Wednesday, October 15, 2014

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett--Win a Copy!

What if Jane Austen wasn't the actual author of Pride and Prejudice?  What if she lifted the idea of Elizabeth and Darcy from someone else?  Yes, I think you felt the earth shake just like I did at the mere thought of this crazy idea.

Charlie Lovett centers his new novel, First Impressions  around that idea and does such a wonderful job of it that I was sad to turn the final page. I'm happy to say this novel will certainly be in my top five favorite reads for 2014.  

First Impressions tells the story of Jane Austen and her friendship with an elderly clergyman, Richard Mansfield.  They meet one day while Jane is strolling through the countryside, and strike up a conversation over books.  This friendship soon develops and grows into a very deep and meaningful exchange of ideas and a love of books.  Jane is in the throes of writing what will eventually become Sense and Sensibility, and bounces ideas off of Mansfield.  He, in turn, shares ideas with Jane.  Could one of those ideas be the kernel of what will become Pride and Prejudice?

Along with Jane's story, we have a contemporary tale of Sophie Collingwood, just graduated from Oxford, who has a passion for old classic books.  She's inherited this love of books from her Uncle Bertram, and her family's country home has a huge library full of precious editions that her father is itching to sell off in order to maintain the family's ancestral home.  Sophie is in a bit of a romantic snafu--she's met Eric, an American who can match her love of Jane Austen quote for quote, and Winston, who comes to Sophie with a request for an obscure book--by Richard Mansfield.  Strangely enough, another man  also requested this book the day before from the rare book store that Sophie works at in London.  

What is the connection between this small, obscure book and Jane Austen?  Why is it so important to find?  And why is Sophie given the task to find it?  What does it have to do with her Uncle Bertram and her family library? Can she trust either Eric or Winston to help her solve the mystery?

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this novel.  It is obvious Charlie Lovett has a passion for books and a reverence for the written word.  And if you're like me and sometimes feel like you're the only one around who feels the same way, well... it's like meeting a kindred spirit.  Toss in Jane Austen, some romance, a cad, and a summer in England and you've got a winning combination.  

And you can win a copy of First Impressions!  Just follow the rafflecopter directions below, and I'll be announcing a winner next Tuesday, October 20th.  Open to U.S. residents only.  Thank you to Viking/Penguin for sending me a copy of this book. 

 It really did make my week to take a break from studying and devour this book.  There are so many wonderful sprinkles of Pride and Prejudice (including the title of this book--which was the first title Jane had for P&P) running through this novel that I found myself smiling as I turned the pages.  

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Rating:  9/10 for a wonderfully entertaining novel about the origins of Pride and Prejudice.  Read my review of  Charlie's first novel, The Bookman's Tale  here.  First Impressions will be released October 20th in hardcover and e-book.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas

Sandra Dallas is a favorite writer of mine.  I know when I pick up her latest book she'll give me a great story featuring strong women who keep marching forward no matter what the situation.  Sandra has a love for quilts and quilting; they show up in every book she writes, and this book is no exception.

A Quilt for Christmas takes place in Kansas during the last year of the Civil War, 1864.  Eliza Spooner is left at her family farm with her two children, Luzena and Davy while her husband Will goes off to fight the Confederates.  All she has of Will are his infrequent letters home.  Eliza decides to make a  quilt for Will, to keep him warm in the coming winter months.  It's a special quilt, made with stars and stripes, and stitched with Will and Eliza's names.  With that quilt, Eliza sends all her love and prayers to keep Will safe in battle.  

Meanwhile, Missouri Ann, a woman Eliza only knows through infrequent town visits, has found out her husband has been killed in the war.  She has nowhere to go, since her husband's family, the Starks, are a cruel, vicious household of men who will force Missouri Ann to marry one of them in order to keep her taking care of the house.  Eliza takes Missouri Ann and her little daughter, Nance, into her home.  A rich friendship develops between the two women over the cold winter.  

And when tragedy strikes, Eliza must find a way to move forward and take care of her farm.  The war is drawing to a close, but the loss of the husbands of her close friends, and the uncertainty of those left waiting for their husbands to return from war weighs heavily on every woman left behind.  Only their quilting circle keeps them together, sharing secrets, concerns, and their meager food supplies. 

This is a gentle story, full of sadness and grief, and perserverence in the face of  grief and uncertainty.  Eliza is a strong woman who takes out Will's letters and reads them when she needs strength.  And her quilt comes full circle, but you have to read the story to find out how and why.

And for those of you who have read The Persian Pickle Club, you'll be happy to know it's the 20th anniversary of the first publication, and it has a lovely tie to this novel.  Both together would make a wonderful gift for Christmas.  Anyone who likes historical fiction, civil war novels, and novels of the West will enjoy this tale.  Sandra just simply writes a great story, and may give you that push to start quilting.  



Rating:  8/10 for a gentle story about the price of war, and the powerful value of friendship.  

Available in hardcover and ebook.    

Here are a few of my other reviews of Sandra's previous books:
Fallen Women 
 True Sisters

Sunday, September 28, 2014

When the Shoe Fits...Essays of Love, Life, and Second Chances by Mary T. Wagner






First of all, I have to apologize to Mary Wagner for taking so long to review her book.  Time flies by just too darn fast!  I've managed to read her collection of essays, and found them thoughtful and full of realizations that do truly only come  to us when we've been through a few things.  Those things?  Life changes, career changes, marriages ending, and moving from your 20's through your 30's and into your 40's.  

I look back at myself in my early 20's and think that if I met my younger self on the street, what would I say to her?  I think it would be:  "Don't be afraid to ask questions.  Live life to the fullest.  Don't worry about making mistakes.  Speak up for yourself--no one else will.  Travel!  And love will find you, even if it takes awhile." oh--and "You'll never ever regret not getting a tattoo."   Reading Mary's essays on her life gave me some food for thought.  

Mary is in her 40's, divorced, and after years of being a freelance journalist and mom of 4 kids, she went back to law school and became a lawyer.  In the meantime, she got a divorce and learned that there is something powerful in being a woman and not being afraid to wield a power tool.  There is a certain feeling of pride and accomplishment when you can take care of yourself.  Yes, it's always easier to have that man around to help out, but knowing you can do it yourself is a powerful confidence booster.  

One particular essay talks about being kind and it really hit home for me.  As Mary says, "That if you have something good to say about someone, say it sooner rather than later, because you just never know what shores that encouragement will carry them to."  Offering advice to someone who's struggling with a life change; telling someone to "Go for it!" and leading by example can work miracles.  My niece said something wonderful to me the other night that made me feel like I am doing something right.  My sister died a few years ago, and I have unofficially stepped into being the Auntie/Mom that my two nieces need.  Yes, they're adults, but they still need a Mom figure.  And that's me.  And she let me know they see it, appreciate it, and it makes them feel like someone is looking out for them when they feel disconnected and a bit lost without their Mom to keep connections to family alive.  That meant a lot to me.  And I'm pretty sure my sister is smiling.  

So read Mary's essays.  They are entertaining, thoughtful, and show a woman who has become comfortable in her skin.  

Rating:  7/10 for a look at a woman who juggles it all, and keeps moving forward.  

Available in paperback 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Moment of Everything by Shelly King

This happens every time I post a "This is What I'm Reading" blog.  I immediately turn around and find something to read that's not on my list.  This is one of the perils of working at a bookstore.  

School has been incredibly busy this month!  I am doggie paddling as fast as I can; it doesn't help that I want to sit and read fun stuff all day and I can't.  I have read two books in the past few weeks, but they are about my other interests:  forensics and death.  I didn't want to post reviews on those, cause I figure y'all want something fun to read!  So here's a fun book to read, and perfect for book lovers, librarians, and fans of bookstores.

The Moment of Everything by Shelly King is a sweet little novel about being at a point in your life where you think you should do one thing, but another is calling to you.  We've all been there...sometimes more than once.   Maggie Dupres is a former librarian who turned her library skills into mining for information at a Silicon Valley business she co-founded with her pal Dizzy.  Unfortunately, through acquisitions, board member stuff, and just bad luck, she's out of a job.  The only thing she knows for sure is that moving home to Mom and Dad is not an option. 

 She finds herself hanging out at Dragonfly Books, a used bookstore that is home to a quirky owner, a vicious cat, and lots of romance novels.  Maggie reluctantly becomes vested in the well-being of the shop when she finds a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover that changes her life.  Inside the beat up, torn up novel are marginalia (the librarian in me is delighted to use that word) between Henry and Catherine that tell of their love story.  What is marginalia?  Scribbles, comments, and notes in the margins of books.  It's also a secret way to communicate between lovers.  Who are they?  Where are they?  Did they ever meet?  Maggie becomes obsessed with this tale, and it becomes a driving force in reinvigorating the business of Dragonfly books.  It also messes with Maggie's ideas of love and romance.  She thinks she's pretty immune to love, but finds out love pops up whether she's ready or not.  

This novel is full of great book references, the smell and feel of a bookstore, and reminds me of why I love books and reading.  I also got a kick out of reading about a librarian working at a bookstore--gee, that kinda sounds familiar....

Anyway.  Read this if you liked The Storied Life of AJ Fikry.  Or if you love books and bookstores.  And if you have a Dragonfly Books in your life, visit it.  

Rating:  7/10 for down to earth characters, a lovingly drawn-out bookstore, and a woman's story that is a bit messy but real.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier


I've finally read a Juliet Marillier novel, and I feel like I need to make a check on my Science Fiction/Fantasy Authors I Must Read Before I Die listI have had so many people recommend her, and I'm sorry to say it's taken me this long.  Thanks to Nita Basu from Penguin, who asked me to review a new series by Juliet Marillier.  Dreamer's Pool is the first in the new Blackthorn and Grim series, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There's something of the fifteen-year old fantasy geek left in me that just loves to read fantasy.  Bring on the curses, mysterious woods, wisewomen, and ancient tales.  You could even toss in a unicorn and I'd be fine with that.  

Dreamer's Pool doesn't have a unicorn, but it does have everything else that makes a great fantasy novel, and a satisfying ending that doesn't leave you on a cliff until the next novel--but makes you look forward to reading more about Blackthorn and Grim.  The story begins with Blackthorn and Grim as two prisoners in quite frankly, a hellish place.  Blackthorn is a woman bent on revenge against Mathuin, a completely corrupt and evil leader.  He's tossed Blackthorn into jail to rot.  Grim is a fellow prisoner, who relies on Blackthorn (although she doesn't know it) to keep him sane.  And just when it looks like Blackthorn is going to be executed, she gets a chance at freedom from Conmael, a fey creature.  But there's a catch:  she must live near the village of Winterfalls and provide care to anyone who asks her.  And she must do this for 7 years; after that, she is free to pursue her vengeance.  

So things happen (I'm not going to tell you!), and Blackthorn finds herself living in a small cottage at the edge of the woods--with Grim.  Prince Oran is preparing to meet his future bride, Lady Flidais.  He's fallen in love with her through her portrait and letters they've exchanged.  He can't wait to meet her.  

Except something strange has happened, and Lady Flidais is not the kind, sweet, loving person who wrote letters to Prince Oran.  Yes, she matches the portrait to a "t", but her personality doesn't fit at all.  What's going on?  And how can Blackthorn and Grim solve the mystery?  And what does it have to do with Dreamer's pool in the woods?

I would recommend this title to a teen starting out in fantasy, or anyone who likes Mercedes Lackey or Juliet Marillier's series Sevenwaters.  It captures you from the first page and keeps you entertained the whole way through.  Blackthorn is a woman who has suffered much, and struggles to keep her desire for revenge under control.  Grim is her stalwart companion, who struggles himself to be rid of the nightmares of prison.  There's a bit of magic, mystery, and mischief.  Perfect for a cool Fall night.  

Rating:  7/10 for an enjoyable start to a new series.  Can't wait to read more adventures of Blackthorn and Grim!

Available in hardcover in November, 2014.  Also will be available in e-book format.   
 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Upcoming Reviews: A Mixed Bag of Good Reading

School is in swing and the summer is over, except for the occasional 90 degree day with high humidity.  Yes, it gets extremely humid here in Iowa. I can feel like I'm in the tropics for free--except there are no fruity drinks to sip while I read unless I make them myself.  And no beach.  

Fall is my favorite season, and mostly because I love Halloween, pumpkin bread, and a reason to make hearty suppers.  But it also brings out the desire to read books that have a slightly spooky, other-wordly slant to them.  I love my ghost stories!  Here is a list of upcoming books I'm going to read and review in the next few months; a little bit of this 'n that:

Witches and curses:  a teen novel

A new fantasy series

A memoir

Historical fiction with-you guessed it--a lighthouse!

Murder and magic

A woman's walking journey to the ocean
So you can see, I have once again set my reading 
bar high. What authors are you looking forward to reading this fall?  

And if you haven't "liked" my Facebook page, please do!  I not only post my reviews, but news about the book world and anything else I find interesting regarding reading, books, and living the life of a bookworm.  Just click Bookalicious Babe and "like" my page. 


Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

My desire to devour a large quantity of books this summer hasn't worked out.  Life got in the way, which is hard for me to fathom.  Not much gets in the way of my reading.  And now I'm back to school; life is so full I don't think I'll get a break until after Christmas.  Those bits of time during the day when I can sit and read keep me sane and help me feel that I can keep managing my hectic schedule.  

In between getting ready for school, planning and executing a surprise birthday party for my boyfriend, and trying to keep my yard and house clean (not winning that battle), I've managed to start quite a few books, but only finished this one.  It was the perfect book to end my summer and begin a new season.  

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen is sure to appeal to anyone who loves Sarah Addison Allen, Alice Hoffman, and anyone who loves a bit of magical realism tossed into a story.  I'm a firm believer in magic and the wonderful, quirky way things can manifest in our lives.  Sometimes there is no explanation, it just is. 

 Olivia Pennywort lives in New York state, in the wonderful Green Valley.  Her farm is known around those parts as a place where a person can go, wander the maze, and find the answer to life's most important question:  what do I do with my life?  Sometimes it can take time to receive the answer; for that reason Olivia provides a barn where women can stay, work the gardens, and await their answer.  They come and go every year and always leave at peace.  Olivia's magic touch with plants of any kind is legendary; she grows flowers and vegetables  when the whole valley is undergoing a horrible drought and heat wave.  

But Olivia has a secret:  she is poisonous to the touch.  Anyone who touches her (or whom she touches) breaks out into a horrible poison ivy rash.  She's kept to herself on Pennywort Farm, working every day on her gardens.  No one knows her secret, except for her father, Arthur.  He lives in a ravine on the farm, in a little shack.  He refuses to move back into the farmhouse, and Olivia visits him every day with food and conversation.  Both are not happy with life, but aware that what they have is all they can ever hope for and expect out of life.

Sam Van Winkle comes back to town, and stirs Olivia out of her prison.  Years before, Sam and Olivia were childhood friends who fell in love as teens.  Sam left town when Olivia broke off their relationship with no explanation.  He tried to find life away from Green Valley, but realized it called to him and was where he needed to be.  Now a police officer, he has to live up to the Van Winkle reputation of being a "hero".  He doesn't feel very hero-like.

Sam, Olivia, and Arthur are all damaged by the past.  Are they courageous enough to take the steps to be happy?  Can Sam and Olivia have a normal life together when physical touch is impossible?  And what of the secret garden locked up in the middle of the maze?  

Love is a powerful emotion, and can make anything possible.  Forgiveness, passion, loving someone wholeheartedly and without reservation; those are all themes in this novel.  Living in the midst of beauty while feeling empty and alone and unable to move forward into the richness of life.  It's all here, in The Night Garden.  

Rating:  7/10 for lush descriptions of gardens, flowers, and nature.  An unusual love story, and a main character who fights for love.  

Available in October in paperback and e-book.