Saturday, October 3, 2020

Book Review: The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

Compared to Outlander and The Mists of Avalon, this thrilling first novel of a debut trilogy reveals the untold story of Languoreth—a forgotten queen of sixth-century Scotland—twin sister of the man who inspired the legend of Merlin. 

I write because I have seen the darkness that will come. Already there are those who seek to tell a new history...

In a land of mountains and mist, tradition and superstition, Languoreth and her brother Lailoken are raised in the Old Way of their ancestors. But in Scotland, a new religion is rising, one that brings disruption, bloodshed, and riot. And even as her family faces the burgeoning forces of Christianity, the Anglo-Saxons, bent on colonization, are encroaching from the east. When conflict brings the hero Emrys Pendragon to her father’s door, Languoreth finds love with one of his warriors. Her deep connection to Maelgwn is forged by enchantment, but she is promised in marriage to Rhydderch, son of a Christian king. As Languoreth is catapulted into a world of violence and political intrigue, she must learn to adapt. Together with her brother—a warrior and druid known to history as Myrddin—Languoreth must assume her duty to fight for the preservation of the Old Way and the survival of her kingdom, or risk the loss of them both forever.

Based on new scholarship, this tale of bravery and conflicted love brings a lost queen back to life—rescuing her from obscurity, and reaffirming her place at the center of one of the most enduring legends of all time.

Due to my love of the Outlander series and an enduring interest in Arthurian legend, The Lost Queen meets multiple qualifications for my reading list. In recent years I have learned of my family’s ties to Scotland, in particular my relation to Robert the Bruce (and there are more than one of those fellows). So taking a peek through the window of history into a country with familial ties is intriguing. Author Signe Pike is a highly educated writer in the arena of British history, in particular the role that Scotland plays in the story of Uther Pendragon and his advisor Merlin. She brings this knowledge to bear in the opening volume of a trilogy, The Lost Queen. 

The titular character is Languoreth, a historical Scottish queen who has been somewhat “lost” to antiquity. We meet her as a young girl, long before she is wed and witness her development as a youthful twin sister to brother Lailoken, growing to a young maiden, then to a mother with many concerns weighing upon her heart. Languoreth is surrounded by a varied cast of characters: from family members, villains, spiritual advisers and men who covet her heart. Her journey as a woman involves political intrigue, religious conflict and romantic entanglement. This first novel of the trilogy concludes on the eve of the dawning of a new chapter in her life, one that seems to bear destruction and disgrace for many whom she loves. 

The comparisons to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander are not unreasonable, but Pike’s writing and focus are much different than Gabaldon’s. The romantic element is far less pronounced, and there is more emphasis on druidic traditions than the time travel “magic” seen in the Outlander series.  Religious conflict is a major theme of the novel, and unfortunately the Christians seen within this narrative are rarely Christlike in their manners. As a Christian myself, I dislike this type of personification of “believers”, as they are most likely not believers at all, but those who would use the name of Christ to achieve their political ends. In today’s culture, it’s all too easy to see the same in some of our leaders, which makes the portrayal of characters like Mungo all the more difficult to read. I acknowledge that “men of the cloth” such as he have existed for millennia, but it’s a shame that some of the worst behaviors in The Lost Queen are seen in the church. For the Christian reading The Lost Queen, it is important to keep in mind that this is merely one perspective of history. As Pike mentions in her post-novel note, history is fluid. I would agree that it is fluid in that we are almost constantly receiving new information about the past, data that alters our view of events from centuries gone by. The perspective of The Lost Queen is very much from the view of the druid, and is very sympathetic to it. As I have a firm hand on my own beliefs, I am able to read this narrative in the same way that I do when reading Outlander. My faith may be different from the characters in the novel, but I can still enjoy the journey of Languoreth, Lailoken and the others. 

Aside from the religious-themed conflicts, The Lost Queen also deals with political alliances, loyalties and the threat of war. Languoreth finds herself in the midst of a love triangle, and must make difficult decisions and sacrifices for the sake of her family. Should she merely follow her heart, the repercussions could spell disaster for many whom she loves. Although she is a woman of strong temperament, her standing in society is still affected by the powerful men surrounding her. 

I did enjoy The Lost Queen, and do plan to continue with the series as the story continues in The Forgotten Kingdom. Signe Pike has done fine work in capturing a certain perspective of 6th century Scotland, with well-drawn, captivating characters and thoroughly researched writing. In this new series the legacies of Languoreth, Merlin and Uther Pendragon have been given a particular Scottish (and presumably accurate) slant, one that I look forward to taking in as the trilogy continues. There is more to the Arthurian legend than I realized, and The Lost Queen is an entertaining beginning to a new retelling.

Book Trailer for The Lost Queen

About the Author

Signe Pike was born in born in Ithaca, NY, and graduated from Cornell University with her Bachelor of Science in Communication.  

She worked as an acquisitions editor at Random House and then Penguin, before leaving to write her first book, Faery Tale: One Woman's Search for Enchantment in a Modern World. Pike has spent the past ten years researching and writing about Celtic history, myth, folklore and tradition. Her love of history, the great outdoors, early medieval and ancient archeology, and her dedication to historical accuracy has made her social media feeds an informative delight to her readers. 

Signe teaches seminars and workshops internationally on writing and publishing, as well as on folklore and tradition. Her writing has been published by Salon, Charleston City Paper, Book Riot and 

Connect with Signe Pike


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Book Review & Giveaway: The Gentleman Spy by Erica Vetsch

He only wanted a duchess for a day―but she's determined to make it a marriage for life.

When his father and older brother suddenly pass away, the new Duke of Haverly is saddled with a title he never expected to bear. To thwart the plans of his scheming family, the duke impulsively marries a wallflower. After all, she's meek and mild; it should be easy to sequester her in the country and get on with his life―as a secret agent for the Crown.

But his bride has other ideas. She's determined to take her place not only as his duchess but as his wife. As a duchess, she can use her position to help the lowest of society―the women forced into prostitution because they have no skills or hope. Her endeavors are not met favorably in society, nor by her husband who wishes she'd remain in the background as he ordered.

Can the duke succeed in relegating her to the sidelines of his life? When his secrets are threatened with exposure, will his new wife be an asset or a liability?

The Gentleman Spy
is the second title in the Serendipity & Secrets series by Erica Vetsch. The narrative picks up shortly after the conclusion of events seen in The Lost Lieutenant, which I enjoyed and reviewed recently. The titular character of this subsequent volume, Marcus Haverly does have a moderate role in the previous work, and events from Lieutenant are referred to on multiple occasions. Similarly, characters such as the aforementioned Lieutenant Evan Eldridge, his wife and other returning characters make appearances in The Gentleman Spy. All this is to say that although this second title is somewhat stand-alone, readers will likely enjoy it more if they take the time to read The Lost Lieutenant first. 

Although the title of the novel seems to indicate that the main focus will be on Marcus Haverly, in my opinion, a greater amount of time is actually spent with his bride, Charlotte Tiptree. Although her parents brought her up in a way that kept her highly sheltered, she has a strong desire for education and reading, becoming somewhat of a closeted bluestocking, as her parents frowned upon much of her intellectual pursuits. Charlotte’s desire for education is tied to her yearning for significance, which unexpectedly leads her into charitable work with women trapped in the sex trafficking industry. This shady world of secrets and crime has surprising ties to Marcus’ work as a secret agent, and their worlds collide as events transpire which threaten to dismantle his carefully compartmentalized life. 

My feelings about The Gentleman Spy are a bit conflicted. I enjoyed Charlotte’s plotline, as I liked her character and appreciated her quest to liberate streetwalking women, as well as her drive to achieve true intimacy with a man who married her on a whim. At the same time, with the espionage-tinged title, I had hoped for a bit more “cloak and dagger” content from Marcus’ side of the story. I’m not sure how that would have been accomplished, but perhaps there could have been a flashback to his earlier days as a spy-in-training, or a bit more of an explanation as to how he developed his alter ego, the secretive “Hawk”. I think a more apt title for the novel would have been The Gentleman Spy’s Wife, but that’s a bit of a mouthful. 

That caveat aside, this second title in the Serendipity & Secrets series was an enjoyable one, with intrigue, romance, interesting characters, and an explosive final act that was quite the page-turner. As a part of the Christian fiction genre, the content of The Gentleman Spy is quite modest, with no colorful language, and the romantic scenes are kept to a “sweet” level. The faith of the main characters does come into play several times throughout the story, but it is not mentioned on every page. There is a death of a character that is very dramatic, but it is warranted, given the circumstances. The prostitutes in the story also experience abuse, but the reader is given details of the after-effects, the physical and emotional wounds that the women must endure. As such, perhaps the appropriate audience for the novel would be mid-teenage on up. 

The character development of Marcus reminds me of the booklet story My Heart, Christ's Home by Robert B Munger, wherein the subject of the tale exhibits a compartmentalization of his faith, allowing Christ into some corners of his "home", yet keeping him from others. Marcus has similar lessons to learn in The Gentleman Spy, as his relationship to God and his relationship with his spouse really can't be as "locked away" as he would like them to be. 

Erica Vetsch has again brought to her readers a charming tale of Regency society, love, adventure and faith. With likable (and despicable) characters, well-researched historical writing and thoughtful plotting, The Gentleman Spy is a fine follow-up to its predecessor. I am pleased that a third volume, The Indebted Earl, is in the works for the near future. I look forward to re-entering the world of Serendipity & Secrets, and expect to enjoy the next title as I have the first two in the series.

Want to read the first two chapters of The Lost Lieutenant?
Get the PDF here!


About the Author

Erica Vetsch is a New York Times best-selling and ACFW Carol Award–winning author. She is a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota with her husband, who she claims is both her total opposite and soul mate.   

Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. A self-described history geek, she has been planning her first research trip to England.

Connect with Erica Vetsch

Author Website 







Kregel Publications is offering an excellent prize pack! Not only does the winner receive the first two books in the Serendipity & Secrets series, but lots of fun swag as well!   See the widget below to enter. Contest ends today, August 18th. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Book Review & Giveaway: The Lost Lieutenant by Erica Vetsch

He's doing what he can to save the Prince Regent's life . . . but can he save his new marriage as well?

Evan Eldridge never meant to be a war hero--he just wanted to fight Napoleon for the future of his country. And he certainly didn't think that saving the life of a peer would mean being made the Earl of Whitelock. But when the life you save is dear to the Prince Regent, things can change in a hurry.

Now Evan has a new title, a manor house in shambles, and a stranger for a bride, all thrust upon him by a grateful ruler. What he doesn't have are all his memories. Traumatized as a result of his wounds and bravery on the battlefield, Evan knows there's something he can't quite remember. It's important, dangerous--and if he doesn't recall it in time, will jeopardize not only his marriage but someone's very life.

Readers who enjoy Julie Klassen, Carolyn Miller, and Kristi Ann Hunter will love diving into this brand-new Regency series filled with suspense, aristocratic struggles, and a firm foundation of faith.


In advance of my upcoming review of The Gentleman Spy by Erica Vetsch, I thought I’d read the preceding novel in her Serendipity & Secrets series, The Lost Lieutenant. Set in Regency-era England, with a cast of characters that would have been quite at home in a novel by Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer or Julie Klassen, The Lost Lieutenant was a fine introduction into a new series. The novel’s main character, Lieutenant Evan Eldridge is a brave and honorable man, willing to defend the honor of his country, as well as his family. (I had in mind characters such as Ross Poldark, Jamie Fraser or Horatio Hornblower.) As he struggles with post-war PTSD, he is thrust into a marriage relationship with a woman he hardly knows. Likewise, his new bride Diana Seaton carries emotional scars of her own, having lived with a temperamental, uncaring and sometimes violent father. Due to the whims of the Prince Regent, she finds herself wedded to a virtual stranger and protecting several secrets for the sake of someone she loves. This leads to much surreptitious, tension-building choices on her part. Like her new husband Evan, Diana is a woman of Christian faith and has no inherent desire to deceive, but due to villainous forces in her life, she feels compelled to share half-truths and commit lies of omission. As Evan and Diana try to make the best of their situation, pressure builds as they attempt to navigate the many demands of the Prince Regent as well as deal with other antagonistic forces.

The Lost Lieutenant was a fast, enjoyable read. As a novel in the Christian fiction genre, conservative readers can rest assured that the content fits well for the category. Author Erica Vetsch is able to convey peril, excitement and romance without copious amounts of gratuitous material. I can say that there are numerous careful references to marital relations, so perhaps the book would be appropriate for older teens on up, but it’s very chaste compared to what most see in movies and television programs these days. And while it’s not pervasive, the Christian faith of the main characters is referred to enough to make it clear what their beliefs are, but I would not say that the main goal of The Lost Lieutenant is to evangelize. The faith of the characters is living and active, but the main focus of the narrative is the plot and character development.   

I thoroughly enjoyed the personalities in the story. Evan and Diana were very likable, as were their friends and military associates. On more than one occasion I was laughing out loud at some of the moments. Scenes of romance were touching and realistic, certainly not of the bodice-ripping type, but delectable all the same. The antagonists in The Lost Lieutenant were distasteful enough for me to dislike them, without being so over-the-top as to be mustache-twirling. Although their ultimate fates seemed a bit predictable, I did enjoy the literary ride that Mrs. Vetsch took her readers on to arrive at the conclusion. Her depiction of Evan’s PTSD symptoms and Diana’s pre-marriage domestic struggles felt sincere and authentic as well.

The Lost Lieutenant, while very much tied up with a tidy, neat bow by the end of the tale, was an enjoyable gift to readers of Erica Vetsch. I found it easy to disregard other entertainment options during the days I was reading it. The fact that there are more books to come in this world that Vetsch has created is a pleasant thought. I look forward to diving into the next book, The Gentleman Spy. Look for that review on The Calico Critic on August 18th.

Want to read the first two chapters of The Lost Lieutenant?  
Get the PDF here!


About the Author

Erica Vetsch is a New York Times best-selling and ACFW Carol Award–winning author. She is a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota with her husband, who she claims is both her total opposite and soul mate.   

Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. A self-described history geek, she has been planning her first research trip to England.

Connect with Erica Vetsch

Author Website 







Kregel Publications is offering an excellent prize pack! Not only does the winner receive the first two books in the Serendipity & Secrets series, but lots of fun swag as well!   See the widget below to enter.  Also, at the time of this post's publication, The Lost Lieutenant is on sale for $4.99 on Kindle. See the affiliate link below the giveaway widget, and start the series today!

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Book Review and Excerpt: The Day Lincoln Lost by Charles Rosenberg

An inventive historical thriller that reimagines the tumultuous presidential election of 1860, capturing the people desperately trying to hold the nation together – and those trying to crack it apart.

Abby Kelley Foster arrived in Springfield, Illinois with the fate of the nation on her mind. Her fame as an abolitionist speaker had spread west and she knew that her first speech in the city would make headlines. One of the residents reading those headlines would be none other than the likely next President of the United States.

Abraham Lincoln, lawyer and presidential candidate, knew his chances of winning were good. All he had to do was stay above the fray of the slavery debate and appear the voice of compromise until the people cast their votes. The last thing he needed was a fiery abolitionist appearing in town. When her speech sparks violence, leading to her arrest and a high-profile trial, he suspects that his political rivals have conspired against him.

President James Buchanan is one such rival. As his term ends and his political power crumbles, he gathers his advisors at the White House to make one last move that might derail Lincoln’s campaign, steal the election, and throw America into chaos.

A fascinating historical novel and fast-paced political thriller of a nation on the cusp of civil war, The Day Lincoln Lost offers an unexpected window into one of the most consequential elections in our country’s history.

Alternative retellings are a staple of my reading habits, usually in the form of Austenesque fiction. In the case of the novel The Day Lincoln Lost by Charles Rosenberg, I was drawn to the notion of a new history of the election of 1860, the fate of Abraham Lincoln, and by association, the fate of the United States. The inclusion of abolitionist Abby Kelley Foster was also a strong draw. 

The Day Lincoln Lost opens strongly, if not heart wrenchingly, as is evidenced in Chapter One, offered below this review. With modern American society once again in the midst of social upheaval over race issues, the injustices that have been perpetuated over the generations are at the forefront of my mind. This made the plight of twelve year-old escaped slave Lucy Battelle that much more riveting, as I was rooting for her liberation and for the failure of her vile pursuers. I very much enjoyed the characters that Rosenberg brings to the story, in particular the aforementioned Lincoln and Foster, but also investigator Annabelle Carter and newspaper journalist Clarence Artemis. Annabelle is on a quest to find Lucy in order to help her, and Clarence searches for the girl as well, in order to gain exclusive information to bolster his fledgling newspaper. I loved Abby Kelley Foster’s spirit, with her unquenchable desire to promote the Abolitionist cause. Abraham Lincoln’s perspective was interesting, as he did not approve of slavery, but as a presidential candidate, did not want to come out too strongly against it, lest he alienate a large portion of the electorate and lose their votes. The balancing act that he was required to achieve must have been so difficult. Assuming that the general facts Rosenberg shares with his readers are true (aside from the reworked narrative), it makes me appreciate our former president even more. 

Approximately halfway into the novel, the story shifts to the courtroom. Foster is on trial, accused to inciting a mob that not only allowed Lucy Battelle to escape, but also led to the death of her so-called owner. Mrs. Foster had merely been giving a motivational speech one evening, but the charges against her indicated that her words encouraged the mob’s illegal actions (a charge I found to be dubious at best). A large portion of the book then remained in the courtroom, and my interest level began to drop precipitously. Rosenberg clearly knows the ins and outs of the legal world (his pedigree is very impressive), and his readers are given quite a bit of the procedures and the strategies involved in trying a case such as this one in the 19th century. While I know that much of what was covered in the courtroom was necessary to show why the jury came to the decision that they did, I found this large portion of the book to be tedious and dry. Any time the text returned to actions outside the courtroom (such as with Annabelle and/or Clarence), my interest perked up again. The same can also be said for the story after conclusion of the trial. Not long after the verdict was rendered, the election of 1860 is held. I will withhold the particulars of what happens during that period, but I felt that the plot was mired down in electoral law, vote counting and Constitutional procedures. By the conclusion of the book, I was relieved that it was over.

Author Charles Rosenberg is very talented, and has the capacity to keep this reader interested. When focused on narrative and not legal/electoral procedures, he writes very well. He could stand some improvement in the area of romantic storytelling, but that was not the main focus of this work. I give my hearty approval to the first half of The Day Lincoln Lost. It was very enjoyable. The book as a whole has little to no colorful language, any romantic content is very chaste, and the most difficult material is in the area of the slave trade, which was at times hard to read, but I feel was important to include. Unfortunately, the second half of the novel lost my interest. I wouldn’t call my review a “non-endorsement”, but would say that those who enjoy large amounts of legal content would certainly find The Day Lincoln Lost interesting. If legal procedure is not to your taste, you may want to look elsewhere for literary diversion.  

Book Excerpt:  Chapter One of The Day Lincoln Lost


Early August, 1860

Lucy Battelle’s birthday was tomorrow. She would be twelve. Or at least that was what her mother told her. Lucy knew the date might not be exact, because Riverview Plantation didn’t keep close track of when slaves were born. Or when they died, for that matter. They came, they worked and they went to their heavenly reward. Unless, of course, they were sold off to somewhere else.

There had been a lot of selling-off of late. The Old Master, her mother told her, had at least known how to run a plantation. And while their food may have been wretched at times, there had always been enough. But the Old Master had died years before Lucy was born. His eldest son, Ezekiel Goshorn, had inherited Riverview.

Ezekiel was cruel, and he had an eye for young black women, although he stayed away from those who had not yet developed. Lucy has seen him looking at her of late, though. She was thin, and very tall for her age—someone had told her she looked like a young tree—and when she looked at herself naked, she could tell that her breasts were beginning to come. “You are pretty,” her mother said, which sent a chill through her.

Whatever his sexual practices, Goshorn had no head for either tobacco farming or business, and Riverview was visibly suffering for it, and not only for a shortage of food. Lucy could see that the big house was in bad need of painting and other repairs, and the dock on the river, which allowed their crop to be sent to market, looked worse and worse every year. By now it was half-falling-down. Slaves could supply the labor to repair things, of course, but apparently Goshorn couldn’t afford the materials.

Last year, a blight had damaged almost half the tobacco crop. Goshorn had begun to sell his slaves south to make ends meet.

In the slave quarter, not a lot was really known about being sold south, except that it was much hotter there, the crop was harder-to-work cotton instead of tobacco and those who went didn’t come back. Ever.

Several months earlier, two of Lucy’s slightly older friends had been sold, and she had watched them manacled and put in the back of a wagon, along with six others. Her friends were sobbing as the wagon moved away. Lucy was dry-eyed because then and there she had decided to escape.

Others had tried to escape before her, of course, but most had been caught and brought back. When they arrived back, usually dragged along in chains by slave catchers, Goshorn—or one of his five sons—had whipped each of them near to death. A few had actually died, but most had been nursed back to at least some semblance of health by the other slaves.

Lucy began to volunteer to help tend to them—to feed them, put grease on their wounds, hold their hands while they moaned and carry away the waste from their bodies. Most of all, though, she had listened to their stories—especially to what had worked and what had failed.

One thing she had learned was that they used hounds to pursue you, and that the hounds smelled any clothes you left behind to track you. One man told her that another man who had buried his one pair of extra pants in the woods before he left—not hard to do because slaves had so little—had not been found by the dogs.

Still another man said a runaway needed to take a blanket because as you went north, it got colder, especially at night, even in the summer. And you needed to find a pair of boots that would fit you. Lucy had tried on her mother’s boots—the ones she used in the winter—and they fit. Her mother would find another pair, she was sure.

The hard thing was the Underground Railroad. They had all heard about it. They had even heard the masters damning it. Lucy had long understood that it wasn’t actually underground and wasn’t even a railroad. It was just people, white and black, who helped you escape—who fed you, hid you in safe houses and moved you, sometimes by night, sometimes under a load of hay or whatever they had that would cover you.

The problem was you couldn’t always tell which ones were real railroaders and which ones were slave catchers posing as railroaders. The slaves who came back weren’t much help about how to tell the difference because most had guessed wrong. Lucy wasn’t too worried about it. She had not only the optimism of youth, but a secret that she thought would surely help her.

Tonight was the night. Over the past few days she had dug a deep hole in the woods where she could bury her tiny stash of things that might carry her smell. For weeks before that, she had foraged and dug for mushrooms in the woods, and so no one seemed to pay much mind to her foraging and digging earlier that day. As she left, she planned to take the now-too-small shift she had secretly saved from last year’s allotment—her only extra piece of clothing—along with her shoes and bury them in the hole. That way the dogs could not take her smell from anything left behind. She would take the blanket she slept in with her.

She had also saved up small pieces of smoked meat so that she had enough—she hoped—to sustain her for a few days until she could locate the Railroad. She dropped the meat into a small cloth bag and hung it from a string tied around her waist, hidden under her shift.

Her mother had long ago fallen asleep, and the moon had set. Even better, it was cloudy and there was no starlight. Lucy put on her mother’s boots, stepped outside the cabin and looked toward the woods.

As she started to move, Ezekiel Goshorn appeared in front of her, seemingly out of nowhere, along with two of his sons and said, “Going somewhere, Lucy?”

“I’m just standing here.”

“Hold out your arms.”


“Hold out your arms!”

She hesitated but finally did as he asked, and one of his sons, the one called Amasa, clamped a pair of manacles around her wrists. “We’ve been watching you dig in the woods,” he said. “Planning a trip perhaps?”

Lucy didn’t answer.

“Well, we have a little trip to St. Louis planned for you instead.”

As Ezekiel pushed her along, she turned to see if her mother had been awakened by the noise. If she had, she hadn’t come out of the cabin. Probably afraid. Lucy had been only four the first time she’d seen Ezekiel Goshorn flog her mother, and that was not the last time she’d been forced to stand there and hear her scream.

About the Author

Charles Rosenberg is the author of the legal thriller Death on a High Floor and its sequels. The credited legal consultant to the TV shows LA Law, Boston Legal, The Practice, and The Paper Chase, he was also one of two on-air legal analysts for E! Television’s coverage of the O.J. Simpson criminal and civil trials. He teaches as an adjunct law professor at Loyola Law School and has also taught at UCLA, Pepperdine and Southwestern law schools. He practices law in the Los Angeles area.

Connect with Charles Rosenberg:

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review: Crossings by Alex Landragin

Crossings is an unforgettable and explosive genre-bending debut--a novel in three parts, designed to be read in two different directions, spanning a hundred and fifty years and seven lifetimes.

On the brink of the Nazi occupation of Paris, a German-Jewish bookbinder stumbles across a manuscript called Crossings. It has three narratives, each as unlikely as the next. And the narratives can be read one of two ways: either straight through or according to an alternate chapter sequence. The first story in Crossings is a never-before-seen ghost story by the poet Charles Baudelaire, penned for an illiterate girl. Next is a noir romance about an exiled man, modeled on Walter Benjamin, whose recurring nightmares are cured when he falls in love with a storyteller who draws him into a dangerous intrigue of rare manuscripts, police corruption, and literary societies. Finally, there are the fantastical memoirs of a woman-turned-monarch whose singular life has spanned seven generations. With each new chapter, the stunning connections between these seemingly disparate people grow clearer and more extraordinary. Crossings is an unforgettable adventure full of love, longing and empathy.

Some stories almost warrant a complete blackout of information before experiencing them. I tend to employ this tactic when a new movie is being released by a filmmaker or actor whom I particularly enjoy, who are artists that I trust to bring quality performances with entertaining narratives. I eschew watching their movie trailers, or in the case of novels, I also avoid critical reviews before reading the books myself. Sometimes arriving to a story with a veritable mental blank slate can encourage an element of discovery or surprise as one watches (or reads) the tale unfolding before them. This is not to say that I am undiscerning in my choices, but there are some cases in which I am willing to go in a bit blind to what is ahead.

For the novel Crossings by Alex Landragin, the extent of my knowledge of his work was only the plot summary reprinted above. Crossings sounded almost like a time-travel story, and the multiple methods of reading the book sounded very intriguing. The publisher graciously granted me a digital advanced copy for review. As I began the first pages, a sense of speculation and expectation took root, and I suddenly began to wonder if this could possibly be the novel my mind had been looking forward to, possibly for decades. I have had a handful of experiences while reading novels that I would describe as like “going down the rabbit hole.” Seasoned readers know what this is—becoming completely engrossed in a story that comes alive in such a way that you feel as if you are living inside it. Could Crossings indeed be a book like that? My heart certainly hoped so.

I will now pause to give the reader a moment to choose whether they want to read the next section. If you would like to come to Crossings with a somewhat “blank slate” as I did, I would encourage you to jump down to the last passage of the review, below the starred line. This is not to say that my thoughts will be overloaded with spoilers, but the following content is certainly more than I had when I set out to read the book.

Crossings has two manners in which it can be read: the traditional way, from start to finish, and an alternate way, following references at the end of certain chapters, to not just turn the page, but actually jump to another section, possibly hundreds of pages away from your current position. This does not change the meaning of the story per se (a la the old Choose Your Own Adventure books I read as a child), but it certainly changes the perspective of the reader, and the knowledge that they carry with them from section to section. This alternative method is called the “Baroness Sequence”, for reasons that will be made clear when the story is read.

I estimate that I read about 50% of the novel before I came to what I believe was an error in my advanced digital copy, as one of the Baroness “jumps” that I made resulted in a location that did not make any sense. I am certain this will not be a problem with the printed edition, or the final e-book edition either. Advanced copies are unfinished works, prone to typographical errors and omissions. As I had no way of knowing where to go from the strange location in which I found myself, I decided to start the book from the beginning, reading from start to finish in the traditional way. As such, my impression of the book is a mixture of the Baroness perspective and the “normal” one. I will comment on this more later.

Crossings entertains the notion of the transmigration of the soul, as has also been seen in several movies over the years, wherein two living souls swap bodies. In Landragin’s novel, there are multiple types of transmigration or “crossings”. Some are done “blind” and are temporary, with one soul not completely remembering that they had briefly occupied the body of another. Others are done very intentionally and with a more permanent arrangement in mind, such as between a young person wishing to die, and an ailing elderly person wishing for a new young body.

A note for my conservative Christian readers: As a Christian, I of course do not believe in this type of phenomenon, any more than I believe in magical portals to Narnia or time travel via standing stones as found in Outlander. Still, I am able to enjoy these stories and appreciate them for what they are: fantasy. This type of pseudo-suspension of disbelief must be employed if the reader is to enjoy the story. Also, the Christian religion is not always looked favorably upon in the novel, as it is a historical (and current) fact that not all believers share the Gospel in culture-sensitive, non-political ways. There is also a bit of sexual content in the novel, but it is not pervasive. 

Back to the different reading methods: In some ways, the “Baroness Sequence” brought on a state of confusion for me, as the narrative tends to jump between large expanses of time, with different characters picking up the story and handing them off to others, in a way.  That said, the knowledge I gained from the various time periods actually was an aid to me when I began reading the book from start to finish. I think I would have been much more confused about the events that were transpiring, had I not spent a significant time in the “Baroness sequence”. If someone new to Crossings was to ask me which method I preferred, if I could only recommend one, I would advise to go with the Baroness. There is a certain amount of confusion in reading it that way, but if you can be persistent, I think that would be the best course of action. That said, for either reading method, I found it somewhat difficult to keep track in my mind which character was which. With the multiple cases of body-switching, there were many times when I wasn’t sure who was speaking. In hindsight, I probably should have committed a “map of souls” to paper. Perhaps that would have helped me in my disorientation. This was the element that kept Crossings from becoming the book I had hoped it would be. I did not go down the rabbit hole as much as I would have liked. 

*      *      *      *      *      *

In many ways I enjoyed Crossings very much. It might be the debut novel for author Alex Landragin, but his literary skill is superb. His knowledge of history, cultures and languages is most impressive. I’m unaware of any plans for a sequel to Crossings, but this certainly should not be Landragin’s last work of fiction. His talent is remarkable, and I am certain he would do well to bring another novel to his audience. While I cannot give Crossings an unrestrained, absolute recommendation, I found it to be quite a unique and notable title, one I will remember for some time to come.

About the Author

ALEX LANDRAGIN is a French-Armenian-Australian writer. Currently based in Melbourne, Australia, he has also resided in Paris, Marseille, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Charlottesville. He has previously worked as a librarian, an indigenous community worker and an author of Lonely Planet travel guides in Australia, Europe and Africa. Alex holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne and occasionally performs early jazz piano under the moniker Tenderloin Stomp. Crossings is his debut novel.

Connect with Alex

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Book Review: Murder at Northanger Abbey by Shannon Winslow

Newly married to her beloved Henry, Catherine’s eyes are now open to the grownup pleasures of wedded life. Yet she still hasn’t quite given up her girlhood fascination with all things Gothic. When she first visited Northanger Abbey, she only imagined dreadful events had occurred there. This time the horror is all too real. There’s been a murder, and Henry has fallen under suspicion. Catherine is determined to clear her husband’s name, but at the same time, she’s afraid for her own safety, since there’s a very good chance the real murderer is still in the house.

This delightful sequel reprises the mischievous spirit of Austen’s original spoof on the Gothic novel, while giving Catherine a genuine murder mystery to unravel.

At the conclusion of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, the author brings herself somewhat into the story, using the first person and speculating upon the nature of General Tilney’s disapproval of Catherine Moreland and its effect upon her relationship with his son Henry. Did the General’s initial rejection of the lowly Miss Moreland stoke the fires of desire between the two sweethearts? Perhaps we will never know. This question does lead the reader to ponder the characters, and certainly leaves the story open to more episodes.

Shannon Winslow has done just that in her Austenesque novel, Murder at Northanger Abbey. Deftly embodying the voice of Jane Austen, although somewhat softened for modern readers, Winslow has written an entertaining mystery that is perfect reading for a rainy night at home. Although I offered a spotlight post last year for her Prayer & Praise devotional, this is the first fiction title of hers that I have read. I’m not often drawn to mysteries, but Murder at Northanger Abbey was well worth my time. Although I deduced the identity of the victim’s killer early on in the story, I wasn’t sure that my assessment was correct, and even if correct, I had no idea how the narrative would play out. I enjoyed collecting “clues” for my theory, and it wasn’t until the guilty party confessed that I knew for sure that I was on target.

Not only was the main point of conflict a source of amusement, but Winslow’s writing style was frequently an agent of mirth, sometimes directly addressing the audience as Miss Austen also did and successfully bringing a “playfully mischievous flavor” to the story. As a Christian I was also impressed at her ability to reference the intimacy between a husband and wife in a way that was agreeably suggestive, but without being neither gratuitous nor Puritanical. It made for several comedic scenes indeed. Winslow’s understanding of the nature of Catherine Moreland Tilney’s character also provided moments of amusement, as the young wife’s imagination often got the best of her, much as it did in the source material.

Some rare misgivings about the piece lie within a few moments in between significant plot developments. The narrative slows a bit as Catherine spends much (justifiable) time hand-wringing over the fate of her husband, who has become a suspect in the untimely death of another individual in the tale. Similarly, there is a courtroom scene that becomes somewhat laborious and lacks a particular payoff that I was looking forward to. That said, the details covered in the trial are essential to the facts of the case. Without them, the story would have felt diluted. As such, the biggest qualm would merely come from the absence of that specific payoff moment. I decline to offer further details, lest I divulge things and ruin the mystery!

Those minor critiques aside, I found Murder at Northanger Abbey to be a delightful read. It will amuse fans of Austen’s lesser-read Gothic spoof, as well as those who simply enjoy a good mystery tale. Conservative readers can rest assured that the content is not gory nor horrific, and it contains no colorful language. At the same time, Shannon Winslow’s writing is so strong, she did not require those elements to make her work appealing. She brings wit and intelligence, and delivers a wonderful continuation to a classic novel, beloved by many.

Postscript:  In a move I have never before seen done in a novel, Shannon Winslow offers an alternative ending to her story in a separate chapter, complete with a new perpetrator and a very different outcome. I found this addition to be unique and brave, and I commend Shannon for offering this to her audience.  Well done!

About the Author

Shannon Winslow claims she was minding her own business when an ordinary trip to Costco a dozen years ago changed her life. That was the day a copy of the ’95 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice fairly leapt off the shelf and into her oversized shopping cart. She has been hopelessly hooked on all things Jane Austen ever since, her obsession ultimately inspiring her to begin writing her own stories a la Austen.

Winslow's 2011 debut novel, The Darcys of Pemberley, quickly become a best seller, praised for its authentic Austen style and faithfulness to the original characters. Seven more novels and a Jane Austen Devotional have since followed, with no end to her creative output in sight!

Her two sons now grown, Shannon lives with her husband in the log home they built in the countryside south of Seattle, where she writes and paints in her studio facing Mr. Rainier. Visit Shannon at her website/blog:  Shannon Winslow’s “Jane Austen Says…” and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Book Review: Axiom's End by Lindsay Ellis

The alternate history first contact adventure Axiom's End is an extraordinary debut from Hugo finalist and video essayist Lindsay Ellis.

Truth is a human right.

It’s fall 2007. A well-timed leak has revealed that the US government might have engaged in first contact. Cora Sabino is doing everything she can to avoid the whole mess, since the force driving the controversy is her whistleblower father. Even though Cora hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government—and with him in hiding, that attention is on her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him—until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.

Realizing the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to uncover the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. Their otherworldly connection will change everything she thought she knew about being human—and could unleash a force more sinister than she ever imagined.

With much of our society in upheaval these days, including fighting a difficult-to-eradicate source of death, social unrest and a government that is mistrusted by many, Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis touches on similar themes, albeit adorned in a science fiction mantle. Main protagonist Cora Sabino finds herself caught up in a heretofore unknown cover-up of an alien presence on our planet, one that involved her family and decades of governmental secrecy. Through a series of astonishing events, she finds herself in the position of being the English language interpreter for a somewhat newly-arrived alien.  Much of the earth is unknowingly facing an existential crisis, and she could be the one force in the universe that may prevent humanity’s total destruction.

Axiom’s End is an exciting thriller, not only providing a roller coaster ride of a plot, but also offering philosophical discussions about the nature of life, the importance of truth, and the power of compassion. Parallels could be drawn between the relationship of the characters in the recent Netflix reboot of Lost in Space and the characters in Axiom’s End, but the latter tale goes far deeper into the perspectives of both the alien and earthly individuals. The novel is far more mature in its examination of the interaction between the two entities.

Ellis’ writing is quite compelling, providing characters that are well-drawn and a narrative that could easily be transposed into a cinematic treatment. I pictured ChloĆ« Grace Moretz in Cora’s role, and Eric Winter (of the show The Rookie) as Special Agent Kaplan. Cora’s aunt Luciana was embodied by Holly Hunter in my mind, Dr. Sev by actor Ben Kingsley, and Agent Vincent Park by Shawn Ashmore (also from The Rookie). As Cora’s father is an internet whistle-blower living in exile out of the country, of course I had in mind Julian Assange for his part, although I believe the book character is an American with dark hair.

For my conservative readership, some of the language does get a bit colorful from time to time. The characters are thrust into multiple circumstances of an extreme and sometimes deadly variety, and their reactions reflect that. F-bombs are a fairly common occurrence, but given the nature of the situations, it didn’t feel overly excessive to me. That said, if Axiom’s End goes on to obtain a cinematic treatment, the language is going to have to be softened to achieve the more lucrative PG-13 rating.

An overwhelming majority of the titles that I read for review are novels set in 19th century England, so delving into a world of aliens and government cover-ups was quite a detour. My screen habits tend to have a higher percentage of science fiction, however. Our household greatly enjoys the worlds of Star Wars as well as Star Trek, and the aforementioned revamped Lost in Space. This novel fit into that sensibility quite easily. I enjoyed the exciting plot, the philosophical aspects that arose between Cora and the alien force, and the compelling perspective on human/alien language differences. If linguistics is of any interest to the reader, Axiom’s End has much to offer in that regard. From its opening sentences to final lines, Axiom’s End held my attention and provided a thrilling summer diversion for this reader.

Photo Credit: Sarah Winters
About the Author

LINDSAY ELLIS is an author, Hugo finalist and video essayist who creates online content about media, narrative, and film theory. After earning her bachelor's in Cinema Studies from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, she earned her MFA in Film and Television Production from USC's School of Cinematic Arts with a focus in documentary and screenwriting. She lives in Long Beach, California, and Axiom's End is her debut novel.

Connect with Lindsay Ellis

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Book Review: Persuaded to Sail by Jack Caldwell

The long-awaited sequel to Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion

After an eight-year separation and a tumultuous reunion, Anne Elliot marries the dashing Captain Frederick Wentworth. The pair looks forward to an uneventful honeymoon cruise aboard the HMS Laconia. But the bride and groom find the seas of matrimony rough. Napoleon has escaped from Elba, the country is at war with France again, and the Admiralty imposes on Wentworth a mysterious passenger on a dangerous secret mission. The good captain is caught between duty to his country and love for his wife. All eyes are trained for enemies without, but the greatest menace may already be on board…

Continuing his Jane Austen’s Fighting Men series, Jack Caldwell brings us Persuaded to Sail, a sequel to Miss Austen’s Persuasion. In preparation for this novel and the review, I re-watched the 1995 and 2007 cinematic productions of Persuasion and also read the last two chapters of the source material (which of course includes the epitome of love letters, from Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot). I love these characters, and I also highly enjoy naval adventures. I have a healthy collection of novels by Patrick O’Brian, C.S. Forester and R.H. Dana, Jr. in my personal library. As many have speculated on the long-term fate of Anne Elliot Wentworth due to Austen’s interesting final sentence regarding her, all of these factors together added to my anticipation for Persuaded to Sail. Any number of interesting narratives could spring from Austen’s closing words: “She gloried in being a sailor’s wife, but she must pay the tax of quick alarm for belonging to that profession which is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its national importance.” 

In the Hartness Library: Naval Titles by O'Brian, Forester and Dana

In this imagining of the Wentworths’ first months together as newlyweds, it becomes abundantly clear that Caldwell has done his homework in regard to naval history and procedure. Not only is there a helpful glossary included with the book, but much time is spent within the narrative to thoroughly construct the maritime surroundings of Anne, Captain Wentworth and his sailors. Unfortunately, the chapters tend to get overwhelmed with the volume of detail, and the story becomes burdened with numerous passages of exposition, wherein Anne is learning her way around the Laconia and gaining information so that she could not only function as Wentworth’s wife, but almost as a member of the crew. I am sure this level of detail has been presented in the spirit of great naval authors such as O’Brian and Forester, but given the pattern that Caldwell set with his previous works in this series, it seems inconsistent with his style. I found myself waiting for the story to truly engage for a large portion of the novel.

That said, once the story truly began to progress, I did enjoy the narrative that was put forth for Anne and Frederick. Given their surroundings and the era in which they lived, I found it realistic and at times compelling. One particularly interesting episode involved an almost impossible leadership choice for the Captain. I also liked how Anne’s relationship with the men of the Laconia grew over time, as she became almost like a Queen Mother to them. There is also somewhat of a bookended story line regarding Margaret Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility that pops up near the beginning and conclusion of the story which I found amusing, but it almost seemed as if it was tacked on at a late date in the writing process.

I enjoyed The Three Colonels in 2012 and The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel in 2016, so I’m disappointed to report that this third volume in the series doesn’t quite live up to the same level of quality of those that came before it. The story was weighed down by more naval exposition than necessary for a substantial portion of the beginning of the novel, and the general flow of the writing was not as strong. I do applaud Mr. Caldwell’s scholarship in his knowledge of naval terms and traditions, but I wish more time had been spent in crafting the story itself. This sequel to Persuasion is a realistic portrait of what indeed may have transpired in the lives of the Wentworths, but the way in which it was offered could have been framed and presented in a more skillful manner. Jack Caldwell has been an enjoyable author for years, and I’m sure there will be more titles of his that I will read and enjoy. It just seems that in this case, Persuaded to Sail is not my favorite work of his.

About the Author

Jack Caldwell, born and raised in the Bayou County of Louisiana, is an author, amateur historian, professional economic developer, playwright, and like many Cajuns, a darn good cook.

His nickname -- The Cajun Cheesehead -- came from his devotion to his two favorite NFL teams: the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers. (Every now and then, Jack has to play the DVD again to make sure the Saints really won in 2010.)

Always a history buff, Jack found and fell in love with Jane Austen in his twenties, struck by her innate understanding of the human condition. Jack uses his work to share his knowledge of history. Through his characters, he hopes the reader gains a better understanding of what went on before, developing an appreciation for our ancestors' trials and tribulations.

When not writing or traveling with Barbara, Jack attempts to play golf. A devout convert to Roman Catholicism, Jack is married with three grown sons.

Jack's blog postings -- The Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles -- appear regularly at Austen Variations. Follow Jack on Facebook and on Twitter @JCaldwell25

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Book Review: The Peasant's Dream by Melanie Dickerson

In this reverse Cinderella story, a poor farmer’s son, who dreams of using his talent as a woodcarver to make a better life for himself, falls in love with a duke’s daughter and must fight for a chance to win her heart.

Adela is the youngest daughter of Duke Wilhelm of Hagenheim and is never allowed outside of the castle walls. She loves her family, but she sneaks away one day to the market in the town center. There she meets a handsome young man and wonders what it might be like to fall in love with a poor farmer with a kind heart instead of marrying the man her family is suggesting for her.

Frederick earns the income for his family and defends his mother from his father’s drunken rages. He also uses his talent and creativity to carve figures, animals, and scenes into wood, and he's asked to carve these scenes into cathedral doors when his talent is noticed. Frederick is inspired by the sweet and beautiful Adela, but he has no knowledge of her true identity. When he gets swept up into a plan to kidnap the duke’s daughter, both are shaken by what they learn about the other.

With the heartbroken Adela resigned to an arranged marriage with her noble suitor, Frederick must decide what he’s willing to risk for love.

Since childhood, my favorite fairy tale has been Cinderella. I’m drawn to adaptations of the story, so it was no surprise that The Peasant’s Dream by Melanie Dickerson would pique my interest. In this version, the narrative is somewhat reversed, in that the “Cinderella” is actually a poor farmer’s son who falls in love with a duke’s daughter. The male protagonist is Frederick, a wood carver who has in his life characters similar to an evil step-parent and two troublesome siblings. While there is no fairy godmother, no transforming pumpkins or glass shoes, this is still a delightful story and a fine addition to Dickerson’s Hagenheim series. The eleventh and final volume of this particular collection of fairytale adaptations, The Peasant’s Dream features the romance between Frederick and Adela, the duke’s daughter. Unlike the traditional story, this imagining features more action and internal thought, allowing for greater suspense building and a bit of character development. Incidents and individuals from other episodes in the Hagenheim series are mentioned, but knowledge of those other books is in no way required to enjoy this specific novel.

The book could be categorized as Christian YA fiction, so the content is very family friendly. The romantic content is fairly modest, the violence measured and without gory details. Dickerson’s style is not as complex as you would find in most adult titles, which makes it very accessible to younger readers and a quick page-turner for those of us in the ‘mature’ category. Topics regarding Christian faith do emerge from time to time, providing important lessons within the story. I appreciated the themes of redemption, forgiveness, and humanity’s ability to choose righteousness even when surrounded by evil. God is not seen as a “fairy Godfather in the sky” granting all our wishes, but Someone who will be with us through our trials, sometimes providing deliverance, and sometimes providing strength to endure hardship instead. That said, the spirituality of the story is not heavy-handed, and could easily be read by those from outside the faith. 

I reviewed Dickerson’s The Beautiful Pretender four years ago, and while I think I enjoyed that title a bit more, The Peasant’s Dream was still very entertaining. Not only did I enjoy the trajectory of the main characters' lives, but I appreciated the development of their family members and loved ones as well. There's even a romantic royal ball at the climax of the story! If you enjoy fairy tale adaptations or any of the other titles in the Hagenheim series, this one would make a pleasant addition to your “To Be Read” list.

About the Author

Melanie Dickerson is the New York Times bestselling author who combines her love for history, adventure, and romance. Her books have won a Christy Award, two Maggie Awards, The National Reader’s Choice Award, the Christian Retailing’s Best Award, the Book Buyer’s Best Award, the Golden Quill, and the Carol Award. She earned her bachelor’s degree in special education from The University of Alabama and has taught children and adults in the U.S., Germany, and Ukraine. Now she spends her time writing stories of love and adventure near Huntsville, Alabama.

Connect with Melanie Dickerson

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Bite-Sized Book Review: The New One by Mike Birbiglia

With laugh-out-loud funny parenting observations, the New York Times bestselling author and award-winning comedian delivers a book that is perfect for anyone who has ever raised a child, been a child, or refuses to stop acting like one.

In 2016 comedian Mike Birbiglia and poet Jennifer Hope Stein took their fourteen-month-old daughter Oona to the Nantucket Film Festival. When the festival director picked them up at the airport she asked Mike if he would perform at the storytelling night. She said, "The theme of the stories is jealousy."

Jen quipped, "You're jealous of Oona. You should talk about that."

And so Mike began sharing some of his darkest and funniest thoughts about the decision to have a child. Jen and Mike revealed to each other their sides of what had gone down during Jen's pregnancy and that first year with their child. Over the next couple years, these stories evolved into a Broadway show, and the more Mike performed it the more he heard how it resonated -- not just with parents but also people who resist all kinds of change.

So he pored over his journals, dug deeper, and created this book: The New One: Painfully True Stories From a Reluctant Dad. Along with hilarious and poignant stories he has never shared before, these pages are sprinkled with poetry Jen wrote as she navigated the same rocky shores of new parenthood.
So here it is. This book is an experiment -- sort of like a family.

I enjoy Mike Birbiglia's comedy in that he is very relatable, self-effacing, and not overly blue in his content. I could just about recommend him to my mother. In his recent release The New One, he reflects on many aspects of his life, with much of the attention devoted to his relationship with his wife Jen and their new status as first-time parents. Jen also offers her own poetry, with passages interspersed between his chapters.

If you've seen Mike's Netflix special of the same name, much of the material in that program is directly used here. Seeing the special has the benefit of allowing us to hear his tone of voice, feel the rhythm of his delivery, and he is able to use props to illustrate his point. One example completely and suddenly covers the stage with parenting tools and child paraphernalia.

However, if you are not a Netflix subscriber, or if you'd like to have additional content not available in that recording (such as Jen's thoughtful and honest poetry), I do recommend The New One. It was a light, brisk read with short chapters that I would read before bed at night. Parents (or those considering parenthood) can certainly relate to much of the angst in Birbiglia's mind, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments that are a wonderful glance into the world of parenthood.

About the Author

MIKE BIRBIGLIA is a comedian, storyteller, director and actor who has performed in front of audiences worldwide, from the Sydney Opera House to Broadway. His shows, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” and “Thank God for Jokes,” were both filmed for Netflix. His most recent show, “The New One,” ran for 99 shows at the Cort Theatre.

In addition to performing live, Mike is an author and filmmaker who wrote, directed and starred in the films Sleepwalk with Me and Don’t Think Twice. Mike’s book Sleepwalk with Me and Other Painfully True Stories was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor. As an actor, Mike has appeared on “Inside Amy Schumer,” HBO’s “Girls” and “Broad City,” as well as in the films Trainwreck, The Fault in Our Stars and Popstar. He plays the role of Danny Pearson on “Orange Is the New Black” and Oscar Langstraat on Showtime’s “Billions.” He is a contributor to “This American Life” on public radio. In 2017, Mike was honored with the Kurt Vonnegut Award for humor. 

For a little sample of Mike's material, check out the trailer below:


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