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The Honorable Mr. Darcy by Jennifer Joy (audio)

Source: Giveaway Win
Audible, 8+ hrs.
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The Honorable Mr. Darcy by Jennifer Joy, narrated by Nancy Peterson, begins with a whodunit — who killed Lt. George Wickham?  Was it Mr. Darcy? A man he owed money to, or something far more sinister?

Pride & Prejudice is beloved by many, and many more have written spinoffs or re-imaginings or continuations of Austen’s work.  Joy’s version is part re-imagining and part mystery, with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet playing amateur detectives to uncover the truth, especially when they both know that Mr. Darcy did not do it.

Joy’s characters stick to their conventional roles in society for the most part, with a bit of leeway, but what’s most interesting is how Elizabeth uses her position in Meryton and as a woman to learn more about those she suspects are involved in the murder of Lt. Wickham.  Mr. Darcy finds that his role as detective is suddenly hampered when he’s arrested for the crime.  As the two work together to solve the crime, prejudices are washed away and pride is worn down.

Nancy Peterson is a wonderful narrator of both men and women in this tale, and it is clear that she has a love for Austen’s work as well.  The Honorable Mr. Darcy by Jennifer Joy, narrated by Nancy Peterson, is a wonderful addition to this Austenesque world, and readers will be hard pressed to see how Darcy can remain honorable and protect the honor of Elizabeth Bennet at the same time.  Joy has crafted a whodunit that will keep readers guessing until the very end, and there are even more secrets to be hand than just the unveiling of the real killer.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

When Jennifer isn’t busy dreaming up new adventures for her favorite characters, she is teaching English, reading, perfecting her doughnut recipe, or going to the park with her family. She currently lives in Ecuador with her husband and 2 beautiful kids. All of them are fluent in Spanglish.  Visit her Website.

New Authors Challenge

New York City Haiku illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock

Source: Library of Clean Reads
Hardcover, 128 pgs.
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New York City Haiku illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock is a compilation of haiku from readers that were solicited by The New York Times in 2014 during National Poetry Month.  Haiku were guided by the terms “island,” “strangers,” “solitude,” “commuting,” “6 a.m.,” and “kindness.”  Respondents wrote poems on the subjects of living, commuting, working, and enjoying New York City.  This is just 150 of the more than 2,800 submissions and, no, not all of the haiku are from only residents of New York City.  Some come from as far away as Ireland.

(I will caution that I, too, submitted haiku to the Times, but none of mine appear in this collection)

As we leave for work
Youngsters head home from parties.
Eras intersect. — Amparo Pikarsky, Edison, N.J.

These haiku are by turns serious and humorous about life in the city from a sketch artist on the subway willing sleeping commuters to remain sleeping to people jammed together and yet alone on the train.

Hidden among the
sleepwalking, caffeine zombies.
A morning person. — Aimee Estrada, Hyde Park, N.Y.

These writers clearly know the city and all of its nuances, as well as the rote behavior of commuters. It’s wonderful to visit the city in haiku form and see it from a variety of perspectives, including those who have a sense of humor about it all.

Dollar pizza joint
An oasis in New York’s
Harsh desert of cost. — Dennis Francis, Manhattan, N.Y.

New York City Haiku illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock provides a wide view of the city and commuting. Some seem to express personal experience, while others are more social in commentary. Each haiku displays a sense of humor and love for the Big Apple. Such a fun collection of poems, which would be easy to dip in and out of on a commute into the city or sitting in a good chair.

RATING: Quatrain

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Build A … T-Rex and Build A … Butterfly by Kiki Ljung

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 12 pgs.
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Build A … T-Rex and Build A … Butterfly by Kiki Ljung are geared toward children ages 5-8 and aim to teach children about the anatomy of the T-Rex, as we know it, and the Butterfly by engaging them in a fun activity.  Each book contains a set of parts children can use to build their own 3D model.

The directions are fairly simple, but the T-Rex head was a bit confusing for my kindergartner, and we had to tape his head back together.  She folded him the wrong way.  And one of the legs on the butterfly got ripped when she tried to pull it from the book.  If anything, some of these pieces in each book were secured inside the pages a little too well, making it harder for little kids to pull them out without causing some damage to certain pieces.

The Build A … T-Rex includes some of the latest information about the dinosaur, including his lizard-like hips and posture.  It offers a guide to kids about what the dino ate, how it ran, and whether it had a loud roar like in the movies.  It contains a great deal of information, alongside colorful (but not gory) illustrations of the T-Rex in action.

Build A … Butterfly illustrates the life cycle of the painted lady butterfly and how long it takes them to transform from an egg into a butterfly, as well as how long they actually live.  There’s a great deal of information about each body part and how it functions, what they eat, and where they migrant.  And so much more alongside the colorful illustrations.

Build A … T-Rex and Build A … Butterfly by Kiki Ljung both allow children to put back the parts of their 3D models, but we chose not to do that and she’s planning to display them in her room.

RATING: Quatrain

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 12+ hrs.
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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, narrated by Claire Danes, imagines a world not too far removed from where we are now — with the lack of cash and electronic transfers and the nuclear proliferation and antibiotic resistant diseases — but in this new United States known as Gilead, women are prohibited from holding jobs, having money, reading, and forming friendships. They are merely vessels through which children can be created, carried, and born, only to then be given to the households in which these handmaid’s reside. The handmaid’s are merely the vessels through which wives of the elite are able to have children following the devastating disease that renders many women infertile. Yes, it is only the women who are to blame for the infertility, which is why the men are permitted handmaidens with which to procreate.

Offred tells us this tale from the handmaid’s point of view, and none of the characters we meet have their own names, merely names that are adapted from the husband’s leading the households. To bear a child that is not deformed and is healthy is an honor for these women, but they also have very little freedom — forced to live inside the house, not form bonds with other women or men, and required to eat only prescribed foods and avoid all vices.

Engaging from the start, readers are thrust into this new world and forced to review their own freedoms. How could you become accustom to such a life and not fight it? Offred explains how it comes to pass and why the women remain in their assigned roles, but even in the darkness, there is a light — dim as it may be. Atwood’s Offred is a woman who is resigned to her role because she fears that harm will come to the connections from her previous life. She fails to take action many times because she views her inaction as protecting those she loves. But she also is hampered by her lack of knowledge and her inability to creep about and learn things when the house is asleep.

Danes narration of the book is spot on, and we can feel the emotions pour out of her words. She becomes Offred, she breathes her world, forcing readers right down into the darkness with her. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, narrated by Claire Danes, is a cautionary tale about extreme measures, but it also serves to remind us that when we are not looking extremes can become reality. It is our duty to be vigilant and stand up and fight before things go too far.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College.

Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 384 pgs.
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Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson (available for purchase at HarperCollins) is the story of “green” American journalist Ruby Sutton who is hand-picked to cover WWII in England by her editor at The American.  Splitting the costs of her employment, The American and Picture Weekly will get double the amount of stories from Sutton as she strives to report on the effects of war.  Her journalism colleagues in America seemed pleased that they were not picked to go, but when she gets to England, she realizes there are far more hoops to go through in order to get a story to print.  Across the Atlantic, she finds life in London agreeable and she makes friends quickly.

“It was a stomach-emptying, life-draining thing, her entire body trying to turn itself inside out, her world reduced to the bunk on which she was marooned and the bucket sitting next to it.” (pg. 14, ARC)

However, the reality of war is not far away, as she must endure the bombings from the Blitz and the hefty losses that surround her every day.  She may not have family back in America, but she certainly has an adopted family that she clings to and watches endure war with little complaint.  From her editor, Kaz, to the photographer she’s assigned, Ruby become part of a journalistic family that will soon face some tough roads ahead.  Her life becomes even fuller with Bennet, though he appears and disappears from her life constantly.  But the war leaves her little time to reflect as she becomes more integral to the paper’s success.

Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson is a wonderful historical fiction novel that touches not only on the tribulations of war, but also the relationships that can form quickly between strangers.  With a bit of intrigue and suspense as it pertains to the Blitz, Robson’s novel offers a glimpse into the lives of the British during a precarious time in history.  Plucky Sutton will win readers’ hearts with her resolve and her ability to navigate the choppy waters when secrets come to the surface that she expected to remain buried in the deep sea.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Jennifer Robson is the USA Today and #1 Toronto Globe & Mail bestselling author of Somewhere in France, After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris. She holds a doctorate from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto with her husband and young children.

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

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 371 pgs.
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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which was our April book club selection, is a novel that satirizes the aftermath of the Vietnam war, but it also is a serious examination of identity from the point of view of someone who is a subversive and a mole within the South Vietnamese military at the time of the war. The Captain, who remains unnamed, is in the South Vietnamese military but feeding information to the People’s Army of Vietnam (communists) through his childhood friend, Man. Meanwhile, their third childhood friend, Bon, has been trained as an assassin by the CIA. Balancing his friendship with his duty to the communists becomes a balance that the Captain often loses, but as he has so few real connections with others, it is his friend Bon who pays the highest cost.

“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess.” (pg. 1)

In many ways the opening of the novel will signal to the reader that everything told by the Captain may be untrue or at least partly. But he also seeks to set himself up as a sympathetic character who is torn not only by his heritage — the son of a Vietnamese mother and French priest — but also by his knowledge of America from being abroad at school and his communist leanings. After fleeing Vietnam with the General when the Americans lost the war to the communists, the Captain longs to return, but he is repeatedly told that he must remain a mole among those exiled to America to ensure they are not planning a return. He is forced to swallow more of the bitter pill that his life is not his own, even in America.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen provides a deep look at issues of mixed cultures and races, how they are treated in Vietnam and America during this time period, and how difficult it was to reconcile defeat on either side. It also asks the bigger questions about revolution and the disillusionment of passionate idealists. Corruption of any revolution can occur, and that can be the most devastating for the passionate idealist, but how does it affect those who can see both sides of the equation? And is the real crime to have done nothing or to not have truly chosen a side to be on — right or wrong?

RATING: Cinquain

What the Book Club Thought:

The discussion compared the novel to 1984 and to Catch-22 for its satire, but mostly, we were engrossed in the plight of the Captain and his identity issues. We found it hard for him as a European-Vietnamese man with communist and American-leaning tendencies to reconcile all that he was and commit himself to one cause. Overall, most of the members at the meeting “enjoyed” the book, though one or two members were less than thrilled by the disembodied scenes in the interrogation room, which they felt took them out of the story.

About the Author:

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association. His other books are Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction) and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. His next book is a short story collection, The Refugees, forthcoming in February 2017 from Grove Press.

Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties by Aline Alexander Newman

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 60 pgs.
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Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties by Aline Alexander Newman is a small book of stories about enigmatic cats and their owners. The introduction talks about how many people fail to understand the behaviors of cats, especially when they act erratically. It talks about creating an environment that appeals to their wild instincts as part of an effort to avoid problems that can occur with cat ownership.

Many of these stories are a testament to the bond between cats and their owners, like Holly who was spooked while on vacation in Florida with her owners and disappeared. After a good Samaritan found the cat and had the ID chip scanned, it was discovered that Holly had walked 190 miles in 62 days, trying to return home from Florida. This collection includes not only stories about cats and their owners, but statistics about perceptions of cats and expert explanations about certain behaviors. In Holly’s case, she used her hunting instincts to find her family, and her tenaciousness kept her going even when she was near starving.

For younger readers, there’s even information on cartoon cats and why and how they became famous, such as Grumpy Cat. Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties by Aline Alexander Newman is for ages 8+, but if read together, it can be a good night times story book for kids who love cats and are younger than age 8. My daughter is fascinated with cats, even tough our dog is no friend to cats. This was a perfect book for us to read together.

RATING: Quatrain

We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 112 pgs.
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We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman is a book about a resistance movement started by young boys and girls after they saw what the Hitler Youth movement was really like and what it was about. The White Rose movement ultimately came to the attention of the Gestapo, and while the Nazi regime looked for them, the student network continued to grow.

Through a series of mimeographed leaflets that were left in doors and other locations, the students were able to call attention to Adolf Hitler’s terrible policies and the deaths of Germany’s citizens. Freedman uses a series of historical documents and photographs to chronicle the journey of the Scholls and how they came to oppose the regime and garner supporters.

We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman is a testament to the power of youthful conviction and social networks in opposing forces that are immoral and policies that are wrong.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Russell Freedman received the Newbery Medal for LINCOLN: A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY. He is also the recipient of three Newbery Honors, a National Humanities Medal, the Sibert Medal, the Orbis Pictus Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and was selected to give the 2006 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture.

New Authors Challenge

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 530 pgs.
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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a sweeping tale of World War II from the perspective of a German, Werner, and a French blind girl, Marie-Laure. Werner is a smart, young German boy who lives in an orphanage, while Marie-Laure is a young girl who goes blind and lives with her father in Paris. Both have faced some hardships, but both remain hopeful that life can be beautiful. Told from both perspectives as the war takes hold of Europe, Doerr creates a tale that is carefully woven together and tethered to the myth of the Sea of Flames, a diamond that some say is cursed and others say can provide miracles to those who possess it.

Doerr does an excellent job of not only creating characters on both sides of the war with compelling stories, but also ensuring that there is a light of hope in each story to keep readers going. While the subject of WWII has become fodder for a number of novelists, very few will tell the story from the perspective of a young man swept up into the military because he dreams of a better life and learning that he cannot get in the orphanage. Readers will see a well crafted novel full of dynamic characters and symbolism, but they also will see that men and women on both sides of the war are not that different from each other and that the politics of the time is what drove the violence and indecency.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize and for good reason. It’s a must read for those who love historical fiction and are looking for a detailed take on lives on both sides of the war.

RATING: Quatrain

If you missed our read-a-long in March at War Through the Generations, check it out.

Readalong:

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6

New Authors Challenge

Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon

Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 392 pgs.
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Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon is a journey into the books and with the authors that we all know and love from Shakespeare to Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and so many more. It is clear that Schmidt and Rendon are book lovers like many voracious readers, and it is their love of reading that has propelled them to take a number of journeys with authors and more. Broken down into two parts: the first part focuses on the journeys that can be taken based on places in books and the places that authors lived, went to, and died; the second part focuses on the places between the pages of the books written by some of the most famous authors known.

“Sometimes a book invites a journey, sometimes we invite ourselves.” (pg. VIII)

Readers know the feeling of falling into a book, walking the streets with characters and becoming part of the local color as they read, but to journey to actual places in search of authors’ homes or lives or even just those spots that inspired their work is a journey not to be missed. Readers would be advised not to treat this as a travel guide with an intuitive layout, as the book does not break down the sites and museums by geographical region and does not group the places by author. It can take a bit of work to create a list of places of interest to see based on a particular region or author, but the intention of this book is the journey, retracing the steps of favorite authors or books.

From the libraries that house some of the oldest books to the literary festivals across the United States and Europe, the authors have packed this second edition with a treasure trove of literary treats, including a list of places where places in novels, like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, came alive on the movie screen. There are famous hotels where authors have stayed, as well as restaurants and bars where authors have eaten and indulged when they could.

Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon is a journey in itself and a compendium of literary spots for the book lover in all of us. Indulge by reading about one favorite author and all the places or dip in and out to learn something new about your authors or nearby literary spots.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Shannon McKenna Schmidt is the co-author with Joni Rendon of Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads. She has written for Arrive, National Geographic Traveler, Shelf Awareness, Gothamist.com, and other publications and websites. A former Hoboken, New Jersey, resident, she is traveling full-time in the United States and abroad and can be found on the web at EverywhereOnce.com and NovelDestinations.wordpress.com.

Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 236 pgs.
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Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman is fraught with gangs, poverty, and class struggle. In Todos Santos, these families barely scrape by to make a living, but even as they fail to see eye-to-eye sometimes, each strives for the dream of a comfortable life — whether that means a husband who stays home with his wife rather than his mistress or a young man seeking his fortune in North America.

Clearman’s strongest stories are the series about Concepción and the baby brokers that provides not only the perspective of a woman who sells a child, but the perspective of the broker who buys children, the parents who search for their lost child, and the parents from North America who are desperate to have a family. This series is so emotionally charged and convoluted, but it’s easy to see that there is always more than one side to a story, even if the selling of babies is abhorrent.

“‘The race is long and hard, like life,’ his grandfather had told him. ‘There is no winner. The purpose is to bear up, to survive.'” (pg. 109 from “The Race”)

Clearman breathes life into Todos Santos and its people, demonstrating that like the United States, class is an obstacle many wish to overcome to reach prosperity. While their circumstances may be reduced compared to those in the United States, their dreams are similar in terms of material wealth and familial wealth. Like many races in the United States, the the Mayan descendants are discriminated against, with the children whipped at school until they speak proper Spanish, etc.

Drawing on folklore and mythology, Clearman pays homage to a culture that is hidden in the jungles and cities of Central America. But she also follows some of these residents as they chase their dreams in America. The different walks of life represented her was interesting and engaging, though in some cases, it is hard to emotionally connect with the characters, like they are not as fleshed out as those in the first half of the stories. Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman provides a new look at a culture often overlooked or hidden in literature.

RATING: Tercet

Photo credit Douglas Chadwick

About the Author:

Deborah Clearman is the author of a novel Todos Santos, from Black Lawrence Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the former Program Director for NY Writers Coalition, and she teaches creative writing in such nontraditional venues as senior centers, public housing projects, and the jail for women on Rikers Island. She lives in New York City and Guatemala.

The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert

Source: the author
Paperback, 118 pgs.
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The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert calls to mind how things are connected or organized in our lives. Some of these things are not experienced directly by the narrator of the poems, but tangentially. The pasts of our fathers and mothers can affect our lives even without us realizing it, but our own connections also can call back those moments missed or even moments we’ve forgotten. These poems are a maze of memory, experience, and so much more. Weisert’s verse unwinds this maze and finds the hidden connections.

From "The Scheme of Things" (pg. 11)

So: One morning, from nowhere, an unselected self: A gait
that unrhythms you, a gasp that fills your fist
with nameless stuff. Your skull a holy dome -- A new weight!
But on this plain, the claw-and-hunch will coexist
with you for ages.  All aching appetite, her jaws will snap
flesh, and your fine teeth close. ...

Readers will love how she plays with musicality in her poems, weaving the songs of Gershwin around the encounters with the narrator’s lover or the rhythm of words she and her mother used to create a language only they could understand. Weisert’s fluid vision permeates each poem, packing it full of gems like “Voice is our other body, how we move in the dark.” from “The Dark” (pg. 24). Readers will move with her narrator through the past and the present, looking at the two cities left to her by her absent father or the ravages of war that should not be forgotten and never shall.

The Scheme of Things by Hilde Weisert is not heavy in its musicality, almost creating a dreamlike trance for the reader to easily flow in and out of these connections and, yet, continue to feel the deep emotion, the scars, and awe without plummeting down.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Hilde Weisert‘s collection The Scheme of Things was published in 2015 by David Robert Books. Her poem, “The Pity of It,” was winner of the 2016 Tiferet Poetry Award, and she’s had poems in such magazines as Ms, Prairie Schooner, The Cortland Review, Calyx, and several anthologies. She lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Sandisfield, Mass.