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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.

Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 9+ hours
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Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella, the 8th book in this series, is narrated admirably by Clare Corbett, and believe it or not, Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) has matured a little. You really have to read Book 7 to get into this book because it picks up right where the previous book left off. (spoilers below)

Becky, her husband, Suze, and her mom are off to find Becky’s father and Suz’s husband, who have vanished. They track them down to Las Vegas, and the adventures they have are hilarious and ridiculous as they leave Los Angeles in search of them. Becky’s mother is at her wit’s end and believes her husband has another woman in his life, while Suze is determined to save her “brainwashed” husband from a gold-digging new-age coach. And it seems that Becky is the only practical and level-headed one in this bunch, at least until Becky feels her friendship with Suze is threatened by her long-time nemesis Alicia, who also happens to be along for this roadtrip.

Becky’s stint at the new age retreat in California has really gotten her thinking about her spending habits, and she’s so blocked by her guilt over the roadtrip and the disappearance of her father, that she can’t even let her friend Suze buy her a pair of cowboy boots or even spend $2.50 on a pencil. Kinsella has finally matured Becky enough to ensure readers will stick with her through this roadtrip adventure into her father’s past, and the antics and machinations of these characters will have readers agog and laughing. Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella, narrated by Clare Corbett, is pure fun, and is just what the doctor ordered in the current political climate.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

About the Author:

Madeleine Wickham is a bestselling British author under her pseudonym, Sophie Kinsella. Educated at New College, Oxford, she worked as a financial journalist before turning to fiction. She is best known for writing a popular series of chick-lit novels. The Shopaholic novels series focuses on the misadventures of Becky Bloomwood, a financial journalist who cannot manage her own finances. The books follows her life from when her credit card debt first become overwhelming (“The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic”) to the latest book on being married and having a child (“Shopaholic & Baby”). Throughout the entire series, her obsession with shopping and the complications that imparts on her life are central themes.

My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 9 CDs
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My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, narrated by Fiona Hardingham, is a feel-good, fun-filled, novel in which a young junior assistant is able to get revenge on that incredibly flighty, inconsiderate, and mean boss who fires her. But there is so much more to Katie Brenner’s story. She’s leading a double-life — her Instagram account is full of happy pictures, events, and wonders from her life in London but her real life is less than stellar. She looks around her at her colleagues and wishes she could have their ultra-cool, happening lives, but the one she truly admires is her boss, Demeter. Her visions of the perfect life are shattered when her boss fires her out of the blue.

When she is forced to return to Somerset to regroup, she falls into a project she never expected to take off — a glamping business at her father’s farm. Katie is that wide-eyed young professional with dreams of hitting it big in the city, or at least meeting new friends and having fun. Like many young professionals, reality hits them head on and they must learn to rebalance their expectations and revise their career plans. Kinsella shines at comedy, and this novel is no exception. From spying on business meetings with a drone to walking around on a rooftop in stilts, Brenner is ready to grab whatever life throws at her in the branding business — especially a cute hunk like Alex.

Fiona Hardingham is the perfect narrator for this novel; her comic timing is spot on. When you need a break from your own reality, don’t hesitate to pick up My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella. It’s sure to have you laughing and secretly cheering on Brenner as she gets revenge on her former boss.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Madeleine Wickham is a bestselling British author under her pseudonym, Sophie Kinsella. Educated at New College, Oxford, she worked as a financial journalist before turning to fiction. She is best known for writing a popular series of chick-lit novels. The Shopaholic novels series focuses on the misadventures of Becky Bloomwood, a financial journalist who cannot manage her own finances. The books follows her life from when her credit card debt first become overwhelming (“The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic”) to the latest book on being married and having a child (“Shopaholic & Baby”). Throughout the entire series, her obsession with shopping and the complications that imparts on her life are central themes.

A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Roberton

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Roberton is a colorfully illustrated story told from two perspectives — an exuberant young girl and a beast from the woods.  The young girl comes upon the beast in the woods and she decides to take him home and make him a pet.  Once home, the beast is dressed up, not allowed to leave, and shown off to all her friends, among other things.  Looking at the illustrations, kids should be able to tell that the beast is not very happy with the situation.  When the story is told from the perspective of the beast, we learn that the girl coming upon him and kidnapping him was a traumatic experience.  He doesn’t like being man-handled, etc., but later, both characters learn to set reasonable boundaries and a new friendship is born.

Parents can use this book to demonstrate empathy to their children, showing them that each story has two sides and that finding common ground is not as difficult as it may seem.  A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Roberton is a good story with lots of action and words that kids in Kindergarten could read on their own.

RATING: Quatrain

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 341 pgs.
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The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a black-and-white comic strip-like memoir of the author’s childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, her time in Austria as a student, as well as her return to Iran following a disastrous time in Europe. Her panels are nuanced and the dialogue is fantastic, depicting the emotion of her as a child during a tumultuous time in her country’s history. While the political climate is frightening, her parents attempt to shelter her as much as they can, but the revolution comes and hits close to home. Her more liberal upbringing has provided her with a divergent outlook from those imposing Islamic law on the people of Iran, and she struggles to feel at home in her own country.

Beyond the political and religious climate, Satrapi depicts a typical childhood of teasing other kids in class and trying to fit in with others, as well as the transition to adolescence and the rebellion that comes with it. Her graphics are done in a monochrome style, but emotion is clear in the nuanced work from the use of darker backgrounds for angry mobs to the lighter backgrounds for loving moments with friends and family. As an adolescent she wants to spread her wings and explore new things, but when her parents call and check on her, it’s clear that even the things she’s exploring don’t seem right to her, as guilt washes over her joy at hearing from them.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is a multi-layered look at immigration, politics, religion, and identity. As Satrapi struggled to hide her heritage and her culture in Europe, she found that she also tried to hide her beliefs and convictions when back home in Iran. In many ways, she was unsure of her own identity and where she belonged. The struggle is beyond the simple right and wrong of a given regime or interference from other nations, it is a struggle of finding oneself amidst the chaos that is often beyond our control.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born French contemporary graphic novellist, illustrator, animated film director, and children’s book author. Apart from her native tongue Persian, she speaks English, Swedish, German, French and Italian.

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.

Breakup/Breakdown by Charles Jensen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 42 pgs.
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Breakup/Breakdown by Charles Jensen is a slim and powerful chapbook of poems that not only examines the emotional side of breaking up but all of its practicalities in a way that’s fresh and modern.

In the opening poem, “How to Leave Things Behind Without Even Trying”, the speaker talks about leaving his laptop at an airport and is aghast at how this could be accomplished given its significance in his life. This is then juxtaposed with his boyfriend’s exit from his life and the way in which the apartment was cleaned and staged as if he had never been there at all. The speaker struggles with both losses, trying to interpret their meaning in an effort to understand their absence, but he rightly says, “you wait to learn//anything about what was lost./You wait for the phone call,//which only comes if you’ll be/happily reunited.//” (pg. 8)

There are several poems in which the speaker is taking selfies with beloved literary and pop culture icons from Miss Havisham in Great Expectations to Molly Jensen from Ghost. In each of these poems, Jensen unravels the inner mysteries of loss felt by each of these characters. Havisham’s sadness over lost love is really her belief in true love and that caged birds set free will return but, in the meantime, she’s left wondering who she is without that caged bird to love and protect. The loss of an affair leads Alex in Fatal Attraction to extremes, but even if you don’t go to those extremes after a break-up, you can certainly understand where they come from.

Jensen’s couplets are powerfully crafted so that readers will feel each gut-wrenching loss, like “Everything we’d placed//inside those years spilled out/like blood escaping from a vein.//” (pg. 13, “Disruption”) But lest you believe this collection is all sadness and woe, Jensen has a sense of humor about it all, which one might expect comes with a bit of distance from the actual breakup events.

From “On the Night Gays Across America Celebrate the Marriage Equality Ruling, You and I Divide Our Possessions” (pg. 17)

We shake loose our lives like a braid
untwirling at the end of a long day.

I want everything and nothing
that belongs to you, that holds

a memory of you like an urn
full of ash, the kind of thing

you never open but have to
keep on hand because it means

Yes, I’m leaving you hanging with the above quote from this poem, but it’s one I don’t want to ruin for you. What the selected quote shows you is the humor and the lightness that Jensen brings to his couplets even in the midst of a breakup moment. There’s something to be said about bringing a bit of levity to loss. Breakup/Breakdown by Charles Jensen is a commentary on the modern breakup and the swiftness of it, which can leave each of us stunned and empty. But what it teaches is resilience and growth, a move toward letting go, even if not complete. In order for new things to begin, the old must be broken down, and Jensen does that here with aplomb.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Charles Jensen is the author of The Nanopedia Quick-Reference Pocket Lexicon of Contemporary American Culture (2012 MiPOESIAS Chapbook Series) and The First Risk, which was published in 2009 by Lethe Press and was a finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award. His previous chapbooks include Living Things, which won the 2006 Frank O’Hara Chapbook Award, and The Strange Case of Maribel Dixon (New Michigan Press, 2007). A past recipient of an Artist’s Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, his poetry has appeared in Bloom, Columbia Poetry Review, Copper Nickel, Field, The Journal, New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. He holds an MFA in poetry from Arizona State University, where he also did graduate work in nonprofit leadership and management. He is the founding editor of the online poetry magazine LOCUSPOINT, which explores creative work on a city-by-city basis, and is active in the national arts community by serving on the Emerging Leader Council of Americans for the Arts. He lives in Los Angeles.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible: 5+hrs.
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The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, read by herself and her daughter Billie Lourd, is a memoir about her time during the filming of the first Star Wars movie and her rise to fame.  Based upon the diaries she found of her time on the set and during her tryst with her co-star (the Nerf herder), Fisher looks back on her teen self, who dropped out of drama school in London to be in the film, and how her time on the set revealed her insecurities.

Of the three memoirs I’ve read by Fisher, this is the best told by her with the fewest digressions and haphazard comments.  Like the previous two, there is a rehashing of information about her parents and their celebrity, etc., but it is not as bothersome as it may be reading the other two because the focus here is more on Fisher herself and her own experiences as a young actress on a movie set.  She was clearly young, and despite her celebrity family, had very little set experience and it showed.

Including her actual diary entries read by her daughter and Fisher’s recounting of her fan experiences, the memoir is funnier because it is closer to her real life experiences and less like a comedic sketch she created from her experiences.  The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher was fun, introspective, and endearing.  Readers will love that she keeps some things private and that she can find connections with complete strangers in autograph lines.  She was a woman who had deep empathy for others, which likely stems from her family and life experiences after her iconic performance.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016) was an American actress, screenwriter and novelist, most famous for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 3+ hrs.
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Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher, who narrates, is an entertaining listen even as the story is no where near linear and Fisher often takes detours to tell her tales. In some ways, this memoir is more like a comedic routine, leaving readers wondering if the events are true or merely anecdotes she tells to make her readers pay attention. From the marriage scorecard to the chart of Hollywood inbreeding, Fisher has a unique way of examining her life as a child of Hollywood stars. In midst of her wacky examinations, it is clear this would work wonderfully on stage as a show, which is how writing the book began (in her words) — it also works well on audio.

What shines in this audio are her one-liners and her jabs at Star Wars, but it also is clear that she loves her mother and her daughter. She has a deep love for her family, but she also sees them as part of how she became who she is. And while she does see genetics as part of the problem with her addiction and mental illness, she also indicates that it also is how she chose to cope with those issues. There is a lot about addiction and mental illness, but it is treated with the distance of wit and comedy, leaving the memoir lighter than readers may expect.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher is short and in may ways a bit too light. However, listening to the audio, readers will get a clear sense that she has learned to let go of her tragedies and to move forward even though the road has been rough.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016) was an American actress, screenwriter and novelist, most famous for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 18+ hours
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Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen is probably best told by its author. Springsteen is never afraid to speak his truth about his upbringing in New Jersey, the hard relationship with his father, and his incredible drive to become the musician he heard and envisioned in his own mind. Fans of Springsteen will be more aware of the bands he speaks of and the people in the music business than I am, but this did not detract from my enjoyment in his story. In some places the names and bands slow the pace a little, but that might be more of an issue in a print copy than in the audio.

Springsteen is the perfect narrator for his life, and it is clear that as he reads he is taken back in time to those early days as a musician playing in clubs and being told he is no singer. In many ways, this memoir is not about the past and what happened, but about how each experience helped him grow and learn — to be a good father, to be a better musician than even he dreamed, and to reach out to the working class homes of his past. He strove to become as successful as he could, focusing on his guitar skills and his songwriting at first before eventually using his voice to tell the stories in his songs.

He’s always been a storyteller, and he’s telling this story as part of the legacy for his own children. He wants them to know their roots, where they come from … but he also wants to provide them with a sketch of his mind and how he handled things, even when he made mistakes. Readers will love how he praises those who were patient with him, and they will see how he’s not afraid to hold a mirror up to his faults.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen is a memoir that gives an inside look into one of the longest surviving bands, the music industry, and one of the most memorable songwriters of all time. The thought he put into each song’s lyrics and atmosphere, and staging, etc., is nothing short of inspiring. It is clear that his early determination to make music served him well.

RATING: Quatrain

***Please visit The 3Rs Blog: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness for an even better review. Seriously!***

About the Author:

Bruce Springsteen is an American songwriter, singer and guitarist. He has frequently recorded and toured with the E Street Band. Springsteen is most widely known for his brand of heartland rock infused with pop hooks, poetic lyrics, and Americana sentiments centered around his native New Jersey. His eloquence in expressing ordinary, everyday problems has earned him numerous awards, including twenty Grammy Awards and an Academy Award, along with an international fan base. His most famous albums, Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A., epitomize his penchant for finding grandeur in the struggles of daily life. He has sold over 64 million albums in the U.S. alone.

Darcy’s Christmas Wish by Penelope Swan

Source: Purchased
ebook, 216 pgs.
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Darcy’s Christmas Wish by Penelope Swan imagine an early meeting between Lizzy and Darcy as children when Darcy takes a tumble into a frozen pond after disobeying his aunt Lady Catherine’s warning that the north side of Rosings is dangerous. Recovering from his near death experience and being told that the girl with deep brown eyes was not real, he makes a Christmas wish while stirring plum pudding in the kitchen at Rosings. If only he had known that he would have to wait fifteen years for it to come true.

“‘No, Mother, I did not imagine her! I am sure she was there. She helped me. Had she not been there, I would have surely drowned–‘”

“Those eyes. He could still see them. Bright and intelligent, fringed by beautiful dark lashes. He was sure he had not imagined those eyes…”

Lizzy has come to Hunsford parsonage to spend time with Mrs. Collins before joining her family in London for Christmas. She’s enjoying her time with her friend, but she’s also finding companionable moments with the insufferable Mr. Darcy. Swan has created a more outspoken Lizzy, which defies societal convention, but this characterization is also more open to seeing things that are more subtle, particularly where Darcy is concerned. The relationship between Darcy and Lizzy in Swan’s variation evolves gradually, and it is sweet to see their awkwardness as they navigate the new calm between them.

Darcy’s Christmas Wish by Penelope Swan is a delightful Christmas story that shows how societal norms can be circumvented for justice’s sake and to allow two people — one of higher class and one of a lower class — find one other and share mutual respect and even love.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Penelope Swan is the pen name of author, H.Y. Hanna, who writes bestselling British cozy mysteries and romantic mysteries under her other name. She has been an avid Jane Austen fan since her teens and is delighted that she can now live out her Regency fantasies through her books.