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Darcy vs. Bennet by Victoria Kincaid (audio)

Source: the author
Audiobook, 7+ hrs.
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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.
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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.
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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

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 400 pgs.
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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.

Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Snow Day by Kyla May

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Snow Day by Kyla May is the second installment in this delightful series for early readers. My daughter loves books with mysteries and animals. This pug is adorably drawn, is curious, and loves his owner Bella so much that he’ll even risk getting wet, which he hates.

Baron von Bubbles or Bubby has no idea what snow is, but the Duchess the Cat knows a secret. Snow is wet. When Bella has a snow day from school and wants to go outside, Bubby has a decision to make. His first experience with snow does not go well, but after some careful preparation, he’s ready for his next adventure. Carefully clothed and gorgeous, Bubby ventures into the snow and finds he loves building a snow fort with Bella, loves making Pug angels, and more.

My daughter loves reading about fashion-conscious Bubby and his adventures with his bear and Bella, and we both know that Nutz the squirrel is up to no good when he offers to help. When a strange beast moves in next door, Bubby and Bella grow anxious about meeting the new neighbor on a play date later that week. My daughter and I had fun trying to guess what the beast in the next yard was, and we were both way off. But at least we know our imaginations are in tact.

Diary of a Pug: Pug’s Snow Day by Kyla May is a fantastic book that teaches kids about how to step outside their comfort zones and how to deal with anxious moments. Bubby is quite a character, like most dogs, and Bella is a sweet girl who loves her pooch. We highly recommend this series and await the next book, which doesn’t come out until July!

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Kyla May is an Australian illustrator, writer, and designer. She is the creator and illustrator of Lotus Lane and Diary of a Pug, two early chapter book series. In addition to books, Kyla creates animation. She lives by the beach in Victoria, Australia, with her three daughters.

Owl Diaries: Eva’s Campfire Adventure by Rebecca Elliott

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Owl Diaries: Eva’s Campfire Adventure by Rebecca Elliott is a nice installment in the series of books that have kept my daughter excited about reading. She loves Eva and all her friends. In this book, Eva and her classmates do an overnight camping trip in the woods. Their teacher instructs them to complete a project with materials from the forest to make a useful tool by the end of the week. Eva’s classmates are quick to pair up and seek out material for their projects, but Eva and her best friend Lucy are too excited about the prospect of Nellie Wingdale’s legendary treasure.

My daughter could not wait to start this book after she received it for Christmas. I’m thankful she has more than one series of books that she loves now because there is a long wait for next owl book. She begged me to read just one more chapter on a few nights, which is why we finished this one so fast.

Owl Diaries: Eva’s Campfire Adventure by Rebecca Elliott is definitely one of our favorites in the series because the owl’s work together to find Nellie’s treasure, while striving to finish their class projects using materials from the forest. There are good lessons about cooperation and team work, as well as not taking on too many projects at once because, as Eva found out, you may fail to meet the deadline of one or more projects if you spread yourself too thin. It’s a good lesson for kids and adults.

RATING: Cinquain

Yuletide edited by Christina Boyd

Source: Purchased by my Secret Santa
Paperback, 190 pgs.
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Yuletide edited by Christina Boyd includes short stories around Christmas time in Pride & Prejudice‘s Darcy and Bennet households in Regency and modern times from Amy D’Orazio, Caitlin Williams, Anngela Schroeder, J. Marie Croft, Elizabeth Adams, Joana Starnes, and Lona Manning. Each story holds true to the characters, but places them in different situations at Christmas time.

Caitlin Williams’ “The Forfeit” has Elizabeth Bennet acting as frivolous and giddy as her younger sisters as she gets ready for the local ball. Her little wager with Mr. Darcy is one that could leave her vulnerable at the hands of a wealthy man, but readers know that the wager is friendly and Mr. Darcy is a stand-up guy of character. “It was only when she was sunk deep into the iron tub that she realised she had spent the last two hours in much the same fashion as Lydia and Kitty, minus, thankfully, some very silly giggling.” (pg. 20).

Other stories in the collection find the married Darcy’s enjoying some old and new traditions, together. But one of my favorites is “The Wishing Ball” by Amy D’Orazio engages readers in a mystery where Darcy has made a wish without actually making a wish, causing some confusion to a lonely single man of great fortune. But it also provides some comedy when his sister learns about the wish inside. “‘So some other man…another man, with the initials FDG and a tendency to make the letter I like he went to prep school in England, bought this ball, wrote a wish, placed it inside, then sealed it up, and returned it. Then I, your sister, just happened to come along and buy it? That’s your hypothesis?'” (pg. 52)

All of the stories in the collection will provide readers with a glimpse of Christmas time festivities in the Darcy and Bennet houses, but they also offer a unique look at how the Christmas spirit can enable Darcy and Lizzy to rethink their behavior towards one another and learn to be more charitable and forgiving.

Yuletide edited by Christina Boyd is a delightful collection of short stories with some of our favorite Pride & Prejudice characters learning to be more patient, kind, and forgiving. It was the perfect read for the holiday season.

RATING: Cinquain

Best Books of 2019

My list will include books not published in 2019, but ones I read in 2019. I prefer not to read only new books. I like to mix it up.

Each book will link back to my review, but I’ll also let you know why these books stuck in my mind even after I read them.

Click on the book covers, if you’d like to purchase the book via Amazon affiliate links and keep this blog running.

Top Five Fiction:

These Dreams by Nicole Clarkston is one of the most epic and tension-filled P&P variations I’ve ever read. I fell in love with Clarkston’s Colonel Fitzwilliam, and I wanted to hear more about his romance in Portugal. But beyond that, the story of Lizzy and Darcy takes on new levels as they dream about one another and their connection is even stronger than expected.

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner is an amazing tale about U.S. internment camps, hope in the eyes of adversity, questions about identity and how we define ourselves, and so much more. There are very few WWII books that are about the internment camps here in the United States, and this is the first one I read about that did not focus on the internment of the Japanese but on German Americans.

Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is told in verse and is stunning in its ability to capture so much about adolescence and growing up with restrictive parents, especially when Poet X is beginning to realize how creative and talented she is. This one really spoke to the younger poet in me.

Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha highlights the tragedy of war and how those that can cut the lives of loved ones short can also be the ones that provide closure to those dragged down by grief and still searching for answers.

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely is just one of two books in the series that had me laughing and shaking my head simultaneously. It is filled with humor and romance and listening on audio will have any romantic swoon. This one is a fun look at the role of the internet in romance, too.

President Darcy by Victoria Kincaid is a modern day P&P variation that places Darcy in the most prestigious position in America, which can be absolutely horrifying for someone who hates being in the public eye. I love that the presidential protocols are front and center and that Darcy will even flout them to gain Elizabeth’s favor, but what happens when they are thrust into the headlines will rock their worlds.

 

Top Four Poetry:

Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams is a more intimate look at identity and tragedy than the next collection on the list, which is why this one is so jarring and familiar to us all. Big themes are brought down to earth in this collection and grounded in the daily struggles we all face or have faced. I consider this part of series of poems begun in the collection below.

As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams is a wide look at society and identity and how we sometimes fail to realize that we tear ourselves apart in the search for what is “right.” Through recent historical events, the poet requires us to scrutinize our society through a new, intimate lens and to see the path forward — one full of hope that something new and better will rise from the ashes of the old.

Nanopedia by Charles Jensen picks apart the facade of American life, taking a scalpel to our bravery and claims of diversity to find classism, bigotry, and more beneath the surface. It is another collection that examines identity — the identity of every American and of America itself.

An Everyday Thing by Nancy Richardson looks at the intersection of politics and society, with some focus on the Kent State shootings. She juxtaposes these tragic events with the idea that these are an every day thing.

 

Top Two Short Story Collections:

Were We Awake by L.M. Brown explores our own hidden lives and the lies we tell ourselves just to keep up appearances or bury the pain we feel. Funny thing about lies, they have a way of surfacing when we least expect it. I couldn’t put it down and read it in one day.

Treading the Uneven Road by L.M. Brown is a collection of short stories set in Ireland with a cast of characters who are like little puzzles to solve. Even as we follow these characters, readers come to realize that where they come from — a tiny village bypassed by progress — is slowly dying. This dying town weighs heavily on these stories and is a character who motivates Brown’s protagonists or forces them to take action.

 

Top Three Kids:

Bunjitsu Bunny series by John Himmelmann is a series of books with a zen focus for kids that allows them to rethink how they react to certain situations — whether it is bullying or just something that doesn’t come easily to them — and it helped my daughter get into a reading groove when she was really struggling. Isabel is a strong character with a lot to learn and a lot to teach herself and her classmates.

The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale is a new series that we started reading that has colorful illustrations, action, and adventure, as well as a cast of princess who are willing to save their own school.

Pug Pals: Yay for Vacay! by Flora Ahn is the second book in a series of pug books. My daughter loved these sister dogs and their antics. This was the best of the two we read because the sisters were over their initial hangups with each other and started working together. Plus the disguises they had were funny.

 

Top Two Memoir:

Beautiful Justice by Brooke Axtell is a journey from the darkness of sexual abuse and human trafficking, but it is so much more than that. It’s a creative journey for an artist who survived a great deal more than any child should be asked to endure. She offers a lot of examples of wrong turns she took in her recovery as well as many of the right ones. Through a mix of poetry and prose, we can catch a glimpse of the pain but her story is a tale that will speak to those who have suffered. She only asks that they find the courage to heal, to tell their stories when they are ready, and to do what they feel is right. She Is Rising is an organization the helps other women and girls that were abused or victims of human trafficking.

I Can’t Make This Up by Kevin Hart is a memoir of his rise as a comedian, and although some may find his comments crass at times and his language is foul, he tells his story with humor — laughing at himself but also presenting a case for restrictive parenting and how it ultimately helped him in his career choices.

 

Top Three Nonfiction:

The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas was a surprisingly informative, well researched, and engaging read. I initially thought that this book would be dry, but Barchas surprised me with her ability to connect with the reader effortlessly about her search for those cheap paperbacks that helped Jane Austen’s words reach the level of fame they have today. I was particularly fascinated with how companies used Austen’s cheap books to sell soap and other things.

Green Card and Other Essays by Áine Greaney is a collection of essays about the author’s immigration experience after leaving Ireland. She speaks to the sacrifices the family made when they came to the United States for a better life, but she also speaks to the secondary motivators of leaving one’s home land — not just the economic reasons many people ascribe to immigrants.

Weird But True! USA from National Geographic Kids offers a ton of information in digestible bits for kids. This is a book that adults and kids can share and quiz each other for years to come. It was fun to read this aloud as a family and revisit some of our favorites. We all learned something new.

 

Please leave your recommendations of books you loved in 2019. I’m quite sure I missed some great reads!

The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is the sixth book in the series and was a joy to read. My daughter loved the colorful pictures and the adventure story. Plus princesses that become superheroes, how could you go wrong with this one.

Princess Magnolia has a poster for the science fair, but some of her classmates have created elaborate projects including a Bucket Boosting Teeter-Totter and a volcano. A volcano that talks? That can’t be right. The princess and some of her fellow students soon realize the volcano is carrying a goo monster, who is threatening to take over the entire science fair. Princess Magnolia soon transforms into The Princess in Black and spring into action to save the school’s science fair. Lucky for her she has a few helping heroes and princesses.

These princesses are savvy and work well together under pressure. My daughter loved reading how they solved the problem and determined how best to deal with the goo monster. Don’t worry, no goo monsters were harmed (too much) in the making of this adventure.

The illustrations are vibrant and action-packed just like the story. They enhance the tale. The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, is a delightful book about the power of teamwork and how every day people can be heroes. And princesses don’t have to be rescued, but they can take action and solve problems on their own.

RATING: Cinquain

Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 160 pgs.
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Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski provides introductory information about computer science and coding, equating it to “the arts,” which can help kids see how they can use science to create. I liked this perspective in the introduction. I started out by reading the introduction myself and explaining it to my daughter in brief so she could follow along with the activities.

The text is a bit dense for my 8-year-old, but the activities are engaging enough for her education level. Some of these entry-level activities may be too elementary for older kids. To introduce kids to coding, the book explains logical thinking and why coding is necessary. It can help robots find things and decipher codes, and so much more. It was a good idea to share this with our daughter, but some of this may be more advanced than we expected.  It’s definitely a keeper.

Code This!: Puzzles, Games, Challenges, and Computer Coding Concepts for the Problem Solver in You by Jennifer Szymanski offers a lot of computer science inside concepts and activities for kids to try with their parents. On her own, our daughter would probably not have gotten very far because she’s not the right age for it. I think this would be better for older children. We still enjoyed our time with the book.

RATING: Quatrain

Pug Pals: Yay for Vaycay! by Flora Ahn

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Pug Pals: Yay for Vaycay! by Flora Ahn is the second book in the series in which Rosy and Sunny are off on an adventure far from home and without their human. While their human is away on vacation, Rosy and Sunny are spending time at the grandparents’ house. Sunny remembers the house, but this is the first time Rosy has been without their human and she’s a little nervous, until she begins to follow Sunny’s lead. Rosy and Sunny really enjoy watching TV with grandpa, even if the shows with Sherlock Holmes are not as exciting as the ones they watch with Officer Bert.

Rosy and Sunny are soon banished to the inside of the house after grandma suspects they’ve been eating all of her veggies and fruits in the garden. The pugs know that it wasn’t them, but they have no other suspects in sight and are prepared to accept their fate. That is until they remember Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. It’s time for a quick costume change and a skip out the door.

While looking for clues, they run into Clover. He seems like a nice enough groundhog, and he’s intrigued by their efforts to find the thief. My daughter knew early on who the thief was, but it took the pugs a bit to figure it out.

Pug Pals: Yay for Vaycay! by Flora Ahn is a delightful story in which Sunny and Rosy are tasked with finding the thief and clearing their names in the eyes of grandma. In the end, everything works out and they are reunited with their human. My daughter loves these books, and we hope there are more to come. Rosy and Sunny are funny and really cute when they put on costumes — Rosy’s mustache had us laughing.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Christmas Poetry to Inspire by Jean Kay

Source: Purchased by Bookish Secret Santa
Paperback, 30 pgs.
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Christmas Poetry to Inspire by Jean Kay is a slim collection of poems about the beauty of the Christmas season and the celebrations Christians engage in. Kay speaks about a call for peace not only at Christmas time, but also throughout the entire year. There are a couple of lines that rang bitter in the first poems about changing “merry Christmas” to happy holidays, but overall, I think the poems stayed true to their message of peace and love.

In “Christmas Gatherings,” Kay’s lines speak about the burdens we all sometimes face and how God never burdens us with more than we can handle, but we all wish that we were not burdened with so much. She speaks of how Mother Theresa even felt the same, but this never deterred her from doing the great work she did throughout her life. In “Encouraging Peace,” Kay speaks about the power of peace as a state of mind and how if we encourage it in ourselves and others, it can spread like wildfire — hopefully ending the need for war and strife.

Jean Kay’s Christmas Poetry to Inspire aims to not only spread Christmas cheer, but also speak about the power of peace and our need to spread good will to others. One of my favorites in this collection was “Christmas Music,” in which Kay tells us a story with song titles from the season. Very unique and engaging.

RATING: Tercet