Darcy At Last: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Jane Grix

Source: Giveaway Win
Paperback, 68 pgs.
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Darcy at Last: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Jane Grix is a short story that closely follows the original written by Jane Austen. Grix’s tale re-imagines what happens after Mr. Darcy’s terrible proposal at Hunsford in a way that is unique. Darcy realizes that he’s left evidence of his letter to Elizabeth in his room at Rosings, and he must turn the carriage around to retrieve lest some servants learn the particulars of his dealings with Wickham.

The tension and animosity between Darcy and Elizabeth is similar to Austen’s original until she meets with an unfortunate accident. Darcy’s heart clenches in his chest as he sets about with a clear head to make sure she is cared for well, despite his aunt’s bellowing. It is clear to everyone that Darcy is engaged and cannot leave without knowing Elizabeth recovers. Colonel Fitzwilliam comes to his rescue, and with the help of Mrs. Collins, Darcy is able to set her on the path to recovery. However, her subsequent amnesia presents him with a dilemma — should he tell her all that has transpired or he should begin again as though his proposal never happened?

Grix knows Darcy and Elizabeth well, and it shows. Readers will love to see this softer Darcy, one who is confined by societal norms and is frustrated. Because this is a short story, it moves fast, a little too fast. It’s almost as if the author bit off more than could be tackled in a short story. The plot moves very fast and the interactions between the characters are few, which makes the evolution of emotions a bit rushed and hard to believe. Darcy at Last: A Pride & Prejudice Variation by Jane Grix is a delightful take on Austen’s original work and a satisfying variation involving amnesia and second chances.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Jane Grix is a pen name of Beverly Farr, author of clean and clever contemporary romances.


Dogs and Their People by Barkpost by Bark & Co

Source: Giveaway Win
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
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Dogs and Their People by Barkpost by Bark & Co. has the funniest pictures of pooches around, and the stories in these pages are endearing.  They even brought to mind some of my own dog stories.  From the pictures to the stories and the checklists and recipes, this book is a must have for any dog lover.

One great story: Natalie builds her dog Perrin race tracks in the snow during winter blizzards, which can mean that she digs them several times over the course of a storm, especially in Massachusetts.  Then, of course, there’s Denise, Theo & Desna – Theo the husky practically ate all the furniture and Desna decided that her favorite perch was the kitchen counters and Denise had to puppy-proof the entire kitchen.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love dogs, and while my current dog does not have her own Instagram account — she does make appearances — we love her to bits.  She’s my daughter’s sibling — they’ve grown up together.  We adopted her when our daughter was about one.  She’s a husky mix and she can be a handful, but at least she hasn’t eaten the furniture.  We do have a zillion nicknames for her, with my daughter recently referring to her as Woofie.  Nicknames are terms of endearment for animals, I think, and I’ve given multiple names to my pets for many years.  Who can stop themselves when they are so cute!

My previous pooch went everywhere with us — camping, to see Santa, to restaurants and stores — and he got into mischief.  He loved to eat things he wasn’t supposed to.  That dog would unwrap bubble gum, eat glass to get at the bacon grease, and get his head stuck in cardboard boxes if he thought there was a morsel of food to be had.  One of my favorite stories was when we were camping — by this time he was elderly — and we decided to take a “short” hike, according to the map.  Well, that hike ended up being way longer than the map led us to believe and the dog just refused to move.  He sat down and that was it.  My poor husband had to carry this 45-pound dog over his shoulders (much like Bryan in Colorado), and would you believe that people on the trail thought our fluffy dog was a deer.  Ridiculous!  They even brought out their cameras to take a picture.  People are sillier than dogs sometimes.

Now that I’ve been on my own for a long time, I’ve noticed that my parents have started treating their dogs like children.  They have seat belts and clothes.  One of their dogs used to have a leather hat and coat — she looked like a mean biker with her Peek-a-Poo underbite.  It makes me wonder why the dogs even put up with humans — oh, right, it’s the treats, toys, and warm beds.

Dogs and Their People by Barkpost by Bark & Co. is just a delightful and fun book.  There are recipes for dog biscuits and more.  It would make a fantastic gift for those dog lovers in your life — you know the holidays are coming faster than you think!

RATING: Cinquain

Check out BarkPost!

Mr. Darcy to the Rescue by Victoria Kincaid

Source: giveaway win
Paperback, 200 pgs.
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Mr. Darcy to the Rescue by Victoria Kincaid is set after Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley leave Netherfield never to return and Mr. Bennet reveals to his favorite daughter, Elizabeth Bennet, that his doctor believes his heart is weaker than first thought and that he could die soon. With this knowledge, Lizzy must decide whether she can accept her lot and accept the proposal from Mr. Collins, even as he is utterly ridiculous and clearly is not in love with her. What choice does she have with the estate entailed away and her sister, Jane, still heartbroken over Bingley’s leaving? She accepts and tries to put aside all thoughts of her upcoming nuptials.

Although Mr. Darcy does act out of character in this novel, given the situation and his realization that Lizzy is the only woman for him, it makes perfect sense for him to find a way to covertly separate her from Mr. Collins. He abhors deceit, but he must do what he can to free her from the shackles of the parsonage and her irritating betrothed. Even though his aim is to improve himself in her fine eyes and win her hand, he is willing to let her go if only to see her away from Collins who cannot make her happy.

“‘I have heard that your estate at Pemberley is very grand. How many windows do you have at the front?'” (pg. 35)

Elizabeth might have encountered more awkward situations in her life before, but she would have been hard-pressed to think of one at the moment. Attempting to put some space between them, she took several steps backward until she bumped against the door. Undeterred, Mr. Collins shuffled forward on his knees until he was again crouched right at her feet.” (pg. 169)

Kincaid has taken the abrasive character of Lady Catherine and used her very well in this story, and Darcy is clearly a strategist, even if he prefers to do most things above board. When his plan backfires, he is perfectly contrite as he should be, and it is clear that his love of Lizzy has changed his views. He thinks beyond his own desires and determines how best to amend the wrongs he has wrought.

Mr. Darcy to the Rescue by Victoria Kincaid is a glimpse at what a more impulsive and head-over-heels in love Mr. Darcy would look like. He’s still awkward and he still bumbles about in his conversation with Elizabeth, unless they are matching wits, but he clearly values her and she is hard pressed to ignore his desire for her good opinion. Kincaid’s book is delightful and will have readers cheering Darcy on in his endeavors to win Lizzy’s hand.

***The action and tension in this one kept me reading into the wee hours, and I finished it in one day!***

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

The author of numerous best-selling Pride and Prejudice variations, historical romance writer Victoria Kincaid has a Ph.D. in English literature and runs a small business, er, household with two children, a hyperactive dog, an overly affectionate cat, and a husband who is not threatened by Mr. Darcy. They live near Washington DC, where the inhabitants occasionally stop talking about politics long enough to complain about the traffic.

On weekdays she is a freelance writer/editor who specializes in IT marketing (it’s more interesting than it sounds) and teaches business writing. A lifelong Austen fan, Victoria has read more Jane Austen variations and sequels than she can count – and confesses to an extreme partiality for the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice. Visit her website. View her blog, visit her on Facebook, GoodReads, and on Amazon.

Denial of Conscience by Cat Gardiner

Source: Giveaway win from JAFF Event
Paperback, 347 pgs.
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Denial of Conscience by Cat Gardiner is a hot, modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. Gardiner writes steamy romance really well, and the fire crackles between this Darcy and Elizabeth like a gunpowder trail to a pile of dynamite. Set in Virginia and Asheville, N.C., it was the perfect getaway novel for vacation, especially since we would be in the same area at the Biltmore estate! Gardiner knows the area well enough to write about the former plantations in a way that makes it believable that Darcy of Pemberley would be a wealthy landowner whose past has pushed him into the military and the world of black ops, while Lizzy has remained at Longbourn beneath the guilt of her mother’s exit from their lives.

Unlike Jane who left the home shortly after Mrs. Bennet to seek freedom, Lizzy stayed behind to care for their father and the repairs of an aging estate. Despite working for the Department of Defense, they are unable to keep up with the costs of the repairs, and without intervention soon, they’ll have to sell off some acreage to keep afloat. While Lizzy is forced to decide between her freedom and saving the ancestral home, her father has other ideas about how to save the place — and these ideas get them both into deep trouble.

“‘Carinatus? In English, Darcy. Our Latin is restricted to the dance floor here.’
‘It’s a snake, Medusa, like the ones writhing on your head.’ Darcy smirked.
‘Screw you.’
‘We tried that; it didn’t work. Remember?'” (pg. 28)

Darcy has become a hardened man since the death of his parents and his Iceman persona keeps him safe from emotional entanglements as his work takes him all over the world assassinating evildoers. He’s turned into a leather wearing, tattooed biker in Gardiner’s modern tale, and he’s hotter than ever. He oozes charm and danger, something that draws Lizzy in, revealing a woman who wants to be free to pursue her passions and take on new adventures. Both emerge from their chrysalises renewed and engaged with life. There’s no going back, and those who want to stop them from being together better look out.

Denial of Conscience by Cat Gardiner explores how people fall in love and why, how that relationship can encourage each partner to grow, and how mutual respect can spur them to greater things. Living a happier and fuller life is something we all should aspire to, and while assassinating evildoers might make the world a safer place, its toll can be devastating. Living for others and denying oneself even the simplest pleasures can also be draining. Gardiner explores all of these themes and more in her novel. This one is hot, hot, hot!

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

Guest Posts:

***Cat Gardiner’s new WWII romance, A Moment Forever, is touring with Poetic Book Tours.***

About the Author:

Born and bred in New York City, Cat Gardiner is a girl in love with the romance of an era once known as the Silent Generation, now referred to as the Greatest Generation. A member of the National League of American Pen Women, Romance Writers of America, and Tampa Area Romance Authors, she and her husband adore exploring the 1940s Home Front experience as living historians, wishing for a time machine to transport them back seventy years.

She loves to pull out her vintage frocks and attend U.S.O dances, swing clubs, and re-enactment camps as part of her research, believing that everyone should have an understanding of The 1940s Experience™. Inspired by those everyday young adults who changed the fate of the world, she writes about them, taking the reader on a romantic journey. Cat’s WWII-era novels always begin in her beloved Big Apple and surround you with the sights and sounds of a generation.

She is also the author of four Jane Austen-inspired contemporary novels, however, her greatest love is writing 20th Century Historical Fiction, WWII-era Romance. A Moment Forever is her debut novel in that genre.

For more on her book, visit A Moment Forever.

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Another World Instead: The Early Poems of William Stafford 1937-1947

Source: Gift (Published by Graywolf Press)
Hardcover, 128 pages
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Another World Instead: The Early Poems of William Stafford 1937-1947 edited and introduced by Fred Marchant, which was our June book club selection, is a collection of mostly never before published poems by William Stafford while he worked with the Civilian Public Service (CPS) after becoming a conscientious objector of WWII.  While it is a collection of poems by a young poet working in camps on civil service projects who felt exiled within his own country for being a pacifist, these poems also represent a poet searching for his own voice and style.  There are variations in tone, punctuation, and capitalization, as well as a wide use of the em dash.

The Prisoner (page 26)

Touched the walls on every side again—
Obsessed with prowling thoughts of free live men.
He heard when guards had slammed the outer gates,
How suddenly like wool the silence waits.
Resigned, he sat and thought of all the dead.
"I'll soon wake up from life," the prisoner said.
                      c. Magnolia, Arkansas

While Stafford was a conscientious objector, life in the camps was not easy going — it was hard work, and many might even characterize it as a punishment for those who objected to doing their soldierly duty.  While he seemed to know that he was a pacifist, he continued to struggle with what it meant to be a pacifist, and this struggle is evident in his poems.  Another running theme through the poems is a deep sense of loneliness, a being apart from the whole of society, and wondering how he fits into not just his pacifist society at the camps, but in the greater society outside of those camps.  In this internal struggle, Stafford writes about listening and observation and in many ways he takes these “passive” activities and makes them active inspection and cause for action.

From "Their voices were stilled..." (page 24)

Their voices were stilled across the land.
I sought them. I listened.
The only voices were war voices.
Where are the others? I asked, lonely
      in the lush desert.
One voice told me secretly:
We do not speak now, lest we be misunderstood.
We cannot speak without awaking the dragon of anger
      to more anger still.
That is why you are lonely.
You must learn stillness now.

I looked into his eyes, and they were a dragon's eyes,
      and I could not speak,
And we were as grains of sand huddled under the wind,
Awaiting to be molded, waiting to persuade with yielding
      the feet of the dragon.

                        Magnolia, Arkansas
                        May 1, 1942

Another World Instead: The Early Poems of William Stafford 1937-1947 edited and introduced by Fred Marchant explores the early writings of a national poetic icon, who stood behind his convictions even if it meant he was separated from society at large and required to work so hard it seemed like a punishment.  Stafford’s “deep listening,” as Marchant says, requires active participation on his part, he evokes pacifism in a way that will leave readers re-examining their own convictions where war is concerned.

***Disclosure, Fred Marchant is my former poetry professor from my Alma Mater.***

What the Book Club Thought:

The book club seemed to enjoy the poems, though there were a few members who found the poems in the end section rather odd compared to the others.  Once we got Skype going with the editor of the collected poems, several members were engaged in the conversation, poems were read aloud and discussed, and afterward, several said they would go back and re-read some of the poems now that they had more background on the poet and his experiences.  Having Fred Marchant join us engaged more of the members in conversation and reading of poems, and the background information seemed to help put the poems in perspective.  The poems were dated, so we could follow the historical time line, such as one poem written about the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  Members indicated they would be interested in another Skype session.

About the Editor:

Fred Marchant is an American poet, and Professor of English and Literature at Suffolk University. He is the director of both the Creative Writing program and The Poetry Center at Suffolk University. In 1970, he became one of the first officers of the US Marine Corps to be honorably discharged as a conscientious objectors in the Vietnam war.

38th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.






21st book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.






Book 19 for the Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014.

13th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen

Source: Academy of American Poets, part of the membership benefits, with no expectation of review
Paperback, 64 pages
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Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen, 2012 winner of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and recently added to the National Book Award 2013 long list, could not be more aptly named.  The light passing through this dark hole is that of the narrator’s brother when he commits suicide, forever changing his family and yet changing nothing in the wider world.  There is a balance Rasmussen tries to strike here between the irrevocable change the family, and in particular the brother, feel and the lack of change outside of their microcosm, even in nature where the hunters and sportsman arbitrarily continue to shoot clay pigeons or deer.

From After Suicide (page 4-5)

I wanted to put my finger
into the hole

feel the smooth channel
he escaped through

stop the milk
so he could swallow it

There is a deep sadness in these poems, but also a sense of confusion and desire to understand, even when understanding is beyond our capacity because we are not those who have taken their lives.  We have different experiences and different perspectives, and while we have the capacity for empathy, that is oftentimes not the same — or enough.  The narrator of the poems even acknowledges this when he says in “Elegy in X Parts,” “There is no refuge//from yourself.” (page 36)  It is because we are trapped with ourselves that suicide may seem like the only solution, especially if we are unable to see solutions outside of ourselves.

Rasmussen has some stark images, haunting pictures of death and lifelessness.  There is an emptiness in those vivid moments, which the poet captures with so few brushstrokes.  As the past slips further away, people and moments fade, but their impressions are still felt — as personified by “Monet as a Verb” (page 19).  And although a tragic loss can be scarring, scars fade and heal.  Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen examines the light that leaves our lives in a flash, often unexpectedly and without reason, and how we sometimes grieve for long periods of time afterward and in some cases, even want to follow our loved ones through the same dark hole to find peace, understanding and closure.

About the Poet:

Matt Rasmussen’s poetry has been published in Gulf Coast, Cimarron Review, H_NGM_N, Water~Stone Review, New York Quarterly, Paper Darts, and at Poets.org. He’s received awards, grants, and residencies from The Bush Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Minnesota State Arts Board, Jerome Foundation, Intermedia Arts, The Anderson Center in Red Wing, MN, and The Corporation of Yaddo. He is a 2014 Pushcart Prize winner, a former Peace Corps Volunteer, and teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College. His first book of poems, Black Aperture, won the 2012 Walt Whitman Award and was published in 2013 by LSU Press.

This is my 25th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.



This is my 59th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

This Totally Bites! by Ruth Ames

This Totally Bites! by Ruth Ames, part of the Poison Apple series of books from Scholastic, is for children in grades 4-6, though it would more likely appeal to girls.  Emma-Rose Paley turns 12 and her life becomes something out of a fantasy novel, and readers will have to suspend disbelief, which shouldn’t be too hard with kids who haven’t lost touch with their imaginations.  Emma likes things dark and wears black, she likes the rain, and she loves rare meat, but her friend Gabby is her polar opposite, wearing pastels, always punctual, and a vegetarian.  In typical seventh grade fashion, there is gossip, hiding from the popular crowd, and navigating peer pressures, but Em’s mother is a curator at the New York Museum of Natural History and her great-aunt is staying with them while helping out with a museum exhibit on bats.

Despite her recurring nightmare of darkness and red eyes, Em tackles her homework and navigates the preteen world with a sense of self unlike most 12-year-old girls.  She’s got her small network of friends, but really only one strong girlfriend, Gabby, while her other two friends tend to waver at the first sign of peer pressure.  In many ways, this dynamic group resembles the truth of school-age kids.  Ames has created a believable world, and even the supernatural elements are believable as the girls research the truth of the matter.  It’s great to see Em come out of her shell, voice her opinion, and become a peer that others can look up to, even when she’s hoping to fade into the background.

There are school girl crushes, bickering, and boy gossip, but what makes Ames’ story memorable is the character of Em, who demonstrates a mature ability to think logically about her situation and at the same time remain vulnerable and stubborn when it comes to arguing her point with her friends.  This Totally Bites! by Ruth Ames is a fun story that younger girls will enjoy and learn about how to be themselves in a world that thrives on peer pressure and fitting in.

About the Author:

Ruth Ames is the author of This Totally Bites, one of the inaugural spine-tingling Poison Apple books. She has written several best-selling young adult novels under another name. Ruth loved reading spooky stories as a child. She now lives in Manhattan.

This is my 5th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell

Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell, winner of the Walt Whitman Award, is a debut collection with two voices — two sides of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle — that demonstrates not only the pride of Palestinians, but also the pride of Israelis in their home.  The initial poem, “The Dream,” (which could be a preface to the following three sections) establishes the somber tone for the book, but it also cautions that choices must be made in dreams even as they must be made when awake.  A sentiment that is echoed again in “Notes from the Broken Notebook (part one):  “cover your mouth, you’ll still inhale the gas/dance in the shadow of the concrete wall/tell yourself the tiles are not bones/even in a dream you must still make choices.”  Bell is careful in her choice of language, but she does not shy away from the tumultuous moments in the region’s history, including the role of Arafat.

There is a great juxtaposition in the poem “Refugee,” which is about Ramla in 1948, between the new inhabitants of the house and the ones who have left.  The refugees are entering the house with hope, a feeling of belonging and settlement on their minds, but there is this observance of what has come before — the quick ejection of the former residents, leaving the cupboards full and a few cans rolling on the floor.  It is just one illustration of how something can symbolize hope and a new beginning to one person, but be the symbol of loss and an ending for another — much like the foreclosure can be for two different families.

There is a great reverence to the land and its cultivation, but there also is a reverence paid to the building of communities and the brokering of peace between the warring nations of Palestine, Jordan, and Israel.  In many ways, the poems open up an unsaid dialogue about the possibility of not only understanding but even co-existence, maybe even peace.  “You are not a place my love./You come from where/there are no names.  You enter/as breath and drop/onto our sleeping tongues//” from “Charter for the Over-Sung Country” should remind readers that they are more than just their home country or the place where they live.  In more than one poem, the narrator references the smell of dirt or soil after the rain, which could signify not only a cleansing of the past and a fresh future, but also the possibilities that the future holds.

There are a few poems that are letters to certain places in the region, and in “Letter to Jerusalem” the narrator talks of not crushing the bird too quickly, perhaps a reference to how the city grew out of the sand without regard to the consequences.  In “Letter to Hebron,” the narrator wants to illustrate the truth of the city not the dream of the city.  With its foul smells and the flies, but no matter how much or how long something is beat down into submission or sculpted one way, it can only be what it is — “That wooden doorway, hung without a house.”  Does this mean one town is better than another or that one is more beautiful?  No.  It simply shows that there are dreams for these cities, but oftentimes reality falls short of those dreams, leaving the inhabitants looking through a doorway into a rough landscape.

Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell connects the struggles of these two peoples not in the traditional opposing sides, but through their similar perspectives of loss and hope.   The collection also links the Holocaust survivors to the promise of Israel as the new homeland and incorporates biblical story with historical activists.

About the Author:

Elana Bell is a bridge builder, able to walk compassionately through this complex world where many things are true at once. Whether through her soul-stirring poetry, her dynamic performances on the stage, or through her inspiring talks & workshops, she creates a space where all people’s voices and stories are heard and deeply valued.

Elana’s first collection of poetry, Eyes, Stones was selected by Fanny Howe as the winner of the 2011 Walt Whitman Award and was published by Lousiana State University Press in April 2012. Elana is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Edward Albee Foundation, the AROHO Foundation, and the Drisha Institute. Her work has recently appeared in Harvard Review, Massachusetts Review, CALYX Journal, and elsewhere. Elana has led creative writing workshops for women in prison, for educators, for high school students in Israel, Palestine and throughout the five boroughs of New York City, as well as for the pioneering peace building and leadership organization, Seeds of Peace. She currently serves as the writer-in-residence for the Bronx Academy of Letters and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths


This is my 4th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.


This is my 3rd book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.



What the book club thought:

There were mixed reactions to the book with one member not sure they understood many of the poems at all to one member that really loved the book.  Several members thought the narrator did a pretty good job of demonstrating both sides in the Israeli-Palestine conflict through the eyes of those who had lived there and tilled the land for centuries to the Israelis seeking refuge and a new home after WWII.  The poems of “Refugee,” “Visiting Auschwitz,” “Visiting Aide refugee camp,” and “On a Hilltop at the Nassar Farm” were among some of the poems talked about more in depth during the meeting, as well as the section of poems beginning with “God” and “What Else God Wanted.”  In particular, it was noted in the religious section of poems that the “God” poem demonstrated a bit of bitterness, that was followed by the story of “Ishmael,” which seemed like it was being told to Ishmael as his poem comes first before the story of his conception.  One poem that I found a bit cliche, but that touched something in the other members of the group was “In Another Country It Could Have Been Love.”

In terms of the book’s title, the members were not really thrilled about “Eyes, Stones.”  While we see the references in several poems, we felt that another title might have been better suited to the collection.  Perhaps, stones refers to the takeover of anger and other hard emotions that can shut out empathy, love, and understanding.

Later we had a discussion of how many of us read some or all of the poems aloud and whether that was helpful in understanding the poems, and I recommended that if we did do another poetry collection that it should be read aloud, at least the poems that do not generate an immediate impression.  Secondly, we discussed how to read poems, particularly poems in free verse and how much pause should be given to the end of the line and to punctuation.  Overall the discussion was all over the place, and some of us agreed that the collection was probably not the best selection for a beginning poetry reader or a group with little background knowledge on the Israeli-Palestine conflict and its beginnings, though Bell does offer some notations in the back to provide an anchor point for most of the poems.

Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins

Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins is a mixture of techno beats, pop culture references, and references to some of the greatest poets, including Robert Frost.  While many readers of poetry would find his flagrant use of lines from songs cheap or as a short-cut, Robbins seems to be saying something more with the lines he chooses.  He wants to comment on the superficiality of society; he wants to rip open the thin veil of complacency that we all hide behind to reveal the stark, dark, and painful reality beneath.

From "Welfare Mothers" (page 7):

Little Bo Mercy in heels and hose,
just under the water she usually goes.
She moves grams and ounces, prays for war.
She's not the droid you're looking for.
From "Appetite for Destruction" (page 10):

I want to watch you bleed.  My tongue
doesn't know its right from wrong.
I'm uninsured.  I ride the bus,
a loaded gun inside my purse.
My mouth's a roadside bomb.

However, not all of these poems are perfect, and read more like performance pieces than poems meant for the page.  In many ways, Robbins’ unconventional style loses something in the translation to the page and would probably benefit from an accompanying audio version.  Although there is a pervasive anger in the collection, the anger is not about violence so much as it is about frustration.  Robbins touches upon hot topics in the news, including the killer whales at Sea World, and the more mundane stories that don’t make the news, like the struggling mothers hit by terrorism or welfare.

Robbins not only showcases his knowledge of music, television, and movies, but also poets and poetry, philosophy, and more.  In many ways, these references and — dare I call them, odes — can be too esoteric.  A cautionary note at best, but readers will enjoy the rhythm, the playfulness, the frustration, and the pain Robbins reveals — a pain and frustration that many of us will turn a blind eye to on a daily basis as we go about work and caring for our families.  It begs the question as to when society became so self-absorbed that societal hardships and decline are ignored even when it is on the doorstep.

Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins is a hip, rhythmic collection that will challenge readers preconceptions of the world around them, pop culture, and even poetry.  Although some poems are more effective than others, Robbins has crafted a collection that screams: “Watch Out!”

About the Author:

Michael Robbins is the author of Alien vs. Predator (Penguin, 2012). His poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, Harper’s, Boston Review, and elsewhere. He reviews books regularly for the London Review of Books and several other publications, and music for The Daily and the Village Voice. He received his PhD in English from the University of Chicago.

I received this book from Necromancy Never Pays‘ Trivial Pursuit for Bloggers.

Check out these other reviews:

The New York Times
Necromancy Never Pays
Book Chatter

This is my 3rd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

This is my 2nd book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister is a novel about food and characters as original and complementary as the dinners they create during Lillian’s Monday night School of Essential Ingredients at her restaurant.  From the older couple Helen and Carl who are seasoned and aged by salted wounds and mellowing cream to the spunky and unsure experimental flavors of Chloe who strives to build her confidence in the kitchen and her relationships, Bauermeister has created a culinary masterpiece that will melt in readers’ mouths.

“The girl was a daughter of a friend and good enough with knives, but some days.  Lillian thought with a sigh, it was like trying to teach subtlety to a thunderstorm.”  (page 7)

“Some smells were sharp, an olfactory clatter of heels across a hardwood floor.  Others felt like the warmth in the air at the far end of summer.  Lillian watched as the scent of melting cheese brought children languidly from their rooms, saw how garlic made them talkative, jokes expanding into stories of their days.”  (page 17)

“The more she cooked, the more she began to view spices as carriers of the emotions and memories of the places they were originally from and all those they had traveled through over the years.  She discovered that people seemed to react to spices much as they did to other people, relaxing instinctively into some, shivering into a kind of emotional rigor mortis when encountering others.”  (page 20)

Readers will smell the food, taste it, touch it, and become inspired to create their own culinary delights at home and share them with their families and friends.  Bauermeister threads the memories and problems of each character through the movements and creations in Lillian’s cooking class, alternating points of view and providing insight into each of their lives.  The true beauty of her prose is that cooking terms are even used when cooking is not the main focus of the story, and she excels at creating a mood of melancholy or a mood of frustration or even a mood of nostalgia as each character reviews their lives and their journeys in the kitchen.

Although the stories contained in the novel are short, Bauermeister does a magnificent job of creating characters that are three-dimensional.  Like the spices and other ingredients in Lillian’s recipes, each character is an essential ingredient to the whole of the novel.  In many ways, her novel is about enjoying each moment to its fullest, even those moments of guerrilla cooking in which someone is over your shoulder adding spices or tips to make a dish better, even if those moments of advice are unwanted at the time.  Taking criticism and advice with a touch of acceptance that we all need a little help is what the recipe to life requires to make it great.  The School of Essential Ingredients will leave readers wanting more, but willing to embark on their own journeys of food and so much more.

About the Author:

ERICA BAUERMEISTER is the author of The School of Essential Ingredients and Joy for Beginners. She lives in Seattle with her family.  Check out her Facebook page.

This is my 79th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a novel that tries hard to be a Gothic tale full of ghosts and melodrama, but light on the actual romance.  Margaret Lea receives a random letter from famed contemporary author Vida Winter, a woman who spends a lot of her time telling stories even to those journalists seeking her real-life story.  Lea is a bookworm extraordinaire, who helps her father in his antique bookshop, while her mother is hold up in her room every day barely engaging them.  Margaret is intrigued by Winter after reading a volume of short stories from her vast collection of books, titled “Thirteenth Tales of Change and Desperation.”  Upon meeting the woman and asking for three true things she can double-check for their accuracy, Margaret is sucked into her real-life tale by their own common bond.

What follows is the unraveling of Vida Winter’s real life story in a fragmented narration, which vacillates between Margaret’s journalistic digging and Vida’s fairy tale-like story.  Setterfield weaves a story of mystery that Margaret is determined to uncover even as she is haunted by her own family past.  There is a cast of secondary characters that are as colorful as Winter, but there are moments of too much detail that bog down the narration in Winter’s story and in Lea’s investigations and wanderings around Winter’s childhood home of Angelfield.

“Vida Winter’s appearance was not calculated for concealment.  she was an ancient queen, sorceress or goddess.  Her stiff figure rose regally out of a profusion of fat purple and red cushions.  Draped around her shoulders, the folds of the turquoise-and-green cloth that cloaked her body did not soften the rigidity of her frame.  Her bright copper hair had been arranged into an elaborate confection of twists, curls and coils.  Her face, as intricately lined as a map, was powdered white and finished with bold scarlet lipstick.  In her lap, her hands were a cluster of rubies, emeralds and white, bony knuckles; only her nails, unvarnished, cut short and square like my own, struck an incongruous note.”  (Page 43-4)

Despite this, Setterfield peppers her story with mist and ghosts, leaving the reader wondering if they are real.  The creation of Margaret and her back story, which is similar to Vida’s, is a bit contrived to propel the story forward and to engage Margaret in the investigation of Winter’s family.  Overall, the story within the story is the most engaging with incest, twins, and family secrets, and the story on which Winter builds her new life as an author.

“‘You think that a strange thing to say, but it’s true.  All my life and all my experience, the events that have befallen me, the people I have known, all my memories, dreams, fantasies, everything I have ever read, all of that has been chucked onto the compost heap, where over time it has rotted down to a dark, rich organic mulch.  The process of cellular breakdown makes it unrecognizable.  Other people call it the imagination.  I think of it as a compost heap.'”  (Page 46)

The conclusion of the story is very anti-climatic with a wrap up of all the secondary and tertiary characters, which felt unnecessary, and there are elements of the story that remain unresolved.  The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is an intriguing novel that could have done better under a different structure to capture the reader’s attention fully, rather than allowing the story of Margaret to pull them out of the biography of Winter, who is the true protagonist of the novel.  While Margaret is a necessary evil in that she is picked by Winter to tell her story, and she must investigate the truth of it given the legend that surrounds Winter as an unreliable narrator, there are too many moments in which Margaret’s wanderings and indecision disengage the reader.

About the Author:

Diane Setterfield is a British author whose 2006 debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, became a New York Times #1 bestseller. It is written in the Gothic tradition, with echoes of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

This is my 70th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.



What the Book Club Thought (Beware of Spoilers):

Most of the members enjoyed the novel, including the male member who selected the book as his pick for the month.  Two of our members, including me, just felt the book was an OK read.  While most of us did not mind that Setterfield did not provide a concrete time or setting for the novel, one of our female members wanted to feel more grounded.  Several members mentioned an overuse of Jane Eyre and allusions to the classic novel, which was clearly a favorite of the character and the author.  Most of us enjoyed the story within the story that was about Winter’s childhood and family and thought it was the most engaging.  While most of us did not hate Margaret, most of us believed it was contrived to make her a match for Winter’s story.  One male member absolutely did not like Margaret at all.

Also touched upon in the discussion was the great feelings of Margaret for her deceased twin, a twin that she never met and never saw given that she died almost immediately after birth.  Some of us didn’t believe in this feeling and deep connection, but would have believed it more if she had grow up with her twin and she died after a bond had formed.

At one point during the discussion, one member wondered aloud if Winter would have chosen someone as inexperienced as Margaret to write her biography or if she would have chosen someone with more experience.  In most of our estimations, we believed that Winter was as eccentric enough to want some unknown writer write her biography rather than someone more experienced.  In a way, some of us agreed that she would prefer an unknown writer because she could more easily manipulate the story with someone less experienced.

The cutting of Isabelle randomly when her and Charlie begin to interact seems incongruous with a young girl who is doted on by her father.  While we could see that the kids were neglected in many ways and that the dishevelment of the house played a role in how they all interacted, it was a bit of a stretch that a well-loved young lady would automatically cut herself and enjoy inflicting pain without a catalyst/reason.  One member, in particular, wanted to know more about why she engaged in those behaviors and why the incestuous relationship began or was inevitable.  However, given that the point of view of the story is from a younger member in the household as it was told to her, this was not possible, which again calls into question the structure the author chose to use.

Overall a good book with some good elements and some not-so-good elements.

How I Rank Our Book Club Picks for the First Round:

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  2. City of Thieves by David Benioff
  3. A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
  4. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
  5. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  6. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
  7. Ashes by Ilsa Bick
  8. Star Wars & Philosophy by Kevin S. Decker and Jason Eberl

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell is a re-imagining of Pride & Prejudice set during the U.S. Civil War and opens during the battle of Vicksburg, Miss., which was the final surge of the war between union or Yankee troops and southern confederates.  Darcy is a captain in the confederate army and readers are dropped right into the action of war as the novel opens.  He’s commanding his troops as union soldiers pin them down, but then they suddenly withdrawn.  Caldwell’s prose is descriptive down to the sidearms used by the battling troops.

The book quickly turns to the Bennets’ story as they mourn the loss of their only brother Samuel and decide to move to Rosings, Texas to run a different cattle ranch and leave their home in Ohio.  Imagine the tensions following the Civil War between former Confederates and the new Yankees who migrate to the rejoined nation of the United States.  Beth Bennet and Darcy meet and sparks fly in more ways than one, and this is coupled with an underhanded attempt by George Whitehead to usurp cattle ranches, land, and power through a complex plan with help from a darker Denny and a gang of former confederate soldiers still bitter from their loss.

“‘I’m sure you did,’ Bingley laughed.  ‘They’re very nice people Will; they’re just a bit . . . boisterous.  There’s not a mean bone in their bodies.  Once you get to know ’em, you’ll see.’

‘And why should I do that?’

Charles frowned.  ‘They’re my family now, Will.  You’ll be in their company in the future if you’re goin’ to be in mine.  I won’t throw off my wife’s family.’

Darcy had the good manners to be abashed.  ‘You’re right, Charles.  I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have said that.’

‘I know Miz Bennet can talk a blue streak, but she don’t mean anything by it.  It’s just her way.  ‘Sides, you can’t say anything bad about Mr Bennet, or Beth.’

‘She’s a bit of a tomboy, isn’t she?’

Bingley shrugged. ‘She grew up on a farm, Will. What did you expect?’ He elbowed his friend with a grin. ‘She sure cleaned up nice, though. Almost as pretty as my Jane.'” (page 41)

Caldwell’s prose is exactly as it should be incorporating southern manners, but spicing it up with more than sexual tension.  Darcy continues to be proud, but softens around Beth, and Beth continues to be prejudiced against confederates, until she meets her intellectual match in Darcy.  What’s unique is that Caldwell changes the characters just enough to reflect the tensions and angst following the Civil War without losing the spunk of Austen’s characters.

Picturing Darcy as a dark, handsome, rugged cowboy should be enough for some readers, but there is mystery, suspense, and romance to satisfy everyone else.  Austen purists may wonder at the modernity in some of the scenes, but they worked for the most part.  Caldwell also uses some of the most famous lines from Austen’s work in new ways, but they flow so well with the story that readers will smile as they recognized the phrases.  Even more intriguing is the inclusion of another Austen character who is the reverend in Rosings, Texas.  Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell is an escapist novel to a time in American history where things were uncertain and volatile even though the U.S. government had re-unionized.  A quick read, with action and intrigue for any Austen lover.


This is my 3rd and final book for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.


This is my 77th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.