Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Spring for Susannah by Catherine Richmond

Teaser Tuesdays is a fun meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To participate, grab the book you're currently reading, open to a random page and share a few sentences (no spoilers!)

I'm currently reading the novel Spring for Susannah by debut author Catherine Richmond. It is SO good--romantic, sweet and very moving (review coming soon.) Today's teaser comes from page 2000 of the Kindle version:

"Now she knew how a prize heifer felt at the county fair. Behind her in the store, Mrs. Rose plowed on at full volume."

What are you reading this week?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Juliet by Anne Fortier

When Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy, she is told it will lead her to an old family treasure. Soon she is launched on a winding and perilous journey into the history of her ancestor Giulietta, whose legendary love for a young man named Romeo rocked the foundations of medieval Siena. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in Shakespeare’s unforgettable blood feud, she begins to realize that the notorious curse—“A plague on both your houses!”—is still at work, and that she is the next target. It seems that the only one who can save Julie from her fate is Romeo—but where is he? (summary from cover).

I read a lot of favorable reviews of Juliet when it came out last year, but just got around to reading it. It was the perfect book for traveling--let's just say I didn't want the plane flight to end! I felt like I was on the hunt with Julie as she uncovered clues about her true identity and tried to unravel the tangled legacy of her family and their relationship to an ancient curse.

The format of alternating between the present day and the events of 1340 that led to Shakespeare's famous play kept my interest, and I loved that the characters were all three-dimensional and complex. Both the hero and heroine have things in their past they'd rather not share, and other characters blur the line between good and evil. The relationship between Julie and her twin sister Janice was especially well-written, as they move from being bitter childhood rivals to working together and finally understanding each other better.

Beautiful Siena
Fortier's writing evoked the lush countryside around Siena and made me want to hop on a plan to Italy immediately. The mix of superstition and family loyalty in the Sienese was really interesting, as was the importance of the Palio, a horse race that still takes place today. I wish the author had explained some of the Italian architectural terms she used (like loggia) as I sometimes had trouble visualizing where the scene was taking place, but that was a minor issue with an otherwise engaging book.

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars. This is a wonderful book for these last remaining weeks of summer or any time you want to escape into a different place and time. If you love history, mystery or romance (or all three) I would recommend reading Juliet.

Details: 480 pages, published by Ballantine, July 2011
Source: personal copy

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Teaser Tuesday!

Teaser Tuesdays is a fun meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To participate, grab the book you're currently reading, open to a random page and share a few sentences (no spoilers!)

http://img2.imagesbn.com/images/97050000/97058357.JPGThis week I'm reading Juliet by Anne Fortier. The story is a great mix of history, mystery and romance and I'm anxious to leave work and get back to reading! From page 23:

"The memory of Aunt Rose sitting next to me and in her own sweet way telling me to get a life sent another pang through my heart. Staring glumly through the greasy little airplane window into the void outside, I found myself wondering if perhaps this whole trip was meant as some kind of punishment for how I had treated her."

What are you reading this week?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Faith and Fiction Roundtable: Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

Lacey Anne Byer is a perennial good girl and lifelong member of the House of Enlightenment, the Evangelical church in her small town. With her driver's license in hand and the chance to try out for a lead role in Hell House, her church's annual haunted house of sin, Lacey's junior year is looking promising. But when a cute new stranger comes to town, something begins to stir inside her. Ty Davis doesn't know the sweet, shy Lacey Anne Byer everyone else does. With Ty, Lacey could reinvent herself. As her feelings for Ty make Lacey test her boundaries, events surrounding Hell House make her question her religion (summary from cover).

The Faith and Fiction Roundtable hosted by My Friend Amy recently read and discussed the YA novel Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker, which focused on perennial good girl Lacey's coming-of-age during her church's annual production of a Hell House. I had a hard time relating to Lacey as a character, and her voice never really rang true for me. I also found the characters a little flat and one-dimensional, especially the adults like Lacey's father, the church's children's pastor. However, I appreciated that Walker left Lacey's spiritual journey open-ended at the conclusion of the book. Faith is such a complicated and personal thing, and I think we'll never have all the answers or our doubts fully resolved this side of heaven. This questioning made Small Town Sinners seem much more authentic.

Faith and Fiction

I personally have never been to a Hell House, but I remember being absolutely terrified after hearing about one my friends went to when we were in middle school (one room involved a young girl screaming for her mother and being told she'd never see her again or something to that effect). I appreciated that this book brought up the subject, because I think hell is a topic that many people have differing opinions about and often find hard to comprehend, myself included. Rob Bell's recent book Love Wins caused a stir when it was released because of his interpretation that Hell is caused by bad choices and that God sentencing someone to Hell for rejecting Him goes against His loving nature. I've found a lot of comfort reading the writings of C.S. Lewis and Dr. Tim Keller on the subject, and of course the Bible. The idea of a Hell House being such a big part of a church's outreach and mission was definitely interesting to think about, whatever flaws I may have found with the writing and characters.

Check out some of the other Roundtable members' thoughts: Heather, Amy, Ronnica, Carrie K, WordLily,

Source: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Teaser Tuesday!

Teaser Tuesdays is a fun meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To participate, grab the book you're currently reading, open to a random page and share a few sentences (no spoilers!)

I'm in the middle of Surrender the Dawn, the final book in MaryLu Tyndall's Surrender to Destiny series set in Baltimore during the War of 1812. I was so excited to get this book through NetGalley and have been flying through it. From page 671 (of the Kindle version):

"Noah stood to greet him as the butler continued, 'And Mr. Luke Heaton.' Dressed in the same black breeches and leather boots he's been wearing earlier, Mr. Heaton strode into the parlor as if he were the owner of a fleet of ships instead of a lone crumbling heap of wood and tar."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Meghan Gurdon, I Agree With You!

I'm a little late joining in the fray relating to Meghan Cox Gurdon's June 4 article about the state of YA fiction, "Darkness Too Visible," but with the author releasing a follow-up article today, I felt like offering my take on it (for the record, I am not a parent or in the YA demographic, I'm just speaking from my own experience as someone who cares about what the kids in my life are reading.) The original article, where Gurdin argued that "teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is", caused an uproar and spawned the #YAsaves hashtag on Twitter, where opponents have written things like "Thank you to my mother 4 respecting me enough as a kid to leave me alone w books & choose 4 myself" and "I find some YA books 2 dark&depressing 2 read myself.My 13-yr-old loves them.Parents don't always know what's good for their kids."

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a stable, loving family, where reading was encouraged and I didn't have to grow up too fast. I understand that for many teenagers, this is unfortunately not the case, and some may find solace in dark YA literature that mimics their problems. I'm certainly not advocating censoring books with darker themes, or making the generalization that all YA books dealing with tough topics like bullying or rape are bad. I just disagree with the tone that many of these books take, and I'm not sure that it really helps struggling teens to read books where the protagonists are going through cruel and unnatural experiences with sex, alcohol and drugs. As Gurdin says,

"For families, the calculus is less crude than some notion of fictional inputs determining factual outputs; of monkey read, monkey do. It has more to do with a child's happiness and tenderness of heart, with what furnishes the young mind. If there is no frigate like a book, as Emily Dickinson wrote, it's hardly surprising that parents might prefer their teenagers to sail somewhere other than to the lands of rape, substance abuse and mutilation."

The idea of protecting a child's "tenderness of heart" really struck me. When I think of the books that I read as a kid-- the Saddle Club series, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, The Yearling-- I think of learning about friendship, bravery, ingenuity and working to overcome obstacles. That doesn't mean that these books were filled with characters free of trouble or heartache. Harry Potter certainly endured a great deal of sadness and loss, and even the saccharine Nancy Drew lost her mother when she was a baby. But these stories are uplifting and provide the comforting sense that even when things seem darkest, good triumphs and all is right in the world.

The bottom line is that this doesn't seem to be a trend that is going away any time soon. I just glanced over Publisher's Weekly's reviews of upcoming children's novels, and they include books featuring teen pregnancy, a teenage drug addict with no parents, a foster child in a group home, "grisly murders" and a teen "scarred and silent years after a childhood disappearance." That means it is up to parents to take responsibility for what their children read, and determine whether something will enrich their child's understanding of life, with all its good and bad aspects, or whether it only subvert it.

What do you think?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and committed the largest art heist in history. They stole a dozen masterpieces, including one Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and five Degas. But after thousands of leads—and a $5 million reward—none of the paintings have been recovered. 

After the death of famed art detective Harold Smith, reporter Ulrich Boser decided to take up the case. Exploring Smith's unfinished leads, Boser travels deep into the art underworld and comes across a remarkable cast of characters, including a brilliant rock 'n' roll thief, a gangster who professes his innocence in rhyming verse, and the enigmatic late Boston heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner herself (summary from Goodreads).

One of my reading resolutions for 2011 was to read more non-fiction, a genre I normally don't give as much attention to since I find a lot of the books very dry. However, I love a good mystery (especially one involving art theft- it must be due to my early watching of How to Steal A Million with Audrey Hepburn) and it's amazing that after 21 years this case is still unsolved. And with last week's capture of mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, who was suspected of being involved in the theft, this case has been back in the headlines recently. It's always cool when real life intersects with what you're reading at the moment!
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt
The Gardner Heist introduces a wide range of potential suspects and investigators, from prolific thief Myles Conner and his lawyer Marty Leppo to the Cockney nicknamed "Turbo" who aids in the investigation. Though I occasionally lost track of who was who (especially the law enforcement officers) I enjoyed the way the book was organized, with chapters focusing on certain people and their role in the case and then tying them back into the bigger picture of the theft. It heightened the suspense and helped keep the story moving.

Boser occasionally adopts a grandiose tone with regards to the theft and the importance of the art, and his descriptions sometimes verge on the overly dramatic (one character eats ribs "gnawing each bone as clean as a sun-bleached skeleton"). However, I wasn't at all familiar with the case or the missing paintings before I read The Gardner Heist, but by the end I found myself feeling the loss of the artwork and wishing I could see The Storm on the Sea of Galilee or Vermeer's The Concert in person. 

Chez Tortoni, Manet
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. The Gardner Heist is a readable and interesting account of the theft and the following investigation that offer several compelling theories on who might have taken the priceless paintings. Boser still maintains a website where people can submit tips and find out more information about the case: http://theopencase.com/gardner.

Details: published by HarperCollins, 2009
Source: library copy

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'm Back/Free Fiction for Kindle

Whew! It has been a while since my last post...thanks to those of y'all who have stuck with me. I plan on posting some reviews later this week, but until then here are some of the great books currently available for free through Amazon (if you don't have a Kindle you can download free software to read the ebooks on your computer).

Surrender the Heart by MaryLu Tyndall
Publisher: Barbour 

I really enjoyed this book set in Baltimore during the War of 1812 (check out my review here) and am looking forward to the third book in the series, Surrender the Dawn, coming out in August.

This Fine Life by Eva Marie Everson
Publisher: Revell

I've heard great things about this novel set in the 1960s, so I'm looking forward to reading it.

Gods and Kings (Book 1 of The Chronicles of the Kings series) by Lynn Austin
Publisher: Bethany House

Ditto for this. My mom told me about Gods and Kings ages ago so I'm looking forward to starting the series.


The Swan House (Book 1 in The Swan House Series) by Elizabeth Musser
Publisher: Bethany House

This coming-of-age novel set in 1950s Atlanta sounds really interesting.


I, Spy? (Book 1 in the Sophie Green Mysteries) by Kate Johnson
Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Limited

This looks like a fun mystery about a British girl recruited to join a secretive government agency.

All of these books were free as of Wednesday morning.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review: The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

In her twenties, Emily Wilson was on top of the world: she had a bestselling novel, a husband plucked from the pages of GQ, and a one-way ticket to happily ever after. Ten years later, the tide has turned on Emily's good fortune. So when her great-aunt Bee invites her to spend the month of March on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, Emily accepts, longing to be healed by the sea. Researching her next book, Emily discovers a red velvet diary, dated 1943, whose contents reveal startling connections to her own life (summary from back cover).

About Sarah Jio:
Sarah is a veteran magazine writer and the health and fitness blogger for Glamour magazine, a role she’s had for nearly three years. In addition, she is a women’s health contributor to Womansday.comthe web site of Woman’s Day magazine. She has written hundreds of articles for national magazines and top newspapers including Redbook, O, The Oprah Magazine, Cooking Light, Glamour, SELF, Real Simple, Fitness, Marie Claire, Hallmark magazine, Seventeen, The Nest, Health, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, The Seattle Times, Parents, Parenting, and Kiwi. In addition, Sarah is a monthly columnist for American Baby. She has also appeared as a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you can probably tell that I'm obsessed with anything set in the WWII era, so I was excited when I was asked to review Sarah Jio's The Violets of March. The book features a mysterious diary written in 1943, and though WWII ended up playing only a minor role in the story, I enjoyed this wonderful novel nonetheless.  

It took me about 50 pages to really get into the story, due mostly to the occasionally awkward writing and metaphors ("' We almost didn't make it home that night,' he said, his eyes like portals into the forgotten memories of my youth.") However, I was soon caught up in the developing love story and the mysteries surrounding the diary that Emily finds. I found Emily to be a admirable character, who learns from her mistakes and has the clarity to listen to the voice inside her. Though she has the tendency to jump to conclusions easily (like the author of the mysterious diary) she also knows herself.

I also enjoyed the gently suspenseful tone of the book and the mystery surrounding the diary. When I thought I had figured out how the pieces all fit together, something happened to change my mind. The ending was thoughtful and bittersweet and I enjoyed seeing all of the loose ends tied up neatly, but not too predictably. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. While it sometimes got bogged down by clunky writing, The Violets of March was a lovely book with a mix of mystery, romance, and likeable characters. I look forward to reading the author's next book, The Bungalow (to be released in spring 2013).

Details: published by Plume, April 2011 

Source: Thanks to Sarah Jio and Plume for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: Surrender the Heart by MaryLu Tyndall

Relive the rich history of the War of 1812 through the eyes of Marianne Denton and Noah Brenin, who both long to please their families but neither one wishes to marry the other. Noah is determined to get his cargo to England before war breaks out, and Marianne is equally determined to have a wedding so that her inheritance can be unlocked and her destitute family saved. When their stubborn games get them captured by a British warship, can they escape and bring liberty to their country--and growing love? (summary from marylutyndall.com)

This probably wasn't the best book to read while touring France, since I found myself eagerly wanting to get back to the hotel so I could read more of Marianne and Noah's story. It's that good!

I loved the character of Marianne and found myself relating to so many of her struggles and insecurities. She thinks of herself as no great beauty, and after experiencing personal tragedy and hardship has resigned herself to expecting nothing more than an ordinary life. When circumstances land her on her reluctant fiance's merchant ship sailing to England, she has to face her past and the issues that have haunted her. There were a few times where I was frustrated by her lack of trust, but that really showed the power anxiety can have over us. When she finally trusts God enough to face her fears and fulfill her destiny it is a really nice moment.

Though Noah starts out as a somewhat unlikeable character (at least in terms of his treatment of Marianne) he becomes an admirable hero. He is burdened by guilt over his brother's death and his family's expectations but possesses a strength of character and a willingness to stand up for what is right. I loved that Noah slowly comes to admire Marianne's courage and kindness and realizes just how beautiful she really is. I'm always a sucker for the "dislike turning into attraction" storyline (aka Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy), and Surrender the Heart delivered that in spades.

In terms of the historical backdrop, I really enjoyed Tyndall setting the book in the months leading up to the War of 1812. That war often seems like just a blip on the history of the U.S., but she shows how critical a victory was to our very young nation and how unmatched we seemed to be against the British. It made me want to read more about the contest and America during that time.

A few minor issues with the story... for the most part, I thought that the character's journeys toward faith were realistic and heartfelt, but there were a few instances where everything seemed to fall into place too quickly. It was like one minute a character was burdened by guilt and the next they were suddenly free. I know that God is capable of radically changing people's hearts, but it seemed a little fast. Also, I hated how Noah occasionally referred to Marianne as "princess." Maybe it's just a weird quirk of mine but I squirmed every time he called her by that name (which luckily was only three or four instances in the book.)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. This book kept me totally riveted with its mix of romance and adventure set against the first months of the War of 1812. The characters were likable and relatable and I was caught up in their love story.

Details: published by Barbour, August 2010. Book 1 in the Surrender to Destiny series.
Source: personal copy

Monday, April 11, 2011

J'Adore France...

Sorry for the nearly month-long hiatus... between getting ready for my trip to France and traveling I haven't had much time for blogging. However, I was able to get a fair amount of reading done on my vacation so reviews will be coming soon. Below are a few of my favorite pictures from my trip to France!

Rodin's "The Thinker" with the Invalides in the  background

Petit Trianon at Versailles

Monday, March 14, 2011

Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

When the credits rolled at the end of a sold-out showing of Jane Eyre this past weekend, my friend and I turned to each other and said "huh." I think we were both torn between loving the movie and feeling vaguely let down by it. First and foremost, Mia Wasikowska is fantastic as Jane. I've seen 2 other adaptions (the 2006 version with Ruth Wilson and the 1943 version with Joan Fontaine), and Wasikowska's portrayal is by far my favorite. She perfectly embodies the strong will and spirit that hides beneath the plain (OK, plain for an actress in a big budget movie) exterior. The exchange between Jane and Rochester when he calls her into the drawing room on his return to Thornfield ("do you think me handsome?" "no, sir.") crackles with energy and you can see his regard for her growing as she speaks with him.

I also found Michael Fassbender's Rochester to be wonderfully complex. Yes, he is enigmatic and often harsh (I've never liked in the book and movie how he openly dislikes Adele), but there is a tenderness here that makes him more human than other versions of the character. When Bertha flies at him he restrains her almost compassionately, and it is a testament to Fassbender's acting that he conveys how Rochester despises Bertha and his awful mistake in marrying her but cannot act cruelly towards her. In the scene where Rochester tries to convince Jane to stay with him after their failed wedding you can sense his anguish and the almost herculean strength she needs to overcome his offer.

The cinematography work by Adriano Goldman is stunning. Thornfield Hall comes alive, both in the dreariness of winter and the lightness of spring and summer, and I really got a feel of what it might be like to live a monotonous life in an isolated mansion with only an older woman and child for company. This version definitely amps up the gothic elements and the creepiness of the house and is well-served by strong supporting characters (Jamie Bell as St. John Rivers and the fabulous Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax are the two obvious standouts, but Sally Hawkins is also wonderfully icy as Mrs. Reed).

So why didn't I absolutely love it? Obviously, trying to condense a 500-page book into 115 minutes on screen means that certain parts of the story will be edited out, but I was puzzled by the scenes that were omitted. The most glaring one was leaving out that Jane and the Rivers siblings are cousins. Instead, Jane gives away 3/4 of her inheritance due to their kindness in taking her in (at least that's what I assumed, as it never was really explained). Also, while there is a tender scene with Jane returning to the remains of Thornfield and the now-blinded Rochester, there is no epilogue to show that they married and he eventually regained sight in one eye. I think if I hadn't read and enjoyed the book so much, I would have absolutely adored this movie. As such I enjoyed it immensely but felt it couldn't measure up to the powerful and affecting emotion of Bronte's original story.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Jane Eyre Featurette

Sorry if it feels a bit like Jane Eyre week at Roving Reads, but I am ridiculously excited for the new movie, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, which releases in my area this weekend. I found this featurette on the making of the movie on Focus Features' website, complete with interviews with Mia and Michael and a few new images from the film.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I finally finished Jane Eyre this weekend, and absolutely loved it! It is a wonderfully romantic novel that also deals with weighty issues like faith, sin, and death. The story is so well-known that there's no need for a review, but I thought I'd touch on some of my favorite themes or moments in the book (note: this post contains some mild spoilers, so if you haven't read the book or don't want to know the story stop now!)

- Jane is in some ways a thoroughly modern heroine, able to take care of herself and remain upright through enormous hardships. She gives freely of forgiveness and love though she has been shown few of those mercies herself, and she knows her own mind and isn't swayed by stronger personalities. When Rochester tries to persuade Jane to live with him as his mistress, she is sorely tempted but knows the pleasure of giving in would not outweigh the consequences:

"...while he spoke, my very conscience and reason turned traitors against me, and charged me with crime in resisting him. They spoke almost as loud as Feeling; and that clamored wildly. “Oh, comply!” it said. “Think of his misery; think of his danger—look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong nature; consider the recklessness following on despair—soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him, and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?”

Still indomitable was the reply—“I care for myself. The more solitary the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?"

- I enjoyed the multi-layed presentation of Christians and faith. There are examples of people who are esteemed as Christians but really have none of the qualities, like Mr. Brocklehurst. St. John has the fire and the passion to do great things for God, but he expects perfection out of himself and others and isn't able to temper his  expectations with compassion. Jane clings to the law of God as she resists Mr. Rochester in the above passage and realizes she has made him the center of her universe: "I could not, in those days, see God for his creature of whom I had made an idol."

- Neither Jane or Rochester are conventionally attractive, but in the other's eyes they are beautiful. She tenderly cares for him when he loses his sight, and he in turns adores her. Don't we all long to be judged more for our inner selves than for outward appearances? As Mary says on hearing that Rochester and Jane were married, “she'll happen do better for him nor any o’ t’ grand ladies.” And again, “If she ben't one o’ th’ handsomest, she's noan faĆ¢l and varry good-natured; and i’ his een she's fair beautiful, onybody may see that.”

Rochester (Toby Stephens) and Jane (Ruth Wilson)
 Over the weekend I watched the 2006 Masterpiece adaption with Toby Stephens as Rochester and Ruth Wilson as Jane. For the most part I really enjoyed it, though I wondered at several of the plot changes that seemed unnecessary (instead of dressing as the gypsy fortune-teller, Rochester pays a real one to entertain/question the ladies, St. John finds Jane on the moor instead of her collapsing outside Moor House, Jane has no knowledge of Rochester's injuries before she arrives at Ferndean). I can't wait for the new adaption, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, which from the looks of the trailer below seems to play up the gothic aspects of the story.

source: personal copy. This book was one of my selections for Subtle Melodrama's 2011 Victorian Literature Reading Challenge.

It's Monday-What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've read the previous week and what we're planning to read this week. It's a great way to see what others are reading (and add more books to the TBR pile!)

It's been a while since I've participated in this meme (unfortunately I haven't had much time to read lately) but I'm glad to be back this week!

Finished Last Week:

 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Though the novel started off slowly for me I quickly became caught up in the story of Jane and her mysterious employer Edward Fairfax Rochester. I'm eagerly waiting for the movie coming out next week! This was one of my selections for the Victorian Literature Challenge at Subtle Melodrama-review/wrap-up post to come.

Currently Reading:

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty. Welty's writing is so descriptive and evocative of the Mississippi Delta during the 1920s: "Grass softly touched her legs and her garter rosettes, growing sweet and springy for this was the country. On the narrow little walk along the front of the house, hung over with closing lemon lilies, there was a quieting and vanishing of sound. It was not yet dark. The sky was the color of violets, and the snow-white moon in the sky had not yet begun to shine (p.6)."

Up Next:

Scaramouche (thanks for the suggestion Ruth!) or Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik to start getting excited about my trip to France!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday- Favorite Love Stories

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic: Top Ten Favorite Love Stories (mine are listed in no particular order). 

Happy belated Valentine's Day! Sorry for the blogging hiatus... work/life/etc. has been crazy the past few weeks!

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen- I love, love, love this story of second chances between Capt. Frederick Wentworth and Anne Eliot. I know many people have a differing opinion but I am a huge fan of the 2008 BBC version starring Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- How can you not mention the grande dame of romantic literature? I periodically re-read this and am always amazed at Austen's perceptive view of people and how Darcy and Elizabeth grow and change over the course of the story.

3. East of the Sun by Julia Gregson- A wonderful novel about three young women who leave England for India in the waning years of colonial rule and their ensuing romantic complications. Each grows over the course of the story and finds the relationship that is right for them.

4. A Distant Melody by Sarah Sundin- Probably my favorite book of 2010. Walt and Allie, the main characters, are wonderful and I was totally swept up in their sweet love story based on a deep friendship.

5. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell- I grew up with a Southern mom who adored this movie and when I finally read the book I loved it just as much as the film version. It has it all--passion, danger, scheming, war, romance, etc.

6. The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig- Letty and Geoff have always been my favorite of the Pink Carnation couples. A forced marriage brought on by a misunderstanding turns to love, and it's fun to read how they overcome their initial perceptions of each other.

7. North and South by Elizabeth Gasskell- I'm working off of only the movie version (the book is on my very long TBR list) but I love this story of how Margaret and John overcome their prejudices against each other. And can you beat Richard Armitage as John Thornton? So dreamy!

8. Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane in the Lady Julia mysteries by Deanna Raybourn- I've loved reading how their relationship develops over the course of the series and seeing how two very different people spark off each other.

9. Amelia Sedley Osborne and William Dobbin in Vanity Fair by William Thackeray- Thackeray is definitely viewing these characters through a sarcastic eye, but it's still great to see how steadfast Dobbin is in his love for Amelia, even as she holds onto an idealized version of her dead husband and is blind to his help. It's a nice moment when she realizes her husband was no angel and rushes to meet Dobbin at the pier.

10. Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling- Sure, I was glad to see Harry and Ginny end up together, but the relationship between brainy Hermione and the lovable and often clueless Ron has always been my favorite. When they finally share a kiss during the Battle of Hogwarts I felt like I'd been waiting the whole series! I can't wait for the movie version this summer... 

What are your favorite love stories?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Review: The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig

Laura Grey, a veteran governess, joins the Selwick Spy School expecting to find elaborate disguises and thrilling exploits in service to the spy known as the Pink Carnation. She hardly expects her first assignment to be serving as governess for the children of Andre Jaouen, right-hand man to Bonaparte's minister of police. Jaouen and his arch rival, Gaston Delaroche, are investigating a suspected Royalist plot to unseat Bonaparte, and Laura's mission is to report any suspicious findings.At first the job is as lively as Latin textbooks and knitting, but Laura begins to notice strange behavior from Jaouen-secret meetings and odd comings and goings. As Laura edges herself closer to her employer, she makes a shocking discovery and is surprised to learn that she has far more in common with Jaouen than she originally thought...(summary from goodreads)

don't know how she does it, but Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series continues to get better and better. I loved that at ages 36 and 32 respectively, Andre and Laura are both older than the other Pink heroes and heroines and therefore more mature and slightly world-weary. 16 years of providing for herself by working as a governess has left Laura cynical and stubborn, while Andre is a man of many secrets weighed down by his job as assistant to the Prefect of Police. Neither of them are perfect, and I loved watching their romance develop as Laura begins to soften and her competence and smarts win the admiration of Jaouen.

I enjoyed the cast of secondary characters as well, like the flamboyant and jovial Monsieur Daubier and the crotchety nurserymaid Jeannette. Willig also deftly weaves in a few scenes with the hero and heroine of the next Pink Carnation book, Augustus Whittlesby and Emma Delagardie. It was fun to get a sneak peek of how their romance will begin (rather contentiously it seems).

Author Lauren Willig

As with Willig's other books, The Silver Orchid is obviously well-researched and grounded in real-life historical events. The edgy environment of suspicion in Bonaparte's Paris was perfectly captured and I felt like I was in the salons and gardens with the main characters. The only part of the book that didn't hold my attention as well was the contemporary storyline with Eloise and Colin. I normally enjoy their chapters but I couldn't help wanting the story to move along so I could get back to Laura and Andre! Overall, however, Willig has mastered how to blend the modern and historical storylines so that they each complement each other. If you've never read any of her books I highly recommend you start.

On a side note, there's an interesting interview with the author here about the journey to the final cover for The Orchid Affair, from the publisher's decision to go for a more contemporary look to one that more resembles the rest of the series' fine art covers (which I love-- I don't think I would have picked up the first book in the series if it had a "traditional romance" cover).

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Another witty and fun romance with flawed yet appealing characters who I truly liked and an intelligent and well-written story. I can't wait for the next book (which unfortunately won't be released until January 2012)!

source: personal copy

Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's Monday-- What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've read the previous week and what we're planning to read this week. It's a great way to see what others are reading (and add more books to the TBR pile!)

Finished This Week:

The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig (review coming soon). It was fabulous and now I'm wishing I didn't have to wait so long for her next book! Is it January 2012 yet? 

Currently Reading:
Reading Jackie by William Kuhn and Certain Women by Madeleine L'Engle, the first selection for the 2011 Faith and Fiction roundtable. Also getting back into Jane Eyre after a little hiatus!

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Defense of the Sentimental

The Wall Street Journal ran a lovely article last Saturday on the enduring popularity of Maud Hart Lovelace's books from the 1940s and 50s, which have recently been re-released by Harper Perennial. I never read the books as a child, but this article and reviews by other bloggers has made me want to read them now. It also makes me long for more YA literature that doesn't contain vampires, mean girls, abusive parents, adolescent sex or other topics that seem currently to be popular. I know that young adults are not immune from troubles and that realistic and gritty books have an important role. But there's also something to be said for not exposing children and teens to weighty issues before their time. While Lovelace's novels might seem sentimental, Alexandra Mullen says that "one of the pleasures of reading Lovelace's work, in fact, is witnessing the many varieties of happy families and seeing in particular the kindness of fathers."

"Lovelace's books show people discovering how to be good, but the books themselves are not goody-goody or preachy. They focus on everyday matters, from playing with paper dolls to keeping a diary to feasting on midnight sandwiches in the kitchen with high-school friends. Within such activities, Lovelace reminds us, we learn a great deal about the ways of the world and the governing of our hearts." 

Did you read Lovelace's books when you were younger? Do you plan to read them now?

You can read the full article from the Wall Street Journal here.