Christina reads the 12 in 12, part 2
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Christina reads the 12 in 12, Part Two
I am no longer officially doing the 12 in 12...I definitely bit off more than I could chew! However, I'm still occasionally posting on the stuff I'm reading, so please do continue to stop by sometimes! :)
Here are my categories:
I. Blitzkrieg Bop – books about or set during World War II
II. The Kids Are All Right – children's and YA novels
III. The Austen Marathon – books inspired by or related to Jane Austen
IV. Stranger than Fiction – nonfiction
V. Have Laser Gun, Will Travel – science fiction
VI. Retro Reads – fiction published in or before 1950
VII. Is This a Kissing Book? – chick lit and romance
VIII. Ye Olde Historical Fiction – historical fiction, including stories with parallel storylines (one contemporary, one historical)
IX. Second Quest, Same as the First – fantasy novels in a series, but not the first book
X. The Butler Did It – mysteries
XI. On the Shelf – books I acquired before December 31, 2011
XII. Gallimaufry – the all-important catch-all category!
III. The Austen Marathon
1. P. D. James – Death Comes to Pemberley
2. Laurel Ann Nattress, ed. – Jane Austen Made Me Do It
3. Shannon Hale – Midnight in Austenland
4. Claire LaZebnik – Epic Fail
5. Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway – Lady Vernon and Her Daughter
IV. Stranger than Fiction
1. David Howarth – 1066: The Year of the Conquest
2. Marjorie Havreberg – Dancing with Colonels: A Young Woman's Adventures in Wartime Turkey
3. Amy Bonaccorso – How to Get to "I Do": A Dating Guide for Catholic Women
4. Tina Fey – Bossypants
5. G. K. Chesterton – Charles Dickens
VII. Is This a Kissing Book?
1. Sarra Manning – You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me
2. Hester Browne – The Little Lady Agency
3. Hester Browne – Little Lady, Big Apple
4. Hester Browne – The Little Lady Agency and the Prince
5. Julie James – About That Night
6. Sarah Addison Allen – The Sugar Queen
7. Sophie Kinsella – I've Got Your Number
8. Alexandra Potter – You're (Not) the One
Hi Christina - stopping by to check out the new thread and wave Hi!
**** waves ***
I seem to be following Lori all around the threads today, so I'll join in on her wave!
@ 17 -- Yay, glad you found me!
@ 18 -- Thanks! I definitely had fun picking them out. :)
Book #28: María Dueñas, The Time in Between (trans. Daniel Hahn)
Completed on: April 6
Category: Ye Olde Historical Fiction
Sira Quiroga begins life as a humble seamstress in Madrid in the first half of the 20th century. She grows up, becomes engaged to a nice man, and sees the rest of her life stretching out before her, placid and uneventful. But everything changes when she meets a charming salesman who sweeps her off her feet. She falls deeply in love and moves with him to the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco, a decision that irrevocably changes the course of her life. In the following decades, Sira will become the most noted dressmaker in Morocco, associate with the most important figures in the Spanish government, and finally become a spy for the English as World War II threatens to engulf her country and her way of life.
I was so interested in this book, based on its plot and setting, that I almost bought it in hardcover. Thank goodness I didn’t! This is one of those historical fiction books where the author seems to be saying, “Hey, look how much research I did!” The book does appear to be meticulously researched, and it’s full of detail about life in Morocco and Spain during the Spanish Civil War and the early years of World War II. However, aside from the copious historical details, I wasn’t very impressed with this book. I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters, since none of them have much of a personality; they’re simply conduits for Dueñas to display her historical knowledge. Additionally, the book is entirely too long; at least 400 of its 600 pages could have been lopped off and I wouldn’t have missed them. Overall, while this book isn’t completely awful, I was definitely disappointed!
That's too bad, because the idea sounds really good. I hate it when an author does that.
Thanks for the warning about The Time in Between. It has a premise I would fall for, but if you don't care about the characters, you may as well pick up a piece of non-fiction instead.
Sorry to hear about The Time in Between. Maybe it's time to try another kissing book :-)
@ 21 -- I know! Nothing worse than a great premise with a poor execution.
@ 22 -- That's a good point...the material would have made an interesting nonfiction book, but that's not what I wanted to read when I picked it up!
@ 23 -- Haha, I definitely will be soon! Right now I'm reading Midnight in Austenland, which is breezy and fun. The perfect antidote to an over-long slog!
Darn about The Time in Between.... and love the bunny pic above (and now for some crazy reason I have a craving for chocolate!)
Happy Easter Christina!
Lori, I simply cannot say no to a chocolate bunny, either in real life or in photo form. I had a great Easter -- hope you did as well!
Book #29: Shannon Hale, Midnight in Austenland
Completed on: April 9
Category: The Austen Marathon
Charlotte Kinder thought she had the perfect life: a lucrative career, a loving husband, and two wonderful kids. So when she learned that her husband James was having an affair, she was blindsided as well as devastated. Now, in an effort to keep her hurt and loneliness at bay, Charlotte decides to take a vacation at Pembrook Park, a grand English estate where the guests pretend that they are living in the Regency era. Upon arrival in “Austenland,” Charlotte immediately makes friends with the women and is struck by how good-looking the men are, especially the brooding Mr. Mallery. However, just as Charlotte begins to enjoy herself, she discovers a dead body in Pembrook Park’s secret chamber – or thinks she does. Is Charlotte’s imagination running away with her, or has a real murder been committed in Austenland?
Although this novel is technically a sequel to Austenland, it can absolutely be read as a stand-alone novel. This book is another light, fun chick-lit romp with some vaguely period trappings, only this time there’s a murder mystery thrown in. I liked that both the mystery and the romance got their fair share of attention, so that neither plot felt like an afterthought. I also enjoyed the nod to Northanger Abbey, as Charlotte’s investigation of the mystery parallels Catherine Morland’s in certain (though not all) ways. There were times when Charlotte’s character didn’t feel entirely real to me; when she describes her emotions about her ex-husband and children, it seems a bit clichéd and superficial. However, I did enjoy the book overall, and I’m especially happy that I got the ending I wanted – I actually said “aww” out loud as I finished the final page!
Book #30: Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
Completed on: April 12
Category: Retro Reads
The subject of this book is Flatland, a two-dimensional world in which a person’s social status is measured by the number of his sides. Circles are the most prestigious members of the aristocracy, having an infinite number of infinitely small sides, whereas lowly Isosceles triangles are mere rabble. (Women are straight lines, and thus have practically no status at all.) The narrator, A. Square, spends the first half of this slim book describing the nature and customs of Flatland. In the second half he experiences a series of visions which introduce him to Lineland, Spaceland, and Pointland. But when Square attempts to share his newfound knowledge with his fellow Flatlanders, the consequences are disastrous.
Since this book is so short, clocking in at 82 pages, I don’t have too much to say about it. I thought Flatland was a clever idea, and I enjoyed brushing up a little bit on some basic geometry. The world of Flatland also has some obvious parallels to the author’s own Victorian society, especially the low status of women and the measures taken by the aristocrats to retain their power. I found the satire rather heavy-handed, but it was probably more effective at the time it was published. The first half of the book was dull, but I enjoyed the second half a lot more. Square’s journey to enlightenment provides some food for thought, and his eventual fate actually takes quite a dark turn. Overall, this book was a mildly pleasant diversion, but I’m rather ambivalent toward it.
I'm glad you liked Midnight in Austenland. I thought it was great escapist fun, with the added thrill of noticing the various nods to Austen novels along the way. I hope Hale writes more Austenland books.
Flatland is referenced by many modern scientists when trying to explain 4 or more dimensions and therefore a little like required reading in certain circles....
@ 32 -- "Escapist fun" describes it perfectly! I'd definitely read more books set in Austenland.
@ 33 -- That's funny! I don't exactly run in those circles, so I had no idea this book was well-known.
My library's semi-annual book sale is this weekend, so of course I had to explore it today! Sadly, I didn't find very much that I wanted, but I did come home with the following:
Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana
G. K. Chesterton, Manalive
Anna Katharine Green, The Leavenworth Case
Dai Sijie, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
I'll probably head back over there tomorrow to see if there's any new stock. Here's hoping!
I discovered that Sevier County's book sale starts in about a week or so and runs through the 28th, so I'm hoping to go on bag day and pick up some bargains.
@ 36 -- Good luck to you! Library sales are the best, aren't they? :)
Lori, I wasn't aware that The Leavenworth Case was part of a series! That makes me nervous too...I'm hoping it will work as a stand-alone novel! I'll be sure to report back once I read it. :)
According to LT, The Leavenworth Case is the first book in the series so I think you are okay to start it from that perspective..... and when you do get around to reading it I will be curious to learn if you like it enough to continue with the series!
Yeah, I'm glad it's #1 in the series so at least I don't have to play catch-up before I can read it!
I did go back to the library sale today, and I was able to get a few more things:
Sarah Addison Allen, Garden Spells and The Girl Who Chased the Moon
Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, Lady Vernon and Her Daughter
Alden Bell, The Reapers Are the Angels
I'm very excited, especially about the SAA! Now if only I had time to read all of these books anytime soon....
I received Garden Spells from SantaThing and was pleasantly surprised. Enjoy!
I am anxiously waiting to see when one of the libraries around here has a sale. I just LOVE them!!
I've been to the San Francisco Library book sale they hold in the fall. It's stupendous! They house it in a warehouse. You can spend hours looking at all the books! The have shopping carts to load up with books. Lotsa fun!
Book #31: Sara Creasy, Song of Scarabaeus
Completed on: April 16
Category: Have Laser Gun, Will Travel
In a universe where Old Earth is a distant memory and mankind has colonized numerous other planets, Edie has a unique gift: her skills are integral to the terraforming of newly discovered (or conquered) planets to make them inhabitable for humans. So when Edie is kidnapped by the crew of a rogue spacecraft, she knows immediately that they want to utilize her special talents for their own ends. To make sure she complies, they’ve assigned her a bodyguard: Finn is a lower-class former soldier whose job is to guard Edie’s life at all costs, and his brain will literally explode if she dies. Bound by a common desire to escape captivity, Edie and Finn must formulate a plan while trying not to run afoul of either their captors or the all-powerful corporation that runs the universe.
I don’t normally read much science fiction, but I’m trying to branch out, and this book seems ideal for someone like me: while there’s plenty of scientific-sounding jargon in the novel, at bottom it’s a very character-driven story. Edie is a typical heroine in many ways – tough, smart, scarred by her past – but I really liked that her strength was in her intelligence rather than physical prowess. The novel judiciously uses flashbacks to reveal Edie’s past in a way that gradually makes sense of the present. I also enjoyed Finn’s character, but I’d like to know even more about him and the development of his relationship with Edie. Good thing there’s a sequel! Overall, this book was a real page-turner, though not particularly cutting-edge for its genre, and I look forward to reading Children of Scarabaeus.
I don’t normally read much...
Did you mean to insert a genre in there somewhere? Because you've read three times more books than me so far this year. I think you might finish your 144 before I finish my 60... :)
The only thing I'm looking forward to about being graduated and unemployed in mid-May is all the free time for reading.
ETA: Your review did make me add this book to my TBR pile, though. ('Cause I need another book to read like I need a hole in my head.)
I tried reading Flatland last year and gave up. My feeling were about like yours - clever idea, but that doesn't mean it's enough for a book. I got tired of it, found it much too heavy handed, and moved on.
Casvelyn, I was wondering about that statement, too.
Christina, you do so read, entire books even!
I'm trying to branch out a bit in what I read this year, but haven't found any science fiction that calls to me. I'll have to content myself with the occasional fantasy novel, since they're shelved in the same part of the bookstore!
@ 52 -- Haha, casvelyn, you're right -- I meant "I don't normally read much SCIENCE FICTION." That's quite a meaning-changer there! I graduated last year so I totally know how you feel...congratulations, you're almost there!!!
@ 53 -- Fair enough, cmbohn! I only stuck with it because it was short and I knew it would count towards my challenge.
@ 54 -- Yes indeed. Serves me right for posting without proofreading! I do like fantasy a lot better than sci fi, but I'm slowly finding some good science fiction too. Have you read Lois McMaster Bujold? I think she would be a great place to start for someone who doesn't really like sci fi, since her books are very much about characters and relationships.
Just catching up with your reviews. Looks like you got some good purchases at the library sale. I really enjoyed Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. I hope you'll like it too.
By the way, I saw on your previous thread that you were thinking of doing Dewey's Read-a-thon. Is that still in your plans? I've signed up and tried to keep the calendar as clear as possible for Saturday. I hope you and some others in this group will be participating too!
mathgirl, I am definitely still planning to participate in the read-a-thon! I've blocked off the entire 24 hours so that I have nothing to do except read! :) I'm really looking forward to it.
Glad to hear that you'll be doing the read-a-thon! I'll be sure to visit your blog on Saturday. :)
Yay! Where will you be posting? I'd definitely like to stop by!
ETA: Never mind, I have found your blog through my Internet ninja skills (a.k.a. I checked your profile page). I'm looking forward to seeing what you read!
Today is the 24-hour read-a-thon! If anyone is interested, I'll be posting my progress throughout the day at my blog, here. Lots of reviews will probably be coming in the next few days!
I'm enjoying your blog updates! For some reason, I'm having trouble adding comments to your blog. (Maybe my Google account isn't set up properly to work with Livejournal.) In any case, I'll look for your reviews here in the coming days.
Hi Christina, I've been following you on your blog and you are doing great. Way to go. Keep it up.
@ 61 -- Thanks! I enjoyed checking in with your blog too. Sorry the comments weren't working for you...I have no idea how to fix things like that. But yeah, there will definitely be reviews at some point!
@ 62 -- Thanks DQ, glad you stopped by!
Book #32: Elizabeth Chadwick, The Marsh King's Daughter
Completed on: April 21
Category: Ye Olde Historical Fiction
In 13th-century England, Miriel is frustrated at the lack of choices available to her as a young, unmarried woman. Her cruel stepfather frequently abuses her, and after one particularly vicious argument he decides that she must leave his household. He arranges for Miriel to go to a nearby convent, where she must take vows and live out the rest of her days as a cloistered nun. Horrified, Miriel tries to resist but is sent to the convent anyway. An opportunity to escape arises when a young sailor, Nicholas de Caen, is found close to death in a field near the convent. Miriel nurses him back to health and then follows him when he leaves the convent. Miriel and Nicholas soon find themselves drawn to each other, but they part on bad terms. When they meet again several years later, they will have to contend against both a ruthless killer and their illicit passion for each other.
I’ve only read one other book by Elizabeth Chadwick, Lords of the White Castle and I remember really enjoying it. So my expectations were high, but I ended up being somewhat disappointed with this novel. I think most of my problem was with Miriel’s character. The reader is clearly supposed to sympathize with her and see her as a strong, feisty woman who bravely takes on the world. However, I found her overly abrasive and bratty rather than endearing. I also didn’t quite buy the romance between her and Nicholas; after being separated for years, they seem to fall in love awfully quickly. The chief villain in the book is also completely over-the-top and seems to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. In general, while the book is definitely a page-turner, I just don’t think it has very much substance. I would recommend lovers of medieval historical fiction to try Sharon Kay Penman instead.
Book #33: Julie James, About That Night
Completed on: April 22
Category: Is This a Kissing Book?
Criminal prosecutor Rylann Pierce has just become Chicago’s newest assistant U.S. attorney. Smart and ambitious, Rylann is determined to do a fantastic job and make a name for herself in this new city. However, her very first assignment places her in contact with the last man she ever thought she’d see again: Kyle Rhodes, the sexy billionaire heir to a software fortune with whom she’d shared an instant connection – and one amazing kiss – nine years ago. Now Kyle is an important witness in her big case, and Rylann must either fight her strong attraction to Kyle or risk irreparable damage to her career.
I always eagerly await the newest Julie James novel; she’s my go-to author when I want a fun, lighthearted contemporary romance, and this book certainly delivers. Rylann and Kyle are both engaging, likeable characters with extremely strong chemistry. I really liked the first chapter, which described their first meeting nine years prior to the main events of the book; it was charming and sweet, and it had me invested in their romance from the very beginning. I also enjoyed seeing characters from James’ previous books: Kyle’s sister Jordan is the heroine of A Lot Like Love and has a role to play in this book too. It was also fun to get the insides coop on Kyle’s reputation as the “Twitter terrorist.” That said, parts of this book would probably be a lot less engaging for readers who haven’t already read A Lot Like Love, although the novel can technically be read as a stand-alone book. Mostly I’m just curious to see where James will go from here – Rylann’s best friend Rae and coworker Cade would both make great protagonists for future books, I think!
I've never heard of Julie James, but it always good to have go to authors when in need of a light and fluffy read. Thanks for adding another name to my list :-)
@ 66 -- She's fun! I think my favorite of hers is Practice Makes Perfect, but they're all good. Also, they're romance novels and contain some sex scenes, just in case that might affect your desire to read the books.
Book #34: A. C. Gaughen, Scarlet
Completed on: April 21
Category: The Kids Are All Right
In this retelling of the Robin Hood legend, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham is crushing the villages in his domain with heavy taxes and the threat of violence. In retaliation, Robin Hood and his small band of followers – Much the miller’s son, John whose nickname is “Little,” and Will Scarlet – steal from the rich and give to the poor, as the story goes. However, in this version of the legend, “Will” Scarlet is actually a girl who goes simply by Scarlet or Scar. She’s quick with a knife and good at getting out of tight situations, which makes her an ideal thief. However, when the Sheriff hires a thief-taker named Guy of Gisbourne who is notorious for his cruelty, the danger to Robin Hood and his friends grows even greater – especially because Scarlet has a secret involving Gisbourne that will endanger the lives of everyone she loves.
I’ve always liked the story of Robin Hood, though I’m not sure why; something about the notion of merrie England appeals to me, I guess. However, I’ve always steered clear of Robin Hood retellings, because in my mind nothing can possibly measure up to Robin McKinley’s phenomenal The Outlaws of Sherwood. That said, I actually enjoyed Scarlet quite a bit. Scar is an engaging narrator, despite having a strange dialect that initially got on my nerves. Although her secret isn’t too difficult to guess, the book builds to it nicely. I really enjoyed reading about her personal relationships with John and Robin Hood, although sometimes it did veer a little too much into teen angst territory. Still, I found the plot exciting and all the major characters vivid. While I still think The Outlaws of Sherwood is unsurpassable, Scarlet is also an entertaining and unique take on the Robin Hood tale.
Book #35: Tina Fey, Bossypants
Completed on: April 22
Category: Stranger Than Fiction
Comedienne Tina Fey’s memoir tackles all the usual suspects: her childhood, her offbeat parents, the summers she spent at theater camp where everyone turned out to be gay…and then her career at “Saturday Night Live,” her famous stint impersonating Sarah Palin, and the creation and surprising longevity of “30 Rock.” Through it all, she keeps the jokes coming and gives hardly any serious advice about Life.
I don’t have too much to say about this book, honestly. If you’re a fan of Tina Fey, you’ll probably enjoy it – I certainly did! I basically only know her because of “30 Rock,” and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of time she dedicates to talking about the show. She spends comparatively little time on SNL, so anyone looking for a lot of backstage information about that might be disappointed. The chief virtue of this book is that it’s hysterically funny; I was laughing pretty much nonstop in a really embarrassing, cackly way. (Let’s just say I was happy I read it in the privacy of my own home!) It doesn’t really have much to offer beyond the humor, but for me that provided enough incentive to keep turning the pages.
Book #36: Sarah Addison Allen, The Sugar Queen
Completed on: April 22
Category: Is This a Kissing Book?
Josey Cirrini, a 27-year-old woman who lives at home with her disapproving mother, is quietly but desperately unhappy. She feels trapped by her role as the plain, dutiful daughter, and her only solace is her secret closet stashed with candy and romance novels. But everything changes one day when Josey finds that Della Lee Baker, the town's notorious bad girl, has taken up residence in the secret closet. Della Lee begins to pry into Josey's life, encouraging her to make friends with a sandwich maker named Chloe Findlay and to act on her long-time crush on her mailman Adam. Although frustrated by Della Lee's nosiness, Josey eventually begins to take her advice and subsequently discovers many secrets about her family history, gaining a richer life in the process.
I really enjoyed Sarah Addison Allen's The Peach Keeper, but I liked this book even more. There's something about Allen's magical settings that really draws me in. In this book, for example, the passion between two characters causes water to boil in the coffee pot and eggs to fry in their cartons – what a great image! I really identified with Josey and found her shyness very relatable. Chloe, who also becomes a main character, was a little less compelling for me, but I was still rooting for her and Jake. As for Adam, he was a swoonworthy hero, but I wanted to get a little more of his perspective. Still, overall I was seduced by the writing of this book, and I couldn’t put it down!
Book #37: Rick Riordan, The Last Olympian
Completed on: April 23
Category: The Kids Are All Right
In this final installment of the Percy Jackson series, Percy and his friends at Camp Half-Blood must finally face off against Kronos and the Titans. The fate of Olympus and of the gods themselves is at stake, but Percy is horrified to realize that his beloved New York City is also under threat. At the same time, Percy must also cope with the oracle’s prophecy that he will be the one to face Kronos and that a choice of his will mean the difference between success and failure. As if that weren’t enough, he also has to deal with the typical problems of a 16-year-old boy, including trying to sort out his feelings for Rachel and Annabeth.
Since it had been a while since I’d read the previous books in this series, I don’t have too much to say about this last novel. I found it a satisfying conclusion to the series, and I think it’s a great read for elementary- or middle-school kids. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am just too old for these books. Some children’s literature is able to transcend its demographic and appeal to adults, but sadly this series is not of that caliber. I’m glad to have read it once, and I still think it’s a great way to teach kids about Greek mythology, but I’ll most likely never read these books again.
@ 73 -- Lori, I'm looking forward to reading her other two books, but I'm trying to save them for when I need a great comfort read. :)
I've enjoyed the first three of Sarah Addison Allen's books, I find on different days I have different favorites. I am also saving her books to read for those times that I need a comfort read.
@ 76 -- I always save SAA's books for I need a comfort read, too. Or whenever I'm craving a little romance and whimsy.
Aw man, this just makes me want to drop everything and read something by SAA! Argh, temptation....
I've been planning to read The Lightning Thief for forever. Looks like I should get around to it. ;)
@ 77 -- owltype, it's definitely an effort to save those SAA books, but they deserve to be savored rather than devoured all at once! :)
@ 78 -- Sorry, Laura, but I'm with the temptation on this one!
@ 79 -- It's a fun series, cammykitty! Definitely for kids, but entertaining enough. And it's super fast to read, which is a plus!
@ 80 -- Victoria, I really loved it! I'm hoping Garden Spells and The Girl Who Chased the Moon can measure up as well.
Book #38: Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (trans. Alison Anderson)
Completed on: April 29
Category: On the Shelf
This novel is narrated in turn by two characters: Renée, a 54-year-old concierge in an upper-class French apartment building, and Paloma, a 12-year-old girl who lives in the building. Both characters are extremely intelligent, so much so that they are alienated from (and feel superior to) the world around them. Renée obsessively hides her intelligence from the building’s rich tenants, since she is positive that she does not and cannot have anything in common with them. Meanwhile, Paloma is so fed up with the dreary, superficial lives of the adults around her that she’s resolved to kill herself on her 13th birthday. However, both Renée and Paloma slowly begin to change when a new tenant, the elegant and polite Kakuro Ozu, moves into the building and brings out their true natures.
I bought this book on a whim because of the title, without knowing anything about it. Once I started flipping through the pages and reading reviews, I began to think I would dislike it heartily. Both Renée and Paloma seemed incredibly, unbearably pretentious to me; and indeed, neither character is particularly likeable, especially in the beginning. They both feel superior to everyone they know, and they spend most of their time sneering at the mistakes and follies of others. Paloma even has a journal for her “profound thoughts,” and she’s 12. Ugh. However, I actually ended up somewhat enjoying this book. It’s quite funny in places, and the main characters’ quirks eventually grew on me, especially as both Renée and Paloma began to change for the better. The writing is obnoxious in some places but beautiful in others. All in all, I’m glad I gave this book a chance, because I was pleasantly surprised.
Book #39: Sophie Kinsella, I've Got Your Number
Completed on: April 30
Category: Is This a Kissing Book?
Poppy’s life is spiraling out of control. Although she’s just become engaged to the handsome and intelligent Magnus Tavish, she has somehow lost her engagement ring, which happens to be a priceless family heirloom. Poppy is devastated; not only has she lost the ring, but now she’ll have to face the wrath of the Tavishes, who are all incredibly smart and intimidating academics. To make matters worse, someone has stolen Poppy’s cell phone, which basically contained her entire life. Luckily, she spots another phone in a trash can and decides to take it for herself – after all, finders keepers! Unfortunately, the phone’s real owner, a businessman named Sam, doesn’t see it that way. However, a series of unlikely circumstances force Poppy and Sam to share the phone, and she soon becomes rather closely involved in his life. When she uncovers some dirty dealings at Sam’s company, the two of them must work together to save the day, and ultimately Poppy must decide what she wants from her own future.
For anyone familiar with Kinsella’s previous books, which include the popular Shopaholic series, this latest novel doesn’t offer anything new, but it’s certainly a fun read! Poppy is a charming, good-hearted, somewhat naïve girl who wants to be liked and tries hard to please others. Although she gets herself into some pretty improbable situations, she’s still a likeable character who manages to bumble her way to a happy ending. Sam is a fun hero, too – a bit brusque and grumpy, but also a man with both integrity and a sense of humor. The chemistry between these two characters is readily apparent, even though they spend a lot of time communicating via texts; and in fact the texts are the most entertaining parts of the book. This book is an incredibly predictable read, but I still raced through it to see how the messes would eventually resolve themselves. I’d definitely recommend this novel to chick lit fans, but others might view it as too predictable and superficial.
Today was a pretty productive month, thankfully! I'm still behind where I need to be, but the gap appears to be slowly closing, so I'll take it! Here's what I managed in April:
Blitzkrieg Bop: 1/12
The Kids Are All Right: 5/12
.....A. C. Gaughen, Scarlet
.....Rick Riordan, The Last Olympian
The Austen Marathon: 3/12
.....Shannon Hale, Midnight in Austenland
Stranger Than Fiction: 4/12
.....Tina Fey, Bossypants
Have Laser Gun, Will Travel: 2/12
.....Sara Creasy, Song of Scarabaeus
Retro Reads: 3/12
.....Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
Is This a Kissing Book?: 7/12
.....Julie James, About That Night
.....Sarah Addison Allen, The Sugar Queen
.....Sophie Kinsella, I’ve Got Your Number
Ye Olde Historical Fiction: 4/12
.....María Dueñas, The Time in Between
.....Elizabeth Chadwick, The Marsh King’s Daughter
Second Quest, Same as the First: 5/12
The Butler Did It: 3/12
On the Shelf: 2/12
.....Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
I also started Before the Poison by Peter Robinson, but I didn't get past the first few chapters. Not a bad book, but it just didn't grab me. Maybe I'll try it again when I'm in the right mood for it.
Sounds like I should add SAA to my list of authors to try. I also had a similar mixed reaction to The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
Great progress for April! I found that Dewey's Read-a-thon really helped. Will you be doing Motherreaader's June reading challenge too?
I'm looking forward to the new Sophie Kinsella! I'd never heard of Sarah Addison Allen, but I will keep her in mind. I'm glad you got some kissing books read during April :-)
@ 85 -- I'm very impressed with SAA so far, so I hope you give her a try!
@ 86 -- Thanks! Yeah, the read-a-thon helped me a LOT. I've never heard of this June event before, but I'll definitely consider it! 48 hours might be a little too hardcore for me, but perhaps I can commit to 24. :)
@ 87 -- The "kissing books" were all a lot of fun! I'm a bit concerned by how quickly I'm burning through the category, though, especially since I've still barely started some of the others.
Hi Christina - I see you are making good progress with your challenge! The Elegance of the Hedgehog didn't connect with me until the second half of the story. At the end I came away having enjoyed the rather unique story.
I’d definitely recommend this novel to chick lit fans, but others might view it as too predictable and superficial.
That's me in a nutshell - how did you know!?!? ;-) when it comes to Kinsella's works.... looking forward to shelving that one away for a day when I am in the mood for light fluff!
Thanks Lori! I agree, the second half of Elegance was much more engaging than the first.
And as you can see, I am the last person to judge someone for reading light fluff! :) I need to turn to some nutritious broccoli books to balance out the cotton candy I've been reading!
I tried to listen to the audiobook of The Elegance of the Hedgehog for the group read, but I found the two protagonists way too annoying to get through it. I knew that there is a good turn-around at the end, and usually I can get myself to hold out for that...but not when I could HEAR their annoying superior tones of voices in the recording! I might try again someday in written format. :)
Hmm, yeah, I can see how the audio would be very irritating! I think you'd probably find the written format easier to stick with.
Book #40: Natasha Solomons, The House at Tyneford
Completed on: May 5
Category: Blitzkrieg Bop
Elise Landau has a happy childhood growing up in Vienna with her mother Anna, father Julian, and sister Margot. However, in the turbulent Europe of 1938, it is unsafe to be a Jew in Vienna. Therefore Elise decides to place an advertisement to become a maid in an English household. Her parents and sister plan to move to America, and Elise will join them within the year. Elise arrives at Tyneford willing to do her best to become a maid, but she finds it difficult to keep from speaking her mind to the master of the house, Mr. Rivers, and his son Kit. Her unusual status in the household leads to many upheavals in the local society, but the greatest upheaval of all is the arrival of World War II.
This novel has a lot going for it, in my opinion: the WWII setting, Elise’s strange upstairs-downstairs life at Tyneford, the glimpse of prewar British high society, and the promise of romance are all things I tend to enjoy in books. However, something about this novel felt a bit flat to me. I think I had trouble relating to Elise. She’s spunky enough, but I felt like she didn’t have very much substance to her. I wasn’t sure why I should care about her except that she was the heroine (and narrator). The book also deals with many tragedies (unsurprisingly), but I didn’t feel very much emotional impact. I did like the book overall, but I never quite fell in love with it. I’d still recommend it for fans of the time period, though – it does have a slight “Downton Abbey”-esque flavor to it!
Book #41: Mary Stewart, My Brother Michael
Completed on: May 7
Category: On the Shelf
Camilla Haven, a young classics teacher at an English girls’ school, is on vacation in Greece, seeing the sights and trying to forget about her ex-fiancé Philip. She is just bemoaning the fact that nothing ever happens to her when an adventure lands in her lap: a stranger approaches her in a café and gives her the keys to a car which, he says, is urgently needed in Delphi by a man named Simon on “a matter of life and death.” Not knowing what to do, Camilla eventually decides to drive the car to Delphi herself and deliver it to Simon. Little does she know that this seemingly unimportant act will entangle her with a decades-old murder, a cache of treasure, and imminent danger to her own life.
Once again, this novel sticks pretty close to the Mary Stewart formula: a young woman in a strange country becomes involved in some sort of peril or mystery, meeting a handsome man in the process. In this case the book is set in Greece, and I found the descriptions of the country fascinating, if a little long-winded at times. The atmosphere of the story, especially the allusions to Greek history and mythology, really helped to heighten the suspense. There’s no particular mystery about the book, though, as it’s immediately obvious who the good guys and the bad guys are. I also found the romance a bit unsatisfying; though it’s developed throughout the book, it never really comes to fruition, in my opinion. Still, I always enjoy Stewart’s books, and this one was no exception.
Book #42: Claire LaZebnik, Epic Fail
Completed on: May 9
Category: The Austen Marathon
In this modern YA take on Pride and Prejudice, Elise Benton and her sister Juliana are the new girls at a fancy California prep school. Elise immediately feels isolated from most of the students because of their fixation on money, celebrities and status. But when Juliana starts hanging out with Chase, who is part of the "in" crowd, Elise finds herself unwillingly drawn into the popular group. She soon clashes with Chase's best friend, Derek Edwards, whose parents are major Hollywood movie stars. Derek is handsome and smart, and everybody wants to be his friend, but his rude and standoffish behavior irritates Elise. When she befriends Webster Grant, a cute and charming guy who doesn't get along with Derek, she soon finds even more reasons to dislike Derek. But when Derek actually begins showing interest in her, Elise is shocked to find that her initial judgments of both Derek and Webster might not be entirely accurate.
I have mixed feelings about this book. As a novel in its own right, I think it's nothing particularly special. The plot is predictable, the characters aren't given very much depth, and the dialogue frequently made me cringe. So while this is a moderately enterataining and quick read, it's really just an average book. However, as an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, I was actually very impressed! The basic plot outline is there, along with most of the major characters, but this novel doesn't make the mistake of trying to replicate every single incident from the original book. For example, Elise's mom is the new principal of the high school, and she frequently humiliates her daughters by chatting with their friends at school and wearing bizarre outfits. She doesn't have the same motivations or mannerisms as Mrs. Bennet, but she is still an embarrassing mom. So the reference to P&P is there, but it doesn't overpower the story at hand. All in all, I enjoyed this book as a diehard P&P fan and would recommend it to other Janeites, as long as they don't mind the YA trappings!
It may be time for me to pull one of my books by Mary Stewart out and read it again. I've always liked her books but I haven't read one in a long time.
@ 96 -- Sometimes I'm just in the mood for one of hers. What I love about her books is that you always know what you're getting, but they're still fun to read!
Epic Fail sounds like fun! It's always refreshing to me to hear nice things about take-offs done well (though I probably won't pick up this one myself, as it isn't quite my style).
@ 98 -- It honestly is one of the best Austen spinoffs I've read. But I totally understand if the genre isn't your style; to be honest, I'm beginning to feel the same way about girlie YA books.
#83: I read I've Got Your Number today and loved it! It was a perfect weekend read for our first sunny day in as long as I can remember.
Interesting to read all the different reviews of Elegance of the Hedgehog. I was turned off it at first by the title, but I'm starting to get curious. Everyone seems to have very different reactions too it, and I know (and confession was) one of those kids that was bright enough to become quite arrogant about it. I'm wondering if I'd find it amusing or annoying. When I see it in real life, I have both reactions depending on what mood I'm in. WL, but I might be like Hibernator. I might toss it aside early out of annoyance.
@ 100 -- Glad you liked it! :)
@ 101 -- I think the trick is not to take it too seriously at the beginning. If you're prepared to be amused, I'm guessing you will be. I was expecting not to like it, so it took me a while to warm up to it.
Book #43: G. K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens
Completed on: May 11
Category: Stranger than Fiction
As the title suggests, this book is Chesterton’s biographical sketch of Charles Dickens, although it’s really more of an ode. It was written at a time when Dickens’ popularity among literary critics was low, and Chesterton’s response was to write this spirited defense of Dickens’ work and the philosophy on which it is based. The book covers Dickens’ life in brief outline, as well as a discussion of many of his works, but Chesterton focuses most on the characters and books that resonated with him as a reader, most notably The Pickwick Papers.
My basic response to this book is that it’s not particularly useful for fans of Dickens; however, it’s a great read for fans of Chesterton. Since I love Chesterton, I really enjoyed this book, but I can see how his style might not be for everyone. Here’s a characteristic paragraph:
”It is a great mistake to suppose that love unites and unifies men. Love diversifies them, because love is directed towards individuality. The thing that really unites men and makes them like to each other is hatred. Thus, for instance, the more we love Germany the more pleased we shall be that Germany should be something different from ourselves, should keep her own ritual and conviviality and we ours. But the more we hate Germany the more we shall copy German guns and German fortifications in order to be armed against Germany.”
In all, the book, written in 1906, is much more breezy and philosophical (and off-topic) than a contemporary biography would be. I enjoyed it, as I think any fans of Chesterton’s would, but it’s definitely not a comprehensive resource on Dickens.
I love Chesterton but never tried Dickens, I might have to use this book to wet my appetite
Book #44: Josephine Bell, Death at Half-Term
Completed on: May 13
Category: The Butler Did It
It’s half-term at Denbury, an English boarding school for boys, and that means a great deal of chaos and disruption to the school’s normal routine. The boys’ families are visiting for the holiday, the school is gearing up for the traditional fathers-versus-sons cricket match, and a traveling theater company has been hired to perform Twelfth Night. The holiday soon takes a turn for the sinister when one of the actors collapses just after the play’s final curtain. He dies shortly thereafter, and the evidence points to murder. Fortunately, amateur sleuth David Wintringham is present for the holiday since his nephew is a Denbury student. Together with the Scotland Yard inspector assigned to the case, David helps to uncover the truth about the actor’s death.
Bev at My Reader’s Block (http://myreadersblock.blogspot.com) mentioned this book as one of her top 100 mysteries, and the combination of prep-school setting and Shakespeare intrigued me. This novel is a fairly typical 1930’s mystery, complete with intelligent amateur sleuth, numerous subplots and romances, and a climactic revelation of the murderer with all the main suspects present. Since I like these kinds of mysteries, I enjoyed the book, but I didn’t find it particularly unique or exciting. I felt that there were too many characters; it was hard for me to keep them all straight, and most of them had nothing to do with the mystery at hand. There was a sweet romance between two teachers at the school, but again, it was totally irrelevant to the story. Apparently there are many other David Wintringham books, so perhaps I would have liked this one more if I had more context about him and his life. Overall, this was a pleasant read, but not particularly noteworthy.
Book #45: Alexandra Potter, You're (Not) the One
Completed on: May 14
Category: Is This a Kissing Book?
At age 19, Lucy Hemmingway kissed her first love, Nate, under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. According to an old legend, any pair of lovers who kiss under that bridge at sunset will be together forever. Unfortunately, Lucy and Nate must part ways at the end of their magical summer together, and their long-distance relationship eventually fizzles out. Ten years later, Lucy has a wonderful roommate and an exciting job with an art gallery in New York, but she’s never been able to forget about Nate. So when she unexpectedly runs into him again, she’s ecstatic – destiny has reunited them! But the dream soon turns into a nightmare as she realizes that she and Nate have both changed, and they’re not suited to one another at all. Yet try as she might, Lucy can’t seem to get rid of him. The old Venetian legend seems to have become a curse, and now Lucy is desperate to break it – especially since she’s met a man who just might be “the one,” and this time it’s for real.
I really liked the concept of this book, which turns the idea of destiny and soul mates on its head. The seemingly romantic idea that nothing can ever part two people in love is more like a horror story in this novel. However, while the concept is original, the execution is pretty much standard chick-lit fare. Lucy is a painfully typical heroine: insecure, flighty, clumsy, and secretly dreaming of a creative career. While I don’t normally mind the formula – sometimes it’s nice to know exactly what you’re getting – it does begin to pall after a while. The other problem I had with this novel is that every “twist” in the plot was telegraphed way ahead of time, so that it was never actually a surprise when it was finally revealed. As a result, the paragraphs of buildup just felt like a waste of time. All in all, this is competently written chick lit, but it never rises above average.
Too bad! You're (Not) the One sounds like an interesting concept, but if it wasn't well done, well, what's the point then.
Yep, that pretty much sums it up! Not an awful book, but not interesting enough to excite me at this point.
Book #46: Naomi Novik, Crucible of Gold
Completed on: May 15
Category: Second Quest, Same as the First
Warning: Spoilers for previous Temeraire novels.
After fulfilling their duties in exploring the continent of Australia, Laurence and Temeraire are content to live quietly on their new homestead, where Laurence is planting a farm and Temeraire is erecting a pavilion. However, an unexpected change of plans occurs when a British diplomat arrives in Australia, bringing word that Laurence has been reinstated as a British officer. Laurence and Temeraire now have orders to travel to the Portuguese colony of Brazil, which is currently under attack by Napoleon’s allies. En route, they encounter many difficulties, including a shipwreck, a mutiny, several unpleasant encounters with the French, and a detour through the vast empire of the Incas.
I really enjoyed this latest installment of the Temeraire series, especially since its predecessor, Tongues of Serpents, was probably my least favorite so far. Novik does have a tendency to turn her books into travelogues, describing every detail of a newly encountered civilization at the expense of furthering the plot. However, in this book there’s plenty of action to accompany the description, and the narrative never loses sight of Laurence and Temeraire’s ultimate objective. It was interesting to see a majority of the book’s events from Temeraire’s point of view, but I actually would have liked to get inside Laurence’s head a bit more. I love both characters, but I’m particularly invested in how Laurence’s story will turn out. As far as I know, there will only be two more books in this series, and I’m very eager to read them and discover what will happen in the end!
@ 111 -- But Crucible of Gold just came out, so I'm assuming we have to wait quite a while for book #8, alas!
Book #47: Kathryn Miller Haines, The War Against Miss Winter
Completed on: May 16
Category: Blitzkrieg Bop
Rosie Winter is a down-and-out actress trying to make it in 1942 New York. Though she currently lives in a boarding house along with her best friend Jayne, she’ll soon be kicked out since she hasn’t booked a job in months. In order to make ends meet, Rosie has been moonlighting as a secretary with a private detective agency. However, she is forced to do some detecting of her own when she finds her boss dead in his office. The police think it’s a suicide, but Rosie believes it could be murder. Her subsequent investigations reveal that an incredibly significant play has gone missing, and several parties with dubious motives are on its trail. But can Rosie find a murderer and pursue her acting career, all without being killed herself?
The first thing about this book to catch my eye was Rosie’s noir-style narration. Her glib, cynical tone immediately got me in the mood for a darkly humorous mystery full of tough-talking dames and mafia thugs with hearts of gold. Fortunately, the book delivers all that and more. Rosie’s no-nonsense demeanor masks some internal vulnerability, but she never lets that get in the way of doing her job. I don’t know that I’d call her likeable – she’s a bit prickly for that – but she’s definitely a compelling character to read about. I also liked the book’s approach to its World War II setting. I find that most books set in this time period end up being all about the war. Here, it’s not exploited for any kind of emotional payoff; it’s merely the grim backdrop to Rosie’s everyday life.
Finally, I have to say that this is one of the best-plotted mysteries I have ever read. At first I was worried that there were too many distractions from the main issue of finding the murderer. There are some (seeming) detours into Rosie’s romantic background, her acting career, and her best friend Jayne’s romantic turmoil. But all my fears proved completely groundless as I was treated to one of the most dramatic reveals I’ve ever encountered. Even if I hadn’t enjoyed the setting or the characters, the last few chapters alone would have made the entire book worth it. I will definitely be tracking down the rest of this series to see where Rosie and her friends will go from here!
Hi Christina, The War Against Miss Winter sounds good, adding it to my wishlist.
Christina: I'm so glad that you enjoyed The War Against Miss Winter.
I plan on reading it very soon, it sound like it's right up my alley!
Haha, this is why I actually get nervous about writing very positive reviews. I'm always afraid that someone will read a book based on my recommendation and then HATE it...so I devoutly hope that won't be the case for any of you! :)
Oh, that's guaranteed to happen someday! But we're all adults here and take responsibility for our own choices.
I worry in the other direction. If I really, really loved a book, then I have a moment when someone whose opinion I value doesn't like it. But it's happened so often here and I've always survived it.
You're right, RG -- I'll try not to stress! :) After all, if we all liked the same books, we'd miss out on all those great LT discussions!
Book #48: Sarah Dessen, Along for the Ride
Completed on: May 17
Category: The Kids Are All Right
Auden is the intelligent, driven daughter of two aggressively intellectual – and competitive – parents. As she grew up, she witnessed their marriage disintegrating and tried her utmost to compensate by being the perfect daughter. As a result she’s missed out on many typical teenage experiences; she doesn’t go to school dances or parties, and she doesn’t really have any friends. The summer after her senior year, however, she decides she needs a change. She goes to visit her dad, his second wife, and their new baby in a small town near the beach. There she gradually gets to know some of the local teenagers. While she distrusts them at first, she eventually learns to open herself up to friendship – and even, with a mysterious boy named Eli, the possibility of something more.
I really enjoy Sarah Dessen’s young adult books – the woman can certainly write a dysfunctional family! My heart went out to Auden and the tough situation she has to deal with: while her parents both love her, they’re also selfish and oblivious to how much pressure they’ve placed on their daughter. Auden is so tightly wound that she can’t sleep through the night, and she has no idea how to interact socially with people her own age. So I was really glad to see her grow and develop throughout the book. I also really liked that, while there is a love story in the book, its main focus is on friendship rather than romance. So many YA books these days focus on romantic turmoil and love triangles, but here most of Auden’s important relationships are with women. I liked this book a lot, even though I’m not its target demographic, but I definitely think it would be a great read for teen girls as well!
Book #49: Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, Lady Vernon and Her Daughter
Completed on: May 19
Category: The Austen Marathon
Borrowing the framework of Jane Austen’s unfinished work Lady Susan, this novel tells the story of Susan Vernon and her daughter Frederica. When Susan’s husband Frederick dies unexpectedly, his brother Charles inherits both his estate and his entire fortune. Charles is a grasping and selfish man, so although honor demands that he provide for Susan and her daughter, Charles refuses to do so. Susan and Frederica are therefore left virtually penniless, and soon their entire social circle is speculating about what Lady Vernon and her daughter will do next. Marriage is the subject that mainly occupies everyone’s minds, but both Susan and Frederica are determined not to marry men they do not love.
I have a weakness for Austen-themed fiction, but most of it doesn’t tend to be very good. So I was pleasantly surprised by this book; while the style is certainly not identical to Austen’s, it does have an authentic period feel. I don’t think I’ve ever read Austen’s Lady Susan – or if I did, it was years ago – so I wasn’t bothered by any deviations from the source material. I have the impression that Austen’s Lady Susan was much more cold and manipulative than the Susan Vernon in this book. However, since Susan is meant to be one of the heroines here, I can’t really blame the authors for the change! The romances in the book are satisfying enough, though they’re not given much depth. Rather, the novel’s focus seems to be on immersing its readers in an Austen-esque world, and on that basis I really enjoyed it. I’d recommend this to fans of Austen or 19th-century literature in general.
@119, that feeling is even worse when yours is the only review on the page.
@ 124 -- Thanks for the rec, cmbohn. I'm on the lookout for some good reads for my WWII category, so I'll be sure to check out Miss Dimple Disappears. I'm certainly not averse to cozy/romance either! :)
@ 125 -- Exactly, Wolfy -- then you KNOW it's all your fault!
Book #50: Sara Creasy, Children of Scarabaeus
Completed on: May 23
Category: Have Laser Gun, Will Travel
Warning: Spoilers for Song of Scarabaeus.
In this sequel to Song of Scarabaeus, Edie has discovered a way to save the Fringe planets from the Crib’s oppressive rule. She and Finn, now fugitives, are on their way to the Fringe to implement their strategy when they are captured once again by the Crib. Edie’s former mentor, Natesa, wants her help in terraforming uninhabited planets so that they can become a source of food and other resources for the galaxy. However, Edie soon perceives that Natesa’s plan isn’t working; in fact, her team’s technique for speeding up the terraforming process is rapidly turning the target planets into sludge. Now Edie must find a way to stop Natesa’s program and essentially save the galaxy, all while trying to create a new life for herself with Finn.
As with book one in this series, there’s a lot more going on in this installment than I was able to explain in a one-paragraph summary. This book basically picks up where the previous one left off, and anyone interested in the premise should definitely backtrack and read Song of Scarabaeus first. I think I enjoyed this book even more than the first, mainly because I was more familiar with the complex world of the series. I also enjoyed reading about the development of Edie and Finn’s relationship, although the romance is definitely secondary to the various story lines. In fact, my biggest problem with the book is that there’s too much going on. I had trouble keeping the minor characters straight, and many of them could easily have been left out. My other quibble is that, while the book ends satisfactorily, I’d love to see where Edie and Finn are headed next – but I’m not sure there’s going to be a third book! If Creasy writes one, I’ll definitely check it out.
Book #51: Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity
Completed on: May 28
Category: Blitzkrieg Bop
This novel, set in 1943, open with an unnamed narrator who has just been captured by the Nazis. She is writing her confession: to buy more time before her execution, she has agreed to tell her interrogators all the British military secrets she knows. However, she soon digresses into telling the story of Maddie, a working-class British girl who became a pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary. The narrator describes both Maddie’s work and her own in their early days of service to the British cause. She relates how they met and how they became best friends. As the narrator’s story progresses, a clearer picture emerges of why she has been imprisoned and what her ultimate fate will be.
This book is so good. It broke my heart – seriously, I was sobbing for the last 60 pages or so – but I absolutely loved it! Since this is a World War II story, I was expecting a certain amount of heartbreak. However, I was on the edge of my seat to find out what would happen to both the narrator and Maddie, because I honestly didn’t know. The book somehow manages to tell a jolly British adventure yarn without ever letting go of the intense emotional gravity of the WWII backdrop. It also reveals a wealth of interesting historical detail about the role of women in British air operations during the period; while it wasn’t a large role, Wein certainly makes the most of it here. I grew to love both of these girls and desperately wished the best for them, even though I knew it was unlikely. I would recommend this book to everyone; do not be deterred by the fact that it’s being marketed as YA! It is absolutely my top read of the year so far. LOVED it.
Book #52: Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar
Completed on: May 30
Category: The Butler Did It
Brat Farrar is an orphan who has grown up without a sense of belonging. Although his many adventures have taken him throughout Europe, Mexico, and the United States, he has recently returned to his native England. There he meets a stranger who has a shocking proposition for him. Brat shares a strong resemblance to the Ashby family, whose oldest son Patrick supposedly committed suicide at the age of 13. Because Patrick’s body was never found, however, he was never conclusively proved dead. The stranger, a distant connection of the Ashbys, suggests that Brat go to the Ashby estate claiming to be Patrick; Brat will then inherit the estate and give the stranger a cut. Brat is appalled by the notion at first, but eventually his sense of adventure prompts him to agree to the scheme. As he meets the various members of the Ashby family, however, Brat is torn between guilt over deceiving them and a fierce desire to belong to their family. He also senses a strong tension within the household, which eventually leads him to question what really happened to Patrick Ashby all those years ago.
I didn’t love my first encounter with Josephine Tey (The Daughter of Time), so I was a bit apprehensive about starting this book. I’m glad I decided to give her a second chance, though, because I really liked it! I always enjoy reading books set in mid-20th-century England, and in this book the setting is particularly well rendered. Brat Farrar is a compelling central character, too; I wasn’t expecting to like him, given that he’s essentially a con man, but I did. The book is written in the third person, but I still felt like I was inside his head, experiencing his thoughts and emotions. I also liked the Ashbys, especially Aunt Bee; they are all vivid and believable characters in their own right. I do think it’s a little misleading to call this book a mystery, since the question of what happened to Patrick isn’t really the central focus of the novel. Rather, the book takes its time introducing Brat to the Ashbys and to his new life as the owner of an estate that breeds and races horses. So while the mystery plot does exist, it’s really secondary to the development of the characters, especially Brat. All in all, the book reads to me like a more literary version of Agatha Christie (and I mean that in a good way!). I’d definitely recommend it to fans of this type of mystery.
Since I doubt I'll finish any more books today, here's what I read this month:
Blitzkrieg Bop: 4/12
.....Natasha Solomons, The House at Tyneford
.....Kathryn Miller Haines, The War Against Miss Winter
.....Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity
The Kids Are All Right: 6/12
.....Sarah Dessen, Along for the Ride
The Austen Marathon: 5/12
.....Claire LaZebnik, Epic Fail
.....Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, Lady Vernon and Her Daughter
Stranger Than Fiction: 5/12
.....G. K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens
Have Laser Gun, Will Travel: 3/12
.....Sara Creasy, Children of Scarabaeus
Retro Reads: 3/12
Is This a Kissing Book?: 8/12
.....Alexandra Potter, You're (Not) the One
Ye Olde Historical Fiction: 4/12
Second Quest, Same as the First: 6/12
......Naomi Novik, Crucible of Gold
The Butler Did It: 5/12
.....Josephine Bell, Death at Half-Term
.....Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar
On the Shelf: 3/12
.....Mary Stewart, My Brother Michael
Still chugging along! I'm only at 52 books, though, when I should be at 60. Maybe June will be the month when I finally catch up!
@ 133 -- Thanks! Have you tried any more Josephine Tey? After liking Brat Farrar so much, I definitely plan to read more of her work.
Hi Christina, I also loved Brat Farrar when I read it last year, since then I have also read Miss Pym Disposes which I thought was very good, and now I am working my through her series, but have only read the first one, The Man in the Queue. I agree with your description of a slightly more literary Agatha Christie.
#134 Yes, I have The Franchise Affair waiting for me in one of my many tbr piles.
@ 135 -- Thanks for the info, DQ! I'm not sure I'm ready to start yet another series right now, but I'll definitely check out some of Tey's other stand-alones.
@ 136 -- I look forward to seeing what you think of The Franchise Affair! I forget who, but someone on LT was saying that it was her/his favorite Tey novel.
Hi Christina - 13 books read in May.... NICE! You are making good progress with still more than half of the year to go.
@ 138 -- Thanks, Lori!
@ 139 -- The Franchise Affair will probably be the next Tey I read.
Book #53: Rachel Aaron, The Spirit War
Completed on: June 9
Category: Second Quest, Same as the First
Eli Monpress, the self-proclaimed greatest thief in the world, is ecstatic that his bounty has been raised again; but he is shocked when he discovers that his friend and hired sword, Josef Liechten, has just surpassed him. Josef's bounty turns out to be a summons from the queen of Osera, who just happens to be Josef's mother. Astounded that their friend is technically a prince, Eli and Nico accompnay Josef to Osera to discover what the queen wants. However, they soon find themselves embroiled in a tense political situation. The Immortal Empress, who rules a vast empire not far from Osera, is planning a large-scale invasion, and Osera is pitifully underdefended. Meanwhile, the Spirit Court is refusing to fight in the impending war; Miranda is imprisoned in the Shaper mountain and not at all comfortable with the truths she is learning; and Eli is facing a crucial test that pits his will against the powers that run the universe.
I do love this fast-paced fantasy series, and The Spirit War is no exception. I like that this book focuses a little bit more on Josef and his background, although all the major players still have several chapters devoted to them. In fact, one of the down sides to this book is that there's almost too much going on: the plot jumps around so often that it's hard to keep everything straight. Since it's been months since I read the previous books in the series, I didn't even remember who some of the characters were! I definitely think this is a series that should be read all at once so that no details are missed. That said, I think this book does an excellent job of revealing the major mysteries of the series bit by bit. It also sets up the final book nicely; I think I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm definitely looking forward to reading book #5 when it comes out in November!
So after giving it some serious thought, I have decided to bow out of this challenge. Lately I haven't been inspired to read much, and I'm so far behind that I doubt I'd be able to catch up even if I wanted to. But I've been doing these category challenges since 2009, and I've almost forgotten what it's like to read a book just because I feel like it, without reference to my challenge! I really miss rereading books, too. So I think I need to let go of this structure and read a little more whimsically. :)
Please note, this does not mean I will disappear from LT! I'll still be lurking around this community and reading everyone's threads. I'll even post my thoughts on the books I'm reading from time to time. I just need a break from the category challenge...but rest assured, I'll be back in 2013!
Christina, I can understand what you mean. I'm not going to fill up some of my categories either (Dickens - I hate him, what was I thinking?!!) but I've worked out a way to sneak romance in to just about everything else :-)
I hope you have fun for the rest of the year, and I'll definitely be interested in any Kissing Book recommendations!
I'm so sorry that you are feeling defeated by the challenge. IMHO any books read, enjoyed or not, and shared with this community are worth it. So what if it fits a category or not!
Please know your voice will be missed and do continue to read for yourself.
I can totally understand the need to take a break from the challenge and read whatever you feel like at the moment. I hope you enjoy the rest of your year's reading, whatever that may include!
I understand the feeling too, and may get there before the end of the year. Luckily, I made my categories non-specific enough that I still have somewhere to put books that I want to read anyway.
Are you still going to post your reading here? Or do you have another thread somewhere? I enjoy your reviews!
Sorry you are leaving the challenge, but I totally understand your need for a break. Hopefully, you will still be around here a lot cause it just wouldn't be the same place without you.
I've been feeling the same way, actually. I love this group, and the last 4 years have been a blast - but despite fairly flexible categories, and due to the fact that I'm in 2 book clubs in real life, I feel like all I do is read books I'm supposed to and not ones that I necessarily want to. I may do the same as you and bow out.
Look forward to your comments/thoughts here and all around LT as always - and enjoy your reading!
I was shocked to read your post, but I understand what you are feeling. I set up my challenge to be at least one book per category because I always end up with at one category I have trouble finishing.
I also hope you will casually review a book from time to time. :-)
I totally understand where you're coming from Christina. Even though I've got reasonably broad categories I've got some categories that I know just won't happen, what I want to read falls into a few of the other categories, but then I admited weeks ago that I wasn't going to reach my goal this year. As you say, it's much more important to read because you want to. I look forward to 'seeing' you aroung the other threads :-)
It happens to all of us at some point, I think. I had books I was sure I wanted to read this year and set up my categories to include them, but now I pick them up and look at them and put them back down. And then there are the "new and shiny" that never fit that you want to read. You could change your categories to "books read in Jun", "books read in Jul" and just keep going. We don't care. We just like to know what people are reading.
I'm able to fit a lot of things into my fairly broad categories, but categories for books from the library, books on the Kindle, my current "whatever floats my boat," etc. have allowed me to read all those other books that don't fit the more narrow categories (which are usually topics that I'm planning to read anyway). We will miss you, but I can understand too. The first year in which I participated in this challenge, my categories were not broad enough to allow me to read some of the things I wanted to read. I learned to tweak my categories. That may not work for everyone. It's important to enjoy what you are reading.
So glad you will be sticking around Christina - I would miss you terribly if you were gone for good. Relax and enjoy your reading. We'll be here when you're ready.
Well, the most important thing is to have fun reading, so enjoy the freedom! And don't abandon us entirely!
:( But I totally see what you mean. The challenge can sometimes make reading into a job. Are you still going to be the group facilitator? Or have you found someone to pass the task on to.
Thanks for all the kind words, everyone! This is such a wonderful group that of course I can't abandon it for good! I'll still be posting to this thread and commenting on what I read, though probably in a less structured way.
And yes, cammykitty, I am still planning to be the group administrator. Though if someone else would like to take over, I don't have a problem with that!
You've been a great group administrator! Would love to have you stay on, and I'll keep swinging by to see what you're reading. Who cares if it's out of your categories. :)
echoing what others have said - its a shame - "is this a kissing book?" makes me smile every time you use it :-)
So in the past couple of weeks I've kind of dropped off the Internet planet. (Unfortunately, I've been inhabiting the TV planet instead, which is a pretty lateral move.) I haven't really felt motivated to write reviews of the books I'm reading, but I'd like to keep up with this thread at least somewhat! So here are a few thoughts on what I've read recently:
54. Kristan Higgins, Just One of the Guys -- A "kissing book" (there, psutto!). This is a contemporary romance where the heroine, Chastity O'Neill, has always been perceived as one of the guys since she is tall and athletic. I really enjoyed reading about Chastity's big Irish family (four brothers!) and her life in a small town. The romance was a bit underdeveloped by comparison...I really could not understand what was keeping her and her love interest apart. Still, it was a light and fun read.
55. Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo -- A fictionalized account of the Siege of Sarajevo in the mid-1990s. After a bombshell kills 22 people who were waiting in line to buy bread, a cellist decides to perform in the street for 22 days, one day to commemorate each life lost. The book follows three other characters as they struggle to survive and make sense of their lives in a war-torn city. Very well done.
56. Trish Doller, Something Like Normal -- A YA novel about a young U.S. Marine who is home on leave from Afghanistan. He is haunted by painful memories of his best friend, who was killed in action. Meanwhile, his life at home is difficult, as his parents are splitting up and he feels alienated from all his old friends. However, a chance encounter with his first crush helps him to face his problems. I enjoyed this book but wasn't particularly blown away by it. It was refreshing to read a YA book in which the romance, while present, doesn't magically solve all the protagonist's problems. Also nice to see a male narrator for a change!
Georgette Heyer, Devil's Cub -- A reread. Not one of the top-tier Heyers, in my opinon, but it's still a lovely, escapist romance!
And right now I'm reading Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars. The description -- a postapocalyptic Persuasion! -- sucked me right in. I'm liking it so far, but it's still too early to make a definitive judgment.
a pretty lateral move ha ha! And Big Brother, the hugest time suck of all hasn't even started!
The Cellist of Sarajevo was an excellent read.
Unfortunately, I've been inhabiting the TV planet instead, which is a pretty lateral move.
I can relate to that statement! Happy to see you posting and that you found The Cellist of Sarajevo to be well done.... I thought so too when I read it!
I've just discovered Georgette Heyer, or maybe rediscovered is more like it, as I recall reading some of her regency romances when I was a teen. I need to read more!
I also agree that Cellist of Sarajevo was well done. I liked it very much.
Always wondered about the cellist of sarajevo good to see you've enjoyed it , puts it on my "one to watch for" list
I loved The Cellist of Sarajevo when I read it a couple of years ago.
Wow, it seems The Cellist of Sarajevo has been a pretty popular read! What rock was I hiding under? But I'm glad I'm not alone in my enjoyment of it. :)
I've read a few more books and will probably be back to post about them sometime soon.
There goes my WL, growing again - The Cellist of Sarajevo is going on it. That's a cool concept, and a wish that there had been a mourning cellist for real.
@ 169 -- I think it might be based on a true story, actually. (I mean, obviously the war-torn Sarajevo part is. But I think the cellist part might be too.) I'd have to refer back to the Author's Note to make sure, though.
It doesn't really sound like something an author would make up just to hang a story on it.
57. Diana Peterfreund, For Darkness Shows the Stars -- A YA, postapocalyptic version of Jane Austen's Persuasion. I really enjoyed it as an Austen spinoff but wasn't terribly impressed with the sci-fi aspects. Why did the apocalyptic event occur, and how is this world going to change as a result of the main characters' actions? High marks for the creative premise, but it could have been executed better.
58. Winston Graham, Ross Poldark -- The first book in a multivolume saga (also a BBC series, which I haven't seen yet) about the Poldark family. Ross returns to England after fighting in the American Revolution, only to find his father dead and his beloved Elizabeth engaged to his cousin. Now he has to figure out what to do with his life. In my opinion the book plods, but I liked the overall story. It's piqued my interest enough that I'll read book 2 at some point.
Eva Ibbotson, The Reluctant Heiress -- A reread. I love (LOVE) Eva Ibbotson! You really can't beat her for a sweet, romantic comfort read. This book was also published as Magic Flutes, which is a much better title in light of the plot.
Sarah Dessen, Just Listen -- A reread. I like Sarah Dessen; she does YA drama very well. In this book, Annabel finds friendship in an unexpected place and gains the courage to finally talk about a secret she's been bottling up. Also there is a lot of music geekery in it, which I love. :)
59. Carol Berg, Son of Avonar -- Extremely well-written sword and sorcery. This is book one of a four-book series, and I'm glad I have the other three on my shelves. I'd definitely recommend Carol Berg to fans of epic fantasy.
60. Hannah Harrington, Saving June -- A YA novel about a girl who takes a road trip to California with her best friend and a mysterious boy after her older sister commits suicide. I liked this one -- mostly for the road-trip and music aspects -- but didn't love it. I'd recommend Amy & Roger's Epic Detour instead.
Christina, do keep going with the Poldark series! I *loved* it, and you really get into the stories and the characters as the series proceeds. After everyone thought it had finished, the author wrote the final book, Bella Poldark, about ten years ago, and it was so exciting to be able to continue the story. I hope you're enjoying not having to read in categories :-)
Hi Christina, just came by to add my two cents on the Poldark series. I also loved it, eventually these characters became so real to me. It's a wonderful historical series.
I got hit with two book bullets from your mini reveiws Christina, I'm going to give Eva Ibbotson a go and I'll be on the look out for the Poldark series.
Wow, lots of love for the Poldarks! I will definitely have to see if I can scrounge up Demelza.
And SouthernKiwi, do give Eva Ibbotson a try! My favorites are A Countess Below Stairs (a.k.a. The Secret Countess) and The Morning Gift. Haven't read her books for children, but I've heard they're supposed to be good too.
Some girly reads to add to the total:
61. Sadie Jones, The Uninvited Guests -- A strange little book that blends horror with Edwardian comedy of manners. It's Emerald Torrington's 20th birthday, and she's looking forward to her party. But a terrible accident on a nearby railway changes her plans, as she and her family must shelter the victims of the wreck. I enjoyed the silly period-piece aspects of this but didn't much care about the univited guests. Still, a relatively light and entertaining read.
62. Jennifer Echols, Such a Rush -- Leah Jones lives in a trailer park but dreams of being a pilot. Her job at the local airport places her in close proximity to the Hall brothers, who are trying to run their late father's business. Loved this -- not quite as much as Going Too Far, but I think this is my second-favorite Echols book. The romance is very well done, and the plot has a nice, tight focus.
63. Rainbow Rowell, Attachments -- Lincoln O'Neill's job at the local newspaper is to read the office emails that get flagged for inappropriateness and issue warnings to their authors. However, he soon gets caught up in the regular email conversations between Jennifer and Beth, two smart, funny, and caring women who work at the paper. Lincoln finds himself in quite the ethical dilemma, especially when he starts to fall for Beth. I thought this book was sweet and romantic; it reminded me of an old-fashioned romantic comedy.
I'm also reading Charlotte Gray for the group read, but I'm having trouble caring about it right now. In the meantime I'm in the middle of Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindle, which is a very pleasant diversion so far.
@ 178 -- It was a new hardcover release prominently displayed in Barnes & Noble. I was intrigued by the cover and blurb, so I decided to track it down at my library. It was worth the read, though I'm glad I didn't pay full hardcover price for it!
I haven't read that Jennifer Echols yet, thanks for the review. Going too Far is my favorite too.
Victoria, it was just recently published a few weeks ago. I got my hands on a library copy by placing a hold several months ago. Crazy? Maybe, but it paid off! :)
Just a couple more micro-reviews. I haven't had much interest in reading lately (!!!), but I hope that will change soon!
64. Patrice Kindl, Keeping the Castle -- Althea Crawley knows she has to marry well to support her family and repair their crumbling castle. So when the handsome and rich Lord Boring enters the neighborhood, she sets out to capture his heart; however, his abominably rude friend Mr. Fredericks keeps getting in the way. I liked this one, even though the story is very predictable. It's a fun YA historical romance with nods to Pride and Prejudice and I Capture the Castle.
65. Elizabeth Speller, The Return of Captain John Emmett -- WWI veteran Laurence Bartram is asked to learn more about the apparent suicide of his old school friend John Emmett. Laurence's investigation reveals many secrets about his former friend, especially about Emmett's own experiences in the war. I wanted to like this book, since the time period intrigues me, but I just couldn't concentrate on it. This is probably my own fault, as I've been extra busy these past couple of weeks. I might have enjoyed it more if I'd been able to give it my full attention. Nonetheless, I don't think I'll be continuing with the series.
I'm currently reading Lilith Saintcrow's The Iron Wyrm Affair, which I won through the ER program. So far it's fast-paced and fun, but I'm not that far into it yet, so we'll see!
@ 183 -- predictable for an adult isn't necessarily so for a kid. Very true! I definitely think it would be a fun read for teenage girls, especially those who haven't been exposed to Jane Austen yet.
Ooohhh.... I have The Iron Wyrm Affair on hold for when my library gets it. Fast-paced and fun, even if you are only partway into it, sounds good to me!
So far so good, Lori. I'm about 1/3 of the way through with it, and I'm still liking it. I haven't quite figured out the world of the novel yet; Saintcrow just plops you into the middle of everything and doesn't spend a lot of time explaining things. Right now I feel like I have enough info to follow the story, but it is a bit frustrating not to understand everything that's going on! But I hope it will make more sense as I go along.
Book #66: Lilith Saintcrow, The Iron Wyrm Affair
In an alternate-universe Victorian London, sorcery is common (though frowned upon), and incredible geniuses known as mentaths are capable of being literally bored to death. Archibald Clare, an unregistered mentath, is in this precarious state when he suddenly learns that his life may be in danger: someone has been killing and mutilating mentaths throughout the city. To investigate, Archibald teams up with Emma Bannon, a powerful sorceress with a dangerous gift and a mysterious past. Their mission takes them throughout the dirty streets of Londinium, where they tangle with foreign assassins, murderous automatons, and very black magic.
Since I enjoy Victorian-era steampunk, I was excited to win this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. It certainly delivers a fast-paced plot packed with action; it was easy to keep turning the pages, and I never felt like the book dragged. There were also enough steampunk elements to please fans of the genre, including mechanical limbs and giant, spider-like automatons. However, the world-building in general didn’t work for me. Saintcrow avoids lengthy exposition, which is a good thing, except that as a result I constantly felt like I was missing something. For example, we learn that Archibald is an unregistered mentath, but we don’t know why he’s unregistered, or even what being unregistered actually means. Similarly, we know that Emma is a sorceress, but we never learn the basic rules of the magical system; Emma can seemingly do whatever she wants with a few simple chants. I found it difficult to become invested in the story because I kept getting distracted by the underdeveloped world of the novel.
This is book one in a projected series, so presumably everything will start to make more sense in future installments. However, I don’t think I’m invested enough in the characters to continue with this series.
Interesting review of The Iron Wyrm Affair Christina! The shortcomings you mention strike me as ones that a debut author would make - and can be excused on those merits - so I was somewhat surprised to discover that Saintcrow has quite a number of books already under her belt. I haven't read any of her works so maybe she is branching out into a different genre from her usual fair..... not sure. I have a hold on this one with my local library and I will probably still give it a go as it appears to have some of the qualities I look for in a breezy escapism novel.
I agree - it is an interesting review. Makes me curious, but it sounds like a few too many plot holes to me. Also, seems like there are a ton of new fantasy everything and the kitchen sink novels out there competing with it. & btw, can we say "Pen name."
@ 188 -- Lori, if you're just looking for breezy escapism, The Iron Wyrm Affair will probably fit the bill. I agree that the worldbuilding flaws would be more excusable in a debut novelist, but Saintcrow definitely isn't one! This was my first novel of hers, though, so I don't know how her other works compare.
@ 189 -- I hope it's a pen name! Of course, if her name really is Lilith Saintcrow, it was clearly her destiny to write fantasy novels. Poor woman had no choice in the matter.
Book #67: Jessica Park, Flat-Out Love
When Julie Seagle moves to Boston for college and her housing plans fall through, she desperately needs a new place to stay. An old friend of her mother’s, Erin Watkins, offers her free room and board until she can make other arrangements. Julie is immediately drawn to the Watkins family but is concerned about their daughter Celeste, who clearly has serious psychological issues. The closer Julie grows to the Watkinses, particularly their two sons Finn and Matt, the more attached she becomes. But the key to Celeste’s behavior is a devastating secret that may destroy both the Watkins family and Julie’s newfound romance.
I normally don’t read self-published books, but this one received such a positive review from Janicu that I had to track down my own copy. I have to say, I was very impressed with the quality of my edition: I’m pretty sure I only spotted one typo! As for the book itself, I really enjoyed it. The love story turned out just like I wanted it to. As for the “shocking” secret, I guessed it long before Julie did, but I was happy to wait for her to discover it for herself. Also, I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed Celeste’s character. Normally precocious children, whether fictional or real, irritate me to no end. In this case, though, I genuinely found her amusing. Overall, I really liked this book and will be interested to see what Jessica Park may write in the future.
Book #68: Janet Aylmer, Julia and the Master of Morancourt
Julia Maitland, the oldest of three sisters, is expected to marry well so that her family will be supported when her father dies. She vows that she will not marry a man she doesn’t love, but she nevertheless agrees to her mother’s various schemes to introduce her to eligible men. While visiting a friend of the family, Harry Douglas, Julia becomes acquainted with his son Kit and is immediately attracted to him; however, as a younger son, Kit isn’t a good match from a monetary standpoint. Throughout the course of the novel, Julia strives to reconcile her familial responsibility with her heart.
I’m a sucker for a good Regency-era love story, so I was expecting to enjoy this book much more than I did. The “marry rich to support the family” plot is horribly overdone in this genre (and no one has ever done it as well as Jane Austen, so part of me wonders why people are even still trying). Also, there was no suspense whatsoever. Even a subplot about possible illegal activity involving Kit’s servants failed to hold my interest, mostly because the solution to the entire thing was so blatantly obvious from the beginning. There was also something jarring about the writing style; though the book tries to imitate period language, it comes off sounding stilted and awkward. All in all, I was disappointed in this book. Should have picked up a Georgette Heyer novel instead!
Book #69: Helene Hanff, 84, Charing Cross Road
This slim collection of letters chronicles the friendship between Helene Hanff, an American writer, and the employees of an antiquarian bookstore located at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. Hanff initially wrote to the bookstore after seeing their newspaper ad because she wanted a book she couldn’t get locally. Her often humorous demands for books initiated a lively correspondence between herself and the bookstore employees, a correspondence that soon led to deep and long-lasting friendships.
I loved this book, as I think any bibliophile would. The letters between Hanff and her various correspondents reveal a deep love of books, both their content and the quality of their binding. It was wonderful to read the booksellers’ descriptions of the various volumes they were planning to send Hanff — things along the lines of, “it’s a good clean copy bound in red leather.” Most of the letters are also uproariously funny; Hanff seems like a tremendously entertaining person to be around. My only complaint is that the book is extremely short, less than 100 pages. I wish more of the letters had been included! Nevertheless, I’d highly recommend this book to anyone, especially literary types looking for a good laugh.
Sounds like 84 Charing Cross Road was far more romantic than Julia and the Master of M
84, Charing Cross is fantastic isn't it? We'd all understand that shared love of books and Hanff's lively writing is such a joy to read.
84 Charing Cross Road is such a quick and memorable read. I love the movie as well!
When I first started working at the book store my boss gave me 84 Charing Cross Road to read. I read it in one sit down and loved it.
So much love for 84, Charing Cross Road! I can't believe it took me so long to pick it up. I will definitely have to check out the movie as well.
Jane Austen, Emma
I decided to reread Emma for the sixth or seventh time, and it was (of course) delightful. :) Here are some things that struck me this time around (SPOILER ALERT):
* Miss Bates is GENIUS. Her long monologues may seem pointless and boring, but they actually contain all the clues to the Frank Churchill/Jane Fairfax relationship. I love Miss Bates. She would undoubtedly be tedious in real life, but she’s definitely a wonderful comic character — and also the moral center of the novel. Other characters (Emma in particular) are often judged by how well or poorly they treat Miss Bates.
* The romance between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax is actually a lot more dramatic than the main action with Emma. In some ways, Jane Fairfax is actually a much more likely heroine for a novel: she’s an orphan raised in a wealthy environment but destined to become a governess. She’s beautiful and accomplished — much more so than Emma, we’re told. She meets the dashing Frank Churchill at Weymouth and is swept off her feet. They’re secretly engaged, unfairly separated by the class-conscious Churchills, and forced to hide their true feelings from everyone else. It’s practically Romeo and Juliet, if you think about it! Yet Austen interestingly decided to tell most of this story offstage, focusing instead on the more mundane dramas of Highbury.
* I love the moment when Emma meets Mrs. Elton for the first time and is enraged that she casually refers to Mr. Knightley as “Knightley.” Methinks I see some foreshadowing there!
* Speaking of Emma and Mrs. Elton, in some ways they are eerily similar. Emma judges Mrs. Elton harshly for trying to manage every aspect of Jane Fairfax’s life — yet Emma herself did essentially the same thing to Harriet Smith! Emma is a more sympathetic character than Mrs. Elton, but does she really deserve to be?
Book #70: Kristan Higgins, Too Good to Be True
Grace Emerson doesn’t consider herself a particularly pitiable person. She loves her job teaching American history. She has her own house and an adorable dog named Angus. But when her fiancé dumps her and begins dating her younger sister instead, Grace discovers that everyone in her family feels sorry for her. To escape their pity, Grace tells them that she’s started dating someone else — a wonderful, handsome, sensitive pediatric surgeon. Too bad he’s fictional — unlike Grace’s sexy new neighbor, Callahan O’Shea, whose sarcastic barbs annoy Grace even as she finds herself increasingly attracted to him.
This is my second encounter with Kristan Higgins (after Just One of the Guys), and I think I can safely say I’ve found a new author to enjoy. Every once in a while I just want to read a light, fluffy contemporary romance, and Higgins definitely fits the bill. Her books are a little unconventional for the romance genre, for two reasons: (1) there are almost no sex scenes — she mostly uses the fade-to-black approach — and (2) the story is only told from the heroine’s point of view. That’s one aspect of the book I didn’t like so much; I would have loved to see some of the events from Callahan’s perspective. But other than that, I enjoyed this book a lot. I especially liked the fact that there was no Big Misunderstanding keeping Grace and Cal apart. The obstacles to the romance are realistic and don’t seem contrived. I’ll definitely seek out more by Higgins in the future.
I loved Too Good To Be True as well, and I've read another couple since then. I also had the great-new-author feeling when I read it, and I *loved* Angus McFangus :-)
Loved your thoughts on Emma. It's one of my favorite Austen books, maybe because of Emma's flaws. I also agree that I like how Jane and Frank's relationship takes place off stage. There are just so many threads to that book - love it!
@ 203 -- I really enjoyed Angus too, and I'm not really an animal person. (I'm a little afraid to admit that, given all the kitty and puppy love that takes place in this group! Please don't hurt me, y'all!)
@ 204 -- I can never decide on a ranking of Austen's books. Pride and Prejudice is definitely #1, but after that, I can never pick a second- or third-favorite! I do like Emma as a heroine, though; as you say, she's got some flaws, so there's room for her to grow throughout the novel.
#205: I'm not an animal person either - I love hearing the stories about my friends' dogs and their loopy antics, and I like well-written animals in novels, but I'm not keen on them in person. Of course, they seem to gravitate towards me - someone explained once that the dogs could sense a challenge and were determined to make me love them, however long it took.
@ 206 -- Dogs like me too, for some reason...and frankly I'm a little terrified of them! I do the "just ignore them and they'll go away" thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
I've heard that dogs and cats gravitate toward those who don't like them because those people tend to be very still around them. Cats, especially, like the laps of still people and not laps of people patting their legs and making noises.
I enjoyed your thoughts on Emma. I just picked up a copy recently and hope to do a reread in the near future.
I'm not into the average "romance" but Too Good to Be True sounds entertaining. WL!
@ 208 -- RidgewayGirl, looks like I'll have to start shouting and flailing my arms when I'm around pets! :)
@ 209 -- Thanks, mathgirl. Enjoy your reread!
@ 210 -- cammykitty, I think you might like Kristan Higgins. She's really not very "romance-y" in the stereotypical sense.
Book #71: Sarah Addison Allen, Garden Spells
Everyone in the small town of Bascom, North Carolina, knows that there’s something strange about the Waverleys. Flowers bloom in their garden all year round, and the apple tree in their yard has certain unusual properties. Claire Waverley has lived in Bascom since childhood and is happy to embrace her special role as a Waverley. By contrast, her sister Sydney left town after high school and has been constantly on the move ever since. The two sisters have never gotten along; but when Sydney unexpectedly returns to Bascom with her daughter Bay in tow, they must find a way to heal their relationship and face the consequences of their respective pasts.
I love Sarah Addison Allen’s books, and Garden Spells is certainly no exception. Allen’s writing is lush, magical, and romantic; while I’m normally not a big fan of flowery descriptions, in this case they contribute to the vivid atmosphere. Both Claire and Sydney are well-drawn characters in whom I became very invested, and the secondary characters are also quirky and interesting. I especially liked Evanelle, an elderly Waverley woman who is occasionally compelled to give people random objects that they later turn out to need. My only quibble is that Bay seems a bit precocious for a 5-year-old, but it didn’t bother me that much. I’d definitely recommend this book, and Sarah Addison Allen in general, to people looking for light fiction with a unique twist. Unfortunately I only have one of her books left to discover, The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Hopefully she’ll write another one soon!
Garden Spells sounds interesting. Is the magical element kind of on the back burner, like slipstream or what they're calling "interstitial." It sounds like it's a nice addition to the book, but not essential to the plot.
@ 215 -- Not sure how to answer your question, cammykitty! The magical elements are fairly pervasive, and they do have an impact on the plot. But on the other hand, I certainly wouldn't call this a fantasy novel. The magic is taken for granted by all the characters; it's not a big deal, just part of life in this town.
Book #72: Simon Brett, Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King's Daughter
This send-up of the Golden Age mystery stars the amiable but incredibly dense Blotto and his sister Twinks, who is both staggeringly beautiful and extremely intelligent. The story begins with the discovery of a body in the library (of course), which happens to belong to a visiting dignitary from Mitteleuropia. The exiled King Sigismund and his retinue are staying at Blotto and Twinks’ home due to a recent coup in Mitteleuropia by the ex-king’s traitorous brother. But the body in the library turns out to be the least of Blotto and Twinks’ worries when they stumble upon a plot to kidnap the ex-king’s daughter. Now they must save the ex-princess, infiltrate the Mitteleuropian court, and restore King Sigismund to his rightful place on the throne.
As with most parodies, enjoyment of the humor will vary widely from reader to reader; personally, I liked it and thought it worked well. The plot is, of course, ridiculous and wildly improbable, but that’s part of the fun. The characters are also fairly two-dimensional; even Blotto, the protagonist (of sorts), doesn’t really have any depth. But again, in my view, that’s not the point of the book. Rather, this novel is a playful homage to the classic British cozy, with more than a few nods to P.G. Wodehouse thrown in. Anyone who likes the Golden Age of mysteries would probably find a lot to enjoy and appreciate in this novel. That said, the jokes do get a bit repetitive, and they’re also not particularly subtle, so I can understand why some people might find the whole thing irritating rather than amusing. In my opinion, though, the book succeeds in being a fun, silly read, and I’ll most likely continue with the series.
Book #73: Steve Miller & Sharon Lee, Agent of Change
Val Con yos’Phelium has just completed his latest covert mission when he runs into a young woman being attacked by five or six mercenaries. Against his better judgment, he enters the fray and helps her to fend off her attackers. As a result, he learns that Miri Robertson is a mercenary and ex-bodyguard who has run afoul of the Juntavas, a kind of interplanetary mafia. Both on the run, Val Con and Miri decide to team up: together they will acquire adequate money and transportation to make good their escape. Of course, their plan is complicated by several more attacks from both the Juntavas and the local police. As they fight their way to freedom and encounter various friends and foes, Val Con and Miri also begin to develop feelings for each other beyond simple partnership.
You know that saying about judging a book by its cover? Well, this is one situation where you can absolutely do it. This book is a fairly conventional (to the best of my knowledge — I haven’t read that much sci fi) space opera with a hint of romance. And yes, there are giant turtles! I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but afterward I started noticing a lot of unanswered questions. For example, we know that Val Con is a spy and that his handlers have somehow rewired his brain; he’s able to make precise calculations about his chances of survival over a given period of time. But we don’t really know anything about his employers or the nature of his work as a spy. There are several other novels in this series, and I’m guessing this is not the first one, although it’s proven hard for me to verify the order of the books. So maybe that’s why I found the story a bit confusing. I’m not curious enough to track down the rest of the books, so I suppose I’ll just have to live with those loose ends. Still, this novel is a fun read for what it is.
HRO, I have not read Practical Magic. I saw part of the movie on cable one time and didn't like it, so I never had any interest in reading the book (even though the book may be much better than the movie, of course).
Lori, I think "window dressing" is an accurate way of putting it. The magical aspect of Garden Spells is part of the setting, but it's by no means the main point of the book.
I read Garden Spells when it came out. I felt that the magical element was pretty minor also. That's probably a good thing for me. If it had been too extreme, it would have been a negative for me. As it was, I had a favorable impression of the book.
Ooooo - I don't like Alice Hoffman - I read one of her water books. She tried so hard to be realistic except for her magical elements, so when her magical element involved a town flooding all pretty like, I couldn't take it. Especially since one of my friends had a father who was mayor in a town during a devastating flood. I read it way before Katrina, but I'm sure anyone who saw much footage of New Orleans post Katrina would've had the same reaction.
Agent of Change does sound like a nice escapist space opera - turtles nice touch - but I'll bet you could read quite a few more books in the series before your questions got answered.
@ 224 -- Well, you're definitely not selling me on reading Alice Hoffman anytime soon! :) And yes, Agent of Change was a fun little sci fi adventure, but I don't feel the need to scour the rest of the series just to figure out the backstory.
Also, I have posted a thread over at the 2013 Category Challenge! Check it out HERE.
@ 227 -- Yup, there are already several threads at the 2013 group! This is why I love LT. :)
Book #74: Kate Saunders, Bachelor Boys
Cassie Shaw grew up next door to the Darling family, who gave her the warmth and affection that her own family lacked. She would do anything for the Darlings, especially for Phoebe, whom Cassie has loved as a mother all her life. Now Phoebe is dying of leukemia, and she’s worried about her two sons, Fritz and Ben. She asks Cassie to find suitable wives for her boys so that they’ll have someone to take care of them when Phoebe is gone. Cassie has no choice but to agree with Phoebe’s plan, but secretly she has reservations. Fritz and Ben are both incredibly handsome and charming, but they’re also unemployed and living in their mother’s basement. How can she turn these unkempt bachelors into marriage material — especially when all her efforts at matchmaking seem to go catastrophically wrong?
I don’t have too much to say about this book. It’s fairly typical chick lit, and I found it a quick and entertaining read. Cassie is a likable narrator and comes across as very self-aware — though that doesn’t prevent her from making some absolutely terrible decisions. I’m not sure how I feel about Fritz and Ben, honestly. The book attempts to redeem them, but they are consistently portrayed as immature and careless in their everyday lives. The bright spot of the book is Phoebe, and the other characters are at their best in their relationships with her. Of course, her sweetness and charm make her inevitable death all the more heartbreaking, and I actually teared up in a few places. So I can’t exactly characterize this book as a “light” read, but I did enjoy it. I didn’t completely buy into the romance, but the book is entertaining enough for an afternoon or two.
Book #75: G.K. Chesterton, Manalive
This novel takes place in a dull, dreary London boardinghouse whose inhabitants are terribly bored and listless — that is, until Innocent Smith bursts into their lives. Smith has extremely odd manners that startle the boardinghouse dwellers at first, but soon his gaiety and zest for life become contagious, even inspiring courage and romance in the hearts of the other characters. However, just as they’re all starting to enjoy themselves, Smith is cornered by two mental health doctors who claim that he is criminally insane. They accuse him of committing murder, burglary, polygamy, and a host of other crimes. The boardinghouse residents are shocked, but one of them suggests an informal “trial” to determine whether Smith is a force of good or evil.
I think the trick to liking this book is to approach it as a fable rather than as a novel in the traditional sense. There’s not much character development, nor is there a real plot to speak of; instead, the book satirizes modern psychology (“modern” being 1912, when the book was published) and explores a host of philosophical issues ranging from the profound to the (apparently) trivial. Being a diehard Chesterton fan, I enjoyed this book, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone reading Chesterton for the first time. Start with Orthodoxy instead, which is a wonderful introduction to his style and his philosophy.
Book #76: Jessica Brody, The Karma Club
Maddy is a high school senior who’s thrilled to be dating Mason, an all-around great catch (good student, good athlete, class president) who’s just been profiled in a teen magazine. So when she catches him making out with another girl, she’s crushed. She doesn’t know how to make sense of what’s happened to her — that is, until she goes on a spiritual retreat and learns about the concept of karma. Maddy loves the idea that the universe will balance itself out and that Mason will be punished for what he did to her. But when karma doesn’t seem to be moving quickly enough, Maddy — with the help of her two best friends — decides to take matters into her own hands.
I won this book via some kind of read-a-thon challenge several years ago, and the other day I picked it up while searching for a light YA read. Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly impressed, mostly because Maddy irritated the heck out of me. She is ridiculously immature for much of the novel, using (or, more accurately, severely misusing) the concept of karma to get revenge on the people who have wronged her. Some of her schemes of vengeance are extremely dangerous and could have terrible consequences — as when she frames a loutish classmate for shoplifting. I mean, he could have gotten arrested, which could have negatively impacted his entire life! I think I was supposed to find these escapades funny, but I just got angry at how thoughtless Maddy was being. Granted, she “learns her lesson” in the end, but by then it was too little, too late. Not recommended, even for YA fans.
Cassie is a likable narrator and comes across as very self-aware — though that doesn’t prevent her from making some absolutely terrible decisions.
... and that is what makes chicklit such fun to read for me! ;-)
Interesting review of Manalive, especially since my ER book of the moment has a narrator who is the one sane guy thrown into a nuthouse.
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