(Review) Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin

Publisher and Publication Date: Vintage Books. 1999.
Genre: Nonfiction. Biography. Women and literature.
Pages: 347.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of Jane Austen.
Rating: Very good.

Several black and white illustrations are included.

Amazon link

I have reader friends who’ve told me they are not a Darcy fan. I have reader friends who’ve told me they’ve never read a Jane Austen story. When I hear these things I’m not offended. I believe that books are personal choices; and, my choice is not necessarily another person’s choice.

How do I feel about Jane Austen? I am a fan of Jane Austen. I love reading about Jane Austen. I love Jane Austenesque stories. I have read most of her novels and a few of them are favorites.

Several months ago I began reading Jane Austenesque stories. Add to this, I have read two of Austen’s unfinished novels that were finished by modern authors. These reasons have led me to feel compelled to read and study Jane Austen. I want to learn about her writing style and technique, the Regency period, her family, and the everyday life she lived.

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin is the fourth book I’ve read in this personal study.
I’ve also read:
1. Jane Austen, Bloom’s BioCritiques by Harold Bloom.
2. The Friendly Jane Austen: A Well-Mannered Introduction to a Lady of Sense and Sensibility by Natalie Tyler, with contributions from Jon Winokur and Reid Boates.
3. Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Jane Austen by Carol J. Adams, Douglas Buchanan, Kelly Gesch.

Several others are in a TBR stack:
~The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne
~Our Tempestuous Day: A History of Regency England by Carolly Erickson
~The Cambridge Companion Guide to Jane Austen by Edward Copeland
~Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye
All links take you to Goodreads.

In Jane Austen: A Life, Tomalin examines all the Austen family. None of them are placed under the microscope, but they are explored through their letters, and personal choices in marriages, family, and careers. Chapter two goes back to Jane’s grandparents.
In Jane’s early life, she was sent to a village woman to be cared for and nursed until she was of age to live at home. This seems odd to our modern view, but during this era it was common. However, Tomalin wonders how this might have effected Jane?
Most of Jane’s letters were destroyed by family. We can only speculate why. In addition, the family was discreet about what they shared and passed down through the generations. A brother and a nephew remarked Jane lived an, “ordinary life.” Later in the book it is stated the family were reserved people. As a Jane Austen fan, I want to read at least a morsel of her showing not necessarily imperfections, but at least a realness of her person. It is easy to wonder if the family was reserved or trying to protect Jane’s image. Both are possibilities. After Jane’s father died and she moved to other housing, there is a glimpse she may have been depressed. Tomalin only explains this is a possibility.
Jane Austen: A Life is a little dry. This point didn’t take away from devouring the book.

Final thoughts:
~I love it that Jane read her writings to family.
~I love it that Jane tried different techniques in writing stories.
~In Appendix one, I thought it was interesting to read about the different illnesses that may have caused Jane’s death.
~I love reading about Cassandra’s love and devotion to Jane.
~It is sad how people of this period treated those with disabilities. Each proceeding generation looks back on previous generations with a different perspective. I have often wondered what people 100 years from now will say about us? What will be our legacy?

(Review) The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

Publisher and Publication Date: Henry Holt and Co. March 31, 2020.
Genre: Austenesque. Historical fiction. Women and literature.
Pages: 480.
Source: NetGalley eBook.
Audience: Readers of Jane Austen stories. Austenesque readers.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link/the Kindle copy is $14.99/Paperback copy is $20

Link at the publishers to read more information about the book, author and an excerpt: The Other Bennet Sister.

Summary from the publisher:
What if Mary Bennet’s life took a different path from that laid out for her in Pride and Prejudice? What if the frustrated intellectual of the Bennet family, the marginalized middle daughter, the plain girl who takes refuge in her books, eventually found the fulfillment enjoyed by her prettier, more confident sisters? This is the plot of Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister, a debut novel with exactly the affection and authority to satisfy Jane Austen fans.

Ultimately, Mary’s journey is like that taken by every Austen heroine. She learns that she can only expect joy when she has accepted who she really is. She must throw off the false expectations and wrong ideas that have combined to obscure her true nature and prevented her from what makes her happy. Only when she undergoes this evolution does she have a chance at finding fulfillment; only then does she have the clarity to recognize her partner when he presents himself—and only at that moment is she genuinely worthy of love.

Mary’s destiny diverges from that of her sisters. It does not involve broad acres or landed gentry. But it does include a man; and, as in all Austen novels, Mary must decide whether he is the truly the one for her. In The Other Bennet Sister, Mary is a fully rounded character—complex, conflicted, and often uncertain; but also vulnerable, supremely sympathetic, and ultimately the protagonist of an uncommonly satisfying debut novel.

My Thoughts:
The Other Bennet Sister is the behind the scenes story of the Bennet family, but its focus is on the life of Mary Bennet.
I don’t know if you remember? Mary Bennet is the middle sister in the Bennet family of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The older sisters are Jane and Elizabeth. The two younger sisters are Catherine and Lydia.
Mary is an overlooked, mousy character both in the book and films. She’s a character I’d not been attracted to nor had an interest in exploring. I’m ashamed.
The Other Bennet Sister is a gem. I love everything about it.

Reasons why I love this story:
~Mary is a surprising, interesting, and heroine figure in the book. She is a character that comes from behind everyone else (if you can picture a stage in your mind) and stands squarely front and center. She does come across as “uninteresting” at first. But then I began to understand how she felt about herself. She felt as if she didn’t belong in the family. She felt as if she didn’t have a role and purpose. She was a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. She wanted what we all want: to be accepted, loved, and feel connected to people. This is a huge reason why I love this story. It is easy to identify with Mary. At some point in life, we wrestle with trying to have a connection to people.
~The Other Bennet Sister is a lengthy book. I didn’t know what to expect when I began reading this story. Sometimes books explore a certain chapter in a person’s life and then the book ends. This book explores several places in Mary’s life, because of this, I felt a full scope had been given to me about Mary. I knew her as a young girl, young woman; and, how she develops in her personality, character, thinking, spirit, and life choices.
~I was given a peek at the married lives of Jane and Elizabeth. Not perfect. I’m not saying there is anything scandalizing, but their marriages were no more perfect than anyone else’s.
~The Other Bennet Sister is a strong study on people’s character (definition -the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual) and the choices they make.
~Other lesser known characters in Pride and Prejudice are revealed more. For example: Charlotte, Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet, and the aunt and uncle who live in London.

(Review) Saving the Music by Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco

Publisher and Publication Date: Cefalutana Press. March 1, 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction. World War II. Holocaust.
Pages: 398.
Source: I received a complimentary eBook copy from Amy Bruno of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, but was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of World War II stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Saving the Music is book #2 in the Bellafortuna Series.
A Song for Bellafortuna is book #1

Barnes and Noble

Read an interview with Chip LoCoco at Passages to the Past.

About the Author:
Chip LoCoco was born and raised in New Orleans. His first novel, Tempesta’s Dream, became an Amazon Bestseller.
His second novel, Bellafortuna, has been nationally recognized, being named a Short List Finalist in the William Faulkner Writing Competition and awarded the B.R.A.G. Award in Historical Fiction. Mr. LoCoco is a member of the Italian American Writers Association.
His newest work, Saving the Music, which is Book 2 of his Bellafortuna Series, was just recently released.
Chip, who is an attorney, is married to his wife of over 20 years, Wendy. They have two children, Matthew and Ellie and a beagle, named Scout. They reside in their beloved city of New Orleans, where if you try to find them on a Sunday in the fall, they will be somewhere rooting on their Saints.


It is the winter of 1942, and the world is at war. A few Jewish musicians attempt to flee the Nazi death grip, each desperately trying to navigate his own path to safety. With the courageous aid and kindness of strangers, they soon find themselves in Rome, where under the highly secret help of the Vatican, they are hidden in Bellafortuna, a small village in Sicily. The residents of Bellafortuna welcome them and care for them, and for a fleeting moment, the horrors the musicians are facing are forgotten while residing in the beautiful, idyllic landscape of Sicily. But word soon reaches the small village that Italy has surrendered, now making Germany at war with Italy. War quickly comes to the village as the Germans storm into Sicily to repel the Allied advance. As Bellafortuna becomes front and center in the raging war, the villagers rise as one to try and protect and save the Jews hiding in their midst. Failure to keep them hidden will mean death to those under their protection…and perhaps even to the villagers themselves.
An intricately plotted and meticulously researched novel, Saving the Music demonstrates how, in the face of death and unspeakable horror, the strength of the human spirit of ordinary people can shine bright through the darkness.

My Thoughts:
I was excited to read a story that’s setting is in Italy and Sicily.
I was excited to read a story that has the pope and the Catholic Church as characters.
I didn’t know the history of Jews living in Rome nor their plight during the Holocaust until reading this book.
These are strong reasons this book is unique from other World War II stories.
Other reasons why I love this story:
~History and archaeology research and discoveries are presented in the story about the early Christian church, Peter, and the Catholic Church.
~Courage and resilience in the people who hid Jews or escorted them to safe places. I’m amazed at their ability to be valiant in the face of possible death.
~I enjoyed reading Chip LoCoco’s research regarding the book.
~Saving the Music showed me strength is sometimes in quietness. There were courageous people who risked certain death, but there were people in the background who persevered without notice.
~Saving the Music is a page-turner.
~LoCoco has an engaging writing style.
~The dialogue and characters are believable.
~The ending is deeply satisfyingly.

I have a new interest in this history. I’ve ordered a book recommended by Chip LoCoco, Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling.

Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on June 18th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Paperback giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
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Link for the giveaway: https://gleam.io/HGCJ3/saving-the-music

(Review) Playground Zero by Sarah Relyea

Publisher and Publication Date: She Writes Press. June 9, 2020.
Genre: Fiction. Historical Fiction.
Pages: 416.
Source: I received a complementary ARC paperback copy from Stephanie Barko, Literary Publicist, I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers who are interested in the late 1960s Berkeley, California. Readers of coming of age stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link
Barnes and Noble link
IndieBound link

Link at She Writes Press for more information about the book.

Link for the book excerpt: Playground Zero.

The manuscript was semi-finalist for the Black Lawrence Press 2018 Big Moose Prize

Author Bio:
Sarah Relyea is the author of Playground Zero, a coming-of-age story set in Berkeley in the late 1960s. Sarah left the Berkeley counterculture at age thirteen and processed its effects as a teenager in suburban Los Angeles. She would soon swap California’s psychedelic scene to study English literature at Harvard.

Sarah has long addressed questions of identity in her writing, including in her book of literary criticism, Outsider Citizens: The Remaking of Postwar Identity in Wright, Beauvoir, and Baldwin.

With her PhD in English and American literature from The Graduate Center, CUNY, Sarah has taught American literature and writing at universities in New York and Taiwan. She remains bicoastal, living in Brooklyn and spending time on the Left Coast.

Website for Sarah Relyea
Goodreads author page

1968. It’s the season of siren songs and loosened bonds—as well as war, campaign slogans, and assassination. When the Raysons’ family leaves the East Coast for the gathering anarchy of Berkeley, twelve-year-old Alice embraces the moment in a hippie paradise that’s fast becoming a cultural ground zero. As her family and school fade away in a tear gas fog, the 1960s counterculture brings ambiguous freedom. Guided only by a child’s-eye view in a tumultuous era, Alice could become another casualty—or she could come through to her new family, her developing life. But first, she must find her way in a world where the street signs hang backward and there’s a bootleg candy called Orange Sunshine.

My Thoughts:
My memories of the 1960s is helped in great part, because my four older siblings were teenagers during this era. I am 10-15 years younger than them.
I have especially strong memories of the music. Each sibling had their own music they cherished. For example, my eldest sister JoAnn loved the music from the early 1960s. She never liked the hard rock sound that the other’s loved. Frances loved the Beatles. James loved Led Zeppelin and The Doors. Bobby loved Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
Only my sister Frances during her college years (1970-1973) took part in demonstrations in regard to the Vietnam war and women’s rights.
One last memory I’ll share. When my sister Frances came home to visit from college, she and dad had heated discussions about their different perspectives on current events. I’m a little girl at this time, but I remember being entertained and a bit impressed with how Frances held her own against dad.

Now, Playground Zero.
This is a book that gives much to review about, because it has strong conflicts and themes. Plus, the story creates conversation and opinion.

*What I like about the story is the third-person point of view. The story is told from the third person narrative (he, she, they.) The focus is on the different members of the Raysons’ family. The parents are Tom and Marian. Their children are Curt and Alice. Other characters are included, but this story is about the Raysons. Reading a third-person narrative, I was able to take a seat and watch the story unfold. In this way of telling the story, Playground Zero doesn’t tell or teach me to have an opinion other than the one in my mind. I can read the story and let it unfold, then create my own feeling and judgment.

*I like reading a story that’s out of my normal type read. This broadens my mind at the least. Whether I will end up enjoying the book is another thing.

*The Raysons’ family is an example of parents and children who are not connecting. Each person is focused on something other than each other. Each of them want to connect with something or someone whether it’s another person or an event that will fill what’s absent from their lives. In other words, each of the family members are searching for something that will bring meaning, stability, and intimacy. At times, the kids are looking to a parent for direction and guidance. They are looking for a stable and secure home, because the outside world is a scary place. Instead, the kids get zero help in the home. Is it possible that’s why the title is Playground Zero?
Connection and intimacy are themes and conflicts running through the story.

*When Alice and Curt start school in Berkeley, California, school integration has begun. This is new for them. It’s not new to have relationships with people of the African American race. It is new for African American and white children to be in the classroom together. Alice wants to be a friend no matter the person’s race. However, her good intentions are not matched with other students who are comfortable and accepting. This is an additional conflict in her life. She has a hard time finding a connection whether it’s at home, in school, or in the neighborhood.
Curt is a physical person. He’s athletic. It helps that boys regardless of race play sports together.

*The way the two races of kids treat one another was interesting. I saw a curiosity, but an unwillingness and inability to know how to integrate with one another. This is another conflict in the story.

*One of the things I had trouble with in the book is Alice is ten (and she’s twelve at the end) when the story begins. The story follows the family for a year. Her person seems older-a teenager and not a kid of ten. I had a difficult time believing that Alice is ten. If she’d been thirteen when the story began, then I’d state this story had a believable quality.

*I enjoyed the east coast versus west coast differences. The family began in Washington D.C. and relocated across the country to Berkeley, California.

*I laughed at the adults in the story who complain about people who judge others when they too judge.

*Tom and Marian have strong ideas of what they want their kids to experience. However, being strong stable parents is not one of those ideas.

*I experienced through Alice’s eyes the demonstrations, riots, and the chaos that transpired.

*The story doesn’t focus much on Curt. I wanted to hear more about his life.

*Lastly, there is a closure for the family. A big change comes and the kids are thrust to a new place. Alice has experienced big changes in the year at Berkeley, California. Her person grew in age one year, but in experience probably 30 years. Of course, I’d like to know the rest of her story!

*Final thoughts:
This is not a story that is a feel good story. It is a book that is revealing about people and moments in history. There were times when I was infuriated at the parents. I felt deep sadness for Alice. It is a book I’ll not forget. This is the last point and the main point that led me to give this book an excellent rating: it is memorable!

(Review) The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

Publisher and Publication Date: St Martin’s Press. May 26, 2020.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, General Fiction, Austenesque.
Pages: 320.
Source: NetGalley eBook copy. I received a complimentary eBook copy from NetGalley, and through the publisher, I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Jane Austen readers.
Rating: Very good.

The Jane Austen Society is available in hardcover, Kindle, audio CD, and audiobook.

Amazon link
Barnes and Noble

The full unabridged text of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was read by the distinguished English film, television, theatre and voice actor Richard Armitage for the audiobook recording. Best known by many period drama fans for his outstanding performance as John Thornton in the BBC television adaptation of North and South (2004), Armitage also portrayed Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit (2012 – 2014). The combination of Jenner’s marvelous prose and Armitage’s velvet voice is just sublime.

For another review and to listen to an excerpt: Austenprose.

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of The Jane Austen Society, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.
Website for Natalie Jenner.

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable. One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

My Thoughts:
I am a Jane Austen fan. I’ve enjoyed reading all her novels. My favorite is Sense and Sensibility. Many of her fans state Pride and Prejudice is their favorite. Not me. I love the story but it’s not my favorite.
Are you a Jane Austen fan? Is there a particular book of Austen’s that is a favorite?

In The Jane Austen Society, the cast of characters represent people from different walks of life: male and female, different ages, English and American, varying types of education and profession, modest income and wealthy. This is the first reason why I love this story. The Jane Austen Society is a group of different individuals who come together for a common goal.

Other reasons why I love this story:
*Descriptive story-telling.
*A male character who has an easy to dismiss role, but he is important to the story. His role is different than other male book characters I’ve read in other stories. He’s subtle and understated. His background story is touching and memorable. For me, he holds a balance for the story. He is neither profound because of star qualities and heroic abilities, nor is he insignificant and trifle. He is actually endearing. And, his person and life develops.
*I enjoyed reading how the characters felt about the history of Chawton (the town where Jane Austen lived.) How they felt about the fans that came often to “sight-see.” How they felt about the Knight family who dwell in Chawton House. How they feel about one another; and what they think they know.
*The majority of the story is post World War II. However, the story backs up to a behind the scenes story of World War I, the childhood of some of the characters, and the Great Depression years.
*I’ve read remarks from reviewers about the Hollywood starlet, Mimi Harrison. I feel she has a part to play in this story. She’s the American who adores Jane Austen. She has a part to play in how The Jane Austen Society is able to complete a goal. She represents the outer world. A world away from this small village, but she loves Jane Austen too.
*I have favorites in the story. One of my favorites is not Mimi, but Adam Berwick. I also like Adeline Lewis and Frances Knight.

Final Thoughts:
The Jane Austen Society is not a story with huge sweeping romantic stories. It is closer to everyday life. It is down-to-earth.
It’s possible that you are a reader who needs plenty of action and oomph! This is not that kind of book. However, I love this story. I enjoyed reading it.

Other links of interest:
Jane Austen’s House
Chawton House
Jane Austen Centre