Quantcast

The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 2+ hours
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, narrated by Andi Arndt and Sebastian York, is a short novella similar to a Hallmark movie in which a young professional finds a certain young man from another division at her company annoying. Riley Kennedy‘s emails keep being sent to Kennedy Riley, who works in another division at the same company. But rather than simply forward her replies, he has to offer his two-cents. Clearly, writing personal emails to an advice columnist is ill-advised from a work email account, but Riley’s really bummed about the holiday’s and her mother’s bragadocious Christmas letter to everyone in the family about her siblings.

Kennedy offers her an out — take him home for the holidays as her boyfriend.

Yes, Hallmark lane, here we come. Is it cheesy? predictable? Ultimately, yes. However, we all need that feel-good, hilarity once in a while, and this one fit the bill for me. It doesn’t hurt that my ears have a crush on Sebastian York’s sultry voice, either.

The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward, narrated by Andi Arndt and Sebastian York, is fun, funny, and delightful. Complete with the white horse and city streets of New York.

RATING: Cinquain

The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas

Source: publisher/TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 304 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Nearly 250 years after Jane Austen’s birth, her popularity continues to gain momentum. With the number of spinoffs, continuations, and variations of her work soaring each year, the impetus of her popularity has been attributed to many things, including the scholarly study of her novels and the relatively relatable topics she explored. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas takes a different approach to the discussion by examining those editions of Austen’s novels that often fell out of circulation, were read until they fell apart, were produced using the same printing plates time and again, and were cheap enough for those of the working class to buy them on occasion.

Don’t be fooled! This is not a book about those illustrious, high-priced, out-of-reach (for most of us) first editions of Austen’s novels.

Complete with 100 full-color photographs of covers that hearken back to the penny dreadfuls, yellow-backs, and dime store copies with pulp-like covers on wire racks, Barchas has sought the history of the mass produced Austen novel. Many of which are held in private hands not by collectors, but by ordinary people. Some of these covers depict Lydia making a fool of herself at Brighton in Pride & Prejudice, Mary Crawford seducing Edmund, and much more scandalous behavior.

“Austen’s reputation has benefited from every significant modern innovation in the making and marketing of cheap books over the past two centuries. That reception history, starting in earnest with her first reprintings in the 1830s, doubles as the story of the increasingly inexpensive book,” says Barchas in the preface.

Richard Bentley is often credited with Austen’s increased popularity, but Barchas makes her case that it was more than his Standard Novels reprint series in 1833. She contends that those novels were still too expensive. Barchas adds that those volumes were soon joined with far cheaper versions of Austen’s novels, which may have had a greater impact on widening her popularity. “Not only was Jane Austen present among the earliest experiments in mass-market paperbacks,” says Barchas, “but these lowly books prove how her entrance into the literary canon occurred in a much cruder fashion than most of her fans today imagine.”

Later, Penguin Books created their own paperback versions that are color-coded by type: fiction, mystery, etc. As we move through Barchas’s nonlinear history of Austen’s covers, some new editions are more elaborate with red cloth covers, cursive writing, and more traditional looks, compared to the melodramatic scenes of previous covers.

Did you know that Austen’s books were used to sell soap? Or that paintings were used as a way to sell Austen’s books? And I bet you thought Austen marketed as “ChickLit” was a recent phenomenon, but it actually first started in the 1840s. Barchas provides readers with not only gorgeously photographed covers, wonderful vignette’s about owners’ copies of Austen’s works, and so much more. The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas is a must have for Janeites and Janites alike. If you’re still shopping this holiday season, you cannot go wrong with this book. Remember, most of us read books that were mass-printed paperbacks in school, not the hardcover, first editions that are coveted by collectors today. The mass-printed books are the lifeblood of any author, especially if they hope to survive century after century.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Janine Barchas is the Louann and Larry Temple Centennial Professor of English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity and Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. She is also the creator behind What Jane Saw.

Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams

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

Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams, winner of The Backwaters Press Prize for Poetry, is similar in theme to his other collection, As One Fire Consumes Another, in that there is an exploration of dark tragedy, lost identity, and more, but there are moments of hope and light — a common hopeful dream. “Because skin has a memory all its own and because memory is a language that’s survived its skin,” he says in the title poem drawing parallels between the memories and weights we carry through life with the greater memory we leave behind. He reminds us in “Then We Will Make Our Own Demons” that we tend to tie significance to moments in time that are not as earth shattering as we suspect them to be: “When your name is less an arrow/ … /instead it is a thread dissolving/into a forgotten wound. When all woulds/have hints of birds in them…/”

Williams explores the hurts and sadness of childhood, while speaking about how those moments shape us and our worlds when we internalize them, but how those moments often fade into the background becoming less significant. As the collection moves away from growing up into adulthood, Williams speaks about the moments in which we look back and realize our lives have taken turns we never expected.

In “Poison Oak,” there is the helplessness we all may feel some day, particularly when a child becomes ill and all we can do is rock them in our arms and hope they will recover. “I do know there’s a crying boy/the coarse cradle of my hands/cannot rock into immunity,” he says. But he also explores larger societal issues, like the loss of peers in a hail of bullets in “Killing Lesson.” These poems beg us to look at those “earth shattering” moments of our lives with greater perspective. To review our lives with an empathetic eye toward those around us, who may be carrying heavier burdens, having more tragedy than we ever could.

Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams is an amazing collection that tackles large themes while grounding each moment in real life. A harrowing collection that strives for peace and hope, a journey into the self and outside of it. We have a memory, and there’s a memory of life that surrounds us. When the skin of us is gone, where do those memories go, how do they live on? They live on in the words we share, the stories we tell, and the moments we cherish with others. Connection is the greatest gift of all.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hrs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss is a look back at the hard road of comedy and the bumpy road to stardom, but it is also explores Hart’s own life and how it impacted his future career and family. Hart pulls no punches in this one and lays everything bare, including his problems with alcohol, domestic abuse, and more.

Growing up near Philadelphia was hard, especially with a strict single mother and a father who was addicted to drugs and hardly ever home. His stories about his family are outrageous to say the least, and Hart will say that he couldn’t have made them up if he tried.

Throughout the book he offers advice he received from other comics on the scene in Philly, New York, and LA. But he also offers lessons from his own life. One takeaway that really resonated with me is that even though his mother forced them to take public transportation even when they had another option, trained him for his rigorous show schedule and the waiting on TV and movie sets that can be not only frustrating but tedious. His mother’s tenacity also inspired him to keep striving for his goals, as he faced empty bank accounts and non-paying venues.

Hart is funny throughout the audio, which he narrates, but there are moments of crassness early on when he talks frankly about becoming an adolescent boy and later in life when he’s in Hollywood. These are part of his story, and if you don’t like profanity or detailed information about sex, you may want to skip this one or those parts.

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart and Neil Strauss was wildly entertaining, funny, and enlightening. I learned a great deal about where my own determination and drive comes from by Hart reminding me of those restrictive days as a kid in my parents’ home. I can now see how those restrictions helped me become the disciplined person I am. Hart’s still on a journey, but his journey is now aimed at improving the lives of his children, encouraging him in the way his mother did, and ensuring they don’t think they can skip school and do the things that he did. There were many laugh out loud moments, but there are lessons that you won’t soon forget.

RATING: Cinquain

Fables by Arnold Lobel

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Fables by Arnold Lobel includes beautiful illustrations with one-page fables, some of which still apply today. There are a few fables that could use better messages for kids, which is why parents should carefully choose which fables to read their children. This book is a bit challenging to read for my daughter, but we’ve talked about each fable and parsed the story to find the meaning of each tale.

One of our favorites was the “The Poor Old Dog,” who has no home and a worn coat and shoes until one day he finds what he thinks is a magic ring. In this story, readers learn that wishes may not always come true immediately after making them and that patience is key in making wishes, as well as ensuring they come true. “The Ostrich in Love” is a tale my daughter thought was odd because the Ostrich never talks to the girl he loves, but he does all of these nice things for her. “Love is its own reward,” the tale says, but my daughter is not convinced — she’s still young yet.

“The Hen and the Apple Tree” is a tale with a wolf naturally and an inquisitive and skeptical hen — and well she should be. My daughter liked this one, even when we discussed how hard it is to be something we are not. Another favorite was “The Hippopotamus at Dinner,” which is appropriate considering this is the holiday season in which we all tend to overindulge a bit.

Fables by Arnold Lobel provides some unique stories for kids to read together or to have read to them. The illustrations are colorful and realistic, which makes the tales all the more real for kids. While some of the lessons are outdated and could be updated a bit for kids of the modern era, parents can take that extra time to explain those stories to children in a way that makes more sense.

RATING: Tercet

Don’t Read This Book Before Dinner by Anna Claybourne

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 144 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Don’t Read This Book Before Dinner by Anna Claybourne is perfect for any kid who loves slime and grossness. From rodents and spiders to the uses of spit and the evolution of toilets, this book as it all.

My daughter loves these kinds of books, even if there are things in there that gross her out, like birds that make nests from their spit and then those empty nests are eaten by Southeast Asian people as a delicacy. She was thrilled when she could do an experiment of wiping her tongue dry before putting a potato chip on it — lo and behold, she couldn’t taste it!

There are also quizzes throughout to test what you’ve learned, as well as if you have any common sense. One of my daughter’s favorites was the much needed break of cuteness in the middle of the book.

Don’t Read This Book Before Dinner by Anna Claybourne can provide a couple hours of entertainment for a family, and we enjoyed seeing who got the right answers on the quizzes. We had a really gross time with this one, and we’re all in agreement that we won’t be eating spiders or bugs no matter how much protein they have compared to a burger.

RATING: Quatrain

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hours
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins, narrated by the author, is a long narration of how to use the 5-second rule to change your behavior and achieve your goals. In addition to a short explanation of how the rule works and how to apply it, she does offer some answers to frequently asked questions she’s received over the years and information about the psychology behind why the rule works.

Much of our indecision and regret are tied to our emotional responses to thoughts and goals — we effectively talk ourselves out of acting on our goals or ideas. Count down from 5 and then act — this leaves no time for your emotions to talk you out of accomplishing your goals or taking action. This advice can be life changing, and her examples demonstrate how it can change behaviors and build confidence in yourself. Invaluable advice and information.

However, there are far too many testimonials and it ends up sounding like a long-winded sales pitch. This could have been much shorter and succinct, with a link to a bunch of testimonials on her website for those who were interested.

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins is a little long-winded and promotional, but if you want the CliffNotes version, view her TEDTalk.

RATING: Tercet

Tigers at Twilight by Mary Pope Osborne

Source: Gift
Paperback, 72 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Tigers at Twilight by Mary Pope Osborne is one of a bunch of books my aunt sent my daughter over the summer. It is book 19 in the series, but kids can follow along pretty well reading them out of order. Personally, this would drive me crazy not reading them in order, but my daughter is not bothered.

Jack and Annie are siblings who have adventures in a magic tree house. In this book, the kids are sent to India in search of a gift to free Teddy the dog from his furry state. Using a nonfiction book as their guide, they meet langurs, elephants, a hermit, and a tiger. There is danger, fun, and a bit of fear that they won’t uncover the gift or find their way home.

My daughter took to this book instantly, and part of it is the mix of fiction and nonfiction. She likes to learn about the natural world while reading fiction and this has both. Tigers at Twilight by Mary Pope Osborne was a good adventure story that’s not too scary, but packs in enough information about a real place to help kids learn about the world.

RATING: Quatrain

The Broken God by Laura Roklicer

Source: the poet
Paperback, 89 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Broken God by Laura Roklicer is a slim, questioning collection in which trauma and broken pieces are picked up, rearranged, and reassembled into something hopeful and more beautiful. We all make mistakes and feel pain when we lose someone we love, even those who leave us that we know were no good for us. But like many of us, these poems speak to the root of the problem.

In “Cowards,” the narrator asks, “Can you even tell/the good from the bad?/We’re noble for the world,/cowards for ourselves.” (pg. 37) How many times do we speak for others without raising our own voices for our own selves? How many times do we offer advice to others that we don’t even listen to in our own lives?

From "Follow Me" (pg. 73)

Put some more make up on my soul,
Shape me into something my love wouldn't recognise.
Give me something my hatred won't laugh at.

This fear of advocating for ourselves leaves others to do it for us or no one at all to do it. Roklicer looks at these situations from multiple angles — a person who drinks and drinks, a person who molds into the life of another and loses it all — these are the broken gods. The broken people unable to pick themselves up and rearrange into better people. But all is not lost.

The Broken God by Laura Roklicer explores our turmoil — internal and external — as we search for something outside ourselves to make us feel complete. But what we need — the god we seek — is within us all. We only need to reach out and grab hold.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Laura Roklicer is a 23-year-old freelance writer, scriptwriter, lyricist and a filmmaker, whose educational background is in film production and psychology. She has worked with over a hundred artists worldwide and is a citizen of the world who doesn’t believe in borders that people put up (geographical or mental) and finds her thrill exploring different areas of the world, as well as exploring the cultural differences, individuality, and different worldviews.

She believes the true beauty of nature lays in those differences and the power of subjectivity. Laura is on a mission to contribute to the world change for the better and she hopes to do so through her writing and films. Please view the Book Teaser on Facebook.

View the guest post.

Buy the Book:

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (audio)

Source: Audible Purchase
Audiobook, 5+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson takes elements of Buddhism and westernizes them in a way that most readers can relate to them. This is an approach to life that requires an individual to take a hard look at themselves, realize their own limitations, and keep those in mind as they make choices about their work, play, and relationships. Unlike the generations he talks about in his book, I was not treated as special simply for showing up and I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons. Some of the lessons I learned may not be as hard as lessons learned by others, but they have provided me with a certain perspective on my own limitations.

We all have flaws and limitations and we need to accept them. Point taken.

Manson expresses himself with his no-holds-barred language and jokes — some of which may make you cringe — but his points are these:

  1. Deal with the bad and the good equally.
  2. Stop relying on outside forces or values to make you happy.
  3. Establish value priorities and stick to them. (not like earning more money)
  4. Be honest with yourself and others.

I do feel the author relied a little too much on a certain four-letter word, but even with that, the book offers some advice that many people might need. Do I think those people will pick up this book? Maybe, but most likely not. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is an interesting listen, but much of the Buddhism is lost in the tropes and the humor.

RATING: Tercet

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 12+ hours
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover explores Tara’s experiences as a child of survivalists in the mountains of Idaho who also have very restrictive views on Mormonism. As a child, all care was provided by her mother who was an herbalist and midwife. The children were not allowed to go to doctors, nurses, or hospitals. As the family prepared for the end of the world and tried to remain detached from public services, Tara helped her mother collect herbs and worked with her father in the scrap junkyard. Without any public education or barely any homeschooling, Tara entered the classroom for the first time at age 17.

The gaps in her knowledge became very clear to her and her thirst for knowledge propelled her career in education — taking her to Harvard and Cambridge — but she also noticed that her family’s Mormonism was very different from that of her classmates at Brigham Young University. Her will power to educate herself is amazing, as is her ability to learn things on her own or with very little help until she passes the ACT.

But as she becomes more educated, a sense of disconnect begins to emerge between herself and her family. While listening, it seems as though things between her brother and herself are glossed over and then overly dramatic. It’s like watching a train wreck, and I suspect that the things she’s writing about that she wrote journal entries about are a bit like “out of body” experiences for her in some ways. She’s disconnected from that self and her family. This memoir will have readers feeling that acutely, and its a grieving process that doesn’t seem to have reached a conclusion by the end of the book.

For some readers, this could be a trigger given the violence she witnessed and endured throughout her life. Readers will either believe all that occurs from Tara’s point of view, or believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. The family has different points of view on these incidents and Westover does the best she can in sharing those early on.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover is a deep dive into a family life that may seem impossible. For instance, the burns her father sustains and survives is nothing short of a miracle. This is just one incident and result that seems impossible to believe. The overarching theme of how education can set you free, however, should not be ignored. Westover is a talented writer.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Possible Lives by Chrissy Kolaya

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

Other Possible Lives by Chrissy Kolaya is an exploration of what if — the nature of the other and what it must be to immerse ourselves in those “other” lives. Would they make us long for our own lives more and appreciate them with grace? Or would an exploration of those lives lead us to make drastic changes in our own? These are just some of the questions that underlie these scenarios, ranging from the troubled house sitters in the opening of the collection to the forlorn lover at the end who is bound to make the same error again.

From "How to Leave Behind" (pg. 15)

She said the way to do it was
to look at a photo of them.
Look at it until their faces
melt away into lines,
until words like brother fall away

and swirl around the shape that's left.
To focus on the mouth,
then the eyes,
then the arms and legs as if they all belonged
to different people.

Kolaya’s poems are rooted in the possible lives we could have and allows us to examine the truth of those lives and the truth in our own lives. Other Possible Lives by Chrissy Kolaya answers our “what if” questions but leaves us with so much more. There’s a greater insight here hearkening back to the adage “the grass is always greener on the other side’ at least from where you are viewing it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Chrissy Kolaya is a poet and fiction writer, author of Charmed Particles: a novel and two books of poems: Any Anxious Body and Other Possible Lives (forthcoming fall 2019). Her work has been included in the anthologies New Sudden Fiction (Norton), Fiction on a Stick (Milkweed Editions), and Stone, River, Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems, as well as in a number of literary journals.

She has received a Norman Mailer Writers Colony summer scholarship, an Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies fellowship, a Loft Mentor Series Award in Poetry, and grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Lake Region Arts Council, and the University of Minnesota. As one of the co-founders of the Prairie Gate Literary Festival, she worked to develop the literary arts community in rural western Minnesota. She now teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida.