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The Nightlife by Elise Paschen

Source: Mary Bisbee-Beek
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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The Nightlife by Elise Paschen is a collection of poems that blurs reality, dreams, and fantasies in a way that requires to reader to parse out the truth from between the lines.  It’s a collection into which the reader will likely stumble into the darkness of an abused woman’s life and fail to leave or fall into the bed of an adulterer, only to take the misplaced shame of faulty perception with them.  “Picnic Triptych” illustrates these blurred lines very well in which the reader is introduced to the “Small Brown Notebook” in which a tall man is found — a stalker of sorts.  Is the narrator dreaming of an encounter with this man, who resembles an artist in a painting by Manet, or is this something more?

Like Manet, Paschen is building an impressionist painting with words: verse by verse, page by page.  Night can make the world a bit more mysterious, and it can encourage the mind to conjure dangers from nothingness, a mind playing tricks on the narrator or the reader, sometimes both.  Like in “Of Mice,” where the narrator and the reader must “fear the carving knife” of “the farmer’s wife”, placing ourselves in the position of the mice — an older nursery rhyme — only to have our world upended and the mice are really escaped prisoners tunneling through the earth toward their own freedom.  Or are we all of these things, trapped inside our own prisons and eager for escape, with only fear keeping us huddled inside?

From “Of Mice” (pg. 32)

the penitentiary.
We lock all doors,
and, when the wind

hurtles umbrellas
against the deck,
we hide.

Paschen’s poems are riddles inside of riddles, dreams and nightmares wrapped inside wonderfully painted landscapes and portraits.  The Nightlife by Elise Paschen should not be missed; it is full of word artistry and surprises.

RATING: Quatrain

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About the Poet:

Poet and editor Elise Paschen was born and raised in Chicago. She earned a BA at Harvard University, where she won the Lloyd McKim Garrison Medal and the Joan Grey Untermeyer Poetry Prize, and went on to receive a PhD in 20th century British and American Literature at Oxford University with a dissertation on the manuscripts of poet William Butler Yeats. During her time at Oxford she also co-founded Oxford Poetry.

Conceit & Concealment by Abigail Reynolds

Source: the author
ebook, 354 pgs.
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Conceit & Concealment by Abigail Reynolds is Pride & Prejudice set in an alternate history in which Napoleon successfully invaded England. It has been six years since the invasion, and it is clear that England has not succumbed to foreign rule quite yet. When Elizabeth Bennet meets Fitzwilliam Darcy for the first time, she is told he is a French sympathizer. Although not like other wealthy men who have struck deals with the occupying rulers, Darcy faces Lizzy’s condemnation, even as she finds his company pleasant.  The French in charge of Meryton are less than civil, with one commander making illicit passes at the Bennet sisters, forcing one into hiding.

Even as Wickham lurks among the French soldiers, Darcy is unphased by his presence because he has more conflicting emotions to deal with.  He’s slipped in his conversations with Lizzy, and he’s even allowed Georgiana to spend time with her and her sister, Jane.  It’s been a long road of protecting his sister from harm, but all could come apart if he continues to trust Lizzy with his secrets.  Too much hangs in the balance for Georgiana and the fate of England.  When Darcy is no longer able to care for Georgiana, he is forced to make a leap of faith, one that could leave Lizzy’s reputation in tatters.

Reynolds’ latest novel is wildly creative and engaging — espionage, uprisings, and alternate history — that will leave readers on edge as beloved characters are arrested as traitors and subjected to torture at the hands of the French.  The secrets are swirling around Hertfordshire and London, and Darcy’s family is at the center of most of it.  Readers will have a hard time not reading into the wee hours of the night.  Conceit & Concealment by Abigail Reynolds is one of my favorites and highly recommended. Another for Best of list consideration.

RATING: Cinquain

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About the Author:

Abigail Reynolds may be a nationally bestselling author and a physician, but she can’t follow a straight line with a ruler. Originally from upstate New York, she studied Russian and theater at Bryn Mawr College and marine biology at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. After a stint in performing arts administration, she decided to attend medical school, and took up writing as a hobby during her years as a physician in private practice.

A life-long lover of Jane Austen’s novels, Abigail began writing variations on Pride & Prejudice in 2001, then expanded her repertoire to include a series of novels set on her beloved Cape Cod.Her most recent releases are Conceit & Concealment, the national bestsellers Alone with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Darcy’s Noble Connections, and Mr. Darcy’s Journey. Her books have been translated into five languages. A lifetime member of JASNA, she lives on Cape Cod with her husband, her son and a menagerie of animals. Her hobbies do not include sleeping or cleaning her house.

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine, published by HarperCollins, begins with an interview between the author and film maker and director Christopher Nolan about the making of the Dunkirk film.  This serves as a preface to the overall story, which examines the societal and political atmosphere in the late 1930s. He also tackles the myth of Dunkirk and the so-called “Dunkirk Spirit” — what it meant to individual soldiers and how it mirrored or did not mirror the actual events of the biggest defeat and evacuation in WWII history.

“As they arrived back in Britain, most soldiers saw themselves as the wretched remnants of a trampled army.  Many felt ashamed.  But they were confounded by the unexpected public mood.  ‘We were put on a train and wherever we stopped,’ says a lieutenant of the Durham Light Infantry, ‘people came up with coffee and cigarettes.  We had evidence from this tremendous euphoria that we were heroes and had won some sort of victory.  Even though it was obvious that we had been thoroughly beaten.'” (pg. 27)

Levine draws parallels between the rise of youth culture in Britain, Germany, and the United States, but unlike the United States where the culture was freer, British youth culture was slightly more constrained.  In Germany, the Nazis used the rise of the youth to create a generation with a nationalist fervor through brainwashing.

Levine chronicles battles in the early days where the French military is woefully unprepared for the cunning of the German army.  He highlights the use of small groups of German soldiers who made it possible for the Panzer tanks to cross into French regions to the surprise of many.  Meanwhile, Britain remained in political turmoil until Churchill was named as Chamberlain’s replacement as Prime Minister, and even then, many began to fear that Britain would lose the war.

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine is more than a recounting of a great defeat or an effort of survival, it is a look at the war from the perspective of the soldiers, politicians, and common people engaged in it.  The anecdotes and stories from these soldiers and others bring to life the war, particularly the lack of communication and the naivete of those who joined up seeking adventure.  Reality can certainly be a painful experience.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Joshua Levine has written six bestselling histories including titles in the hugely popular ‘Forgotten Voices’ series. ‘Beauty and Atrocity’, his account of the Irish Troubles, was nominated for the Writers’ Guild Book of the Year award. ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’, his history of the pilots of the First World War, has been turned into a major British television documentary. He has written and presented a number of programmes for BBC Radio 4. In a previous life, he was a criminal barrister. He lives in London.

Find out more about Joshua at his website, and connect with him on Twitter.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay Andrews

Source: Tandem Literary
Hardcover, 224 pgs.
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The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay Andrews has the best tagline ever: “easy, breezy recipes with a southern accent.”  This cookbook includes all of Andrews charm and humor with some fantastic recipes that can make you feel like you live at the beach. Whether looking for some fruit-flavored drinks for an evening of conversation and board games or looking to make a dessert that will have the neighbors talking, Andrews has the right recipe for your summer gatherings and beyond.

For book club weekend, I made pig candy, which due to some work in the kitchen at the same time ended up being burnt!  The parts that weren’t, however, were delicious!  You knew they would be — bacon and brown sugar — and that kick of cayenne pepper.  Perfect little treat.

My drink of choice was the Prosecco Sippers with strawberries (I love strawberries), which was delicious.  Think summery, slightly sweet and bubbly white wine with ice.  Delicious for the summer months.  It was super easy to make and delicious.  I also made marinated shrimp, which can be served cold with greens or as an appetizer with toothpicks.  I served it in a dish from which everyone could sample some and it seemed to be a big hit with everyone who tried it.  I even enjoyed it and I don’t like shrimp much.

The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay Andrews has a wonderful collection of recipes for every occasion and has stories to accompany her recipes.  I love that she included family photos and more with these easy to follow recipes.  This is definitely a cookbook that I will use again; there are some yummy desserts I can’t wait to try.  Perfect way to kick off Memorial Day weekend.

RATING: Cinquain

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About the Author:

Mary Kay Andrews graduated from the University of Georgia with a journalism degree in 1976.  She worked as a reporter at a number of papers, and spent 11 years as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before leaving to write fiction full-time in 1991.  She published ten mystery novels under her own name between 1992 and 2000, and since 2002, she has authored a number of best-selling books as Mary Kay Andrews.

Ageless Bride: Famous Designers Dress, Inspire & Celebrate Brides Over 50! by Gigi Schilling

Source: Jeryl Brunner
Paperback, 123 pgs.
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Ageless Bride: Famous Designers Dress, Inspire & Celebrate Brides Over 50! by Gigi Schilling offers an inside look at designer’s creative process in creating timeless dresses for brides over age 50.  Gigi Schilling says that brides of this age who are marrying for the first time or are embarking on a new marriage often view their wedding as a more sedate affair, but she says that these women should live out their fantasy wedding because it will be a time they will always cherish and remember.  Part of that is the dress, and designers are holding nothing back for these brides, who know who they are and are less insecure.

From Isaac Mizrahi and Zac Posen to Betsey Johnson and Ines di Santo, the dress designs run the gamut of whimsical to sophisticated.  Each has a special take on these ageless brides and how they want their dresses to look and feel.  Schilling does a fantastic job of asking just the right questions of these designers.  It will give brides and others a sense of what an ageless bride is looking for and how she wants to feel on her wedding day.  One thing I noted from the sketches was that the male designers (not all) tend to either leave off the heads in their sketches or use faceless heads, while the female designers’ sketches are more whimsical and detailed in the features of the bride.

Schilling also includes five different wedding ceremony scenarios, including one for the first time bridge who is over age 50.  There are ceremonies for the encore bride, the remarriage, the city hall ceremony, and the elopement as well.  Each of these has a central message, do not deny yourself the wedding of your dreams.  There is no reason to.  The final section of the book discusses the veil and whether ageless brides will use them and why or why not.  From the traditional veil to the veil attached to a fashionable hat, Schilling offers insight into all of them with help from various brides and designers.

Ageless Bride: Famous Designers Dress, Inspire & Celebrate Brides Over 50! by Gigi Schilling is a look at how romance can happen at any age, and for those brides over age 50, it can help you overcome those out-dated traditions for older brides.  A romantic wedding of your dreams awaits.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Gigi Schilling is the Founder of SoAgeless. She aspires to inspire you to Act your Ageless! Gigi is 58 and considers herself ageless. She loves to laugh, wear high heels, and be a curvaceous size 10.

Born in Brazil to European parents, she views herself as nomad living in multiple cultures. Gigi has lived in many places: Miami, New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, the Bahamas, Buenos Aires, and Patagonia. Educated in Rio de Janeiro, she received a Bachelors of Science in Journalism. Her greatest legacy is her 19-year-old son Alexander.

In 2010, Gigi created a community on Facebook called, Over 50 & Irresistible, based on the paradox she coined, “Too old to live at 50 – yet, too young to die at 50?” In 2016, she decided to do away with the number and SoAgeless was born.

In 2017, Gigi published her first book, Ageless Bride, to inspire the over 50 woman to shed outdated rules and allow herself to enjoy the magic and romance of being a bride. Visit her website.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Beauty and the Beast: A Coloring Book by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, Walter Crane

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Beauty and the Beast: A Coloring Book by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, with illustrations by Walter Crane, is a beautifully appointed coloring book for children and adults alike.  Kids may have trouble staying in the lines, but the story is beautifully rendered in these pages.  The illustrations are intricate and easily hide the spying Beast among the roses and the forest, but Beauty has little fear as she makes her way to the mysterious palace.

While there are many pages to color inside the book, there are several pages of patterns that repeat, with swirls or birds or roses.  There are few lines of text from the original story, which we had expected to be a bit more of.  It’s hard for a younger reader to grasp the scope of this beloved story with so few lines from the original tale.  However, my daughter really enjoyed creating her own rose gardens and painting the birds with her crayons and other materials.

Beauty and the Beast: A Coloring Book by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, with illustrations by Walter Crane, is a delightful book for coloring to calm the mind.

RATING: Quatrain

This Book Stinks by Sarah Wassner Flynn

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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This Book Stinks: Gross Garbage, Rotten Rubbish, and the Science of Trash by Sarah Wassner Flynn provides facts in a bright and engaging way for younger readers and adults. The book is chock full of infographics, quizzes, stats, and so much more, including activities for kids to help them tackle the waste in their own homes and communities.

The United States has about 2 million tons of trash that ends up in landfills, and e-waste — old electronics — is an increasing source of that waste, as Americans like to have the next best gadget. It’s disheartening to see how much the United States has fallen behind other developed nations in terms of reducing waste to become the top country in terms of trash. If more people read this book and share it with their children, perhaps the United States can reduce its trash output and get in line with other conserving nations.

There are some really engaging activities for kids on learning how to upcycle some of their older things, and there are other topics covered that include organizing community cleanups and reducing your own household waste. One of our favorites (which we already did with lettuce) is using vegetable scraps to regrow vegetables. It can be a fun learning activity for kids on how to not only reduce waste but learn about the life cycle of plants.

This Book Stinks: Gross Garbage, Rotten Rubbish, and the Science of Trash by Sarah Wassner Flynn is a book I’m going to donate to my daughter’s classroom because you never can be too engaged in children’s education. This book will provide a great many opportunities for her class to learn about waste and recycling and things they can do at their own homes to make the planet a better place to live.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Sarah Wassner Flynn is a fitness and sports writer, a children’s book author, a runner, and a mother.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Build A … T-Rex and Build A … Butterfly by Kiki Ljung

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 12 pgs.
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Build A … T-Rex and Build A … Butterfly by Kiki Ljung are geared toward children ages 5-8 and aim to teach children about the anatomy of the T-Rex, as we know it, and the Butterfly by engaging them in a fun activity.  Each book contains a set of parts children can use to build their own 3D model.

The directions are fairly simple, but the T-Rex head was a bit confusing for my kindergartner, and we had to tape his head back together.  She folded him the wrong way.  And one of the legs on the butterfly got ripped when she tried to pull it from the book.  If anything, some of these pieces in each book were secured inside the pages a little too well, making it harder for little kids to pull them out without causing some damage to certain pieces.

The Build A … T-Rex includes some of the latest information about the dinosaur, including his lizard-like hips and posture.  It offers a guide to kids about what the dino ate, how it ran, and whether it had a loud roar like in the movies.  It contains a great deal of information, alongside colorful (but not gory) illustrations of the T-Rex in action.

Build A … Butterfly illustrates the life cycle of the painted lady butterfly and how long it takes them to transform from an egg into a butterfly, as well as how long they actually live.  There’s a great deal of information about each body part and how it functions, what they eat, and where they migrant.  And so much more alongside the colorful illustrations.

Build A … T-Rex and Build A … Butterfly by Kiki Ljung both allow children to put back the parts of their 3D models, but we chose not to do that and she’s planning to display them in her room.

RATING: Quatrain

Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties by Aline Alexander Newman

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 60 pgs.
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Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties by Aline Alexander Newman is a small book of stories about enigmatic cats and their owners. The introduction talks about how many people fail to understand the behaviors of cats, especially when they act erratically. It talks about creating an environment that appeals to their wild instincts as part of an effort to avoid problems that can occur with cat ownership.

Many of these stories are a testament to the bond between cats and their owners, like Holly who was spooked while on vacation in Florida with her owners and disappeared. After a good Samaritan found the cat and had the ID chip scanned, it was discovered that Holly had walked 190 miles in 62 days, trying to return home from Florida. This collection includes not only stories about cats and their owners, but statistics about perceptions of cats and expert explanations about certain behaviors. In Holly’s case, she used her hunting instincts to find her family, and her tenaciousness kept her going even when she was near starving.

For younger readers, there’s even information on cartoon cats and why and how they became famous, such as Grumpy Cat. Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties by Aline Alexander Newman is for ages 8+, but if read together, it can be a good night times story book for kids who love cats and are younger than age 8. My daughter is fascinated with cats, even tough our dog is no friend to cats. This was a perfect book for us to read together.

RATING: Quatrain

National Geographic Kids: 125 Pet Rescues

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 112 pgs.
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National Geographic Kids: 125 Pet Rescues includes some engaging stories about rescued pets from cats and dogs to rabbits and so many more. There is even a section at the end about celebrity rescues. Some celebrity animals have famous parents, while others are famous through social media and charity fundraising ventures.

These stories are engaging for kids between ages 8 and 12. Some of these animals are very talented, with some even learning to surf. My daughter loved the colorful pages and the animal stories we read, and one of her favorites was Kuli who learned to surf in Hawaii, and she’s a cat. She loves surfing so much that she just jumps in her owner’s bag every time they head out to the beach.

There’s also some adoptions of older animals included, which was good to see. Many times shelters have dogs and cats that are in their older years and they are not the ones people come in looking to adopt.

National Geographic Kids: 125 Pet Rescues best feature comes at the end with tips on how to make a difference. Besides adopting animals — especially if you can’t — people should consider donating items that animal shelters may need from food and blankets to toys and leashes. Other options include becoming an advocate for shelter animals or spaying and neutering pets to keep populations on the street low. Volunteering is another big help to shelters, especially those with little funding. Parents should consider reading this book with their child to explain why some animals are left at shelters and how they too can help these animals find the best homes.

RATING: Quatrain

Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon

Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 392 pgs.
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Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon is a journey into the books and with the authors that we all know and love from Shakespeare to Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and so many more. It is clear that Schmidt and Rendon are book lovers like many voracious readers, and it is their love of reading that has propelled them to take a number of journeys with authors and more. Broken down into two parts: the first part focuses on the journeys that can be taken based on places in books and the places that authors lived, went to, and died; the second part focuses on the places between the pages of the books written by some of the most famous authors known.

“Sometimes a book invites a journey, sometimes we invite ourselves.” (pg. VIII)

Readers know the feeling of falling into a book, walking the streets with characters and becoming part of the local color as they read, but to journey to actual places in search of authors’ homes or lives or even just those spots that inspired their work is a journey not to be missed. Readers would be advised not to treat this as a travel guide with an intuitive layout, as the book does not break down the sites and museums by geographical region and does not group the places by author. It can take a bit of work to create a list of places of interest to see based on a particular region or author, but the intention of this book is the journey, retracing the steps of favorite authors or books.

From the libraries that house some of the oldest books to the literary festivals across the United States and Europe, the authors have packed this second edition with a treasure trove of literary treats, including a list of places where places in novels, like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, came alive on the movie screen. There are famous hotels where authors have stayed, as well as restaurants and bars where authors have eaten and indulged when they could.

Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon is a journey in itself and a compendium of literary spots for the book lover in all of us. Indulge by reading about one favorite author and all the places or dip in and out to learn something new about your authors or nearby literary spots.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Shannon McKenna Schmidt is the co-author with Joni Rendon of Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads. She has written for Arrive, National Geographic Traveler, Shelf Awareness, Gothamist.com, and other publications and websites. A former Hoboken, New Jersey, resident, she is traveling full-time in the United States and abroad and can be found on the web at EverywhereOnce.com and NovelDestinations.wordpress.com.

Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 236 pgs.
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Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman is fraught with gangs, poverty, and class struggle. In Todos Santos, these families barely scrape by to make a living, but even as they fail to see eye-to-eye sometimes, each strives for the dream of a comfortable life — whether that means a husband who stays home with his wife rather than his mistress or a young man seeking his fortune in North America.

Clearman’s strongest stories are the series about Concepción and the baby brokers that provides not only the perspective of a woman who sells a child, but the perspective of the broker who buys children, the parents who search for their lost child, and the parents from North America who are desperate to have a family. This series is so emotionally charged and convoluted, but it’s easy to see that there is always more than one side to a story, even if the selling of babies is abhorrent.

“‘The race is long and hard, like life,’ his grandfather had told him. ‘There is no winner. The purpose is to bear up, to survive.'” (pg. 109 from “The Race”)

Clearman breathes life into Todos Santos and its people, demonstrating that like the United States, class is an obstacle many wish to overcome to reach prosperity. While their circumstances may be reduced compared to those in the United States, their dreams are similar in terms of material wealth and familial wealth. Like many races in the United States, the the Mayan descendants are discriminated against, with the children whipped at school until they speak proper Spanish, etc.

Drawing on folklore and mythology, Clearman pays homage to a culture that is hidden in the jungles and cities of Central America. But she also follows some of these residents as they chase their dreams in America. The different walks of life represented her was interesting and engaging, though in some cases, it is hard to emotionally connect with the characters, like they are not as fleshed out as those in the first half of the stories. Concepción and the Baby Brokers and Other Stories Out of Guatemala by Deborah Clearman provides a new look at a culture often overlooked or hidden in literature.

RATING: Tercet

Photo credit Douglas Chadwick

About the Author:

Deborah Clearman is the author of a novel Todos Santos, from Black Lawrence Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the former Program Director for NY Writers Coalition, and she teaches creative writing in such nontraditional venues as senior centers, public housing projects, and the jail for women on Rikers Island. She lives in New York City and Guatemala.