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Interview with Syrie James, Author of Jane Austen’s First Love

Syrie James is a quintessential Austenite and her Jane Austen-related fiction is never a disappointment.  Her latest release, Jane Austen’s First Love, is a contender for the Savvy Verse & Wit Best of 2014 list.

Here’s a snippet from my review:

“James cannot be praised enough for her ingenuity and dedication to the spirit of Austen and her novels.  She pays tribute to a young Jane in the best way possible.  Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James is the author’s best novel yet, and a must read for anyone who loves historical fiction, Jane Austen, or coming of age stories.”

Other James’ books you should consider reading include:

 

Today, I have a special treat … an interview with Syrie James! Please give her a warm welcome.

As a writer of Austenesque fiction, you must have a favorite Jane Austen book and character, or at least a few.  What and who are they and why?

Like many readers, my favorite Austen novel is Pride and Prejudice. It’s brilliantly constructed, beautifully written, and the characters are unique, fun, and recognizable. Best of all, Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s character arcs as they go from intense dislike to admiration to love are so wonderfully drawn and so satisfying that the story has been endlessly imitated. Pride and Prejudice, unlike Austen’s other novels, also begins with a lively conversation that grabs your attention right off the bat. I am a huge fan of Persuasion as well, with its theme about second chances. It was written later in Jane Austen’s life, and her maturity as writer really shines through.

As for favorite characters, I have so many! I adore Elizabeth Bennet, with her bright eyes and feisty nature, and Anne Elliot, who is goodness personified. I think I fell in love with Mr. Darcy (along with the rest of the female world) when Colin Firth turned him into an icon. I am also mad about Captain Wentworth and Mr. Knightley, truly divine Austen heroes who feel very real to me on the page! And this may be heresy—but my two other favorite characters are Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who I love to hate, and the foolish Mr. Collins, who, with every re-reading and in every film version, always makes me laugh.

Syrie James headshot 2012 x 250Did you always love Jane Austen’s books and when did you first fall in love with them (how did you find out about them)?

I was first introduced to Jane Austen in a British literature course in college, when we read Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I don’t remember my first reaction to the books, and Jane Austen didn’t resurface on my radar again until the mid 1990s, when four Jane Austen films came out that quickly became my favorites: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant), PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle), PERSUASION (Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds), and EMMA (Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam.) Yes, it’s true—I fell in love with Austen because of the movies!

I immediately read or re-read all her novels, then devoured the juvenilia, biographies, and her preserved correspondence. I was desperate to learn more about the woman who wove such incredible stories and showed such a deep understanding of human nature—and the obsession has never stopped. Because there were no Austen memoirs to discover, I wrote one myself: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. Because there were no more new Austen novels to read, I decided to write one: The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen. And because I was intensely curious to read about Jane as a teenager while experiencing her first romance, I researched and wrote Jane Austen’s First Love.

As a fan of Austen, you must have visited the various sites in which she lived and visited. Which of these places is your favorite, where is it located, and why? What advice would you give someone interested in touring Austen’s places?

I’ve taken two Jane Austen tours of England—one of them self-guided, the other as part of a formal tour group—and I’ve had the opportunity to visit nearly all the famous Austen sites, some of them twice. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I guess it’d have to be Chawton Cottage, now known as Jane Austen’s House Museum. It was like a pilgrimage to walk through the rooms and gardens of the house where Jane lived during the nine year period when she wrote or rewrote all her masterpieces. And to see the little table where she sat by the window and wrote, was too thrilling for words!

The Austen tour that I took with my husband was absolutely wonderful, but took many months to research and plan. To see all the iconic Austen sites I’d recommend a guided bus tour, where you will enjoy the company of like-minded people, as well as guest speakers and other Austen-related events that you won’t get on your own. JASNA has such a tour every year; they’re run by Pathfinders, the same tour company I traveled with, and they’re fabulous.

For Jane Austen’s First Love, you did quite a bit of research into her mentions of Edward Taylor, who was the heir to a home in Kent. When did you know that you should stop researching and start writing? What part of the research did not make it into the book that you wish had made it in?

I continued researching the entire time I was writing the novel! Re-reading books by Jane Austen and biographies about Jane Austen while I was writing gave me an infusion of details to use here and there, and helped me to keep her voice in my head. Continuous research proved to be even more important where Edward Taylor was concerned. When I first began the novel, I hadn’t found much information about him, and had created an imaginary back story for him—but it never felt right. So I kept looking. And looking.

By a stroke of luck, I came upon Edward Taylor’s brother’s memoirs, which filled in so many details about the Taylor family and the unusual way in which all eight children were raised abroad. What I learned was far much more fascinating and remarkable than anything I could have made up! I put all that was pertinent into my novel. There were a few great scenes however that didn’t make the final cut. I had to delete one scene, for example, where Edward is telling Jane about a family excursion off the southern coast of Italy that ended in disaster. It was a great tale, but unfortunately it didn’t move forward the action of my novel, so it had to go.

A much bigger disappointment was when I felt obliged to delete a scene from Chapter One, in which Jane inscribes her name and the names of three imaginary suitors in the register at her father’s church at Steventon. I loved the scene I’d written, but once again, it didn’t move the plot forward, and the first chapter was too long. (The deleted scene may have a new life, however, as a short story.)

As the market becomes even more saturated with works about Jane Austen and her books, do you think readers will ever tire of these spinoffs, retellings, and fictionalized accounts of her life and work?

I hope not!

What keeps you returning to Jane Austen and her world?

I love Austen for so many reasons. I love immersing myself in the way the gentry class lived and loved during the Regency era, where we rarely see anyone working (other than the servants.) Austen’s characters lived in grand manor homes, were waited on hand and foot, drove around in elegant carriages, hunted on horseback, played cards and music, sang and read, sewed and drew, took walks on impeccable grounds, and danced at balls. What’s not to like? Not to mention the way they dressed! Tight breeches, tailcoats, and cravats! Gossamer, empire-waisted gowns! Hair pinned up like the ancient Greeks! It’s like something out of a fairy tale.

What I love most about Austen, though, is not the fairy tale setting—but the brilliant way her stories are plotted and the familiarity of her characters. We all know an overbearing woman like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who believes she knows best and must be catered to. We’ve all met a sweet, kindly blabbermouth like Miss Bates. And while we laugh at Austen’s fools and love to hate the villains, we can’t help but fall in love with her heroes and heroines, who are all flawed—just as we are—and who must earn their happy endings by recognizing their missteps and working to correct them. That’s the real reason I keep returning to Jane and her world—because her tales of courtship and romance are perfectly structured morality tales, and the lessons resonate today.

Finally, do you read poetry, why or why not? And if you do, what are some of your favorite poems and who are some of your favorite poets? Also do you read contemporary poets or classic poets, why or why not?

I’ve been so busy reading novels over the last twenty years that I haven’t read much poetry—which I truly regret (I enjoy poetry.) While researching my three Austen novels and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, however, I read all the poetry written by Austen and the Brontës. Jane and Charlotte wrote rather good poetry, but Charlotte’s sisters Emily and Anne outshone them. I’ve posted a selection of the Brontës’ poetry on my website, which were published together in one volume in 1846. Emily’s work is as darkly compelling as her novel Wuthering Heights. One of my favorites of this collection was written by Anne Brontë (under the pseudonym Acton Bell), when she was miserable and homesick while working as a governess for a wealthy family:

Home
by Acton Bell

How brightly glistening in the sun,
The woodland ivy plays!
While yonder beeches from their barks
Reflect his silver rays.
That sun surveys a lovely scene
From softly smiling skies;
And wildly through unnumbered trees
The wind of winter sighs. . .

But give me back my barren hills
Where colder breezes rise;
Where scarce the scattered, stunted trees
Can yield an answering swell,
But where a wilderness of heath
Returns the sound as well. . .

Restore me to that little spot,
With gray walls compassed round,
Where knotted grass neglected lies,
And weeds usurp the ground.

Though all around this mansion high
Invites the foot to roam,
And though its halls are fair within-
Oh, give me back my HOME!

Many thanks for having me here, Serena, at Savvy Verse and Wit. I’m happy to answer any other questions you or your visitors might have, so feel free to leave a comment and ask away!

JAFL Banner v6Please check out the other stops on the tour.

 

 

 

Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014.

Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!

JAFL Grand Prize x 420

Click the image for more details

Giveaway: Audio of Kristen Harnisch’s The Vintner’s Daughter

audio book coverEarlier this year, I raved about Kristen Harnisch’s The Vintner’s Daughter.

Loire Valley, 1895. When seventeen-year-old Sara Thibault’s father is killed in a mudslide, her mother sells their vineyard to a rival family, whose eldest son marries Sara’s sister, Lydia. But a violent tragedy compels Sara and her sister to flee to New York, forcing Sara to put aside her dream to follow in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker.

Meanwhile, Philippe Lemieux has arrived in California with the ambition of owning the largest vineyard in Napa by 1900. When he receives word of his brother’s death in France, he resolves to bring the killer to justice.

I said in my review, “Harnisch has crafted a emotional journey of a young woman coming into her own in the modern world and learning to forgive and be forgiven.  Stunning debut.”

I am excited to share with you that there will be a sequel to the book and to celebrate, I’ve got one audio download from Blackstone Audio to give away to one winner.

Please enter by Nov. 14, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST.

Giveaway: Still, At Your Door by Emma Eden Ramos

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of reading the latest work from Emma Eden Ramos, Still, At Your Door, which I reviewed in February.  It is not only a story about a young girl, Sabrina Gibbons, who wants a normal family life, but also a young lady looking for herself among the wreckage of her family and in the world around her.  A Streetcar Named Desire plays a strong role in the story, but it is by no means a retelling — it becomes a way for the author to parallel Tennessee Williams‘ work. Bri’s mother is like Blanche the main character in the play, clinging to her youth as much as she can, even as it slips away.  But this is Bri’s story.

I really enjoyed this ambitious work that explores not only coming of age in a broken home, but also bipolar disorder and its effect on the family.  For more on Ramos’ psychology angle and thoughts on her writing, check out my interview with her.

Here’s the synopsis of the novel:

Sabrina “Bri” Gibbons has only a few short minutes to pack her things and help her sisters pack theirs before running with their mother to the bus that will whisk them away from Butler, Pennsylvania, an abusive relationship, and a secret that none of them wish to acknowledge. She was not prepared, though, for her mother to drop them on the streets of New York with the promise that she would be right back. Haunted by the sight of her mother running back to the cab, Bri, with Missy and Grace in tow, settles in with their grandparents. Thoughts of her present and her future collide with memories of her past, her dead father, and her mother’s bizarre episodes. She watches her sisters struggle with school and acceptance, all the while knowing the lack of any sense of security will make it impossible for them to carry on as ‘normal’ children. She finally lets her guard down enough to allow someone else in and sees a faint glimmer that her dreams might be attainable. Disaster strikes again, this time targeting her sister. Is it possible for Bri to find that balance between her dreams and her family’s realities?

She’s received great reviews from the likes of the San Francisco Book Review.  “While there at first seems to be a deficiency in description and character and world development, surprisingly, Still At Your Door becomes one of those unique stories where less is more. This quick read flows smoothly from beginning to end, and is filled with glimpses of how life ought to be, but how for three young girls it greatly missed the mark. It provides readers with a deeper understanding of the physical and emotional effects of mental illness on the family as a whole and the need for broader awareness to allow children to maintain their childhood in innocence. This beautifully written book is one I would recommend for readers of any age,” Kim Heimbuch said in the review.

Her publisher also has nominated Emma Eden Ramos for The Next Generation Indie Award and A NIEA Award.

For those of you who are in the United States, I’m offering 1 copy of Still, At Your Door by Emma Eden Ramos to a lucky reader who comments before Oct. 31, 2014. 

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez & Giveaway

Source: Dey Street Books
Hardcover, 160 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez provides an inside look at how the television special about the great pumpkin and Charlie Brown came to be.  The prologue illustrates just how engrained Charlie Brown and the gang’s antics are in our popular culture, as politicians recently started using iconic scenes from the comics and movies to illustrate their own disappointments.

When Charles Schulz, Mendelson and Melendez created the Christmas special, they had low expectations that it would do well, but when it ranked #2 in 1965, they figured they earned a little confidence from the network, CBS.  The network executives, however, were still skeptical and were still not convinced even after the creation and success of a second special, Charlie Brown’s All Stars!  The executives basically called on them to create a blockbuster or else.  The recounted brainstorming session with Schulz is fantastic and the back-and-forth is inspiring as the animator and the creator of the comic bounce ideas around the room with Mendelson.

Included in the book are some great strips from the newspaper, photos of the creative team and actors, and the music sheets.  The book also includes the illustrated script for the special.  It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic by Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez is another wonderful keepsake or gift for the Charlie Brown aficionado in your life.  Slightly smaller than coffee table size, but great to put on the shelf, pull out on the holidays, and just share with the family any time.

About the Cartoonist:

Charles M. Schulz, nicknamed Sparky, was an American cartoonist, best known for the comic strip Peanuts. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential cartoonists of all time, cited as a major influence by many later cartoonists.

Giveaway:

For U.S. residents.  Leave a comment below about one of your Halloween or Christmas Traditions and one winner will be chosen to get both books — It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic and A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition!

Deadline to enter is Sept. 30, 2014, at 11:59 pm EST.

Other reviews:

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition

My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick and Giveaway

Source: Penguin Random House
Paperback, 180 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick is inspired by the real-life story of Franciszka and Helena Halamajowa who in Nazi-occupied Poland were able to save several families and a German soldier from being killed by the Nazis.  Told in understated, spare prose, the novel travels through the perspectives of Helena who grows up in Poland with her mother and brother without a father; Bronek, the head of one of the Jewish families; Mikolaj, the son of a premiere Jewish doctor before the Nazi occupation; and Vilheim, the German soldier who is vegetarian and does not want to kill.

“In all of us, there is a child that exists while we have our parents.

With my mother gone, I feel a sadness for the loss of the child within myself.” (page 68)

Helena’s perspective is the most developed of the four, in that readers garner a deeper understanding of her family and the losses they endure. Despite those hardships, she admires her mother’s commitment to doing the right thing. Her relationship with her brother is heart-warming from the beginning as they struggle to keep their stomachs full and steer clear of their father’s rage. Her mother’s secret is not so much that she begins hiding families from the Nazis but that she has the strength and conviction to do so no matter how much it could cost her personally. And while Helena sees herself differently, she carries with her that same strength, especially when her way of life changes drastically under Nazi occupation.

My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick covers the range of reasons people were in hiding during WWII, and examines the perseverance of those hiding them. But it also takes a look at how keeping up appearances and going unnoticed can be the key to survival, as is showing love to fellow man with no expectation of getting anything in return.

About the Author:

Originally from Taiwan, J.L. Witterick has been living in Canada since her family’s arrival in 1968. She attended the University of Western Ontario, graduating from the Richard Ivey School of Business. My Mother’s Secret is her debut novel. It is a bestseller in Canada and has been published in several countries around the world. Witterick lives in Toronto with her husband and son.

Giveaway:

U.S./Canada residents 18+ can leave a comment below to be entered; list a WWII book that you’ve loved. Deadline to enter is Sept. 22, 2014, 11:59 PM EST.

58th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

18th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Germany/Poland)

 

 

 

29th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

 

23rd book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax

Source: Berkley Books
Paperback, 416 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax is like getting together with old friends — Nikki, Avery, Deidre, Kyra, and Maddie.  These renovation gurus are back shooting another season of their Lifetime television series, Do Over, but the next location is a surprise hidden in the Florida Keys.

(If you haven’t read the previous books in this series, this review could contain spoilers for previous books.)

Nikki and her man, Joe, seem to be on the right track, but she’s still got commitment issues after the brother she raised was sent to prison for his Ponzi scheme that took her money and those of her clients.  Meanwhile, Kyra and her son Dustin are adjusting to her mother’s new life as a 50+ single woman.  Maddie’s decided that its best to leave a sinking ship, and her ex-husband seems nonplussed about the break up.  Avery and Chase are still playing house and she’s still shutting out her mother, but the tensions are less on these pairings and more about Maddie and her search for a new life.  Like the name of their show implies, life is full of second chances, and many of these ladies have been given theirs in more ways than one.  Maddie is just the latest who needs to spread her wings.

“Close up, the house was far larger than they’d been able to discern from the water and in far worse shape.  The board-and-batten siding was not just devoid of paint but had been badly pummeled by the elements.  Like a boxer who’d gone one too many rounds, the house almost seemed to be standing upright from sheer force of will.  Of possibly from habit.” (page 51)

Mermaid Point, their next renovation project, is hidden on a private island, and private is how ex-rocker William Hightower would like to keep it.  Like the house, Hightower is a battered rocker who’s looking to redeem himself, just as some of these ladies have picked themselves out of the dumps and started new.  Hightower has a lot of repairing to do, from his relationship with his son to his ability to connect with people who want to get close to him.  There’s a lot of gentle nudging as they scrape the layers off the old wood to smooth it down, but as Hightower lets down his walls he’s struck by what’s been missing in his life — a sense of belonging and of family.  Like his home, he transforms little by little coming out from the jungle and the weathered walls to expose himself to scrutiny and relationships he never thought possible.

The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax is a great summer beach read; these ladies will make you laugh, make you cry, but most of all want to hold all of your friends close.  Avery, Maddie, Deidre, Kyra, and Nikki all face their troubles head on, even if it is with a little push from their friends.  These ladies are ready to take on the next big challenge, and readers will be ready to go with them on their next adventure.

About the Author:

Award-winning author Wendy Wax has written eight novels, including Ocean Beach, Ten Beach Road, Magnolia Wednesdays, the Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist The Accidental Bestseller, Leave It to Cleavage, Single in Suburbia and 7 Days and 7 Nights, which was honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award. Her work has sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club, and her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

A St. Pete Beach, Florida native, Wendy has lived in Atlanta for fifteen years. A voracious reader, her enjoyment of language and storytelling led her to study journalism at the University of Georgia. She also studied in Italy through Florida State University, is a graduate of the University of South Florida, and worked at WEDU-TV and WDAE-Radio in Tampa.

Also Reviewed:

Giveaway for 1 copy of The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax for 1 U.S. resident.  Leave a comment below by July 16 by 11:59 PM EST.

Giveaway: Newly Reissued Tim O’Brien Books

Tim O’Brien is my go-to writer for Vietnam War-related literature, but even for those who are not interested in war literature, he’s a fantastic story-teller.  You can get lost in his books, totally taken in by his prose and his damaged characters.

I have read everyone of his books, except Going After Cacciato, which Anna and I will be doing later this year in a read-a-long at War Through the Generations in December.

Random House has kindly offered a prize pack of Tim O’Brien books (those 4 books pictured above) for one of my U.S.-based or Canada-based readers.

Giveaway will run through June 6, 2014, at 11:59 PM EST  Use the form.

Interview with Beth Hoffman, Author of Looking for Me

LookingForMePaperbackLooking for Me by Beth Hoffman, which made my Best of 2013 list, is due out in paperback this month.  Her second novel weaves “a story that will enchant readers with not only its southern charm and hospitality, but also the mysteries of family connections and miscommunications.”

Today, Beth will regale us with her wit and charm in a short interview.

Thank you so much for inviting me to chat with you, Serena.

1. In Looking for Me (on Kobo), Teddi Overman has a gift for restoring old furniture, but she seems unable to cope with the past. How do you think her ability to restore furniture reflects her inability to address her own past or the life she leads after high school?

Teddi adores her brother, and her hope for his survival is a tangled mess of guilt, unbearable grief, and even anger. These feelings translate into how she believes even the most severely damaged piece of furniture can be resurrected. By immersing herself in her craft, each repair represents how she’s trying to mend herself and her past.

2. Have you ever restored furniture or found a piece that just spoke to you?

Though I’ve restored a few pieces, I don’t have the patience to do what Teddi did. She was a master. Yes, certain pieces speak to me, and when they do it’s like being reunited with an old friend. Years ago I walked by an antiques shop and saw a circa 1908 Herschell-Spillman carousel horse in the window. My reaction was so powerful that nothing could have stopped me from having him. He was far outside my budget, but I found ways to scrape together enough to finally bring him home. I named him Ziggy.

3. When we leave home, we often leave behind who we were or were expected to be, how is this true of Teddi and do you think those pieces we leave behind can ever be recaptured?

The best way I can sum up my feelings is to quote Teddi: “I thought about that old saying, how we can never go home again. But I think it’s more like a piece of us stays behind when we leave—a piece we can never reclaim. One that awaits our next visit and demands that we remember.”

4. Between Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Looking for Me, could you describe your experience in publishing and editing the books? How were they the same and how were they different?

CeeCee’s story was my debut, and I had no idea what to expect once it was acquired.

I had edited the manuscript with a ruthless hand, so the re-pub editing was minimal and easy. But when the book published I felt like I’d been shot out of a cannon! I’m an introvert, so having a big spotlight shined on my face was frightening. Plus, I didn’t know how grueling a book tour could be. But it was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade.

When Looking for Me published I knew the ropes and had my feet beneath me, so I was better prepared.

5. What current projects are you working on? Care to share any details?

I recently started a new novel, and so far I’m enthralled with the characters. The story takes place in two historic districts that sit back-to-back in Northern Kentucky (Newport and Covington). The two female main characters (one in her early 30s and one in her silver years) are both hiding something. It’s through their unusual friendship that their mysteries unfold.

Thanks, Beth, for sharing a little bit about your books with us and about your new work. I know I cannot wait to read it!

****Enter to win a copy of Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman by leaving a comment here.  You must live in the continental U.S. to enter.  Deadline to enter is May 9, 2014, by 11:59 PM EST.***

Ode to Childhood: Poetry to Celebrate the Child edited by Samuel Carr

Source: Sterling Children’s Books
Hardcover, 96 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Ode to Childhood: Poetry to Celebrate the Child by Samuel Carr is a collection of poems from a variety of poets about children, parenthood, and their own childhoods, and no collection about children would be complete without William Blake, who has four poems included.  Blake is a poet that spoke about the innocence of childhood in a great many poems, which can be found in his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.  His childlike lines and voice evoke the childlike quality readers will immediately reference in their own experiences, but his poems also speak of a duality in childhood between desire and the more enlightened search for knowledge.  He demonstrates that children learn from the reactions and action of others in “Infant Sorrow,” learning that smiles get reactions that wailing did not.

Longfellow image

Reprinted with permission from Ode to Childhood © 2014 Batsford, distributed by Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by TFL from the London Transport Museum collection.

While each poem in the collection is about children or childhood, they are by turns nostalgic for a childhood lost, a celebration of innocence and play, and a homage to the joys that children bring to parents, others, and themselves.  Many of these poems are from classic poets and could be harder to comprehend upon first reading because of the difference in modern language, but the gist of the poems can be easily discerned from the overall atmosphere in the poems.

From “The Schoolboy” by William Blake (page 76)

I love to rise in a summer morn
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the sky-lark sings with me.
O! what sweet company.

But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.

The rhymes and rhythms of these poems could be read aloud almost like lullabies, but there are deeper meanings and stories that are told.  Coupled with the vibrant drawings that pop when readers turn the page, nostalgia for a by-gone era can take over —  remember scampering through those hills, playing follow-the-leader, or just chasing other kids around.  Ode to Childhood: Poetry to Celebrate the Child by Samuel Carr is not just a celebration of childhood or innocence, but a celebration of life.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO WIN ODE TO CHILDHOOD edited by Samuel Carr, tell me a childhood memory in the comments. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter. Giveaway ends April 15, 2014, at 11:59 PM EST

Book 8 for the Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014.

 

 

For today’s 2014 National Poetry Month: Reach for the Horizon tour stop, click the image below:

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad, illustrated by Benny Andrews

Source: Sterling Children’s Books
Hardcover, 48 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad, illustrated by Benny Andrews for ages 8+, is a collection of poems that won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award in 2007.  Hughes’ poems grew from a love of Whitman and a desire to express the joys of Black culture through verse and in an unapologetic way — and many of his poems are steeped in the urban experience from New York’s Harlem to Washington, D.C.  where is poem “Big Buddy” has become an anthem for the Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

Hughes’ introduction is long, and well it should be given his influence and his numerous works, but there is enough in here to conduct an entire lesson about American culture in the 1920s and beyond.  Like in the other books of this series, there are accompanying illustrations and explanations of what the poet thought or where the inspiration came from, and more importantly, dialects, unusual terms, and geographic locations are explained in the footnotes at the bottom of the page.

From “I, Too” (page 22)

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

The beauty of Hughes’ poems is the ways in which he illustrates not only the beauty of his people, but that of America with his people in it.  Infusing poems with a musicality of jazz or blues evokes an even greater emotional response when read aloud.  Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad, illustrated by Benny Andrews, is poignant, fun, and full of history.  Poems that are less about the darker side of life and more about the joys that we find within it.

Also in the series:


IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO WIN POETRY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE PRIZE PACK, name a favorite poet or poem in the comments. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter. Giveaway ends April 15, 2014, at 11:59 PM EST

Book 7 for the Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014.

 

 

For today’s 2014 National Poetry Month: Reach for the Horizon tour stop, click the image below:

Going Over by Beth Kephart

You must start with the toe-tapping video for Going Over by Beth Kephart. The music, the quotes from respected authors, the story summarized in the most eye-catching video about 1980s Berlin, at the height of punk rock and in a city fiercely divided arbitrarily by a literal wall and its politics, with Germans caught in the middle.

Source: Chronicle Books
Hardcover, 264 pages
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Going Over by Beth Kephart, which reaches stores in April, examines the division of a country and how it effects its people who are separated from their loved ones by a wall and barbed wire. Ada Piekarz, a professor of escapes and a graffiti artist, and her mother, Mutti, and grandmother, Omi, live in Kreuzberg, West Berlin, while Omi’s sister Grossmutter and Stefan live in Friedrichshain, East Berlin. Ada and her family can cross into East Berlin for visits occasionally, but the distance in time and space is too far for love to grow uninterrupted between Ada and Stefan, though it does remain strong in absence. Amidst this love story between Ada and Stefan is the love of a family, Omi and Grossmutter, who hold onto their pasts tightly, even the painful events when the Soviets and then the Stasi came.

“Omi is hiding. The shelter is dark, but Omi will be found, and her mother, and her best friend, Katja, too, who can trade cigarettes for flour, a used pair of boots for a wool jacket, a tulip bulb for a bird in a cage, and who will grow up and be old, who will become Stefan’s Grossmutter.” (page 111 ARC)

Kephart balances the points of view of Stefan and Ada beautifully, and the tension is built page after page as Ada says she can no longer wait for Stefan to decide whether to escape to West Berlin or not. Stefan is unsure if he should leave his grandmother who has lost so much, but he’s also feeling the guilt that comes with leaving her and being part of the reason she has already lost so much. Grossmutter is a woman who was talented and strong, but with the erection of a wall and the loss of her family, she’s become frail — at least on the outside — but she still has the power to surprise even her grandson.

Ada fronts strength, but even she has her limits as a punk painter of walls. She loves Stefan so much that it hurts, but she also loves the kids she cares for at the daycare where she works, including Savas. Savas’ story is here to remind us that Germans were not the only ones harmed by the wall and the separation of the country, but so too were the Turks who were called in to fulfill jobs that remained vacant. His family lives in the Turkish section of Germany, run by its own rules and rarely subject to German authority. It is this separation that leads to tragedy. Kephart demonstrates that differences make us stronger, that love can bind us together, and improve our lives despite the obstacles.

Kephart’s Going Over is stunning, and like the punk rock of the 80s, it strives to stir the pot, make readers think, and evoke togetherness, love, and even heartbreak — there are lessons in each.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, published in June 2009. And a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, released in March 2010. “The Longest Distance,” a short story, appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. In the fall of 2009, Kephart will teach the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.

Click here for the discussion questions for Going Over.

Also, a free sampler for Kindle.

5th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; this is set in Germany.

 

 

11th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

To win 1 copy of Going Over by Beth Kephart, leave a comment about your favorite 80s band!

You must have a U.S. or Canadian address to enter. Leave your comment by April 5, 2014, 11:59 PM EST

A Year With Six Sisters’ Stuff: 52 Menu Plans, Recipes, and Ideas to Bring Families Together

Source: Shadow Mountain
Paperback, 242 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

A Year With Six Sisters’ Stuff: 52 Menu Plans, Recipes, and Ideas to Bring Families Together is a selection of 52 menus with recipes for main meals, desserts, appetizers, salads, and side dishes.  These menu plans can make the busy family life a little bit easier when you have a plan for every evening meal of the year, thanks to these ladies.  Each menu plan includes the ingredients, the steps for creating the meals, and pictures of the final product — and these pictures will make your mouth water.  Although there are some recipes you’ll have to modify if you have allergies — which is easy enough with some ingenuity — for the most part these recipes will allow you to use what ingredients you have on hand or in the cupboards.  For those who like to plan ahead, they can map out a week’s worth of meals and shop accordingly.

For instance, in menu 45 — Parmesan Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms, Spinach Lasagna Rolls, and Garlic Breadsticks — I used the ingredients I had in the house to make the lasagna rolls, but not the other elements in the menu plan.  Making the stuffing for the rolls was as easy as mixing the cheese ingredients with egg and chopped spinach, but rather than use traditional lasagna noodles, I used my no-boil lasagna noodles.  Here’s the crazy part — I boiled them, but just long enough to make them pliable for rolling purposes — and that took less time that it would have if I used normal lasagna noodles, though these no boil noodles are shorter.  The recipe does make exactly 9 rolls and if you run out of sauce from a jar, you can always do what I did and used diced Italian-seasoned tomatoes from a can.  Here’s a picture of what they looked like before they went in the oven for 40 minutes:

Spinach Lasagna Rolls

And I can tell you, my husband is not a big spinach eater, but he gobbled these right up.  My next attempt at using the cookbook was for my daughter’s belated birthday bash with Anna and her family.  We used Menu # 27, which included Homemade Chicken Nuggets, Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese, and Applesauce Oatmeal Cookies.   Everything from this seemed to go over really well, though the cookies came out very cake-y and Anna and I prefer more crunchy cookies.  Also, my daughter selected her own dessert — rather than birthday cake — from a Menu # 48, Chocolate Raspberry Brownie Parfaits, which were really easy to make.

The chicken nuggets took the longest to make because of all the steps with cutting the chicken breast and preparing the breading, but you could cut out some steps by purchasing Kabob-ready chicken pieces.  The slow cooker mac-and-cheese took the next longest amount of time, and we wondered if cooking the pasta beforehand was necessary, but we did shorten the timing in the cooker because 2 hours seemed way too long.  The parfaits were easy to do once you made the box pudding and the brownies — all that was left was assembling them in dishes.  We also took from Menu # 1, the strawberry lemonade slush, which just needs lemonade from frozen concentrate, frozen strawberries, water, and some lemon-lime soda.  Check out the rest of the photos.

chocolatebrownie

After a big day at the house with friends, I hopped back into the cookbook to make something for breakfast that I’ve never made before — Egg Souffle from Menu #26. if you’re like me and get freaked out by large words like Souffle…this cookbook is for you. It made this so easy. After preparing the souffle and cooking it in the oven, I made bacon to go with it, rather than the French toast and strawberry sunrise drink — that will be for another day. Delicious, light, and moist.

A Year With Six Sisters’ Stuff: 52 Menu Plans, Recipes, and Ideas to Bring Families Together is not just a menu planning helper or cookbook, there are fun activities for the family to do together — like having a night where you shop for anything for dinner and end up with a smorgasbord of everyone’s favorites from cookies to bananas and pizza. Everyone at my house loved the food and it was something we’d definitely try again, and I cannot wait to try out more of these recipes.

About the Authors:

The Six Sisters—Camille, Kristen, Elyse, Stephanie, Lauren, and Kendra—grew up in Utah, but a few of them have lived in other parts of the country since moving out of the house. Between them there are five nieces and three nephews, and all of the sisters love playing “aunt.” The sisters started the blog in February 2011 to keep in touch while they were apart, but it has since gained popularity, garnering more than 9 million viewers per month and more than 307,000 followers on Pinterest. Check out their Facebook page.

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