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Mailbox Monday #565

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Persuasion: Behind the Scenes by Maria Grace and Susan Mason-Millk, a freebie.

You pierce my soul.

Before Jane Austen wrote that romantic letter from Captain Frederick Wentworth to Anne Elliot, she crafted a masterful story of heartbreak and longing that still resonates with readers today.

But what of those scenes that Jane Austen never wrote? What Persuasion fan doesn’t want to listen in on Anne and Wentworth’s first courtship, laugh at the follies and foibles of the Elliot family, sail along on Captain Wentworth’s harrowing adventures at sea or attend Wentworth and Anne’s wedding.

Twelve authors of Austen-inspired fiction: Diana Birchall, Marilyn Brant, Jack Caldwell, L.L. Diamond, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Kara Louise, Susan Mason-Milks, Jane Odiwe, C. Allyn Pierson, Mary Lydon Simonsen, and Shannon Winslow collaborated to put this unique collection that fills in “missing” scenes from Austen’s classic work, sure to delight any true Persuasion fan.

Jane and the Visitors from Pemberley by Margaret Lynette Sharp, a freebie.

A Short story — Fifteen-year-old Isobel, the youngest daughter of Jane and Charles Bingley, is overjoyed when, despite her mama’s misgivings, she is allowed to go on holiday with her friends at Brighton. Will this high-spirited young woman somehow manage to behave with uncharacteristic decorum? Or will history repeat itself?

Liz and Darcy, Part 1 Boardroom Battle by Kelsie Fann, a freebie.

Will Darcy’s pride bankrupt Liz?

When Liz Bailey discovers she only has 24 hours to save her southern media company, she leaps to the quickest solution: find a buyer, fast.

Chicago based investor Darcy Williams isn’t interested in the poorly run business. . . until his nemesis shows up.

The new buyer instantly attracts Liz. He’s beautiful, charming, and he has deep enough pockets to save the company.

Except he’s broke, and Darcy knows it. Now Darcy has to chose. Does he care enough to save Liz’s company? Or should he leave and let her deal with the fallout?

Will Darcy let himself fall into the land of sweet tea and seersucker before it’s too late? Or will the clock run out on Liz’s southern charm?

Love and Other Machines by Alix James, a freebie.

Her life was going smoothly until love threw a wrench into it.

Her uncle’s pet and her mother’s trial, Elizabeth Bennet has always been… different. Blessed with a quick mind and a knack for all things mechanical, sometimes the simplest things—like love—are harder for her to fix.

Fitzwilliam Darcy is anything but simple. A gentleman by birth but an engineer at heart, he wastes no time in dismantling Elizabeth’s secret. The gentleman, however, has secrets of his own that cause him to linger, to falter, and then to risk everything.

A chance journey with Elizabeth’s uncle to Mr Bingley’s factory in Birmingham had seemed the ideal opportunity to indulge her fascination without risk to her reputation. But a lady of gentle birth and modest means must never tinker with machinery, and most certainly should not have grease on her cheek.

What began as a mechanical challenge becomes a personal test when rioters and old enemies turn the tables. Can Elizabeth and Darcy work together, or will the gears spin out of control?

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, Nicole Lewis, purchased from Audible.

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At 25, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

Seed by Ania Ahlborn, Eric G. Dove, purchased from Audible.

With nothing but the clothes on his back – and something horrific snapping at his heels – Jack Winter fled his rural Georgia home when he was just a boy. Watching the world he knew vanish in a trucker’s rearview mirror, he thought he was leaving an unspeakable nightmare behind forever.

Now, years later, the bright new future he’s built suddenly turns pitch black, as something fiendishly familiar looms dead ahead.

Surviving a violent car crash seems like a miracle for Jack’s family, but Jack knows there’s nothing divine about it. The profound evil he uncovered as a boy has finally found him again. The thing that crouched at his bedside with soulless eyes and grinning, razor-sharp teeth is back with plans for Jack and his angelic youngest daughter, and a chilling promise: I’ve always been here, and I’ll never leave.

Wasted Words by Staci Hart, a freebie.

Some universal truths refuse to be ignored.

Peanut butter and jelly are a match made in heaven. Spaghetti and meatballs are best friends forever. And guys like Tyler Knight don’t go for girls like Cam Emerson.

She knew from the second she met him that he didn’t belong on her bookshelf, the six-foot-six ex-tight end with a face so all-American, it could have sold apple pie. So she shelved him next to the supermodels and rock stars and took her place on her own shelf — the one with the flannel-clad, pasty-faced comic book nerds. Most of her boyfriends have existed between the pages of books, but rather than worrying over her own lacking love life, she puts all her energy into playing Cupid, using her job at the book bar, Wasted Words, as her stomping ground.

Tyler Knight always looks on the bright side. His career-ending injury turned into a job as a sports agent. A horrible breakup led him to Cam, his quirky, smart roommate who is far more beautiful than she realizes. She’s made it perfectly clear she’s not interested in him — not like that at least — but if she ever changes her mind, he won’t hesitate. Because he doesn’t see the lines she’s drawn between them, as much as she insists that they’re there. Deep down he knows that despite their differences, they’re a match well made.

What did you receive?

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens

Source: Author
Paperback, 292 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens is the story of women in the workforce in the 1980s, long before the #MeToo movement began and when women endured workplace harassment and abuse with little recourse other than to quit or change jobs. Shelby Stewart is an intern at a PR firm in Boston where Astrid Ericcson is an up-and-coming account executive who is looking to make it to the top soon. Astrid’s flirty personality is in stark contrast to her cold shoulder she gives her coworkers and is juxtaposed with Shelby’s practical attitude. Both women hail from humble beginnings, but they are both eager to make their own way in the PR world.

Shelby has some demons to work through, and as she ignores them, those memories begin to flit into her consciousness and affect her health. She struggles on the dating scene and can’t figure out why until she finally admits what happened in her past. Meanwhile, Ericcson realizes that her flirty nature may have been interpreted in a way she didn’t intend when her boss comes sniffing around, making innuendos and sexual quid pro quo statements.

These women cannot be in one another’s company, but eventually the ice melts between them and they become a trio with Shelby’s friend Tina — the most well adjusted of the bunch. I liked that these women soon focus on themselves and become a supportive group, but they rely far too heavily on alcohol and dance club, one-night stands until nearly the end.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens is a look at the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace during the 1980s and how women were stuck with few options — tough it out or move to another company. It also examines the lasting effects of sexual molestation and abuse that occurs too often in the home — forever shaping the worldview of the children it directly impacts. Stevens is a talented storyteller and the book is a page-turner.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

S.M. Stevens began writing fiction during back-to-back health crises. First, she broke her pelvis in three places in a horseback riding fall, and used the recuperation period to write Shannon’s Odyssey, a middle-grade novel for animal-lovers. Soon after, Stevens was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. During her five months of treatment and subsequent recovery spell, she wrote Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers for musical theatre-loving teens. Two additional Bit Players novels followed. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is her first adult book. After watching reactions to the #MeToo movement, she decided it was time for a novel that takes people into the minds of victims so they can understand why many women don’t speak up about their harassment or assault, and why some do. When not writing, she provides marketing and public relations services to solar energy companies. She is from Gorham, Maine, and now lives in Clinton, Mass., and Washington, N.H. She has also lived in Italy and in the U.K., where she was Group Public Affairs Director for National Grid. Visit her Website, Facebook, on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, GoodReads, and on Amazon.

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 69 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, is the first book in the series, and it is clear that Junie B. is not ready for kindergarten. But really, what kid is ready? She struggles with riding the bus, how to behave in class, and a whole host of other things, but this is normal behavior for a kindergartner.

My daughter and I have been reading these together, though she’s the one reading to me. The “wrong” words like “bended” and “funner,” etc., do continue to make her stumble while reading but she seems to be getting a better handle on correcting Junie B.’s words as she reads. In some ways, these “wrong” words appear to make her a stronger reader. She’s critically thinking about what she’s reading as she goes. While these words make me cringe, I can see how they’ve helped my daughter with her reading struggles over the last two books.

Junie B. can be a bit sassy and so can her friends, but this is part of finding our place in the world as a kid — learning boundaries, and making friends of strangers. Park really understands how children at this age think and act. What happens when Junie B. doesn’t get on the bus to go home after school? Will she be found out? Are her parents frantic? Is Junie B. scared? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, was a fun read and gave us a lot to think and laugh about. We learned about how kids can be mean sometimes, and how we have to learn how to cope with change.

RATING: Quatrain

OTHER Reviews:

Mailbox Monday #564

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Scattered Clouds by Reuben Jackson, which I purchased.

Scattered Clouds: New & Selected Poems is a volume of lyrical, emotionally forthright meditations on love, loss, and longing. The poems are often sobering, but they are not, to quote Langston Hughes, “without laughter.” Scattered Clouds contains the complete text of the author’s award-winning first collection, fingering the keys; his nationally lauded poem, “For Trayvon Martin”; and his wry, unabashedly romantic suite of ruminations on a long-time and deeply missed friend, the late barbershop owner Amir Yasin, and his widow Khadijah Rollins. These poems, exploring Amir’s late-life romance with Kadijah, became a national internet sensation. An introduction by poet Abdul Ali (Cave Canem alumni and author of Trouble Sleeping) places Jackson in his rightful context as a Black American poetry elder, who has influenced generations of younger poets with his musical wisdom as well as his poetry.

What did you receive?

Darcy vs. Bennet by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: the author
Audiobook, 7+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Darcy vs. Bennet by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is not as the cover suggests a battle of wills between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, which is a delightful departure. It is more reminiscent of the themes in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet meet before the start of Austen’s Pride & Prejudice at a masquerade ball, and while she discovers his identity, he only knows her Christian name. It is delightful to see them together falling in love even behind a mask, but they are soon separated and forced to forget one another by time and space, until they are thrust together again. Another wonderful twist of fate here is that Mr. Darcy’s father is alive and not as honorable as his son.

While I do adore when Elizabeth and her William are together stealing kisses, there are so many moments where they are too consumed with one another to remember that they need to be discreet to avoid scrutiny and detection by Mr. Darcy. I almost wanted to shout at them to break it up and use their rational minds, especially Mr. Darcy since he knows the scheming his father is capable of. Much of my irritation stemmed from the enormous buildup about his father’s efforts to keep his son from the Bennet daughter, but the end fell flat to me and was wrapped up much too quickly.

The battle between Mr. George Darcy and Mr. Bennet is in the background. Although it does cast a shadow on the romance and their ability to come together, I would have liked to see more of that in flashbacks and potentially how his father would have told the tale to his son, rather than just getting Mr. Bennet’s version from Elizabeth. I fear there could have been more obstacles and prejudices played with here given the long-held animosity of these two parents. These stories could have colored Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s perspectives, causing a great deal more tension when Elizabeth and Darcy had to reconcile what they knew of one another from the masquerade ball.

Zimmerman, once again, is a wonderful narrator for Austen-inspired fiction. She does well with each of the characters, including the new villain Mr. George Darcy. I enjoyed her dramatic portrayal of him and all of the other characters we’ve come to know well.

Darcy vs. Bennet by Victoria Kincaid, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman, is a delightful diversion and has a range of emotions and plots to recommend it. Do not let my qualms with the plot stop you from enjoying this wonderful romance between two of our favorite characters — Darcy and Elizabeth. There are stolen kisses and embraces, as well as wonderful confessions of love.

RATING: Tercet

We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum is an adorable photography spread that will melt your heart with cute little baby animals. Esbaum uses rhyme to pinpoint the different aspects of these babies from webbed toes to wings. There are babies big and small, furry and feathery, and all full-fledged cute.

The book is for kids just learning words and different shapes, but my daughter loves cute baby animals (don’t we all). We would argue that this is a photography book for all ages. The images are crisp and detailed, and some are down right fun to look at. Esbaum’s witty rhymes make the book even more enjoyable for younger children — it’s almost song-like.

We Love Babies! by Jill Esbaum is a great way to introduce young children to the natural world, different species of animals (which are all labeled in the final pages), and words like big and small. These images will make you smile, which is another reason just to have this book around.

RATING: Cinquain

Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus

Source: Gift
Paperback, 80 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus is the fourth book in the series and is riddled with actual dialogue that a younger kindergartner would use. Junie B. loves to sneak around and spy on her family but when they explain that she shouldn’t be doing that, she still considers herself a sneaky spy. When she spies on the wrong person, it could spell big trouble.

My daughter had a hard time with some of the misspelled words. But she started to learn to correct them as she read aloud. We like Junie B. and her antics, even if she gets in trouble, but her misspelled words were troublesome, especially for my daughter who continues to struggle with reading. This is a fun series, but I’m not sure we’ll read more of these as part of her nightly practice.

Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying by Barbara Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus is a cute book with a mischievous girl who likes to see the world without anyone knowing she’s there. She just doesn’t understand the concept of privacy.

RATING: Quatrain

Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday

Take this time to reflect on the freedoms we have in this country, and how there was a lot of sweat and blood that went into making them a reality.

Also take a moment to think about how precious those freedoms are and what you are willing to do to keep them.

Finally, imagine a world (like now) in which you need to take action to actively preserve those rights.

What would you do, if you were Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Mailbox Monday #563

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Turn It Up!: A Pitch Perfect History of Music that Rocked the World for review from Media Masters Publicity and National Geographic Kids.

The high notes and biggest moments in music history are covered in this fun compendium. You’ll learn about the world’s most famous musicians through the eras, from Bach to the Beatles to Beyonce — and beyond. Many major music genres are playfully explained, from tribal, classical, jazz, folk, rock … all the way to today’s modern forms, such as k-pop, hip-hop, and rap. Instruments and sounds are explored, along with places and events in history that inspired the evolution of music. Kids will also get a sense of music theory, instrumentation, and the artistry of distinctive musical styles. Song recommendations help readers open their ears to what they’ve learned. Add to that amazing images, a rockin’ glossary of musical terms, and a timeline that plots each genre on its path from ancient history to today, and this book is bound to top the charts!

We Love Babies by Jill Esbaum for review from Media Masters Publicity and National Geographic Kids.

This hilarious picture book with rollicking, rhyming text reads like a crowd-pleasing call, pumping up readers’ excitement for the cutest baby animals ever. Illustrated with lively National Geographic photography, We Love Babies! presents furred, feathered, and finned baby animals of all shapes and sizes. Whimsical cartoon cheerleaders add to the fun, popping up throughout the book to lead fans in the irresistible refrain: “We love babies, yes we do, we love babies, how about you?”

Wickham’s Folly by Philippa J. Rosen, a Kindle freebie.

George Wickham had no intention of joining the army. However, after a night drinking gin with his friend Tom, he awakes the next morning an enlisted soldier.

He is posted to a small town in Hertfordshire and meets a variety of people. He makes friends with a couple who have five daughters and plans to marry one of the older daughters in order to inherit her father’s wealth. At the same time, he intends to become better acquainted with the youngest daughter, Lydia. For good measure he tries to a young clergyman of his money by fraudulent means.

His plans are thwarted however, and he flees to London. Thanks to the intervention of a gentleman from Derbyshire he is forced to marry Lydia and takes a commission in the north of England.

He is content to be a soldier as long as Napoleon is still exiled in Elba. When Napoleon escapes though his regiment sail for Europe at once.

At the Battle of Waterloo, Wickham somehow becomes a hero. But is there more to his heroic actions than meets the eye? The young clergyman travels to give spiritual assistance to the English soldiers, and it is there that he discovers Wickham’s secret…

Georgiana Darcy’s Secret Letters by Francine Howarth and Pat Jackson, a Kindle freebie.

The shy reclusive sister of Fitzwilliam Darcy loves the wide open spaces of the Derbyshire Dales, where her favoured pastime steals her away from her dour existence at Pemberley. Whilst the memory of George Wickham lingers as a reminder of a past mistake, Georgiana rebels and embraces the writing of clandestine letters. But can she really trust a battle hardened officer to rein back when burgeoned desire wells in the heat of the moment, and dare she risk her reputation for the love of Lt James Dolby, Viscount Welton?

Jeopardy in January by Camilla Chafer, a Kindle freebie.

Sara Cutler loves her job as head librarian of the public library, an integral part of the historic heart of the picturesque mountain town, Calendar. The combination of old books, quirky clientele, and endless reading is nothing less than perfection for Sara. So when she discovers a body in the rare books section that threatens to destroy her quiet existence, along with the imminent demise of the library, Sara vows to find the killer.

She never expects to receive any help from Jason Rees, the handsome, big city developer whose only objective is to get rid of the library. Sara assumes he is counting on the murder to serve as the final death knell his firm needs to demolish the library. However, that doesn’t prevent him from falling head over heels for the very woman with whom he’s clashing.

When news arrives that the dead woman was nothing that she appeared to be, the whole town is instantly enthralled by the concept of having an actual jewel thief in their midst. Even more puzzling is: where did she hide her stolen treasure?

All Sara must do to save the library is simply solve the murder, find the hidden jewels, and convince herself not to succumb to the one man she would rather see run out town. It doesn’t take long before she realizes that amateur sleuthing isn’t as easy in real life as it is in the stories she loves to read.

What did you receive?

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 400 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a roller coaster of emotions, but provides a fictionalized look at the journey migrants endure to escape the horrors of their homes and the people that seek to murder, rape, conscript, or abuse them. Many migration stories speak to the economic conditions of the homeland or the volatile political world, but few take us into the emotional world of the migrants’ journey to the United States.

Lydia and Luca emerge from the most tragic day of their lives running for safety. Safety is not their home or another relative’s home in Mexico, but across the border into the United States where the cartel Los Jardineros cannot reach. These are the faces of migrants. Not drug dealers, not rapists, and not criminals, but honest people forced to flee their home because suddenly the cartel is at their door thirsting for blood.

Lydia and Sebastian would have been considered to be well off compared to others in Acapulco. She owned a bookstore, and her husband was a journalist. Although many of his articles were published anonymously, anonymity only works so far when your writing about the cartel Los Jardineros. Their son, Luca, is a typical 8-year-old who loves to play, but he’s also very smart about geography. But their relatively quiet life is obliterated in one moment.

In heart-stopping detail, Cummins endears Lydia and Luca to her audience. They are real people, fleeing real dangers. They just want to live beyond today. As citizens of the United States, it is hard for us to imagine leaving all we know behind and living elsewhere because we have no choice. This is precisely why these fictional migrants are so important. They provide us a window into the many individual stories and experiences of migrants who cross the U.S. border, and what we see will not only shock us awake, but force us to revisit our prejudices and malformed notions about immigrants and why they are in the United States instead of changing things in their own countries.

“In the road ahead, two young men, two teenage boys really, tote AR-15s. Perhaps it’s precisely because that make of gun isn’t quite as prolific or as sexy as the ubiquitous AK-47 here that Lydia finds it all the more terrifying. Ridiculous, she knows. One gun will make you as dead as another. But there’s something so utilitarian about the sleek, black AR-15, like it can’t be bothered to put on a show.” (pg. 82 ARC)

There is a deep sense of powerlessness but also a determination to retrieve some power over their own lives. As Lydia and Luca cross paths with other migrants, the picture becomes more detailed, more graphic, more upending. Even Lydia must come to terms with her own perceptions and pities she had for migrants…those views she had before she was forced to become a migrant herself. Her life as a bookstore owner, reader, middle-income mother blinded her in many ways to what was right in front of her until it is already too late. Much of her blindness is due to her inability to resist the charm of an educated reader, someone who clearly sees in her prey to be captured. The decisions she makes from the moment of tragedy until the end of the novel are governed by a her new perspective. Never take a mother’s love for granted; it is a powerful force.

Migrants from Mexico and Central America struggle to make it to the United States, many atop La Bestia. They face starvation, dehydration, robbery, rape, murder, human trafficking and so much more, as the cartels continue to carve up these countries and sell their people to the highest bidder. IS America the sanctuary that many migrants believe it to be? No. But Cummins highlights those moments too in the stories Lydia is told from migrants returning home and those returning to the United States even though they were kicked out. With American dirt in the title, readers must reconsider what “American” means. Not all of the dirt/borders are considered American in the United States, yet residents of North and South America are all American.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is the “IT” book for 2020 and without question all of the hype and praise is well deserved. This book has so many layers and would be a fantastic pick for book clubs everywhere. It is life changing; it is a book to open the eyes of the “America” we want to be to the eyes of the America we are. We are all American, regardless of the country in which we live or which country we came from.

RATING: Cinquain

***If you are in the Gaithersburg, Md., area, please join us for our first book club. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins was selected as the first book for Gaithersburg Reads, a community book club read.

***Our big, giant book discussion event with Jeanine Cummins will be on March 31st, 7pm, at Gaithersburg High School Performing Arts Center.

 

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Jeanine Cummins is the author of four books: the bestselling memoir A Rip in Heaven, and the novels The Outside BoyThe Crooked Branch, and American Dirt. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.