Monday, December 24, 2018


Thursday, December 20, 2018

0 Audiobook: The Christmas Hirelings


By: Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Narrated by: Richard Armitage
Length: 3 hrs and 53 mins
Unabridged Audiobook
Release date: 12-10-18
Language: English
Publisher: Audible Studios
Category: Classics, British Literature

Summary

Sir John Penlyon is planning to spend Christmas at his estate with his niece and his friend Danby, the closest thing he has to family since disowning his daughter years ago. (She eloped with the parson, who was, of course, penniless.) Danby suggests that at Christmastime the estate needs the presence of small children, and offers to find some—the "hirelings"—despite Sir John’s skepticism. Three children duly arrive, and the youngest, precocious four year-old Moppet, quickly endears herself to Sir John. The season takes flight with merriment, warmth, and even affection, until Moppet—as young children are wont to do in Victorian holiday tales—falls deathly ill. With her life hanging by a tinsel-thin thread, how will the makeshift family cope?

My Thoughts

Last week I had a delightful surprise in my email. It was a free download from Audible for The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I've never read or ever heard of this classic story before, so I figured, why not? I was immediately engrossed in this audiobook.

The Christmas Hirelings is narrated by the actor Richard Armitage, star of Berlin Station. His voice suited this story perfectly. He gave each character a distinct voice and soon I forgot that the audiobook just had one narrator. 

The story is about an old curmudgeon (Sir John Penlyon) who is planning to spend Christmas with an old friend and his niece. They decide that Christmas is more Christmasy when there are young children around to share it with. So they decide to 'hire' some for the season. I know it sounds creepy/weird, but hang in there. Penlyon's friend, Danby, goes about and hires some. He brings them to Sir John's estate and the story begins to unfold.

The children endear themselves to Sir John and he to them, especially Moppet, the youngest. At her four years of age, she shows incredible understanding and love. Her presence warms Sir John's old Grinch heart. But Moppet suffers from sickness and soon her life is in peril. And that's where I'll stop. It is a Christmas tale so don't worry too much about the ending. 

This story was very moving. It's full of what the Christmas spirit should be about. I'm so glad Audible gave their members this Christmas story, because if not, I might have never come across it. If you're an Audible member, download this title immediately! 

 







0 Audiobook Review: Gothic Tales by Arthur Conan Doyle


Gothic Tales by Arthur Conan Doyle,  
Narrated by Gary Furlong 
Published October 2nd 2018 by Tantor Audio
Length: 19 hrs and 12 mins
9781515931379

Summary

Arthur Conan Doyle was the greatest genre writer Britain has ever produced. Throughout a long writing career, he drew on his own medical background, his travels, and his increasing interest in spiritualism and the occult to produce a spectacular array of Gothic tales. Many of Doyle's writings are recognized as the very greatest tales of terror. They range from hauntings in the polar wasteland to evil surgeons and malevolent jungle landscapes. This collection brings together over thirty of Conan Doyle's best Gothic tales. Darryl Jones's introduction discusses the contradictions in Conan Doyle's very public life-as a medical doctor who became obsessed with the spirit world, or a British imperialist drawn to support Irish Home Rule-and shows the ways in which these found articulation in that most anxious of all literary forms, the Gothic.

*I received a mp3 of this book courtesy of Tantor Audio for review purposes. However, I own the hardcover book. While I am grateful to Tantor Audio for the opportunity to review this audiobook, it in no way influenced my review.

My Thoughts

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is known best for his Sherlock Holmes stories. I, for one, am a big fan of the books and the television series. This past year I read another book, Conan Doyle For The Defense, which piqued my interest and made me want to read more of his work. I purchased a copy of Gothic Tales and around the same time was offered a review copy of the audiobook. I, of course, accepted, and here we are. 

Gothic Tales is narrated by Gary Furlong. He is a wonderful narrator. There are a multitude of characters and accents that he performs so well. He made each story's voice unique and interesting. He has quite a few credits to his name on audible, so I expect others have recognized his talent as well. 

This book is quite lengthy. The audiobook is a little over 19 hours long. It took me about a month and a half to complete. However, I didn't listen to this book exclusively at the time. While this book was interesting, it wasn't thrilling. After listening to the introduction, I could see how Doyle's personal life heavily influenced his literary writings. This book deals with things you'd expect in a Gothic novel such as haunting, the unknown, the undiscovered, but also mental illness, his travels, and medical mysteries.  Doyle was also heavily influenced by spiritualism, which also influences his works. 

These stories were published in the 1800s and with that comes some negative aspects. There are many stories that contain racism and slurs. Although Doyle was an abolitionist, I still cringed when hearing certain words read out loud. But I wonder if like Mark Twain his purpose was to make people see how ridiculous their prejudices were. Nevertheless, it still made me uncomfortable.

Overall, the collection of stories does open up a window into the author's soul. You get the impression of how much his father's mental illness weighed upon his mind. How his travels at sea fueled his imagination. How his love of spiritualism made him wonder 'what if'. I don't think these tales would fit into the modern interpretation of Gothic, but I'm glad to have widened my Conan Doyle horizon by reading/listening to them.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

1 Q&A with David R. Gillham, author of ANNELIES: A Novel


Q&A with David R. Gillham, author of
ANNELIES: A Novel
(Viking; On-sale: 1/15/19; 9780399162589; $26.00)


ANNELIES is a work of historical fiction that asks the question: What if Anne Frank survived the Holocaust? What sparked your interest in reinventing the life of such a treasured writer?

Anne Frank’s story has always been a story of hope, and hope is the common thread of my writing. Especially under conditions where it’s hard to imagine that such a thing can survive. Probably the most famous passage from Anne’s diary is dated in July of 1944, and in it she writes that, even in the face of war and persecution, she still believes in the basic goodness of people. But the question has been asked, could she still have believed this after experiencing the horrors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen? It is a challenging question, and one, which I wanted to try at least to answer. This novel is my attempt to do so.

How did you approach writing about a Holocaust victim? How are you able to provide validity to Anne’s story?

As I wrote this story, I was constantly aware of the fact that Annelies Marie Frank was a real person, a person who wrote what would one day become an important addition to world literatures. And yet she died tragically as one of millions of unknown faces. In imagining a life for her had she actually survived, I hope to accomplish two things: to give Anne the life she was cheated of and, through telling the story of one girl, to tell the stories of all the “Annes,” thereby underscoring the lost potential of the millions who perished. Anne Frank’s legacy is one of hope, and it is my hope that if I can offer a reminder of what has been lost, we can dedicate ourselves to repairing the world.

How did you set about researching the novel? How did you use your talents as a novelist to imagine Anne’s story?

In writing this book, my priority has been to honor Anne’s story with honesty and accuracy, so I have remained true to the facts, as I understood them. I’ve read deeply, delving into Holocaust histories, biographies of Anne Frank, and her father, “Pim,” memoirs and transcripts of interviews of people who knew her, as well as studying her diary itself. I’ve traveled to the Netherlands twice in researching ANNELIESTo be better educated in the Jewish experience in Amsterdam, I’ve visited the old Jewish Quarter, the former Diamond District, and the Jewish enclave in the Transvaalbuurt, once left in ruins by a freezing population desperate for firewood. And specifically in relation to Anne Frank’s life, I’ve seen the bookshop where she likely picked out her tartan plaid diary, the Jewish Lyceum where she and her sister, Margot, were sent to school during the occupation, and the former Gestapo headquarters where the Franks and their friends were first detained after their arrest. I’ve explored the Frank family apartment in Amsterdam’s Merwedeplein complex. And, of course, I’ve spent hours inside the Anne Frank House itself. I’ve followed Anne Frank’s path from Amsterdam to the remains of the transit camp Westerbork in the northeastern Netherlands, to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where all the inhabitants of the “House Behind” were shipped by the Nazis on September 3, 1944, to Bergen-Belsen inside Germany, where Anne and Margot Frank died of typhus months later. Through study and access to these resources, I have done my level best to portray the historical backdrop against which the Franks lived with authenticity, sincerity, and respect. 
The portion of the novel set during the period before the Franks went into hiding fictionalizes a chronicle of events recorded in Anne’s diary, although that timeline has been slightly adapted to accommodate the drama, and the dialogue of the characters largely imagined. The dramatic action of the novel after the return of my character “Anne” from Bergen-Belsen is completely fictional of course, though the background of events against which the action unfolds is based on my research of actual postwar history.

Your last novel, City of Women, was also set in World War II. What attracts you to writing historical fiction, specifically in this time period?

I’ve always been drawn to the past, and consider myself a life-long student of history. I think that history offers many lessons to the present, and that, as a novelist, I am drawn to portraying the parallels. As far as the Second World War is concerned, it seems to me that its sheer scope and tragedy continues to exceed our ability to understand it. So we keep trying. Certainly there have been other brutal and scarring calamities in the length of human history, but few if any have so irrevocably changed the face of the world, and still resonate so widely and deeply. We are living today with the consequences of that war. 

One of the most important relationships in the novel is between Anne and her father, Otto “Pim” Frank. How did you develop this father-daughter relationship, both before and after their traumatic experiences?

Dramatically, Anne and Pim represent two different approaches to redemption after trauma. One approach  (Pim’s) refuses to dwell in the tragedies of the past, and looks only toward a better future. The other approach (Anne’s) refuses to relinquish those tragedies, and by facing them, must try to overcome her own anger and guilt. Both paths may to lead to redemption and forgiveness. Both are valid, even when in conflict, because both are fueled, in the end, by the power of hope. Hope is at the heart of ANNELIES.

In developing the fictionalized relationship between my characters of “Anne” and “Pim,” I read biographical and historical works, such as those produced by Mellissa Müller, Carol Anne Lee, and R.W. Jansen. I watched dramatic performances based on Anne’s experiences. I studied accounts of their father/daughter relationship and their personalities left by friends such as Miep Gies. I watched and re-watched postwar film interviews given by Otto Frank, and listened to the stories of the late Cor Suijk, who knew Mr. Frank personally. But really it was Anne Frank herself, in the pages of her diary, who provided me with the contours and depth of their relationship, which I have attempted to portray and upon which I have extrapolated. 

Did any other writers inspire you while writing ANNELIES?

I had not actually read Anne Frank’s diary until I read Philip Roth’s novel, The Ghost Writer. In it Roth’s protagonist, Nathan Zuckerman, imagines that a young European woman in her twenties, whom he meets at the home of his mentor, is actually Anne Frank. It’s only a moment’s fantasy really, and Nathan quickly realizes that it’s his willing imagination at work. But it was The Ghost Writer that inspired me to pick up Anne’s diary and read it. I was thunderstruck. Not just by her insight and humor, but by her subtle brilliance as a writer. 

Much later on, Cynthia Ozick wrote an article in The New Yorker entitled, “Who Owns Anne Frank?”  It was quite a controversial piece in some ways, but what I recall most was when she asked the reader to consider what important works Anne might have produced had she lived. And that’s when it hit me, hanging onto a strap on the A-train on my way into Brooklyn, that some day I would write a novel about Anne Frank having survived. 

And then, of course, there are the many writers who experienced the Holocaust and bore witness, Eli Weisel, Isabella Leitner, Primo Levi, Etty Hillesum (the Dutch writer whose journal and letters were published after her death in Auschwitz.) Also there are the memoires and reminiscences of those who knew Anne Frank personally, such as Hannah Pick-Goslar, Eva Schloss, Nanette Blitz Konig, and Jaqueline van Maarsen. And many, many more survivors, on whose courageous testimony we have come to depend to form our understanding of what cannot be understood. 

What do you want people to take away from reading ANNELIES?

That hope can survive. That in the face of all obstacles, in the face of destruction, in the face of despair, hope can abide. In fact, it must abide. That is the message of the book. And that, I think, is what Anne Frank tried to tell us. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

0 Audiobook Review: What Would Cleopatra Do?


What Would Cleopatra Do?: Life Lessons from 50 of History's Most Extraordinary Women
by Elizabeth Foley,  Beth Coates
Narrated by: Madeleine Maby
Length: 5 hrs and 25 mins
Release date: 11-06-18
Simon Schuster Audio
9781508269137

Summary

Irreverent and inspirational, What Would Cleopatra Do? shares the wisdom and advice passed down from Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Dorothy Parker, and forty-seven other heroines from past eras on how to handle an array of common problems women have encountered throughout history and still face today.

What Would Cleopatra Do? tackles issues by reminding us of inspiring feminists from the past, telling their stories with warmth, humor, and verve. From sticking up for yourself, improving body image, deciding whether to have children, finding a mentor, getting dumped, feeling like an impostor, being unattractive, and dealing with gossip, we can learn a lot by hearing the motivational stories of heroic women who, living in much tougher times through history, took control of their own destinies and made life work for them.

Here are Cleopatra’s thoughts on sibling rivalry, Mae West on positive body image, Frida Kahlo on finding your style, Catherine the Great on dealing with gossip, Agatha Christie on getting dumped, Hedy Lamarr on being underestimated—to list only a few—as well as others who address dilemmas including career-planning, female friendship, loneliness, financial management, and political engagement.

My Thoughts

I love to read about amazing women who changed the status quo of their time. Women who didn't take no for an answer. Women who didn't buy into the philosophy that they were only made for domesticated chores and childbirth. While strides have been made toward equality, we still have a way to go.

Elizabeth Foley and Beth Coates have written the book, What Would Cleopatra Do? to focus on some of history's most influential women. Women that can teach us a thing or two about how to handle adversity, how to deal with loss, feeling like an impostor, and much much more.

The book is comprised of 50 women, but we all know there could be libraries filled with all the contributions women have made to society. I enjoyed reading about women I was already familiar with, such as Emily Dickinson, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Dorthy Parker, but I was overjoyed to meet some new women whose stories I had yet to hear, such as Akiko Yosano, Wang Zhenyi, and Grace Hopper. I'm not sure about the selection process the authors used to decide on which women to put in this novel. They could write a sequel and still have room for more.

I listened to this as an audiobook and loved it. It is narrated by Madeleine Maby, who did a wonderful job. Each woman's profile was about five minutes long. Just enough time to give you a brief rundown on their lives. The book includes illustrations, but since I listened to the audio, I missed out on them. I would have loved if this book went a little deeper into their lives, but I'll have to do that on my own time.

If you need some motivations, you'll find it here. What Would Cleopatra Do? is filled with extraordinary women who defied their times. Scientists, actresses, writers, civil rights leaders, and athletes, they didn't have an easy path, but they certainly cleared away some debris so that later generations would have an easier path. This is a great book to gift to the women in your life. It will encourage, uplift, and inspire them.

*I received a digital copy of this book thanks to Simon and Schuster Audio. This is no way influenced my opinion of the book.


Monday, December 17, 2018

0 Reading Goals For 2019



It seems strange to be thinking about goals for 2019. I mean, didn't 2018 just start? Yet, here we are on the verge on a new year. I spent a lot of time last week thinking about my reading goals for this past year and whether or not I felt like I accomplished them. Then I started thinking about the new year and the bookish things I wanted to accomplish. The one thing that kept coming to mind is all the times I looked over at my bookshelf longingly and wished I had more time to read some of the books already there. Not to mention all the books on my Kindle.

All these thoughts led to me to my 2019 reading goal: To read my own books. I've put myself on a book buying ban. No new books. I've unsubscribed from all (hopefully) emails that I get on a daily basis that tell me which books are on sale to avoid temptation. I've unfollowed bookish accounts that do the same. The only thing I didn't unsubscribe from is my Audible membership. I've decided to keep it.

Although these are not my bookshelves, it's an accurate representation. 

I hope this challenge accomplishes many things for me, but one of the benefits will be to cull my personal library. My bookshelves are overflowing onto stacks on the floor. I plan to keep the ones I LOVE and get rid of the rest. To keep on track, I'm going to post every month a stack of books I'll be going through and whether or not I plan to read them or pass them on to somebody else.

Book blogging is fun, but it's also a lot of work. I found myself suffering from reading slumps more this year than any other. I really want to get back to the basics and make more time for bookish things that I love. It can be overwhelming trying to keep up with trends and all the debuts, but maybe by doing this, I'll find my zen once again in reading.


What are your 2019 reading goals?


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

0 Review: Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy


Marilla of Green Gables
by Sarah McCoy
Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 23rd 2018 by William Morrow
9780062870155

Summary

Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother has dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife: cooking, sewing, keeping house, and overseeing the day-to-day life of Green Gables with her brother, Matthew and father, Hugh.

In Avonlea—a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island—life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city of St. Catharines. An opinionated spinster, Aunt Izzy’s talent as a seamstress has allowed her to build a thriving business and make her own way in the world.

Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. Joining the Ladies Aid Society, she raises funds for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity in nearby Nova Scotia that secretly serves as a way station for runaway slaves from America. Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness—Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition—jeopardizing all she cherishes, including her bond with her dearest John Blythe. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables.

My Thoughts

*I received a copy of Marilla of Green Gables for review from William Morrow. While I'm grateful for the opportunity provided by the publisher to read this book, it in no way reflects my opinions of said novel. 

Anne of Green Gables is one of my all-time favorite books. Lucy Maud Montgomery's characters enchanted me at an early age. Marilla of Green Gables was on my list of most anticipate books of 2018. It's also now on my list of most favorite books of 2018. But I have to admit, I started reading this book with a little trepidation. I had high-hopes concerning this book and characters, and I wondered if McCoy could deliver on these characters that I hold so dear.

My first impressions of Marilla in Anne of Green Gables was not great. She seemed strict and unyielding, but as the story moved forward, she became very dear to me. There is a conversation that takes place in Anne of Green Gables between Anne and Marilla that eludes to a bit of romantic history in Marilla's past. Montgomery never elaborates, so the reader must make our own assumptions to what happened between Marilla and John Blythe. Until now. 

Sarah McCoy answers the question that so many of the Green Gables fans have wondered for so long. She takes us back to when Marilla was a girl, finding her way in the world. I was nostalgic while meeting Rachel, Mathew, Marilla, and the other characters from Avonlea as if for the first time. There are also some new characters that are just as charming as the original characters. Aunt Elizabeth "Izzy" Johnson, Marilla's mother's twin sister, reminded me of Anne in so many ways. And, of course, Jon Blythe. While you get a glimpse of him in Anne of Green Gables, McCoy brings his character to the front and center while she explores the relationship between Jon and Marilla. 

Even though I knew how their story would end, I really wanted a different ending. But McCoy was true to L.M. Montgomery's vision. I also enjoyed reading more of the historical details McCoy included in this book. McCoy really did Marilla justice. She answered a lingering question about what happened between Marilla and her beau and how she became the woman readers would come to know in Anne of Green Gables





Thursday, December 6, 2018

0 Many will swoon over this week’s BookTrib giveaway



Many will swoon over this week’s BookTrib giveaway, 20 different Harlequin romances to one lucky winner. As part of BookTrib's Holiday Giveaway, they will be gifting a box of 20 books, matching various themes, each week to one lucky winner through the month of December. Like what you see? Enter from now to December 13th for a chance to win all of these titles in their romance box!
Go to https://booktrib.com/booktrib-giveaways/ to enter!
 

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