Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Darcy’s Voyage by Kara Louise

What if Darcy and Elizabeth had a far different first meeting than what took place in Pride and Prejudice? How would it have changed the events that occurred in that classic novel? This is the premise for Darcy’s Voyage by Kara Louise.

Elizabeth and Darcy first meet in a post carriage ride. Both are smitten with each other and have a witty exchange about books and other things. Neither manages to get the name of the other and they go their separate ways. Two years later, Elizabeth is taking a voyage to America to visit with her beloved Uncle and Aunt Gardiner. Uncle and Aunt Gardiner are in America for a business trip. Unfortunately Jane gets seasick, so Elizabeth is forced to make the journey alone. Darcy’s sister Georgiana has traveled to America with her companion, Mrs. Annesley, to visit Mrs. Annesley’s family. Mrs. Annesley has fallen ill and is going to stay with her family; therefore Darcy is making the trip to America to escort Georgiana home. Darcy and Elizabeth meet again on the ship and sparks fly, although at first they have mutual misunderstandings about one another.

The voyage to America becomes a very romantic voyage for Darcy and Elizabeth. I don’t want to reveal the plot of the novel, but suffice it to say that it changes the course of the original novel. After they lose touch with each other in America, they meet back up in England and the course of the original Pride and Prejudice novel is forever changed by their prior connections. Through misunderstandings and pride, the two are apart at first, but eventually true love triumphs overall.

I enjoyed this novel and especially loved the romance of Elizabeth and Darcy throughout the novel. The book was very romantic. Mr. Darcy was enough to make any woman swoon over. It was also interesting to see how the course of the original novel could be changed by a far different meeting between the two characters.

The only problem I had with the novel was that I thought it was very highly improbable that Elizabeth would be either in the carriage or on the ship unchaperoned. Daughters of gentleman did not go out in public unchaperoned at that time and I just can’t imagine Mr. Bennet letting Elizabeth out alone. I also thought it was a little strange that Elizabeth traveled in steerage on the way to America.

Overall, Darcy’s Voyage was a delight to read and imagine a “what if” scenario where Darcy and Elizabeth have a wonderful romance on the sea. Darcy's Voyage will be released by Sourcebooks on September 7th.

This is my first item for the Everything Austen Challenge II.

Kara Louise will be on Laura’s Reviews for an interview and Darcy’s Voyage book giveaway this Friday September 3rd. Please come back and check it out!

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier

When I finished The Season of Second Chances, I felt bereft. The Season of Second Chances was a wonderful novel that I enjoyed reading. I enjoyed it so much that I ripped through the book reading it too late into the night and finishing it in record speed during a busy work week. After I finished it, I regretted only that it didn’t continue on as I loved the story and characters so much, it was hard to let them go.

The Season of Second Chances is a unique story that I really loved. Joy Harkness is a middle-aged literature professor at Columbia University. She loves and excels at her work, but doesn’t really feel connected to anyone. When a professor she admires, Bernadette Lowell, offers her a chance to move to Amherst College in Massachusetts and be a part of an innovative new curriculum on learning, Joy jumps at the chance. She impetuously buys an old, large, falling down Victorian house and quickly moves up from her small New York apartment. I love the scene where she moves in and the house springs a giant leak.

Realizing that something needs to be done about the state of her house, Joy hires Teddy Hennessy to fix her house. Teddy is a unique individual that knows the history and design of old houses. He has an impeccable eye when it comes to interior design and works wonders with the house . . . and with Joy.

Joy finds life changing for herself at Amherst and becomes involved with a great new group of friends. She has a growth of personal relationships and self. Through her time there, Joy really has a “coming-of-age” at mid-age. She learns that to be a feminist, one does not need to give up everything that is feminine.

It is really hard to describe this novel as it was so unique and I do not want to give away the entire plot of the novel. It was a great story and I really loved the style in which it was written. Meier has beautiful prose throughout the novel.

Some of my favorite quotes were:

“What became apparent in my conversations with Teddy was my acceptance of a kind of snobbery I thought I’d avoided: the notion that accessible writers and authors were hacks.”

I love this quote. I think there is a lot of snobbery that exists, especially in academia about “accessible” writers. It saddens me that a lot of great female authors from the past have been dismissed and have slipped into obscurity for just such reasons. One example is Fannie Hurst. I read a compilation of her short stories a few years ago and it was wonderful. The stories gave a glimpse of working class girls’ lives in the 1920 and 30’s.

“There is the family you’re born with, my dear – ad then there is the family you choose.”

This quote is so true. While you’ll never forget your birth family, I’ve found wherever you move you make a “family” of friends too that you can count on during times of trial.

There is also a great section about style, where two of the characters discuss that one doesn’t need to be afraid of style to be a feminist woman. There are too many good quotes in this section just to pick out one!

I also loved that since Joy is a literature professor she talks about a lot of my favorite authors such as Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. The discussions are like small diamonds throughout the text that I really enjoyed reading.

Overall, The Season of Second Chances is a wonderful novel with a great story, fantastic characters, and great prose. I highly recommend it.

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Evelyn at Interpersonal Frequency LLC. Thank-you!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer Review on Austenprose!

I am a guest reviewer today on Austenprose for Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer as part of the Celebrating Georgette Heyer month. If you like funny novels, and enjoyed Austen, but are looking for something new - I suggest picking up a Georgette Heyer novel! Heyer's novels are great regency romances filled with great with and great historical detail.
Sprig Muslin is a light and funny Regency novel that showcases Georgette Heyer’s wit. I really enjoyed it and it made me laugh out loud several times! Sprig Muslin was first published in 1956, but the novel is set in 1813. The main action of the novel takes place in London, Chatteris (in the Fenland District of Cambridgeshire, England) and the roads in between.

This novel tells the tale of Sir Gareth Ludlow. His high spirited fiancée died in an accident many years previous to the start of the novel. Gary has decided he will never find love again and to just marry a friend, Lady Hester Theale, for convenience. Lady Hester is 29 and labeled an old maid – she also has ideas of her own about getting married!
For the rest of the review, please click here to read it on Austenprose and also leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Sprig Muslin!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich

Stephanie Plum and her hilarious crew of friends and family continue their adventures in Janet Evanovich’s Sizzling Sixteen. Stephanie is a bounty hunter employed by her slimy cousin Vincent “Vinnie” Plum. When Vinnie is kidnapped and held for ransom, Stephanie with her friends and co-workers Lula and Connie must find a way to bail him out or rescue him. Otherwise they are out of a job! Vinnie has done a good job through the years of not making too many friends and alienating people, which makes the trio on their own in their rescue efforts. Along the way Stephanie also has a few hilarious skips that she tries to track down in order to make some cash.

As with all other Stephanie Plum novels, Stephanie still finds herself in the midst of a love triangle. Stephanie and handsome undercover cop Joe Morelli are on the off phase of their on-again off-again relationship. Though they can’t quite remember what they argued about and spend a lot of time flirting throughout the novel. Mysterious man in black Ranger helps Stephanie out on many different occasions. Although the romance was there, Sizzling Sixteen didn’t focus on either relationship as much as it did on the overall plot of rescuing Vinnie.

I loved the trio of Stephanie, Lula, and Connie out and about on missions during this novel. Lula has some of the best lines and always makes me laugh out loud. I love her ever-changing diets and her attitude. I like that Connie is finally getting out of the office with her no-nonsense attitude and legendary stink-bombs. The three ladies together was a fun read. I think they all need to get out together more often.

The romance in this novel was on the down low. Truthfully after sixteen novels, I am starting to think that Stephanie really needs to pick one of the guys and go with it. I would love to see a Ranger or Joe wedding to Stephanie and the hilarity that would ensue. I think it is time for Stephanie to move on in life.

Overall, Sizzling Sixteen is another fun installment in the Stephanie Plum series, but some items, such as the love triangle, are starting to get stale. I read this novel as part of the Stephanie Plum Reading Challenge. I am caught up on the regular series now, but need to finish catching up on the “between the novels” books. I still need to read Plum Lovin' (2007), Plum Lucky (2008), and Plum Spooky (2009).

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Friday, August 20, 2010

Toll-Gate Review on Austenprose Today as part of the Georgette Heyer Celebration!

I am excited to be a part of 'Celebrating Georgette Heyer' this month on Austenprose. Today I am a guest reviewer of The Toll-Gate as part of the celebration.

Originally published in 1954, The Toll-Gate is a regency novel by Georgette Heyer. Unlike the other books I’ve read by Heyer, The Toll-Gate is not so much a regency romance as a regency mystery with a bit of romance. The novel is set in 1817 in the Peak District, which is an upland area in north central England mainly in Derbyshire (which is also the setting for many scenes in Pride and Prejudice).

Captain Jack Staple is on his way to visit a friend, when he discovers a toll-gate untended except for a small boy. He quickly discovers a mystery in the disappearance of the boy’s father and decides to pretend to be a mysterious cousin to the boy to investigate the case.

For the rest, please check out my review on Austenprose. Also tune in to Austenprose for a chance to win a copy of The Toll-Gate. I must admit that this is the only Georgette Heyer novel that I've read that I didn't care for particularly. Don't let this turn you off - I have loved all of her other novels. Have you read The Toll-Gate? What did you think?

Stay tuned for another guest blog on Austenprose about Sprig Muslin on Sunday!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova (Audiobook)

The Swan Thieves is a journey of love and discovery through two different centuries. Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow has a patient that both fascinates and frustrates. Robert Oliver is a famous painter that seemingly attacks a painting at random one day at the National Gallery of Art. He refuses to talk after the incident and is entrusted to Dr. Marlow’s care.

Marlow becomes obsessed with determining Oliver’s motivation. With a patient that won’t speak, Marlow talks to the women in Oliver’s life, his ex-wife Kate and former lover Mary and slowly begins to piece together Oliver’s life. But the real mystery is - who is the beautiful, unexplained woman that appears in Oliver’s paintings? Why does Oliver keep painting her obsessively and where can Marlow find her?

Adding to the mystery, Oliver has a packet of old letters written in French between two painters, Beatrice de Cleval and her mentor/uncle-in-law Olivier Vignot. Marlow has the letters translated and slowly tries to determine how the letters have affected Oliver. Beatrice and Olivier Vignot’s story is quite poignant and is told through different letters sprinkled throughout the course of the novel. I especially loved how Beatrice was a woman painter during the great Impressionist movement in France that was dominated by men.

Andrew Marlow uncovers the mystery by unraveling the different layers through the course of the novel and finds love along the way for himself.

I enjoyed this audiobook. I leisurely listened to it all summer. It was a great mystery told through many tiers. The book often reminded me of another great novel, Possession by A.S. Byatt. I like novels that make you think and that are more attune to a leisurely stroll rather than a quick sprint. It’s nice to read a novel that is so unique and different than the typical run of the mill novel. The ending was very satisfying.

The aspect I liked the best about the audiobook is that the different viewpoints are told through many different narrators. I feel this really brings the book to life. Treat Williams read Dr. Andrew Marlowe, Anne Heche read Kate Oliver, Sarah Zimmerman read Beatrice de Clerval Vignot, Erin Cottrell read Mar Bertison, and John Rafter Lee read Olivier Vignot. I really liked the distinct voices. It is also funny that the book centers on the silent Robert Oliver who does not have a voice of his own.

The only aspect of the novel I didn’t like is that sometimes I thought Dr. Marlow was a bit too obsessed with Robert Oliver’s case. But there wouldn’t be a novel without the obsession!
I read Elizabeth Kostova’s first novel The Historian years ago when it first was published and loved it. I have read many unflattering reviews of The Swan Thieves in comparison to The Historian. The two novels are very different. I would suggest if you’ve read The Historian to not read The Swan Thieves with expectations for the same story. The Swan Thieves is its own unique story that is more of a walk compared to the sprint of The Historian. It’s a walk I thoroughly enjoyed listening too.

Book Source: Review Copy from Hachette Book Group. Thank-you!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Small Town Girl by LaVyrle Spencer

Tess McPhail is a superstar country singer that has returned to her small town after 18-years of making it to the big time in order to care for her mother, Mary. Mary will be having hip surgery and Tess’ older sisters have decided it is her turn to care for Mary.

Tess secretly resents having to give up her busy career to return to small town living. She is also hurt that her mother doesn’t seem to value the gifts that Tess sends and will not let her build her a new house. She almost finds herself a stranger with her mother after so many years. They don’t really understand one another. Tess dutifully helps her mother through surgery and stays for four weeks to help her get back on her feet, literally.

Tess has two older sisters, Judy and Renee. Judy is a hairstylist and has great resentment for Tess and her fame. It doesn’t help that Tess thinks that Judy has let herself go and could stand to lose a few pounds. Renee and Tess get along great, but Renee is busy helping her daughter prepare for her wedding.

Her first night in town, Mary’s neighbor, Kenny Kronek, stops by with salt for the softener. He walks right in and annoys Tess by ignoring her presence. Kenny remembers Tess as a stuck-up high school girl, and Tess remembers Kenny as a klutzy nerd. The two clash at first, but slowly Tess sees how Kenny is an important part of her family’s life and she also loves Kenny’s daughter Casey. Casey has an amazing voice and Tess is determined to help start her career.

Will Tess be able to change her life to keep her family at the heart while maintaining her high profile career? Will Tess be able to find love . . . with the boy next door?
Truthfully I thought this novel was okay, but not the greatest. I feel bad as it is the September FLICKS book club selection and I know a couple people in my book club love this book. I just didn’t fall in love with the romance in this novel.


Tess’s hatred for Kenny at the beginning of the novel felt forced and I didn’t really like them together. I really didn’t like how Kenny has had a girlfriend for eight years, Faith, and she seems to be a wonderful woman. But although Kenny and Casey love her and she is an important part of their life, they seem to have no problem throwing her away for Tess. I did like how Kenny was able to put his business on the back burner to be a part of Tess’s life. I guess overall I didn’t feel the chemistry between the two leads that I would expect in a romance novel. I also am not a country music fan, but I don’t think that lessoned my enjoyment of the novel.


Overall, I thought Small Town Girl was an okay novel. I did enjoy reading it, but didn’t love it. I much preferred Spencer’s Bittersweet to this novel. Am I the only person who didn’t love this book? What are your thoughts if you have read it?

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

My friend Laura Hivala recommended The Count of Monte Cristo to me many years ago. I bought it upon her recommendation and it sat neglected on my shelf until this year when I finally picked it up for The Classics Challenge. Laura told me that this was her favorite book for many reasons, but the main one was how she loved how the Count of Monte Cristo slowly and methodically plots and enacts his revenge. I enjoyed the same aspect of the novel, and was also surprised at how this “classic” is a real page turner. Sadly Laura passed away earlier this year at the age of 32. It would have been great to discuss this book with her as we discussed so many books in the past.

Edmund Dantes is living a blessed life. After the unfortunate death of his captain, Edmund takes over control of his ship the Pharaon and sails it back successfully to his homeport of Marseilles. Awaiting Edmund is his beautiful fiancée Mercedes and his beloved father. The owner of the ship, Monsieur Morrel, respects Edmund and his hard work and promotes him to captain. Upon his promotion, Edmund is finally able to marry Mercedes and they have a betrothal breakfast to celebrate the upcoming marriage.

Jealousy eats away at Fernand Mondego, Danglars, and Gaspard Caderhousse. Fernand is Mercedes’ cousin and is in love with her. It tears him apart to see her so happy with Dantes. Danglars is the supercargo of the Pharaon and would like to be the captain rather than Dantes. Caderhousse is Dante’s father’s creditor. Although he has been paid back, he is rather a mean-spirited man. The three plot together the evening before the betrothal breakfast and their plotting leads to the arrest of Edmund during his betrothal feast.

Edmund is brought before Monsieur de Villefort on charges that he is assisting Napoleon on his return from Elba. De Villefort is about to release Edmund when he discovers that the letter that Dantes was unsuspectingly carrying, was meant for de Villefort’s father, Noirtier, a known adherent of Napoleon. In order to preserve his own family name and status, de Villefort has Dantes thrown into the notorious prison, the Chateau d’If.

Dantes endures a terrible imprisonment, but after a few years, a priest named Faria accidently digs his way into Edmund’s cell. The two become friends and the priest educates Dantes. They hatch an escape plan together and Faria tells Edmund about the location of an immense treasure. After Faria’s death, Edmund has to brave the escape alone. He finds the treasure and reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo.

After 14-years of being unjustly imprisoned, the Count of Monte Cristo researches to find out why exactly he was imprisoned. Once he rewards the man who tried to help him, his old boss M. Morrel, the Count begins upon a plan that will take many years to punish those responsible for his imprisonment. He centers his revenge upon Fernand, Danglars, and de Villefort, all who have gone on to lead very successful lives.

As I stated above, I found The Count of Monte Cristo to be a real page-turner. The first part of the novel which centered upon the imprisonment, escape, and finding of treasure was a fantastic adventure story. The rest of the novel was gripping in a different way as one tried to determine exactly how the Count of Monte Cristo expected to exact his revenge. There were also stories of love and other adventures that centered on the next generation that was born to the villains and heroes during the course of the story. I loved the many characters and was often unable to stop reading in order to find out what was going to happen next in the story.

Although this novel was a book of revenge, the Count of Monte Cristo was also shown at many times to be capable of being able to forgive. I liked this and that he was a really well rounded character. He often took a back-seat to the other characters and their stories during the second half of the novel, but he was the one that was driving the plot.

The one part of the novel that troubled me was that the Count of Monte Cristo owned a slave, Haydee, who is also a part of the plan of revenge. We are first introduced to her when the Count makes some off-color jokes that he does not need a mistress as he has his own slave. Later on though, it is discovered that Haydee is treated like a daughter and that she loves the Count like a father. Still later on it is discovered that Haydee loves the Count more than as a daughter and wants to spend her life with him although she is young enough to be his daughter. I didn’t like the fact that the Count owned a slave and his relationship with her had a certain “ick” factor. I would have rather had him rekindle his romance with Mercedes once the path was cleared.

Overall, it is easy to see why this book has remained a classic through the years. The Count of Monte Cristo is an exciting adventure story, a romance, and a tale of revenge and forgiveness that will keep you up through the night.

Alexandre Dumas himself was an interesting man. Dumas was the son of a general, who himself was the son of a Frenchman and an African woman from the Caribbean. I think it is rather astonishing that I didn’t learn that Dumas was part African until the last few years. To be such a successful writer in France during a time when Africans were enslaved in America is a great story. Dumas actually didn’t do all of his writing himself and employed a stable of writers to help him out as his works were in such high demand. He most likely did write The Count of Monte Cristo. He led a rather extravagant life and built himself his own Chateau de Monte Cristo and eventually had to fell to Belgium to escape his creditors. He died in debt, but his stories have lived on through generations.

I have enjoyed The Man in the Iron Mask by Dumas as well, but I have yet to read his seminal work, The Three Musketeers. Is The Three Musketeers as good as The Count of Monte Cristo? Any opinions?

Book Source: I purchased this book either at Borders or Barnes and Noble many years ago.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Celebrating Georgette Heyer at Austenprose

I am a bit behind the times (I blame our vacation the first week of August up to Houghton for our 10-year college reunion and a ton of work this past week), but Laurel Ann of Austenprose is hosting a wonderful month-long celebration of Georgette Heyer. During the celebration there will be 34 reviews of the Heyer romance novels as well as giveaways of each of these novels. I will be doing guest reviews of The Toll-Gate this Friday August 20th and Sprig Muslin on Sunday August 22nd.
I love Georgette Heyer. Her regency romance novels are wonderful and the next best thing to reading a Jane Austen novel. Heyer's novels are detailed to the period and are often quite humorous. I highly recommend them and am really excited about the Heyer celebration!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I have been meaning to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the past two years or so. Finally this summer with casting of the American movie and discussion of the novel reaching fever pitch, I decided it was time to finally pick up the novel and see what all of the fuss was about.

The book is a riveting read that I had a hard time putting down. I spent half of the night reading it on our camping trip instead of sleeping. And I’m pregnant and I like to sleep!

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a mystery set in Sweden. Mikael Blomkvist is a financial journalist that has found himself convicted wrongly of libel and is trying to figure out how to salvage his career. At this point, a mysterious elder of a rich Swedish business empire, Henrik Vanger offers Mikael a substantial amount of money and information to redeem himself if Mikael will assist with the forty-year old mystery of Henrik’s Great Niece Harriet’s disappearance. Mikael soon finds himself wrapped up in the secrets of the Vanger family and on the trail of a killer.

Lisbeth Salander is a 24-year old social misfit that is a genius at finding out information about people. She joins Mikael on his search and the two are unstoppable. Lisbeth has her own set of values and it would behoove one to not to wrong her.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had a lot of sexual violence in it, which I usually do not like to read about. But somehow the story and the characters made the story so compelling that I couldn’t stop reading it. Mikael and Lisbeth are unique characters unlike anything else I’ve read. I love Lisbeth’s punk attitude and her ability to survive and come out on top of any situation. Mikael’s ability to be a crusader and to try to right the wrongs of this world was very appealing, although his casual love affairs annoyed me at times. The setting in Sweden was also unique and intriguing in its own right. I love reading books that are set in different places.

SPOILER ALERT!! The only thing I disliked was that Mikael and Lisbeth became casual lovers. I thought they worked better as a team that respected one another, but didn’t cross that boundary. I did like that it was Lisbeth’s decision, but still, I didn’t like it over all. SPOILER END.

I have been thinking a lot about this book since I finished it. It is disturbing to think how scary the world is for a woman alone trying to make her way in the world.

Overall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a non-stop, unique thriller that will keep you up into the night. I highly recommend it, but do want to put it out there that it has disturbing scenes of sexual violence in the novel.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean by Richard Logan PhD and Tere Duperrault Fassbender

Alone is a riveting true story of one young girl’s survival against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Green Bay Optician Arthur Duperrault saved money to take his family (wife Jean, 14-year old son Brian, 11-year old daughter Terry Jo, and seven-year old daughter Renee) on an adventure of a lifetime. In the fall of 1961, the family chartered a cruise around the Caribbean on the Bluebell with Captain Julian Harvey and his wife, Dene. The week long cruise is ideal until the fateful end. Captain Harvey is rescued with the body of little Renee and no other survivors are found. As Harvey tried to explain the tragic “accident” at an inquest, surprising news comes in that Terry Jo has been found alive after four days alone at sea. Harvey leaves the inquest and commits suicide in his motel room. What happened on the fateful cruise? How did Terry Jo survive and how did she reclaim her life?

This book was an interesting and horrifying true crime mystery. It gave the background of all of the participants. I especially loved that the book couldn’t describe Green Bay without a paragraph devoted to the beloved Green Bay Packers. Julian Harvey, the handsome captain, was also found out to be much more than he appeared to be. The mystery will never be truly solved, but I thought the theory of what happened was good.

My favorite chapter was the afterward by Tere Duperrault Fassbender where she describes her current life and how she fell in love with her husband. It was difficult to read about all of the troubles Fassbender had since the murder of her family, but it was also uplifting that she was finally able to get the help that she needed and to have the support of a wonderful husband and children.

Fassbender is actually a resident of my small town of Kewaunee, Wisconsin. I wonder if I see her in the Piggly Wiggly when I am shopping. It would be fun to sit down with her at one of my book clubs and talk about this book, but I am too chicken to track her down and ask. One of my book club members had first heard of this book and told us about it. I also read an article in our local paper about it. It was interesting as she is a resident of my town, but it is a good book on its own. It seems like a story that could only be fiction, but unfortunately it is not. I am too young to have heard this story in the national news, but I think it would be interesting for both those who know about it and those who do not. My husband really liked the forward by Les Stroud, aka “Survivorman.”

Overall, Alone is a fascinating, disturbing true story that I will always remember and will provide much discussion for our book club!

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library