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Guest Post: The Gifts of Memoir by Christine Hale

tlc tour hostChristine Hale, author of A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations, is stopping by to talk about the gifts of memoir.  Please give her a warm welcome.

Readers often ask me why I wrote a memoir. I began as a fiction writer (my first book, Basil’s Dream, published in 2009, is a novel). But the year my mother passed away, 2000, the material that would become this memoir asserted itself. In fact, it hijacked me. I was granted a 10-day residency at an artists’ colony, precious time to work on a revision of the novel. But when my busy life dropped away from me, all I could do was grieve my mother: her death, her hard life, and the tangle of love and misery that had been our relationship. I spent the whole residency writing about her life and my childhood. When I went home and got busy again, I completely forgot what I’d written. A year or so later, my computer’s hard drive was failing. Pulling off the files I wanted to save, I found that material– almost 100 pages! I read it, realized it was memoir, gulped, felt sick, and put it aside.

But I couldn’t stop writing about my life. Only after my mother died did I begin to really get to know my father, so that revelation had to be explored on the page. The solitary Buddhist retreats I undertook every year or so were other-worldly I just had to write about them. And the together-tattoos with my teen children, that strange and funny tale had to be told.

Much of what now comprises A PIECE OF SKY, A GRAIN OF RICE was originally published as separate personal essays. I had a nagging feeling that these apparently separate threads all belonged together, but for the longest time– years– I couldn’t figure out how or why. Only in retrospect is the answer crystal clear: the stories belong together because they are all about reconciliation: me coming to terms with the path I’ve traveled– and the people I bruised and learned from and was bruised by along the way.

By the time I began pulling the separate threads together into a book, around 2007, I’d been writing and teaching writing for a long time. So I knew I faced quite a technical challenge. Ultimately I figured that the only structure that could handle so many memories from so many points in time was collage. Think of photos pasted to a poster board– layered, overlapping, some partially obscured, others fore-grounded. The placement appears random, but the creator of the collage has a sense, conscious or intuitive, of where each photo belongs.

I worked on the book by shaping each memory into a little story, with careful attention to sensory detail (this is the advice I give to every would-be memoirist). I cut the longer stories into pieces and arrayed them in the way that felt “right.” I let the tattoo stories, which were happening as I worked on the book, be the through-line, because I wanted the book to have some momentum– some narrative drive– through time. I revised and refined the collage many times, with input from a small group of writer friends I rely on as first readers. It’s very rewarding to discover that my readers do “get” that the book’s structure mimics the way our own processes of recollection and introspection work: seldom a straight line.

I came to understand myself more clearly through the process of creating the book. When I work with people writing memoir, I tell them this is the gift they can expect to receive, if they can be both unflinching– courageous enough to see themselves and others as they really are– and self-compassionate- -merciful enough to accept, forgive, and learn from their humanity.

I want my readers to take away a feeling that they are not alone in their doubts, fears, confusion, strivings, and hopes. That these feelings are the essence of being human. I often hear from readers that they identify with the struggles and the triumphs in the book, that they are reminded of their own sweetest memories, that they feel reconnected with people they’ve lost, or that they have new insight into someone who was a powerful and painful mystery in their life. It’s amazing and satisfying that readers can get from the book their own personal version of what I got from writing it: clarity and release.

About the Book:

Christine Hale grew up amid abuse, depression, dysfunction, alienation and isolation—her mother’s, but also, because her view was the lens that controlled the family—her own, her father’s and her two sisters’. She became a writer, a prodigal daughter, a single parent, a Buddhist disciple, and, late in midlife, a newlywed. In this non-linear memoir, she meditates upon the broken path she’s traveled: two divorces, an abandoned career, too much solitude, an unconventional and transformative relationship with a female spiritual teacher, and two children lost to young adulthood but recovered, in part, through an odd ritual of repeated tattooing.

About the Author:

Christine Hale’s prose has appeared in Hippocampus, Arts & Letters, Prime Number, Shadowgraph, and The Sun, among other literary journals. Her debut novel Basil’s Dream (Livingston Press 2009) received honorable mention in the 2010 Library of Virginia Literary Awards. Hale has been a finalist for the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers and the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Presently, she teaches in the Antioch University-Los Angeles Low-Residency MFA Program as well as the Great Smokies Writing Program. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Guest Review: A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
– Reviewed by Elisha at Rainy Day Reviews

Entertainment Weekly says – “In his semiautobiographical story collection, Maclean paints a sumptuous portrait of the state’s beauty.”

NormanMacLean_ARiverRunsThroughItSummary form Goodreads:

Just as Norman Maclean writes at the end of “A River Runs through It” that he is “haunted by waters,” so have readers been haunted by his novella. A retired English professor who began writing fiction at the age of 70, Maclean produced what is now recognized as one of the classic American stories of the twentieth century. Originally published in 1976, A River Runs through It and Other Stories now celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary, marked by this new edition that includes a foreword by Annie Proulx.

Maclean grew up in the western Rocky Mountains in the first decades of the twentieth century. As a young man he worked many summers in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service. The two novellas and short story in this collection are based on his own experiences—the experiences of a young man who found that life was only a step from art in its structures and beauty. The beauty he found was in reality, and so he leaves a careful record of what it was like to work in the woods when it was still a world of horse and hand and foot, without power saws, “cats,” or four-wheel drives. Populated with drunks, loggers, card sharks, and whores, and set in the small towns and surrounding trout streams and mountains of western Montana, the stories concern themselves with the complexities of fly fishing, logging, fighting forest fires, playing cribbage, and being a husband, a son, and a father.

Review:

Firstly, I did not know this was turned into a movie. Now that is on my list.

The writing in this book was smooth, cohesive, eloquent, and smart. This novella was mixed with sadness of real life as well as the joys. This story has more than one level, at the surface, it is a good and well written story about Maclean and his father and brother; his family. They all have a shared bond of fishing, it is like the air that they breathe, what seems to hold them to hold them together.

However, going beneath this well-crafted story, I think the moral, the reason behind this book is: relationships that we have, memories that we create with those we hold dear, and the bonds that are made. I think the saddest but truest message to take is, from all that we can learn from this book is, those that are the ‘last survivor’ of those memories, those bonds that were made during the yesteryears, and the relationship that were made before it all changed and while it all changed.

I can definitely see why this is a classic. I’d recommend this to all.

USbooks Montana

Guest Review: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

soundfuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
– reviewed by HC at The Irresponsible Reader

Wow, it took like 2 minutes for me to remember just how much work this guy is to read. This is not the kind of book you take to the breakroom at work for a few minutes during lunch. The Sound and the Fury, like all of Faulkner that I can remember, takes work. You have to think — especially here in Part 1. Don’t get me wrong, Part 2 is no walk in the park, but Benjy’s narration is just so difficult to wade through given his cognitive ability.

Maybe I should back up a bit — this is the story of the fall of the Compson family — a great Southern family from Jefferson, MS, through (primarily) various stream of consciousness points of view. Part 1 is told through the point of view of Benjy. Benjy is 33 year-old developmentally disabled man, and his section is almost impossible to follow. There’s no chronological sense to it, it’s impossible to follow on first read as Benjy talks about a variety of events over the course of his life. Which is not to say there’s not a certain poetry, a power to it. But man . . .

Part 2 is possibly more difficult to understand, honestly, despite being told from Benjy’s older brother’s POV. But I don’t want to talk about the details — I just hate spoilers (even if you’ve had around 90 years to catch up). There are other POVs (including — thankfully, an omniscient third-person).

The plot is one thing — the experience of reading the novel is another. You want to know the power of the English language? Read William Faulkner. I don’t know what else to say. I’m not sure I’m equipped to talk about this, really — P.I.s, wizards, werewolves, dogs? Sure. The kind of thing that wins Nobel Prizes? That’s just beyond me. This is the stuff of history — of legend, really.

There is horrible language used throughout — the kind of thing that gets books banned from schools and classrooms, so if you’re easily offended, skip this. But it’s how people talked (still do), it’s honest, it’s brutal, it’s ugly, it’s human.

This is not my favorite novel by Faulkner — nor is it something I recommend to someone who’s never read the man before (maybe, As I Lay Dying?). That said, it’s full of fantastic writing, insights into the human condition, strange southerners, tragedy, and complexity that I cannot describe. Faulkner, as always, stands so far above the pack that it’s almost not fair to other books. Of course, 5 stars, how could it be anything else?

USbooks Mississippi

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Guest Review: In Country by Bobbi Ann Mason

Reviewed by Teri at Sportochick’s Musings

In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason, narrated by: Jill Brennan
Length: 9 hrs and 48 mins
Unabridged Audiobook
Release Date:05-03- 11
Publisher: HarperAudio

In CountrySynopsis:

The bestselling novel and deeply affecting story of a young girl who comes to terms with her father’s death in Vietnam two decades earlier.

In the summer of 1984, the war in Vietnam came home to Sam Hughes, whose father was killed there before she was born. The soldier-boy in the picture never changed. In a way that made him dependable. But he seemed so innocent. “Astronauts have been to the moon,” she blurted out to the picture. “You missed Watergate. I was in the second grade.” She stared at the picture, squinting her eyes, as if she expected it to come to life. But Dwayne had died with his secrets. Emmett was walking around with his. Anyone who survived Vietnam seemed to regard it as something personal and embarrassing. Granddad had said they were embarrassed that they were still alive. “I guess you’re not embarrassed,” she said to the picture.

Review:

In Country takes place in Hopewell, Kentucky and is the story of recent high school graduate Sam and her Uncle Emmett, a Viet Nam war vet. Sam is searching for the answers to the past regarding her dad and why her Uncle is so messed up. Emmett is just trying to survive and live one day at a time after returning broken from Viet Nam.

Sam has a strong desire to know more about the father she never meet, a farm boy, who went to Vietnam and never came back. So she begins her search by asking any one she knows about her dad. There is a point where I felt she would drive me crazy with the persistent questions but the author smooths out this roughness with resolutions to some questions via talking to her paternal grandparents and her mother Irene. Through a series of letters and a diary she finds answers that bring her peace and upheaval as well. This upheaval causes her to be able to finally make a decision on how to move forward with her life.

Another part of the story that drove me crazy was her constantly hounding her Uncle about all the things she felt was wrong with him medically. I understand her love for him and her desire for him to not die but yikes the constant harping what was wrong with him was too much. She was a hypochondriac for him.

Emmet and some of his war friends portray an intricate part to the story with their inability to have relationships, work, and socialize plus their various health issues. But also added to the story were other war vets that were able to have normal lives. This balance greatly added to the story and it’s correctness to real life. The scene where Tom, a war vet, spent time with Sam was painful and sad causing me to wonder was there ever a time after that that he was able to love someone and be fulfilled.

At one point in the book Emmet says, “There’s something wrong with me. I’m damaged.” that I started to cry. There was overwhelming pain for all of them and grief for my part in disassociating myself from this area of life. It dawned on me that we were all damaged in some way from this war.

My Thoughts:

  • U.S. involvement for the Vietnam War lasted from 1955-1973 and consisted of approximately 58,200 Americans deaths and over 300,000 wounded.
  • In 1973 the military draft (only for males) ends and an all-volunteer military is formed creating opportunities for women.
  • In 1973, I graduated from high school with no good thoughts about our involvement in the Vietnam War. I lived through my friends’ fear of being drafted, death of loved ones, draft evasion, war protest, and the burning of college campuses. For me I disassociated myself from this war like many others and to this day I am ashamed to say I don’t get it. What I do get is how poorly we as a people and government treated the returning military.

This book caused me to think and open my mind to a time in my life that I had shutdown.

USBooks Kentucky

Guest Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

– Review by Wendy at BookLoverCircumspect4

State – Connecticut

Synopsis from Goodreads

Orphaned Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean island she left behind. In her relatives’ stern Puritan community, she feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely. The only place where Kit feels completely free is in the meadows, where she enjoys the company of the old Quaker woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, and on occasion, her young sailor friend Nat. But when Kit’s friendship with the “witch” is discovered, Kit is faced with suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft!

The_Witch_of_Blackbird_Pond_coverReview:

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is an historical novel and a love story. The main character, Kit, was raised by her grandfather in Barbados. When her grandfather dies, she leaves Barbados on a ship named the Dolphin to find her aunt and uncle in Connecticut. Needless to say, her aunt and uncle doesn’t know that she is coming.

Upon her arrival to her Aunt Rachel and Uncle Mercy’s home in Wethersfield, Connecticut, where she also has two cousins, Mercy (who is handicapped) and Judith. Kit’s life is far different from her life in Barbados, where she is forced to do chores and attend church, which she clearly hates. Kit becomes happier when she and Mercy began teaching the younger children in her town. An incident happens at the school and it is shut down, and Kit runs away and she meets Hannah Tupper, an older lady that has been outlawed from the colony. While visiting Hannah, she again runs into Nat Eaton, son of the captain of the Dolphin, and Kat falls in love with him.

A deadly illness sweeps through the town and Hannah is accused of being a witch and is to be killed. Kit warns Hannah who escapes with the help Nat and his boat. The town is also accusing Kit of being a witch and she must prove her innocence when Nat returns to Westherfield.

Does Nat return help Kit? Is Kit found to be a witch? Or is she able to escape Connecticut and return to Barbados? You will have to read the book.

I give this book three out of four onions. This book is rich in American history and is a commonly read book for older grade schoolers. It also has a nice mixture of romance, politics and suspense. It really is a good read especially for young adults.

USBooks Conn

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Guest Review: The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY TO THOSE IN THE UNITED STATES!

The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever reviewed by Rainy Day Reviews.

State – Massachusetts

Entertainment Weekly says – “Cheever’s glorious 1957 debut novel about a decidedly unconventional Massachusetts family was an instant classic, combining both humor and pathos in equal doses. It was also the first Book of the Month club pick that used the F-word.”

Synopsis:

When The Wapshot Chronicle was published in 1957, John Cheever was already recognized as a writer of superb short stories. But The Wapshot Chronicle, which won the 1958 National Book Award, established him as a major novelist.

Based in part on Cheever’s adolescence in New England, the novel follows the destinies of the impecunious and wildly eccentric Wapshots of St. Botolphs, a quintessential Massachusetts fishing village. Here are the stories of Captain Leander Wapshot, venerable sea dog and would-be suicide; of his licentious older son, Moses; and of Moses’ adoring and errant younger brother, Coverly. Tragic and funny, ribald and splendidly picaresque, The Wapshot Chronicle is a family narrative in the tradition of Trollope, Dickens, and Henry James.

WapshotChronicleReview:

I was hesitant to read this book even though the author is obviously talented, because the title threw me for a loop. However, the author proves himself to be quite the eloquent and talented writer. You can tell the timeframe of this book by not only the syntax but by how and why Cheever framed the story.

There were themes within this book that were very relatable to any family in this story. Even in today’s modern and fast paced world, and I think that takes some talent when this story was not written for today’s world because our world today was only thought about futuristically. I enjoyed the fact that Cheever gives the reader a chance to get to know the characters within the story without giving it all away and instead lets us read the characters and learn about them and what makes them an individual through our reading.

I was surprised to see quite a bit of lust and fantasizing in the story, but it wasn’t graphic. But I also found that perhaps lust was equated to love in this story. Because of this, whenever a person was fulfilled in their love, I found myself smiling. The older wealthy ladies on the other hand, Honora for example, I found a little irritating. Their way of thinking is almost the exact opposite of mine and because of this I would find it difficult and challenging to be around them on a daily basis.

I would recommend this story, not simply because it is a classic but, because the story between Captain Leander Wapshot and his sons as well as Lender’s diary, make this a very interesting read.

USBooks Mass

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Guest Review: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Reviewed by C.H. Armstrong Books & Blog

lonesome-dove-brookline-july-2012When I learned I would have the pleasure of reviewing Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, I quite literally did a fist pump of victory. Simply stated, this is one of my all-time favorite novels, and one of the very few I would consider reading more than once. For that reason, I’ll not beat around the bush: I enthusiastically give this novel a full 5-star review. If I could give it more than 5-stars, I most certainly would.

So what’s it about?

I asked this question of those who originally recommended it to me, and the answer I received didn’t inspire enthusiastic thoughts: It’s the story about a bunch of old cowboys who go on a cattle drive.

Huh? How is that even remotely interesting? Why would I want to read about a cattle drive?

The answer is this: Just do it. I promise: You won’t be sorry.

Lonesome Dove is about a cattle drive, but it’s more than that. It’s about the strong ties of friendship between two former Texas Rangers, Captain August “Gus” McCrae and Captain Woodrow F. Call, two men who couldn’t be more different. While Call is stoic and serious, McCrae is often seen as more laid back and carefree. But the truth is that the two men, for all of their differences, are like yen and yang or two sides of the same coin. It’s almost a love story without the romance element. They complement each other and, while they seem to have nothing at all in common, they are simply not the same without the other.

Besides the main characters is a series of supporting cast members who round out the story…a 17 year old boy, the son of a prostitute, who suspects that Call might be his father; a young prostitute, Lorie, who just wants to get out of town; and the reprehensible coward, Jake Spoon, who abandons her and leaves her defenseless against the elements and those who would do her harm.

In truth, I sat down to read this book because I wanted to silence someone who insisted I read it…and so I talked my best friend (700 miles away) into reading it with me, just so I would have some company in what I thought would be a grueling read. To my surprise, it was action-packed, funny, heartbreaking, and truly one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Trust me – you don’t want to miss this book. If you read nothing else this year, pick up a copy of Lonesome Dove. You won’t be sorry!

Texas US of Books

Guest Post & Giveaway: American Red Cross Heroines by Cat Gardiner, Author of A Moment Forever

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If you visited in the last month or so, you’ll have heard of Cat Gardiner, a voice who was new to me in the world of Austen-inspired fiction.  What really drew me to her writing was her love of WWII-era fiction and her thorough research for historical fiction.  She takes research to a whole new level.  She creates playlists for her books, Pinterest boards, and her and her husband often attend and participate in re-enactments!

Her latest novel, A Moment Forever, is a sweeping epic in which Juliana Martel is bequeathed a home that looks like a time capsule from 1942 and the mysterious love affair of her great uncle.  Martel embarks on a journalistic journey to uncover the past, which could end up healing herself.

Read more about the book on GoodReads or, better yet, buy it!  It’s sure to be a winner!  It’s available on Kindle or in paperback at Amazon.

Without further ado, please welcome Cat Gardiner.

Hi Serena & Friends! Thank you for inviting me back at Savvy Verse & Wit with my debut WWII romance novel, A Moment Forever (AMF). It’s swell to be here! Some of your readers who know me have recently learned―upon my own outing―my big secret: I’m a WWII Living Historian.

“A what? Is Cat really that old?”

No! I’m a WWII reenactor alongside my husband with the 1 st Infantry Division Reenactment Group out of Bradenton, Florida. He wears the GI combat uniform and I wear the frock and snood ―or hat― depending on the season. Together with the other “boys” of the 1 st I.D, we educate the public at various events and, on occasion, I’ve been seen hanging on my sweetheart’s arm, swooning after 23 years of marriage. I do so love a man in uniform. (In case you’re curious: Visit Here)

When considering this guest article, I, of course, wanted to discuss some relevant theme within AMF, but there were many. So I thought I’d share with you my own 1940s Experience in reenactment and how writing AMF has infused my commitment with new ideas!

This past Memorial Day (AMF’s book birthday,) the third year at a local museum where the 1 st I.D had encamped, and as the norm, I accompanied the men. Nothing more than their informative groupie, looking pretty (I hoped) in the bivouac, I reflected on one of AMF’s main characters and how her wartime service could be one that I could emulate at these events. I absolutely love engaging with the public and sharing with them a little about the home front experience and explaining the various military personal items in the display cases. On occasion, I’m even asked to pose in my vintage apparel and discuss gloves, hats, and handkerchiefs! But at this last event, I really got to thinking, “Can I teach more?” And that was when I considered A Moment Forever as my guide.

You see, Lillian Renner, our heroine’s “Irish Twin” volunteered locally with the American Red Cross’s Motor Corps. However, after training in late 1942 for the newly created Clubmobile service, she left for England and, although the service ended in 1945, she didn’t return back to the states until 1946. Personally, I had never heard of the clubmobile when I began writing the novel in 2013, but as research goes when putting together a saga such as AMF, you follow the lead-and it led me to WWII’s “Doughgirls”. In the following Korean and Vietnam wars, they’d come to be further loved and known as Donut Dollies.

Sitting in that hot canvas tent this past Memorial Day, I thought of Lillian and the other two girls driving their “club on wheels” ―a 2 ½ ton truck―from, at first, airfields and docks in Great Britain, and then four days after D-Day, they began their trek with the troops across Europe. These ARC clubmobilers also served along the very dangerous India/China/Burma front. Wherever the boys were, so were the doughgirls. They traveled behind and received their assignments from the army, serving the troops resting from battle at the frontlines. I could reenact this, I thought. I want to. I have to. If I had lived then, I would have done it! All I need now is a truck, a uniform, and all the qualities those girls had. Bravery being the first and foremost.

“The clubmobile consisted of a good-sized kitchen with a built-in doughnut machine. A primus stove was installed for heating water for coffee, which was prepared in 50-cup urns. On one side of the kitchen area, there was a counter and a large flap which opened out for serving coffee and doughnuts. In the back one-third of the clubmobile, was a lounge with a built-in bench on either side (which could be converted to sleeping bunks, if necessary), a victrola with loud speakers, a large selection of up-to- date music records, and paperback books.” – Official website clubmobiles.org

“The clubmobile consisted of a good-sized kitchen with a built-in doughnut machine. A primus stove was installed for heating water for coffee, which was prepared in 50-cup urns. On one side of the kitchen area, there was a counter and a large flap which opened out for serving coffee and doughnuts. In the back one-third of the clubmobile, was a lounge with a built-in bench on either side (which could be converted to sleeping bunks, if necessary), a victrola with loud speakers, a large selection of up-to- date music records, and paperback books.” – Official website clubmobiles.org

Although the concept of bringing doughnuts to the boys in battle began with the Salvation Army during WWI, in 1942, pretty girls between 25 and 35 years of age, trained with the American Red Cross. In Washington, DC they learned to dance, play poker, shoot the breeze, and make coffee and doughnuts―from a truck. What they couldn’t prepare for was the reality of war when fliers landed, returning from a mission. Nor could these American girls ready themselves for the tears―and yes there were tears―when battle-weary GIs saw in them SO MUCH MORE than just “a” woman from back home. To them, they were home; they represented the girl next door, their sisters, their sweethearts who they missed. The cigarettes and magazines, the music and candy were life savers, but the smiles and compassion, the attentive ears, laughter, and the dances were soul savers. These trailblazing clubmobiler girls were so much more than ARC volunteers offering hot coffee and doughnuts. Everything from the truck was free, but the shoulder she offered was priceless. Resting upon that shoulder was the power to restore the man and his humanity, particularly when the clubmobile was there at POW camp liberations.

Clubmobile Airfield

Finally recognized by the United States Senate in 2012 for their self-sacrifice and morale boosting efforts, these girls, oftentimes slept in the truck. They wore special field uniforms and if attached to an artillery unit, withstood the shelling. They also endured their own hardships, the homesickness and the heavy hearts they carried into their solitude after a long day of service to our fighting boys.

So, two weeks ago, after pondering these heroes, I told my husband to reach out to a few of his military vehicle collector friends and put out the word: find my wife either a truck we can convert or an actual clubmobile. Of course, I said it tongue and cheek, but he does have such a friend with big, deep pockets who loves this stuff. The guy even has three or four WWII tanks! What’s a little ole’ GMC 2-ton truck for a modern girl wearing a snood?

It’s my dream to be AMF’s Lillian Renner attached to the 1 st Infantry Division, attending reenactments and selling doughnuts to visitors. All proceeds would go to The Honor Flight or another worthy veteran cause. I’d have a uniform specially made and tell the stories of heroic girls such as Captain Elizabeth Richardson (see book: Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys) and tales such as this former volunteer:

I absolutely adored learning about this little-known piece of ARC history, and I’m delighted that Serena has given me an opportunity to tell you about these brave women who served during all the wars. Thank you!

Thanks, Cat, for the wonderful guest post! Readers, that’s not all, enter to win some swag below!

Check out her blog tour:

 

Giveaway!

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For domestic entries, I’d like to offer a special swag giveaway, which represents key themes within A Moment Forever.

  • An e-book A Moment Forever
  • Glass blown swans statue
  • Bath and Body Works gardenia hand cream
  • Bath and Body Works gardenia scented candle
  • A Moment Forever bookmarkDSC03877

Don’t think we forgot our international commenters!  You’ll be entered to win an ebook of A Moment Forever!

DEADLINE June 30, 2016.

GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED

Guest Excerpt: Love & Friendship by Whit Stillman

Love Friendship Blog Tour graphic banner

Whit Stillman has written a companion novel to the recent Austen movie adaptation, Love & Friendship, which entered theaters in May.

Praise for the movie adaptation:

  • “FLAT-OUT-HILARIOUS. Jane Austen has never been funnier.” – The Telegraph
  • “Whit Stillman and English novelist Jane Austen make for a delightful pairing in this comedy of manners.” – The Star.com
  • “Kate Beckinsale magnetizes the screen.” – Variety

Love and Friendship Wit Stillman 2016About the Book:

Whit Stillman has taken Austen’s never-finished epistolary novella, Lady Susan, reimagined it as a straight narrative, and added the hilarious new character of Rufus, Susan’s apologist nephew, who aims to clear Susan’s good name come hell or high water (even if he is doing it from “the ignoble abode” of debtors’ prison ). Despite many indications to the contrary, Rufus insists that Susan is, “the kindest, most delightful woman anyone could know, a shining ornament to our Society and Nation.” Rufus then appends his earnest tale with a collection of his aunt’s letters, which he claims have been altered by Austen to cast the estimable Lady Susan in a bad light.

Impossibly beautiful, disarmingly witty, and completely self-absorbed, Lady Susan Vernon, is both the heart and the thorn of Love & Friendship. Recently widowed, with a daughter who’s coming of age as quickly as their funds are dwindling, Lady Susan makes it her mission to find them wealthy husbands——and fast.

But when her attempts to secure their futures result only in the wrath of a prominent conquest’s wife and the title of “most accomplished coquette in England,” Lady Susan must rethink her strategy.

Today, we have an excerpt from Stillman’s rendition of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan.

Mr. Reginald DeCourcy, Confounded

Returned early from hunting with the Lymans in Sussex, while shaking off the journey’s chill, Reginald DeCourcy inquired about his sister’s celebrated guest: “Is she as beautiful as they say? I confess to great curiosity to know this Lady and see first-hand her bewitching powers.”

“You worry me, Reginald.”

“No need for worry. It is only that I understand Lady Susan to possess a degree of captivating deceit which might be pleasing to detect.”

“You truly worry me.”

“Good evening!”

Lady Susan, descending the staircase, stopped to greet them, with Mrs. Cross just behind her. Reginald and Catherine looked strangely surprised.

“What charming expressions!”

Catherine recovered first: “Susan, let me introduce my brother, Reginald DeCourcy. Reginald, may I present Frederic Vernon’s widow, Lady Susan, and her friend Mrs. Cross.”

After a polite nod to Mrs. Cross, Reginald addressed Susan: “I am pleased to make your acquaintance — your renown precedes you.”

“I’m afraid the allusion escapes me,” she replied coolly. “Your reputation as an ornament to our Society.”

“That surprises me. Since the great sadness of my husband’s death I have lived in nearly perfect isolation. To better know his family, and further remove myself from Society, I came to Churchill — not to make new acquaintance of a frivolous sort. Though of course I am pleased to know my sister’s relations.”

Lady Susan and the ladies continued to the Gold Room, leaving Reginald free to consider her remarks.

* * * * * * * * *

Over the following weeks and days Lady Susan and Reginald DeCourcy found themselves often in each other’s company, to such a degree that it seemed this might have been their conscious choice. They strolled through the Churchill shrubbery and rode horseback up its downs.

Wherever they were within Catherine Vernon’s vicinity they could count on being spied upon. Every garden walk or chance conversation she monitored with mounting suspicion. In her mind she was only seeking to protect her younger brother’s heart from a wicked temptress. Certainly Reginald DeCourcy was in many ways a callow youth, but did he require his sister’s protection? Those whose malice is most apparent to others are often precisely those most convinced of their own virtue. Their machinations are ever in defence of worthy objectives, or the prevention of The Bad. But, in truth, for the Catherine Vernons of this world, the spreading of worry and discord is their true delight. An expression has it that “misery loves company.” Of its truth I am not certain but “misery-causing” most definitely loves accompaniment. In this spirit — that of sounding alarm and provoking discord — she wrote to her mother at Parklands:

. . . I am, indeed, provoked at the artifice of this unprincipled Woman. What stronger proof of her dangerous abilities can be given than this perversion of Reginald’s judgement, which when he entered the house was so against her? I did not wonder at his being much struck by the gentleness & delicacy of her Manners; but when he mentions her of late it has been in terms of extraordinary praise; & yesterday he actually said that he could not be surprised at any effect produced on the heart of Man by such Loveliness & such Abilities; & when I lamented, in reply, her notorious history, he observed that whatever might have been her errors, they were to be imputed to her neglected Education & early Marriage, & that she was altogether a wonderful Woman…

Mrs. Cross, who also noticed the time Lady Susan and Reginald spent in each other’s company — she sometimes paused from her tasks to observe the two walking in Churchill’s gardens — was not so arrogant as to presume to know their private feelings, let alone cast malicious aspersions.

“I take it you are finding Mr. DeCourcy’s society more pleasurable,” she lightly observed as Lady Susan returned from one such outing.

“To some extent . . . At first his conversation betrayed a sauciness and familiarity which is my aversion — but since I’ve found a quality of callow idealism which rather interests me. When I’ve inspired him with a greater respect than his sister’s kind offices have allowed, he might, in fact, be an agreeable flirt.”

“He’s handsome, isn’t he?”

Susan considered the question.

“Yes, but in a calf-like way — not like Manwaring . . . Yet I must confess that there’s a certain pleasure in making a person, pre-determined to dislike, instead acknowledge one’s superiority . . . How delightful it will be to humble the pride of these pompous DeCourcys!”

Check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour:

THE LOVE & FRIENDSHIP JANEITE BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE: 

  • June 13                  AustenBlog (Interview)
  • June 14                  The Calico Critic (Review)         
  • June 15                  Diary of Eccentric (Excerpt)      
  • June 16                  Laura’s Reviews (Review)
  • June 17                  My Jane Austen Book Club (Review)
  • June 17                  Confessions of a Book Addict (Excerpt)        
  • June 20                  Austenesque Reviews (Review)
  • June 20                  Austenprose (Interview)                      
  • June 21                  So Little Time…So Much to Read (Excerpt)
  • June 21                  Luxury Reading (Review)                    
  • June 22                  Just Jane 1813 (Review)                                         
  • June 23                  Savvy Verse & Wit (Excerpt)                         
  • June 24                  Austenprose (Review) 

GIVEAWAY WINNERS ANNOUNCED!

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Guest Review & Giveaway: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Welcome to the halfway point of the United States of books! We have now reached review number twenty-five and six months of reviews. I can’t thank the team of reviewers enough and our fantastic readers. To say thanks to you all, we are giving away a $25.00 Amazon gift card for 1st place and then a copy of any of the US of Books books (winners choice) Kindle or physical copy (INT) as long as Book Depository delivers, for 2nd place.

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To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Review by Laura at 125Pages.com
4 ½ Stars

tokillamockingbirdSynopsis:

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning masterwork of honor and injustice in the deep south—and the heroism of one man in the face of blind and violent hatred. One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, served as the basis for an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of- age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father-a crusading local lawyer-risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

Review:

This week takes us to Alabama with To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. EW says – “Forget the dubious sequel. Lee’s exceptional work is a perfectly contained miracle about the struggle for justice in a system built to destroy it. From Birmingham to Tuskegee, Alabama was a burning center of racial conflict, and this novel takes place right on the outskirts of that crucible.”

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the first “grown-up” books I remember reading. It was the summer before 7th grade and I was a precocious twelve-year- old. I loved that the person telling the story was a smart young girl and that she was so very different from other book narrators that I had been exposed to. I read it at least once a year and loved when it was on the book list in sophomore year, as it made the book report easy to do. As I got older, I stopped reading it as often, and as I picked it up this time realized it had been at least ten years since I had last picked it up. As I cracked the cover on my old worn copy, it was like stepping back in time to a period in my life that had long since passed.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

To Kill A Mockingbird is a complex story of a young girl, six-year- old Jean Louise Finch (Scout), who lives with her lawyer and widower father Atticus and her older brother Jem. Scout and Jem, together with the neighbor boy Dill, are fascinated with their reclusive neighbor “Boo” Radley, a recluse that is never seen. They begin to spin tales about him and try to entice him outside. Meanwhile their father is assigned a case defending a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a young white woman. The two stories weave together in a powerful tale of race relations in a small southern town coming out of the Depression. Harper Lee crafted a tale of morality and family that still resonates today.

“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”

Love and murder, racism and redemption, all combine to make To Kill A Mockingbird a classic that will remain read for years to come. The way that Harper Lee combined wide-eyed youthful curiosity with the recollections of a grown woman make this a very interesting read. The style of the story telling is unique and matches the very detailed plot. The world created and described by Scout is vivid and real, and I could picture the scenes unfolding quite clearly.

Now that I have rediscovered Lee and Mockingbird, I regret ever leaving her world. A Pulitzer Prize winner, To Kill A Mockingbird is a book that well deserves its accolades as well as its criticisms. It does feature many difficult topics and language that in today’s world is considered unacceptable. I believe stories such as this still need to be told as we need to remember what used to be commonplace. I will now try to plan an annual re-read to return to this fascinating world. And, as said so well by Scout “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

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Guest Review: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

magamb★ ★ ★ ½

… the grandeur of the Amberson family was instantly conspicuous as a permanent thing: it was impossible to doubt that the Ambersons were entrenched, in their nobility and riches, behind polished and glittering barriers which were as solid as they were brilliant, and would last.

If only, if only …

How do you enjoy a 300+ page book with a protagonist who is an arrogant, petulant, jackwad with no obviously redeeming qualities for the first 300 pages? Well, it’s tough. But if it’s as well The Magnificent Ambersons, it’s possible.

Sure, that’s a little bit of a spoiler — George Amberson Minafer does develop a couple of redeeming qualities in the last 30 pages or so. But you know what? The book is almost a century old, you’ve had plenty of time to read it if you’re worried about spoilers.

The plot is straightforward: At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, an impossibly rich family produces an arrogant twit as the only heir. Unbeknownst to him, the economy is changing and the family is beginning to fall on hard times. Too proud to admit it, they continue living as if they have all the money in the world. Meanwhile, the twit falls for a girl who’s humble, kind, and wise. For some inexplicable reason, she falls for him, too. Things happen, they don’t get together and the bottom falls out on the Ambersons. There’s family drama, too — between the financial crisis, health problems, love, old flames, and scandal, there’s plenty to entertain a reader (if they can put up with younger George).

Most of the characters are pretty thin — there are exceptions (George’s mother, aunt, and non-ambassador uncle, are the best) — but even the developed ones aren’t as fleshed out as we would have them today. But it fits with Tarkington’s overall style. It’s very, very difficult to like most of the people on these pages. So the ones you’d normally sort-of like, you end up really enjoying.

What makes this book work is Tarkington’s style. It’s hard to describe — highly detailed (for example, there’s so much attention paid to clothing and fashion that you’d almost think Gail Carriger had a hand in this), with a dry sense of humor, and plenty of cultural commentary. He changes his focus repeatedly: he’ll jump months or years at at time, and summarize events from those months in a paragraph or less and then cover a single evening in 15 pages, so he can highlight what matters and ignore the rest. But better than the plot (or characters), you get lines like this: “Some day the laws of glamour must be discovered, because they are so important that the world would be wiser now if Sir Isaac Newton had been hit on the head, not by an apple, but by a young lady.” How do you not keep reading for things like that?

Tarkington takes time out from the narrative to say:

Youth cannot imagine romance apart from youth. That is why the roles of the heroes and heroines of plays are given by the managers to the most youthful actors they can find among the competent. Both middle-aged people and young people enjoy a play about young lovers; but only middle-aged people will tolerate a play about middle-aged lovers; young people will not come to see such a play, because, for them, middle-aged lovers are a joke– not a very funny one. Therefore, to bring both the middle-aged people and the young people into his house, the manager makes his romance as young as he can. Youth will indeed be served, and its profound instinct is to be not only scornfully amused but vaguely angered by middle-age romance.

I assume that captures the spirit of the late 19th early 20th Century — if you take out the word “play”; and put in “film” or “show” it does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of the early 21st Century, too. Which is a pretty nice achievement for a piece of writing.

The book isn’t a chronicle of the changes to the American culture/economy due to industrialization, it’s a family drama. But if you pay attention to what’s going around the lovebirds, cads and gossips, you can see those changes taking place. It’s a temptation for someone to cheat a little when writing historical fiction and make characters seem smarter than they are by knowing how predictions would actually turn out, Takington’s not above falling into that. Note what Eugene Morgan, early designer of automobiles says:

“With all their speed forward [automobiles] may be a step backward in civilization– that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can’t have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and that the spiritual alteration will be bad for us. Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree with him that automobiles ‘had no business to being invented.'”

That was 98 years ago, think what he’d say now about the automobile’s impact on culture (he’d probably cite James Howard Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere).

A dull(ish) story, full of unsympathetic characters acting foolishly (on the whole), with a quaint writing style that somehow makes it all work. I can’t explain it, I’m just glad I read it. You just might feel the same way, give it a shot.

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Guest Post & Giveaway: Career Girl: Elizabeth (Eli) Bennet

I hadn’t heard of Cat Gardiner until Anna asked me to go with her to a Jane Austen panel in Bethesda.  And winning a bunch of Austen-inspired books didn’t have much to do with it.

What has a lot to do with my interest in Gardiner’s books is her plucky characters, and Elizabeth Bennet in the 1950s, after WWII, is nothing short of independent in Undercover.  You’ll have to read my review later for more on this gem.

Today, Cat Gardiner is going to share with us her love of Austen and the WWII-era, as well as how Elizabeth Bennet got to be so independent and feisty.  Please give her a warm welcome.

What an absolute delight it is to visit Savvy Verse & Wit! Thank you, Serena for inviting me to share with your readers a little bit about my newest release, Undercover – An Austen Noir, and my love of romantic, 20th Century historical fiction. Some of your readers may recognize me as a writer of Jane Austen-Inspired Contemporary, but my newest book opens the door to another passion of mine that I have longed to write.

Now, in the 21st Century, some younger readers may not be aware of the struggle women had during the 1940s and 50s as it pertained to working outside of the home. For the record, I dislike labels, and would never slap “feminist” on myself, but I am a gal who believes in progress, equality, and teaching to preserve the lessons from the past. I would like to discuss this particular role of women in the early 20th Century and how it affects Undercover’s heroine, Elizabeth (Eli) Bennet.

Undercover takes place in New York City seven years after the end of the Second World War. It was a time when suburbia was popping up all over America, cookie-cutter homes in tranquil little communities, restoring a nation that had come through the Great Depression, followed by war―to re-embrace the cultural norm of family life. It was also a time in history when claims of Communists hidden among us and fears of atomic war were threatening at our doorstep. Family was considered a safe haven in the “duck and cover” scare of the Atomic Age. Men were the providers, bread winners, and head of the happy home. Women were the heart of it, many of whom embraced the idea―others conformed begrudgingly. Yet others, fought it, and it was around this time that America saw an uptick of women, once again, enter into the workforce despite the societal expectation that they should remain homemakers and mothers. The model of white, middle-class, domestic perfection would, in 1957, be embodied by wholesome June Cleaver, homemaker, wife, and mother in the television show “Leave it to Beaver.” And it is that model that gave us the Baby Boomer Generation.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. To better understand Undercover’s Elizabeth and the culture she grew up in, let’s step back to 1942 with the government’s rallying call for women to enter into factories for defense production.  Previously, traditional jobs held by women (mostly spinsters) were considered “women’s work” of clerical, school teaching, nursing, or as librarians. Uncle Sam said entering the labor force was their patriotic duty from 1942 through 1945, even encouraging young ladies to join the military for specific roles. With their husbands leaving to fight, wives had suddenly become the sole money earner. That was an amazing opportunity following a period when those same women had been discouraged from working outside the home during the Great Depression as men fought a different fight: epidemic unemployment following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. For many women these three years were a taste―a tease―of the possibilities.

How were the 19 million female war workers rewarded for their “temporary” call to action? Apart from lower wages to their male counterparts (something our gender still struggles against) these new employees were simply given pink slips even though they had excelled at their jobs. After all, the war had ended and the millions of men returning home needed to re-take their place as breadwinners in peacetime production. Close to 90% of women wanted to remain working when asked to give up their newfound sense of individuality, as well as liberation. Further, the G.I. Bill was also putting men through school and dreams of higher education for women were met by closed doors. What choice did our 1940s counterparts have but to settle back into life with a good man and raise a family while pursuing the American Dream?

When the war began, Elizabeth Bennet once dreamed of becoming a housewife, raising a family of 3.2 children when her sweetheart returned from Europe―only he returned with another woman and a baby! Her sister, Jane, a mercenary creature, wanted that prescribed gender role, living the ideal life with her wealthy husband who brought home the bacon. Elizabeth sought a different avenue: She became a “career girl”, a private investigator, moved from her parent’s home at the age of 24, and took an apartment next door to a boarding house in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. She is considered a spinster when we meet her in 1952 at the age of 26. As far as her family knew, she was a bookkeeper for Macy’s department store. Independent and spirited, she financially managed in a career path dominated by men. This was a culture where sexism was so common that many advertisements denigrated women, even in the role that society demanded they take. Here are just a few.

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According to Smithsonian magazine: “This ad isn’t frightening women into thinking their genitals smell badly.  According to historian Andrea Tone, “feminine hygiene” was a euphemism.   Birth control was illegal in the U.S. until 1965 (for married couples) and 1972 (for single people).  These Lysol ads are actually for contraception.  Even still, it poisoned/killed hundreds of women while killing sperm.

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But Elizabeth surrounded herself with men, who themselves, were non-conformists: a hard-boiled homicide detective who took her under his wing, as well as a corrupt restauranteur acting as an informant in her investigations. Both men respected her moxie and determination and neither treated her with disrespect. Enter Darcy, the enigmatic financier whom she considered a “real sourpuss.” He, too, respected her―even if she was from the wrong side of town from a low-class family of lushes.

It was the best damn time he’d had in his life. Honest to goodness fun and exhilaration brought on by her laughter and keen wit, her attention and fine footwork. The babe was quite a hoofer. In spite of her particular career, her obvious undercover work to find Wickham, and, not to mention, her low-class family—he had fallen for her like a ton of bricks. The evening had confirmed everything he already knew: She was brilliant and not afraid to live life on her terms. He admired her. Unlike her sister Jane, who married up attempting to make something of herself, Elizabeth was out there on her own working hard for a living, making her way in a man’s world. And using what she had to get what she needed. She was good at it, too.

Once he fell hook, line, and sinker for her, he wasn’t looking to cage her or “domesticate” her. He only wanted her happiness and, like a man in love, thought nothing of allowing her to continue in her career after “I do.” In 1952, Undercover’s Darcy was one in a million―real cream. Of course, not all men were sexist in viewing women as the above advertisements indicate. But it was the culture―a man’s world―and women had to deal with the derision and censure that came with stepping outside the social norms. Overall, men were gentlemen, polite, and stylish. But ladies, they wore the pants in the home. (Or so a brilliant woman led him to believe. And if you were like Elizabeth [Eli], you did what the heck you wanted, anyway.)

Oh how far we have come … yet, some things stay the same.

If you’re a 20th Century Historical Fiction lover, and adore getting lost in a saga, look for my soon-to- be-released WWII-era Romance. A Moment Forever (A Liberty Victory Series Novel). Check out my 1940s Experience blog: cgardiner1940s.com for more information.

Thank you again, Serena, for the warm welcome! I look forward to chatting with your readers.

Thanks Cat for joining us today! 

***THE GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED!***

Giveaway:

For those of you who cannot wait to read her books, we’re hosting a 2 e-book giveaway of Undercover!

Leave a comment about what your passions are with your email address by May 31, 2016, to enter.

GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED