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Made Priceless: A Few Things Money Can’t Buy edited by H.L. Hix

Made Priceless: A Few Things Money Can’t Buy edited by H.L. Hix is a collection of short essays about items writers have in their possession that they neither bought nor would they sell because they hold a value not measured by the marketplace.  The book pays homage to all that is held dear in today’s society from a time long past waiting to be recaptured in memories to places you can revisit, though the light will be slightly off or the wind will blow harder.  Hix has culled together a series of short essays that demonstrate the beauty we find in the most mundane things from flags to typewriters to playing cards found on the ground.

Contributors to the collection range from writers and poets to bricklayers and flight instructors, among many others.  The book also is broken down into more than 30 sections with titles like “emotionally pervaded,” “moral transactions,” and “No Ideas.”  While the book is in itself a collection, Hix has asked readers to keep the dialogue open and fluid in an open invitation to readers and reading groups to contribute their “object lessons” to his blog; find out more about that project from my previous post.

Since I’m a contributor to the project, I cannot call this a review due to the potential conflicts of interest it would present.  However, I can tell you that I’m pleased that this nonprofit project is published through a nonprofit publishing house, Serving House Books, and H.L. Hix has said he will donate 100 percent of any royalties he receives from the sales of the book, since he simply seeks to spread “wisdom and joy.”

The Yellow House Read-a-Long, Part 1

As part of the 2012 Ireland Reading Challenge, we’re reading The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey.  For the first week, we read pages 1-90.  I’m going to answer the read-a-long questions here.  Please be aware that the answers could have spoilers in them.

1.  What do you think of the writing?

Falvey’s writing is very in step with other Irish writers I’ve read in the past where the diction and the style resembles the time period and the very mythical Irish culture.  I’m enjoying the detail and the description a great deal; it gives me a sense that I am there in the valley below Slieve Mullion, the mountain looking down on the O’Neill house.

I had a hard time stopping after the second section in the book when I hit page 90.

2.  What do you think of Eileen’s parents?

Eileen’s parents have secrets, and these secrets are well hidden from the children, as to be expected during that time.  Parents did not openly talk about their courtships or previous relationships with their lovers and/or parents to their children.  I’m surprised at how lively Eileen’s mother talked of the past once it was revealed where their grandfather lived.  It seemed a bit incongruous to me that she would suddenly want to reminisce with her kids about a past she had kept so hidden and one that was fraught with despair and heartache.  I really was disappointed that such a strong woman was unable to bounce back after tragedy to help her other children!  It saddened me to think that she would withdraw so much, and after the death of the father, she became an unrecognizable woman…that seemed a bit extreme to me.

Eileen’s father is a typical dreamer, which has been seen in other Irish novels, but what’s intriguing here is that he is not a drunkard and does not make foolish monetary decisions that leave his family out in the cold for the most part.  He does make a go of farming, though eh fails miserably at it, but rather than gamble away the future, he takes the reasonable road and sells a portion of the land…at least until he takes out a mortgage on the house.

3.  It seems that the book is heading in a romantic direction when it comes to Eileen and Owen Sheridan. What do you think of this potential romance?

Eileen and Owen have a sort of forbidden love, which can be tempting, but for now it seems that Eileen is being level-headed…however, there also is the wild card of James, whom she is determined to hate.  But will she really, and will he really become a priest?  That remains to be seen.  It also seems to be a similar set up going on here that may mirror her mother’s past when she became pregnant with Frank and instead of marrying his father, she marries Eileen’s dad.

4.  As we closed the second section, the world is on the brink of the First World War, and Ireland is being torn apart by the fight for Home Rule. Have you learned anything about Ireland or the world at this time period that was new to you?

I finally understand the difference between the Unionists and the Nationalists!  These were mentioned in A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry (my review), but it was so confusing given the main character, Willie had little knowledge of politics related to WWI or the Irish struggle for Home Rule.  I hope there is more of the politics behind the wars in this one.  It’s fascinating to me, though I don’t want the book to lose its pace or its dynamism.

***Some Other Observations***

I really love how Falvey has used nature here to demonstrate the struggles of the Irish, and her descriptions of the Music Men are fantastic at demonstrating the power of music and how it became a safe heaven for many Irish.  I’m also getting curious about the significance of yellow here; it seems to be recurring in the house paint, Eileen’s dress, and other events.  I cannot wait to see how that ties into the overall novel.

For next week, we’ll be reading pages 91-164 or sections “War, 1914-1918″ and “Insurrection, 1919-1920.”

The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy is a novel told in a number of different points of view and spans several time periods, including the final year of World War II.  Two strong female protagonists, each haunted by the past and each past is tied to war in one way or another.

Elsie Schmidt is a German immigrant to El Paso, Texas, who spent the last year of WWII in her father’s bakery working and shying away from the decisions that came with living in Nazi Germany.  Unlike her sister, Hazel, who was in the Lebensborn program and praised for her work to help the Fatherland, Elsie sees herself as more of an outsider, lacking in the standard skills expected of a Good German.

“While Hazel thrived and grew more popular, Elsie felt oppressed and stifled by the uniforms and strict codes of conduct.  So at the tender age of eleven, she begged Mutti to work in the bakery.” (Page 16)

Reba Adams is also an El Paso transplant, but she’s a journalist looking for her latest feel-good piece for the magazine she works for, but she gets more than she bargained for when she meets Elsie.  Meanwhile, she’s hiding from her past and the ghosts of her dead Vietnam veteran father and failing to fully commit to the life she’s created in Texas with her fiance Riki, a border patrol officer.

“Everyone on campus knew her from the photograph in the Daily Cavalier: her lips bulging on the mouth guard; fuzzy, dark hair matted beneath the headgear; gloves up and ready.  They thought she was an anomaly coming from the Adams family.”  (Page 33)

The two different main perspectives in two different time periods is deftly handled by McCoy and each of her characters are strong and stubborn, but neither is lacking in dynamism or flaws.  Also unique to the novel is how well McCoy weaves in the elements of baking and pastry into her description; it is seamless and will make readers’ mouths water and have them itching to try the recipes in the back of the book.  Touching on family loyalty, mother-daughter bonds, father-daughter bonds, relationships of all kinds, plus the search for love and forgiveness, McCoy reaches deep inside the dough to knead the bonds of these women to help them grow outward and inward, allowing them to absorb more love and connections.  The recipe for a successful novel is two parts dynamic characters, one part intriguing plot and story lines, and one part clever writing style, and The Baker’s Daughter provides all the nourishment you’ll need.

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About the Author:

SARAH McCOY is author of the novel, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The daughter of an Army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas. The Baker’s Daughter is her second novel. She is currently working on her next.

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This is my 16th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann and Other Stories by Ken Brosky

The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann and Other Stories by Ken Brosky is a collection of short stories prefaced by a bit of background about each story in the collection, including his trio of “Dodge County” stories.  While this kind of preface can be enlightening or amusing, this one just seems unnecessary given the powerful stories beyond this “prologue.”  From surviving a car accident that takes the life of your best friend to surviving the loss of a new friend in Darfur, these stories are poignant and threatening.  They serve to demonstrate that loss can happen unexpectedly and can tear at you emotionally and physically.

“When you see your best friend’s neck snap back with all the force of three thousand pounds behind it before everything goes black, there are other bruises, too.  They hide under the skin, just out of sight, and they take longer to heal.” (“The Third Pile,” page 50)

Some of these tales of survival border on the surreal, such as the arrival of the horseman of the apocalypse or a man deciding his future based on how many virtual deer are killed in a video game.  Beyond the theme of survival, the collection also touches upon the theme of carpe diem — to stop waiting for something to happen or your fortunes to change — and take a risk.  Each story is narrated by the first person, but the narrators are not the same, though they are similar in humor.  Some narrators are harsh in their machismo, while others are self-deprecating about their accomplishments and talents.  Brosky offers a variety of insecure male perspectives in these stories, which demonstrate how men cope with their insecurities. However, there are perspectives that are determined and secure in their convictions, no matter how unorthodox.  Another interesting aspect of these survival stories is the settings chosen from rural areas to urban Washington, D.C., and with a range of characters from artists to war veterans.

The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann and Other Stories by Ken Brosky brings to the fore the power of indecision and chaos in a way that forces each narrator to struggle and survive even when circumstances are not as they expect them to be nor as they want them to be.  Brosky’s prose is clipped at times, weaving stories in very few pages that leave a lasting impression.  In some cases the characters are not as well developed and appear to be mouthpieces talking to the reader, although there is one essay with a satiric bent in which that is to be expected.  Some stories leave their marks better than others, but overall, it is a satisfying look at survival in a number of different situations.

About the Author:

Ken Brosky was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and received his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He received his MFA from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and currently teaches English at various colleges in the Madison-Milwaukee area. He’s currently averaging 3 short story publications per year and wants to keep it that way.

 

 

 

Additionally, this is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since some of these stories take place in/near Washington, D.C.

 

 

This is my 14th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

Graveminder by Melissa Marr

Graveminder by Melissa Marr is creepy and mysterious.  Claysville is a town in which its residents are protected, and there is a peculiar bond between the undertakers and the graveminders.  Not sure what a graveminder is? Readers quickly get an inkling of what they do and how they take care of the dead in the town.  Supernatural beings — both good and bad — are afoot in Claysville, and those that leave the town who were born there are often drawn back by an unnatural force.

“Absently, Rebekkah ran her fingertips over the wood of the desk.  Maylene had refused to let any one refinish it, arguing that the pattern of the scratches and wear marks from years of use made it uniquely hers.  Years leave stories written on every surface, she’d said.  The room, Maylene’s bedroom, was filled with stories.”  (page 112)

Rebekkah Barrow is called back home when her grandmother, Maylene, is murdered, and her on-again, off-again love Byron is there by her side as she buries the only family she has left.  Although Rebekkah is not a blood relative, she’s got a bigger job to do now that she’s returned, and Byron has to help her.  Blood relatives are beside themselves with jealousy, like Cissy, or are indifferent to the situation, like Liz.  And the town is full of people who know a lot more than they are willing to speak about aloud.

Marr has an excellent sense of how to create atmosphere; her novel reads like those dark movies where the fog machines are making everything misty and the characters are left bumbling around in the dark, trying to hold onto some sense of normalcy.  Byron and Rebekkah are surrounded by their pasts with one another and their histories with those in the town, but they must set their troubles aside for the good of the town.  Marr is clearly using an allusion to the Faust and his deal with the devil, but in Graveminder, the town has made a pact with the dead.  The body count gets larger and larger as the Undertaker and his Graveminder learn their craft, but the question is, will the pact be broken or will they find themselves broken by the pact that gave them no choice about who they were to become?

Graveminder by Melissa Marr has an interesting set of characters, though Cissy is a bit too much of a caricature and a little too outrageous in her outbursts.  Readers would almost prefer her to be less but more sinister.  Quick paced, and action packed, but the drama between Byron and Rebekkah could have been more subtle.  Readers searching for a book to curl up with and looking for a bit of paranoia with their late night reading should consider a Graveminder for a companion in the wee hours of the morning.

About the Author:

Melissa Marr grew up believing in faeries, ghosts, and various other creatures. After teaching college literature for a decade, she applied her fascination with folklore to writing. Wicked Lovely was her first novel. Currently, Marr lives in the Washington, D.C., area, writes full-time, and still believes in faeries and ghosts.  Check her out on Twitter, the Web, Facebook, and “like” Graveminder.

 

To see the other stops on the TLC Book Tour, click the TLC Tour Button.

 

 

This is my 7th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

 

Additionally, this is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Melissa Marr is a Washington, D.C., resident and author.

My City, My New York by Jeryl Brunner

My City, My New York by Jeryl Brunner (my interview) is the perfect companion for a trip to the Big Apple — New York City — because it is a collection of hidden treasures from the celebrities, icons, foodies, and authors who live there.  Broken into seven sections — Secret Gardens & Hidden Spaces, Central Park: Acres of Green; New York Eats; Nocturnal New York; Saunters, Strolls, Sails, Rides & Rambles; Stores, Street Fairs, Boutiques & Bargains; and Superstar Structures, Sexy Spaces, Beatific Bridges & Arty Pockets — it is the epitome of an insider’s look at one of the largest and most intriguing cities in the world.  Clearly Brunner is right when she says in the introduction, “Most New Yorkers have rituals that connect them to their city in unique and personal ways” (page xiii); and we all have those rituals and personal connections to our home cities and even the cities and towns we grew up in.

“I’ll sit on a bench and get lost.  I always have a book with me — I usually have a little notebook for taking notes.  I’ll either think that I’m going to read or think that I’ll write in my notebook, yet so often, I’ll just get really lost in the rustle of the leaves overhead and the birds singing.  I’ll follow a bird and really watch it until I can’t see it.  Time flies by,” says author Luanne Rice about Clement Clarke Moore Park.(page 13)

“I love to walk in neighborhoods that I don’t know very well.  My husband is a very serious photographer and he has a really great camera, and the two of us will just walk and walk and take pictures together.  And we’ll look at something and he’ll take a picture of it and then I’ll look at the same thing and then I’ll take a picture of it.  He likes to say, ‘One camera and four eyes.’,” says Bebe Neuwirth of their walk to the American Merchant Mariners Memorial. (page 145)

Brunner includes stories from a number of well-known actors who either moved to or have always lived in New York City, plus directors, Broadway actors, activists, and more.  What’s interesting is that each section is prefaced with not only a quote, but a little explanation of something special found in New York whether its the forgotten origins of community gardening or a local restaurant’s take on the food in the city.  The Great Saunter is just one of those fascinating moments in the book.  Moreover, under each anecdote, there is a list of the locations discussed, their addresses, and phone number and/or Website to find out more information.  There are literally dozens upon dozens of hidden New York gems and more famous sight seeing spots, like Central Park and Strawberry Fields, but what makes this unique is the routines, stories, and habits of those recommending these locations.  It reads more like a conversation between friends about their favorite hideouts and places to ruminate.  One of my personal favorites is from Hugh Jackman about how his son treats Central Park like a forest and sets out in the morning with a full backpack and does not return home until the sun has set.

My City, My New York by Jeryl Brunner is a must have for those visiting the city, especially for Book Bloggers taking an extra few days to explore the city in June for BBC and BEA, but it’s also great for those who love to know what their favorite celebrities enjoy.  Looking for highly recommended restaurants, bakeries, and other food venues while you are in the city, you’ll have to pick up a copy of this book and try some of these recommendations out.  And of course, there are the great night spots for hanging out, dancing, and schmoozing with friends.  Readers will want to find out what location Robin Williams was in when someone asked who the homeless man was, and they’ll definitely want to find out where “Toss the Rice” is.  Excellent behind-the-scenes guide for anyone interested in taking their time to explore the Big Apple.

This is my 6th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

The Confession by Charles Todd

The Confession by Charles Todd is the 14th book in the Ian Rutledge mystery series, which usually pertain to The Great War or WWI.  In this book, Rutledge hears the confession of an aging and dying man in 1920 about a murder he committed during the war.  When the body of the man who confesses to murder is found in the Thames, Rutledge’s informal inquiry into the alleged murder is kicked up a notch and has him traveling between London and Essex.  The man had given him a name, which turns out to be false, and the mystery of how this man knows whom he’s accused becomes a mystery in itself.

While set after the war, it is clear that the battles have impacted Rutledge, and many of the men and families he encounters in the book as he unravels the murder mystery.  Todd’s mystery resembles that of Sherlock Holmes, though Rutledge’s Watson is Hamish who died in the war.  Deductions are made carefully from a series of innocuous events and statements from witness, neighbors, and others as Rutledge attempts to trace the heritage of the Russell family in Furnham.  And of course, there are some red herrings.

“The body rolled in the current gently, as if still alive.  It was face down, only the back and hips visible.  It had been floating that way for some time.  The men in the ancient skiff had watched it for a quarter of an hour, as if half expecting it to rise up and walk away before their eyes.”  (Page 1)

Todd’s WWI mystery is set two years after the end of the war, but WWI’s presence is still felt, especially in remote Furnham where the residents like to be left to themselves and don’t take too kindly to outsiders, especially the authorities.  The town felt the presence of the British military keenly when they took over a local farm to build an airfield for fighters and to keep an eye on potential invasion forces.  Shell shock is just one aspect of the war mentioned and show throughout the book, but there also are moments where trench foot is discussed as well as the societal impacts of the war on those families left behind by enlisted brothers, fathers, and lovers.

The Confession by Charles Todd is a compelling historical mystery set just after WWI that will have readers turning the pages eager to see how Rutledge battles his own ghosts while chasing those of the Russell family to solve a number of mysterious deaths and murders.  While part of a series, it can be read as a standalone mystery novel, but readers will be eager to pick up the other books in the series.

 

About the Author (from the Website):

Charles and Caroline Todd are a mother and son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States. Caroline has a BA in English Literature and History, and a Masters in International Relations. Charles has a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Business Management, and a culinary arts degree that means he can boil more than water. Caroline has been married (to the same man) for umpteen years, and Charles is divorced.

Charles and Caroline have a rich storytelling heritage. Both spent many evenings on the porch listening to their fathers and grandfathers reminisce. And a maternal grandmother told marvelous ghost stories. This tradition allows them to write with passion about events before their own time. And an uncle/great uncle who served as a flyer in WWI aroused an early interest in the Great War.

This is my 3rd book for the WWI Reading Challenge.  Also if you participated in the War Through the Generations Civil War Reading Challenge, don’t forget to enter the giveaway.  It ends tomorrow, Jan. 31, 2012.

 

 

This is my 5th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

Vampire Knits by Genevieve Miller

Vampire Knits by Genevieve Miller is a collection of knitting patterns from a diehard Twilight series fan, who was so inspired that she created a collection of patters for other fans of the series and vampires in general.  However, some of these patterns could just be knitted and worn by everyday, non-vampire fans and fans of werewolves/shapeshifters too.  The book’s font and design seem very appropriate for the vampire inspired knitting in these pages, which are broken down into sections:  Protect Me; Just Bitten; Vampire Style; Bloody Accents; and Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

There is a glossary of knitting abbreviations, which could help beginning knitters and a metric conversion chart.  The book also includes credits for contributing designers and a special skills section outlining what cables, stranded knitting, short rows, 3-needle bind off, and other stitches are.  For someone that doesn’t knit, this book is just pretty to look at, and if you have a friend who knits, this might be a perfect gift for them, especially if they knit you things for birthdays and holidays.  Each pattern offers step by step directions and designate the proper skill level for each pattern from beginner to expert.  There are scarfs, sweaters, hats, bottle cozies, purses, and even jewelery.

Looking through this book, readers could easily see Alice, Edward, and Bella wearing some of these designs, but there are others that would be perfect for the Goth crowd, like this Prim Reaper’s Corset.  Some of my particular favorite designs in the book are The Black Veil Scarf, Vampire Diary Protector (which you could use for books too), and Sitio Stockings.  The Tourniquet Scarf looks like something men would wear, and there are sweaters for kids with vampire teeth.

Vampire Knits by Genevieve Miller is an excellent book for knitters looking for something a little different, and some of the patterns and stitches look lovely and fashionable — this is not your grandmother’s knitting.  If I could knit — which I can’t at all — I’d try out some of these patterns in a heartbeat.  I’ll definitely be passing this one along to a knitter, and maybe I can get a nice Black Veil Scarf out of the deal?!

About the Author:

Genevieve Miller was inspired to design her own patterns after reading Twilight. She is the mother of three and luckily married to a guy who doesn’t mind the house being taken over by a giant yarn stash. She lives in Pasadena, California.

 

This is my 4th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

Tracks by Eric D. Goodman

Tracks by Eric D. Goodman is a expressive and reflective novel told in stories or what some would call a short story collection published by Maryland-based publisher Atticus Books, and unlike other short story collections, there are very few weak stories, if any.  Each protagonist in the story is on the train headed somewhere and each of their lives is in transition, from a young woman on the verge of promotion who must decide between lover and career to a man and woman at the end of their years who must face their fears.  Goodman is adept at ensuring readers care about his characters in just a few pages, and even though the end of each story comes quickly, there is rarely a sense that there was more to the story that was not told.

“The train has a way of transforming a person.  Sometimes passengers become aware of things they didn’t know before boarding.  Something about the stillness on a moving train, being around people and alone at the same time.  They’re neither here not there — in transition.  That frees them up to do things or say things they might not ordinarily do or say.” (from the preface)

The Cardinal that rides between Baltimore, Md., and Chicago, Ill., carries all of these passengers on their way, and some of these passengers have been on the train in both directions, while others have traveled the rails between Chicago and Washington, D.C., and more than once.  It does not matter where these characters come from; what matters is that the rails provide them with hope and a time out from their hustle of their daily lives.  The train and the rails are an escape, a quiet place to contemplate their lives as the undulating sway of the cars lulls them into deep meditation.  Paralleling their actual lives, the trip on the train has each member making contact with strangers, and like the conscience that guides their decision making, the conductor on the train whispers advice and nuggets of observation/wisdom to those with whom he speaks.  Beyond the characters, the city of Baltimore and the rail line itself loom large in the story, almost becoming characters themselves, with the city representing an anchor weighing down certain characters and the rail a symbol of liberation.

“one station, joy; the next, grief
the soul pulled along
by the hope for peace
at the next junction.” (page 198)

Each story is tied together by the people the characters meet on the train, the conductor, and the railway itself.  The rails come to symbolize the journey life takes us on, with some of the moments in our lives speeding by us too quickly for us to pause and reflect, while others gently impress upon us the gravity of their meaning.  Readers spend time with each character, getting to know their reasons for being on the train, the events that have hammered them recently, and how they view their fellow passengers, but Goodman also sprinkles in a bit of mystery and mayhem into the narration with the introduction of Gene Silverman in “Reset” and Charlie in “One Last Hit.”  Several stories also delve into the detrimental effect of war on not only the victims who survive, but also the soldiers called to action.

Tracks by Eric D. Goodman demonstrates how we are all traveling the same line and how we have similar fears and failings, but also similar hopes and dreams.  In spite of that, we all end up in different places.  Even with the characters who seem unsavory or hard to like, they offer a lesson to readers — seize the moment because in the next, it could be gone.  Opportunity arises and disappears just as quickly, and life on the train ride of life is quick and unrelenting.  There’s not much time for reflection and a deeper examination of pros and cons when living life at full tilt, but stepping back for a few hours on a train ride can be enough to reassess and rejoin life’s journey with a new purpose.  Excellent novel in stories with a common theme, setting, and interacting characters tying them together.

About the Author:

Eric D. Goodman has been writing fiction since he was in the third grade, when a story assignment turned him on to the craft more than a quarter century ago. He regularly reads his fiction on Baltimore’s NPR station, WYPR, and at book festivals and literary events. His work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Baltimore Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Writers Weekly, The Potomac, Grub Street, Scribble Magazine, The Arabesques Review, and New Lines from the Old Line State: An Anthology of Maryland Writers. Eric is the author of Flightless Goose, a storybook for children. Check out this interview with Eric at Atticus Books.

 

This is my 2nd book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

 

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since a lot of the book Tracks focuses on Baltimore, Md., the author is a regular on Baltimore’s NPR, and the publisher is based in Maryland.

Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers

Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers finds Mr. and Mrs. Darcy in a run of the mill inn right before the Christmas holiday as they are stranded by the snow and stormy weather on their way back from Newcastle.  Meanwhile, Georgiana is forced into the roll of Mistress of Pemberley and must contend with Darcy’s guests, including Lizzy’s parents, the Bingleys, and some other unexpected and unpleasant guests.  Jeffers sprinkles her prose with Jane Austen’s classic lines from Pride & Prejudice about Mrs. Bennet’s nerves and Darcy’s pride and Lizzy’s prejudices.  She adheres to Austen’s characterizations ensuring that Austen purists will enjoy her followup novel, but at the same time, she demonstrates how Georgiana evolves from a timid girl in the shadows of her brother and Aunt Catherine de Bourgh to become a capable woman.

“”Yes, our Mary has snatched up a viable candidate.  At least, Mrs. Bennet has said such on countless occasions, so I must believe it so.  After all, Her Ladyship has deemed my wife to have no mental deficiencies.’

Charlotte chuckled lightly before saying softly, ‘Lady Catherine is perceptive in her evaluations.’

Mr. Bennet smiled knowingly.  ‘Lizzy has assured me that nothing is beneath the great lady’s attention.’

Mrs. Collins tightened the line of her mouth.  ‘Her Ladyship is all kindness.  She has taken it upon herself to oversee my domestic concerns familiarly and minutely, offering advice on how everything out to be regulated.'”  (page 67)

Even better, readers experience more of Mr. Bennet’s wit and see Kitty as more than just a silly young girl.  Lizzy’s precarious situation with her pregnancy has Darcy worried, especially so far away from home.  But both take the situation in stride and offer the kindness they have in abundance to those in need.  Darcy and Lizzy are at the inn meeting new people and sharing accommodations with a myriad of travelers.  Meanwhile, Georgiana is juggling unwanted guests, and in many ways the guests are rallying and teaming up against Lady Catherine.

Jeffers adheres to Austen’s characters and social commentary while building upon the original novel to create characters that evolve and come into their own.  Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers is an quiet novel that meanders, enabling readers to spend the holidays with some of their favorite characters, but those looking for big plot twists and action will not find much of that here.  Jeffers has created a solid novel that could stand alone.

This is my 76th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Henry Tilney’s Diary by Amanda Grange

Henry Tilney’s Diary by Amanda Grange provides readers with the inner thoughts and past of Northanger Abbey‘s hero.  Like his sister Eleanor, Henry has a passion for the written word, which mirrors Austen’s homage to readers in the original novel.  Grange steeps her prose in Gothic tales of secret passages and story telling between brother and sister and between Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland.  Drawing inspiration from Mrs. Radcliff and her novels, A Sicilian Romance and The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Unlike Austen’s version, Tilney reads Gothic novels for pleasure, a pleasure he shares with his sister, and while he remains very logical in his thinking about finding a wife, he is soon swept up by the charms of Catherine.  His requirements in a wife are listed on more than one occasion with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

“‘When I marry – if I marry – my wife must love to read.  I shall make it the one condition.  Her dowry is unimportant, her family is irrelevant, but she must be a lover of novels, or else no wedding can take place!'” (page 63)

Although he does say that she must love novels, he also realizes that a love of novels can go too far, and in that way Grange has paralleled the character development of Catherine in the original Northanger Abbey.  Through diary entries, readers come to know Tilney more intimately as he worries for his brother and his sister and grows increasingly concerned about his father’s seeming change of heart where money and titles are concerned.  Tilney grows from a younger son into a man of his own means and career, but he is still loyal to his family despite his budding feelings for Catherine.

Another winner from Grange that builds upon the character arcs and complex story lines left behind by Austen.  Her Tilney is a kind, gentle man with a clear vision of how his life should be, and while he remains loyal to his family, his heart guides his move.  His frank nature and his compassion bloom in Grange’s hands.  Austinites and those looking for a well-paced romance with Gothic highlights will enjoy Henry Tilney’s Diary.

I’d like to see Grange tackle a few more villains in her diary series of books!

About the Author:

Amanda Grange was born in Yorkshire and spent her teenage years reading Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer whilst also finding time to study music at Nottingham University. She has had sixteen novels published including six Jane Austen retellings, which look at events from the heroes’ points of view.

If you haven’t entered the giveaway to win you’re own copy, please check out the guest post.

The Unexpected Miss Bennet by Patrice Sarath

The Unexpected Miss Bennet by Patrice Sarath tackles the enigmatic figure of Mary Bennet, the third oldest of the Bennet sisters.  She’s the one considered unremarkable and religious in the original novel, Pride & Prejudice.  Here readers will see the struggles of Mary as she finds that she is often ignored or laughed at on almost every occasion.  She turns to sermons and music for solace, though she notes that despite the many hours she spends practicing, she is unable to improve her musical talents.

“It is a comforting belief among much of society, that a plain girl with a small fortune must have no more interest in matrimony than matrimony has in her.”  (page 1)

Sarath’s Mary has grown from the quiet girl, who was content to remain in the background.  Although she’s not sure what she wants out of life, she certainly realizes that her life is not where she wants it to be and that she wants to find a man who is her equal and to be more than her mother’s keeper or a possible governess to her sister Jane’s unborn children.  Jane and Lizzy have bigger plans for their sisters, Kitty and Mary, and plan to expose them to a greater society.  They hope that through their stay the younger sisters can find happiness, but this is Mary’s story.

Sarath has expanded upon Austen’s Mary, and readers can watch her grow into a more confident woman.  Her happiness begins to shine and it rubs off on those around her.  Rather than weave a story about Mary’s pious nature and place her in the path of a clergyman, Sarath guides Mary with deft prose to become more independent from her family and her sisters.  However, there are those moments when Mary doubts her own decisions and resolve, but so too would any woman of her societal standing who is often overlooked by men of her acquaintance as a suitable match and who is considered to be plain.

Readers favorites from Mr. Darcy and Lizzy to Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh round out the cast, but the colorful and rambunctious Mr. Aikens captures some of the spotlight as he shows up at inopportune moments and disrupts the decorum of Regency society with his amiable nature and constant rambling about horses.  Sarath’s characterization of Aikens helps offset the quirkiness of Mary in a way that will endear her to readers, who will see her faults as charming foibles of a well-meaning woman.

The Unexpected Miss Bennet by Patrice Sarath is less a commentary on how the wall flower blooms, but rather how as we grow into the adults we’re meant to be, we can surprise even ourselves.  Sarath has a talent for keeping the language modern, the characters vivid and evolving, and the story engaging.  Another Austenesque novel that should be read by those who love Austen and her characters.  Hopefully, Sarath has another novel planned for Kitty Bennet.

To enter the giveaway for 1 copy (US/Canada):

1.  Leave a comment about what has surprised you about your adult self when you look back on how you viewed yourself as a younger person.

2.  Spread the word on Twitter (@SavvyVerseWit), Facebook, or a blog, and leave a link for up to three more entries.

3.  Leave a comment on the guest post for another entry and let me know on this post.

Deadline Dec. 14, 2011, at 11:59PM EST.