Quantcast

Bone Key Elegies by Danielle Sellers

Danielle Sellers’ Bone Key Elegies is a collection of poems published by Main Street Rag Publishing as part of its Editor’s Select Poetry Series.  (You can check out my previous 32 Poems Magazine interview with the poet, here, and one of her poems in the 81st Virtual Poetry Circle).  Unlike eulogies that praise someone upon his or her death, elegies are a lament for the dead and are often mournful.  In this vein, Sellers excels at creating memorable elegies for her sister, a lost family, and happier memories.  However, many of these poems will deceive the reader at first, beginning with scenery or a happy moment in time before turning melancholy.  Sellers’ style echoes the turn of line expected in haiku or the final couplet of Shakespearean sonnets.

However, some poems, like “The Bridge Fishers” (page 16), are less full of despair than the other beginning poems in the collection and more mischievous, especially as the narrator drives away in a boat beneath a bridge where fisherman are waiting for their first bite from the fish, only to have the engine of the boat scare the fish away.  Sellers’ poems are filled with surprises:  some shocking, some full of dark humor, and some violent.  In “Welcome to my Father’s Showroom” (page 26), readers are given a quirky picture of the showroom as a sort of maze through which the father navigates or hides to peer at customers secretly, but in the final lines, ” . . . He watches them.  In case one should step out of/line, a shotgun leans against the metal filing cabinet.  On its shaft,/his hand-print is outlined in dust.” (please check out some sample poems).

What’s surprising is that each poem has its own depth of despair and melancholy, like an elegy is supposed to have, but the depth of that sorrow generally corresponds well to the connection the narrator has with each subject.  Losing a father can be very devastating to a daughter, but is it more or less devastating to a daughter who has seen her father cheat on her mother or leave her mother?  Losing a sister at a very young age can be tragic and life changing, but is it more or less life changing than if you were to lose a sister after having lived half your life with her by your side?  These are just some of the emotional questions tackled by Sellers’ poems, and Bone Key Elegies is an excellent examination of the various levels of melancholy and despair that individuals can experience at different intervals in their lives. It is clear that the poem about the death of a sister sets the tone for the entire collection, a tone that deepens and thins out in a see-saw of emotion.

Through rich language and vivid imagery from the Florida Keys, Sellers’ illustrates not only the brackish nature of woe, but also the desperate fight against that emotion — leaving readers breathless.

 

This is my 7th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 13th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

***This is a part of the National Poetry Month 2011 Blog Tour.

City of a Hundred Fires by Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco‘s City of a Hundred Fires is a collection published by the University of Pittsburgh Press about the Cuban-American experience, which won the 1997 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize.  (You can check out one of his poems in the 40th Virtual Poetry Circle and my take on a reading he did at the local Writer’s Center in 2009.)  The collection is broken down into two sections and each poem contains not only English, but also Spanish phrases, which readers may or may not know offhand.  Readers who are bilingual will have little trouble, though those who have a working knowledge of Spanish or don’t will be able to gather what Blanco is getting at from context clues.  Poems are either in traditional short narrative lines or in longer, more paragraph-like lines, but each tells a story, reveals a memory, and explores a bit of the Cuban-American experience.

“Crayons for Elena” on page 13 is one of the most poignant poems in the collection as it uses the box of 64 crayons to illustrate the differences in skin tones and cultures of the people the narrator encounters and the colors that represent elements from the narrator’s own culture, including pinatas and mangoes.  “. . . All these we wore down to/stubs, peeling the paper coating further and further, peeling and sharpening/until eventually we removed the color’s name.  This is for leaving the box in/the back seat of my father’s new copper Malibu, the melted collage, the butter/”  It seems that though these differences confuse the narrator and cause discomfort, eventually, these differences are forgotten and life moves beyond those variations and instead absorbs the similarities, “melting them into a collage.”

Blanco continues to straddle the Cuban culture — kept alive in family traditions such as Quinces balls — and his new home in American culture.  In a way, his traditional family culture seems foreign to the narrator as he assimilates to American traditions of turkey at Thanksgiving and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Unlike the older relatives talked about in the poems, the narrator does not kid himself that he will be returning to Cuba after the revolution; he knows that the dream of returning to the old country is just that — a dream.

At times, however, the narrator does experience moments of nostalgia, in which he remembers family events or moments.  There are other moments in which the voids left by an American culture that does not feel exactly like home are filled with reminders of a culture left behind whether those voids are filled with sake by a Japanese immigrant or by dark rum with lemon for a Cuban-immigrant.

Unlike in part one where the narrator delves into familial memories and the confusion of bridging two cultures, in the second part, the narrator has become more observant of how his home culture is mutilated and warped by the American idea of capitalism to create a caricature of Cuban life and culture, like in “El Jagua Resort” (page 43):  “where Canadians and Italians step out/drunk congas from megaphone instructions –/side-to-side, kick-then-kick, hand-to-hip;/caught in spells of tabaco, dark rum,/brown sugar, and the young mulatas/”  In a way, the little Havana created in America by the narrator’s parents’ generation is fading and being replaced, but the second part also illustrates more historical details of Cuba, the revolution, and other events.

For a slim volume of poems at 74 pages, City of a Hundred Fires by Richard Blanco will knock you on your butt with its passion, anger, and disbelief.  But it also will drag you to your feet as it clings to hope and harmony.  Overall, Blanco has crafted a diverse collection of poems on the Cuban-American experience that delves below the surface struggles of bias and loneliness to the internal struggle of one narrator and how he copes with those struggles and more.

This is my 6th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 12th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

***This is a part of the National Poetry Month 2011 Blog Tour.

 

Wickham’s Diary by Amanda Grange

Amanda Grange‘s Wickham’s Diary takes a look at Wickham’s relationship with his childhood friend Darcy before they became enemies.  Even in the early entries, readers get a sense that Wickham feels he is entitled to certain pleasantries and that he is better than Darcy in many ways.  Much of this stems from his jealousy at being merely the steward’s son and being born into a particular class.

“Fitzwilliam and I rode out this early morning.  We raced down to the river and I won, beating him by a good two lengths, at which I laughed and called him a sluggard.  He was annoyed and challenged me to a race back to the house.  I accepted the challenge and, once our horses were rested, we set off.” (page 3)

Initially, Wickham captures that jealousy at the behest of his mother to mold his charm and air of authority in an effort to better his station and prospects through his acquaintance with Darcy, his relatives, and his friends.  However, once he and Darcy head off to Cambridge, things take a turn for the worse for Wickham.  And while many of his problems are self-induced, tragedy does step in and become a catalyst for his downward spiral.

Grange has taken the character of Wickham, and while not making him sympathetic, helps readers understand his motivations and the role his parents and friends played in making him the man he becomes when readers meet him in Pride & Prejudice.  However, there are gaps in the diary, some lasting several years, that are not elaborated on or talked about.  What happens to Wickham and his family during those intervening years is unknown and not explored, which readers may find disheartening.  Readers also could disagree with the picture Grange paints of Wickham — a man easily swayed into trouble by others.

Overall, Wickham’s Diary by Amanda Grange is an inside look at the possible motivations of the villain in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  Her George Wickham is a young man unhappy with his life station, but too lazy to change it and easily swayed down the easiest path — whether it is finding an heiress or having a good time while away at school.  At just about 200 pages, the novel is a light read and the diary entries make it easy for readers to pick up and read for short intervals at a time.

What Would Mr. Darcy Do? by Abigail Reynolds

What Would Mr. Darcy Do? by Abigail Reynolds is another variation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  In this version, Elizabeth and Darcy have an opportunity to express their feelings following her surprise tour of the Pemberley grounds at Lambton just before the news of Lydia’s elopement reaches Elizabeth.  The story begins months after her refusal of Darcy’s proposal at Hunsford, and the plot follows along much of the original story, with stolen kisses and embraces, as well as secret letters.

“Dear Miss Bennet,

It is always a pleasure to hear from you, but I must admit the arrival of your letters is becoming quite a source of entertainment in itself.  My brother thinks I do not notice how he watches for the post now, but how could I miss the way he hovers in an agony of suspense over me when I read your letters until I finally take pity on him and allow him to read for himself, and then he spends no less than half an hour admiring your letter, for it cannot possibly take him so long to read it!”  (page 46 of ARC)

No new characters are introduced, but Reynolds does provide us with a version of Georgiana Darcy that is not seen in the original novel.  She opens up to Lizzy and becomes less reserved once she’s around girls her own age.  However, will the changes in Georgiana be welcome to Darcy or run contrary to his expectations?  And how will this new Georgiana impact Lizzy and Darcy’s relationship?

Unlike the Lizzy in Austen’s novel, Reynold’s Lizzy is more cautious in her assessments of Darcy and his behavior as she realizes her prejudices and misjudgments nearly cost her a love she never knew she had.  Darcy also is more cautious in his dealings with Lizzy.  Readers, however, will be happy to know that each is still impetuous when it comes to one another and their passion.  This is where the novel deviates into a more modern sensibility as Lizzy and Darcy share a few intimate moments — some of which get them into trouble and others that leave them breathless.

Beyond the intimacies of Darcy and Elizabeth and their budding relationship, readers also get a glimpse into Lizzy’s character, particularly how her wit helps her keep an adequate distance from friends and acquaintances and enables her to disengage quickly from distasteful relationships and situations.  Overall, What Would Mr. Darcy Do? by Abigail Reynolds is a delightful escape into Austen’s world with her beloved characters.

White Egrets by Derek Walcott

White Egrets by Derek Walcott is a collection of deeply suggestive and blatant poems about the natural cycle of birth, life, and death and coming to terms with the later as friends, lovers, and others pass away leaving the narrator behind on the journey of life.  Each poem uses nature imagery to paint a canvas of emotion as the narrator grapples with grief, joy, and memory.

Walcott’s poems are long and narrative in many cases, which is not a form or style that calls to every reader, but even the most picky reader can easily pick out the cues that will carry them throughout the multiple part poems.

For instance, in the title poem “White Egrets” section one, readers will notice the lines “in the drumming world that dampens your tired eyes/behind two clouding lenses, sunrise, sunset,/” that signal a decline in health.  In the second section, the theme carries on in the lines “into a green thicket of oblivion,/with the rising and setting of a hundred suns/” until it culminates through a series of images and narrations in section four with the lines “and of clouds.  Some friends, the few I have left,/are dying, but the egrets stalk through the rain/as if nothing mortal can affect them, or they lift/”  and finally in section eight, “the egrets soar together in noiseless flight/or tack, like a regatta, the sea-green grass,/they are seraphic souls, as Joseph was.//”  While the poem is dreary in theme, the subject of losing ones friends slowly over time to death, it also carries along elements of immortality and being left behind as a testament to those who have passed before us.

Many of Walcott’s poems are in memory of friends, family, and others as he dedicates poems or portions of poems to them, and each takes on a meditative and reflective state as he explores their relationship and his memories of their time together.  More than just mundane relationships to our friends and family, Walcott paints a picture of humanity’s infinite connections to the past, present, and future in an effort to demonstrate how deeply we are all interconnected.  In poem 46, “catalogue of a vicious talent that severs/itself from every attachment, a bitterness whose/poison is praised for its virulence.  This verse/” Walcott harshly discusses the consequences of severing attachments, which some may actually believe is a preferable way to live.

White Egrets is a collection readers would probably tackle on a poem-by-poem basis, rather than read at once — not because they are too hard to interpret but because they tackle themes and emotions that are heavy and can weigh down the reader or provide him or her with fodder for reflection on his or her own life.  From moments in history such as the debts owed because of the Holocaust to the election of President Obama, the poet reviews moments in history and how they impact individuals.  Overall, White Egrets is a emotional roller coaster ride of longer poems that are meditative, disruptive, and thought-provoking.

This is my 5th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


 

This is my 11th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

This review is part of my celebration for National Poetry Month!

Staying at Daisy’s by Jill Mansell

Jill Mansell continues to be one of the best writers of witty women’s fiction.  In Staying at Daisy’s, the hotel business is never dull even in a tourist trap like Colworth, England, particularly if the owner and his daughter are running the show.  Daisy is straight-laced and in charge, while her father, Hector, continues to sing and dance with the guests and be the life of the party.  Daisy’s best friend Tara, the chambermaid, continues to struggle with her love life and falls into a familiar role with a past lover, while the new porter, Barney, has fallen in love with a woman from Daisy’s past.  Mix it all together with two desirable men, Josh and Dev, and Staying at Daisy’s is bound to lighten readers’ moods and ensure at least a dozen laughs and smirks.

“‘Which just goes to show how brilliant my choice is when it comes to men.’

He half smiled.  ‘That’s not true.  You used to have excellent taste.’

‘Whereas you went for quantity rather than quality.’  Daisy couldn’t resist teasing him.  ‘Anyway, never mind all that.  How long are you down here for?’

Josh shrugged and ruffled his hair.  ‘I’m easy.’

‘We already know that.'”  (Page 167 of ARC)

Daisy has always been on the lookout for the perfect man . . . her #10 even when she was dating a great guy.  Ironically, her husband may have looked like a #10, but his personality was far from it.  Her foil in terms of dating and relationships, Tara, goes for any man that pays her the least bit of attention, even if he is a scoundrel and already married.  In a way, Daisy’s father, Hector, also acts as a foil to her responsible nature as he gets drunk and serenades the guests with his not-so-great singing voice and his bagpipes.  Daisy can learn a lot from Tara and Hector.  She needs to loosen up and let her hair down, but she plays things close to the vest.

Mansell keeps you guessing with Daisy and Hector with Daisy waffling between her two male interests and Hector not letting on which woman he prefers.  Staying at Daisy’s is a novel that will take you into the country and show you its lighter side amidst the fashionable and elite.  Readers, however, may find that certain events or moments come to pass that seem a little “too convenient” and yet random.  Overall, Mansell creates fun characters that will keep you guessing and laughing.

***Please stop by Reading Frenzy for today’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour stop on Dylan Thomas.

Haiku Mama by Kari Anne Roy

Haiku Mama by Kari Anne Roy is a slim volume of 17-syllable poems called haiku, which is a Japanese form of poetry.  Rather than celebrate the joys and beauty of nature, these haiku celebrate the joys and frustrations of new motherhood.

These little poems, including the one featured in the 91st Virtual Poetry Circle, not only will make mothers chuckle, but they also contain a bit of truth that will have them nodding “yes, yes, yes.”

The poems are cute, quick reads for busy moms and the book contains illustrations on a number of pages, though readers may wish for more apt illustrations considering some of the topics addressed in the haiku.  For instance, one haiku discusses the typical technique of pretending the spoon or fork carrying the food is an airplane entering the hangar (aka the child’s mouth).  An illustration of the airplane and hangar method and its food-splattering results would pack even more of a punch.

However, this volume of poetry is not meant to be analyzed too closely, but merely taken for what it is . . . a way to decompress, laugh with another mother who has experienced the same thing, and look back on raising a child with some whimsy.  Haiku Mama by Kari Anne Roy is just the break a new mother needs.

About the Author and the book:

Quirk Books, an independent publisher, makes this volume of haiku poetry available from Kari Anne Roy, the perpetrator of Haiku of the Day blog.  Please check out her blog and her bio.

As part of the National Poetry Month 2011 blog tour, please stop by Rhapsody in Books for today’s tour stop and review of I Wanna Be Your Shoebox.

 

 

This is my 4th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 10th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

Brunonia Barry‘s (check out her writing space) The Map of True Places (out on March 22 in paperback) is set in New England — Boston and Salem with a touch of Irish charm — much like her first book The Lace Reader (my review).  Zee Finch is a psycotherapist working for the prestigious practice of Dr. Liz Mattei and with patients who have bi-polar disorder.  Her patients’ symptoms remind her of her deceased mother in many ways, but Lilly Braedon, her problems, and her suicide take center stage for Zee.

“She carefully placed the bottle into the trash compactor, then flipped the switch, waiting for the pop and the smash.  The bag was almost full, so she removed it and took it out to the deck, walking all the way back down the stairs in her bare feet, placing the compacted bottle into the bottom of the garbage bin, not with the recyclables, as she would have preferred, but with the regular trash, so that there would be no evidence of the bottle.”  (page 21-2, hardcover)

Like the puzzle of the underground tunnels in The Lace Reader and the patterns in the lace, The Map of True Places presents a series of puzzles, mazes, and other patterns to follow as Zee struggles to put the pieces of her past back together so that she can deal with them one-on-one rather than burying them deep inside.  Unlike her professional persona that helps her patients discuss their internal turmoil and family problems, Zee continues to struggle with the death of her mother and the emotional absence of her father throughout her adolescence.  The broken wine bottle is just one significant image in Barry’s book in that it signifies how Zee deals with her problems and hides from confrontation as much as possible.

Barry’s prose is complex, full of imagery, and engaging.  She easily weaves her puzzles, leading readers through the narrative without revealing too much before it needs to be.  Zee is a broken character who tries to put a good face on her life even when she is not as sure about her choices as she should be.  Zee not only needs to deal with her past, but also determine if her present and future will include her fiance Michael, one of the state’s most eligible bachelors.  Overall, The Map of True Places is an engaging novel that navigates the past, present, and future simultaneously as Zee examines herself and her choices searching for her true path.

This is my 6th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.

The Rorschach Factory by Valerie Fox

The Rorschach Factory by Valerie Fox is a collection of poems that are left up to the interpretation of the reader in many cases.  Much like the inkblot test, these poems provide snippets of color, image, and story to provide an outline for readers, and those readers are then tasked with filling in the blanks and interpreting what is there.  Some poems seem to carry a personal history in many of the lines, while others are whimsical in their interpretations of pop culture and real-life relationships.

From “This Is Not My Cousin” (page 9):
This is not the sensational human
condition.  God is not in the picture
just me and trees and my cousin’s shadow.
We like how I am standing on the high place
a smiling paperdoll propped up on the edge
about to step back, waving to Columbus.

From “You’re No Axl Rose” (page 43):

You’re no Axl Rose but your sentences are
as complex as your hair, in an unintended,
wiry, I will live forever way, the way Axl
swings his hips and smokes just enough
to achieve his pristine scratchy scream.
You’re no James Dean but when you can afford
to drive a Porsche I’ll let you drive me
to the Acme to buy aspirin or milk.

Fox’s writing style leaves room for the imagination of the reader so that each new audience can take their own journey.  In other poems, there is a clear tone that shines through the lines, like in “The Temple” (page 37) where the narrator talks about her time with a poet who thought of himself as upper class, but of her as much lower.  The poet was slumming it with the narrator, but you can tell from turns of certain phrases that this view was not accurate:  “He’s my essay.//Soon enough/he ran out of money./I’m a poet, and I’d squirreled a bit of currency away./This became my motto-//’I got mine.'” (page 38)

Broken down into four sections — Out of Time, The One Who Leaves You, Accomplice, and Unrest — the narrator has set up a collection of poems that would appear to be drenched in despair and regret, but readers will be surprised by the not only whimsical poems but also the humor with which she highlights pop culture and elements of the ridiculous in intimate relationships.  Overall, The Rorschach Factory by Valerie Fox is a collection that you can read in one sitting, piecemeal, and revisit over and over, finding nuances to each poem that may not have been as prominent upon first reading.

About the Poet:

Dr. Fox’s most recent book is Bundles of Letters, Including A, V and Epsilon (Texture Press), written with Arlene Ang. Previous books of poems are The Rorschach Factory (Straw Gate Books) and Amnesia, or, Ideas for Movies (Texture Press). Her work has appeared in many magazines, including Hanging Loose, The World, Feminist Studies, Siren, Phoebe, Watershed, sonaweb, and West Branch.

She was a founding co-editor of 6ix magazine (1990-2000), and currently edits Press 1, a journal featuring poetry, short fiction, opinion, and photography.  Very involved in collaborative writing, she and Arlene Ang have collaborated in the writing of poetry and fiction, publishing in magazines such as Admit 2, Origami Condom, Per Contra and Qarrtsiluni.  At Drexel, Dr. Fox teaches Freshman Writing, Creative Writing (poetry), and Readings in Poetry. She’s particularly interested in experimental poetics and online teaching/e-learning.

About the Indie/Small Press:

Straw Gate Books published Valerie Fox’s The Rorschach Factory and was founded in 2005 by poet and co-founding editor of 6ix magazine (1990-2000) Phyllis Wat in Philadelphia, Pa.  Here’s a snippet of their mission:

“We are particularly interested in works by women and non-polemical writing with an underlying social content. We also feature new authors and authors whose work is underserved.”

This is my 3rd book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 9th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

Here’s a confession, I’ve had this book for a couple of years, and I believe it came from the author or her good friend Arlene Ang.  I’m just now getting around to it.  This is my 5th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.

The Other Life by Ellen Meister

We’re taking a break today from the Celebrate! Indie & Small Press Month for a pre-scheduled TLC Book Tour into another world.

The Other Life by Ellen Meister chronicles the life of Quinn Braverman, a young married woman with one son and a caring husband, Lewis.  The suicide of her artist mother haunts her on a daily basis, but to cope, she enters into another life through a portal in her basement.  Her life with Eugene is without children and marriage, but is less mundane and best of all her mother is still alive.  Meister mixes a modern story line about family, suicide, and relationships with science fiction elements as Quinn travels through portals into parallel lives.

“But the important part of the secret — the part that terrified and thrilled her — was that she knew it was possible to cross from one life to the other.  There were portals.”  (page 5 of ARC)

Quinn’s life with Lewis is turned upside down when they learn that their unborn daughter’s life will not be as perfect as they imagined.  Although she’s always known that she could jump between her parallel lives, she has promised herself that she would not do it.  A promise that she cannot keep, and a promise that is quickly broken time and time again as she struggles to deal with her high-risk pregnancy, her inability to seek comfort from her mother, and the overwhelming desire to simply escape.

“She closed her hand into a fist and continued pushing.  The fissure became a hole, and the harder she pressed, the deeper it became, until her hand had disappeared up to her elbow.  She stuck her other hand inside and pressed her palms together.  Quinn closed her eyes and sensed Eugene’s energy, feeling as if the scent of his aftershave were lingering around her nostrils.”  (page 47 of ARC)

Readers who have read Linda Gray Sexton’s memoir about the legacy of suicide Half in Love (click for my review), will notice Quinn has a similar love-hate relationship with her mother and the legacy of suicide.  Her mother, Nan, has a similar artistic and impassioned charisma that Linda’s mother, Anne Sexton, had.  It is this combination that draws in the reader and the main character into Nan’s world of painting and deconstruction of her family in visual form.  Passages pepper the book with insight into Nan’s approach to her family and her work as an artist, but this pull doesn’t stop there.

“Her mother’s pull was just too strong for Quinn to float away and feel as if she were experiencing the shopping trip as an outsider looking in.”  (page 95 of ARC)

Drawn to her mother and a life where her presence is reassuring, Quinn struggles even more with her present life, and her brother’s inherited bipolar disorder only exacerbate her need for stability, which she believes can only be found in another life.  Meister does an excellent job of creating a sympathetic, mess of a character in Quinn and successfully weaves in the use of portals to demonstrate her anxiety.

Quinn is a mother wrought with anxiety, loneliness, and a forceful need to care for everyone in her life.  She’s constantly running from one crisis to another with her sword blazing, and while readers can feel for her and want her world to be right again, she can be frustrating as she jumps through portals to escape the hard decisions in her other life.  Overall, Meister’s writing is engaging, suspenseful, and easy to follow even as readers travel with Quinn between her two lives.  Readers hope that she will find the peace she is looking for and the love that she deserves, while at the same time confronting her past demons and moving into the future as a more confident woman and mother.  The Other Life by Ellen Meister would make an excellent book club selection.

About the Author:

Ellen Meister lives on Long Island with her husband and three children.

You can find out more about Ellen at her website, and you can also follow her blog and on Twitter.

 

 

Please check out the rest of the stops on the tour.

 

 

 

This is my 8th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan

The Jane Austen Handbook:  Proper Life Skills from Regency England by Margaret C. Sullivan, which Quirk Books will publish on March 8, is a nonfiction step-by-step guide on how to live in Regency England as a young lady or young man, though most of the advice pertains to women.  Chock full of illustrations of common dress for men and women, among other traditions, the handbook is practical and fun.  Humor is not forgotten either, as Jane Austen would have poked fun at certain traditions, so too does Sullivan.

For instance in the section “How to Raise Your Children,” among the tips listed to maintain decorum and sanity in the household is to provide children with cake!  “If all else fails, liberal slices of cake solve many a child-rearing problems.” (page 72)

The book is divided into three sections:  logistics of life among the gentry in Regency England; the ins and outs of daily life; and the rules for choosing a prospective husband.  Readers interested to learn how much Mr. Darcy is worth today should check out the handbook because apparently there is some controversy in the matter.

Each chapter contains a quote from one of Austen’s novels that applies to the contents of each chapter, and readers new to classic Austen books can rely on this handbook to understand the differences between a port-chaise, a hack, and other forms of transportation as well as the differences between various dresses worn by young ladies.  There is a schedule of a woman’s typical day running a household, the responsibilities of gentleman, what these people did in their leisure time, and how to recognize the gentry from royalty and more.

The appendix contains synopses of Jane Austen’s novels and other works, plus a list of film adaptations, sequels, retellings, and other “paraliterature.”  There are a number of other resources, a glossary, and selected bibliography as well.  The Jane Austen Handbook:  Proper Life Skills from Regency England by Margaret C. Sullivan is a great companion for the Jane Austen fanatic and fan because it offers guidance on how young men and women navigated a complex set of social rules and even broke them at times.  As each moment in life is addressed, Sullivan also offers moments in Austen’s work where traditions are bent.  Overall, a fantastic guide to a time period that many modern readers have a hard time imagining but will have fun navigating in not only Austen’s novels but also in the handbook.  It gives new meaning to role-playing.

About the Author:

Margaret C. Sullivan is the editrix of Austenblog.com. She lives in Philadelphia.

This is my 7th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon

Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon begins in 1869, four years after the Confederate surrender and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, in Jarrettsville, Md., just below the Mason-Dixon line.  Tensions continue to run high in this town with former Confederate and Union soldiers continue to hold their prejudices and wear them on their faces and express them in their venomous words.

With tensions running high, the only possible outcome for a young love between Martha Jane Cairnes, the daughter of a Southern and loyal Confederate family, and Nick McComas, a former Union soldier and advocate of Black rights, is heartache and murder.

Nixon rips pages from events in her family history to create a novel that breaths life into the tensions following the U.S. Civil War.  Despite the reunification of our nation, both sides are unwilling to let go and reconcile.

“‘We’ve got to get the Black Code back, by God.  Negroes roaming around free, reeling drunk, menacing descent women? We can’t have that here!’

‘And the women are worse than the fellows.  They’re degenerates, full of disease, corrupting our youth.  Even the little girls, I swear.’

‘That’s right, Negro girls can’t help themselves.  They’re overheated by nature, worse than the fellows, I swear.'”  (page 106 of ARC)

Martha is a strong-willed woman who sets her sights on what she wants and goes after it, while Nick is more deliberate and cautious in his approach to decisions.  However, when love takes them over, passions get out of control, leading them into compromising situations.  Then the rumors begin among the former Confederates about Nick and Martha, equally untrue and equally damaging to their reputations.  Unfortunately, these rumors are what slices and dices their relationship, particularly since it is so new and untested and both sides are tragically unable to confide in one another with the depth that friends would do.

The novel is broken into four parts, plus an epilogue, and those readers looking for integrated points of view throughout the story will find Nixon took a different approach, instead breaking up the narrative into parts dominated by one point of view or by several witness’ points of views in the final section.  The format is a bit disconcerting when the first sections end in the same place, but are told from different points of view.  However, although the events are similar, there are moments where more is revealed by one point of view than another, which helps explain more of the characters’ motivations.  Although not an ideal format for this historical fiction novel, it is easy to understand Nixon’s decision for choosing it.

Overall, Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon provides an inside look at the tensions that still plagued the south following the resolution of the civil war and how it tore apart families, friends, and neighbors.  Additionally, it depicts the struggles that the families in the south faced in light of scarce resources and finances.  Nixon is a talented writer who can deftly translate a portion of her ancestral history into a compelling tale of fiction.

About the Author:

Cornelia Nixon is the author of two novels, Now You See It and Angels Go Naked, as well as a study of D. H. Lawrence. She won first prize in the 1995 O. Henry Awards. She teaches in the M.F.A. program at Mills College, near San Francisco.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Literary Road Trip in Jarrettsville, Md., following the U.S. Civil War and assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

This is my 1st book for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.

This is my 6th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Confession time, I’ve wanted to read this book since I picked up an ARC at the 2009 Book Expo America.  This is my 4th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.