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Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 56 pgs.
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Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan is a Newbery Honor Book, Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, and the author notes that he was inspired to write about the 11 slaves listed as property for the Fairchilds estate in 1828. The slave-related document only listed the slaves as “woman” and “boy”, etc., and no ages were given.  Bryan ascribed ages and names to these slaves and gave them jobs on the estate, and the stories he tells in a free-verse poetry format are telling.  My daughter and I read this together in February for Black History Month, but it is a book that has lessons that should be taught to kids everyday.

Bryan’s illustrations aim to breathe life into the dreams of these slaves, those who are bound to an estate with little hope of freedom, except in their minds.  They have skills praised by their owners, and any money they earn from the neighboring plantations enriches their owners.  It’s hard to see how this life could not make the slaves feel hopeless, but Bryan’s free verse poems recall the inner freedom their skills and accomplishments can bring — they have dreams of something more, if not for themselves, for others who they teach and mentor along the way.  From musicians to architects and doctors, these slaves had dreams that out shined their current situations.

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan demonstrates the harsh realities of slavery, while still providing children with a glimmer of hope and joy.  It speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit, as well as the darker drive to control others and deem them less worthy for arbitrary reasons.  The illustrations are bright and dreamlike, and kids will be drawn in.  My only complaint is that the free-verse is very narrative, and less rhythmic than expected.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Ashley Bryan grew up to the sound of his mother singing from morning to night, and he has shared the joy of song with children ever since. A beloved illustrator, he has been the recipient of the Coretta Scott King—Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award; he has also been a May Hill Arbuthnot lecturer, a Coretta Scott King Award winner, and the recipient of countless other awards and recognitions. His books include Sail Away; Beautiful Blackbird; Beat the Story-Drum, Pum Pum; Let It Shine; Ashley Bryan’s Book of Puppets; and What a Wonderful World. He lives in Islesford, one of the Cranberry Isles off the coast of Maine.

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

Source: Berkley
Paperback, 384 pgs.
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A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner pivots on the life of the Queen Mary, a luxury liner that crossed the ocean to entertain the wealthy and was later converted to carry troops across the Atlantic and war brides back to America after WWII.  Katrine Sawyer, Phoebe Rogers, and Simone Robinson are war brides hoping to return to the arms of their American husbands, and they share a stateroom together and exchange camaraderie until one woman’s secrets come to the surface threatening to upend all of her plans for a new future in America.  In the present, Brette Caslake is a reluctant medium who visits the old ship to help an old friend from her past, as she deals with her own decisions about whether she wants to start a family.

Meissner’s historical fiction elements are vibrant and and emotional.  Simone struggles to flee her home in Paris after the Gestapo raids her father’s shoe repair shop, while Phoebe is just eager to return to the arms of her husband and introduce him to his son.  However, Katrine has fled Germany and a secret past that she will have a hard time escaping.  The stories set during WWII are the strongest, and while Phoebe is a war bride on the ship and seems to take a central role as Katrine’s friend, her backstory is a little lost to the reader.  Meanwhile, the present day story is developed slowly throughout the novel until the end where it seemed a bit rushed.

There are a few magical elements that have to be taken at face value, but overall the novel is enjoyable.  It also raises questions about how one can come to forgive someone who comes from a land where you bore so many losses and traumas?  A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner is about the future happiness just out of reach and what it takes to get there, especially when everything is stacked against you.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Susan Meissner was born in San Diego, California, the second of three. She spent her childhood in just two houses.  Her first writings are a laughable collection of oddly worded poems and predictable stories she wrote when she was eight.

She attended Point Loma College in San Diego, and married her husband, Bob, who is now an associate pastor and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves, in 1980. When she is not working on a new novel, she is directing the small groups ministries at The Church at Rancho Bernardo. She also enjoy teaching workshops on writing and dream-following, spending time with my family, music, reading great books, and traveling.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan is about the strength you can find amid hopelessness and tragedy, as women who are left behind in the English village of Chilbury find that the one thing they look forward to — the choir — is being shut down as the last eligible men are sent to the front during WWII. Told through a series of journal entries and letters, Ryan crafts a winding story of intrigue and homefront concerns during WWII. Mrs. Tilling is a nurse and widow who is very meek beneath the overbearing Mrs. Brampton-Boyd, but there is a stronger person beneath who acts as the core of the village in their time of need. Meanwhile, Kitty (age 13) and Venetia (age 18) are sisters of the Brigadier Winthrop, an overbearing and violent man, at Chilbury Manor, and like any set of sisters rarely get along and even fall for the same man — or at least seem to. Other characters are equally unique, if secondary, and they propel the narrative through the brambles.

“First funeral of the war, and our little village choir simply couldn’t sing in tune. ‘Holy, holy, holy’ limped out as if we were a crump of warbling sparrows.” (pg. 3 ARC)

The village ladies are sad that the choir has been shutdown because of a tradition of having both men and women in the choir. It is not until a new lady enters the village and suggests that the choir be composed of just the remaining ladies. Prim is a bit of a free spirit, who has equally suffered loss, and yet she remains focused on living life to the fullest. Her gentle guidance inspires all the women in the village to sing and too seek happiness where and when they can find it. Ryan carefully crafts a set of small village characters, and each has their weaknesses and strengths, with most not all bad even when they engage in the black market or other nefarious schemes. War is a time of opportunity within chaos.

“The hymn was sung at my father’s funeral, as it was for so many of those men who died in the Great War. And then we sang it again at my mother’s funeral, and then at Harold’s. As I was singing it out alone in the church, it took on a new horror. I realized that I have been trapped by those deaths, that I had let them take over.” (pg. 105 ARC)

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan demonstrates the strength we fail to see in ourselves until we can no longer bare any further loss or chaos. It takes a jolt to often wake us up from our complacency, and while WWII was an unexpected jolt for this village, they rally together well and find that there is more that they have to give and set about doing what’s right, fair, and just for their community at large.

RATING: Quatrain

Jennifer Ryan Photo © Nina Subin

About the Author:

Jennifer Ryan lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband and their two children. Originally from Kent and then London, she was previously a nonfiction book editor. Connect with her at her website and on Facebook.

Check out this video of the author talking about writing with any distractions:

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Abridged Audio)

Source: Free from BBC
Audio, 10 episodes
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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, abridged by Sara Davies and read by Clarke Peters, re-imagines the Underground Railroad as a literal railroad with trains, conductors, and stationmasters. Clarke Peters does a good job of narrating this abridged version of Whitehead’s book, which in the BBC version focuses on Cora, an escaped slave from Georgia who is later wanted for murder.

At first, Cora is reluctant to run north, and much of it might be because of her mother, who left and never returned.  She may be hoping that her mother would come back for her, but soon she had little choice but to run.  The railroad at first seems like the solution, as does the first stop in the South Carolina, but soon the reality of that state’s laws and experiments sets in.  Each state has its own culture and its own way of doing things, say the railroad workers, and that is true but not in the hopeful way that readers would want.

Whitehead has created a new way to view the Underground Railroad and slavery, as well as discrimination and racism.  As a child, I remember hearing about the railroad in our town and I wondered how the slaves got onto the trains without being caught — that was until I learned it was not a literal railroad.  The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, abridged by Sara Davies and read by Clarke Peters, is a unique look at a part of this nation’s history that continues to throw its shadow over our freedoms and progress.  (I’ll likely be reading my hardcover later in the year as well.)

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Colson Whitehead is the author of the novels Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award. He also has written a book of essays about his home town, The Colossus of New York, and a non-fiction account of the 2011 World Series of Poker called The Noble Hustle. A recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, I live in New York City.

The Underground Railroad, his latest book, is an Oprah’s Book Club pick and National Book Award winner. Visit his website.

A Vintage Valentine by Cat Gardiner

Source: Vanity & Pride Press
E-story, 26 pgs.
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A Vintage Valentine by Cat Gardiner is a reimagined story of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in which a portal sucks Lizzy into the 1940s when WWII is underway. Modern-day Lizzy, who is a dance instructor, bemoans the social media life that many of us lead and longs for a romance with a gentleman, but she has lost hope. Until her sister Jane convinces her to visit an antique shop in the older part of town, Lizzy has given up on love. Once in the antique shop she is drawn to a special broach.

Gardiner’s story is unique and marries a her two favorite things — Austen and 1940s America. Her take on Lizzy and Darcy in the past is charming and will win over readers quickly because Lizzy has a chance to remedy a situation that could separate these 1940s versions apart forever. That first impression Darcy makes by calling her not tolerable enough to tempt him in the original is similar here, but modern-day Lizzy is more forgiving — setting these two lovers on a path of romance and lasting affection before WWII takes him overseas.

Returning to the modern world, Lizzy has a semi-renewed sense of love and hope, and this propels her to think more openly about opportunities that could come her way in 2017. A Vintage Valentine by Cat Gardiner is too short, but it still has that satisfying happy ending all Austen readers enjoy. Gardiner’s grasp of the 1940s never disappoints, transporting her characters and readers into a believable world, even if they have to suspend disbelief about time portals and wormholes.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Cat Gardiner loves romance and happy endings, history, comedy and Jane Austen. A member of the esteemed National League of American Pen Women, Romance Writers of America and her local chapter Tampa Area Romance Authors (TARA,) she enjoys writing across the modern spectrum of “Pride and Prejudice” inspired novels.

Voted Austenesque Reviews’ Favorite Modern Adaptation for 2014, the comedic, Chick-Lit “Lucky 13” was released in October 2014. The romantic adventure “Denial of Conscience,” named Favorite “Pride and Prejudice” Modern for 2015 by Margie Must Reads and More Agreeably Engaged has set the sub-genre on fire since June of this year. In December 2015, another romantic comedy titled “Villa Fortuna” was voted Just Jane 1813’s Favorite Modern JAFF for 2015.

Her greatest love, however, is writing 20th Century Historical Fiction, WWII Romance. Her debut novel in that genre, “A Moment Forever” was released on May 30, 2016.

Married 23 years to her best friend, they are the proud parents of the smartest honor student in the world – their orange tabby, Ollie. Although they live in Florida, they will always be proud native New Yorkers.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff, out in stores today, is a deeply moving tale of a home found in the fanfare and hard work of a traveling circus, a dying profession under the Reich.  The Nazi regime has clamped down on everything, taken children from mothers, and shipped infants off in rail cars to die with little more than knitted booties on their feet.  The circus is a refuge for those the Reich seeks to harm, but it also becomes a family based on unbreakable trust, forgiveness, and love.

“I scan the train, trying to pinpoint the buzzing sound.  It comes from the last boxcar, adjacent to the caboose–not from the engine.  No, the noise comes from something inside the train.  Something alive.”  (pg. 17 ARC)

In this dual narrative, readers are drawn into the innocence of Noa and her struggle to reach safety despite her impulsive decisions, while at the same time being drawn to Astrid’s struggle to hide in plain sight of the Reich and not become too attached to those who could be taken at a moment’s notice.  Jenoff has created a magical world in which her characters and readers feel as though anything is possible, that the horrors of the Reich cannot pierce the enchanting lives of these hard-working performers.

Jenoff is one of the best writers of WWII fiction, and her characters are real and dynamic — they struggle with the horrors of the Reich but also with their own decisions and in some case indecision.  She knows this time period well, her books are always well researched, and readers know that they will be in for an intense and emotional ride on the rails with this traveling circus.  The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.  I could not put it down, even when I knew I had to.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Pam Jenoff Author Photo credit: Mindy Schwartz-Sorasky

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller The Kommandant’s Girl, which also earned her a Quill Award nomination. Pam lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.  Connect with her on her Website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Ashes (The Seeds of America Trilogy) by Laurie Halse Anderson

Source: Public library
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
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***This is the final book in a trilogy. I recommend reading the first two books before this one.***

Ashes (The Seeds of America Trilogy) by Laurie Halse Anderson is a stunning conclusion that bring Isabel and Curzon full circle in their own struggle for freedom as the country nears the battle at Yorktown and the end of the American Revolution.  Isabel and Curzon have been searching for her younger sister Ruth for months after fleeing Valley Forge and Bellingham, who had held Isabel in chains once again.  They are slowly making their way south to find her sister with their forged papers of freedom.  Tensions between them have grown, and Isabel fears being abandoned by him, even as she knows that he wants to rejoin the Patriots’ cause against the British.

“There was no way of figgering what he saw when he looked at me, for he’d gown skilled at hiding the truth from his eyes.  Time and hard travel had much changed us both.” (pg. 4)

“‘Don’t forget how to be gentle,’ she warned.  ‘Don’t let the hardness of the world steal the softness of your heart.  The greatest strength of all is daring to love. …'” (pg. 39)

In the chaos of war, these young people are eager to hide themselves in the confusion and use it to their advantage, but danger continues to cross their paths.  But even when they find Ruth, there are further battles to be had as southern men continue to hold onto their slaves and purchase new ones to run their plantations and use those slaves — women, children, and men — very ill.  They are forced to hold onto their stories for strength and to turn to one another in quiet to rejuvenate their resolve.  Isabel and Curzon have been together on their own for a long time, and when Ruth and Aberdeen join their band and head northward, both need to adjust and learn to be flexible.

“‘Why bother? You won’t know what you’re planting?’

‘Not until they sprout, I won’t,’ I admitted.  ‘But I’ve got to start with something.  Once they grow and bloom, I’ll know what to call them, and eventually the garden will be orderly.’

‘A fool-headed way to farm,’ he grumbled.

‘Tis a fool-headed way to grow a country, too, but that’s what we’re doing.’

‘Now you’ve gone barmy, Isabel,’ he said sourly.

I walked over to the blanket, gathered the small handful of the good seeds, and sat back down next to him.

‘Seems to me this is the seed time for America.'” (pg. 271)

Anderson’s trilogy provides an intimate look at life as a slave, life as slaves on the run, and people simply searching for their own lives in the midst of a country in turmoil.  Ashes (The Seeds of America Trilogy) by Laurie Halse Anderson is a solid conclusion filled with reconciliation and hope.  With the promise of freedom brought to the fore by the Revolution against the British, it allows all who are oppressed to dream of something more.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous ALA and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists.

Mother of four and wife of one, Laurie lives in Northern New York, where she likes to watch the snow fall as she writes. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and on her tumblr.

Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey by Ginger Monette

Source: the author
Paperback, 413 pgs.
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Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey by Ginger Monette is the second book in a series of Great War Romance novels, and while you could read this as a stand alone novel, I wouldn’t recommend missing the two-book experience. Set during WWI, Monette captures the uncertainty of war-time romance with Pride & Prejudice‘s most beloved characters. If Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy were able to overcome their preconceived notions about one another in a shorter period of time, but become separated by the war, would their love endure the miles and trauma of war?

With all of Darcy’s resources would he be able to find Elizabeth if she disappeared, even as he is stuck at the front in battle? Could spies and Germans keep them apart with their war efforts, or would love and chance find a way to keep them close? Without giving away the details of this book, readers will find that the hardened Darcy of book one has been softened by his love for Elizabeth. But in this one, Elizabeth is wary of discovery as she strives to hide and protect her loved ones from reputational harm.

Monette’s settings and characterizations are in line with the time period, when women were gaining ground in male-dominated roles and expectations of marriage as the only option beginning to wane. The tension between Lizzy and Darcy has dissipated somewhat as they face new challenges outside their control, and they must not only learn to make their own decisions but also bear in mind how those decisions could impact the ones that they love. Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey by Ginger Monette is a solid follow-up to the first book, and I loved every minute of it. She has a strong sense of historical facts and the original Austen characters. This is by far one of my favorite P&P re-imaginings. Don’t hesitate, get books 1 and 2.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes

About the Author:

The teacher always learns the most. And in homeschooling her children, Ginger Monette learned all the history she missed in school. Now she’s hooked—on writing and World War I. When not writing, Ginger enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon.

Her WW1 flash fiction piece, Flanders Field of Grey, won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s 2015 Picture This grand prize.

Ginger lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she happily resides with her husband, three teenagers, and two loyal dogs.

Visit Ginger Monette on Facebook, on GoodReads, or on her website. Purchase the book here.

Giveaway- – Downton Abbey Tea!

Three lucky winners will each receive a tin of Downton Abbey Tea!
(Open to US residents only)

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 337 pgs.
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Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy, which was the January book club selection, is based on historical events along the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s involving the Glanton Gang that scalped many, engaged in mercenary acts, and sought their fortunes. Led by John Glanton, who fought for Texas independence during the Mexican-American War, the gang murdered Indians and Mexicans alike. Readers should expect this book to be brutal and violent. There is no way around it with this subject matter, and much of the violence has little to no purpose other than to garner wealth and property for the gang members.

“The judge watched him. He began to point out various men in the room and to ask if these men were here for a good time or if inded they knew why they were here at all.

Everybody dont have to have a reason to be someplace.

That’s so, said the judge. They do not have to have a reason. But order is not set aside because of their indifference.” (pg. 341-2)

The kid is the main protagonist here, and he stumbles into the gang after wandering for some time. Readers will not view him as a hero, and in many ways he is an anti-hero because he is morally ambiguous like many characters in westerns. The focus on the bloodshed and the meanderings of this gang through the desert and mountains is a surface reading of the novel, the central character and theme is related to “God”, “destiny,” and the order of the universe, which the judge clearly says encompasses more than can be understood by the human mind. Some mysteries are perpetual, but he reminds us to never forget that there is an order and a reason behind even the most chaotic and mundane events.

Like the kid, the readers is forced into a world where violence is the norm and it just is, without any moments of morality or kindness present. In this world, how can the kid strive to understand a wider picture, learn to review his role in that violence, and come to any other conclusion than human kind is animal-like in its brutality?

While there are allusions to Christian traditions, such as the burning bush, there seems to be a subtext about relying too heavily on the stories/tales of “leaders” — whether they are religious or otherwise — because they oftentimes are lies (like the early tales told by the judge). The judge even keeps a ledger, which makes readers reflect on who is keeping that ledger and why? Is it God, Satan, or someone else, and does it really matter who? Moreover, the final scenes of the book call to mind Shiva’s Tandava, a violent and dangerous dance related to the destruction of the world in order for creation to flourish. It seems McCarthy is using a mesh of myths and religions to bring his points across about the violent birth of America.

The narrative is distant on purpose, but following the kid throughout gets difficult, and the number of bloody events could have been pared down significantly to demonstrate the points the author wanted to bring across. The strongest character in the novel is not the antihero but the judge, his antagonist. Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy could have been a much stronger novel with some editing.

Book Club Discussion:

As I was more than halfway through this one, I attended the discussion and planned to finish it after the meeting. Many liked the book well enough, though some said the narrative had their eyes/brains glazing over if read too quickly. Others found a bunch of theories to postulate on, including one where the Judge Holden appeared to be Satan or Satan-like because he was very good at a great many things.

Upon further discussion and review, it seems as though McCarthy took a lot of his events from those in My Confession by Samuel Chamberlain, who claimed to be a member of the Glanton Gang. Some scholars have said that the Kid in McCarthy’s book could be Chamberlain. Judge Holden is supposed to be a historical figure, but the only references to him are in Chamberlain’s book.

RATING: Tercet

Other Reviews:

The Road

About the Author:

Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist and playwright. He has written ten novels in the Southern Gothic, western, and post-apocalyptic genres and has also written plays and screenplays. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for The Road, and his 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

His earlier Blood Meridian (1985) was among Time Magazine’s poll of 100 best English-language books published between 1925 and 2005 and he placed joint runner-up for a similar title in a poll taken in 2006 by The New York Times of the best American fiction published in the last 25 years. Literary critic Harold Bloom named him as one of the four major American novelists of his time, along with Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Philip Roth. He is frequently compared by modern reviewers to William Faulkner.

In 2009, Cormac McCarthy won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award, a lifetime achievement award given by the PEN American Center.

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 327 pgs.
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A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams is set in the early 1920s when times were beginning to change and women were feeling a little freer to do more than marry and have children. Told from the points of view of Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue, New York, and Miss Sophie Fortescue, a naive younger daughter of an inventor who recently became wealthy, Williams weaves a mystery that can only come to light when the intersection of two similar panes of a prism come together unexpectedly. (I’ll leave the final panes of that prism a mystery) The novel brings to life the cloistered life of a newly rich family as a juxtaposition to old, wealthy families in New York society. Even as the clash of new and old money continues on the surface, bubbling underneath is a desire of women in both realms to break free into the world of Jazz, booze, and freedom.

“‘Still, it was a passion of yours, wasn’t it? There was a reason you loved it, there was a reason you loved flying that had nothing to do with shooting down other airplanes and killing people. So that reason must still exist inside you, waiting for the — the — tide to go back out.'” (pg. 110)

Theresa’s marriage has grown stale, as she’s tolerated her husband’s discreet dalliances and the birth of a child just months after her own first born. As she strives to take a risk and begin her own affair, she finds herself caught up in the same traditional web of matrimony and security as the young man she falls into bed with seeks more. A principled man, an ace pilot during WWI, Octavian Rofrano grabs onto her offerings like a life preserver. It is not until he becomes Sophie’s cavalier that he begins to see that there can be more to life than a casual love affair with a married woman.

Meanwhile, Theresa’s bachelor brother Ox has fallen in love with the slip of a girl, whose innocence has been cracked by a trip to Europe with her inventor father and her sister. Sophie has fallen for his charms, until she begins to see the wider world around her, and all of its possibilities. How these lives become tangled into a treacherous web will rivet readers to every word on the page. Williams has created a socialite set and a set of new money players who are drawn into tragic circumstances beyond their control. A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams raises questions about experience and innocence, age and beauty, love and lust, and emptiness and fulfillment — how do we reach our full potential without knowing our past and leaping into the future? Can scandal ruin it all?

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.

Find out more about Beatriz at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 9 CDs
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***Read Leviathan and Behemoth before reading this one.***

Goliath (book #3) by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, takes Alek and Deryn to Siberia to pick up the slightly mad inventor Nikola Tesla, who claims to have created an invention that will end the war – Goliath. Alek continues to believe in his destiny as the next leader of Austria and as the only one who can end the war. As machines and manufactured animals come to battle, Alek uncovers Deryn’s secrets, but learns the true meaning of friendship, whom he can truly trust, and what it means to love something more than destiny.

Cumming continues to narrate this series with aplomb and he engrosses readers from the beginning. Westerfeld has created a believable alternate history, although gender issues are sort of glossed over for the most part, even as one of the main characters is a girl. Alek has grown up quite a bit in this story, and Deryn remains the anchor in the story. With appearances from William Randolf Hearst and Pancho Villa, it is clear that the politics of the war goes far beyond the war between machines and manufactured animals for superiority.

Goliath (book #3) by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is a whole new world with a war threatening everything past and present. The series is strong throughout and the characters have evolved a great deal in the course of three books, with several close calls. Wonderful series.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Scott Westerfeld‘s teen novels include the Uglies series, the Midnighters trilogy, The Last Days, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and the sequel to Peeps. Scott was born in Texas, and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

Marlene by C. W. Gortner

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 432 pgs.
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Marlene by C.W. Gortner is a glittering historical novel of the famed actress Marlene Dietrich who defies her mother to become an actress after she realizes she will never become a famed violinist as her mother expected. Oblivious to her sexual appeal and to the rumors at the academy in Weimer where she studies violin with a private tutor, Marlene believes she has improved her talent, until her tutor divulges why he forged her grades. Rather than do her duty like her sister would have done, Marlene takes a different approach to this realization, seeing it as an opportunity to escape from under her mother’s strict rules.

“The first time I fell in love, I was twelve years old.” (pg. 3)

Her cloistered life with her mother and sister could not shield her from the theater or life in the limelight, as her uncle held events in his home with local actresses, writers, and others. She was drawn like a moth to the flame, and she could do little to stop herself from taking the path that lay before her — no matter the consequences, disapproval, or hardships. For all her unconventional behavior and antics, she was a woman of conviction and an iron will to achieve her goals. She survives WWI and WWII but not without permanent scars, but her strong character helps her survive even Hollywood and her critics.

“Few took him seriously — in fact, most scoffed at his diatribes — but his party had gained momentum, winning twelve parliamentary seats in the recent elections. His followers wore distinctive swastika-emblazoned armbands, marching down the boulevards and handing out crude pamphlets on corners, extolling a rabid nationalistic agenda that I found contemptible.” (pg. 170)

Marlene by C.W. Gortner will not disappoint fans of Gortner’s previous works, which also have exalted the profiles of other strong and unconventional women throughout history. He is their champion. Marlene is strong and unconventional, but her eccentricities shine through in Gortner’s novel, illuminating her complexities as a woman in a new country making a career and a woman who still believes that Germany is her home even if the Nazi’s rendered it asunder.

RATING: Quatrain

For more information about the book, check out Harper Collins’ website.

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About the Author:

C.W. Gortner is the author of The Last Queen, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici and The Tudor Secret. He holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California.

In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall and experienced life in a Spanish castle. His novels have garnered international praise and been translated into thirteen languages to date. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights and environmental issues.

He’s currently at work on his fourth novel for Ballantine Books, about the early years of Lucrezia Borgia, as well as the third novel in his Tudor series,The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles (US) or Elizabeth’s Spymaster (UK).

Half-Spanish by birth, C.W. lives in Northern California.  Visit him on Facebook and Twitter.

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