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Reached by Ally Condie (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audio, 11 CDs
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**If you missed my first review, this one could contain spoilers for Matched or the second review for Crossed.**

Reached by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses, Jack Riccobono, and Matt Burns, reveals so many things that were forgotten by the characters or that other characters they meet along the way reveal to them. The backstory is here in the third book about the Society and the Rising, and all of the factions that are outside the two main struggling societies. Cassia continues to find her way through the darkness with Ky (who may not always be at her side), and Xander faces his own struggles as the plague ravages the population, even those inoculated with the vaccine provided by the Rising.

As a medic, he sees the stillness take hold of his friends and colleagues and the fear in their eyes. He is dutiful and eager to follow those he believes in. Cassia wants to find an end to the suffering; she’s looking for a way to inoculate the Society and the Rising with beauty. She finds it in the Gallery where people come to share their art and poems and songs. Like many things in these controlled societies, the beauty and originality is snuffed out. Ky, on the other hand, still tries to stay below the radar. The only one he believes in is Cassia.

This triangle of characters and their love for one another — though different for all of them — is heartening as they tackle the nearly impossible with only their faith in each other to guide them. Although there are moments of repetition when Cassia begins to regain some of her memories long after she was forced to take a red pill to forget, it is in line with the world Condie has created. The narrators are well matched with their characters, though Xander’s point of view is less robotic in this book compared to the last. The dialogue for him as improved.

Reached by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses, Jack Riccobono, and Matt Burns, is a series of books that requires patience with the world and tension building. Readers will be satisfied with its conclusion as these societies tackle a mutated plague together and come out the other side eager to rebuild and collaborate with one another (even if only tentatively).

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Ally Condie is a former high school English teacher who lives with her husband, three sons and one daughter outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves reading, running, eating, and listening to her husband play guitar.

A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

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

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

Make and Move: Shark

Source: publicist
Hardcover, 28 pgs.
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Make and Move: Shark by Jen Green includes a 28-page book and 20 pieces to build a 37-inch shark floor puzzle. The puzzle is easy enough for a Kindergartner to put together on their own with little help. My daughter set to work on the puzzle the moment it arrived on the doorstep. She loved how there were pieces that moved like joints and fins that moved as if the shark could swim. We talked about the jaw and the internal organs we put together.

makeshark

The book itself is attached to the box with the puzzle pieces, and it explains what sharks are, how they swim, what senses they have, and how they breathe underwater. There were many different types of sharks in the book, and each has a different body shape. My daughter was fascinated that there were sharks that hunted food by spiraling.

Make and Move: Shark by Jen Green provides kids with educational material and a fun activity. My daughter was eager to do the puzzle again after the first time.

RATING: Quatrain

Crossed by Ally Condie (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audio; 8 CDs
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**If you missed my first review, this one could contain spoilers for Matched.**

Crossed by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses and Jack Riccobono, is the second book in the series and is told from alternating points of view. Cassia is on a mission to find Ky after he was taken from her home province. Their story has been star-crossed since the beginning, and she is confident that her choice to find him in the outer provinces is the best one for her. While she still loves her best friend and match, Xander, she does not believe she can live without Ky. Although this is a story of young love, Condie has created an intricate society in which everything is controlled from the 100 poems the society has kept to the loss of writing letters. In this controlled experiment, these children are told the rules and how to be from the moment they enter school.

Because people are given options that make it appear as though they have choices, many do not question the rules of the society, but a rebellion has been brewing in the background since the 100 poems to be kept were chosen. As readers are shown more and more of the society and layers are pulled back, they will have more questions. Cassia is just beginning to see the world through new eyes whereas Ky has seen a little too much of its dark side. She pushes to know more, and he wants to hold back and just be.

The different points of view helped flesh this out more for me, as Ky has knowledge that the cloistered Cassia does not. The use of poetry by Condie is intricate and adds to the mystery, but when will we meet the pilot or know what is really going on? Crossed by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses and Jack Riccobono, is a satisfying second book, but it seems like both the first and second book are building and building the societal tension for book three, Reached. The advantages in this book are a little more knowledge and a little more freedom for the characters and the introduction of new characters.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Ally Condie is a former high school English teacher who lives with her husband, three sons and one daughter outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves reading, running, eating, and listening to her husband play guitar.

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.

 

United States of Books: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (audio)

Entertainment Weekly chose Geek Love for Oregon. The magazine said, “A twisted couple populate their freak show with their own children in this modern classic. It’s weird, carnivalesque, and unnerving: not unlike Portland on a given night. Need more? Kurt Cobain was a fan.”

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 15+ hours
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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, narrated by Christina Moore, is a family saga of love, obsession, and revenge among the freaks at the Binewski traveling show. In many ways this novel reminded me of American Horror Story: Freak Show. Al and Lil populate the show with their own children, those they have disfigured by ensuring Lil drinks and subjects herself to all manner of poisons, insecticides, and other torturous devices. Their efforts to save the traveling carnival from bankruptcy requires more than traditional dwarfs and extraordinarily tall men and women. The Binewskis have concluded that the rise of basketball and other entertainments have made these traditional freak show participants obsolete.

Much of this is narrated by Oly, an albino hunchback, as she recalls the past and her brother Arturo the Aquaboy, who became so consumed with jealousy, that he would do anything to be on top and take over the carnival from his father. Oly, despite being a hunchback, is on the outside of the clan, and she’s treated more as a servant than a family member, even by the brother she loves beyond all reason. While her relatives seek to get by under Arturo’s reign or escape it, Oly seeks to bind herself to him in the only way she knows.

Dunn’s novel examines the love inside a family of freaks, but it really could apply to any family, especially if jealousies are allowed free reign and grow out of control. What’s interesting is how much Oly is unlike her family in that she sees the “norms” as not something to be despised, but as something that could be loved. Her transformation and distance from her family is complete later on in the novel when she gives birth.

Christina Moore does an admirable job with the narration, and it is easy to follow each character. However, the setting in Oregon is not front-and-center and many times, readers will forget that the carnival is even in the state, particularly when other cities in other states are more frequently mentioned like Spokane. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, narrated by Christina Moore, takes a while to get used to, and there is some very strong language and sexual content that some readers would not prefer. Overall, the novel was just plain odd.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Katherine Dunn is best known for her beloved novel “Geek Love,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1989. She is also the author of the novels “Attic” (1970) and “Truck” (1971). A fourth novel, entitled “The Cut Man,” has been in-progress for decades and was purportedly scheduled for a September 2008 release.

Dunn is also known as a prolific sports journalist in the field of boxing, and has written several articles on the subject.

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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!

Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette & Giveaway

Source: the author
Paperback, 278 pgs.
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“‘Dum spiro spero! Dum Spiro Spero!’ While I breathe, I hope.” (pg. 10-11)

Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette has created a believable catch-22 for Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, now a British captain during WWII. He is sent to France after losing nearly all his men at the Somme and months after his failed proposal to Elizabeth Bennet, a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse’s assistant. At The Ritz, Darcy is confronted with all of the feelings he’s denied on the battlefield and he must confront his vow of never again having attachments. Elizabeth, on the other hand, has put the blame on Darcy all this time — his military requisitioning of her family home, the death of her father, and much more. She’s vowed to loathe him for eternity, but can she keep that vow as the ravages of war continue to push them together and force them to work together to keep the hospital going and saving the casualties of WWI?

“He was no more distinguished than a tiny grain of sand on an endless beach.” (pg. 56)

“So many of the conclusions she had glibly drawn about people and situations — and stood upon as a firm foundation — were now shifting like sand beneath her feet.” (pg. 137)

Monette has set the tone early on, and these characters will be tested in terms of their perceptions, values, and character. Darcy is more stoic in Monette’s novel; he’s a man hammered by war and burdened by a secret mission he feels ill-equipped for. But he still plods onward, doing his duty and nothing more. Elizabeth has come into her own as an independent woman, finding her way in the medical field and hoping for a future where she doesn’t need to depend on anyone. Both are closed off, but under the threat of the Germans and the constant barrage of casualties, they are forced to re-examine themselves and what it means to truly be a casualty of war.

Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette peels back the layers of the ways in which we protect ourselves from pain to reveal that we all want to be loved, protected, and esteemed.

RATING: Cinquain (I cannot wait to read book 2)

gingermonetteAbout the Author:

The teacher always learns the most. And in homeschooling her children, Ginger Monette learned all the history she missed in school. Now she’s hooked—on writing and World War I. When not writing, Ginger enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon.

Her WW1 flash fiction piece, Flanders Field of Grey, won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s 2015 Picture This grand prize.

Ginger lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she happily resides with her husband, three teenagers, and two loyal dogs.

Watch the book trailer.
Listen to an audio excerpt.
Add it on GoodReads.
Visit Ginger Monette on Facebook.

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Giveaway:

giveaway-ornaments-mug

With Darcy’s Hope set during the era of Downton Abbey and the tour being right before Christmas, I thought it would be fun to use Downton Abbey ornaments as the giveaway.

Seven ornaments will be given away and is open to U.S. residents in the continental US. The prize for residents of the continental U.K. is a Downton Abbey mug.

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The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L. Stine and Marc Brown

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L. Stine and Marc Brown is a fun book that kids will love. It has monsters who are slimy, ones that smell, and more. The kids are asked not to feed the monsters and to not get too close. Some are hungry and others just say, “hi”, differently. The illustrations look like colored pencil drawings and each monster has its own unique look.

My daughter loved these monsters and their gross habits. Some sneezed all over you and others tickled you. It’s a great book to be interactive with. While your child is shopping for a monster of their own, they soon discover that the monsters are doing a little shopping too! The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L. Stine and Marc Brown is just a fun book, but beware, monsters might follow you home.

RATING: Cinquain

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond

Source: the author
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
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My Last Continent by Midge Raymond is an expedition that leaves you feeling the biting cold as it burns the skin and takes the breath away from naturalists like Deb Gardner. Antarctica is a deeply mysterious place, one that travelers may have on their bucket list because they can see icebergs cleaving and wildlife free from human interruption. This environment, however, is not forgiving and many times those who travel there — even for research — can lose parts of themselves or their lives even if they are highly trained.

“The end of the world, the beginning of everything.” (pg. 14 ARC)

Raymond has crafted a novel that takes the harshness of the frozen wasteland and reweaves it into a place of solace for Gardner, a researcher whose family life is not close-knit and who feels closer to the penguins she observes than to people. Her narrative shifts backwards and forwards in time, sometimes a few months and sometimes by a few decades, but readers never leave Deb’s world view. She pushes you to care for the animals and their world, even as it crumbles around them and even as a researcher she is polluting its pristine nature. The dichotomy of her work is never lost on the reader — learn more about their environment and the effects of humanity upon it by being there and observing but through the act of observing, you disrupt the natural way of things (even if only for a few months).

“I feel his proximity like an electric current, a frayed wire, loose and dangerous.” (pg. 93 ARC)

The stakes become even higher when Deb finds that she feels more at home with fellow naturalist Keller Sullivan, a man who knew little until she reluctantly trained him. The nature of their work separates them more than it brings them together, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a mere romance. There are deeper layers — the surface slush must be swept aside.

“But nature has a way of surprising us, of overpowering us, of reminding us that, no matter what we believe and no matter how hard we try, we’re not in control after all.” (pg. 140 ARC)

Sometimes the last continent may be a return to the one you abandoned long ago. My Last Continent by Midge Raymond is engaging and deeply moving. It’s message is clear; we are not so far evolved from our animal brethren and even if we were, we all still need the same planet to build families and to survive.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Midge Raymond is the author of the novel My Last Continent and the award-winning short-story collection Forgetting English. Her writing has appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, Poets & Writers, and many other publications.

Midge worked in publishing in New York before moving to Boston, where she taught communication writing at Boston University for six years. She has taught creative writing at Boston’s Grub Street Writers, Seattle’s Richard Hugo House, and San Diego Writers, Ink. She has also published two books for writers, Everyday Writing and Everyday Book Marketing.

Midge lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is co-founder of the boutique publisher Ashland Creek Press.

Matched by Ally Condie (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 8 CDs
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Matched by Ally Condie, narrated by Kate Simses, is set into a future where many of the choices of the society are manipulated or made for its residents. On the date of her matching — a process through which her mate is chosen — Cassia gets a glimpse of another future, another choice. Xander, her childhood friend who lives in her neighborhood, is her match, something that doesn’t happen that often. But her interactions with another boy, Ky, in the neighborhood, lead her to question more than just the matching system.

Although aberrations in the perfect system have created a sense of unease for Cassia, part of her still wants to believe that they system does things for good, at least the good of society. Her hikes with Ky, however, reveal that not all of the society’s decisions are for the best and not even done with the best intentions. Her inner struggle is exacerbated by the words her grandfather said to her before his passing and the advice he had given her in the past. Condie has created a world that is believable, but it seems like there is too much that is not reveals about this society and its past. Everything is kept very close to the officials’ vests, and readers are likely to see that it is for very good reason in subsequent books (or so I suspect).

Simses is an excellent narrator for a young girl who is torn between the way she knew things to be and the way she sees they could be. Her narration of the male characters are well done, too. Matched by Ally Condie, is a quick listen on audio and even though readers know Cassia is about to commit an infraction she cannot come back from, not too much happens in the book.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Ally Condie is a former high school English teacher who lives with her husband, three sons and one daughter outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves reading, running, eating, and listening to her husband play guitar.

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

Source: publicist
Hardcover, 144 pgs.
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RATING: Cinquain

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson (available in the United States in December) offers a stark reminder of what politics has become and how it works behind the scenes. Peterson’s very stark imagery catches candidates at their most vulnerable and in midst of their performances, but it also catches the media, the staff, the public, and the nation in a way that is least flattering and very surreal. The 2016 election has been a whirlwind of unbelievable moments from an unlikely Republican nominee, Donald Trump, to an outsider — Bernie Sanders — hoping to make inroads in the two-party system through a grassroots revolution.

American businessman Donald Trump at the #FITN Republican Leadership Summit in Nashua, NH, April 18, 2015. (printed with permission, Political Theatre by Mark Peterson)

American businessman Donald Trump at the #FITN Republican Leadership Summit in Nashua, NH, April 18, 2015. (printed with permission, Political Theatre by Mark Peterson)

“The Trump and Sanders phenomena were, of course, animated by radically divergent convictions and world-views. But both reflected a profound disruption taking place outside the confines of Washington, D.C.” — says John Heilemann, author of “Game Change” and “Double Down.”

While the previous election cycle had seen a historic shift in the presidency to the nation’s first Black president, President Barack Obama, the 2016 election cycle has seen a completely different stage and set of actors. With the election behind us, the nation is clearly hurting and it is divided — not only among racial lines. Peterson’s images are heavy on contrast and demonstrate the theatrics behind the scenes. While voters may see the debates and the comments at rallies as entertaining and indicative of “publicity” and “branding” — or just plain “fluff” — it is clear that the men and women on the campaign trail see many different sides of the candidates and the public.

Political Theatre by Mark Peterson is a collection of photographs, quotes from the candidates, and tweets, among other things. It also includes an essay by John Heilemann. But above all, it stands as a mirror to what our political system has become.

Donald Trump campaign rally in San Jose, California, June 2, 2016. (printed with permission; Political Theatre by Mark Peterson)

Donald Trump campaign rally in San Jose, California, June 2, 2016. (printed with permission; Political Theatre by Mark Peterson)