Monday, October 31, 2011

Expectations of Happiness: A Companion Volume to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility by Rebecca Ann Collins

Expectations of Happiness was a perfect continuation of Jane Austen’s classic, Sense and Sensibility. Marianne Dashwood is not-so-happily married to Colonel Brandon. They are happy when they are together, but Colonel Brandon is often away for long stretches of time tending his estates in Ireland or helping his ward Eliza out of another scrape. His still young and beautiful wife finds herself bored and lonely, and more than a little susceptible to the charms of the still dashing Mr. Willoughby when he helps her and her friends after an accident. Will Marianne find her happy ending in the arms of her husband, or in the arms of Mr. Willoughby?

Elinor and Edward are happily married with two children, but Elinor constantly worries about Marianne. Margaret has become a young woman and a bluestocking. She has a love of learning and is a great teacher at a school near Oxford. During a trip to France with her friend Claire, Margaret finds herself infatuated with a smart, handsome Oxford scholar with a devastating secret of his own. Mrs. Dashwood has found a new occupation and perhaps a new love of her own, but to say more would ruin the plot!

This is my first reading of a Rebecca Ann Collins novel, but I have heard great things about her Pemberly Chronicles. I really enjoyed her style of writing. It was written in the same style as a Jane Austen novel, with traditional language (without our modern slang) and traditional sensibilities (no sex or violence). It was a novel to read slowly and savor. It was also a novel that emphasized romance over sex, which is a type of novel that I really enjoy reading.

I also enjoyed her treatment of the characters. The characters were all treated with respect and in a way that was very faithful to all of Jane Austen’s creations. It was very fun to have old favorites such as Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, Mrs. Jennings, and Sir John Middleton popping back into the story in the same spirit as in Sense and Sensibility. I love seeing Willoughby again, and I also loved the new characters such as Margaret’s love, Daniel. I only had a slight pause with some of the circumstances with Margaret’s independence as a young woman in the later part of the novel. It didn’t seem in tune with the time as much as the rest of the novel, but it could have happened!

I had a couple of favorite quotes in this novel that I really enjoyed as follows:

“Margaret had enjoyed their conversations, not because he agreed with every idea or applauded every proposition she made, but because he listened with interest and responded as though he understood her meaning.” I thought this described the perfect man!

“Were it not for dedicated men and women in the church, who would care for the poor and the sick, the frail and the elderly? Certainly not the government.” I’ve been pondering this quote all week and think it applies even to our current world.

Overall, I thought that Expectations of Happiness was an impeccable and delightful continuation of Sense and Sensibility with fair treatment of the characters, and language and sensibilities that fit the time. I highly recommend it to all lovers of Sense and Sensibility.

For an interesting guest blog by Rebecca Ann Collins on why she thought Sense and Sensibility was ripe for a sequel and a chance to win a copy of this book, check out this link.

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

Winner of Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

The lucky winner of Jane Austen Made Me Do It is Laura Fabiani of a blog I really enjoy reading, Library of Clean Reads.  Laura was chosen using and has been notified via email.  If I don't hear back from her within a week, a new winner will be chosen.

Thank-you to all who entered this giveaway and that also posted about it on their blogs!  Thank-you very much to Laurel Ann Nattress for putting together a wonderful book, providing a great guest blog, and also for generously providing this giveaway copy!

Sad you didn't win?  There are still two giveaways currently going on (see the right sidebar) with more giveaways upcoming in future weeks!  Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Love Affair With Fairy Tales by Kristine Grayson (and GIVEAWAY!)

I don’t remember when I first encountered fairy tales. I do recall thinking no one was more beautiful than the wasp-waisted Cinderella from the Disney film. I don’t recall what I thought of Prince Charming, way back then.

When I was four, my parents took me to Disneyland. I have a vivid memory of going on the Snow White ride, which went through a cave. Somewhere in that cave, the Wicked Witch stirred her caldron and glared and me. I screamed, “Let’s get out of here!” and would have jumped off the boat if my father hadn’t grabbed me.

I remember the terror, because back then, fairy tales were real. (In fact, that memory is so vivid that thirty years later, when I went back to Disneyland and the ride remained, I wouldn’t even look at it. I figured it was cheesy, and I didn’t want to know. In my memory, it’s beautiful and horrifying and alive.)

But the strongest influence on my fairy tale life was a babysitter whose name I no longer remember. The daughter of one of my father’s colleagues, she read fairy tales to me—obscure fairy tales, from many cultures. Then, because she was heading to college, she gave me her fairy tale books. I still have them. They’re battered now, but treasured.

And clearly, they jumble up in my head. Sancho Panza in Utterly Charming has a secret identity from Norse mythology. (He has others as well. You can find out more about him in Completely Smitten from WMG Publishing.) I steal from Greek Myths, Celtic lore, fairy tales, and Shakespeare. I figure that when you’re writing a book about make-believe, you should reference the best.

Even though I fracture them, I love fairy tales. I love the hidden meanings and the scary women, the handsome men, and the weird spells. I love them all, which is why I play with them.

Maybe I love them the most because deep down, I do believe in happily ever after. I just believe that HEA doesn’t just happen; it takes work. And that’s the only thing that the fairy tales miss.

About Kristine Grayson (from her website)

Kristine Grayson always wanted to be a romance writer when she grew up. She became one in the late 1990s with the publication of her first romance novel, Utterly Charming. Since then, she has published five more novels, including Absolutely Captivated and Totally Spellbound.

Her work has won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and she has been nominated for several other awards. Publishers Weekly has called her work “a delight,” and Best Reviews labeled her “the reigning queen of paranormal romance.”

Her next novel, Wickedly Charming, will appear in May.

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks is going to send one lucky winner a copy of Utterly Charming by Kristine Grayson.

If you would like to win a copy of Utterly Charming by Kristine Grayson please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest blog.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday November 11th.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Classics Circuit Gothic Literature Tour: American Short Stories of Irving and Hawthorne

 I am very excited to be a part of the Gothic Literature Classics Circuit tour this month focusing on Pre-Victorian Gothic Literature (before 1840). I should have posted this yesterday, but had a big work related meeting that consumed my time, please forgive me!

According to my friend Wikipedia, Gothic fiction combines elements of horror and romance. This genre started in England in 1764 with the publication of The Castle of Otranto by Horace Wadpole. It soon made its way across the Atlantic to America where early American gothic writers focused on the frontier wilderness anxiety and the lasting effects of the Puritan society.

Gothic fiction contains various archetypes such as an innocent virginal maiden heroine, an older foolish woman, a hero, a tyrant, a stupid/servant or clown comic relief, and a spooky setting. The setting is very important and usually involves a castle, abbey, or other usually religious edifice. In American Gothic, the building is usually replaced with unexplored territory, wilderness, or caves.

I love short stories and a few of my favorite stories by early American authors are gothic in nature. These include “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, “Young Goodman Brown” and “the Minister’s Black Veil by Nathanial Hawthorne.

Washington Irving
Washington Irving was “the first American writer of imaginative literature to gain international fame” according to my American Literature book (edited by George McMichael). He published “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in 1820 as part of The Sketch Book Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. He moved to England for a period of years, but returned to America at the end of this life and is buried in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
I love this story; it is a perfect Halloween story as well as a great story of what life was like in a Dutch village on the Hudson back in the eighteenth century. Ichabod Crane is a schoolteacher in the quaint Dutch village of Sleepy Hollow. He is a Connecticut native and is known to be a good and fair teacher as well as a “psalmist” or one that teaches others to sing psalms at church. He has a great fondness for eating and for listening to fantastic tales. “His appetite for the marvelous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spell-bound region.”

My favorite line of the story is really long and is as follows: “All these, however, were mere terrors of the night, phantoms of the mind that walk in darkness; and though he had seen many specters in his time, and had been more than once beset by Satan in his diverse shapes, in his lonely perambulations, yet daylight put an end to all of these evils; and he would have passed a pleasant life of it, in despite of the devil and all of his works , if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was – a woman.”

I laughed out line at that line. Irving’s gift for writing includes really witty statements and great satire. He also has wonderful description of the scenery and characters, besides great fantastical tales.

The woman that caused poor Ichabod such angst was Katrina Van Tassel, the lovely daughter and only child of a rich Dutch farmer. Most of her appeal to Ichabod is tied up in the wealth of food that is at her parents’ house. He is a skinny man, with a giant hunger.

His rival for Katrina’s affections is Brom “Bones.” He is a local hero that is an accomplished horse rider, built, and handsome. Brom is not pleased to become the object of ridicule once Ichabod becomes a serious rival for Katrina’s affections.

The Van Tassels have giant party where ghost stories are shared right before Ichabod starts home on his borrowed beat-up horse. The favorite tail in Sleepy Hollow is about the local ghost, the headless horseman. The headless horseman was a Hessian (German mercenary in the American Revolution) that was beheaded and buried without his head in the church graveyard. The tale said that the headless horseman roamed at night looking for his head. As Ichabod is coming home, he has a very frightening ride through the dark woods followed by mysterious horsemen. As he gets a closer look, he realizes that the horseman is headless and is carrying his head. He tries to escape, but is hit by the head and falls off the horse. Ichabod is never seen again, but the townsfolk are able to figure out what happened by the hoof prints and the busted pumpkin that is left behind.

“. ..they came to the conclusion that Ichabod had been carried off by the galloping Hessian. As he was a bachelor, and in nobody’s debt, nobody troubled his head any more about him.”

An old farmer went to New York and came back to say that Ichabod was still alive and had a great life and career afterwards. Brom Bones and Katrina married, and Brom was known to laugh whenever the story of Ichabod was related, especially about the pumpkin.

What makes this story gothic? I think Ichabod is the hero/heroine. He is the naïve figure that beliefs in the spooky tales. He does get his happy ending although it is not quite what he expected. Katrina is the beautiful, virginal heroine with “vast expectations.” Brom Bones is the villain for thwarting the hero’s love interest. The setting is in the new world wilderness, or a snug Dutch settlement along the Hudson that is surrounded by a forest that spooks Ichabod.

Nathanial Hawthorne
Nathanial Hawthorne was born in Salem, home of the infamous Salem witch trials. His first ancestor in America, William Hathorne arrived in Salem in 1630 and persecuted Quakers. William’s son John was a Puritan interrogator in the Salem witch trials of 1692. The angst of the crimes of his ancestors made its way into Hawthorne’s most famous works. He first came to literary critical fame in 1837 when he published his Twice Told Tales. His most famous novel is The Scarlet Letter, a novel I hated in high school, but need to read again now that I’m older.

Hawthorne’s greatest achievement according to his friend Herman Melville was his “great power of blackness” or his portrayal of the dark landscapes of the human mind. He used masks, veils, shadows, emblems, ironies, and ambiguities to show the narrow difference between good and evil.

Ironically, Hawthorne is also buried in “Sleepy Hollow” cemetery, but in Concord Massachusetts, not Sleep Hollow New York.

Young Goodman Brown by Nathanial Hawthorne
Young Goodman Brown was first published in 1835, although it is set much earlier during the seventeenth century at a puritan settlement. Goodman Brown has left his wife Faith as he has work to do at night. He walks through dark woods at night and is joined by a mysterious stranger. He tells the stranger that he is late as “Faith kept me back awhile.” This stranger is in the guise of his dead grandfather and it is soon becomes apparent that it is the devil. The stranger knows all of Goodman Brown’s family, politicians, and catechism teacher quite well.

Goodman Brown soon finds himself at a meeting of “saints and sinners” in the forest. He is surprised to see his wife Faith at the meeting, but she mysteriously disappears. “My Faith is gone,” Goodman Brown shouts. A figure leading the meeting (the devil) tells Goodman Brown “Depending upon one another’s hearts, yet had still hoped that virtue was not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind.”

The next morning Goodman Brown can’t be sure whether he dreamed of the meeting or whether it really happened. Regardless, he lost all hope that night.

This was really a rather sad tale to lose all faith in God and mankind. I really loved how Goodman Brown’s wife name was Faith and that was used symbolically throughout the story as Goodman Brown tries to hold on and then loses his faith in mankind.

What makes this story gothic? The setting was the strange and scary wilderness with a meeting with the devil. You can’t get scarier than that! The hero is Goodman Brown with his seemingly innocent wife Faith as the heroine. The villain is the worse villain of all – the devil himself.

The Minister’s Black Veil by Nathanial Hawthorne
One day, the minister of a town, Mr. Hooper, appears on the street wearing a black veil. The townsfolk are disturbed and spend their time talking and wondering. “He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face.”

No one would ask Mr. Hooper why he was wearing a black veil, until finally his intended, Elizabeth dared to ask. He said that the “veil is a type and symbol,” and refused to take it off. They did not marry.

Mr. Hooper became a very effective pastor and was viewed with dread by his congregation. At the end of his life, Mr. Hooper was attended by his lost love Elizabeth and refused at the very end to take off his veil. He said that everyone has secret sins hidden behind “black veils” and that he was the only one that was truthful and upfront about it.

Another dark look at the nature of mankind that has the same message, mankind is evil. People make act good and hid their sins behind “black veils,” but overall they are bad.

What makes this story gothic? The setting doesn’t in this case, but the symbol and use of the black veil is very gothic. The hero is mysterious, but also seems like a villain. The heroine, Elizabeth, is young and virtuous and devotes her life to her love although they never marry. “The Minister’s Black Veil” is a perfect combination of thwarted love and the horror of a black veil.

Monday, October 24, 2011

“What elements of Sense and Sensibility make it ripe for a sequel?” by Rebecca Ann Collins (and GIVEAWAY!)

Thank you Laura, for your invitation to contribute to your blog. It is a pleasure to be able to speak directly to you and your readers.

While it is always possible for an imaginative writer to create the conditions needed to continue any story- as is demonstrated by the innumerable Austen “sequels” that have appeared in recent times, there are some books that leave the door open or at least ajar for a continuation. In these cases, a creative writer has the opportunity to tell a credible and interesting story.

However, if one decides to pass through that door into the domain of another writer, one is conscious of being a guest in that environment and of the need to be sensitive to the original author’s intentions- particularly in relation to character development. This is particularly significant when using the classic works of a beloved writer like Jane Austen- e.g-Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. While all characters evolve and may change in some ways over time, it isn’t credible or ethical to distort another writer’s characters out of recognition.

I have been a Jane Austen addict since the age of twelve and have researched and studied her life and work extensively. Having worked for ten years on the ten volumes of the Pemberley Chronicles series, in which we followed the lives of the characters over a period of some fifty years, I had learned a great deal about the political and social history of nineteenth century England. All this prepared me for the work I undertook on Sense and Sensibility in 2009/10.

To answer your question specifically-- there are some elements in the original novel that provide options for a continuation of the story. As readers who are familiar with the novel would know, Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen’s first novel, tells the story of three sisters Elinor, Marianne and Margaret Dashwood and their widowed mother-who are faced with a quite desperate situation, when the death of their father leaves them homeless and poor. The generosity of a relative- Sir John Middleton takes them into Devonshire and a new social circle, where after some of the usual disappointments and debacles of the type that attend every 19th century romance, the book ends with two of the sisters married to exemplary gentlemen.

However, while Elinor’s union to Edward Ferrars is one of those “marriages made in heaven”- where happiness seems guaranteed, I could not have the same confidence in the way young, romantic Marianne – having been betrayed by the handsome gentleman she had idolized all summer, had been settled into a rather staid marriage with a man twice her age, with none of the qualities she had claimed were essential to her happiness. ( He even wore flannel vests!!!)

With all due respect to Miss Austen, it did feel like a convenient way of tying up the loose strands of the story, but it didn’t ring true. Not because Colonel Brandon is an unsuitable husband for Marianne, for he is indeed a man of honour and loves Marianne dearly, but because we see nothing in Marianne’s development to convince us that she genuinely loves him. Nor can we be certain that Marianne is completely over her romantic infatuation with Willoughby- her faithless cavalier, who has made an unhappy marriage of convenience and still claims he loves Marianne and hates Colonel Brandon.

Then there was Margaret- the youngest sister- pretty, precocious and keen to learn, she is only thirteen years old at the conclusion of the novel. I felt she should have the chance to follow her own “expectations of happiness” in a new environment. A sequel would provide an opportunity to develop her character and talents and see how she turns out. Being only a little girl at the end of the original novel, she affords one the opportunity to create quite an interesting young woman in a sequel.

As for Mrs Dashwood, she is a well meaning and kindly woman- if a little silly, and it seemed unfair to leave her stranded at Barton Cottage after her daughters left the nest, with nothing to do but grow old, in an era when single or widowed women in straightened circumstances were pathetic creatures indeed- usually dependent upon the reluctant charity of relatives.

In addition, the original novel contains a collection of bizarre minor characters created by Jane Austen, who stand ready to add interest and humour to the tale. I had been playing with possibilities for continuing the story, and was delighted when Sourcebooks agreed that it was a good idea. Which is how “Expectations of Happiness” evolved into a sequel. (The title is taken from Sense and Sensibility – “That sanguine expectation of happiness that is happiness itself”)

I hope your readers also agree and look forward very much to reading their comments, when they have read “Expectations of Happiness”

They can contact me via your blog or the contact page on my website-

Thanks again for hosting this page and all the best,

Rebecca Ann Collins.

October 2011

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks is going to send one lucky winner a copy of Expectations of Happiness by Rebecca Ann Collins. 

If you would like to win a copy of Expectations of Happiness by Rebecca Ann Collins please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest blog.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday November 4th.

Good luck!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: It’s like a box of chocolates! by Laurel Ann Nattress (and GIVEAWAY)

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: It’s like a box of chocolates! by Laurel Ann Nattress

Hi Laura, thanks again for hosting me during my Grand Tour of the blogosphere in celebration of the release of my new Austen-inspired anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It.

“It is only a novel… or, in short, some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.” Northanger Abbey, Volume 1, Chapter 5

Novels in Jane Austen’s day were not as popular, nor did they garner the respect that they do today. Considered low-brow fare, her poke at those who objected to young ladies reading novels is evident in this quote from the narrator in Northanger Abbey. The reader is obviously reading a novel, so it is a double pun.

I proudly profess to be an ardent novel reader. I have also always had an affinity for short story anthologies. I will pull a Forest Gump on you and proclaim anthologies are like a box chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. Because of that unknown adventurous element, I have discovered fabulous new authors over the years. My new anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, is indeed like a box of Austen-inspired confections. Each story is unique and a surprise.

While I was working with the twenty-four authors on their twenty-two stories (two stories are written by teams) as the editor of the anthology, my idea from the beginning was to give them a free reign by asking them to “stay within the theme of exploring Austen’s philosophies of life and love by reacquainting readers with characters from her novels or introducing original stories inspired by her ideals.” They could write in any genre, era or style. I asked them to send me their ideas and I encourage them with my best instincts.

My editor and I had wanted a mix of stories, of which we hoped about half would be historical, and the balance contemporary. Interestingly, with very little micro-managing, that is exactly what happened. It split right down the line. To further enlighten you, here is the genre breakdown:

Jane Austen as a fictional character or inspired by her ideals: 7

Mystery: 2,

Inspired by her characters or a novel: 10

Paranormal: 3

So you can see there is quite a mix. I was delighted with the end result. I hope you will be too.

Contributing authors:

Pamela Aidan • Elizabeth Aston • Brenna Aubrey • Stephanie Barron • Carrie Bebris • Jo Beverley • Diana Birchall • Frank Delaney & Diane Meier • Monica Fairview • Amanda Grange • Syrie James • Janet Mullany • Jane Odiwe • Beth Pattillo • Alexandra Potter • Myretta Robens • Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino Bradway • Maya Slater • Margaret Sullivan • Adriana Trigiani • Laurie Viera Rigler • Lauren Willig

Editor bio:

A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington. Visit Laurel Ann at her blogs and, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

Ballantine Books • ISBN: 978-0345524966

Giveaway of Jane Austen Made Me Do It
Enter a chance to win one copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It by leaving a comment by midnight on Saturday October 29th, stating what intrigues you about reading an Austen-inspired short story anthology. Winners to be drawn at random and announced on October 30th. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck to all!

Winner of Mr. Darcy's Undoing by Abigail Reynolds

The winner of Mr. Darcy's Undoing by Abigail Reynolds is Faith Hope & Cherrytea.  She was drawn using and has been notified via email.  She has one week to respond with her mailing address.  If I don't hear from her, I will draw a new winner. 

Thank-you to Sourcebooks for this great giveaway, to Abigail Reynolds for writing another great book, and to all of you who entered the giveaway.

Stay tuned for this week for many new great giveaways . . .

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Don’t Sing at the Table: Life Lessons from my Grandmothers by Adriana Trigiani

Don’t Sing at the Table is a true gem of a book. It is a small volume, but contains a story of a great love between a girl and her grandmothers. Adriana Trigiani is the author of The Big Stone Gap series and Lucia, Lucia. I enjoyed all of those novels, but alas read them before I had a blog so I have no reviews of them online. In Don’t Sing at the Table, Trigiani takes her first foray into the non-fiction realm to write about her two extraordinary grandmothers, Yolanda “Viola” Perin Trigiani and Lucia “Lucy” Spada Bonicelli.

Trigiani gives the backstory of each woman from their youth through their careers and marriages. Both woman had successful careers outside the home, in a time when this was not the norm. Together with her husband, Viola ran a prosperous mill that produced blouses in Pennsylvania. Lucy became a young widow at 35, but was able to raise her three children alone while running a shoe and seamstress shop in Chisholm, Minnesota. Although both women had very different lives, they both had great values and advice that they passed onto their children and grandchildren.

Trigiani writes about the advice she received from her grandmothers about life and love throughout her lifetime while giving the back story of each lady. The advice is great advice and the stories are very entertaining. Pictures of Viola and Lucy are sprinkled throughout, and some of the recipes for the tasty dishes described in the book are located at the end.

One got a sense while reading this book of the great love that Trigiani had for her grandmothers and it touched me deeply. I was lucky in my life to know three of my great-grandmothers, and both of my grandmas. I still have one grandma left and am lucky to have her. I still miss the others that have passed away, especially my Great-Grandma Kile, who I was very, close too. I always loved listening to the stories these special ladies had to share and I’ve often thought of how these stories would make a very interesting book. Trigiani has written a book that I’ve always dreamed of writing!

I bookmarked A LOT of quotes in this book that I enjoyed and that I think give a great sense of the great wit and love this book has to offer. Here is a sampling of my favorite quotes:

Trigiani talking about her Grandma Lucy: “No one in the course of my entire life was ever as happy to see me as she was. Looking back, now, I realize that you only ever need one person who lights up that way when you enter a room. One person is all it takes to give a kid confidence.” I felt the same way about Grandma Kile.

“It isn’t square footage that creates opulence; it’s peace, calm, and the comforting knowledge that we can live well within our means that gives us security. “ Ben and I live by this mantra, although our family seems to want us to live in a palace!

“Nobody likes a pretty dope,” Viola once said.

“She knew, living in a small town, that everything she did would become fodder for conversation and affect her children. She never wanted to be the subject of any conversation that she wouldn’t have wanted her children to hear.”

“In the best marriages, both parties are in the aspiration business, and when you climb, you climb together, and higher.”

“Lucy died in 1992, Viola in 1997, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t turn to them in memory.” I feel the same way.

Overall, Don’t Sing at the Table is a moving tribute to the love and wisdom of Trigiani’s amazing grandmothers and grandmothers everywhere. It is also a great American story as the story of these women, was the story of our country in the twentieth century. It is a book I greatly enjoyed reading and will enjoy reading again in the future.

I read Don’t Sing at the Table as part of the TLC Book Tours. The rest of the schedule for this tour is located here.

Book Source: HarperCollins Publishers. Thank-you!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do It Edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

Jane Austen Made Me Do It is a delightful collection of short stories inspired by Jane Austen, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress author of one of my favorite blogs, Austenprose. The collection is authored by many of my favorite Austenesque authors including Monica Fairview, Stephanie Barron, Syrie James, Amanda Grange, Beth Patillo, Jane Odiwe, Carrie Bebris, Jane Rubino, Caitlen Rubino-Bradway and many others. Also included were a couple authors that I enjoy, but hadn’t considered Austenesque – including Diane Meier and Adriana Trigiani.

I am a big fan of short stories in general. I love this form of fiction and actually miss reading short stories in English and literature courses. I have been rereading some of my favorites recently for The Classics Circuit. I feel that the short story is often a powerful vehicle to focus on ideas that can be lost in a longer story.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It is the perfect combination of my favorite genre, authors, and form of fiction. I read and enjoyed the entire book. I looked forward to each evening (and lunch time) when I could sit down and see what new adventure was in store. I thought each story was excellent with not a bad one in the bunch. I always LOVED the diversity of the story. They covered all of Austen’s novels and Austen’s life, were set in modern day or in the 19th century, were continuations or focuses on different characters, or entirely new works of fiction. Truthfully I love Pride and Prejudice, but I loved to see Austen’s other masterpieces celebrated.

I think the best way for me to give credit to all of these wonderful stories is for me to give a brief two-second review/summary of each story. Here goes . . .

Introduction – I loved the introduction and learning the history of Laurel Ann’s love affair with Austen. It was interesting and very relatable! It was also inspiring to see how she took her passion and her blog to new levels at being able to put an entire book together. I think this is every book blogger’s dream come true.

Jane Austen’s Nightmare by Syrie James – I loved this story. Jane Austen is having a nightmare where she is in hated Bath being accosted by her creations. She is inspired by her dream to create her final masterpiece

I especially loved Marianne’s speech, “ In every scene throughout the entire, horrid novel, you presented me as the most selfish and most self-involved creature on the face of the earth. I was always waxing rhapsodic about poetry or dead leaves, harshly critiquing somebody or something, or crying my eyes out in the depths of despair! Could you not have given me even one scene where I might have behaved with equanimity?”

Waiting by Jane Odiwe – Captain Wentworth is talking to Sir Walter Elliot about seeing Anne’s hand in marriage. Anne is waiting and reflecting on when she first met Captain Wentworth eight years before and became engaged. I thought this story was perfect. It seemed like it could have been an extra chapter at the end of Persuasion. Persuasion is tied with Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel and I love reading more about my favorite characters.

A Night at Northanger by Lauren Willig – Cate works on the show Ghost Trekkers, where she helps keep up the charade that the crew is finding scary ghosts at various locations around England. Ghost Trekkers is visiting Northanger Abbey, where unexpectedly, Cate finds herself discovering real ghosts . . . a delightful story and very seasonal at this time of year.

Jane and the Gentleman Rogue by Stephanie Barron – This is a short story Jane Austen Mystery. I love Barron’s Jane Austen Mysteries and really need to catch up with the series (why didn’t I join the challenge this year)? This mystery involves Lord Harold, my favorite Austen love, fighting a duel. Very intriguing and romantic.

Faux Jane by F.J. Meier – F.J. Meier is the pseudonym for the husband and wife writing team, Frank Delaney and Diane Meier. Meier’s A Season of Second Chances was in my top ten favorite books of 2010. Faux Jane introduces a delightful couple, Charles and Nora. They help to uncover a mystery involving a fake signed first edition copy of Pride and Prejudice. I want to read more about Charles and Nora; they reminded me of Nick and Nora Charles from The Think Man movies. With their names, I wonder if that was intentional . . . They were a fun, quirky couple in this story.

Nothing Less Than Fairy-Land by Monica Fairview – This was one of my favorite stories in the collection. Monica Fairview is my favorite Austenesque author with her novel, The Other Mr. Darcy my favorite of this genre. In this story, Fairview writes about what happens after Emma and Mr. Knightley’s honeymoon when they return home and move in with Mr. Woodhouse. Fairview captured each character perfectly and really made me think about how moving in with her crabby old father-in-law right after your honeymoon might not be anyone’s dream come true. A true gem of a story.

Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane by Adriana Trigiani – Trigiani writes as letter as a modern day Jane Austen to her niece Anna upon her engagement to Declan. A great celebration of letter writing and the wit of Austen.

Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss by Jo Beverley – I need to check out Beverley’s novels, I really enjoyed this story. I have a soft spot in my heart for regency Christmas stories and novels and what could be better than one set in Chawton with an appearance by Jane Austen herself? Elinor Carsholt is a young widow with young daughters celebrating her first Christmas without her husband. After her husband’s untimely death, she found herself in straightened circumstances. Fortunately her neighbor, Sir Nicolas has helped to create a magical Christmas for the family.

When Only a Darcy Will Do by Beth Patillo – This story was another of my favorites (I had a lot in this book – as I said, they were all good stories!). Elizabeth is studying in London, but is low on funds. To help supplement her income, she dresses in regency garb and holds Jane Austen tours of London. Unfortunately, she does not get much business until one day a man dressed as Mr. Darcy shows up for the tour. A great unique story and oh-so romantic!

Heard of You by Margaret C. Sullivan – Another fantastic story about Persuasion. Captain Wentworth tells his new bride Anne the story of how Admiral Croft and his sister Sophie became a couple. This story also read like it could have been an additional chapter of Persuasion. It was a wonderful story and I loved learning the background of these characters.

The Ghostwriter by Elizabeth Aston – The Ghostwriter is another great story for the season. Sara’s boyfriend Charles has left her leaving her a gift of a locket that once belonged to Jane Austen. The ghost of Austen shows up because of the locket and gives Sara advice on writing and love. I loved the ending!

Mr. Bennet Meets His Match by Amanda Grange – I love Grange’s “Diary” series about Austen’s novels as seen through the eyes of the various heroes. In this story, Grange gives the back-story of how Mr. and Mrs. Bennet first became a couple. Another perfect story, I especially loved when the Collins family came for a visit.

I loved this quote from this story, “She had not provided him with a son and heir, but she had provided him with a handsome number of daughters and she had unwittingly provided him with a great deal of entertainment as well.”

Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! By Janet Mullany – This excellent story is a unique one in which an English teacher (Julie Morton) in 1964 England teaches some of her pupils how to love Sense and Sensibility using their love of the Beatles. I enjoyed it!

Letters to Lydia by Maya Slater – This story had a great premise and I really enjoyed it. It is a series of letters written by Maria Lucas to Lydia. It becomes obvious that Maria had much more to do with the events of Pride and Prejudice than one knew. It all makes perfect sense and was a new way for me to think about P&P.

The Mysterious Closet: A Tale by Myretta Robens – Cathy Fullerton is staying at a gothic abbey in a mysterious and creepy suite where she meets a ghost by the name of Henry. Or is he a ghost? Another great tale for the season.

Jane Austen’s Cat by Diana Birchall – Jane Austen is visiting with her nieces Anna and Caroline and tells them great stories involving her characters and life . . . if they were cats. A touching story.

Me and Mr. Darcy, Again by Alexandra Potter – A great continuation of Me and Mr. Darcy. Emily is having problems with her boyfriend Spike, but is helped along the path of love by Mr. Darcy.

What Would Austen Do? by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway – Another one of my favorite stories. Austen is a 14-year old boy who learns how to “country dance” and a bit about love over his summer. A superb story. I was excited to read that they are developing it into a full length novel. I want to read it!

The Riding Habit by Pamela Aidan – Mr. Darcy wants to teach Elizabeth how to ride, but they encounter problems along the way. Another great story.

The Love Letter by Brenna Aubrey – I can see why this story won the Jane Austen Made Me Do It short story contest. It was another one of my favorites. Dr. Mark Hinton receives a mysterious page from a book in the mail, and discovers it is from Austen’s novel Persuasion. He learns more about the novel and also meets his old love Justine again.

The Chase by Carrie Bebris – This was another exceptional story about Jane Austen’s brother Frank and his adventures in the royal navy. I am ready to read a book about Frank now!

Intolerable Stupidity by Laurie Viera Rigler– Austenesque authors are on trial for making the Darcys lives intolerable with Lady Catherine serving as judge.

A great mix of stories overall! To learn how Laurel Ann Nattress put the collection together, stop by this Saturday October 22nd for a guest blog and a chance to win a copy of the Jane Austen Made Me Do It.

Book Source: Review Copy sent by Laurel Ann Nattress and Random House. Thank-you!

Monday, October 17, 2011

All About the Brontes Challenge 2012?

In 2010, I hosted the All About the Brontes Challengewhere you could read a book, watch a movie, listen to an audiobook, or anything Bronte related in a celebration of the three very talented and interesting Bronte sisters. After having Penelope a year ago, I decided not to do the challenge in 2011 with limited time during her first year of life. Now that she is one, I’ve thought about bringing the challenge back for 2012.

Would you be interested in seeing the challenge return? What about the previous challenge did you like or dislike? Would you be interested in the challenge becoming more encompassing and becoming a “Women of Suspense,” “Gothic Fiction,” “Victorian Fiction,” or “19th Century Authors” Challenge? Or have you had your fill of challenges and would not like to see another one.

Please answer my poll on the right sidebar with your thoughts and leave a comment telling me what you think!

The Jodi Picoult Project

One of my favorite blogs has a new interesting reading Challenge. Suko’s Notebook has introduced The Jodi Picoult Project. For this challenge, one needs to commit to reading at least one novel by this prolific author. The reading challenge will run from October 2011 through October 2012.

I enjoy Jodi Picoult’s novels and I have two on my shelf that I borrowed from my sister-in-law, Sing You Home and House Rules that I need to read. I also would love to read Plain Truth and Salem Falls. These two novels were my good friend Laura Hivala’s favorite Picoult novels. She recommended them to me and I’ve had them on my to-read list for quite a while! I’ll try to read these four books over the next year . . . or at least one of them!

Thank-you for the great new challenge Suko!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mr. Darcy’s Undoing by Abigail Reynolds

Mr. Darcy’s Undoing is a Pride and Prejudice variation. Pride and Prejudice variations take a pivotal point in the original novel and change it, thereby putting a new spin on everything that comes later. In Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, the variation is that after refusing Mr. Darcy’s proposal while in Kent, Elizabeth returns home and accepts a proposal from her life-long friend, Mr. Covington.

Mr. Covington has a modest estate and lives in the neighborhood, which will allow Elizabeth to remain within easy distance of her friends and family. Mr. Darcy returns to Netherfield with Bingley, only to discover Elizabeth engaged to another. That does not stop him from having rather naughty fantasies about her. Will Mr. Darcy prevail in winning back Elizabeth’s hand now that he has a rival?

I enjoyed Mr. Darcy’s Undoing. It was a quick, easy read that was very heavy on the romance side of Austenesque fiction. I thought it was an intriguing premise having a realistic rival for Elizabeth’s affections. I just wish the rivalry would have last longer in the novel. The last half of the novel is after Elizabeth has made her final choice and focuses more on the romance angle.

I have decided after reading the last couple of Darcy variations by various authors that perhaps variations aren’t all for me (gasp!). I really enjoy reading Austenesque sequels, focuses on other characters or on Austen, modern day presentations, mysteries, etc., but the actual variation of the Pride and Prejudice storylines just don’t seem to capture my fancy as much. Is it just me?

Abigail Reynolds is a fantastic author. I have read several of her novels and especially enjoyed The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice. I also love that she is a “literary local” hailing from Madison, Wisconsin. With Carrie Bebris also hailing from my great state, I think we need to have an Austen author conference here in Wisconsin! Abigail Reynolds wrote a fantastic guest blog about her process of creating a rival for Mr. Darcy. The guest blog is located here and if you leave a comment, you have a chance to win a copy of Mr. Darcy’s Undoing.

Overall Mr. Darcy’s Undoing is a great romance which finally pits Mr. Darcy against a realistic rival for Elizabeth’s affections.

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Night Road by Kristin Hannah

I’ve been reading a lot of good books lately, Night Road was another book that I literary couldn’t put down, reading far too late into the night. It was a great page turner with many plot points to discuss at our FLICKS book and movie club next week, particularly since we are a book club of mothers.

Lexi Baill is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. An orphan after her mother dies from a drug overdose; she goes to live with her Great-Aunt Eva. Aunt Eva doesn’t have much in the way of material goods, but she does have a lot of love. Lexi attends a school full of rich kids on Pine Island in Washington State. She feels like an outcast until she meets Mia and her twin brother Zach. Mia and Lexi soon become best friends, while Lexi also harbors a secret crush for Zach.

Mia and Zach’s mother Jude is a helicopter Mom. She had a hard time getting pregnant. Since she’s had the twins, she has tried to be the loving mother that she never had. She is super involved in her children’s lives down to planning where they will go to college. The one event she never planned for is a tragedy that takes place along Night Road after a night of teenage drinking . . .

Truthfully Jude annoyed the heck out of me as a mother, which is ironically one of the reasons I found the novel so compelling. I think it will make the book a great point of discussion for our book club as there are sure to be varying views on Jude and her parenting. I think she came full circle and redeemed herself by the end, but her overwhelming involvement in her children’s lives, inability to forgive, and inability to move on made her a divisive character. It is hard to place yourself in someone else’s shoes should tragedy strike, but I hope I would handle things differently than Jude. I don’t want to discuss this point too in depth and giveaway the plot!

I enjoyed Lexi as a heroine. I thought she was a fully rounded character that had her good and her bad points. I was struck in this novel by the disparity between poor Lexi and the rich Mia. Truthfully the life that Jude and her children live as the wife and children of a doctor is not the life that I grew up living or that I live now as an engineer. I emphasized more with Lexi who had to work for everything she had. I can’t really imagine a lifestyle where you don’t have to worry about where you go to college because your parents are footing the entire bill, and getting a brand new car when you turn sixteen. Do people really live like this? I felt poor while reading it!

I particularly liked the shout-out to the Brontes in the novel. Mia and Lexi become friends after they bound over the reading of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. There were also several references to good friends in literature such as Harry and Hermione from Harry Potter and Sam and Frodo in Lord of the Rings. Most of my book club looks askance when I reference those two series (two of my favorites!) so I wonder if they understood what was being discussed. Sometimes “useless knowledge” isn’t so useless – it’s a good point of reference and common understanding!

Overall, I enjoyed Night Road for a finely written and moving plot with compelling, but often divisive characters. It is a good book to read and discuss as a book club, especially if you have a lot of mothers in the group. I thought the ending was a bit unrealistic, but the happiness of it will probably make most of my book club members happy!

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Rival for Mr. Darcy by Abigail Reynolds (and GIVEAWAY)

 A Rival for Mr. Darcy by Abigail Reynolds

How could that unrivalled romantic hero, Mr. Darcy, possibly have a rival? That was the question that started me writing the Pride & Prejudice variation Mr. Darcy’s Undoing. In Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth is a reputed beauty in the local scene, her father is a gentleman, she has a tiny bit of a dowry, and she seems to be able to attract male interest without much effort. Despite this, Mr. Darcy has a clear playing field because all of Elizabeth’s other admirers can’t be taken seriously. Mr. Wickham is too poor, Mr. Collins too foolish, and Colonel Fitzwilliam lets her know directly that he needs to marry an heiress.
Because Darcy doesn’t have a serious rival, he doesn’t have to do much more than mend his manners to win Elizabeth’s favor. If there had been a rival, what would Darcy have needed to do to make Elizabeth take him seriously?

To develop a rival for Darcy, I had to consider what he had to offer Elizabeth. He is handsome (though Wickham is more handsome), extremely wealthy, intelligent and passionate. It would be hard to create another character who could offer Elizabeth more in those regards, but there are also things that Darcy can’t offer Elizabeth. To marry him, she would have to leave all her family and friends, as well as her beloved Hertfordshire, for a society where she is completely unknown. She is likely to be somewhat over her head trying to manage the household at Pemberley, which is larger and more grand than any she has ever dealt with, and in dealing with the ton in London. And while Darcy learns to accept Elizabeth’s family, one senses there is always going to be reserve on his part. He isn’t likely to consider them friends or part of his community.

Enter Mr. Covington. Elizabeth has known him her entire life and knows he is responsible, trustworthy and sensible. He owns an estate nearby that is similar to Longbourn, much more manageable for someone like Elizabeth. By marrying him, she could stay in her familiar environs near her family and friends. She is fond of his family, and could feel completely comfortable inviting them to visit her family. Mrs. Covington would never be as wealthy as Mrs. Darcy, but she would never lack for anything. Darcy is a brilliant match for Elizabeth, but Mr. Covington is a safe and comfortable match.

Even so, Darcy’s native intelligence and wit give him a major advantage with Elizabeth. I had to find something else in Mr. Covington’s favor, so I decided that Elizabeth would be engaged to him. In Regency society, it was very shameful to break an engagement, so even if Elizabeth developed feelings for Darcy, her sense of loyalty and propriety would weigh heavily toward Mr. Covington.

When I first posted Mr. Darcy’s Undoing as a serial on a Jane Austen fanfiction board, I had a big surprise. Before Mr. Covington had a name, I referred to him as ‘Mr. Nice Guy.’ And he is a nice guy – maybe a bit stolid, but he is a responsible and decent sort of fellow and he genuinely cares for Elizabeth. To my shock, my readers despised him. Comments ranged from suggestions as to painful ways I might choose to kill him off to torments he should suffer for daring to raise his eyes to Elizabeth. I’d created a perfectly amiable gentleman… and everyone HATED him for being in Darcy’s way.

The moral of this story: as an author, I could create a rival for Darcy, but in the minds of readers who love Pride & Prejudice, Darcy will never have a rival. And, in truth, that’s just how it should be.

Thank-you for the fantastic guest blog Abigail!  I think having a rival to Mr. Darcy puts a fantastic spin on Pride and Prejudice.  I enjoyed the novel and will have my review posted this week so stay tuned! - Laura

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks is going to send one lucky winner a copy of Mr. Darcy's Undoing by Abigail Reynolds.

If you would like to win a copy of Mr. Darcy's Undoing by Abigail Reynolds please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest blog.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday October 21st, 2011.

Good luck!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Jane Eyre (2011)

As readers of this blog know, I am more than slightly obsessed with all things Bronte. One of my particular obsessions is watching all movie and TV versions of Jane Eyre. One of my fondest memories is watching the 1983 TV version of Jane Eyre starring Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester with my best friend Jenn while we were in high school. Even to us teenagers in the 1990’s the 1983 version was dated with poor background scenery and some rather bad dialogue. Even now, if one of us says, “She is a strapper, a REAL strapper,” it’s enough to send me into a fit of laughter.

It is always interesting to me how Jane Eyre is adapted from a beloved novel to the big (or small) screen. Some versions are excellent (2006 mini-series), while others are rather lacking (1983 mini-series). I am happy to say that I thought the 2011 version of Jane Eyre was one of the better productions – I loved it!

This version of Jane Eyre starred Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester. I have never seen the movies they are famed for (Alice in Wonderland and Inglourious Basterds respectively), but their superb acting in this movie makes me want to go and watch all of the other movies that they have been in. Wasikowska and Fassbender were both excellent leads with superb chemistry. You could almost feel it cackling off of the screen, particularly during a snowstorm scene where Mr. Rochester swooped into the room and swept Jane into his arms. This may have only been a figment of Jane’s imagination and not in the original novel, but it was highly romantic and a great addition. Is it getting hot in here or is it just me?

Judi Dench was also fantastic as Mrs. Fairfax. It was the best portrayal of that character that I’ve seen. I thought she really humanized the character into more than a cliche.

I thought the screenplay had an interesting framing of the story. It started at the middle of the novel with Jane’s flight from Thornfield and subsequent refuge at the Rivers’ home. I’m glad the Rivers were included as the second half of the novel has been left out of a lot of productions. This framing makes the story rather dramatic and mysterious if you don’t know the story of Jane’s flight. One negative though is that it makes the story seem as a romance between St. John and Jane as we know them together with some spark between them (at least on St. John’s end) before Mr. Rochester is introduced.

I particularly loved the lighting of this movie. It was eerie with the lights going dim at night with just the small light from a candle. It seemed more like the lighting would have been at the time and I loved the gothic feel. I also loved the sweeping music, it was beautiful. I need to look for the soundtrack!

The Lowood School scenes in this movie made me sad as they always do. I find that part of the novel heart wrenching, particularly because Charlotte Bronte and her poor sisters lived through a similarly dreary school experience that ended with the deaths of her older sisters Elizabeth and Maria.

I thought the romance between Jane and Mr. Rochester seemed sudden in the movie. This is probably due to the lack of time for build-up (it is a rather large novel). I enjoy the build-up of love in a longer mini-series. Some of my favorite scenes also didn’t make it into the movie (also probably due to time constraints) including Rochester’s turn as a gypsy, Jane’s torn wedding veil, and the very end of the novel “Reader, I married him.”

Overall though, the filmmakers succeeded in making a gothic, romantic version of Jane Eyre in the time constraints of a movie. I loved the leads and need to purchase this movie so I can watch it again . . . and again!

Have you seen this version of Jane Eyre yet? What did you think? Make sure to let me know in your comments. I loved Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester, but there have been many good Rochesters over the years. Vote on your favorite Mr. Rochester in my poll on the sidebar. We’ll have a Mr. Rochester discussion about the results next month – but you can also voice your opinion in the comments on this post.

Speaking of polls, I’ve also added one about the “All About the Brontes” Challenge. I hosted it in 2010 and I’m thinking about bringing it back for 2012. Would you be interested in joining it again? What can be done to improve it? Or should I try something different, but related such as a “Gothic” challenge, women of suspense challenge, Victorian Literature, or 19th century authors challenge? Vote on the poll and let me know your thoughts in the comments on this post!

DVD Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Thursday, October 6, 2011

To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell

To the Moon and Back is the third book by Jill Mansell that I’ve read in the past year. Mansell has quickly become one of my new favorite women’s fiction, “chick-lit,” or however you would like to describe wonderful, well-written stories that keep you engrossed until the very end. Mansell’s style is unique as in each of the novels that I’ve read, she writes about a great cast of well-rounded characters. There may be one lead, but she is surrounded by great people with interesting stories of their own. I love it!

Ellie Kendall is happily married to Jamie, a “drop-dead gorgeous 28-year old male.” They have a wonderful relationship that abruptly ends when Jamie is killed in a car crash while traveling to a class reunion with his best friend Todd. Eighteen months later, Ellie is having a hard time moving on. She finds herself still talking to Jamie, living in the same flat although it has gone downhill, and not dating anyone else. With help from her father-in-law, Tony, Ellie moves to Primrose Hill (an upper class area of London), where she makes a great new friend, Roo, and finds a new job within walking distance.

At her new job, Ellie has a handsome boss named Zack McLaren who happens to be crazy about her. Not wanting to mix her love life and her job, Ellie keeps her personal details to herself and tries to keep her crush for Zack under control. She starts to move on with her love life, much to Zack’s dismay. Will she be able to see the love that is right under her nose?

Side stories also include Roo and her transformation from an ex-rocker marriage wrecker to a being a better, caring person, and Tony finding a second chance at love. Tony meets an attractive middle aged artist and they feel an instant attraction. Unfortunately Martha is married. Her long-time love and husband Henry is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and is in a home. Martha is lonely, but loves her husband and can’t move on while he is alive. I thought it was a great look into the complications of love and the difficulties of living with Alzheimer's. My only complaint is that I would love to have read more about Martha and Tony . . . spin-off novel?

I read this novel in record time and had a hard time putting it down. Mansell was able to write a novel that both has a realistic look at grief, but is also a light-hearted romance. It’s a difficult task to find that perfect balance, but I believe that Mansell achieved it flawlessly.

Mansell has a wonderful gift for writing interesting, fully developed characters. I loved Jamie and he was dead by the end of the first chapter. I love how the story involved so much more than Ellie as a main character; the reader really gets to know the entire world of characters in which she resides.

Overall, To the Moon and Back is another fantastic novel by Jill Mansell. If you’ve loved her previous work, or are looking for something new to read, I highly recommend her!

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

 The Grief of Others is a lyrical, beautifully written novel about the ripples of grief that flow through a family after the death of the newest addition.

The Ryrie family lives in the state of New York in a Hudson River community. While Ricky works long days in the financial community leaving before her family rises and returning home after dinner, John works at his dream job building stages for productions at a local college. They have two children, Paul and Elizabeth, better known as Biscuit. Their third child is born missing a part of his brain, and little Simon Isaac only lives for fifty-seven hours.

The Grief of Others explores the lives of the Ryrie family before, during, and after the crisis. While Ricky and John try to move on while shielding their two remaining children, they find that certain lies from their past prove it to be a difficult task. In trying to protect Paul and Biscuit, they didn’t allow for any closure over the life lost of little Simon. Biscuit is only ten, but has had a difficult year in which she constantly skips school. Paul is entering his teens and has lost most of his friends through the year and finds himself a constant target of bullying at school.

Into the midst of all of these trials, John’s eldest daughter by a different woman shows up alone and pregnant. Jess was raised by her mother, but had one great summer vacation with the Ryrie family eight years before. She is not sure what she is trying to find by seeking out her “alternate” family, but the Ryries find themselves responding to her in different ways. The family also befriends young Gordie, a young man that has also experienced loss through the death of his father.

This novel was overall a sad book, but I enjoyed reading it (although that sounds perverse). I thought the writing itself was beautiful and I thought each character was complex and compelling. The narrative shifts between characters and I enjoyed reading about them all. My one complaint is that I wanted to learn more about all of the characters, why did the book have to end? Each one could have had a book alone about them. I thought the ending was good, but I could have continued to read more about them, particularly about Gordie.

While The Grief of Others was a great look at the complications of loss and grief, it was also an in-depth look at marriage, raising children, and growing up. I particularly felt pulled by Paul’s story. He had become an unpopular boy through the course of a year and was verbally harassed all of the time. It was sad, and made me worry about my own kids in the future. I thought Cohen did an excellent job of really relating well to all characters, even the younger ones.
As a mother, this particular line really touched me, “it is the realization that of all the innumerable sweetnesses the world will offer her children, the vast majority will go unwitnessed by her.” Children grow up too fast!

I read The Grief of Others as part of the TLC Book Tour.  For more stops on the tour, please check out the master schedule.

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