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A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 327 pgs.
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A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams is set in the early 1920s when times were beginning to change and women were feeling a little freer to do more than marry and have children. Told from the points of view of Mrs. Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue, New York, and Miss Sophie Fortescue, a naive younger daughter of an inventor who recently became wealthy, Williams weaves a mystery that can only come to light when the intersection of two similar panes of a prism come together unexpectedly. (I’ll leave the final panes of that prism a mystery) The novel brings to life the cloistered life of a newly rich family as a juxtaposition to old, wealthy families in New York society. Even as the clash of new and old money continues on the surface, bubbling underneath is a desire of women in both realms to break free into the world of Jazz, booze, and freedom.

“‘Still, it was a passion of yours, wasn’t it? There was a reason you loved it, there was a reason you loved flying that had nothing to do with shooting down other airplanes and killing people. So that reason must still exist inside you, waiting for the — the — tide to go back out.'” (pg. 110)

Theresa’s marriage has grown stale, as she’s tolerated her husband’s discreet dalliances and the birth of a child just months after her own first born. As she strives to take a risk and begin her own affair, she finds herself caught up in the same traditional web of matrimony and security as the young man she falls into bed with seeks more. A principled man, an ace pilot during WWI, Octavian Rofrano grabs onto her offerings like a life preserver. It is not until he becomes Sophie’s cavalier that he begins to see that there can be more to life than a casual love affair with a married woman.

Meanwhile, Theresa’s bachelor brother Ox has fallen in love with the slip of a girl, whose innocence has been cracked by a trip to Europe with her inventor father and her sister. Sophie has fallen for his charms, until she begins to see the wider world around her, and all of its possibilities. How these lives become tangled into a treacherous web will rivet readers to every word on the page. Williams has created a socialite set and a set of new money players who are drawn into tragic circumstances beyond their control. A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams raises questions about experience and innocence, age and beauty, love and lust, and emptiness and fulfillment — how do we reach our full potential without knowing our past and leaping into the future? Can scandal ruin it all?

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.

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

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.

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton

Source: the author
Paperback, 320 pgs.
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Sandlands by Rosy Thornton is a devastating collection of short stories, some of which shift between the present and WWII and some of which occur during WWII. These 16 short stories are set near the village of Blaxhall in coastal Suffolk, England, and it is Gothic in many ways as Thornton creates micro-worlds in which her characters are haunted or lost. These characters dwell in an ethereal world in which nature itself becomes a character of its own, including the owl who keeps secrets.

Each story is a magical world in which anything is possible, though some have a more meditative pace than others. There are two in particular that have a crescendo that will leave readers breathless and devastated — “The Watcher of Souls” and “Stone the Crows.”

In the “Watcher of Souls,” an older woman takes walks in the woods daily and comes across an owl, and they have a moment in which their eyes lock. This connection becomes something she seeks to explore after she’s read about the legends and myths of owls. When she discovers the owl’s home in a hollow of a tree, she also discovers a tale of love and sadness. This story enables her to connect with others in a way that had been lost to her since her children moved out and began their own adult lives and she was left to live alone. It’s a touching story about human connection, love, and the solace it can bring, even just through words from the past.

These stories are complex puzzles with dynamic characters who are developed in a short span by Thornton, but who will leave an indelible impression on the reader. The setting is steeped in myth and historical legends of witches and witch hunters, WWII POWs, pagan religions carried on in the iconography of Christian churches, and folklore. In Sandlands, Thornton has created an absorbing atmosphere that envelops readers like the fog, providing them just enough to discern a path forward but not enough to see the end before it arrives.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Rosy Thornton is an author of contemporary fiction, published by Headline Review. Her novels could perhaps be described as romantic comedy with a touch of satire – or possibly social satire with a hint of romance. In real life she lectures in Law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. She shares her home with her partner, two daughters and two lunatic spaniels.  Visit her Website.

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.

War Through the Generations Reading Challenge 2017

After our one-year hiatus, Anna and I have resurrected the War Through the Generations blog with the 2017 reading challenge.

We’ll be revisiting WWII books, and we’ll hold an end-of-challenge giveaway for the participants that read the most books — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s books, etc.

We hope that you’ll join us, sign up in the comments and link your reviews in Mr. Linky throughout 2017.

We’ll also be announcing three read-a-longs for March, June, and September 2017 soon, so stay tuned for that as well.

Have a great year of reading!

Poetry Reading Challenge 2017

  • Haiku Level: read 1 book of poetry or 20 poems
  • Cinquain Level: Read 2 books of poetry, 40 poems
  • Sonnet Level: Read 3 books of poetry, 60 poems
  • Rondeau Level: Read 4 books of poetry, 80 poems
  • Villanelle Level: Read 5-10 books of poetry, 100 poems

If you want to challenge yourself this year, feel free to try a new form of poetry — Sonnets, Haiku, Pastoral, Limerick, Elegy, Tanka, Ghazal, Epic, and others.

Please sign up and let me know what level, and leave your review links in the linky below:

Happy 2017!

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.

Frankenstein Darcy by Cass Grix

Source: Giveaway Win
Paperback, 302 pgs.
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Frankenstein Darcy by Cass Grix is a semi-paranormal take on Pride & Prejudice in which Mr. Darcy’s father is an amateur scientist who dabbles in questionable practices. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth meet when they are younger as Elizabeth and her relatives the Gardiners are touring the Pemberley grounds, but an accident disrupts their visit and leaves Darcy’s young life hanging in the balance. When I initially began reading this one, I was unsure that I would like it. There was something distant about the tale, not because it was unfamiliar, but because readers are given little introduction to this Elizabeth and Darcy.

Grix, however, has created a unique mash-up of Pride & Prejudice and Frankenstein without the pitch-forks and torches. When Elizabeth and Darcy meet years later, they have a tense reunion as he barely remembers the girl who saved him. Is it too late for him to make a second impression? Wickham is here and he is more evil than ever — he’s not only conniving and looking for money to gamble away, but he has an impulsive and violent streak that cannot be contained.

The weaving of the two stories into one is well done for the most part, but some of the traditional lines between Darcy and Lizzy didn’t ring true in this new rendition and would pull me out of this new story. These lines could have been tweaked more to pay homage to the original and be more in line with the new story, so that readers could feel the connection growing between Lizzy and Darcy. These characters still seemed too distant to be in love, and whether that was due to his sterile, doctorly manner or these lines, I wanted more romance.

Frankenstein Darcy by Cass Grix is a unique novel that combines two classics in new and unexpected ways. It was a good read over the holidays.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Cass Grix is just an author who loves, loves, loves Jane Austen and is a little bit weird herself. She spends her days doing laundry, binge watching The Voice or Outlander (fast forwarding over the graphic scenes), and thinking up slightly paranormal versions of her absolutely all time favorite novel – Pride and Prejudice. In her opinion, there is no such thing as too much Darcy.

United States of Books: Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 342 pgs.
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Entertainment Weekly says, “In this richly moving novel about a woman who returns home to take care of her father, Kingsolver draws heavily on the state’s Native American and Hispanic cultures.” (Arizona)

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver on its surface is about a broken young woman who finds that she is drawn back into the web of her childhood in Arizona. It’s a childhood that she doesn’t look back on fondly and one that she barely remembers, other than two tragic events and the distance between herself and her father. She had taken the best part of her childhood with her when she moved away, and that was her sister, Hallie. Codi is forced to return home to care for her father because Hallie has taken it upon herself to delve into the political jungles of Nicaragua to help people with their agriculture, despite the danger to herself.

“All morning I’d felt the strange disjuncture that comes from reconnecting with your past. There’s such a gulf between yourself and who you were then, but people speak to that other person and it answers; it’s like having a stranger as a house guest in your skin.” (pg. 40)

Codi is faced with some hard truths about her past and her father’s mythology about who her family is and was, but she also must face the harsh truth that she’s been running away from home since she was 15. She must learn to re-see the beauty in the Arizona dessert, mesas, farmland, and its people, who have a rich Native American history and connection to the land that is dying all around them. She’s a deeply flawed character who pursued a medical degree because she wanted to please her father, only to shy away from becoming a certified doctor by failing to complete her residency. She’s gun shy about relationships and she walks away at a moments notice, but it shouldn’t surprise those around her because she never really settles in — there are no pictures on the wall.

“Pay attention to your dreams: when you go on a trip, in your dreams you will still be home. Then after you’ve come home you’ll dream of where you were. It’s a kind of jet lag of the consciousness.” (pg. 9)

Readers should not expect the issue of the dying land or the environmental issues raised in the book to be resolved, and even the relationships Codi has with her father and her past boyfriend Loyd are a bit murky, though expected given the landscape and how little people speak to one another about their feelings. The weaving of Native American and Hispanic culture is well done, and it is through her time with Loyd that she begins to realize that she is not an outsider and that she never was. Home is where you belong, even if there is pain and heartache attached to it.

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver is meditative, disjointed, and almost dreamlike in places, but at its core, it is a journey through the heart of family and finding a place in it.

Rating: Quatrain

About the Author:

Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in Africa in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in Biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before she began writing novels. Her most famous works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family’s attempts to eat locally. Her work often focuses on topics such as social justice, biodiversity, and the interaction between humans and their communities and environments. Each of her books published since 1993 have been on The New York Times Best Seller list.

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The Secret Life of Lilykins by Max Goodman, illustrated by Erik Mace

Source: Smith Publicity
Paperback, 28 pgs.
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The Secret Life of Lilykins by Max Goodman, illustrated by Erik Mace, is a charming story about imagination, defeating boredom, and learning to enjoy siblings. Lily is a cat with two dads and a brother, but she also has a vivid imagination. Rather than merely wash her own fur, eat, and nap, Lilykins is a queen and a scuba diver, as well as a huntress.

The illustrations are colorful and kids will enjoy following this cat on her adventures, even if many of those adventures are in her mind. The book reads like poetry, with a gentle rhythm that will keep kids listening. There are context clues for the larger words used, so it also strives to expand kids’ vocabularies. Lilykins can be calm, but she also can be wildly crazy.

The Secret Life of Lilykins by Max Goodman, illustrated by Erik Mace, is an adorable children’s picture book about the power of imagination as a tool against boredom. It also strives to demonstrate that we can be anything. Our limitations are only as high as the skies and as narrow as our own imaginations.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Max Goodman lives in New York City with his husband and two very important cats. By day, he works as an advertising copywriter. The Secret Life of Lilykins is Max’s first book.

 

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.

A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe

Source: publicist
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe — which is the 5th book in a series but can be read as a standalone novel — is set in McClellanville, S.C., a small town with a very tight-knit community.  The McClellan family has lived there for generations, but when the shrimp industry dries up forcing Captain Alistair to give up his boat and find odd jobs to make ends meet, the family is faced with tough choices. Miller is 10-years-old and he has little concept of his family’s finances. He goes to school, misses his brother who is at war, and wants a puppy for Christmas. Jenny, his mother, has better news for her family when she learns her oldest son, Taylor, is coming home.

“You might not believe me, but the desert and the ocean are similar. They’re both immense in a way that defies comprehension. I’ve ridden in a Humvee across miles of endless sand under a merciless sun and sailed a shrimp boat on the dark sea when the dawn broke across the horizon, and in both places I felt the vastness. It made me feel small and insignificant. Isolated and alone. Both desert and sea are unforgiving terrain and don’t tolerate fools.” (pg. 10-1)

Monroe’s prose is meditative as it alternates from Miller, Jenny, and Taylor’s points of view. The coming home of Taylor is much anticipated by Jenny, and while Miller is thrilled, he’s still longing for the pup his father has said they cannot afford. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, soon becomes the storm cloud that further darkens the McClellan’s door. The story would only be partly told without all three points of view, as Monroe provides a broader view of how PTSD affects not only the patient but also the family around them.

“He might have been hurt by a bomb, but he made this house like a minefield for the rest of us.” (pg. 158)

A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe is a heartwarming story about how to heal after trauma and how important family support can be for those with PTSD.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe found her true calling in environmental fiction when she moved to coastal South Carolina. Already a successful author, she was captivated by the beauty and fragility of her new home. Her experiences living in the midst of a habitat that was quickly changing gave her a strong and important focus for her books.

Mary Alice Monroe writes richly textured books that delve into the complexities of interpersonal relationships and the parallels between the land and life. Monroe’s novels are published worldwide. She has achieved many lists, including the New York Times, USA Today and SIBA. She has received numerous awards, including several Readers’ Choice Awards.