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Matched by Ally Condie (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 8 CDs
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Matched by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses, is set into a future where many of the choices of the society are manipulated or made for its residents. On the date of her matching — a process through which her mate is chosen — Cassia gets a glimpse of another future, another choice. Xander, her childhood friend who lives in her neighborhood, is her match, something that doesn’t happen that often. But her interactions with another boy, Ky, in the neighborhood, lead her to question more than just the matching system.

Although aberrations in the perfect system have created a sense of unease for Cassia, part of her still wants to believe that they system does things for good, at least the good of society. Her hikes with Ky, however, reveal that not all of the society’s decisions are for the best and not even done with the best intentions. Her inner struggle is exacerbated by the words her grandfather said to her before his passing and the advice he had given her in the past. Condie has created a world that is believable, but it seems like there is too much that is not reveals about this society and its past. Everything is kept very close to the officials’ vests, and readers are likely to see that it is for very good reason in subsequent books (or so I suspect).

Simses is an excellent narrator for a young girl who is torn between the way she knew things to be and the way she sees they could be. Her narration of the male characters are well done, too. Matched by Ally Condie, is a quick listen on audio and even though readers know Cassia is about to commit an infraction she cannot come back from, not too much happens in the book.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Ally Condie is a former high school English teacher who lives with her husband, three sons and one daughter outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves reading, running, eating, and listening to her husband play guitar.

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audio, 9+ hours
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*** Spoilers included ***

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, narrated by Neil Shah, is a coming-of-age story that traverses India, London, and France as Hassan Haji comes into his own as a chef. Told from Hassan’s point of view, the novel almost takes on the feel of a memoir. He speaks of his past in India and the culture and food that shaped him, but he also speaks about the death of his mother with a sense of detachment, even though the character claims it is a defining moment.

As the family moves abroad, Hassan is exposed to different foods and cultures, but he’s also shackled to the life of his father’s making. As a rivalry blooms between his father and another restaurateur in Lumière, Madame Mallory, Hassan begins to see glimmers of a world he could master and enjoy. The 100-foot distance between his father’s restaurant and that of Mallory is short, but seems to be worlds away, especially as she makes it her mission to destroy their business.

While food is central to this story and Hassan does grow into a stupendous chef, according to those around him, readers may find he develops little, especially in terms of his relationships with women. Hassan has been unable to commit to anyone, and while it is hinted at the end that this might change, it is almost like an afterthought by the author. There are other deaths in the novel, as well, and given the closeness of Hassan to his father and Mallory, it is hard to believe that the author would gloss over these and their impacts on Hassan, but he does.

Shah is a good narrator, though some of the accents seemed over the top at times and the language a bit forced. The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, narrated by Neil Shah, is an interesting take on a man outside his culture learning to cook with greater skill but learning little else about himself. Although he becomes a famous chef, it seems that his relationships are only on the surface, and his character stagnates, especially as the trials of his early days in the Paris kitchens are glossed over.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Richard C. Morais is a Canadian American novelist and journalist. He is the author of three books, including The Hundred-Foot Journey, which is an international bestseller and has been adapted as a film by Dreamworks.

Trick or Treat! by Hayley Down, illustrated by Sarah Vince

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 24 pgs.
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Trick or Treat! by Hayley Down, illustrated by Sarah Vince, comes with its own little, orange and black flashlight for children to use while reading. This book is best read in the dark as the hidden pictures are easier to see when the flashlight is the only light on the page. My daughter selected this from her school bookfair shortly before Halloween, and its tale came at the right time. The hidden ghouls, skeletons, and more, as the brother fears everything and the sister is scared of nothing that goes bump in the night.

Anyone who came to the house before Halloween or arrived on Halloween for Trick-or-Treating was given a peek at this gem. She pulled it out in the dark living room with her best buddy and her brother to show them what was inside. All us parents heard was ooos and ahhhsss. I assume the other kids liked this one as well.

Trick or Treat! by Hayley Down, illustrated by Sarah Vince, has a nice basic story about exploring the unknown and not letting fear rule your actions. Kids will take to the story and the flashlight fun easily.

RATING: Cinquain

The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James

Source: the author
Ebook, 229 pgs.
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In The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James, Evie Pemberton has realized part of her dream with her first art show. Despite the trials of her life, she is unaware that a storm is brewing, one that has been forming for generations as rumors have rippled up into a tidal wave set to overtake her. Enter the confident London-based private investigator Charlie Haywood, he finds himself awed by her beauty at the art show and he’s unable to craft a new persona through which he can uncover the truth of her family. Even though he is tongue-tied, Charlie still learns about the Darcy Trust and the possibility that Evie’s ancestors may not be entitled to its endowment.

“We live in a world, Galbraith, where a woman has only that which fortune has given her. She cannot shift for herself as a man can, and I have come to fear, that in time, and in future generations, the largesse which I gave them may be diminished.”

James creates a novel in which readers can see how newly married Mr. and Mrs. Darcy interact with one another, how her family impacts her relationship with her new husband, and the insecurities that plague her as a new mother, wife, and lady of Pemberley. While Darcy and Lizzy still tease each other and remain happily married, there are pressures from society that seep in the cracks, causing discord for them. Charlie and Evie’s story is a straight forward mystery, and as Charlie and Evie grow closer to the truth of a generational mystery, they also grow closer to one another. While the modern story seems a bit rushed in places, their romance is believable. James’ portrayal of a married couple and pregnancy is very realistic, and will have readers wondering how anyone survived pregnancy in the Regency period.

“I am tired and my back aches like the low moan of an orchestra tuning up.”

The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James is a wonderful mystery that unravels, tugs at the emotions, and realistically portrays marriage and motherhood. James knows Austen’s characters, and she explores a number of societal norms from inheritance of estates by male heirs to familial bonds that go beyond biology.

RATING: Cinquain

jenetta-james-author-picAbout the Author:

Jenetta James is a mother, lawyer, writer, and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full-time as a barrister. Over the years, she has lived in France, Hungary, and Trinidad as well as her native England. Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. She is the author of Suddenly Mrs. Darcy which was published by Meryton Press in April 2015. The Elizabeth Papers is her second novel.

Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer

Source: Tightrope Books
Paperback, 100 pgs.
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Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer explores our emotional responses, particularly what it means to be happy and how we account for happiness. This is Cayer’s third collection of poetry, and while I haven’t read others, it is clear that Cayer views the world in complex and unusual ways.  She looks at emotions with a practical and razor-sharp precision.

In “Acts of Confiscation,” the narrator commits new crimes to fill the emotional gaps left when the high from the previous ones wears off.  “I commit new crimes      to push/down the line     the unbearable ones/” she says, noting “I’m going in the red     direction/commit acts the size of ( )    always/some hole with fallen edges/a same-shaped desire waiting to fill it/” (pg. 23)  Cayer uses each poem to illustrate a different kind of happiness, and if readers look closely, they will see the happiness tied to mental illness or instability in some cases.  For instance, “Travelling without Moving” seems to illustrate an obsessive-compulsive who always works in a particular way — rearranges things to relax — and does these actions in a way that they are routine and unrecognizable as his/her own actions.  “it relaxes me to sort and rearrange, I’m pretty sure it was me/in the cupboards and boxes,”  (pg. 28)

Through the lenses of psychology and other sciences, Cayer looks at what it means to emote, to feel, and to strive to recreate those moments of happiness.  And beneath these studies is a certain trepidation about the future and whether the happiness will run out or be lost.  Dopamine Blunder by Lori Cayer is a complex collection that requires rumination and exploration beyond the page into the self and the world around us.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Lori Cayer is the author of two volumes of poetry: Stealing Mercury and Attenuations of Force. She serves as co-editor of English poetry for CV2 and is co-founder of the Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry/Prix Lansdowne de poésie. Lori works by day as an editorial assistant for a scientific research journal.

Stuck on Fun! Play with Patterns, Sticker Tape, and More! by Jannie Ho

Source: QuartoKnows
Hardcover, 36 pgs.
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Stuck on Fun! Play with Patterns, Sticker Tape, and More! by Jannie Ho has stickers, pop-out characters to dress up, and patterned paper and stencils to create clothes and accessories. The paper patterns are mostly flowers and other embellishments, though there are a couple that are geometric or have animals. The stickers you can use to make belts and other accessories are a wider variety. The book also contains several scenes that kids can use to create their own stories, such as going to shopping or going on a trip to outer space.

Here’s some of the fun creations we made (she made them; I was just the assistant):

The book tells you what materials are available inside and what additional materials you’ll need, such as scissors and glue. You can also add your own pom poms and glitter if you have those on hand. There are other project ideas inside as well. This book could offer kids hours of fun, especially if they like to create their own characters. We really liked that there were a variety of characters, including an alien. One draw back for us was that you couldn’t remove the stencils from the book, unless you cut the cardboard to take them out. It makes it hard to trace the clothing patterns inside the book because of how many stencils are inside.

Stuck on Fun! Play with Patterns, Sticker Tape, and More! by Jannie Ho is a great book to use on a rainy or wintry day with kids. Have a blast; get creative.

RATING: Quatrain

Giveaway: The Courtship of Edward Gardiner by Nicole Clarkston

Source: the author
ebook, 219 pgs.
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The Courtship of Edward Gardiner by Nicole Clarkston is a prequel to Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen and it features two of its most beloved characters, the Gardiners.  Edward Gardiner has had his heart broken and when Thomas Bennet calls for his aide, he’s happy to oblige if it gets him out of London and away from his dashed hopes.  He’s a businessman on the rise, and while his sisters may be less than tactful, he’s a perfect gentleman.  I’ve always loves the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and her aunt, and Clarkston gives us more insight into how that bond may have formed.

Mr. Gardiner soon finds out how different Lizzy and Jane are, as young Lizzy (age seven) is boisterous and curious and very eager to engage with everyone she meets, even if they are aloof and rude.  In the  town of Lambton, Madeline Fairbanks helps her ailing father and her devotion to him demonstrate her loyalty and love for family, and even when she’s roped into caring for a sick Jane Bennet.  Clarkson really does well creating believable minor characters with their own concerns and trials, including Mrs. Porter and her husband, Mr. Lawrence, and others.  And Thomas Bennet’s sarcastic wit is ever present and enjoyable.

“While the lady was still within earshot, Thomas Bennet sang out, ‘I applaud your ladyship’s caution.  One never knows when vagabonds will take on the guise of eight-year-old girls!'”

Readers will enjoy the courtship of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner in the midst of the chaos, as Clarkson teases out the best qualities of both Jane and Lizzy Bennet and entwines them with Madeline Fairbanks’ wiser and forthright personality.  To image a younger Lizzy and see her interact with a young man who is trying his level best to impress his father, care for his very young sister, deal with the death of his mother, and wrap his teenage mind around his duty is fascinating to watch.

There is a lot of teasing in these pages, blushes, smiles, laughter, and awkward moments that make young love so innocent and appealing.  The Courtship of Edward Gardiner by Nicole Clarkston is simply lovely and she’s an author I look forward to reading more from.

RATING: Cinquain

International GIVEAWAY:

Nicole Clarkston would like to offer one copy of The Courtship of Edward Gardiner on each stop of the blog tour. The format is readers’ choice (eBook or paperback) and is international.

Leave a comment on this post about your favorite Jane Austen minor characters. And if you share on Facebook or elsewhere, leave a link for more entries.

Deadline: Nov. 4, 2016, 11:59 PM EST

nicole-clarkstonAbout the Author:

Nicole Clarkston is the pen name of a very bashful writer who will not allow any of her family or friends to read what she writes. She grew up in Idaho on horseback, and if she could have figured out how to read a book at the same time, she would have. She initially pursued a degree in foreign languages and education, and then lost patience with it, switched her major, and changed schools.  She now resides in Oregon with her husband of 15 years, 3 homeschooled kids, and a very worthless degree in Poultry Science (don’t ask).

Nicole discovered Jane Austen rather by guilt in her early thirties- how does any book worm really live that long without a little P&P? She has never looked back. A year or so later, during a major house renovation project (undertaken when her husband unsuspectingly left town for a few days) she discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and fell completely in love. Nicole’s books are her pitiful homage to two authors who have so deeply inspired her.  Check out her website and look her up on Facebook.

Follow the rest of the blog tour:

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Hermit Thrush by Amy Minato

Source: Inkwater Press
Paperback, 92 pgs.
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Hermit Thrush by Amy Minato reconnects us to the lives of animals and the movement of nature around us. Her poetry is infused with a raw passion and a deep sensuousness. From “Textural”, “Of course a moose/relishes the ooze of mud/in the tender center/of her hoof.//” and “Maybe to a snake/the slide of slick grass/over smooth scales feels/like a careful kiss.//” demonstrates the silky lines of Minato as she sets the poem’s foundation. The images are tactile and easy to imagine, and when reader’s reach the end of the poem, they become as breathless as the narrator waiting for the touch of a lover on their arm.

One of the most erotic poems, “Estuary,” caresses the reader with its language, teasing out the desire for connection from the reader as Minato’s lines weave an image of a new spring sprouting and curling with life, reaching for the mouth of the river in a kiss. It’s beautiful, simply beautiful. Even as love and connection can be lovely and desired, it also can be transient, being snuffed out in a “rain of fire” like those of the “Persieds”.

Even as love and passion turn to sadness and despair, Minato shows us the beauty of loss. From “Lament,” “while salmon lay eggs/on gravel beds in the slow/currents along the shore/and then turn over/onto the glass plate/of water to die.//” Life continues even after we have loved and lost and left generations behind us. It is that moment in which we create that our beauty is revealed to the outside world. Minato has raised the curtain on the seductive fern and the determined spirit of the creative spider, as well as many others in this collection.

There are six sections named after various birds — Sandhill Crane, Mourning Dove, Winter Wren, Scarlet Tanager, Great Horned Owl, and Cedar Waxwing — in Hermit Thrush by Amy Minato. Grab your binoculars and let Minato show you the truth inherent in nature — its beauty, its vices, its creativity, and its exquisite deaths. Each moment is to be savored and to be held in homage.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Amy Klauke Minato is author of a poetry collection, The Wider Lens, published in 2004 by Ice River Press and a creative nonfiction book, Siesta Lane, published in January 2009 by Skyhorse Press. She holds both an MFA in Creative Writing and an MS in Environmental Studies from the University of Oregon. Her poetry has been recognized with a 2003 Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship and her prose with a Walden Fellowship. Minato’s writing has been published in Wilderness Magazine, Poetry East, Windfall, Cottonwood, Cimarron Review and Oregonian Poetry Corner, among others, and in several anthologies including From Here We Speak: An Anthology of Oregon Poetry and Deer Drink the Moon: Poems of Oregon.

Amy teaches writing in schools through Literary Arts and Community of Writers, and in writing workshops throughout the Pacific Northwest. Amy reviews children’s picture books and young adult novels for Publishers Weekly. She also acts as a private writing coach and tutor. She hails from Chicago, although she and her husband, Joe, and her children Mateo (age 14) and Ruby (age 10) currently split their time between Portland, Oregon and the Wallowa mountains of eastern Oregon.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 8+ hrs
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Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris, narrated by Georgia Maguire, is about appearances, told in snatches between the past and present. Jack and Grace have the outwardly perfect marriage, even after a hasty courtship. Jack Angel is the perfect gentlemen, who moves easily within society and displays outward kindness toward even the disabled. Grace is an independent woman whose parents never wanted children, and after having two, they are ready to move to New Zealand and leave them behind. Even as Grace has had relationships in the past, she’s always put her sister, Millie, first because she knows that she will have to care for her in the absence of their parents.

Paris has created a fantastic, psychological thriller in which the reader is as terrified as the protagonist. Even before the conversation between Jack and Grace after their marriage, readers are fully aware that something in their relationship is not right. Jack hovers too much, he answers uncomfortable questions just a little too quickly, and he creates believable, yet oddball solutions to problems.

He is calculating and cold, and Grace is terrified with a perfect veneer of sereneness. She evolves from panicked to resigned and patient. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris, narrated by Georgia Maguire, is narrated superbly and terrifyingly. Readers are likely to be hooked from the first page into the spiraling disaster of this “perfect” marriage. This one will keep you up at night.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

B. A. Paris grew up in England but has spent most of her adult life in France. She has worked both in finance and as a teacher and has five daughters. Behind Closed Doors is her first novel.

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Hardcover, 304 pgs.
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Dodgers by Bill Beverly is not a feel-good coming-of-age story. East is 16 and has been standing watch outside drug houses in Los Angeles’ The Boxes neighborhood for two years. When the heat turns up, he finds himself adrift. But Fin, the big man, asks him to step in and do something he’s never trained for or even thought about — kill a key witness who’s hiding in Wisconsin. East is just one of four set out on the road in a minivan to get the job done and with little contact to the players-that-be at home. These boys will have to make grown-up decisions and decisions that they will have to live with forever.

“He had been at the old house before them, and he had seen things they had never seen. He had seen a reverend shot on the walk, a woman jump off a roof. He had seen a helicopter crash into trees and a man, out of his mind, pick up a downed power cable and stand, illuminated. He had seen the police come down, and still the house continued on.” (pg. 5 ARC)

“East looked up and tried to swallow the bad taste in his mouth. Above them, a big plastic dinosaur spun on a wire. Cars rushed by out on the highway, and East had to keep himself from staring down each one. Things moving. At first, the ride had felt like getting out, like being set free. Into nothing. But since Vegas, this felt like being stuck back in it. Like every headlight that rolled past was pointed at him.” (pg. 67 ARC)

East has been the big brother to half-brother Ty, but Ty has left home and disappeared into the network until this trip north. They don’t communicate at all, and when they do it’s strained at best. Their relationship is the backbone of the crew and how it operates. Will these four boys reach their destination in one piece, will they kill each other, and will the mission be accomplished? Beverly has created a tension-filled story that journeys across country, and readers are worried that the mission will be accomplished even as they want East to find peace and redeem himself.

Dodgers by Bill Beverly is a harsh look at gang life, but it also is a look at the boys caught up in it. The young men who feel trapped by their lives, who set boundaries for themselves, but then must break them or face harsh consequences. Even when they feel that they are free from it all, it comes back around, like shadows waiting behind the trees ready to snatch them back into the black hole.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Bill Beverly grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and studied at Oberlin College and the University of Florida. His research on criminal fugitives and the stories surrounding them became the book On the Lam: Narratives of Flight in J. Edgar Hoover’s America. He teaches American literature and writing at Trinity University in Washington, D.C.

I am NOT a Princess! by Bethany Burt, illustrated by Brenda McCallum

Source: Schiffer Publishing
Hardcover,
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I am NOT a Princess! by Bethany Burt, illustrated by Brenda McCallum, follows Eliza, a little girl who gets the idea that she wants to be a princess. She has everything she needs from the frilly pink dress and glass slippers to the beaded purse and gloves. From what she knows of princesses, Eliza turns down bike riding with her friend and going to the store with her mother because princesses have carriages and servants. After spending much of her day alone twirling and turning down other fun things to do, Eliza begins to realize that being a princess is boring.

While I liked the idea of this book and Eliza does realize that her perception of being a princess leaves her with little to do, she doesn’t come to the realization that princesses are more than frilly dresses and looking pretty. The author could have taken a moment for the mother to point out some other real-life princesses who did more than just look nice and order people around (i.e. Princess Diana).

I am NOT a Princess! by Bethany Burt, illustrated by Brenda McCallum, includes some great illustrations of Eliza and her escapades, but I wanted a bigger message here. Rather than Eliza realizing she likes to ride bikes and play ball with her brother and bake cakes and make messes, I wanted her to see that being a princess could be much bigger than the stereotype.

RATING: Tercet

Mr. Darcy to the Rescue by Victoria Kincaid

Source: giveaway win
Paperback, 200 pgs.
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Mr. Darcy to the Rescue by Victoria Kincaid is set after Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley leave Netherfield never to return and Mr. Bennet reveals to his favorite daughter, Elizabeth Bennet, that his doctor believes his heart is weaker than first thought and that he could die soon. With this knowledge, Lizzy must decide whether she can accept her lot and accept the proposal from Mr. Collins, even as he is utterly ridiculous and clearly is not in love with her. What choice does she have with the estate entailed away and her sister, Jane, still heartbroken over Bingley’s leaving? She accepts and tries to put aside all thoughts of her upcoming nuptials.

Although Mr. Darcy does act out of character in this novel, given the situation and his realization that Lizzy is the only woman for him, it makes perfect sense for him to find a way to covertly separate her from Mr. Collins. He abhors deceit, but he must do what he can to free her from the shackles of the parsonage and her irritating betrothed. Even though his aim is to improve himself in her fine eyes and win her hand, he is willing to let her go if only to see her away from Collins who cannot make her happy.

“‘I have heard that your estate at Pemberley is very grand. How many windows do you have at the front?'” (pg. 35)

Elizabeth might have encountered more awkward situations in her life before, but she would have been hard-pressed to think of one at the moment. Attempting to put some space between them, she took several steps backward until she bumped against the door. Undeterred, Mr. Collins shuffled forward on his knees until he was again crouched right at her feet.” (pg. 169)

Kincaid has taken the abrasive character of Lady Catherine and used her very well in this story, and Darcy is clearly a strategist, even if he prefers to do most things above board. When his plan backfires, he is perfectly contrite as he should be, and it is clear that his love of Lizzy has changed his views. He thinks beyond his own desires and determines how best to amend the wrongs he has wrought.

Mr. Darcy to the Rescue by Victoria Kincaid is a glimpse at what a more impulsive and head-over-heels in love Mr. Darcy would look like. He’s still awkward and he still bumbles about in his conversation with Elizabeth, unless they are matching wits, but he clearly values her and she is hard pressed to ignore his desire for her good opinion. Kincaid’s book is delightful and will have readers cheering Darcy on in his endeavors to win Lizzy’s hand.

***The action and tension in this one kept me reading into the wee hours, and I finished it in one day!***

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

The author of numerous best-selling Pride and Prejudice variations, historical romance writer Victoria Kincaid has a Ph.D. in English literature and runs a small business, er, household with two children, a hyperactive dog, an overly affectionate cat, and a husband who is not threatened by Mr. Darcy. They live near Washington DC, where the inhabitants occasionally stop talking about politics long enough to complain about the traffic.

On weekdays she is a freelance writer/editor who specializes in IT marketing (it’s more interesting than it sounds) and teaches business writing. A lifelong Austen fan, Victoria has read more Jane Austen variations and sequels than she can count – and confesses to an extreme partiality for the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice. Visit her website. View her blog, visit her on Facebook, GoodReads, and on Amazon.