Tuesday, February 9, 2016

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

It’s an amazing and one of a lifetime book that will you make you both laugh and cry, a book that has such a powerful story, that it remains with you long after the last page has turned.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings meets this criteria.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a beautifully written autobiography.  Angelou has a distinct style of writing where she lyrically describes her life from the age of 3 until her later teens.  As a three year old child, Angelou was sent across the country via train with only her four year old brother Bailey.  Her parents were in the middle of a divorce and her father’s mother, Momma or Mrs. Annie Henderson, took in both children and raised them.

Life in Stamps, Arkansas is both the best and worst of times.  The kids always have plenty of food to eat with Momma as a store and property owner in town during the Great Depression.  Momma also sets rules and expects them to be obeyed and is full of love.  Young Maya though notices that although Momma is a powerful woman in the black community, whites including “Po’ White Trash” treat Momma with no respect and there is nothing Momma can do about it.  

When Maya is eight, her father comes back for her and Bailey.  She believes they are going to California to live, but in reality, he is taking them north to St. Louis to live with their mother Vivian.  Maya is brutally raped by her mother’s boyfriend during this period of time.  He is captured, tried, and let off easy.  He is found dead one day later, most likely killed by her mother’s family.  Maya believes that her words on the stand caused a man’s death, so she stops speaking for years.

Her Mother and her family don’t know what to do with Maya so they send her and young Bailey back to Stamps, Arkansas.  There with the help of Momma and a special teacher, Maya is able to move on.  In her teenage years, after Bailey sees firsthand the brutality of being a black man in the Deep South, Momma takes the two children to their parents in California.  As a teenager in California, Maya also has her ups and downs including becoming the first African American Female trolley conductor in San Francisco, and being homeless for a while.  The book ends with Maya becoming an unwed teenage mother and you have to wonder, what will happen next.  Luckily, Angelou continued her autobiography in a series of books after this to continue the entire story.

I loved this book when I first read it as an eighteen year old and I loved it on reading it again as a now almost thirty-eight year old.  I love how unique Angelou’s writing style is.  The fact that she can make me laugh on one page only to have me cry on another is due to her superb writing skills.  I like how she honestly took a look back at her life and wrote an unflinching narrative that including the dark times of her life.  You can’t read this book without being horrified by her rape as an eight year old girl.  It brings me to tears just typing this.  The aftermath where no one in her family every mentioned it again and basically left Angelou to deal with this on her own is also a lesson on how not to deal with a victim.

I was also horrified on how Angelou’s parents treated her and Bailey.  I can’t imagine just dropping my kids off with their Grandma and not having any contact with them for years.  The uncertainty of their life with living with Momma or their parents caused a lot of angst and problems.  Truthfully though, I felt like life with Momma provided the stability that they needed and were lacking from their parents so it was probably a good thing that they were sent there.  

I also liked the discussion of race relations in America, which sadly are as pertinent today as they were when this book was written in the 1960’s.  One of the most striking sections to me was when Momma tried to take Maya to the dentist.  There was only a white one in town, but during the depression he had borrowed money from Momma to keep his business going.  Although he wasn’t too good to take Momma’s money, he tells her on no uncertain terms, that he refused to do any dental work on an African American, even a child in pain.  It is hard for me to grasp how people could treat each other this way.  We are all people no matter the color of our skin.  

I’ve read that I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a frequently banned book in schools.  While I don’t think this book would be appropriate for middle school children, I think it would definitely be a good book for a high schooler to read.  It is graphic and brutally honest, but that also makes it a good book to discuss race, sexual abuse, and a variety of topics with your student or child.  I am not a fan of banning books.

Overall, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of my favorite books, with a unique storyteller, Maya Angelou, giving an unflinching and beautiful narrative of life in the Deep South and with a fractured family.  I highly recommend it.

Book Source:  My own library. I bought this book somewhere twenty years ago.

Star Wars: The Glove of Darth Vader by Paul Davids and Hollace Davids

Trioculous proclaims he is Emperor Palpatine’s son and the Grand Moths declare he is the new ruler of the Empire.  The search is on for the glove of Darth Vader which empire prophets have said whoever has it will be the new leader of the Empire.  Trioculous needs it to ensure his power and rule.  

Meanwhile Whalodons are being hunted to extinction on Calamari. Admiral Ackbar, Luke C3PO, and R2-D2 go to Calamari to investigate Trioculous’s plot and also stumble onto this environmental disaster.

I read this book with my now 10-year old 4th grade son.  His review is that it is “good” and that he “liked everything.”  The book had good dialogue, and Kile helped it along by using a R2-D2 toy to provide the dialogue whenever R2-D2 spoke.  Kile thought it was hilarious how C3PO always stated “we’re doomed” in pretty much every scenario.  

Overall Star Wars:  The Glove of Darth Vader had a good mix of humor and adventure.  This book is no longer part of the canon with the new movie out, but Kile didn’t seem to mind and really enjoyed it.  We are now currently reading book two of this series.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Jane and the Waterloo Map Blog Tour, Book Excerpt, and Giveaway!

Amateur sleuth Jane Austen returns in Jane and the Waterloo Map, the thirteenth novel in Stephanie Barron’s delightful Regency-era mystery series.

Award winning author Stephanie Barron tours the blogosphere February 2 through February 22, 2016 to share her latest release, Jane and the Waterloo Map (Being a Jane Austen Mystery). Twenty popular book bloggers specializing in Austenesque fiction, mystery and Regency history will feature guest blogs, interviews, excerpts and book reviews from this highly anticipated novel in the acclaimed Being a Jane Austen Mystery series. A fabulous giveaway contest, including copies of Ms. Barron’s book and other Jane Austen-themed items, will be open to those who join the festivities.  

 I am honored to a part of the Jane and the Waterloo Map Blog Tour that was put together by Laurel Ann Nattress of one of my favorite blogs, Austenprose.  I first discovered Stephanie Barron's wonderful novels in 2003 when I was walking through the Milwaukee Public Library downtown and saw the beautiful cover of Jane and the Ghosts of Netley.  I picked up the book and discovered it was a historical fiction mystery novel with Jane Austen as the main character.  The books are immersed in the real events of Jane's life, but have made her the plucky heroine with her own adventures in solving myseries. I was riveted and soon had read all of the books that came before it in the series.  Jane and the Waterloo map continues the streak of excellence.  It can be read as part of the series or alone.  Return for my review as part of this tour on February 16th.  Continuing reading for an exciting excerpt of the novel and more details on the book and an exciting giveaway.

EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 3: In which we find Jane Austen on a visit to Carlton House, royal London resident of the Prince Regent, with her host, the royal chaplain James Stanier Clarke.

“I begin to think that the smokes and fogs of London carry every sort of contagion, Miss Austen.  You will be wanting to fly into Hampshire as soon as your brother may spare you.”
“I do not think of quitting London before December,” I replied.  “My business with Mr. Murray precludes it.”
“John Murray, the publisher?  Of Albemarle Street?” Mr. Clarke sat up a little straighter in his chair.  “He has the printing of your latest work, I presume?  As how should he not—the publisher of Byron, to link his name and fortunes with so celebrated an Authoress as Miss Jane Austen!  Pray, is the work very far advanced?”
“We have only just embarked on the proofs of the first volume,” I replied.  “My brother’s illness, as you may imagine, must take precedence.”
“And will it be as admirable in every way as Mansfield Park?  I confess that is my favourite of your works—so pleasing in its treatment of Ordination, and its sober picture of the clergy.  Is your heroine to be as modest and humble a lady as Miss Fanny Price?”
“Not at all,” I truthfully replied.  “Indeed, I cannot think Emma a creature anyone but myself will very much like.  She is too full of spirits, self-assurance, vanity and pride; and she is in the habit of always getting her own way.”
“The very picture of the Princess Charlotte!” Mr. Clarke cried. 
He rose and began to turn in some agitation before the stove, which threw out a good deal of heat.  I was fortunate in having a fire screen close at hand, however, and employed it.  The Bow Room was a marvel of luxury and comfort—and this, by all appearances, was the least of the Regent’s chambers.  The window that gave the room its name looked out on an area clad in Portland stone, the insipid color dappled with the silhouettes of perhaps a dozen yew trees in glossy black tubs.  The shrubs had been clipped into fantastic shapes—a charger’s head, mane blown back; a sea nymph rising from a wave.  Placed in a spot where no garden could grow, an entire storey below ground, they refreshed the eye on a dark November afternoon.  Again, I suppressed the desire to accept Mr. Clarke’s invitation, and write in the peace and comfort of this remarkable house.  I might be undisturbed for hours, treated to good coal fires, and have my pick of myriad Jameses to bring me ratafia and cakes whenever I desired them.
“I hope you will not think me impertinent.”  Mr. Clarke broke in upon my reverie.  “--Although it must be impossible for the Notice of the Regent to be considered as anything but a Blessing.  I wonder, Miss Austen—I have informed you, I know, of His Royal Highness’s immense regard for your work, and indeed, that of his daughter, Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte—would it be indelicate, nay, presumptuous of me to offer a little hint?”
Bewildered, I stared at him, my ratafia suspended in one hand.  “If you could perhaps speak more plainly, sir,” I said. 
“Of course.  To be sure.”  He turned again, hands clasped behind his coat.  “You are aware that on occasion the Regent grants the favour of Notice to various Luminaries of Art and Letters.  It is to be your honour, Miss Austen, to receive that Notice.”
I felt heat in my cheeks.  What was the absurd little man suggesting? 
“It is His Royal Highness’s pleasure and happiness to command that your next published work be dedicated humbly, and gratefully, to Himself, as Regent of the noble land that gave you birth, Miss Austen--that inspired your Genius--that has so warmly embraced your interesting histories of Genteel Romance.”
He beamed at me, confident of the joy that must even now be surging in my spinster’s breast. 
“You will wish, I know, to send a simple note of thanks to the Regent for this Notice—which I will be happy to convey myself.  I will procure you pen and paper directly.  The Dedication, when composed, may also be sent for my perusal, so that any little improvements that might strike my fancy, and that have escaped your scrupulous intellect, may be subscribed therewith.”
I, commanded to dedicate my cherished Emma to a man I abominated?  Commanded, moreover, to regard His Royal arrogance as an occasion for gratitude?  Absurd.
I had endured enough of Carlton House for one day.
“You are too kind, Mr. Clarke,” I said stiffly.  “But now I must take my leave of you.  My maid will be wondering what has become of me.”
“As to that—surely it is a maid’s office to wait upon her mistress?  You will be wanting another glass of ratafia, I am sure.”
“You are all politeness, but I am unequal to--”
A sound at the Bow Room doorway brought my head around.  Doctor Baillie was silhouetted in its frame.
“You are wanted, Clarke,” he said brusquely.  “The Colonel ought to have Absolution, and there is no time to waste.”
“Good Lord!  It cannot be so bad as that!”
“It is.  You will find him above, in the Green Velvet Room.  Make haste, man!”

Jane Austen turns sleuth in this delightful Regency-era mystery

November, 1815. The Battle of Waterloo has come and gone, leaving the British economy in shreds; Henry Austen, high-flying banker, is about to declare bankruptcy—dragging several of his brothers down with him. The crisis destroys Henry’s health, and Jane flies to his London bedside, believing him to be dying. While she’s there, the chaplain to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent invites Jane to tour Carlton House, the Prince’s fabulous London home. The chaplain is a fan of Jane’s books, and during the tour he suggests she dedicate her next novel—Emma—to HRH, whom she despises.

However, before she can speak to HRH, Jane stumbles upon a body—sprawled on the carpet in the Regent’s library. The dying man, Colonel MacFarland, was a cavalry hero and a friend of Wellington’s. He utters a single failing phrase: “Waterloo map” . . . and Jane is on the hunt for a treasure of incalculable value and a killer of considerable cunning.



"A well-crafted narrative with multiple subplots drives Barron’s splendid 13th Jane Austen mystery. Series fans will be happy to see more of Jane’s extended family and friends, and Austenites will enjoy the imaginative power with which Barron spins another riveting mystery around a writer generally assumed to have led a quiet and uneventful life."  Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"Writing in the form of Jane’s diaries, Barron has spun a credible tale from a true encounter, enhanced with meticulous research and use of period vocabulary."

"Barron, who's picked up the pace since Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, portrays an even more seasoned and unflinching heroine in the face of nasty death and her own peril."  Kirkus Reviews

"Barron deftly imitates Austen’s voice, wit, and occasional melancholy while spinning a well-researched plot that will please historical mystery readers and Janeites everywhere. Jane Austen died two years after the events of Waterloo; one hopes that Barron conjures a few more adventures for her beloved protagonist before historical fact suspends her fiction." Library Journal 


Stephanie Barron was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written fifteen books. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about Stephanie and her books at her website, visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.


February 02              My Jane Austen Book Club (Guest Blog)
February 03              Laura's Reviews (Excerpt)                                               
February 04              A Bookish Way of Life (Review)
February 05              The Calico Critic (Review)           
February 06              So Little Time…So Much to Read (Excerpt)                            
February 07              Reflections of a Book Addict (Spotlight)                                  
February 08              Mimi Matthews Blog (Guest Blog)                                  
February 09              Jane Austen’s World (Interview)                                                
February 10              Just Jane 1813 (Review)                                      
February 11              Confessions of a Book Addict (Excerpt)                                 
February 12              History of the 18th and 19th Centuries (Guest Blog)               
February 13              My Jane Austen Book Club (Interview)                        
February 14              Living Read Girl (Review)                        
February 14              Austenprose (Review)
February 15              Mystery Fanfare (Guest Blog)                             
February 16              Laura's Reviews (Review)                                               
February 17              Jane Austen in Vermont (Excerpt)                                             
February 18              From Pemberley to Milton (Interview)                                       
February 19              More Agreeably Engaged (Review)
February 20              Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)                                         
February 21              A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life (Guest Blog)
February 22              Diary of an Eccentric (Review)


Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes

In celebration of the release of Jane and the Waterloo Map, Stephanie is offering a chance to win one of three prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!  

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on Jane and the Waterloo Map Blog Tour starting February 02, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, February 29, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Stephanie’s website on March 3, 2016. Winners have until March 10, 2016 to claim their prize. Shipment is to US addresses. Good luck to all!