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Soul Clothes by Regina D. Jemison

Soul Clothes by Regina D. Jemison is slim collection of poems that explore the Black experience from a spiritual perspective.  She has quite a bit to say about the struggles Black men have with confidence, kicking habits, staying with their women, but she also has a lot to say about her own experiences and even the civil rights movement.

“writing illuminates injustice
gives language to people’s pain
pictures to failing dreams” (From “Because a door in my soul opens”, page 5)

Broken into three sections — God Gave Me Words, Soul Clothes, and Divine Reflections — and the first section tackles wider societal topics of struggle and faith, while the Soul Clothes section tackles similar struggles on a more personal level.  In the final section, Jemison reflects on those struggles and what they teach each of us about ourselves and our place in the world, as well as how fleeting life really is.

“Civil rights activists told me to fight the battle

They didn’t tell me
I’d be weary, exhausted, disgusted, betrayed, disenchanted” (From “Hold on to God, a lawyer’s prayer”, page 7)

Some poems have an internal jazz-like rhythm with a message. However, this collection’s poetry is direct and without frills, and in many ways read less like poetry and more like sermons or pep talks.  All of these poems are direct and strive to get readers thinking about today’s world and the struggles of Black men and women.  Readers will enjoy her frankness, and her faith is strong.  Soul Clothes by Regina D. Jemison is a spiritual collection that strives to provide readers with an inside look at the Black experience and the strength of faith.

Since this was published in 2011, it is eligible for this year’s Indie Lit Awards.

 

This is my 71st book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 32nd book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Mental_Floss The Book: Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory Edited by Ethan Trex, Will Pearson, Mangesh Hattikudur

Before I get to today’s review, I want to wish all my U.S. readers a Happy Thanksgiving. It is a holiday that should be shared with friends and family, and if possible please consider volunteering some of your time or food to those in need this season.

I hope everyone has some great food and fun with friends and family. Have a great holiday. My family will be joining Anna’s for some dinner and fun.

Ok, now for today’s review, which would make an excellent gift for the trivia buffs in your life.

Mental_Floss The Book: Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory edited by Ethan Trex, Will Pearson, and Mangesth Hattikudur is a collection of lists that span the 10 years that Mental_Floss has been in the business of collecting information that is odd, off-the-beaten path, and just down right funny.  The Website has not only trivia games, but also quizzes, blogs, and amazing facts (Here’s one of my favorites, especially since Muppets are the order of the day in my house these days — particularly Elmo)

The lists included in this book range in topics from impressing diplomats, presidents or other important people to how to lighten the mood in the emergency room.  There are lists for nearly every occasion.  Naturally, readers and writers will enjoy the list entitled “Lists for People Who Can’t Write Good,” which tells a tale of writers betting that Ernest Hemingway (though it may have been another writer) could not write a six word sentence that was a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end.  In the end, the other writers lost when the sentence written said, “For Sale.  Baby Shoes.  Never worn.” (page 183)

Another of the most witty entries in the collection is “What 10 Fictional Characters Were Almost Called,” which includes anecdotes about Bram Stoker, Gone With the Wind, and other famous novels’ and authors’ characters.  The editors also have lists of alternate names for famous novels, like 1984 and The Great Gatsby.  There are also famous words that were created by authors, Latin terms that you think you understand the meaning of, and little known stories about some famous writers.  Another of my favorites are the phrases attributed to Mark Twain that he actually did not say, like “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt,” and phrases he did say, such as “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”

Mental_Floss The Book: Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory edited by Ethan Trex, Will Pearson, and Mangesth Hattikudur will whet anyone’s appetite for knowledge and fun facts to impress their friends with or to just have fun.  Trivia fans would love to add this to their collections, and readers should consider putting this on their wish lists this holiday season.  Flex those brains and join the fun.

More ways to Mental_Floss:

For more with mental_floss, become a fan on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and visit their website: www.mentalfloss.com.  And of course, don’t forget to take the quiz on their Facebook page!  Or take it below:

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Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a small collection of poems that draw parallels between nature and women.  Reminiscent of Ecofeminism, a political and social combination of feminism and deep ecology that draws parallels between women and nature and calls attention to the misuse of both by patriarchy, Vikram develops a dialogue about the harm done to nature and women across the globe.  Dominance of both by outside constructs — whether it is capitalism or man — has belittled the importance and strengths of both.  Rather than wallow in the pain and repression, Vikram’s verse strives to cultivate women and nature’s strengths to demonstrate there is a way to overcome the oppression.

"in colonies of Armani,
singing a sad melody, attracting worker bees and wasps

to give their friends honey, the walk on burning coals.
A trap before he shoots bullets" (from "It's a Man's World", page 4)

Specifically, Vikram discusses in the preface how there are parallels drawn between women and the eucalyptus tree, which were both once integral to society and are now thought of as commodities that can be replaced.  The collection is broken into two parts, with the first part seemingly more focused on the changing role of both women and nature in society and the dire consequences that occur because their worth is devalued, such as the displacement of birds and animals when the eucalyptus is cut down in “Eucalyptus Trees” (page 3).  Additionally, the poems in this section describe how women and nature are abused by society (not necessarily just by men), like in “Unholy Men” and “It’s a Man’s World” (pages 4-5).

In part two, the secrets held by women and nature are revealed — their strengths that must be hidden from society or be devalued outright.  Women and nature here are dichotomies in and of themselves in that they must present a strong front to the society that abuses them, while at the same time hiding their strengths and internalizing the devaluation of their gifts.

"Wearing a veil over my dilemma,
the skull of questions is hidden.

What was mine? Some could argue.
To make a point bland as sand, I say,

Ask the bird that lost its nest resting in the eucalyptus tree,
Mother nature faced irony with a damp silence --" (From "Silence", page 14)

Vikram’s verse is sparse and powerful, evoking reflection and a grander examination of the world around us. Beyond the Scent of Sorrow calls attention to the depravity of human action, but also to the hope that things can be changed if we have the will to change it.  Do not be fooled by the comparisons here in to thinking that men are the enemy because they are not; the collection is more about the decisions we make as humans and the consequences those decisions have on our world and ourselves.

Beyond the Scent of Sorrow by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is the third collection of hers that I’ve read, and since this was published in 2011, it is eligible for this year’s Indie Lit Awards.  It resonated with me for its references to Portugal, my father’s homeland, and for its echoes of a philosophy, social, and political movement I have studied and internalized over the years.

About the Poet:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an award winning writer, a Pushcart Prize nominated poet, novelist, author, essayist, columnist, educator, and blogger. Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the steel city of Rourkela, the blue waters of North Africa, the green hills of Mussoorie, and the erudite air of Pune before arriving in bustling New York. Growing up between three continents, six cities, five schools, and three masters degrees, what remained constant in Sweta’s life was her relationship with words.

Check out Diary of an Eccentric’s review.

This is my 31st book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 3rd book and final book for the South Asian Reading Challenge.

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate is the tumultuous tale of Josie Henderson and her family.  Josie is a successful scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, but the journey that helped her achieve her dream was wrought with sadness and anger.  Her brother “Tick,” once her ally against their alcoholic father, has just emerged from another stint in rehab and seeking her help, which brings to the forefront everything Josie has tried to push aside and avoid.

The narrative begins in Josie’s point of view and then shifts to that of her mother, her father, her brother, and her husband Daniel.  Southgate is trying to tell a well-rounded story about heartbreak and disappointment, but readers may find the additional points of view unnecessary.  Even without the other perspectives, Josie’s voice is solid enough to carry the entire story.

“Nothing had changed and everything had changed.  I worked better than I had in months on my grant, suddenly inspired;” (Page 160)

Salt can build up and make the mouth water with its bitterness, but often the hunger for salt can take over.  In this way, Southgate’s novel is about that hunger that comes when we search to fill an emptiness within us with the nearest object or pleasure (i.e. alcohol, drugs, sex).  Josie’s brother and father are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, but while Josie has become successful in her career and married an intelligent man, she’s looking to fill her own holes.  Her addiction is different from that of her father and brother, but no less dangerous.

“Life weighs a ton.  That’s why I love the water.  Nothing weighs anything there.”  (Page 7)

Southgate’s characters are multi-faceted and struggling.  Josie has pushed her issues to the back, but they are still a weight around her neck, dragging her down.  Tick knows he’s lost and continues to struggle for level ground, but their father has found redemption through the 12-step program and more.  He hit rock bottom and lost it all.  The story arc here is not surprising, and Josie doesn’t really lose her critical streak of other’s life decisions, even when she is choosing wrongly for herself.  However, perhaps that’s one of the problems with addiction.  Meanwhile, there seems to be a particular emphasis on race, but its connection to the addiction story line is not clearly drawn and leaves readers wondering what truths Southgate is trying to uncover.  It almost feels as though race is a crutch being used by the main character to justify her actions, which is bothersome.

Through frank prose, Southgate dives deep into the psyche of addicts to explore the turmoil created and the pull of home even when you try to run from the past.  The Taste of Salt is an exploration of the love and bitterness of addiction, how it tears families and individuals apart, and the depth of love that keeps families moving forward.

About the Author:

Martha Southgate is the author of four novels. Her newest, The Taste of Salt, is published by Algonquin Books. Her previous novel, Third Girl from the Left, won the Best Novel of the Year award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was shortlisted for the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy award. Her novel The Fall of Rome received the 2003 Alex Award from the American Library Association and was named one of the best novels of 2002 by Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post. She is also the author of Another Way to Dance, which won the Coretta Scott King Genesis Award for Best First Novel. She received a 2002 New York Foundation for the Arts grant and has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Her July 2007 essay from the New York Times Book Review, “Writers Like Me” received considerable notice and appears in the anthology Best African-American Essays 2009. Previous non-fiction articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine,O, Premiere, and Essence.

 

I originally read this for Book Club at Devourer of Books, with Linus’s Blanket.

 

 

This is my 70th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer is told from the point of view of Cecilia “Chess” Morton as she looks back on her time in Desha County, Arkansas, during the late 1940s when Camp Nine was erected near her childhood home.  As a child, she grew up without a father, but she had a mother who doted on her, though she often butts heads with Chess’ grandfather, who owned half, if not more, of the town, Rook.  Her grandfather controlled much of Chess’ land inheritance and sold a good portion of land, which he deemed useless, to the government for Camp Nine, which he was told would hold German prisoners of war captured during WWII, which was in full swing at the time the story takes place.

Chess is a curious child, but often her inquisitiveness gets shut down by the adults around her who dismiss her desire to know about her family, particularly the feud between her mother and Mr. Ryfle, who tends the grandfather’s land and often makes empty promises about helping Chess’ mother plant her land.  There is a great deal of mystery in the early stages of the novel, including her mother’s past in California and why Camp Nine is being used to house Japanese Americans.  Chess also laments the unspoken code of behavior expected of Blacks, like Ruby Jean who helped raise Chess’ mother.

“‘That river over there is the mightiest river in the world.  It wouldn’t do for there to be just any dirt around here.  The dirt here must have its own strong personality.  It won’t back down to the river.  It won’t back down to men.  You have to understand it and work with it.  Not against it.'”  (Page 121)

Schiffer crafts a narrative that stands apart from other accounts of WWII as it seeks to inject emotion into a situation that many Americans were removed from by hundreds of miles or more.  WWII was fought on distant shores, but its effects were devastating to Americans who soon became objects of suspicion.  However, this story is not just about the internment of Japanese Americans, but of the impact their internment had on the small towns in which their camps were built — kicking up racism and exacerbating classism.  In many ways, Schiffer has developed the setting into an additional character given that its bisected into two halves by the railroad tracks, with the enemy on one side and the townspeople on the other.

Chess’ mother is more progressive than other residents of Rook, but her ideas and actions have farther reaching consequences than she expects.  Schiffer’s characters are engaging and real, and set against the backdrop of this tumultuous time, a young girl is growing into adulthood and realizing that the world is vastly more complicated than she expected.  Camp Nine is captivating and raises questions about perception:  What we think of ourselves when faced with family secrets?  How we’d react in the face of injustice?

I’d consider this similar to Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas.

About the Author:

Vivienne Schiffer grew up in the Arkansas Delta town of Rohwer, site of the Rohwer Relocation Center, on which Camp Nine is based. She is an attorney and has practiced law for twenty-eight years in Houston, where she lives with her husband Paul and their family. Schiffer is currently at work on her second novel.

To visit the other stops on the TLC Book Tour, please click the icon at the right.

This is my 68th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis

The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis, an acclaimed children’s author and illustrator, has taken his skills to a 12th century Sufi epic poem of the same name written by Farid ud-Din Attar, who was not only a poet but a mystic.  Often these types of poems have a hidden spiritual meaning, and Sis deftly captures the essence of Attar’s poem with illustration.

In this illustrated version of the epic poem, the pictures speak for the poet, Attar who wakes from a dream to realize he’s a hoopoe bird.  Once he transforms, he calls all of the birds of the world together to find their true king, Simorgh, by flying through the seven valleys — The Valley Of Quest, The Valley Of Love, The Valley Of Understanding, The Valley Of Detachment, The Valley Of Unity, The Valley Of Amazement, and The Valley Of Death — to reach Mountain Kaf.

In the beginning, the transformation of Attar is shown much like animated cartoons would have been created, with the flipping of each panel where each image has slight differences to create the illusion of movement.  Once the birds agree to take the journey, it is clear that it will take them through a number of valleys that will test their resolve, with each bird’s skills and weaknesses hammered by adversity and uncertainty.  Sis creates vivid birds of various colors and species.  Even if the pages of this book were not textured, readers could see the feathers and layers on these birds.

And there are many layers to these birds, their feathers, and their story.  The poem sheds light on the inner spiritual journey each of us travels, the trials that we face, and the perseverance it takes to stay on course and believe in ourselves.  For some the journey is too hard, and they turn back, but for others, it is important enough to move onward despite the risks and sorrow.  Like the poem, The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis is multilayered, with great attention to detail from the feathers on the birds, the birds making up the larger birds, and the trees that create the mountains.  A gem of a book from an illustrator and writer who sees beyond just the words to the world it creates and the messages it brings.  Likely to be on the best of list for the year.

As an aside, I read this a couple of times carefully and with my infant daughter. She loved feeling the pages and looking at the vivid imagery, and I can tell you that keeping her attention for an entire book is difficult. This is great for kids and adults. Sis has created something of lasting beauty.

About the Author:

Born in Brno, in the former Czechoslovakia, in 1949, Peter Sís is an internationally acclaimed illustrator, author, and filmmaker. Most recently, in 2007, he published The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, which was awarded the Robert F. Sibert Medal and was also named a Caldecott Honor Book. Peter Sís was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2003. He is the author of twenty children’s books and a seven-time winner of the The New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year.  Please check out his Web page.

Please check out this video interview from BEA:

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sis pays homage to traditional Islamic art and its figurative representations and geometric patterns as the valleys are depicted as a series of mazes.  (Seriously, read that review, it is stunning).

 

If you’d like to check out the rest of the tour, please click on the TLC Book Tour icon at the right.

 

 

This is my 29th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 66th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

To Join the Lost by Seth Steinzor

To Join the Lost by Seth Steinzor is a modernization of Dante’s Inferno, and the irony that Dante takes a lawyer with him on his next visit should not be lost on readers.  Seth infuses his epic poem with modern tools and vices from bulldozers to politics.  Traveling the same path as Dante into the depths of Hell’s nine circles, Seth sees those trapped in between and those who have sinned in a multitude of ways.

With each canto there is a flavor of “famous” sinners, but also references to the poet’s own sins and regrets.  Where the epic poem is strongest is where Steinzor references his own troubles, his own lack of faith, his own indecision, and his own failures. “loading racks and shoving them along a/track of stainless steel into a/box of stainless steel — lower the lever,/close the gate — punch the big red/button, wait — shuddering, hissing — raise/the gate, releasing white clouds –/reach in, extract a rack of formerly filthy,/now gleaming and steaming glasses, or shiny,/clunky porcelain, or scratched-up aluminum/knives, forks, and spoons so hot//” (page 18 of Canto II)

Yes, the poem references some events, many the most horrific in nature (i.e. the Holocaust), and yes, this may seem trite and unnecessary, but these are the moments that most of humanity knows either first hand or through study.  These historic instances of unmitigated evil correlate to the references Dante makes from his historical knowledge, such as the reign of Julius Caesar and family wars that existed during that time.  However, Dante relies heavily on mythology and religious text to craft each of his cantos, though there are references to his own love, Beatrice, within the poem.  This is how Steinzor’s and Dante’s poems are similar.

Unlike Dante who uses mythology and Catholicism to make his points, Steinzor relies more heavily on Buddhism.  “. . .  That flat little pebble’s the/world of your daily awareness.  The pond is/everything else.”  (page 43, Canto VI)  The line break after “is” signifies a Buddhist precept of being in the here and now without thought to the past or the future — to be in the moment.  Many parts of this epic poem are enjoyable, but are bogged down in parts by movement through the circles with Dante and similar pungent smells.  However, Steinzor’s verses shine beneath the mire with vivid imagery in stunning ways occasionally.  “crowd of moving parts that, overlapping,/layer almost to opacity,/the eye drawn in, each figure a mottled window/into unimaginable//dimension, an almost empty pane.”  (page 23 of Canto III) or “Then, suddenly, he dived down smack/upon the landfill — a belly-flop! I sat/on his back, and he body-surfed across/the writhing mass.  We regained our feet near an/idling ‘dozer.” (page 44 of Canto VI)

To Join the Lost by Seth Steinzor modernizes Dante’s Inferno in a way that is personal for the poet and tackles some of histories most evil moments and most controversial politically.  Some readers will not enjoy the comments about a former president or other topics touched upon in this epic poem, but the gems in this epic are the more personal aspects of the piece.

***Stay Tuned tomorrow for my Interview with Seth Steinzor.***

About the Author:

Seth Steinzor has been writing poetry nonstop since his teens. To Join the Lost is his first book.  Visit his Website.  Here’s a preview of one Canto.

 

 

Please check out the other stops on the tour by clicking the TLC Book Tours image at the left.

 

 

 

This is my 28th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 65th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems by Emma Eden Ramos

Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems by Emma Eden Ramos, published by Heavy Hands Ink this year (it is eligible for the Indie Lit Awards), is primarily a series of poems about British-American psychotherapist Annette, her daughter Julia, and a Croatian immigrant, Milena.  Ramos uses the idea of the Triptych beautifully here, in which the poems about or told from Julia and Milena’s points of view are hinged on the poems told from Annette’s point of view.  Moreover, the poems from Julia and Milena’s points of view are used to flesh out the larger story of Annette and her grief, establishing not only the entrapment of “troubles” or suicidal feelings felt by the victims, but also the sense of enormous loss and emptiness felt by the surviving family members.  The message is the goal, and it is not bogged down by overly “pretty” or gruesome language.

From Fold One: Introductions in “Annette” (page 5), “I am a beautiful woman, perhaps the most beautiful/I’ve seen/But the exterior, she perjures herself like an unruly/teen.”  The first line of comparison is drawn when the poet takes the reader from this image of a beautiful woman whose exterior is deceiving to her daughter’s introduction, a young woman as troubled as her dead brother and her mother.  The line is further drawn to include Milena, who now feels out of place in her adopted home, America, since her father passed into a world of rest.  This unrest establishes the foundation upon which Ramos builds the Triptych or the links between these women.

On the surface, it is easy to see the connections between a mother grieving for her lost son and Milena grieving for her lost father.  Julia, it appears, is on the outside looking in because she does not believe her mother “sees” her through the grief, which gives her permission to be suicidal.  The connection Julia sees between her mother and her deceased brother are more than she can reconcile, especially when she too lost someone she loved.  It is not until the final panel is revealed — Fold Three: Connections — that the whole picture is revealed.  There is a melding here of these women, a verbal acknowledgment that they are the same.  However, what separates them is how they tackle the aftermath of suicide.

The other selected poems in the work are not as strong, unfortunately, but Emma Eden Ramos’ conversational style is maintained in the final poems.  Moreover, the stories in the final poems are so different that the collection would have been better served by further introspection by the three main women in the beginning set.  Two of the final poems are focused on body image and religion, but one of the poems maintains the examination of suicide, though in a more cryptic, less direct way.

Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems is a unique chapbook from a young poet, Emma Eden Ramos, that demonstrates a personable style that can reach out to readers and draw them into the story.

Please check out one of the best poems in the collection at the Virtual Poetry Circle.

About the Poet:

Emma Eden Ramos is a twenty-four year old writer from New York City. She has had short stories published in literary journals such as BlazeVOX Journal, The Legendary, The Citron Review, Down in the Dirt Magazine, Stories for children Magazine, and The StoryTeller Tymes.

Her poetry has appeared in Calliope Nerve, Ink Sweat & Tears, and Children, Churches and Daddies Magazine. Emma’s novelette, Where the Children Play, was published in the Spring 2010 issue of BlazeVOX Journal. Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems is Emma’s first collection of poems. At present, Emma is writing a middle-grade novelette. She will be a student at Brooklyn College in the spring. Connect with her on GoodReads.

This is my 27th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 64th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It Edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

Laurel Ann Nattress, the woman behind Austenprose.com, is now the editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, a collection of Jane Austen-inspired short stories (check out the tour).  Authors not considered Austenites per se, like Frank Delaney writes with Diane Meier and Adriana Trigiani join those known for their Austen spinoffs, like Amanda Grange, Jane Odiwe, Alexandra Potter, and more.  The collection even includes the winner of the Jane Austen Made Me Do It short story contest — Brenna Aubrey’s “The Love Letter.”  But some Austen retelling favorites like Abigail Reynolds, Mary Simonsen, and Eucharista Ward are notably absent.  However, this only begs the question as to whether there will be another anthology in the future as the Austen subgenre continues to grow.

It is only fitting that the collection begins with the woman who started my journey onward into the world of Jane Austen and subsequent retellings and inspired novels, Syrie James with “Jane Austen’s Nightmare.”  The short story personifies every writer’s nightmare — that the characters will not like how they have been drawn and will seek justice.  From characters perceived as too perfect to those with a great number of flaws, Austen meets them all in her nightmare set in Bath, a city she despises.  Kicking off the collection here is a great introduction to all of Austen’s novels and characters and to her own fears and character as we know her to have been, possibly.

“Austen’s rise to fame has been steady since her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen, introduced ‘dear Aunt Jane’ to broader readership in 1869, but recently, two elements have been her strongest catalyst:  the Internet and a wet shirt.”  (page xii)

There are stories for five of her six novels, and Mansfield Park, though mentioned in passing or referred to slightly, is the one left out as an inspiration for a complete story.  Each author tackles a different novel and/or theme from the ridiculousness of ghost stories in “A Night at Northanger” by Lauren Willig to the trials of living with one’s in-laws, like in “Nothing Less Than Fairy-Land” by Monica Fairview.  Clever renderings of finding love in the most unlikely places in Beth Patillo’s “When Only a Darcy Will Do” are joined by modernized stories of renewed love and patience.  These stories are perfect for those looking for more Austen and for those who are unsure whether they would like Austen retellings/continuations.

There are outstanding stories and those that are not quite as good, but let’s be clear, if you love all-things Austen, you want this collection and there are no stories here that you will want to miss.  Writing Austenesque stories requires a certain level of imagination, while at the same time a certain commitment to her characters as she has created them.  Each of these writers does just that.  Jane Austen Made Me Do It has enough clever wit and modern sensibility for any reader, and would suit those looking for prime examples of how a short story can capture the heart.

About the Editor:

A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of Austenprose.com a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington. Visit Laurel Ann at her blogs Austenprose.com and JaneAustenMadeMeDoIt.com, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due

My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due is the fourth book in her immortals series and is set in the year 2016 when governments are striving to keep terrorists at bay and plagues secret to reduce the threat of panic.  Glow, a type of blood that is warm to the touch, is being touted as the solution to the pandemic and disease problem, but the United States has banned the drug for its terrorist ties and unknown origins.

Fana, an immortal, and her father, Dawit, hope to help the human race by offering the healing powers of their blood, but they are stopped at every turn by a rival faction of immortals who oppose the sharing of blood with mortals, led by Michel.  Complicating the situation even further is Fana’s attraction to mortal Johnny Wright and her betrothal to Michel.  Due has crafted a unique world in which these characters struggle not only for the life and death of humanity, but with greater questions of acceptance and compassion.  She even sprinkles her novel with technology gadgets that could be in our very near future, which is a nice touch.

“Fana was grateful that Mom had raised her with mortals in her family, closest to her heart.  Her cousin, aunt, and best friend were all mortals, so she hadn’t grown up with the feelings of superiority shared by her Life Brothers, and even her father.  She tried not to feel it, anyway.  Fana always began her meditations by asking for humility so she would not lose herself.” (page 64)

While readers will enjoy the intricate details throughout the novel about the Immortals and their way of life, something is missing — it is hard to connect with the characters without having read the previous books in the series.  Complicating matters is the emergence of Phoenix, a former music star, and her family, who are dealing with the deaths of a fraternal grandmother and maternal father that haunt them.  As quickly as readers become involved in her story, they are quickly shifted away from it and immersed in the immortal world.  When readers are returned to Phoenix’s story, they may feel like they have to flip back to recall what has happened to her.  This format does a disservice to the character — whose story line does intersect with Fana’s early on — and makes it difficult to reconnect with the character and her story and how it connects to the Immortals story line.

Due has a talent for creating other worlds, environments where immortals are gods, but have secreted themselves and their innovations away below the ground.  There are some that want to save humanity, and others that see humanity as ants to be squashed.  Through a great deal of biblical allusion, she creates an allegory for the Book of RevelationsMy Soul to Take is a slowly, unwinding battle of wills, but mortals refuse to sit on the sidelines and watch.  A pleasurable read that could be enhanced by reading the previous books in the series.

About the Author:

Tananarive Due (pronounced tah-nah-nah-REEVE doo) is the American Book Award-winning author of nine books, ranging from supernatural thrillers to a mystery to a civil rights memoir.

She has a B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University and an M.A. in English literature from the University of Leeds, England, where she specialized in Nigerian literature as a Rotary Foundation Scholar. Due currently teaches creative writing in the MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles. Due has also taught at the Hurston-Wright Foundation’s Writers’ Week, the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and the summer Imagination conference at Cleveland State University. She is a former feature writer and columnist for The Miami Herald.

Due lives in Southern California with her husband, Steven Barnes; their son, Jason; and her stepdaughter, Nicki.

This is my 63rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Her Sister’s Shadow by Katharine Britton

Her Sister’s Shadow by Katharine Britton is aptly titled given that Lilli Niles has always felt like she is living in the shadow of her “perfect” sister Bea.  Bea takes on a guardianship role when Lilli is about 15 after their father dies and their mother loses touch with reality.  Lilli resents her “perfect” sister’s hold over the family and is even more angry about how Bea lords it over her when she wins crew races and is considered perfect by her mother.  Couple all of that resentment with hormones of adolescence and you can imagine the volatility.

Told in alternating chapters between the past and the present when Lilli returns to White Head, Mass., after 30 years when her sister Bea calls and needs her, Her Sister’s Shadow vividly tells a story of healing after a significant rift between sisters.  Readers will feel the angst of a young Lilli who has just discovered boys and wants to grow up more quickly and the awkwardness of Lilli and Bea who attempt to reconnect after 30 years.

“When she was a girl, after the accident, she would go down onto the rocks, pick her way carefully along their slick surface, and shout her grief and guilt into the deep bass notes of that foghorn.  Her kitchen, all stillness in pools of white light, offered no such camouflage.”  (page 4)

Britton creates characters that are real, flawed, and seeking redemption through their actions even if they are unaware of it.  While Lilli’s relationship with Bea is strained, her relationship with Dori, her younger sister, is sweet and unbreakable.  Lilli’s relationship with Charlotte is more like a mother-daughter dynamic in which Charlotte is a caretaker and empathetic.  There is a great deal at work in these female relationships; their complexity is stunning and palpable.  Each sister is drawn realistically, causing readers to become attached to each one.  It is through this relationship with the reader, that Britton tugs tears out and causes wistful smiles to curl.

Bea’s shadow is not the only one looming over this book.  Britton has crafted a devastating novel through which readers and characters must journey to reach out of the fog and into the light.  Her Sister’s Shadow has a gorgeous setting steeped in coastal imagery that mirrors the churning ocean waves of these relationships which every so often smooth out to reflect the stars and beauty of calm.

About the Author:

Katharine Britton has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. Her screenplay, Goodbye Don’t Mean Gone, was a Moondance Film Festival winner and a finalist in the New England Women in Film and Television contest. Katharine is a member of the League of Vermont Writers and PEN New England. She teaches writing at Colby-Sawyer College, and is an instructor at The Writer’s Center.

When not at her desk, Katharine can often be found in her Norwich garden, waging a non-toxic war against the slugs, snails, deer, woodchucks, chipmunks, moles, voles, and beetles with whom she shares her yard. Katharine’s defense consists mainly of hand-wringing, after-the-fact.

Please follow her blog and Facebook.

To Enter for 1 copy of Her Sister’s Shadow by Katharine Britton: (US/Canada only):

1.  Leave a comment about what kind of relationship you have with your sister or whether you would enjoy having a sister if you don’t have one.

2.  Follow Katharine Britton on Facebook and leave a comment for another entry telling me you did so.

3.  Facebook, Tweet, or Blog about the giveaway and leave a comment with each for up to three more entries.

Deadline Oct. 28, 2011, at 11:59PM EST

 

To visit the other stops on the TLC Book Tour, click on the icon at the right.

 

This is my 62nd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington is a coming of age story about a teen girl growing into adulthood at a time when her father, Matt, is sent to Iraq and her mother, Angie, is not dealing with his absence as well as Alice thinks she should.  The blissful life her family has had up until this point is turned around and twisted as Alice takes on more of her mother’s duties — making dinner, washing clothes, getting her sister’s (Ellie) lunch ready, and getting her sister to school.  She’s constantly worried about her father not returning home, about how she seems not to be anyone’s favorite, and the changes she sees in her friends, family, and Henry (her neighbor and friend).

Harrington creates a world and cast of characters that grab your heart and don’t let go.  The Bliss family story will have your tearing up right from the beginning when the father is first setting his affairs in order and explaining to Alice what she’s to do while he is at war.  Yes, he says, he is coming back, but readers know about the uncertainties of war and so does Alice, which makes his parting all the more heart-wrenching.  Alice only finds solace when running, like her mother finds solace when swimming, but they are too alike to find comfort in one another and often find themselves at odds.  Dynamic characters young and old tackle difficult questions of how to go on without a loved one, who often calmed the waters and even when that situation is expected to be temporary.

“This is the first time Alice has been allowed to walk back to their campsite from the Kelp Shed alone.  She is fourteen, barefoot, her sneakers tied together by the laces and slung across her shoulder so she can feel the soft, sandy dust of the single-track road between her toes.  Her sister fell asleep halfway through the square dance, dropping from hyperexcited to unconscious in a flash.  Her father carries Ellie draped over his shoulder, and casually, or so it seems, her mother says, ‘Come home when the dance is done.'” (page 1)

While Alice is a strong, young woman, she is also timid when it comes to her changing relationship with Henry and volatile when it comes to her relationship with her mother and sister and her schoolmates.  Alice’s life spirals out of control while she’s daydreaming and running away, but there are moments of hope when letters arrive and broken up phone calls pepper their days.  Alice is growing up before readers’ eyes.  She’s learning that her friendship with Henry is more complicated than she expects and at a time when she wants it to stay the same.  She’s flattered when a popular senior asks her to a baseball game, and she’s disenchanted with high school society when her childhood friend Steph remains distant even when it is obvious she needs someone to lean on.  Her sister Ellie tries to act more mature than her sister, and does on some occasions, but she’s still just eight and what’s important to her — a new haircut, new clothes, a nice lunch — skirts the realities of their lives without Matt.

Uncle Eddie and Gram are the rocks of the family that help hold up Angie, Alice, and Ellie — keeping them from imploding.  Harrington has created a wide cast of characters who evolve steadily throughout the novel.  Despite the third person omniscient point of view, Harrington’s narrative evokes an emotional connection between the characters and the reader.  The distance often felt with this point of view is not present here in the least.  Readers will feel the loss, the waiting, the anger, the sadness, and the confusion all at once — just as the characters do — while cheering them on to remain positive that Matt will return home.  This is a young adult novel adults will praise for its realistic portrayal of adult themes, while young adults will praise the relate-ability of its teen characters and their situations.

“Even though Mrs. Grover wears those awful sensible shoes and has gray hair that she wears in a bun, Alice thinks that maybe Mrs. Grover is still young in the ways that are important.  Like she’s not so serious all the time, and she sings and right now she’s teasing a cardinal.  Whistling in response to its call and damn if that cardinal doesn’t whistle right back.  Alice’s mother doesn’t even have a clothesline, let alone stand outside and lift her face to the sun and sing and whistle to the birds.” (page 101)

Harrington is talented at creating a world that is real — a small town where everyone knows one another and feels as though they are under a microscope at home and school — and generates an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty — in the silence of waiting.  What are those keepsakes that we hold dearest? What are those memories that we hold onto tightest? Alice and her family find these answers and more, making the novel even more suspenseful.  Alice Bliss not only tracks the evolution of Alice from child to adolescence and the bumps along the way, the novel teaches readers about heartache, compassion, and strength.

About the Author:

Laura Harrington’s award winning plays, musicals, operas, and radio plays have been widely produced in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Harrington is a two time winner of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Award in playwriting and a two time winner of the Clauder Competition for best new play in New England for Mercy and Hallowed Ground.

“Alice Bliss”, a novel, published by Pamela Dorman Books, Penguin/ Viking, will be on sale spring 2011. She is currently writing a new novel, “A Catalogue of Birds,” as well as a song cycle with composer Elena Ruehr, and a series of choral works with composer Roger Ames. Ms. Harrington teaches playwriting at M.I.T and is a frequent guest artist at Tufts, Harvard (where she was a visiting Briggs Copeland Lecturer), Wellesley, University of Iowa, and other campuses.

Please also check out this great Q&A, an excerpt from the novel, and her blog.

 

This is my 59th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

Alice blissI took part in the experiment to see where this book would end up once I read, reviewed, and released it into the world.  So, here’s a picture of me releasing it into the wilds of Maryland (Ok, its a Safeway/Starbucks Cafe).

I toyed with releasing it in a bookstore, at the library among the library sale stacks, and finally decided to release it in the Safeway near my house in their Starbucks Cafe.  It was done surreptitiously and I was incredibly self-conscious.  Nevermind that this is a book I really didn’t want to let go because I loved it so much.

I may just have to buy my own copy of this book to add to my shelves and read it again.  It was THAT GOOD!