Monday, February 29, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: March 1st, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the author of the New York Times bestselling Spellman Files series, Lisa Lutz’s latest blistering thriller is about a woman who creates and sheds new identities as she crisscrosses the country to escape her past: you’ll want to buckle up for the ride!

In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it...

Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time.

She meets Blue, a female bartender who recognizes the hunted look in a fugitive’s eyes and offers her a place to stay. With dwindling choices, Tanya-now-Amelia accepts. An uneasy―and dangerous―alliance is born.

It’s almost impossible to live off the grid today, but Amelia-now-Debra and Blue have the courage, the ingenuity, and the desperation, to try. Hopscotching from city to city, Debra especially is chased by a very dark secret…can she outrun her past?

With heart-stopping escapes and devious deceptions, The Passenger is an amazing psychological thriller about defining yourself while you pursue your path to survival. One thing is certain: the ride will leave you breathless."

New Lisa Lutz book, aka one of the must reads of the year! So go read it. Now. 

Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham
Published by: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: March 1st, 2016
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The untold story of Lincoln's Assassination.

1864, Washington City. One has to be careful with talk of secession, of Confederate whispers falling on Northern ears. Better to speak only when in the company of the trustworthy. Like Mrs. Surratt.

A widow who runs a small boardinghouse on H Street, Mary Surratt isn't half as committed to the cause as her son, Johnny. If he's not delivering messages or escorting veiled spies, he's invited home men like John Wilkes Booth, the actor who is even more charming in person than he is on the stage.

But when President Lincoln is killed, the question of what Mary knew becomes more important than anything else. Was she a cold-blooded accomplice? Just how far would she go to help her son?

Based on the true case of Mary Surratt, Hanging Mary reveals the untold story of those on the other side of the assassin's gun."

A fascinating new look at a defining moment in American history.

Fall of Poppers by Lauren Willig et al
Published by: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: March 1st, 2016
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Top voices in historical fiction deliver an unforgettable collection of short stories set in the aftermath of World War I—featuring bestselling authors such as Hazel Gaynor, Jennifer Robson, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig and edited by Heather Webb.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month...

November 11, 1918. After four long, dark years of fighting, the Great War ends at last, and the world is forever changed. For soldiers, loved ones, and survivors the years ahead stretch with new promise, even as their hearts are marked by all those who have been lost.

As families come back together, lovers reunite, and strangers take solace in each other, everyone has a story to tell.

In this moving anthology, nine authors share stories of love, strength, and renewal as hope takes root in a fall of poppies."

Speaking of history... yes, the main reason to read it is Lauren Willig, but it might also have given me a theme month this year...

M is for Monocle by Greg Paprocki
Published by: Gibbs Smith
Publication Date: March 1st, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 32 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the creators of BabyLit®: M Is for Monocle: A Victorian Alphabet is part of a unique new series that opens a window on history while teaching toddlers the ABCs. Different eras of history―including the nineteenth-century American West, medieval Europe, and Victorian England―are brought to life by Greg Paprocki’s fun and enticing illustrations in this new series of board books for brilliant babies.

Greg Paprocki works full-time as an illustrator and book designer. He’s illustrated several Curious George books, as well as The Big Book of Superheroes for Gibbs Smith. He began his career as an advertising art director after studying fine art and graphic design at the University of Nebraska. He currently lives in Lincoln, Nebraska."

While I have loved all the books in this series, seriously, they are adorable, this one is a MUST. It looks so vintage and cute and reminds me of The Wrong Box. Sigh.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Book Review - T.J. Brown's Summerset Abbey

Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Gallery Books
Publication Date: August 6th, 2013
Format: Kindle, 322 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Rowena and Victoria Buxton are reeling from the death of their beloved father. Yet there are more shocks to come. The two girls were raised in a rather unorthodox manner growing up with their nanny's daughter, Prudence, as their closest friend and confidant. But now their lives are in the hands of their Uncle and things are going to be different; proper. Banished to the countryside so their uncle can secretly sell their London house, Prudence was only allowed to accompany the sisters by posing as their lady's maid. Something Rowena failed to mention to Victoria and Prudence... but then Rowena doesn't do conflict. She'd rather hide her head in the sand than face what her life has become, an endless parade of changing clothes to please her aunt's sense of propriety. Rowena's behavior drives a wedge between the girls and Prudence, more so than Victoria, feels that her life has been irreparably changed. Banished to living a half life among the servants she doesn't fit in either upstairs or down. What's more there are forces at work trying to oust Prudence from the family seat. Because Prudence is the living breathing proof of a long buried secret that could destroy the Buxton family. Rowena and Victoria's lives could be ruined by the person they love most in the world and who they've inadvertently wronged.

Summerset Abbey is an odd little book in that it was obviously written to cash in on the Downton Abbey craze. Some books are more subtle about this cash grab, Summerset Abbey isn't. That actually makes it kind of refreshing. It doesn't have delusions of grandeur, it knows what a knock-off it is and plays it up. Every trope you could ever possibly imagine in an "upstairs/downstairs" world is used. It's not just one trope played up and overused, it's all of them. Illegitimate offspring, tragic child death, Cinderella story, long lost relatives, improper liaisons, suffrage, evil lady's maids, sweet kitchen maids, deep dark family secrets, money problems, looming war, newfangled gadgets from cars to airplanes, omniscient butlers, Bohemian brothers, beautiful ladies against societal norms, the list goes on and on. In a little over three hundred pages Summerset Abbey uses almost every plot point from seven seasons of Upstairs, Downstairs and never lets up. Yet this overabundance pays off. It's like a giddy headlong rush into this Edwardian world where we get every kind of scandal and twist we could possibly imagine or want. It's like Downton Abbey concentrate. Here, have it all AND the kitchen sink! And you as the reader say thank you very much.

The one trope that niggled at me a little from the plethora of tropes on hand was the backlash of the Bohemian lifestyle. When reality comes a-crashing down the sisters just can't cope. I am really of two minds as to this plot contrivance. What I really liked is that Brown actually bothered to establish the credibility of this Bohemian lifestyle they were living. It wasn't just an aside, like it is in most books, it was discussed and built on. The jobs and independence of the girls. The friends of the family that embodied this movement, such as Picasso. The fact that women struggling for suffrage were referred to properly as suffragists NOT suffragettes. Even how their beliefs were reflected in their beloved home's architecture and how the rooms were incorporated into large communal spaces. I loved all this. What I didn't love is the girls being unwilling or unable to comprehend that their father wasn't as farsighted as he should have been. If they truly were the Bohemians and strong independent women their father raised them to be they should have been able to face this new reality and take it head on and make of their lives what they wanted. They should have been strong, independent, "new" women that get things done, not roll over! Yes, technically the book is about them figuring out how to do this in little ways, but overall it just annoyed me that they couldn't at least make a better attempt at living the life they wanted.

This is exacerbated to the nth degree with Prudence. I mean how could she be so ignorant? She knew how lucky she was being raised alongside Rowena and Victoria, yet when reality comes a calling she is unable to face it. She is the daughter of a servant, did she really expect to be treated as one of the family? Yes, her Cinderella story seems unfair, but the way she handles it. Ugh. Cinderella buckled down and accepted her new fate until she found a way out. Prudence whines and moans and actually is a rather belligerent lady's maid. Just, ugh. How!?! How could she not know or expect this? Plus, once she starts learning more about her past and her mother, she should have no doubt that this is the life that should have been hers. She was lucky. She spent her childhood in this little magical bubble that protected and coddled her, but in no way prepared her for reality. In fact, that I think is what annoys me most with the "Bohemian" aspect to this book. The girls were all raised in a word that showed them truth and reality, not that rarefied magical gentrified world that would soon come to an end. Yet somehow they were in an even more magical world that made them less able to handle harsh reality. I guess I just can't come to terms with my heroines being so stupid and not knowing that this is how life works. That this would be their life. It's like they are purposefully deluding themselves.

But there is no one better for delusions than Rowena. Rowena is obviously the Lady Mary of the sisters. She has no focus in life, no goals, and can not confront reality so just sits around doing nothing. The pain she inflicts on Victoria and Prudence by her hording secrets is just viciously cruel. All the more so because she knows how it will hurt them but just ignores it. And her acquiesce to her uncle's plans. Ugh. She could have tried. She could have had Victoria at her side trying to fight this, but no. She just lets it happen. See, the thing with having "bad guys" is that you need to love to hate them. Like Thomas and Lady Mary, you can see other sides to them through the bad behavior, they're not just one dimensional. Rowena is one dimensional. She is all about whatever is best for her. I hated her more than any other character in any book I've read recently. She doesn't just deserve to be smacked, she deserves to be smacked with a lead pipe. By someone who can do serious damage. Rowena in fact keeps grinding the book down every single time she appears on it's pages. What's even worse is that with the pilot she meets and starts up a flirtation with, Jon, she is the only one of the three women who gets moments of happiness. She is a spineless self-centered bitch, she doesn't deserve one second of happiness. I wish she'd get in that plane and it would crash and burn. That is the only fitting end for her.

The tropes and the characters all being so a-typical I found the a-typical mystery a bit ludicrous. Are we really supposed to be surprised by the dark and dangerous secret that Prudence's past hides? Because it was handled so heavy-handedly that at times I was laughing at the book. I kept expecting someone to show up and drone on about there being something nasty in the woodshed. The melodrama was worthy of old silent films with the villain twirling his moustache while the damsel was tied to the train tracks. Here's a radical idea. If there's a big evil secret, don't have everyone know about it and then drop heavy hints left right and center. A mystery should be mysterious. There should be some work on the part of the reader to solve it. The solution to the enigma shouldn't be a foregone conclusion. But this would be expecting more than what this book is. This book is nothing more then a fun and cheesy Downton Abbey pastiche mashing up everything into a read that doesn't strain your braincells but gives you just the right amount of period immersion. To expect more wouldn't be fair to the book. As for the possibility of me continuing on with this series? I don't quite see myself taking that plunge. I just didn't love the characters enough and the thought that Rowena might actually get a HEA makes me physically ill. But I enjoyed it for what it was, at times despite itself.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Review - Katherine Longshore's Manor of Secrets

Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Point
Publication Date: January 28th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

The garden party is stifling and Lady Charlotte would give anything to break free of the watchful eye of her mother, Lady Diane. She spies a servant sneaking off into the woods and daringly she follows. Janie is nothing more than a kitchen maid but as Charlotte watches her servant reveling in the shallows of the lake she wishes for such freedom. Charlotte has so many dreams and ambitions that are unacceptable for lady. She wishes for nothing more then to write and marry for love. But fantasizing about the footman is one thing, actually acting on those impulses are another, though kissing a servant might not be as alien to Charlotte's mother as Charlotte thinks. With the arrival of Charlotte's Aunt Beatrice hours before the shooting party The Manor has been turned on it's head. Yet Charlotte can not understand why the return of a relative she never knew of is causing such chaos. She needs information and everyone knows that servants know everything. Turning to Janie Charlotte breaches the rigid divide between upstairs and down. The two forge a tenuous friendship confined by societal expectations, but even trying to work within these strictures they are both jeopardizing more than they know. Can Charlotte find a way to live within her world and find love where she least expects it? Can Janie hold onto her position and her home with Charlotte undermining her? And what does a secret pregnancy from the past hold in store for these two girls divided by more then a baize door?

Manor of Secrets is an odd little book because it comes across that it doesn't quite know what it wants to be when it grows up. Much like the upstairs heroine Charlotte this book is in the midst of an identity crisis. The main issue I take is I don't know who the audience for this book is. It claims to be YA yet it feels Middle Grade. The simplistic writing, the laughable "secret," the overly large font used to bump up the page count, if there was a category somewhere between YA and Middle Grade, it might just fit there, but towards the Middle Grade end of the spectrum. While as a reader categorization doesn't matter to me so much as a good story, I will read anything, but knowing the intended audience sometimes helps you with your expectations. Especially if the story isn't catching you perhaps it's because of the author "writing down" to her audience, which in my mind is never acceptable, but alas, happens quite frequently. While I have bemoaned another "secrets" series I can't help feeling that for how much I disliked that series the characters actually had a little more depth, and that is a sentence I never thought I'd write.

The simplistic writing causes merry havoc with the story, dragging it down to a flat and superficial level. The lack of depth and detail is astounding considering that this book runs to over three hundred pages, see previous mention of font size. The great manor house that everyone lives in is literally called "The Manor." Um, could you think of a more generic and bland name oh author? I mean seriously, you couldn't come up with, oh, I don't know, anything more original than using the word that actually describes what kind of house it is? Heck, your last name "Longshore" could have been a better name than "The Manor." This lack of originality actually shines light onto the stupidity of Charlotte and her inability to see beneath the surface of someone. This "teaching moment" that smacks of moralizing Middle Grade reads isn't hard to understand when you look at the bigger picture. Charlotte lives in a simplistic two-dimensional world, it makes sense that she wouldn't be able to grasp three-dimensionality, it's beyond her ken. She doesn't get that people have depth and that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover because in her world depth doesn't exist!

Continuing on to the upstairs/downstairs dynamic, the simplicity remains and makes this dynamic off. You have the "good" servants and the "bad" servants and no one can reside in a grey area. I SAY NO ONE! And the upstairs and downstairs people must be completely ignorant of each other because never the twain shall meet! Yet within their realms everything is just peachy and keen because everyone knows their place. Yes, they natter on about this radical concept of "change" but does anyone actually change? Oh no, that would be too radical and too multidimensional! When you look at what is really going on, the love affairs, the relationship dynamics, you should have a drama on the scale of Gosford Park with someone meeting the pointy end of a knife! Instead you get snide comments, from the bad, reassurances, from the good, and everything working out. Seriously? I really kept dwelling on Gosford Park and how the upstairs/downstairs dynamic when concerning a pregnancy shows the class iniquities and the abuse of power but here that isn't even addressed. With the world apparently changing, or so the rumors go, shouldn't this stop the culture of silence that is pervasive in this class system?

But then again, the truth of Charlotte's parentage isn't even viewed in a negative light except by those "bad" people. This is what, 1910 or so, the Titanic is under construction, and yet the heroine is all, "Hey everything is awesome, I have a sister." Once again pointing out how dim her world view is. She would be ostracized from society, she would be ruined, and instead she gets everything she wants! Perhaps living in a two-dimensional world has it's benefits, like being to totally ignore the reality of a situation? Yet there's something distinctly off in my mind about what the friendship between Lanie and Charlotte really says. Yes they are friends, but it only seems to be condoned because it turns out they are half-sisters. Would this class and rank defying friendship been accepted if they were just friends? If they had no blood ties at all? While the book would like you to think so, I don't think that's the actual truth. I think this is the one aspect where the book is right and is hiding a darker secret in plain sight. Their relationship is unconventional, yet somehow allowable because of this familial bond. While the "bad" people might still frown upon it, it is not as shocking as it could be and therefore fine.

In the end what everything boils down to is Beatrice. She is the catalyst for change. She represents the force of the future. Yet it is ironic that a person who went to such lengths to hide their sin would then be the one trying to destroy the system she bowed down to... but perhaps that's why she's doing it? One would hope, but again, two-dimensional shallows are being waded in here so that might be asking too much. Plus it's not like anyone likes her until the last ten pages. Throughout the book there's the theme of the world changing, but it's all talk and no action until the very end when Beatrice is like, I'm a suffragette, let's go be the change we want to see in the world. All while everyone is like, yeah, we're not sure about you and this whole actually standing for something thing. And then there's her household run completely by women. This makes you think two things, one she's removed temptation and therefore can't get pregnant again or two that she's a lesbian now. The whole women's suffrage doesn't even get on the radar until they're half-way out the door and on the way to Italy. Plus, just a question, the whole idea of woman's suffrage is equality. They want to be equal to men so shouldn't her household be staffed by the best no matter their gender? Equality NOT segregation. But that would require the book to actually look into causes and motivations and there is nothing here but surface.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Death of a Nurse by M.C. Beaton
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"M. C. Beaton's New York Times bestselling Hamish Macbeth series continues with a new mystery featuring Scotland's most quick-witted but unambitious policeman.

James Harrison has recently moved to a restored hunting lodge in Sutherland with his gorgeous private nurse Gloria Dainty. When Hamish visits Mr. Harrison to welcome him to the neighborhood, the old man treats him very rudely. Gloria apologizes for her employer's behavior, and Hamish takes the plunge and invites her out for dinner. On the appointed evening, Hamish waits for Gloria at the restaurant. And waits. Gloria never shows up. Four days later, Gloria's body washes up on the beach near Braikie. Now without a date and without his former policeman Dick Fraser (who left the force to buy a bakery), Hamish must find out who killed the beautiful new resident of Sutherland, and why, before the murderer strikes again..."

Ah how my mom loves this series, and this book. Yes... I might have let her read my ARC... in fact I might have requested an ARC just so she could read it. Yes, I do hope that makes me a good daughter.

Montalbano's First Case by Andrea Camilleri
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2016
Format: Paperback, 560 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the author of the New York Times–bestselling Inspector Montalbano mystery series, twenty-one short stories spanning the beloved detective’s career Inspector Montalbano has charmed readers in nineteen popular novels, and now in Montalbano’s First Case and Other Stories, Andrea Camilleri has selected twenty-one short stories, written with his trademark wit and humor, that follow Italy’s famous detective through highlight cases of his career. From the title story, featuring a young deputy Montalbano newly assigned to Vigàta, to “Montalbano Says No,” in which the inspector makes a late-night call to Camilleri himself to refuse an outlandish case, this collection is an essential addition to any Inspector Montalbano fan’s bookshelf and a wonderful way to introduce readers to the internationally bestselling series."

Seriously, Penguin does such a wonderful job with these books even if I wasn't a fan of the series I might have to own them all...

Doctor Who Coloring Book
Published by: Price Stern Sloan
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2016
Format: Paperback, 96 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Planets, galaxies, villains, heroes, the Doctor, the TARDIS and the time vortex--all intricately illustrated in this adult coloring book packed with original Doctor Who art. With 96 stunning pages to color, plus all the best quotes from the beloved TV show, this out-of-this-world adult coloring book is perfect for any creative Doctor Who fan."

Seeing as this is British shouldn't it be colouring book? Just wondering? Also, yes please, I want to color it no matter how you spell it. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Review - Natasha Solomons's The House at Tyneford

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons
Published by: Plume
Publication Date: December 27th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Vienna is Elise's home. There all the trappings of the glittering life she leads seem immutable. She will always go to the opera house to hear her mother Anna sing. She will always be jealous of her sister Margot's musical talents that form a special bond between Margot and Anna. She will always take pride in her father Julian, the "strange" writer. Because her life is for always. Until it isn't. Vienna is no longer safe for Jews. Margot's husband has gotten a job in California and they are to leave shortly; Anna and Julian are waiting for visas to go to New York. But Elise poses a problem. The plan is for Anna and Julian to send for her once they get to New York, but they are too scared to leave her behind. Therefore they decide that their best option is for Elise to go into service as a maid in England. There she will be safe until she can join her family in America. She gets a job in Dorset at Tyneford for a Mr. Rivers. The house seems cut off from the rest of the world and so different from the life she left behind.

Elise struggles not just with her tasks but with her English, feeling isolated from all that she held dear. The life she is living isn't what she expected and the other servants don't make her feel welcome. She just doesn't fit. She wasn't raised to be a servant, yet she doesn't quite belong upstairs either. She is living in limbo just hoping to hear from her family. Yet with the arrival of Mr. Rivers's son Kit life becomes easier and more complicated at the same time. Kit helps Elise with her English and his presence makes her work easier to bear. Though it is apparent to everyone that they are falling in love and this upstairs, downstairs romance is problematic to say the least. As the world descends into chaos with the outbreak of World War II the world that they knew will be destroyed. Elise struggles to hold onto this new life she has grown to love all while holding out hope that her family will join her and life can be as it was. Little does Elise know nothing will ever be the same again, even this new life she has come to love.

When writing a book you can't set out to write a classic. Your book attains that status over time, it's not something that you, as the author, have any control over. You just don't and if you can't accept this perhaps you shouldn't be a writer. Moreover, when writing a book it's best to not emulate a classic but to find your own voice. Your book will never be that classic you so want to replicate and I have never believed the old saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Therefore I had problems connecting with The House at Tyneford. Solomons so wanted her book to be Du Maurier's classic Rebecca that at times you feel as if she is trying to drive the point home with a blunt instrument. The thing about aping Du Maurier is that more than any other author there is no one like her so you should never try. She has an effortless way of describing her surroundings so that the lush and verdant foliage leap off the page. Solomons flowers lay limply in the hot sun. But the number one thing you shouldn't do is call out what you were attempting to do by having your characters go and see the Hitchcock adaptation of Rebecca! Solomons would occasionally find her own footing to fall over the big illuminated arrows showing how she could never be Du Maurier.

The House at Tyneford isn't a book for subtlety. It's not just the Du Maurier debacle, it's that Solomons paints her story with big strokes trying to capture the epicness of her narrative. That her story is a microcosm of what is being played out on the world stage is obvious, she just didn't need to make it so obvious. It was the day to day struggles and the relationships forged between the characters that I was most drawn to, and yet as the narrative progressed this is what she left by the wayside in favor of grand gestures. When all the players leave Tyneford for the last time it's as if Solomons decided to severe all ties with this world and these people we have come to love. We never learn the fate of any of Elise's fellow servants. We don't even get any insight into Elise's life after Tyneford. Because to Solomons this doesn't matter. It would be too finicky and delicate, not bold and brash enough. This is, after all, a book that loves wallow in the Freudian cigar imagery. Yes, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar... but not when Solomons is writing.

But then again, having your entire story be an updating of Cinderella... well, that doesn't take much imagination now does it? Which lead me to start thinking about the Cinderella story. Here it fits more than most, because it isn't a simple rags to riches fable, it's love and comfort to drudgery to rescue. This is exactly the trajectory that Elise's life takes. And while I do love a happily ever after and a restoring of the status quo, when does this trope get played out? When do we say enough with the fairy tales give me something more real. Yes, you could say that this is more real with Elise and her plight, but still, the ending makes it fairy tale airy fairy. The heart of what I'm getting at is is Cinderella played out? I'm sure Kenneth Branagh would probably totally disagree with me because his adaptation last year is the highest grossing film he's ever done. But I really would like something new, some new twist. I would have liked to have heard Solomons voice coming through in this book instead of her trying to emulate other voices.

Despite some of the more cookie cutter aspects of The House at Tyneford, there are interesting concepts that are raised. Most of them aren't necessarily expanded on, but then again, I dwell in books and therefore a passing line can provide hours of thought. I found it interesting when the butler, Mr. Wrexham, said to Elise "you are to be the end of us all." While it's a bit doom and gloom coming from this very upright man I wonder was it so much Elise that he meant or was it what she symbolized. Was Elise a symptom of the end of the country house era or a cause? In other words, with the war creating all these refugees that then sought service in English country houses was it the war that ended this way of life, or was it the people displaced by war who upset the system from the inside? Personally, I think it was the war forever irreparably changing the landscape, but then again, in this instance, being the events at Tyneford, I would say that it was Elise. Yes their life would have change, but not in the same way. Therefore in this place and this time it's Elise.

Now that I've brought up the war in a little more detail I'd like to tackle something that irked me. Throughout the book Solomons does a great job connecting Elise and music, in fact you can't help say her name without thinking of the Beethoven composition. Music to Elise is her family and what they represent. When she leaves Vienna with the viola with Julian's manuscript hidden inside she is given a tangible and musical connection to those she loves. When one thinks of World War II and string instruments one cannot help but think of John Williams's haunting theme for Schindler's List as performed by Itzhak Perlman. At the very end of The House at Tyneford there is a composition written in honor of Elise's family, The Novel in the Viola: Concerto in D Minor for Viola and Orchestra. My problem is here we aren't given the chance to use our imagination. We aren't allowed to picture music and lasting resonance like that written by John Williams. There is an actual score and on Solomons website you can listen to it being preformed. It's not just that it's lackluster, it's that it makes something in the book so finite. Books need to have room for the readers to interpret. To bring their own experiences. To write the music and make it so uninspired takes away from the rest of the story.

The sad fact is I liked this book in spite of itself. Solomons undermines her own writing time and time again and if it wasn't for little things here and there I would write it off as a Du Maurier pastiche. It was the little things that made me like it. My most favorite moment was an aside by Kit when talking about his mother who died when he was four. He said that he no longer remembered her. He knew that he should because he was old enough. He even remembered events that she was a part of only she was no longer there. It was as if she had been cut out of the memories. This touched a nerve with me. There are people I have lost and in particular one wonderful kitty. I worry that I am forgetting, I worry that I am rewriting my own story. He has been gone so long that I can't remember the day to day. The way he felt on my lap. It's like there's this emptiness that he used to fill and he's been so entirely removed that I can't remember him. I can see why Elise writes down her story and places it in the viola. She didn't want to have this happen because she knew that at some point it must. It happened to Kit and she doesn't want it happening to her memories of him. A bittersweet thought. But then this book is filled with the bitter meeting the sweet.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Downton Abbey don't really seem the least connected, and they're not. Well, I'm sure I could find some justification to connect the two other than my love for both, but that isn't what this post is about. This isn't about Downton Denial, this is about something that's been going on now for almost six months which I've been meaning to talk about. If you follow me on twitter or look over at my twitter feed in the right sidebar you've probably noticed my daily use of the hashtag #ExerciseWithBuffy. This is a thing I've created to motivate myself. Being a graphic designer and reviewer kind of chain me to my computer. Seeing as my "hobby" (really it's more of a calling) is reading, well, there's not much get up and go. There's a lot of the sedentary about my lifestyle.

Sedentary can be good in moderation, anything is good in moderation, but the fact is, I needed to get up and go. I like to walk. In fact it's the only form of exercise I like. I've tried to integrate it into my life a little at a time, but it's never stuck, and once winter sets in, I don't want to leave the house. I even joined a health club once only to get so sick on two separate occasions due to the filth of the facility that I had to stop going. So this past fall I decided enough was enough. I want a long time to live on this planet to read books and have a good life. I don't care about weight loss, I care about fitness and my health. I don't want to get diabetes and die young. So I got a treadmill and I told myself it's all or nothing, so I haven't skipped a single day, though there is the rare occurrence of exercise taken not on my treadmill.

But how did I motivate myself to get onto that treadmill everyday? The answer was simple, TV. I love TV and there are some shows I love more than others. There are some shows that are a part of my DNA. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of them. I remember the first time I saw it. I remember sitting up in my friend Jess's bedroom watching season six, with her room rearranged for the best possible viewing experience on a very tiny TV. I remember that by season seven we had her whole co-op watching so we moved into the TV room in the basement that was always cold and a little dungeon like. I remember the first Buffy convention I went to and all the ones after that. Buffy has been a part of my life for so long it helped form it. I've meet about fifteen actors from the show, more if I counted Angel, and been impressed that the people Joss Whedon surrounds himself with are so nice. I've met Joss Whedon. Seriously, I HAVE MET JOSS WHEDON! (Photographic proof provided because I'm that geeky.)

This show changed my life so I thought, maybe it could change it again. And it totally has. When I started I couldn't walk half a mile without feeling like I was going to die, I can now walk 1.70 miles for 43 minutes every day without dropping down dead; I would say without breaking a sweat, but that would be a lie, and seriously, it's good to sweat. I have lost five pounds and though it's not about that, the serious toning that has happened as well as the weight loss, well, it gives me visible proof of my hard work. But why am I telling you about this now? Because yesterday I watched the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and now it's time to move on. To Angel. So please join me for #AngelAerobics! I'm starting today! And if there's one takeaway from rewatching Buffy? It's that the show needed Anthony Stewart Head desperately. The decline started as soon as he boarded that plane back to England and Manchild.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Master of Ceremonies by Joel Grey
Published by: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: February 16th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Joel Grey, the Tony and Academy Award-winning Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret finally tells his remarkable life story. Born Joel David Katz to a wild and wooly Jewish American family in Cleveland, Ohio in 1932, Joel began his life in the theater at the age of 9, starting in children’s theater and then moving to the main stage. He was hooked, and his seven decades long career charts the evolution of American entertainment - from Vaudeville performances with his father, Mickey Katz to the seedy gangster filled nightclubs of the forties, the bright lights of Broadway and dizzying glamour of Hollywood, to juggernaut musicals like Cabaret, Chicago, and Wicked.

Master of Ceremonies is a memoir of a life lived in and out of the limelight, but it is also the story of the man behind the stage makeup. Coming of age in a time when being yourself tended to be not only difficult but also dangerous, Joel has to act both on and off the stage. He spends his high school years sleeping with the girls-next-door while carrying on a scandalous affair with an older man. Romances with to-die-for Vegas Showgirls are balanced with late night liaisons with like-minded guys, until finally Joel falls in love and marries a talented and beautiful woman, starts a family, and has a pretty much picture perfect life. But 24 years later when the marriage dissolves, Joel has to once again find his place in a world that has radically changed.

Drawing back the curtain on a career filled with show-stopping numbers, larger-than-life stars and even singing in the shower with Bjork, Master of Ceremonies is also a portrait of an artist coming to terms with his evolving identity. When an actor plays a character, he has to find out what makes them who they are; their needs, dreams, and fears. It’s a difficult thing to do, but sometimes the hardest role in an actor’s life is that of himself. Deftly capturing the joy of performing as well as the pain and secrets of an era we have only just started to leave behind, Joel’s story is one of love, loss, hard-won honesty, redemption, and success."

So... there's not really anything out this week that I'm interested in, but I had to post something, and I've just finished watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Five as I type this and I was all, hey, it's "Doc" that bastard led to Buffy's death... So Joel Grey everyone, that impish little demon!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Book Review - Barbara Taylor Bradford's The Cavendon Women

The Cavendon Women by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: March 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Last we saw the Inghams and Swanns they were drifting apart, especially Miles and Cecily. Miles had just told Cecily that despite their plans he must marry for duty, not love, as the unexpected heir of Cavendon. In the intervening years Miles has grown more unhappy in a marriage that is a sham, and the chances of an heir with his wife are now nonexistent. Meanwhile Cecily Swann has made herself a household name with her sense of style and her line of clothes and accessories. But the time has come for the disparate members of these two intertwining clans to come together. Miles's father, the Earl of Mowbray, has called the family back to the ancestral pile under the auspices of a family reunion, when in fact it's for his wedding. For all the years the Swanns have served the Inghams there has never been an officially sanctioned romantic alliance between the two; that is about to change. The Earl is set to marry Charlotte Swann, the love of his life.

From Miles and Cecily's point of view this marriage changes everything. Perhaps with the removal of a certain unwanted wife they might get their happily ever after? But Miles and Cecily aren't the only ones looking for love, three of the four Cavendon Dees have not had the best of luck with their love lives and hopefully that is about to change. Dierdre has caught the eye of the American business partner of her brother-in-law, Dulcie has a thing with England's most famous actor, while DeLacy, still licking her wounds from her divorce, has aroused the interest of her mother's sexually voracious husband as well as a famous painter he commissioned to paint her. But sorting out their love lives is one thing, sorting out the financial crisis facing Cavendon and the world is another. Can the Cavendon luck hold out with the help of the faithful Swanns?

When I finished the first book in this series, Cavendon Hall, I openly questioned whether a second volume would work given that what drove the first book was resolved. I of course speak of the continuing danger posed to Lady Daphne from her rapist, who was subsequently killed in World War I. The book worked because of the danger, not to the house, but the menace in the woods that threatened the womenfolk and virtually emanated off the page. I'm sorry, but worrying about the roof of the north wing collapsing or a burst pipe in a bathroom doesn't offer the same sort of tension. Bradford tried to recapture some of this feeling with the Dees's step-father, Dr. Lawrence Pierce. While Pierce had great potential with his womanizing ways and his lust for making DeLacy his conquest, he never became as dangerous as he could have been. I can see him as a Jack the Ripper type character that offs his paramours after he is finished with them, but instead we have only one lackluster murder to lay at his door. And he even made it look like a heart attack. How lame is that?

But this volume seemed more concerned with everyone overcoming the odds and being happy and beautiful with everything working out just right because that's how it's supposed to be instead of creating a plot or any driving force to the narrative. This is like Downton Abbey on happy pills where everyone sits around in a luxuriously appointed room complimenting each other on how pretty and lucky they are. "I'm so pretty and happy! How are you, oh the same darling? Fabulous." It's not that it's not a happy getaway from any semblance of reality, because there is that aspect, it's just that after awhile it's so much sameness that you, as the reader, could be writing it. Sip some tea, comment on how talented they all are, have a false alarm about loosing the house, and back to fabulous. This sameness is problematic when it comes to differentiating the Dees. Firstly, naming all your daughters with "D" names is so very lame I want to puke. But more than that, it's hard to distinguish them because they are pretty much the same. I actually created new names for them all, and I don't think Bradford would like her characters being labelled by their character traits, I know lesbian, I mean Dierdre, would probably agree.

What I found worrying about the characters in this volume was that while the Inghams and the Swanns have this immutable bond the rest of the world can go to hell in their eyes. They ruthlessly fire any staff that isn't a Swann by birth or by marriage. I'm sorry, but is it just me who views this as rather heartless? They really aren't that badly off and manage to come through everything OK but during this time of economic depression they close ranks and push people, whose only fault is that they aren't a Swann, out into the cold cruel world. What with their love of their looks and their exclusivity these two families aren't coming across as people you'd want to spend your time with, they're coming across as "mean girls." They are totally the rich clique at school wearing Lacoste who you avoided because they were so mean and vicious about everything from your hair to your clothes. In fact, getting onto that whole clothes angle... Cecily is setting all the trends and making sure her friends have the best clothes while customers have to wait. Yeah, they really are an evil clique. So why do we like reading about them? Is it because we always wanted to be on the inside looking out? Oh dear, I'm really starting to question why I like this book.   

Getting away from the characters and onto Bradfords writing style, I find it very haphazard. She's SO SPECIFIC about certain things but can't be bothered about others. Yes, she might have her knowledge base she's drawing on, but the least she could do is try right? You've by now guessed that there has to be one specific moment that made this dawn on me, and oh yes, there was. Bradford luxuriates in her details about the clothes Cecily designs, lavishing detail on everything from Juliet caps, which Cecily made popular, to the fur edging on a cape, so white and warm! So what happens when another artistic field is ventured into? Say painting. Let's tackle Travers Merton shall we? He's the artist Lawrence Pierce hires to paint DeLacy in his ongoing seduction only to have Merton steal DeLacy from his grasp. So Merton obviously has a studio, "the studio was a spacious room with big windows at one end, and filled with with perfect light." So what is perfect light? "Just the kind of light a painter required, and couldn't work without." Oh? So is that North facing windows or what? Cause I'd really like to recreate this perfection in my own studio space. Gaw. If you're going to be that vague just don't even mention the light at all. Or at least tone down the descriptions of the clothes to even it out.

The clothes and Cecily are actually a problem for me. The kind of big problem that keeps getting bigger. Her success is just booming. Like incomprehensibly booming. Yes, she's a smart business woman to capitalize on her success, much like Brandford's other famous heroine and Cecily's friend, Emma Harte, has done. But there comes a point when how much is too much? She has bags that are more coveted than Birkin, a wedding boutique, and a whole line of Cavendon knock-off jewellery. In fact, it's at the jewellery that I really went, enough is enough. It's like Cecily is trying to capitalize on her success like PBS off Downton Abbey. There's just a tipping point, and with the merchandising of Downton Abbey for me it was when they started doing jewellery. Since then they have expanded to cooking kits, wrapping paper, teas, hats, you name it. There's such a thing as oversaturation and while I've totally reached that point with the Downton Abbey merchandising, I have also reached that point with the glittering career of Cecily Swann. I'm actually looking forward to the next installment, seeing as this book ended with the stock market crash that triggered the great depression. How will her jewellry go over with the masses when there's not enough money to put bread on the table? I just want her to be knocked down to earth. Just a little. Because perfection isn't perfection without a little flaw to set it off. I want to see Cecily's flaw.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Book Review - Kate Morton's The Lake House

The Lake House by Kate Morton
Published by: Atria Books
Publication Date: October 20th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Midsummer has always been celebrated at Loeanneth with a grand gala. The lake house is strewn with lanterns and gondolas float on the river with fireworks dazzling the night sky above the great bonfire. While the Edevane family might enjoy their solitude in Cornwall, they still keep this tradition alive. It is 1933 and this will be the last year the family holds this celebration. Soon the house will be shuttered and it will be a time capsule of that night; the night everything changed. Young Alice Edevane would usually be reveling in these festivities, but this year is different. She no longer has time for Mr. Llewellyn, artist in resident and family friend, or her mother who wants her to help with preparations. She only has time for two things, plotting her first mystery novel and Ben. Ben is the gardener and she fancies herself in love with him. He listens raptly when she tells him about her book and talks to her like an equal. But could her book be what destroyed everything? Because in the wee hours of the night her baby brother Theo was taken from his crib. Seventy years later the case remains unsolved. Alice is now a successful mystery writer but she has never resolved what happened to her baby brother. Enter Sadie Sparrow. She's on leave from the MET with a forced vacation in Cornwall at her grandfather's house. Yet she can't sit still. Sadie stumbles on Loeanneth and the cold case consumes her. Will a fresh set of eyes find the truth of that long ago midsummer night?

There are times in your life when you just need to get away from reality and hide in a book. Sometimes it works and you fall into the story and it consumes you. Other times it backfires on you and all the troubles you were trying to escape are reflected back at you through this medium. Not only is the book too close for comfort, but once you put it down you'll be faced with reality again. Which is the situation I found myself in with Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, leading to me not being one of the worshipful majority. But that's another story for another time. When I finally picked up The Lake House it was precisely the book I needed at just the right time. It had just enough mystery with just the right level of predictability that I wanted to stay there as long as possible. I usually devour a book in a matter of days, but here I spent a week, taking my time and having a well deserved respite from reality. I languished at Loeanneth. The book became so much a part of me that I dreamt of Cornwall. I remember quite vividly being in the half-dream state where I wasn't quite fully awake but I had already started to leave my dream behind and hearing the garbage trucks making their morning rounds. The beeps were confusing and incongruous to me. There was still a part of me that knew they were garbage trucks, but my thoughts were consumed with the fact they didn't belong. The technology didn't exist yet and they would never spoil the idyll that was the lake house, because that is where I was. I haven't had this kind of dream disassociation since years ago when I thought some crop dusters were Messerschmidt's, again another story for another time.

Kate Morton's books aren't for everyone. In fact they only occasionally work for me. They spend loving detail on atmosphere and if you are more interested in narrative, well you can feel like you are languishing in a story with no forward momentum. The mysteries Morton concocts are very pedestrian. Her own creation, Alice Edevane, would weep for their simplicity. In fact the only thing that didn't ring true to me in The Lake House is that Alice Edevane is this grand dame of mystery writers the likes of P.D. James and Ruth Rendell yet she was never able to solve this mystery in her own life. Yes, you could say it's because she didn't want to know the truth, but that seems cliched. But the truth you need to remember in Morton's book is the mystery is always secondary. Yes, she did a better job this time of spacing out the clues so just when you thought nothing would progress, bam, new evidence showed up on the scene. That doesn't mean I didn't figure it out hundreds of pages earlier, but I liked the pacing. I also liked the characters, I felt like they were more fleshed out in this tale. Morton likes to have the old lady with these wonderful stories and secrets that must be passed on or solved by younger generations. It's her thing, it's her trope. But here Alice was so alive. She was the spark that kept things together. She's a spunky old lady who plays her cards close to her chest, and I just loved that. Instead of a dead aunt, a mother on her deathbed, or an old lady in a nursing home, the elderly lady this time around was active not passive and it made a huge difference.

While having the disappearance of the one Edevane son as the fulcrum this book is really about women. Particularly the bond between mothers and daughters and all the shapes and forms these bonds come in. I liked that we had mothers who knew the best thing for their child was to let them go, while also having mothers so selfish they pushed their daughter away for the sake of their own appearance. It really cast a light on the fact that there's not just one single and simple way that mothers and daughters interact. People are so different and to assume that their relationships are all the same is folly. What is also interesting is to see how the mother daughter relationship is formed by experience and also by society's conventions and how those conventions have changed over time. The relationship between Alice's mother and grandmother, women of the previous century, was more staid and reserved, because of the time and also a tragedy Alice's grandmother endured. Going forward Alice's mother wants to have a better relationship with her own daughters but realizes that her husband stands in the way of her being the "fun" parent and therefore sadly accepts her fate. Then we look to Sadie and how her own mother threw her out because Sadie got pregnant and opted to give the baby up for adoption. Just a few women, and yet their relationships are so complex and we are given insight into each one, we get to understand if not empathize with how they lived and loved.

But if I'm honest what really intrigued me with The Lake House was the real life parallels. Theo's disappearance has parallels to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, which the book doesn't shy away from pointing out. There's something about these unsolved crimes that echo down the generations and draw us in and therefore make for great inclusions in fiction. As for my Lindbergh baby obsession, it's not as bad as my Jack the Ripper obsession, though both make me wish I could time travel just to solve unsolved crime. The thing is Lindbergh went to the same university as me and I can actually see the house where he lived from my office window. As for the kidnapping, I saw a riveting one person play on the convicted kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann that has always stuck with me. Though it wasn't just the Lindbergh allusions that I loved. Mr. Llewellyn and his children's book based on Alice's mother had so much Lewis Carroll in it I could sqwee for joy. Plus Morton played with our preconceptions based on this real life connection. She threw suspicion on Mr. Llewellyn but also called into question his relationship with the family, much as Carroll's was with the Liddells. Oh, and to hark back to those great dames of detection, there's more than a little Anne Perry in Alice Edevane. Of course Anne Perry's childhood crime of murdering her best friend's mother prior to becoming a bestselling crime writer was immortalized in the wonderful film Heavenly Creatures. This crime occurred in New Zealand, a stone throws from Morton's Australia. The idea that Alice might somehow be guilty and therefore an unreliable narrator, I can't tell you how much I loved this. Also the Mitford parallels, with Deborah, Alice, and Clemmie Edevane mirroring Diana, Nancy, and Jessica Mitford respectively was just the cherry on top of the sundae.

The only real problem I had with the entire book was Sadie Sparrow. While you might think it's a hatred of her pigheadedness and her just not really listening to people, it has nothing to do with that, I could overlook that as character flaws. My problem is her name: Sadie Sparrow. I'm sure when everyone first saw the Doctor Who episode "Blink" written by Steven Moffat they all thought that Sally Sparrow was the coolest name ever and were wishing that they had thought of it first. I know I did and I'm a reviewer not a writer! In fact my handle on my knitting site actually is Sally Sparrow, I am unashamed of my geekiness and I fully admit it. It's such a unique and distinctive name that once you hear it you can't ever forget it. Now here we have Sadie Sparrow. She's like a weak imitation, a bad knock off, a wannabe Sally but alwaysbe Sadie. Why would you EVER choose this as your characters name? Why would an editor ever let you do it? Yes the name might seem perfectly acceptable to you, the author, but it's not. This name wasn't your invention. To make matters worse Sally and her friend Kathy joke about being investigators, Sparrow and Nightingale! A bit ITV, but I'd still watch it. And here's "Sadie" being all investigative and then a PI! I'm sorry. This is just unacceptable. You could argue it's coincidence, that Kate Morton has never even seen Doctor Who. Guess what? I don't care. Yes her book has lots of real life connections and allusions, but she makes them her own. If it was a original thought or Sally just became Sadie, it's too close and MUST be changed. This isn't Moffat, it's Morton. And the last thing any writer wants to be is Moffat.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Arcadia by Iain Pears
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: February 9th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the author of the international best seller An Instance of the Fingerpost, Arcadia is an astonishing work of imagination.

Three interlocking worlds. Four people looking for answers. But who controls the future—or the past?

In 1960s Oxford, Professor Henry Lytten is attempting to write a fantasy novel that forgoes the magic of his predecessors, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. He finds an unlikely confidante in his quick-witted, inquisitive young neighbor Rosie. One day, while chasing Lytten’s cat, Rosie encounters a doorway in his cellar. She steps through and finds herself in an idyllic, pastoral land where Storytellers are revered above all others. There she meets a young man who is about to embark on a quest of his own—and may be the one chance Rosie has of returning home. These breathtaking adventures ultimately intertwine with the story of an eccentric psychomathematician whose breakthrough discovery will affect all of these different lives and worlds.

Dazzlingly inventive and deeply satisfying, Arcadia tests the boundaries of storytelling and asks: If the past can change the future, then might the future also indelibly alter the past?"

This sounds like an especially awesome episode of Inspector Morse or Lewis or Endeavour! 

The Revolving Door of Life by Alexander McCall Smith
Published by: Anchor
Publication Date: February 9th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Excitement abounds when the revolving door of life brings fresh faces and hilarious new developments to the residents of 44 Scotland Street.

Things are looking up for seven-year-old Bertie Pollock. The arrival of his spirited grandmother and the absence of his meddlesome mother—who is currently running a book club in a Bedouin harem (don’t ask)—bring unforeseen blessings: no psychotherapy, no Italian lessons, and no yoga classes. Meanwhile, surprises await Scotland Street’s grown-ups. Matthew makes a discovery that could be a major windfall for his family, but also presents a worrisome dilemma. Pat learns a secret about her father’s fiancée that may shake up her family, unless she can convince the perpetually narcissistic Bruce to help her out. And the Duke of Johannesburg finds himself in sudden need of an explanation—and an escape route—when accosted by a determined guest at a soirée. From the cunning schemes of the Association of Scottish Nudists to the myriad expressive possibilities of the word “aye,” Alexander McCall Smith guides us through the risks and rewards of friendship, love, and family with his usual inimitable wit and irresistible charm."

New 44 Scotland Street! Woo hoo!

Nelly Dean by Alison Case
Published by: Pegasus
Publication Date: February 9th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A gripping and heartbreaking novel that re-imagines life at Wuthering Heights through the eyes of the Earnshaws’ loyal servant, Nelly Dean.

Young Nelly Dean has been Hindley’s closest companion for as long as she can remember, living freely at the great house, Wuthering Heights. But when the benevolence of the master brings a wild child into the house, Nelly learns she must follow in her mother’s footsteps, be called "servant" and give herself over completely to the demands of the Earnshaw family.

But Nelly is not the only one who finds her life disrupted by this strange newcomer. As death, illness, and passion sweep through the house, Nelly suffers heartache and betrayals at the hands of those she cherishes most, tempting her to leave it all behind. But when a new heir is born, a reign of violence begins that will test even Nelly’s formidable spirit as she finds out what it is to know true sacrifice.

Nelly Dean is a wonderment of storytelling and an inspired accompaniment to Emily Bronte’s adored work. It is the story of a woman who is fated to bear the pain of a family she is unable to leave, and unable to save."

What better way to spend a bleak February day then seeing Wuthering Heights in a new perspective?

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horder by Shannon and Dean Hale
Published by: Candlewick
Publication Date: February 9th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 96 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"It’s a case of monstrous cuteness as the Princess in Black encounters her biggest challenge yet: a field overrun by adorable bunnies.

Princess Magnolia and her unicorn, Frimplepants, are on their way to have brunch with Princess Sneezewort, an occasion Frimplepants enjoys more than anything in the world. But just when he can smell the freshly baked bread and the heaping platters of sugar-dusted doughnuts, Princess Magnolia’s glitter-stone ring rings. The monster alarm! After a quick change in the secret cave, Princess Magnolia and Frimplepants are transformed into the Princess in Black and her faithful pony, Blacky. But when they get to the goat pasture, all they can see is a field full of darling little bunnies nibbling on grass, twitching their velvet noses, and wiggling their fluffy tails. Where are the monsters? Are these bunnies as innocent as they appear?"

Bunnies, bunnies, it must be bunnies!

Fridays with the Wizards by Jessica Day George
Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: February 9th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Princess Celie and her companions have made it home safely from the Glorious Arkower, and everything is back to normal now that the Eye of the Castle is where it belongs. With more magical griffins to care for, Celie, Lilah, and Rolf have their hands full. But when the dangerous ancient wizard Arkwright escapes the dungeon and goes missing within the Castle, no one can rest until he is found. Only Celie knows where he is most likely hiding--deep within the secret passageways behind the walls of their beloved Castle. With danger lurking behind every tapestry and under every trap door, Celie must find the wizard and save her family.

Readers will be swept away by another charming magical adventure featuring Princess Celie and her very special Castle."

Rounding off the week with another Utah YA writer...

Friday, February 5, 2016

Book Review - Adele Whitby's Secrets of the Manor: Kate's Story

Secrets of the Manor: Kate's Story, 1914 by Adele Whitby
Published by: Simon Spotlight
Publication Date: June 24th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 148 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Kate can not wait for her twelfth birthday. Not only will she finally be receiving the Katherine necklace, the beloved family heirloom passed on to every Katerine in the family when she turns twelve, but her beloved cousin Beth is also coming all the way from England to Vandermeer Manor in Rhode Island. The cousins have never met because of the ocean that divides them, but they are devoted to their correspondence and know they will be kindred spirits and the best of friends. What's more, Beth just received the Elizabeth necklace for her twelfth birthday and for the first time since their great-grandmother's day the two halves of the necklace will be reunited. Though all the party planning in the world can't take into account the assassination of Archdukes! The news of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand shortly after Beth's arrival in America leads to her parents ordering her home. War is on the horizon and Beth needs to be with her family. It is hard to choose between your heart and your duty, but Beth reluctantly agrees to return home, but not until after she and Kate have a few adventures of their own and reunite the two halves of the locket. 

To say I didn't like the first book in this series would be a gross understatement. Beth's Story so rubbed me the wrong way that besides the spewing of vitriol in my review I might have sold that book faster than any other in recent history. Yet I couldn't part with Kate's Story until I had read it. Yes, I know this might sound absurd, but I had bought this book and gosh darn it it wasn't leaving my shelves until it was read. Thankfully it was a mercifully short book that I knocked out in an hour or two. In fact I might have spent more time writing this review than I did reading the book if you needed a comparison. But in the end I obviously read it and, while I still didn't like Adele Whitby's writing style or story, I didn't hate it with the fury of ten thousand suns like I did the first volume. I think the primary reason for this is that having this book set in America and not in England it is in a society that had more fluid rules and protocol. Beth's Story being in England in 1914 meant that there were society's strictures that were to be obeyed and Adele Whitby flaunted them, if she ever knew them in the first place. While America did also have rules, being such a new country, one which took great joy in shaking off the strictures of England, there was room to play. There weren't any glaring incidents that made me hope that my eyeballs could light the book on fire with the power of my thoughts. In other words, I was able to make it to the end without any real rage forming.

Yet just because there weren't glaring errors, doesn't mean that this book didn't have aspects that annoyed me. They just annoyed me less and therefore I gave the book some leeway. My main gripe is with Kate and her "responsibilities." She is just about to turn twelve and she is already expected, or should I say honored, to attend meetings of The Bridgeport Beautification Society. So a twelve-year-old is to help an organization that is run by new wives and her mother's generation and older? A twelve-year-old! I can understand instituting civic-mindedness in a young girl, but to put her on an equal footing? Seriously!?! I just don't get this whole twelve-year-olds get all the responsibility that is going on in this series. They get expensive jewel encrusted necklaces and all the responsibility that comes with it all seemingly because this is how it happened to their great-grandmothers so obviously we must continue with this tradition. And hang on a minute, in 1848 would twelve-year-olds really be active in the life of their family in the aristocracy? They'd still be in the nursery... this whole thing is just a house of cards waiting for me to blow on it! I get that today in society twelve is kind of the age where things shift, you're on the brink of being a teenager and getting responsibilities, but in previous generations that wasn't the case. This book seems to be trying to shoehorn today's morays on yesterdays! In fact the word teenager didn't even exist until the time of Kate and Beth's daughters! Grumble.

Seems to me more and more that Adele Whitby needs some lessons in history before she's allowed to "teach" it in her books. What annoyed me in this book is that her inclusion of history has now turned into "teaching moments." In the first book the history was cheesy but was just part of the story, we weren't hit over the head with it. Here, here it's a different story. Learn about suffragettes! LEARN I SAY! I'm a person who likes to learn in two ways. The first is when I set out to learn. I take a class, I read the books, I study, I learn in that environment. The second way is passive learning. What you pick up here and there in books. Like Eddie Izzard says, you're flipping through the TV channels, stop for a moment on a show go, hey, I didn't know that, that's interesting, you move on. In other words I will never ever condone knowledge being forced on me. If there's one way to piss me off if I'm meeting you and you have something you want to tell me, if you call it a "teaching moment," know, that in that moment I am doing everything in my power not to punch you in the face. Looking ahead in the series it looks like these "teaching moments" are starting to take over with the potato famine, the great depression, ugh. Stop it now.

But what I think gets under my skin most is just how earnest this series is attempting to be. All about family loyalty and love. The only thing I can think of as being true is the secret that they harbor... because show me an insanely happy family and I'll show you their dirty dark secret. And again, the secret is that the original Katherine and Elizabeth switched places in case you forgot or were hit on the head, because you don't need all six books to figure it out, you need one, if that. No family in the world could be suffused with this much goodness. It's so saccharine and sweet that it makes my teeth ache. Oh, and Kate and Beth finally meeting? Like any cousins have this immediate sisterly bond? Ugh. I'm all for a happy read, but when they meet, oh, and when they join their lockets together? It was like some bizarre Edwardian power rangers. "With the power of our lockets combined we can transmute everyone into happy lovey-dovey zombies!" Because really, what other power could that locket give? Oh, maybe it gives off a brainwashing vibe? Yeah, that could be why everyone doesn't ring true. OK, I'm going with that, they are all under some sort of mind control. That's the only answer.

While these perfect bonds, cousinly and otherwise, are what this book is ostensibly about it really comes down to a lack of dimension. And seriously, I believe in true love, I want a happy ending, most of the time, but it's all in the way it's told that makes the difference. Yes I believe in love at first sight. Did I buy the chauffeur and Beth's maid's instant love? No. Because it was comic book level. It was caricature. Just because you are writing for younger readers doesn't mean that you don't put in the time to tell a good story. Like after two days they'd upset their whole lives to be together? They both knew where the other worked, they could have taken their time instead of doing something reckless. Plus really show the connection, not just hint at them blushing and leave it at that. And that's what it all comes down to. The shallowness of the book makes it predictable and dull. Yes I'm not the age it was written for, but a good story is for all readers, and this isn't a good story. There's a part of me that wants to read the rest of the series just to be vindicated that I saw all the twists and turns like the time I bothered to watch The Village, but really why submit myself to that? I'm not a masochist. Well, OK, sometimes I am with my reading, but I think I can finally walk away from this series and call it a day. If you'd take my advice, don't ever walk towards this series.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book Review - Trisha Ashley's A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale by Trish Ashley
Published by: Avon
Publication Date: November 17th, 2008
Format: Paperback, 405 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Sophy Winter spent her formative years living in her family's stately home, Winter's End, until she was one day whisked away by her hippie mother without a backward glance. Her life then took on an itinerant feel, never really settling down until she got married and got pregnant. The pregnancy scared the husband off and she made do as a single mother working in great estates like the one she grew up in. Her daughter is now all grown up and teaching in Japan and Sophy is at loose ends, having lost her job and her home in a matter of minutes. That's when the miracle happens; she inherits Winter's End. A cousin she never knew about, Jack, has come to tell her of her good fortune and to offer to buy the house from her. He explains that Winter's End isn't in the best of shape, her grandfather funneled all the money into the restoration of the gardens at the expense of the house. Therefore Jack's solution would solve Sophy's money problems and sooth the wounds inflicted on Jack when he found out he only inherited the title. It's win win. But when Sophy arrives home she realizes she could never sell Winter's End, even to family. She doesn't care how desperately she needs to find money for it's upkeep or how upset Jack will be or how cantankerous the gardener Seth is, she only knows that she will find a way to do what is in the best interest of the house. Her home.

Several people over the years have recommended A Winter's Tale to me knowing of my love of grand English estates and chick lit. So the book had made it's way onto my shelves and languished, until this past December when it sounded like just the right read for a cold Christmas day. The thing is, there's not much Christmas in it... yes, Christmas is there, but it's almost an afterthought, the book actually getting it's title from Shakespeare not from being all yule. Yet for my love of country estates this was perfect. It's not so much a fairy tale as other books I've read go, though it would be a dream come true to inherit such a house, it's more a realistic fairy tale if that makes sense. We are given insight into the nuts and bolts of the day to day struggles to keep a grand house running. Basically the more down and dirty reality of owning Downton Abbey. Keeping the staff happy, keeping the house repaired, finding money to keep the restoration of the garden underway. Finding a happy balance between wants and needs. Prioritizing that which must get done. And cleaning. Seriously, the amount of cleaning a place like this takes, well, if you hadn't thought about it before in your fantasies about becoming on heiress, you will now. And not that that's a bad thing. In fact reading all about this minutiae, it gives you a stronger connection to this way of life than if you were to the manor born.

The minutiae is where this book lives. In the purchase of special beeswax for banisters and brushes for paintings. There's a languid feel that makes this book the perfect bedtime read. You slip into bed and you sink into the story that lulls you into a safe world of hard work with wonderful rewards. The pacing for most of the book continues on in this vein. Hundreds of pages of day by day tasks to have it abruptly changed. As Christmas nears the pace is picked up, soon we aren't spending languid days seeing the house brought back to life slowly, we're zooming along until it's later the next year at the happily ever after is thrust upon us. This is where the book kind of lost me. It's weird when the pace is abandoned in favor of some new narrative style. The book lost some of it's charm by changing tempo. I didn't feel as connected to these characters I had spent so much time forging a bond with. I felt like the bond was severed and I was left on the outside looking in as everything came together, but without me. Yes, if Trisha Ashley had continued the narrative style throughout A Winter's Tale might have been a doorstop of a book, but as I've said before and I'll say again, I don't care how long or how short a book is, it should be exactly as long as it takes to tell the story and do it justice. This book needs a little of the justice that came Jack's way.

Speaking of Jack. He is the major thorn in my side in this book. He is sleazy and scheming yet everyone thinks he's God's gift and why not let Jack have the house? He couldn't possibly do something underhanded, insert ominous music here. I give credit to Sophy that she stays the course, but there is too much of her waffling. Too many times she questions herself and doesn't stand up to Jack. So while Jack is the villain of the piece, with his dirty deals and his desperate ways, the main problem I have is that he illuminates the flaws of our heroine. Sophy is so strong of will and motivated by hard work I find it hard to believe that she'd buy any line coming out of Jack's mouth, no matter how seductive and silken. I mean, how can she be so naive? She just lost her job and her home because of a scheming relative of her employer and here she is in a similar situation and yet she's all, oh Jack, you're so pretty, you could never love frumpy me with my frizzy hair. Gaw. Just no. I know it's a staple of chick lit to have the to go to be true bad boy and the brooding good boy with the befuddled heroine in the middle not knowing what to do, but seriously? Sophy is so much stronger than the average Bridget Jones that I am baffled that she didn't call shenanigans sooner.

What sets this book apart from the run of the mill chick lit or Downtonesque book is the olde thyme stuff, IE Shakespeare! I admit about a few pages in I should have gotten that the title was from Shakespeare, given all the references in the text, but sometimes I'm not quite on the ball and as I mentioned before I seriously thought this was a Christmas book. This Shakespearean element also elevates the book to a kind of historical fiction chick lit fusion that is fun for fans of both genres. But the downside is that I think you'd have to be somewhat to fairly knowledgeable about Shakespeare and his life to get the personal references peppered throughout the story. The extracts from Alys Blezzard's journal are purposefully very cryptic and written for those with knowledge of the Bard. Therefore this book can be read on two levels, the plain old chick lit HEA, and the fusion level. Personally, if I was only reading it on the chick lit level without my knowledge of Shakespeare, I'm not sure I would have been as drawn into the book. It's the mystery woven throughout about Alys being dark of complexion, that connects with Shakespeare's sonnets to "The Dark Lady." The Shakespeare angle adds so much that without it I just don't know if it would work.

Yet that "Dark Lady" Alys is still a questionable addition to the book in my mind. Not her connection with Shakespeare, nothing like that. It's her "other" qualities. IE, the magic of it all. By bringing in a paranormal aspect I think it might be stretching the narrative's credulity to it's breaking point. The Shakespeare secret, the history of the family and the house, that's all well and good, but the magic? I could see it if there were just ghosts and Alys having been condemned as a witch, because well, any smart woman was a witch back then, but that magic... That tangible real magic that gives Sophy insight and visions. It's just a step too far. It's almost like this book so wanted to be everything that it threw in everything and the kitchen sink and sometimes enough is enough. Sometimes being descended from Shakespeare is a big enough twist. Sometimes getting your HEA is enough. And sometimes just saving your family estate is enough. There doesn't need to be "real" magic too. Because isn't everything else magical enough? Apparently not according to Trisha Ashley. But then again, some people just don't know where to draw the line, like Sophy with her "relationship" with Jack.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Downton Denial Denouement

And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain... Yes the time has come. The ultimate denial is about to set in. Because after that last gathering around the Christmas Tree while Thomas aids Carson (and no, I wouldn't count that as a spoiler she says with shifty eyes), the doors to the Abbey will close forever. Unless they need the money and do a movie, but still, it looks like the end and they're making all that money off the costumes touring, which is fabulous by the way so you should go. Back to previous train of thought, the end was so good that it should be the end. So let's say it is the end, big ominous capital letters and all, The End. Therefore you need something to fill that gaping void more than ever. I am here to fill that void, and no, stop with the naughty thoughts. Stop it. I know how you feel and I have tried to find solace in books to take away the pangs. Therefore, for the last time, unless I'm desperate come next February, which let's face it, I probably will be, I give you the denouement of Downton Denial! A month full of books I've read and some of which you should read if just to capture that elusive magic that Downton Abbey brought into our lives every Sunday night for the last six years. Here's to Downton!

Tuesday Tomorrow

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
Published by: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The enchantment continues...

The universe of the Lunar Chronicles holds stories - and secrets - that are wondrous, vicious, and romantic. How did Cinder first arrive in New Beijing? How did the brooding soldier Wolf transform from young man to killer? When did Princess Winter and the palace guard Jacin realize their destinies? With nine stories - five of which have never before been published - and an exclusive never-before-seen excerpt from Marissa Meyer's upcoming novel, Heartless, about the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Stars Above is essential for fans of the bestselling and beloved Lunar Chronicles."

Even if I wasn't addicted to this world and needed to read all that I can get my hands on, all the new stories! Oh, and rumors of a royal wedding in one! Oh stars!

Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron
Published by: Plume
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Jane Austen turns sleuth in this delightful Regency-era mystery

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

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

Um, yes please! Anything Austen if you don't mind.

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