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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.

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 189 pgs.
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***If you missed my review for March: Book One, this review could contain spoilers.***

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell is the second part of John Lewis’ graphic memoir that shifts from the Civil Rights movement in 1960-63 to 2009 when President Barack Obama is inaugurated — the first black President of the United States. The backdrop helps to frame the entire movement and its struggle — a struggle that continues to this day as discrimination continues, though in more camouflaged ways.

Lewis pulls no punches in this one, and as part of a civil disobedience movement that adheres to a philosophy of nonviolence in protest, he faces beatings, arrests, and more. One stroke of luck most likely saved his very life, though many of his other colleagues were either killed or harmed most profoundly. Powell’s artistry is sharp and detailed. This only adds to the dark events that face these young black men and women, and their white colleagues. Espousing love in the midst of violent actions by others takes great resolve and will power, though there are some who falter.

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and illustrated by Nate Powell would complement any course on the civil rights movement, offering a first-hand account of the violence and hatred that permeated much of the south. It also stands as a testament to the power of love and peaceful protect in large numbers. Lewis’ books could make excellent book club selections.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

March: Book One

About the Author

John Robert Lewis is the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, serving since 1987 and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. He was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), playing a key role in the struggle to end segregation. He is a member of the Democratic Party and is one of the most liberal legislators.

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell, won the National Book Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award – Special Recognition. This graphic memoir blends the appeal of graphic novels with the history lived by one of our greatest civil rights movement members and leaders. Lewis tells his story through flashbacks and stories told to others, mirroring the oral tradition of many who have come before us. Each story offers a compelling narrative of life at the beginning of the movement and the drive to overcome a system meant to oppress.

Lewis is not just retelling his past to offer a lesson for the future, but he’s providing a framework for those in today’s society looking for ways to improve America for themselves and others. He sees chickens not as objects, but as individuals with their own emotions and goals. Lewis then has to confront his lack of emotional attachment when chickens are available for purchase and he does not have to care for them as he did on the farm. In many ways, this is how we view strangers — while we know they are individuals and human, we are distant from them because we fail to interact with them and get to know them — to build connections.

He talks of kindness and a need to help others learn to connect with one another and to become kinder. Lewis, however, never glosses over the violence or the hatred he experienced and the chances he took. Powell’s artistry is vivid even in black-and-white and readers will see the fear pour off in sweat. They will face the ugliness of hatred manifest in beatings and more.  March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell is a graphic memoir and more — it is history, it is humanity, and it is a powerful reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we have stepped backward.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

John Robert Lewis is the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, serving since 1987 and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. He was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), playing a key role in the struggle to end segregation. He is a member of the Democratic Party and is one of the most liberal legislators.

United States of Books: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (audio)

Entertainment Weekly chose Geek Love for Oregon. The magazine said, “A twisted couple populate their freak show with their own children in this modern classic. It’s weird, carnivalesque, and unnerving: not unlike Portland on a given night. Need more? Kurt Cobain was a fan.”

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 15+ hours
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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, narrated by Christina Moore, is a family saga of love, obsession, and revenge among the freaks at the Binewski traveling show. In many ways this novel reminded me of American Horror Story: Freak Show. Al and Lil populate the show with their own children, those they have disfigured by ensuring Lil drinks and subjects herself to all manner of poisons, insecticides, and other torturous devices. Their efforts to save the traveling carnival from bankruptcy requires more than traditional dwarfs and extraordinarily tall men and women. The Binewskis have concluded that the rise of basketball and other entertainments have made these traditional freak show participants obsolete.

Much of this is narrated by Oly, an albino hunchback, as she recalls the past and her brother Arturo the Aquaboy, who became so consumed with jealousy, that he would do anything to be on top and take over the carnival from his father. Oly, despite being a hunchback, is on the outside of the clan, and she’s treated more as a servant than a family member, even by the brother she loves beyond all reason. While her relatives seek to get by under Arturo’s reign or escape it, Oly seeks to bind herself to him in the only way she knows.

Dunn’s novel examines the love inside a family of freaks, but it really could apply to any family, especially if jealousies are allowed free reign and grow out of control. What’s interesting is how much Oly is unlike her family in that she sees the “norms” as not something to be despised, but as something that could be loved. Her transformation and distance from her family is complete later on in the novel when she gives birth.

Christina Moore does an admirable job with the narration, and it is easy to follow each character. However, the setting in Oregon is not front-and-center and many times, readers will forget that the carnival is even in the state, particularly when other cities in other states are more frequently mentioned like Spokane. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, narrated by Christina Moore, takes a while to get used to, and there is some very strong language and sexual content that some readers would not prefer. Overall, the novel was just plain odd.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Katherine Dunn is best known for her beloved novel “Geek Love,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1989. She is also the author of the novels “Attic” (1970) and “Truck” (1971). A fourth novel, entitled “The Cut Man,” has been in-progress for decades and was purportedly scheduled for a September 2008 release.

Dunn is also known as a prolific sports journalist in the field of boxing, and has written several articles on the subject.

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The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L. Stine and Marc Brown

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L. Stine and Marc Brown is a fun book that kids will love. It has monsters who are slimy, ones that smell, and more. The kids are asked not to feed the monsters and to not get too close. Some are hungry and others just say, “hi”, differently. The illustrations look like colored pencil drawings and each monster has its own unique look.

My daughter loved these monsters and their gross habits. Some sneezed all over you and others tickled you. It’s a great book to be interactive with. While your child is shopping for a monster of their own, they soon discover that the monsters are doing a little shopping too! The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L. Stine and Marc Brown is just a fun book, but beware, monsters might follow you home.

RATING: Cinquain

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

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

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

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

RATING: Cinquain

Pizza and Other Stinky Poems illustrated by Amanda Haley

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 32 pgs.
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Pizza and Other Stinky Poems illustrated by Amanda Haley is reading level four (grades 3+; ages 8+), but when read together can be a fun book for kids and adults of all ages. My daughter and I read this during Readathon, and she laughed at the words and the pictures created by Haley. There’s even an old favorite in here that I remember from my own childhood, “Meatball,” and one we still use today “Ice Cream” (“I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream”).

It’s been wonderful to see my daughter pick up books and want to read together, and it is even better when she reads to me. It amazes me how much she has learned in just half a year of Kindergarten. She has books now that she can read on her own, and I know that this poetry book will be a permanent part of her collection.

Pizza and Other Stinky Poems illustrated by Amanda Haley is delightful and plays to children’s interests in food, smells, and silliness.

RATING: Quatrain

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