imagination, where time no longer exists, and animation is derived from resonating, museful, substructural rhythms. ~MVW, 2014
 Alive As the Grave by Mark Van Aken Williams has accomplished this and much more. I give my highest recommendation.


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