Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

“Sadly, this action prevented her from saving the second musket man, who had been pulled from his perch.  He screamed as the dreadfuls held him down and began to tear organs from his living belly and feast upon them.”  (Page 117)

Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a mash-up of Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, and a zombie conflict.  Grahame-Smith effectively weaves in the zombie attacks and how the Bennet clan dispatches them with skill.  A majority of this novel is Austen’s words, but the dialogue and descriptions that are modified to accommodate zombies are done with aplomb.

“‘My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have the highest opinion in the world in your excellent judgment in all matters within the scope of your understanding, particularly in the slaying of Satan’s armies, but permit me to say, that there must be a wide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongst the laity, and those which regulate the clergy.  After all you may wield God’s sword, but I wield His wisdom.  And it is wisdom, dear cousin, which will ultimately rid us of our present difficulties with the undead.'” (Page 77)

Fun and entertaining on a base level, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an exercise in revision and an examination of Austen’s characters in a new light.  Many readers will disagree with Grahame-Smith’s portrayal of Lizzy as a cutthroat assassin who is quickly turned by her own emotions or strict sense of duty and honor, particularly since she often talks of dispatching her peers for slighting her family, imagines beheading her own sister Lydia simply because she prattles on, and other unmentionable actions.

“‘Jane, no one who has ever seen you together can doubt his affection.  Miss Bingley, I am sure, cannot.  She may not be a warrior, but she has cunning enough.  Dearest sister, I implore you — this unhappiness is best remedied by the hasty application of a cutlass to her throat.'”  (Page 95)

However, one of the most perceptive and playfully done sequences in the novel is the sparring match between Mr. Darcy and Lizzy.  Some readers could find this sequence too forceful, but others may view the physical combat between the characters as just a manifestation of their verbal tete-a-tete in the original novel.  The elements of zombies and ninjas provide additional circumstances that further delineate the class differences Austen sought to examine in her novels, enabling readers to further investigate the social conventions and prejudices inherent in this society.

There are other instances, however, in which these revised scenes do not work as well, and many of the social conventions of the time are overlooked in favor of ensuring the Bennet sisters, who are of little means, were shipped to the Orient for training in the deadly arts — even if it was with the inferior Chinese Shaolin monks –and were prepared for combat, which is inevitable in a nation nearly overrun by the undead.  In Austen’s novel, it would be unconventional for Lizzy to converse so openly with Wickham about Darcy, and it would be outside convention for Darcy to write her a letter to explain himself.  Here, convention is defied even more so in that the Bennet women are trained to kill — even if it is only zombies — and Lizzy openly displays her talents and shuns marriage.

Austen purists will NOT enjoy this novel unless they loosen their reverence for the author’s work.  Overall, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a creative revision with an edge that modern readers may enjoy for its drama and action-packed zombie slayings.  There is a lot more to this rendition than simple entertainment.

This is my 3rd book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge, though should I consider it a new author if a majority of the book is written by Jane Austen, who is an old favorite.

This is my 2nd book for the Jane Austen Challenge 2010!

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from FSB Associates for review.  Clicking on titles or images can bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated. 

The Bum Magnet by K.L. Brady

K.L. Brady’s The Bum Magnet is local chicklit for Washington, D.C., residents and stars the bum magnet herself, Charisse.  She’s a real estate agent with a serial dating problem, always seeming to attract the wrong kind of man and hanging onto them.  Dwayne, Lamar, Sean, and Marcus are just some of the bums in this book, but are they all bums?  That’s what Charisse has to figure out, if she can get past her own hangups.

“‘Charisse, a good man is like Santa Claus, believing in him feels real good until you find out he doesn’t really exist.'”  (Page 1)

Brady’s debut novel uses a lot of colloquial language and delves into the wrong relationships of her characters through journal entries and flashbacks, but readers may not feel a connection to Charisse right off.  She’s a bristly, independent woman on the one hand, but a dependent, lonely woman on the other.  Like all of us, Charisse has her strengths and her weaknesses, but she seems to have a hard time recognizing the obvious and in many ways she goes off the deep end.

“No, to me, spying on a boyfriend was not only justified, it was a requirement.  Hey, I keep it real.  To ask me not to spy on a scheming boyfriend would be like asking a lion not to hunt, a dog not to bark, or babies not to throw up.  ‘Verification’ was an instinctive to me (and all womankind), as giving birth.”  (Page 61)

As she makes the decision to focus on herself and analyze her past relationship failures to improve her relationship capabilities, she stumbles upon the man of her “dreams,” Dwayne, shortly after breaking it off with Marcus.  Things are soon spiraling out of control for Charisse when past flames reappear and past mistakes rear their ugly heads.   

“I hoped she wasn’t crazy.  For some reason, I’d always attracted crazy people.  Not eccentric crazy, but wear aluminum foil as a fashion accessory crazy.  They always shared their life stories with me.  Did I have an inviting demeanor or a friendly face? Perhaps.  Although I had a deep-rooted fear that crazy people might just be naturally drawn to other crazy people, which would make me one of them.”  (Page 122)

The Bum Magnet has a lot of drama, and Charisse attracts it like wildfire.  Readers will either enjoy the roller coaster ride or wonder when they can get off.  Brady has an active imagination and the dialogue will have readers giggling.  Brady’s writing is entertaining and has great potential.

FTC Disclosure:  Thanks to K.L. Brady for providing me with a free copy of The Bum Magnet for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

K. L. Brady is a D.C. native but spent a number of her formative years in the Ohio Valley. She’s an alumnus of the University of the District of Columbia and University of Maryland University College, earning a B.A. in Economics and M.B.A., respectively. She works as an analyst for a major government contracting firm and is an active real estate agent with Exit Realty by day—and writes by night (often into the wee hours of the morning). She lives just outside of D.C. in Cheltenham, Maryland, with her son, William, and two pet Betta fish, Spongebob and Jerry, and lives to eat chocolate, shop, read, and write.

***International Giveaway Details*** 

1.  Leave a comment on this post about what new author you’ve found in the new year.
2.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave a link on this post.

Deadline Jan. 14, 2010, 11:59PM EST

This is my 1st book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

Also, this another stop on the Literary Road Trip.

When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge

Jennie Shortridge’s When She Flew is a beautifully written novel about pivotal decisions and their unexpected consequences.  Told from the point of view of Officer Jessica Villareal and Melinda aka Lindy Wiggs, the novel shifts from the legal ramifications of Villareal’s decision not to split up Melinda from her family and Melinda’s experiences with her Iraq War veteran father, her drug addicted mother, and her new home.  The novel is peppered with beautiful imagery and a number of passages with birds, which emphasize flight and escape.

“Pater keeps looking out the windows, walking from on to the other, hitching up his pants.  he reminds me of a finch, all nervous and fidgety, eyes darting this way and that.”  (Page 255)

Lindy’s narration focuses mainly on the love of the forest in which she lives, of her father, and even of her mother whom she left behind, but there are glimpses into the terrible events of her life under the guardianship of her mother while her father served his country.  She misses her mother, but for the most part there is a sense of contentment until one day she follows a blue heron too far.

“The central library was my favorite building.  It’s like going to a palace full of books.  I feel like a princess or an important person when I walk up the steps toward that huge brick building with its pretty windows and a roof that looks like a steeple, and go inside the tall oak doors, and the man in uniform smiles and says, ‘Good afternoon.’  I feel even more like royalty when we glide across the shiny stone floor.  Everything is so elegant that I want to just stand and look but Pater always says to hurry along.”  (Page 14)

Officer Villareal is a mother who hasn’t exactly lived up to her own expectations as an officer or as a mother, but she copes with her circumstances by working and burying herself in memories of her daughter Nina, who escaped her mother’s tight supervision to live with her father and raise her own son.

“The dirt dwellers she dealt with were like subterranean worms and bugs:  drug dealers and pimps, abusive parents, gangsters and thieves.  She had tried for years not to notice them when off duty, but she couldn’t help it.”  (Page 5)

Shortridge’s prose is gorgeous and immediate, sucking readers into the world she’s created in the wilderness of Oregon and the small town outside the forest.  When She Flew is about finding one’s convictions to break the mold and follow the right path.  It is about striving to be better and to find the freedom to grow.  Shortridge’s writing will blow readers away.

As an additional treat, later today, Jennie Shortridge will visit with us and talk about her writing, so stay tuned.  Oh, and there will be a giveaway!

FTC Disclosure:  Thank you to Jennie Shortridge and Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting fpr sending me a free copy of When She Flew for review.  Links to book images and titles will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchases are necessary.

Ivy + Bean: Doomed to Dance by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall (Illus.)

Normally, I don’t review children’s books here on the blog, but I’ve made an exception (yes, they do happen).  I remember buying a set of Ivy + Bean books for The Girl from Diary of an Eccentric because one of the books had to do with dinosaur fossils and I had read on someone’s blog (not sure who) that these books were fantastic.  The Girl, suffice to say, loved them and told me all about the straws up the nose (actually it’s the mouth) and other little tidbits from her books.  Before I dazzle you with my review, interview with The Girl, and the giveaway, let me show you a little video:

Ivy and Bean are typical second-grade girls who are willing to try just about anything, and they sometimes find themselves getting into trouble or at least over their heads.  In Doomed to Dance, the girls read a book about ballet and decide that they should take ballet, so they can become ballerinas in Giselle.  The only problem is that ballet is not as fun or easy as it seems.

“‘She doesn’t leap like a kitty.  She leaps like a frog,’ Bean whispered to Ivy.”  (Page 24)
“‘We can’t be squids if we break our arms,’ said Ivy.  ‘Remember what Madame Joy said? We’re supposed to wave our tentacles gently to the passing tide.  No way can we do that if we’ve got broken arms, Right?'”  (Page 40)

While Ivy and Bean get into trouble — and what kid doesn’t? — they always manage to find the positive in their situation or make amends.  Some of the funniest scenes in this book are when Ivy and Bean try to get sick on purpose, having other kids cough and sneeze all over them.  Young readers will laugh out loud at the antics of these young girls, and parents will enjoy these books because of the lessons they teach about responsibility and imagination.  Ivy + Bean:  Doomed to Dance is a fun read at nearly 130 pages, and these characters will worm their way into kids hearts easily.

Onto my interview with The Girl:

Which girl would you rather be, Ivy or Bean?  And why?

I would you like to be Bean because she is funniest.

Why do you think Bean packed salt in her backpack before they went to the aquarium?

Because you need salt to stay alive and helps the blood flow.

What would you have packed in your backpack for the aquarium trip?

I would pack clothes, food like sandwiches, water, juice, and ice pack.   If there is still room, I would take some small books.

Would you ever take ballet? Why or why not? What type of dancing would you take?

No, because I’m not into ballet.  I would take tap dancing because the noise from the shoes is cool, and it looks like fun.  You have to have skills for it, and I have skills.

Which of the Ivy + Bean books have you enjoyed most?

The book with the ghosts — The Ghost that Had to Go, Book 2.  Break the Fossil Record, Book 3.

To learn more about the series, check out the Website.  If you’re looking for crafts and fun activities, go here.

To enter the giveaway for 1 copy of Ivy + Bean:  Doomed to Dance (US/Canada):

1.  Leave a comment here about why you want to win the book.
2.  Become a follower and leave a comment here for another entry.
3.  Tweet, blog, spread the word and leave a comment here with a link.

Deadline Dec. 28, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

FTC Disclosure:  I want to thank Chronicle Books for sending me a free copy of Doomed to Dance for review.  Clicking on title and image links will go to my Amazon.com Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

Dragon House by John Shors

“Iris felt as if a unique cultural experience occurred on the back of scooters.  She reflected that in America, people drove their cars and rarely even opened their windows.  Within cars people tended to be isolated, listening to the radio or maybe talking on the phone to a friend.  Cars were people’s places of refuge, highly personalized sanctuaries within which Americans often sought escape.  Driving a scooter in Vietnam was a completely different experience.  In addition to the ease of conversation, the lack of lanes and laws almost mandated that people acted in cooperation.  Drivers didn’t cut one another off or blast their horns.  Though they drove quickly, always looking for the fastest route, if an old woman was trying to cross an impossibly busy street, people braked and weaved around her without a second glance.”  (Page 184 of ARC)

Iris is just one of the main characters in John Shors’ Dragon House and she’s had a tough childhood with a mostly absent Vietnam veteran father.  Noah, her childhood friend and also a veteran but of the Iraq War, accompanies her to Vietnam as Iris strives to fulfill her father’s dream.  Through a shifting narrative, readers are shown glimpses of what it means to live on the streets of Vietnam as orphan children with Mia and Minh or as a grandmother Qui raising her leukemia-ridden granddaughter Tam by selling books to American tourists.  Dragon House examines how these cultures are misunderstood on both sides and how they clash with one another even in times of peace.  Shors deftly mixes sadness with hope to reveal the beauty beneath the grime and compassion inherent in humanity.

“Iris thought about her father, about how he also came home shattered from a war that wasn’t of his making.  A marriage and a daughter hadn’t saved him from his demons.  Why would Saigon save Noah? Though Iris was unsure, she knew what her father would say, knew he’d want her to bring Noah.”  (Page 13 of ARC)

Readers will be blown away by the vivid descriptions of Vietnam and the evolution of the novel’s main characters as they find themselves in a foreign land and repurpose their lives to meet the needs of others and fulfill a dream.  Shors uses description in a way that conveys deep emotional scarring and how that damage is repaired over time.  

“The city was a kaleidoscope of old versus new, memories versus ideas, stone versus chrome.”  (Page 15 of ARC) 

Mia and Minh, who sell fans and gamble with tourists over games of Connect Four, display strength amidst adversity, but like Noah, even the strongest of us have our breaking points.  Qui and Tam also display significant strength.  In a way these characters offset the deep desolation felt by Noah because they continue to survive and hope, while Noah is steeped in blackness and hopelessness, finding solace in whiskey and pain pills.  There is more going on in Dragon House than meets the eye with Iris and Noah preparing a children’s center for opening and these children living on the streets.  Readers will be absorbed in Shors’ world and turn the pages hoping for the best resolution possible.

If you missed my interview with John Shors and the giveaway for Dragon House, please check it out.

John Shors’ novel would make an excellent gift for the holidays for the readers among your family and friends, and a portion of the proceeds from book sales are shared with the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation (click for more details).  Also, check out this write up in the Denver Post about the charity.

FTC Disclosure:  I want to thank John Shors for providing me with a free copy of Dragon House for review.  Also, thanks to Diane Saarinen of Book Blog Tour Guide for setting up the blog tour. Clicking on images or titles will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase required. 

Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is the screenplay for the revenge war film of the same name.  Moviegoers love Tarantino’s films for a multitude of reasons or they hate them for a multitude of reasons, but the screenplay provides a whole new insight into the filmmaker and his work.

Author David L. Robbins says in the forward, “The script remembers, too, the classic propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl and Joseph Goebbels.  It glimpses the faces of Hitler and Churchill and the interior of a wartime movie house in Paris, and zooms in on the horrors of close combat, the mania of vendetta.  . . . Inglourious Basterds does not indulge in lampoonery or mere cobbling.  It is reverently authentic as a war story, working the same tense, edge-of-the-seat magic as the best of the genre, book or movie.  At the same time, it’s Tarantino, its own thing.”

There are two main storylines in the film — one deals with the death and ultimate revenge plot of Shosanna Dreyfus and the other follows the basterds through Germany as they take on the Nazis and bumble around during secret missions to win the war.  In typical Tarantino fashion, the script bounces from each group and several moments in time, quilting together the larger arc of the story and conclusion of the war.

The script includes little tidbits about the characters that are never seen or talked about on screen.  Readers will be amazed by the depth of detail Tarantino provides in stage direction, the description of the scene, and explanation.

“Lt. Aldo [played by Brad Pitt] has one defining physical characteristic, a ROPE BURN around his neck — as if, once upon a time, he survived a LYNCHING.”  (Page 19)

“WE SEE all the pagentry below.  Tons of SPECTATORS.  Tons of guests dressed in Nazi uniforms, tuxedoes, and female finery, walking up the long red carpet (with a big swastika in the middle, naturally) leading into Shosanna’s cinema.  The German brass band omm-pa-pa-ing away.  German radio and film crews covering the event for the fatherland back home.  And, of course, MANY GERMAN SOLDIERS providing security for this joyous Germanic occasion.”  (Page 125)

Although the script does not depict the true conclusion of World War II, Tarantino illuminates the horrors of war and creates an atmosphere of the ridiculous in its revenge themes.  Watching the film is fast-paced, hilarious at moments, and gruesome, but reading the script plunges readers into their own personal version of the events and enables them to sink their teeth into Tarantino’s witty and poignant dialogue.  The basterds’ dialogue drips with disdain and self-righteousness, while Col. Hans Landa, or the Jew Hunter, uses language to demonstrate his superiority, even though his outward actions border on comedic.

Lt. Aldo:  Well, Werner, if you heard of us, you probably heard we ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business.  We in the killin’ Nazi business.  And cousin, business is boomin’.  (Page 28)

FEMALE SGT. BEETHOVEN and STIGLITZ bring their guns toward each other and FIRE.  They BOTH TAKE and GIVE each other so many BULLETS it’s almost romantic when they collapse DEAD on the floor.  (Page 108)

Overall, Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino is an excellent specimen of a screenplay from its detailed stage direction and description to its witty and insightful dialogue, it will capture readers imaginations just as the film did on screen.  There are portions of the script that did not make it onto the big screen, but that’s to be expected with any film; there also are scenes in the movie that are not in the script.  The beauty of a screenplay is that it is not a stationary work of art, but one that evolves from page to screen under the guidance of its maker.

This is my 9th book for the WWII Reading Challenge 2009.  I can’t believe I’m still finding these on my shelves even now in December.  There may have to be a time when we revisit this war.

Additionally, I would like to thank Hachette Group for sending me a free copy of Inglourious Basterds for review.  Clicking on title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page, no purchase necessary. 

Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen

Mary Lydon Simonsen’s Searching for Pemberley starts was a premise many interviewers often ask authors about their fiction:  “Are any of your characters based upon real people?”  Did Jane Austen use real people to write the great love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy?  Simonsen’s book may not offer the truth behind Austen’s characters, but it does spin a unique mystery tale through which one possible reality of Mr. Darcy and Ms. Bennet are discovered.

“‘Mr. Crowell, you don’t know me.  I’m Maggie Joyce, but I was wondering if . . .’  But that was as far as I got.

‘You’re here about the Darcy’s right?  Don Caton rang me to let me know you might be coming ’round.  Come through.  Any friend of Jane Austen’s is a friend of mine.'”  (Page 12 of the ARC)

Maggie Joyce is the main protagonist and an American from a coal mining town in Pennsylvania.  She quickly leaves her hometown of Minooka for Washington, D.C., to help with the government with its World War II-related administrative work.  Eventually she is stationed in Germany and later in England following the end of the war.  She meets a fantastic family, the Crowells, who help her unravel the real family behind Jane Austen’s characters.

“Beth gestured for me to follow her into the parlor.  She had a way of carrying herself that was almost regal, especially when compared to her husband, who reminded me of a former football player who had taken a hit or two.”  (Page 25 of ARC)

Told from Maggie’s point of view, the novel grabs readers with its immediacy as Maggie moves through war-torn Europe and reads through a variety of diary entries and letters to uncover the origins of Pride & Prejudice.  Readers who have read Austen’s novel once or more than a dozen times will recognize echoes of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy in the Crowells and may even find parts of the mystery obvious.  However, this story is more than a look at where Austen may have found inspiration, it is about a nation (England) and its people in the midst of rebuilding after the devastation of the German blitzkrieg and World War II.  There also a healthy dose of romance between Maggie and two beaus that add to the tension.

“‘Nightmares from the war that I hadn’t had in ten, fifteen years came back.  Jesus, they all came back,’ he said, massaging his temples as if the act would block out any unwanted images.  ‘Picking up bodies and having them fall apart in my hands.  Stepping on limbs.  Being scared shitless during barrages.'”  (Page 254 of ARC)

Simonsen does an excellent job examining the shell shock felt by airmen and other military personnel and how their war experiences could impact their relationships with family, friends, and lovers.  While there are some occasions in this nearly 500-page book that are bogged down by too much detail, Simonsen’s characters are well developed and the twists and turns as Maggie unravels the mystery of the Bennets and the Darcys are fun.  The aftermath of World War II is well done and rich in emotional and physical detail, showing Simonsen’s deft research and keen eye.  Searching for Pemberley is an excellent addition to the every growing market of Jane Austen spin-offs.

This is the 8th book I’ve read that qualifies for the 2009 WWII Reading Challenge.  Though I officially met my goal of reading 5 WWII-related books some time ago, I’ve continued to find them on my shelves and review them here.  I’m sure there will be more, stay tuned.

Searching for Pemberley is the 6th item and fulfills my obligations under the Everything Austen Challenge 2009.   I hope that everyone has been reading along for this challenge.  It has been fun to see the mix of books and movies that everyone has reviewed.  I may even read another book before this challenge ends, since my main goal in joining was to read Persuasion, one of the only Austen novels I haven’t read.

Have you missed the giveaway for Searching for Pemberley?  Don’t worry there’s still time to enter.  Go here, and comment on Mary Lydon Simonsen’s interview for an additional entry.  Deadline is Dec. 14, 2009 at 11:59PM EST.


Additionally, I would like to thank Mary Lydon Simonsen and Sourcebooks for sending me a free copy of Searching for Pemberley for review.  Clicking on title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page, no purchase necessary. 

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen

the woman in the shower (Page 36)

the woman in the shower washes herself constantly and never ages.  she
scrubs her nails, shampoos her hair, lathers her body.  she’s attractive, and
many serenade her, offering love songs in various languages.  newspapers
send interviewers to ascertain her greater mission.  she receives letters from
admirers around the world.  political and religious leaders pay a visit.  a few
crazies try to break into the shower stall and molest the woman, but guards
throw them out.  one man masturbates, shooting his seed onto the glass
before he is arrested.  nothing, though, distracts or fazes the woman in the
shower.  she keeps lathering and scrubbing and rinsing.  generations pass;
the woman is considered a saint of sorts, her shower stall a mecca.  it’s 
assumed, finally, that the woman in the shower, the woman who never 
stops washing, has always been, always will be.  she’s a timeless fact, like air
or war or hunger or god.

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen conjures profound statements about the human condition often from unusual or incongruous elements in nature, pop culture, and religion.  Many of these poems comment on the darker side of humanity, and the narrator tends to seek out destruction and mischief.  There are some longer poems in the collection that could become tedious for certain readers, but taken in slowly — one section at a time — readers can delve deeper into the verse.

“. . . Mary plants clematis and bougainvillea.
I’m writing ballads on a ’71 Gibson.  We’re purchasing
mulch, two tons of soil.  We’re collecting ripe moments,”  (Portraits of Mary, Page 43)

Vivid images and situations permeate these pages, and Amen is a poet prepared to comment on the taboo or the elephant in the room.  Several poems titled “missive” address unknown recipients and offer harsh criticisms in which the sarcastic undertones is palpable.

“Had I known you were more concerned with baubles
than the outcomes of the election, I’d have planned
to craft a wreath for the occasion.  Bless tabloids
and puppet governments, I take my salvation as
I can get it.”  (Missive #12, Page 68)

Musical elements also weave their way into the poems, much like they did in Amen’s More of Me Disappears (click for my review).  Entwined with these musical lines, readers will note an atmosphere of self-deprecation created by the narrator’s repentance or observations.

“Forgive me for eating this bountiful meal.
Forgive me for sleeping beneath this roof.
Forgive me for making love to my wife.
Forgive me for everything I fail to see and do
and avenge.  Forgive me for this insular life.”  (Rampage, Page 24) 

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen is a collection that readers will need to let simmer, breathing in each line like an exotic incense.  Readers can read each poem in this collection more than once and still uncover new layers of meaning.  From short poems to long poems, this collection has a variety to please a multitude of readers. 

***On a side note, At the Threshold of Alchemy is published on acid-free, recycled paper.***  Ever since the Green Books Campaign, I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on my books to see what their “green” properties may be.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of At the Threshold of Alchemy from the poet John Amen for review.  Additionally, title and image links will bring readers to my Amazon Affiliate page; no purchases are necessary, but are appreciated to cover the costs of international giveaway shipping.

I read this book as part of the recent Thankfully Reading Weekend Challenge.  Did you participate?  Which books did you read?  I only read two.

This also qualifies as my 8th book for the Poetry review challenge.

The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White

The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White pits Melanie Middleton, a Realtor who guards her emotions like most would protect buried treasure, against Jack Trenholm, a confident author and potential suitor, and elements of the supernatural.  Melanie must face her fears about her abilities and the truth behind the break-up of her family when her famous mother and opera singer returns to Charleston, South Carolina.

“We stood gaping at the marble-tiled floor with the faux-zebra shag area rug galloping down the middle of the hall.  The elegant egg-and-dart carved cornices had been painted black to offset the fuchsia hue of the walls.  Lime green beanbag chairs with legs offered seating to anybody with enough taste to make their knees go weak upon viewing the psychedelic colors of the hallway.  (Page 44-45)

White creates an intricate mystery that Melanie must unravel for herself without relying heavily on Jack, as she did in the previous book, The House on Tradd Street (click for my review).  White’s characters are vivid; so much so, that readers may want to smack Melanie through the pages and tell her to get a grip.  The beginning chapters spend a bit of time with Melanie as she attempts to sort out her feelings for Jack, her mother, and her abilities.  In some cases, Melanie’s whining may be a bit much for readers, but the action picks up and the knotted lives of Melanie’s ancestors will hook readers until the very last pages.

“I didn’t wait for a response, and was glad he didn’t show any resistance as I dragged him toward the back door.  . . .  I gave a brief wave and had pulled Jack through the door and closed it before my mother made it into the kitchen.

‘I think I like it when you’re rough,’ Jack said.”  (Page 143)

White introduces new characters, like Rebecca Eggerton, and resurrects some of the older characters, like Sophie and Chad, from the first book.  This provides readers with new relationship triangles to navigate, while trying to work through the paranormal mystery.  If readers have read and enjoyed The House on Tradd Street, they will enjoy this tale.

The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White is an entertaining and a good second book in this paranormal-gothic romance-mystery series.  At times, readers could find the repetitive elements in Melanie’s narration distracting, as she repeats her grudge against her mother and her indecision about letting go of her self control where Jack is concerned.  It is clear that this is a second book and that there is more to come given the final lines of the book.

Stay tuned tomorrow, Dec. 1., for a guest post from Karen White about her writing.

FTC Disclosure:  Clicking on images and title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchases are necessary.  I received my free review copy of The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White from the author and Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting.

I read this book as part of the recent Thankfully Reading Weekend Challenge.  Did you participate?  Which books did you read?  I only read two.

Fair Creatures of an Hour by Lynn Levin

Lynn Levin‘s Fair Creatures of an Hour is a collection of poetry that draws on current events — Smarty Jones in “Little Red Telegram” and skydivers Sara Loshe and Ron Samac in “Freefall” — imagery, and culture to draw in its readers.  Levin intertwines traditional Jewish rituals and stories into her poems, and interjects a fresh perspective.  Readers will intimately understand her and mimic her lines.

“What finer thing is there than to pour out
your thoughts and have someone drink
of your meaning?
It is better than being loved
I sometimes think
for love is not everything.”  (Page 61, “I Wanted to Tell You”)

Levin creates a wistful atmosphere in some of her poems, but easily turns that into something playful.  Even in her most serious poems, Levin cultivates an undercurrent of sarcasm, playfulness, and hope.  From “Peace Is the Blithe Distraction,” Levin repeats the word “peace” and uses each subsequent line to illustrate what peace can mean to even the worst of enemies and how hope plays an integral role.

On the other hand, her humor is ever present as she begins more than one poem with horoscope predictions and planet alignments.  Readers will enjoy the wit shown in these poems and will nod in agreement with many of them.  Levin has an eye for the human condition and the emotions, even those not most desirable. 

The White Puzzle (Page 42)

To love jigsaw puzzles, you have to love trouble —
the mad messing of a picture, the slow steps back to art.
Years ago, my brother and I spent hours
breaking up then piecing back
The Skating Pond by Currier & Ives,
Remington’s The Old Stage-Coach of the Plains
the cardboard pieces colonizing
the game table in the family room.
There was satisfaction in the fitting together
the doing of the definite task
then some days of admiration
of the solved thing before the sundering.
Once someone gave us a white puzzle,
a real head-breaker, the blank pieces
many and small like the counties of a state.
This was fitting for the sake of fitting.
No art in it that we could see, but we stuck to it,
and after a while the pieces began to clump together
like new snow on the lawn.
I remember the way our small talk
scribbled itself over the gathering page:
something about a math bee and Old Man Sprague
who kept sheep in his backyard and had a gun.
We nibbled popcorn, made Montana take shape
with its three sides and human profile,
the pieces knit like bone.
When the white puzzle was complete
we loved the way it lay like moonlight on the floor
then sat before our conquered space,
two Alexanders wanting more.

The poet includes references and explanations in the back of Fair Creatures of an Hour, of which the title is taken from a John Keats poem, “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be.”  Levin’s collection is about embracing the moment and being comfortable with oneself before fate steps in.  Well worth reading again and again, Levin’s collection will leave readers wanting more.

Please check out 20th Virtual Poetry Circle for a discussion of Levin’s “Helium.”  Also, for another review, please check out The Pedestal Magazine.  Stay tuned for an interview with Lynn Levin.

I want to thank the poet, Lynn Levin, and Arlene Ang for setting me up with a free copy for review. 

This is my 7th book for the poetry review challenge.

The Michael Jackson Tapes by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

“MJ:  Everybody’s funny bone is the same color, isn’t it? We are all the same, really.  I have seen that a lot.”  (Page 258)

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach‘s The Michael Jackson Tapes is a unique look at a larger-than-life celebrity musician in an intimate setting, but portions of the book are written like a thesis or an examination of celebrity and its adverse impact on America and its stars.  This is not a book for those looking for pictorial depictions of the star in his home or seeking titillating details about his personal relationships with women, his children, or other family members.  While family is talked about, it is not the crux of this book nor of the taped conversations between Jackson and Boteach between 2000 and 2001.

“And it’s heady stuff to be needed by a global superstar.  It makes you feel important and special and soon you close your eyes to all you know to be righteous.  The glow of fame is too bright, the gravitational pull of celebrity too difficult to resist, until you have become nothing but a satellite in its orbit.  All resistance has been quelled by the superpowerful narcotic of superstardom.”  (Page 269)

Through these recorded conversations with his acquaintance and spiritual guide — at least for a time — Michael Jackson revealed some of his demons, his joys, and his fears.  But even for all the explanations by the author of his convictions about Jackson’s innocence and sincerity, there are times when readers will uncover something amiss with Jackson — whether from the drugs or other influences is anyone’s guess.  Answers to certain questions will start off coherent and then reach the absurd, leading readers to wonder how the Rabbi failed to see something wrong with Jackson (i.e. drug abuse).  Boteach knew Jackson for just a few years, and while readers may take issue with his assessments of the celebrity or the closeness of their relationship, readers will see a side of Jackson rarely shown to the public.

“MJ:  See, why can’t we be like the trees? That come, you know, they lose their leaves in the winter, and come back as beautiful all over again in the spring, you know? It’s a sense of immortality to them, and the Bible says man was meant for immortality.”  (Page 67)

Jackson and Boteach discussed religion, family, fame, celebrity, and many other topics, with the goal of creating a book.  Jackson at one point espouses the need for celebrities to be responsible for their public displays and shows to ensure they send an appropriate message to their fans, but in many ways acted contrary to that message (i.e. grabbing his crotch during concerts, which he says he did not do consciously).

However, there are times when this book grows tedious with the repetition of Boteach’s theories and assessments of Jackson’s actions and past; it is almost like he doesn’t trust the reader to make his or her own assessments about Jackson and his downfall, which is a major drawback.  Readers will absorb and get lost in the conversations between Boteach and Jackson and enjoy the snippet of conversation included with Jackson’s mother.  The Michael Jackson Tapes seeks to bring out the flaws and the good qualities in a wayward superstar lost in his own image.

About the Author:

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is host of the award-winning national TV show, Shalom in the Home on TLC. He is also the international best-selling author of 20 books, including his most recent work, The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Restoring Passion for Life (Harper One). His book Kosher Sex was an international blockbuster, published in 20 languages, and his recent books on the American family, Parenting With Fire and Ten Conversations You Need to Have With Your Children were both launched on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

I want to thank FSB Associates, Vanguard Press, and Author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach for sending me a free copy of The Michael Jackson Tapes for review.   Clicking on cover images and titles will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; no purchases required.

I have 1 copy for 1 lucky reader anywhere in the world.  To Enter:

1.  Leave a comment on this post about your fondest memory of Michael Jackson or The Jackson Five.

2.  Blog, tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave a comment here.

Deadline is Nov. 23, 2009, at 11:59 PM EST


An addiction recovery program could have helped save the lives of countless victims of drug abuse had they sought it.

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (Audio)

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea on audio was a delight, especially with the voice and passion of Susan Ericksen.  Nayeli is a young girl working in a taco shop in Tres Camarones, who continues to idolize her father that left her and her mother many years ago.

Her home is under attack from bandits and drug dealers, but many residents have been abandoned by other men seeking the opportunities found in America.  While watching The Magnificent Seven with Yul Brynner, Nayeli and her friends — Tacho, Yolo, and Vampi — decide they are going to make a trek to America to bring back the seven they need to save their town.

The audio brings to life the accents, the culture, the beauty of each scene and the playful sparring between these characters and their new surroundings.  Ericksen’s passion for these characters and this story is clear, illuminating the innocence of Nayeli and her friends and the hardships they face.

From the colorful personalities of Nayeli’s gay boss, Tacho, to her vampire/Goth girlfriend Vampi and perky and whiny Yolo to the matriarch of the village Nayeli’s Aunt Irma, Urrea paints a mosaic of Mexico and the struggles of illegal immigrants and those seeking a better life.  Readers will by far enjoy the quirky Atomico a warrior from the dump outside Tijuana the most as he seeks to defend the four from the ills of the world.

My husband and I were riveted when the audio rolled us to work every morning.  Atomico was my husband’s favorite character because he was like a comic book character; “I AM ATOMICO.”  While the border crossings were the most exciting aspects of the novel for my husband, the end of the novel fell flat; he considered it an open ending as if there were more to come — that the journey had not ended.  Urrea’s writing is passionate and tangible, capturing the reader instantly and weaving a tale that envelops them completely.

Into the Beautiful North is one of the best novels I’ve read in 2009, but I plan to read this in hard copy as well.  As an aside, Anna of Diary of an Eccentric and I were able to meet Luis Alberto Urrea and Susan Eriksen at Book Expo America in May, thanks to the kind dragging of Kathy of Bermudaonion, Julie of Booking Mama, Amy from My Friend Amy, Miriam of Hachette Book Group.  Thanks gals!