Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester

Georgette Heyer is one of my favorite authors. I feel like I discovered her late in the game as I was in the latter half of my twenties when I happened to pick up one her novels at my local library. I thought it was wonderfully written and very witty. I went back for more and soon read all that my library had. Luckily that was not nearly all of Heyer’s novels, and I still have many more to enjoy as the years pass by.

I knew nothing about Georgette Heyer before reading Jane Aiken Hodge’s biography. Aiken Hodge’s biography focused on finding Heyer through her novels, explaining them, and the context in which they were written. It was an excellent book and I break it out whenever I read a new Heyer novel to get some background information. Although it was a good biography, it left me wanting more.

Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester fills that gap. Kloester was given access to Aiken Hodges research archive as well as exclusive access to many of Heyer’s letters. She used this information to weave an intriguing story of Heyer and her life from childhood, through her prolific writing career, to her death too early from cancer.

I was especially intrigued by Heyer and her finances. After her father’s heart attack while Heyer was in her early 20’s, she became the primary bread winner for her family. After her marriage, Heyer was at times not only supporting herself and her own husband and son, but her mother and two brothers as well. This caused significant stress to Heyer, especially as she had to at times put away passion projects to focus on the regency romance and mystery novels that made her money. The tax rates in Britain at the time also took a significant amount of her income (something like 85%) so that did not help.

Although Heyer was often motivated financially to work on certain novels, she did in depth research and enjoyed creating intriguing characters. It was interesting to read her letters back and forth with her publishers on the topics.

I was sad to read about her untimely death, and even sadder to read about the suicide of her husband not too long after.

If you are a lover of Georgette Heyer novels, this novel is a must read. It is also a great read if you are looking for a book about a strong woman who beat the odds to become a very successful author in the twentieth century.

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In the Bag by Kate Klise

In the Bag was our second January book pick for the FLICKS Book and Movie club. We all enjoyed this one as well. Chef Daisy has taken her teenage daughter Coco to Paris for a vacation. On her same flight from the U.S. to Paris is Andrew a single father with a teenage son, Webb. Andrew and Webb fly on to an art exhibit in Spain that Andrew is working on, but not before Andrew leaves a note in Daisy’s purse telling her of his attraction, and Coco and Webb accidently switch bags.

Coco and Webb start an email correspondence to get their bags back and that correspondence quickly turns to flirtation. Daisy is not amused by Andrew’s note, but fate has them meet again in another way.

I thought In the Bag was a very fun, romantic story – and a very quick read. I loved the banter between the couples. I could see this as a very good movie that I would want to see as well. I also loved the note at the end of the book, where Klise admits to once getting a note in her bag on a flight, which inspired this novel. I wanted more details on this secret note!

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski

I suddenly have found myself quite a few books behind again on reviews. I apologize, not only the start of the spring semester, but having my entire family down and out with the flu for the past few weeks has gotten me behind again.

June Parker joined Weight Watchers to shed ten unwanted pounds. She gave a ride home to a new life-time member, Marissa, and they both were involved in tragic car accident. June finds a list Marissa had in the car which has the “20 Things to Do by my 25th Birthday.” After meeting Marissa’s brother at the cemetery a few months after her death, June decides to finish the list by Marissa’s 25th birthday. What she finds that in order to achieve Marissa’s list, she is also changing her life, for the better.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a fun, quick book to read, but it the storyline also went in several unexpected directions. I really liked how it was a story of someone that basically had their life in a rut that was able to make the best of a terrible accident and change her life for the better.

The Next Thing on My List was a great January pick for the FLICKS Book and Movie Club. It was a consensus in the club that we all enjoyed the book, but we differed over what would be on our list of items we would want to complete by a certain age/before death. Travel seemed to be the most popular choice and was mine as well. I also would like to write a novel, but my only writing seems to be this blog or lesson plans these days!

Overall, if you are looking for a funny, positive book, I’d recommend The Next Thing on My List.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Winner of The Prodigal Son by Colleen McCullough!

JaneGS of Reading, Writing, Working, Playing is the lucky winner of Colleen McCullough's latest novel, The Prodigal Son.  Congrats to JaneGS!  JaneGS has been notifed by email and has one week to respond, otherwise a new winner will be chosen.  She was selected using my favorite website,  I hope she enjoys the book as much as I did!

Thank-you to all who entered this great giveaway and thank-you to Simon & Schuster for allowing me to host this giveaway.

Stay tuned in February & March for more great giveaways!

Winner of Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester!

Traveler is the lucky winner of the fascinating biography Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester. Congrats to Traveler!  I have send her an email notifying her of her win.  She has one week to email me her mailing address, otherwise a new winner will be selected.  Traveler was chosen using the powers of

Thank-you to all who entered and to Jennifer Kloester for the great guest blog and for responding to the comments.  That was fantastic!

I really enjoyed this book and will hopefully have my review up and posted this week.

Stay tuned for a new giveaway in February . . .

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Prodigal Son by Colleen McCullough Review and GIVEAWAY!

The Prodigal Son is a riveting mystery set in 1969. A deadly neurotoxin is missing from Dr. Millie Hunter’s lab. Millie is a gifted biochemist that is married to an even more famous biochemist, Dr. Jim Hunter. She is also the daughter of the Holloman Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Patrick O’Donnell, therefore she notifies her dad of the dangerous theft. Shortly thereafter, a rash of mysterious deaths from this toxin spread through this college town. Who stole the toxin and why?

I’ll admit that I couldn’t put this book down. I really wanted to know the end of this mystery. Even after it became apparent who the villain of the book was, I still wanted to keep reading. The mastery of this novel isn’t the mystery as much as the expert building of the layers of wonderful characters. I enjoyed all of the characters; victims and villains and wanted to read more about them. Luckily I can. This book is the fourth in McCullough’s Carmine Delmonico series. I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, but I still enjoyed this book. Delmonico is related to Patrick O’Donnell and seemingly half of the town, and is the primary investigator on this mystery.

Another interesting aspect of this book was that Dr. Jim Hunter is African American and Dr. Millie Hunter is white. A biracial marriage in 1950’s and 1960’s America is examined as well as the status of women in society. Dr. Millie Hunter is a professional woman in an era when that was uncommon, but she is also always considered beneath her husband in the world’s eye. I thought both angles added interest and depth to the novel. Although I did have questions about McCullough’s handling of race at some points. It would be interesting to discuss this with someone else!  Feel free to comment if you have read the book.

My only complaint about this book is small . . . I really hated the name of the University – Chubb University? It’s supposed to be Ivy League, but all I kept thinking was Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Chubb – which one doesn’t belong? There were also a couple of items that didn’t seem to fit with the times.

I have read Colleen McCullough's historical fiction in the past (The Thorn Birds and Morgan's Run), and it was interesting to see her delve into a new genre.

Overall, I thought The Prodigal Son was a great mystery with wonderfully complex characters.

Book Source: Review Copy from Simon & Schuster – Thank-you.

Giveaway Details

Simon & Schuster has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of The Prodigal Son by Colleen McCullough.
If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or about author Colleen McCullough.

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 on Friday January 25th, 2013.

Please make sure to check the first week of February to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner, but lately I've been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Title: Little Women

Author: Louisa May Alcott

Read by: Christina Ricci

Publisher: Penguin Audio

Length: Approximately 19 Hours

Source: Digital Review Copy from Penguin Audio – Thank-you!

I recently discovered that I was robbed as a youth. As I was listening to Christina Ricci’s excellent narration of one of my favorite novels, I discovered scene after scene of the classic novel that I didn’t remember. I read it many times as a youth and recently reread it a couple of years ago. What was happening? I got out my old classic copy bought from a scholastic book order when I was young and realized I HAD BEEN READING AN ABRIDGED VERSION MY ENTIRE LIFE. How could this happen to me? How had I never noticed the “abridged” before so apparent now on the cover?

Luckily I could now fill in the gaps with this audio book, and truthfully, I found the gaps to be more interesting now as an adult that I probably would have found them as a child. For instance, I never knew before that sainted perfect mother Marmee actually had anger control issues. She has a wonderful talk with Jo on how to control your temper and explains why she often has to leave the room or chew on her lip to control her anger. Marmee – I never knew! I loved this human flaw to a character that had always seemed so perfect before. It was also a lesson I appreciated as a mother as it is sometimes hard to make sure your temper does not get the better of you.

I also loved the extra material in “Good Wives” (the second half of Little Women) giving more detail to the relationships between each sister and their spouses and interesting dynamics with Meg’s children, Demi and Daisy. I loved the romance and found that some of the domestic trials of yesteryear could be the same today. For example, Meg always told John he could invite a friend over for dinner any time, but of course John picks a day when Meg has made and destroyed jam and has nothing ready for supper. Meg is horrified and very angry with John after the incident. I could imagine the same thing happening to me with Ben clueless on why I was angry.

I enjoyed listening to Little Women again. It was like visiting with old friends. I love the trials and tribulations of the March sisters, each with their beauties and their flaws. Ricci was an excellent narrator. The only problem I had with her narration was Hannah’s apparently Southern accent. I don’t picture Hannah as a southern servant, did I miss something?

Listening to Little Women also inspired me to rewatch the 1994 film starring Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, and Claire Danes. I love that film, but they leave so much out. I also love the 1930’s film starring Katherine Hepburn and 1940’s version starring June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor, each with its own spin on the classic. I will admit thought that my favorite growing up in the 1980’s was a cartoon Little Women we owned on “videodisc.” It included a sequence where they rescue a runaway slave, which is not in the original novel. Looking around the internet, I discovered that this cartoon was actually a Japanese anime version. Very interesting! What is your favorite cinematic version of Little Women?

This audiobook has inspired me to dust off my copy of Little Men, which as I admitted previously, I never read as a child. I am interested to learn what happens next to the March family so hopefully I will be reading it soon.

If you are looking for the COMPLETE version of Little Women in a new format, I suggest the wonderful digital audio version narrated by Christina Ricci.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

As I watched the last Twilight movie, I was riveted by a preview for an upcoming movie called Beautiful Creatures. When I returned home, I made sure to put a hold on the novel at the library that the movie is based on. A young adult romance with paranormal activity? Count me in.
Ethan Wate has lived in the small town of Gatlin South Carolina his entire life. “There are only two kinds of people in our town. ‘ The stupid and the stuck’ my father affectionately classified our neighbors.” Wate dreams of something different and of moving away from his small town. Especially after his mother died earlier in the year in a tragic car accident and his father has basically disappeared into the study since then to work on the great American novel. Ethan is lucky to have Amma, the woman who raised his father and him to keep him in line.

Beautiful CreaturesEthan is unfortunately a sophomore in high school and still has years before he will leave his small town. Things soon change when new girl Lena Duchannes starts at his school. She is dark haired, doesn’t dress “right,” and loves to read, all items that put her in the cross hairs of the bleached blonde popular cheerleaders. But the item that really puts a mark on Lena’s back is that she is the niece of Macon Ravenwood, the town’s “Boo Radley” and lives with him in his old and presumed haunted mansion. Ethan immediately connects with Lena and strangely realizes she is the girl that has inhabited his dreams all summer. Even stranger, Ethan and Lena can communicate with each other in their thoughts.

With the town against them, Ethan soon learns that Lena has a secret that will shape her on her sixteenth birthday. Ethan also discovers the hidden layers, lies, and secrets to Gaitlin that make his small town anything but boring.

I really enjoyed this book and literally couldn’t put it down. It looks like a large book, but being a young adult novel, it was a very fast read. I found the story line to be very interesting and original, but I really loved all of the characters and the setting. The southern setting was intriguing and each character seemed to have a hidden back story just waiting to be let loose. I can’t say more as I don’t want to ruin the plot, but I look forward to reading the next book in this series and to watching the movie. Any other fans or haters of this series want to share their thoughts?

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Friday, January 4, 2013

"How I First Fell in Love with Georgette Heyer's Novels" Guest Blog by Jennifer Kloester (and GIVEAWAY!)

Today I am excited to have a wonderful guest blog by Jennifer Kloester on her new biography of one of my favorite authors, Georgette Heyer.  Kloester shares her experience with discovering the wonderful works of Heyer and writing this biography.  It is next on my to-read pile so look for my review this month! 

Hi Laura, thanks so much for hosting my Georgette Heyer Blog on your lovely site.

The first time I read a Georgette Heyer novel I was living in a small mining town in the jungle in Papua New Guinea (truly!). We were very lucky to have a tiny YWCA library with a surprisingly wide range of books, among which were many well-read Heyer paperbacks. My first was Cotillion. It's a delicious novel with a wonderful cast of characters and some incredibly funny laugh-out-loud scenes. I loved Kitty Charing and her various suitors, dreadful old Mr Penicuik and poor Miss Fishguard, and within a couple of chapters I was hooked! After that I tried to get hold of every Heyer novel I could – though that took several years because she was so prolific. To this day I am in awe of the consistently high standard of her writing and, although I've sometimes heard critics claim that she used the same characters over again, I'm always struck by her ability to bring something fresh and new to each novel (and I've read her books many, many times). Heyer was a born storyteller and she loved getting to know her characters – in fact, they were so like real people to her that she sometimes complained that they took over her stories and had to be firmly dealt with!

One of the things I love about Heyer is the way she brings the past to life. She makes it seem real and I've always felt that if I could somehow time-travel back to the Regency era I'd know exactly how to behave because I'd read her novels. In fact, it was her ability to blend historical fact with an entertaining fictional story that made me want to know more about the woman behind the books. I'd read Jane Aiken Hodge's excellent biography and from that I'd learned that Heyer was incredibly private and the only firsthand information from Heyer herself were the letters she'd written to her publisher. But these dated from 1944 when Heyer was in her forties and already a bestselling author. I was sure there was more to know, so in 2001 I began researching her life.

I made regular trips to England where I was lucky enough to have the kind support of her son, Sir Richard Rougier. It was thanks to Sir Richard that I was able to gain access to a number of unread collections of Georgette Heyer's letters. That was incredibly exciting. I'll never forget reading those first letters – written by Georgette when she was only 18 and had just received the contract for her first book, The Black Moth. Over the next five years I located more than 600 previously unread letters full of new information about Heyer. Those letters (often thousands of words and pages long) were part of what made writing the biography so much fun because they not only told me heaps of new things about Heyer but they also opened up hundreds of new research lines for me to pursue. I spoke to those who'd known her, visited every house she'd ever lived in, immersed myself in her notebooks and private papers, read the books she'd read, walked where she'd walked, did one of her famous jigsaw puzzles and sat on the gold velvet Knole sofa (in her son's sitting-room) where she used to play solitaire while working out her plots and characters.

People sometimes describe Heyer's novels as the ultimate re-read and I think that's true. Her books are like a delicious meal that makes you savour every mouthful and when you get to the end you wish you could do it all again! And that's the great thing about having so many of her novels – you can read them again and again and they'll go on making you laugh and sigh and smile and wanting to share them with your friends. She was a wonderful writer with a great sense of humour and a genius for creating characters who live on long after the last page is read.

Jennifer Kloester

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or this great 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 on Friday January 18th, 2013.

Please make sure to check the fourth week of January to see if you are a winner.  I send emails to the winner, but lately I've been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!