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:

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Book Review and Giveaway: Fortune & Felicity by Monica Fairview

In the original telling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Fitzwilliam Darcy proposes marriage to Elizabeth Bennet, and she rejects him. Shortly thereafter, he pens a letter to her in an effort to clarify the truth about himself, his family’s relationship with George Wickham, and his reasons behind discouraging Mr. Bingley’s attentions to Elizabeth’s sister Jane. In the latest novel by Monica Fairview, Fortune and Felicity, she pens a turn in the narrative. Darcy never sends that particular letter to Elizabeth. As such, events unfold differently than they did in the mind of Austen. Among other diversions to the original, this story includes Elizabeth marrying another man, and one day becoming a governess as a widow. Seven years after Darcy’s original proposal to Elizabeth, he finds himself widowed as well, parenting a five year-old daughter, Catherine. Young Kathy, headstrong and obstinate as her grandmother Catherine de Bourgh, was in dire need of guidance and a feminine role model in her life. Darcy brings in his former acquaintance, Mrs. Elizabeth Bennet Heriot for the governess position. He feels that he has moved past his previous attraction to Elizabeth, and that her spirited, intelligent personality would be a good match for his daughter. She would merely be his employee, nothing more. Or would she?

Fortune and Felicity is a delightful tale, a lighthearted diversion for the fans of Austenesque fiction. I would recommend the reader to be somewhat familiar with the characters of the source material, as references are made to past events, and it is assumed that the audience is already aware of the circumstances mentioned. The spirits of Austen’s characters are retained very well, although there are slight changes due to the life experiences of each individual. Darcy’s sister Georgiana has developed into a lovely grown woman, a confident wife and mother. Elizabeth still has her intelligence and spunk, but a certain amount of melancholy surrounds her, due to her losses in life. 

I enjoyed the developments of the various relationships in the story, as they were realistic for the characters and their life situations, for the most part. Young Kathy Darcy initially comes across as a little bit of a brat, but it’s understandable considering her personality and the way she’s been overindulged by the adults who surround her. I found Elizabeth’s influence on her to be quite charming and heartwarming, particularly in one scene. The progression of the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth in some ways did not surprise me, but there were also some turns that happened late in the story that I found to be delightfully unexpected. There is one villainous character who emerges to stir up trouble, and in all honesty, I could not understand why this person was still in Darcy’s life, given other aspects of the narrative. Their presence felt a little bit forced. I’m not sure what changes I would have made there, but something about them being a part of the story didn’t feel right to me. 

That said, Fairview seemed to take care with the characters that were included in this version of the story. If all of Austen's players had been involved, the novel could have been overwhelmed with too many details, top-heavy with voices that were not essential. I could easily forsee a sequel coming forth from this version, and in that instance other Austen characters could be "brought back" for the occasion. The point is, the casting choices for this particular volume were predominantly befitting the story.

From a content standpoint, Fortune and Felicity was appropriate for my conservative readers. I don’t recall any colorful language, and the romantic “heat” factor was kept fairly low for most of the story. There were a few steamy moments near the end, but I would give them a PG-rating. There is no violence that I can recall.

While I cannot say that Fortune and Felicity is Monica Fairview’s strongest offering, I did enjoy the novel. It was a quick read, the first book I began reading and completed during these summer days off of school. Spending time with Austen’s characters in a new storyline of Fairview’s making was an entertaining way to begin these weeks off. I’m so glad she’s continuing to bring her work to the Austenesque community!

About the Author

Monica Fairview writes Jane Austen variations and sequels. After graduating from the University of Illinois, she worked as a literature professor and then as an acupuncturist in Boston before moving to London.

Monica loves anything to do with the nineteenth century, and obsessively follows every period drama she can find. On rainy days, she loves to watch 'Pride & Prejudice' (all adaptations), 'North & South', 'Cranford', or 'Downtown Abbey'.

Among Monica's Kindle best-selling novels are Mysterious Mr. Darcy, the Darcy Novels trilogy, two books in the Darcy Cousins series, and the quirky futuristic P&P inspired Steampunk Darcy. She has also published several traditional Regencies. Her latest Pride and Prejudice what-if is Fortune and Felicity.

Monica Fairview’s real claim to fame is that she lived in Elizabeth Gaskell’s house in Manchester as a teenager, in the days when it was faded and neglected, so you could say she has the smog of North and South in her blood. 

Apart from her avid historical interests, Monica enjoys reading fantasy and post-apocalyptic novels, but avoids zombies like the plague. She loves to laugh, drink lots of tea, and visit Regency houses, and she is convinced that her two cats can understand everything she says.

She is a member of the UK Romantic Novelists' Association.



Monica has graciously offered an ebook copy of Fortune and Felicity to one of our readers! The contest is open to residents of the US, Canada or the UK. Please fill out the Rafflecopter widget below to be eligible to win. The only required element is an email address so that we may contact you if you are the winner. Best wishes to all the entrants!

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Saturday, June 13, 2020

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by 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.

For many Jane Austen fans, travelling to England and visiting her home in Chawton is a dream and a privilege if they are able to do so. In this house where she lived for the last eight years of her life, she wrote novels that have become beloved around the world. It is currently the location of the Jane Austen Museum, frequented by tens of thousands of visitors every year. However, in 1947 this was not yet the case. The home was put up for sale. It would not be unreasonable to assume a different possibility: to imagine the deed of ownership transferring to an individual or corporation which held no love or concern for Austen or her legacy. If fate had taken a different turn, the Chawton house could instead be condominiums or a golf course in the present day. One shudders at the proposition.

In The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, this debut author poses that very possibility. In a fictionalized imagining of the 20th century history of the Village of Chawton, she presents a colorful cast of characters at the center of village life, spanning the years of 1932 to 1947. Dr. Benjamin Gray is the town physician, caring for the residents’ medical needs as he mourns the loss of his wife Jennie and battles his inner demons. Frances Knight, a somewhat forlorn soul, is a descendant of Edward Austen Knight, the brother of Jane who was adopted into the Knight family in about 1783. Adam Berwick is a member of a multi-generational farming family, a self-taught reader and a sweet soul at heart. Adeline Lewis, also living in the area for many years, was a former school teacher, a widow, also was mourning the loss of her child. Andrew Forrester is the family solicitor (lawyer) for the Knight family, primarily for Frances’ elderly, ailing patriarchal father. Assisting in the Knight home is Evie Stone, young house girl and former student of Adeline’s. Mimi Harrison is an American Hollywood starlet, a Janeite in her mid-30’s for most of the story, beginning to feel the pull of age on her career. Her love interest is Jack Leonard, shrewd businessman and aspiring Hollywood producer. Yardley Sinclair is assistant director of estate sales for Sotheby’s, is also a lover of Austen and a man who appreciates the importance of Austen artifacts.

Amongst these and other characters emerges a story that is compelling, page-turning and heartfelt. As mentioned, a number of the players are forlorn and/or dealing with their own types of heartbreak. The Jane Austen Society is not a somber piece by any means, but I was struck at Jenner’s ability to enunciate some of the feelings that come into play when one is struggling with depression, disappointment and/or loss. I don’t know what pains our author has been through, although she alluded to some type of experience in her concluding acknowledgments, but her inner knowledge of emotional turmoil was very touching, without casting the story into a gloomy state.

Of course Jane Austen is frequently mentioned throughout the narrative. One not need be familiar with her work to enjoy the story, but it does make understanding certain aspects of dialogue easier. As such, I primarily recommend this those who have at least a cursory knowledge of the plots and characters of her major works, Pride and Prejudice and Emma in particular. Even if your exposure is just cinematic productions of these stories, that will do just fine. A superficial understanding will still enhance your enjoyment, as the references to Jane and her novels pop up frequently throughout The Jane Austen Society.

As is the case with Miss Austen’s tales, this one has multiple story lines, with several of them being romantic. I loved how Natalie Jenner brought her characters together, but I also enjoyed the tension she employed throughout the chapters. Even if some expected pairings occurred, she was still able to make their journeys interesting, and she kept me guessing. The choices made in the amount of romantic content were appreciated as well. Everything is really quite sweet and PG-rated, if not G-rated.  For my conservative readers, I will say that there is a gay relationship that develops within two members of the group, but it is not in the forefront and there are very, very minimal details.

Due to the somewhat large number of players in this story, I found that having a “cast” from modern movies and television helped me remember each individual. For Mimi Harrison, if the story had been filmed in the 1940’s, I would certainly have cast Vivien Leigh (with an American accent), but my mind ended up defaulting to Megan Fox as the gorgeous and successful Hollywood actress. For her caddish beaux I imagined Leonardo DiCaprio. The Sotheby’s representative with whom they often worked was Rupert Everett in my mind, albeit younger than he is today. Frances Knight would be played by Claudie Blakley, also known as Charlotte Lucas in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, although she is now old enough to play the forty-something Frances. English actor Hugh Dancy would play the earnest solicitor Andrew, and James Corden (a few years older than he is now) would play Adam the farmer. Sophie McShera of Downton Abbey would play Evie Stone, with Sophie at age sixteen. Laurence Fox of Sanditon would take on the role of a distant Knight relative I have not mentioned yet, but who makes a few brief but important appearances. Emily Blunt of Mary Poppins Returns would be our schoolteacher Adeline, and Richard Armitage would embody the role of Dr. Benjamin Gray.

In addition to enjoying Natalie Jenner’s novel very much, I also loved the audio book performance of The Jane Austen Society by the aforementioned Richard Armitage. His English voice was a perfect choice for this title, and he did well handling so many characters, many of whom I have not mentioned here. As he has a very deep tone, sometimes his vocalizations made it a bit tricky to accept the females’ dialogue, but in general it went very well. Listening to him as I washed dishes or folded laundry was a lovely pastime. Click HERE to listen to an excerpt of that presentation.

The purpose of the Jane Austen Society in the novel is “the preservation, promotion and study of the life and works of Miss Jane Austen.” This included the effort to acquire Miss Austen’s home in Chawton to use as a museum. The journey that this group of Janeites take in their quest to make this happen is intriguing, entertaining and earnest. I am so grateful that the house in Chawton is indeed a museum in the present day. As a matter of fact, just yesterday I was alerted to the fact that Chawton House is in danger as a museum. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the museum’s tourism income, which provides most of its funds, has virtually disappeared. They are in danger of closing, as they are unable to have visitors. The very items mentioned in The Jane Austen Society, such as Jane’s jewelry and priceless first editions of books could be lost as they might have to be dispersed in liquidation. After reading Jenner’s novel, the thought of this treasure of a site being lost was heartbreaking. I immediately went to their donations page and sent in a contribution.  Not only do I highly recommend The Jane Austen Society to you, but I also encourage you to support the very thing that is heralded in Natalie Jenner’s book: the preservation, promotion and study of the life and works of Miss Jane Austen.

About the Author

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.

The Jane Austen Society Blog Tour

Join the virtual online book tour of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, Natalie Jenner’s highly acclaimed debut novel May 25 through June 30, 2020. Seventy-five popular blogs and websites specializing in historical fiction, historical romance, women’s fiction, and Austenesque fiction will feature interviews and reviews of this post-WWII novel set in Chawton, England.


May 25           Jane Austen's World
May 25           Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog
May 26           Frolic Media
May 26           A Bookish Affair
May 26           Courtney Reads Romance
May 26           Margie's Must Reads
May 26           The Reading Frenzy
May 27           Book Confessions of an Ex-Ballerina
May 27           Gwendalyn's Books
May 27           Romantically Inclined Reviews
May 28           Getting Your Read On
May 28           Living Read Girl
May 28           The Lit Bitch
May 29           History Lizzie
May 29           Silver Petticoat Reviews
May 30           Cup of Tea with that Book, Please
May 30           Historical Fiction Reader
May 31           Jane Austen in Vermont
June 01          From Pemberley to Milton
June 01          My Jane Austen Book Club
June 01          AustenBlog
June 02          Lu's Reviews
June 02          The Green Mockingbird
June 03          The Interests of a Jane Austen Girl
June 03          Relz Reviews
June 03          Impressions in Ink
June 04          The Caffeinated Bibliophile
June 04          Life of Literature
June 04          Laura's Reviews
June 05          Reading Ladies Book Club
June 05          Bookish Rantings
June 06          From the TBR Pile
June 07          Rachel Dodge
June 07          An Historian About Town
June 08          Bringing up Books
June 08          Austenesque Reviews
June 09          Captivated Reading
June 09          Savvy Verse and Witt
June 10          Lady with a Quill
June 10          Drunk Austen
June 11          Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
June 11          Inkwell Inspirations
June 12          Nurse Bookie
June 12          A Bookish Way of Life
June 13          Calico Critic
June 14          Jane Austen's World
June 15          Stuck in a Book
June 15          Storybook Reviews
June 15          Confessions of a Book Addict
June 16          Literary Quicksand
June 16          Becky on Books
June 17          The Reading Frenzy
June 17          Anita Loves Books
June 18          Chicks, Rogues, & Scandals
June 18          The Write Review
June 19          Diary of Eccentric
June 20          Cracking the Cover
June 21          Short Books & Scribes
June 22          Reading the Past
June 22          Babblings of a Bookworm
June 23          My Vices and Weaknesses
June 23          The Book Diva Reads
June 24          Books, Teacups & Reviews
June 24          Wishful Endings
June 25          Robin Loves Reading
June 25          Bookfoolery
June 26          Lit and Life
June 26          Vesper's Place
June 27          Foxes and Fairy Tales
June 28          Probably at the Library
June 28          Scuffed Slippers Wormy Books
June 29          The Anglophile Channel
June 29          So Little Time…
June 30          BookNAround


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