Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich

Big Girl Panties is a wonderful romantic comedy novel that exemplifies that looks can definitely be deceiving.

Holly Brennan is a 32-year old widow.  After the death of her husband Bruce, she finds herself overeating, not caring about her appearance or life in general.  On a flight back from Toronto where she had to tie up some of her late husband’s financial affairs, she finds herself in coach next to an extremely handsome man.  Logan Montgomery is a personal trainer to famous pro athletes.  He finds himself disgusted that he is in coach and next to a woman that he is not sure will fit into her seat.  After talking with her more on the flight, Logan offers his services as a personal trainer at a much lower fee than usual because of her widowhood.

Holly takes Logan up on the offer, but finds herself tormented by the closeness to such a perfect male specimen.  Logan finds himself laughing at Holly’s wit and enjoying himself when he is around her.  She does not fit his “type” of woman, which is a tall willowy blonde with breast implants.  Yet he can’t help but want to take his relationship with Holly to the next level.  Both Holly and Logan have problems with even thinking about having a relationship as they do not seem like a couple that should be together because of their physical appearances.  After an explosive fight, the two have to come to terms with themselves and each other to discover what they would like the future to hold.

I would definitely classify this as a steamy novel full of rich characters.  I read it quickly and enjoyed it.  It also had several laugh out loud moments in it.  I loved how Holly always told it like it was.  I also like that Logan was a shallow person solely focused on looks when searching for a partner and that he was attracted to Holly for her personality, almost despite himself.  It was a good read that was not your typical romance novel.

I read Big Girl Panties as part of the TLC Book Tour.  I am the last stop on this tour, but you can enjoy other reviews of this novel by checking out the full schedule here.

Book Source:  Review Copy from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow.  Thank-you!

Star Trek Into Darkness Novelization by Alan Dean Foster

Title: Star Trek Into Darkness
Author: Alan Dean Foster
Read by: Alice Eve
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: Approximately 8.5 hours (7 CDs)
Source: Simon & Shuster Review Copy – Thanks!

My husband and I sadly don’t get out to many movies these days, but we did get to see Star Trek Into Darkness this summer, and we both greatly enjoyed it.  I was more than a little excited to also get to review the audio CD novelization of the movie by Simon & Shuster.  Listening to the audiobook allowed me to fill in some of the gaps that I hadn’t realized when I was watching the movie.  The novelization was by Alan Dean Foster.  I have enjoyed his books in the past, especially in the Star Wars universe.

The story has a riveting beginning with Kirk flying in the face of the Prime Directive in order to save a civilization and his friend, Mr. Spock.  After Spock files a report with the entire story told, Kirk is demoted to first officer.  When a new threat to Star Fleet looms and disaster occurs, only Kirk, Spock, and crew can save the day.

I enjoyed the story and thought the movie and audiobook were very well put together.  I loved the nods that were made to lifelong Star Trek fans, but also loved the new direction that the story took.  I didn’t like the mass destruction of San Francisco at the end.  I feel that movies like to show how much cool special effects they can do, while the audience is horrified on the loss of life that it would entail.

Alice Eve (Dr. Carol Marcus) was the narrator of this audiobook.  She did a fair job.  I enjoyed listening to her, except for when she was doing the voices for Admiral Marcus or Khan.  She had a very strange cadence with those characters and the result was like scratching nails across a chalkboard for me.

Overall, I found Star Trek Into Darkness to be a great complement to the movie and a very enjoyable audiobook for my trips into work this summer.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

My friend Elina was one of the first people that always gave me great book recommendations.  We met in fourth grade when we both had an excellent teacher named Mrs. Shed.  Mrs. Shed was a warm hearted woman with a great gift of teaching.  She always loved all things pioneer related which was just up my Little House on the Prairie loving alley.  For some reason, I didn’t get along with a couple of other girls I was seated by, which was odd as we became good friends the next year.  I think we antagonized each other like sisters that year.  Finally I was assigned a seat next to Elina.  Elina not only made goofy faces that made me laugh, but she also read cool books.  She let me borrow them and gave great recommendations that I always enjoyed.  Elina now lives in Chicago, and I don’t get to see her very often, but luckily we now have Facebook she is able to send me book recommendations.  A few years ago, she told me that I needed to read The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  After I finished the novel, I realized that she had once again struck gold with a novel that one I absolutely adored.  Do you have good book reading friends that always make stellar recommendations?

After Elina recommended this book, it went onto my ever growing list of “to read” books, which is sadly currently over 400 on Goodreads.  I decided to pick it as the August selection of the FLICKS Book and Movie Club to move it up my list.  I’m glad I did as it was an excellent novel that I had a hard time putting down!

The Forgotten Garden is the story of three women, Eliza, Nell, and Cassandra.  As a four year old girl in 1913, Nell was found on a wharf in Australia having arrived on a boat from England.  She had a small suitcase in hand and did not know her name.  The Portmaster, Hugh, took her home with him so she wouldn’t be alone.  As no one came looking for her, his wife, Lil, and he decided to keep her as their own child.  They had been unable to have children and this was a blessing in disguise.  They moved to a different town in case to further disguise the fact that Nell was not their child.  Nell grew up thinking she was their child, until her 21st birthday when Hugh decided to tell her the secret.  This forever changed Nell’s life and set her adrift from this point on.  She always wondered who she was and went to England in the 1970’s to find out.  She almost made her discovery, but when she came home, her daughter abandoned Nell’s granddaughter, Cassandra at her house.  She raises the motherless Cassandra and they form a wonderful bond.  After Nell’s death in 2005, Cassandra discovers that Nell was adopted and that she owned a cottage in England.  She determines to unravel the secret that Nell so wanted to solve.

In Nell’s suitcase was a book of fairy tales written by Eliza Makepeace.  Nell’s earliest memories are of the “Authoress” leaving her on the boat and of visiting her with her father through a secret garden.  The novel flashes back to Eliza’s story and how discovering the key to Eliza could help to solve Nell’s mystery.

The novel is told through a series of flashbacks across continents and time.  1900, 1913, 1970’s, and 2005 are key time periods in the lives of these three women.  I loved the complex nature of this set-up and how it helped to enhance the mystery and its solution.  Although this book was over five hundred pages long, I flew through it as I really wanted a resolution.  I loved the ending and have been haunted by it since reading it.

Eliza, Nell, and Cassandra were all wonderful points of view and complex women.  I enjoyed reading about all three equally.  I also loved Eliza’s secret or forgotten garden.  Eliza was an orphan that was taken to the estate of her Aunt and Uncle.  There she met her cousin Rose.  Rose was beautiful and about Eliza’s age and they got along famously.  Rose unfortunately, was very sickly.  Eliza suspects her doctor and mother are keeping her indoors too much.  She discovers a garden on the estate that is walled in and seemingly forgotten at the end of a maze.  She works on replanting it and fixing it up with Rose to help bring her back to help.  When author Frances Hodgson Burnett visits during a garden party, she finds inspiration in this garden.  I loved Burnett’s A Secret Garden book as a kid and was thrilled by this reference.

Sadly, while book club was a fun time this week at my house around the fire pit, no one had read this wonderful book, but me.  It seems that many in the club suffer from a fear of big books.  I’m probably not helping matters by selecting Circle of Friends for my next pick.  They did seem intrigued by my summary of the beginning of the book so we’ll see if anyone reads The Forgotten Garden.  One friend was reading it and I think she will finish!

Overall, The Forgotten Garden was a wonderful historical fiction mystery novel about three wonderful women and the ties that bind them.  I would highly recommend it.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen by Lindsay Ashford

It is 1843.  Miss Anne Sharp was a former governess to Jane Austen’s brother Edward’s daughter Fanny at his estate Godmersham.  She met Jane Austen while she worked for Edward and they struck up a lifelong friendship.  Miss Sharp was given a lock of Jane’s hair after her death by her sister Cassandra. With a new test available, she sends the lock off to be tested for arsenic poison.  When the test comes back positive, Miss Sharp’s suspicions are confirmed, her friend Jane was poisoned and she is determined to discover the culprit.

The novel reverts back to Miss Sharp’s memories of how she first met Jane and her family and their friendship throughout Jane’s life.  Both Anne and Jane shared a love of books and Anne enjoyed Jane’s wit and keen observations about people.  Anne’s keen observations about Jane’s own family makes her suspect that some family members were up to no good and leads to her dismissal from Edward’s household.  Their friendship remains however up until the very end.

My favorite part of this novel was Jane Austen and her family brought to life on the pages.  I loved reading about them through the years and imagining Jane in her life.  It was wonderful reading and I tore through this novel quickly.  I will admit though that the weakest part of the novel for me was the mystery.  I don’t think it had a strong resolution at all and was a bit disappointed by the ending.

This is my fifth item for the Pride & Prejudice 2013 Bicentenary Challenge.  For more about this novel, check out this guest blog by author Lindsay Ashford.  Leave a comment while you are there for a chance to win a copy of this novel.

Book Source:  Review Copy from Sourcebooks – Thanks!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Lindsay Ashford Guest Blog - The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen (and GIVEAWAY)

I am very excited today to have author Lindsay Ashford on my blog to discuss her new novel, The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen.  I just finished this wonderful novel last weekend - I will have my review posted next week.  Thank-you to Ms. Ashford for stopping by and for writing such a wonderful post about her inspiration for the novel.

Thank you, Laura, for inviting me to be a guest author on your blog and giving me the opportunity to explain how a lock of hair belonging to Jane Austen set me on the trail of a two-hundred-year-old mystery.

I’ve been writing books for a while now, but until 2007 I was known for what they call in the publishing industry ‘gritty crime novels’ – stories set in modern cities with a forensic psychologist as the main character. When my fiancé was offered a new job in the village where Austen lived it seemed the perfect place in which to write. We got to live in an old cottage in the grounds of the Elizabethan manor house that was once home to Jane’s brother, Edward. I was able to use the historic library as a place to write and I planned to get started on another contemporary crime novel. But within a few weeks I’d abandoned the new book. Instead my head was stuck in old volumes of the family letters. One morning a sentence Jane penned just a few months before she died jumped out at me. Describing the weeks of illness she had recently endured, she wrote: ‘I am considerably better now and recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour…’

The phrase triggered something in my memory. As a writer of crime fiction I’ve researched forensic techniques, including the detection of poisons. What Jane had described in her letter sounded very much like the symptoms of arsenic poisoning, which causes a characteristic dark and light spotting of the skin when taken in small doses over a long period of time.

No one has ever been able to offer a satisfactory explanation of why Austen died at the tragically early age of 41. Addison’s disease, tuberculosis and lymphoma have all been suggested but none gives the black and white skin discolouration she described.

I dismissed the poisoning theory as too wild to contemplate and thought no more about it until a few months later, when the library had a visitor from New York. She was an ardent Austen fan and we got chatting. She asked if I had seen the lock of Jane’s hair – cut off after her death as a keepsake - on display at the cottage down the road. Then she related the story of the couple who donated it – American collectors of Austen memorabilia, both now deceased, who had bought it at auction at Sotheby’s in 1948. ‘And did you know,’ she said, ‘that before they handed it over to the museum, they had it tested for arsenic?’

I can’t remember what I said in reply. My mind was racing. Arsenic in Jane’s hair meant she had ingested the poison in the months before her death. No one else in the cottage had been affected, so it couldn’t have been the water supply, the wallpaper or anything else in the house. Was Jane given arsenic as a medical treatment (common enough at the beginning of the nineteenth century) and if so, could the dose have been large enough to kill her? Or was there a more sinister explanation?  

Jane died in 1817 and a few years later a wave of paranoia swept England in the wake of an epidemic of arsenic poisoning. The tasteless, odourless white powder could be bought from any grocer’s shop with no questions asked. People were poisoned by accident if it got mistaken for baking powder and there were also those who were poisoned slowly and deliberately by relatives or servants who knew the symptoms could easily be mistaken for those of bowel cancer or gastroenteritis.

I thought of Jane’s best friend, Anne Sharp, to whom the author wrote one of her last letters. Anne lived until 1853 would have read about the wave of poisoning cases in the newspapers. She would also have known about the Marsh Test. Developed in 1836, it enabled the analysis of human remains for the presence of the white powder. What would you do, I wondered, if you suspected your best friend had been poisoned and you were in possession of a lock of her hair? This is how the novel begins:

‘I have sent him her hair. When I took it from its hiding place and held it to my face I caught the faintest trace of her; a ghost scent of lavender and sun-warmed skin. It carried me back to the horse-drawn hut with its wheels in the sea where I saw her without cap and bonnet for the first time. She shook out her curls and twisted round. My buttons, she said, will you help me? The hut shuddered with the waves as I fumbled. She would have fallen if I hadn’t held her. I breathed her in, my face buried in it; her hair.

I suppose he has had to destroy it to reveal its secret; he can have no idea what it cost me to part with it. All that remains are the few strands the jeweller took for the ring upon my finger: a tiny braid, wound into the shape of a tree. When I touch the glass that holds it I remember how it used to spill over the pillow in that great sailboat of a bed. If hair can hold secrets this ring must surely hold mine…

When I first met Jane her life, like mine, was an indecipherable work in progress. I had no notion, then, of what she was to become. But in the space of a few weeks she rubbed away the words other hands had scrawled beneath my name and inked me in; made me bitter, passionate, elated, frightened…all the things that make a person jump off the page.

Godmersham was where I lived in those days, although I never would have called it home, for I belonged neither above stairs nor below. I was one of that strange tribe of half-breeds, a governess. To the servants my speech and manners made me a spy who was not to be trusted. To Edward and Elizabeth Austen I was just another household expense. My only true companions were my books.

Until Jane came.

I would see her each morning, creeping away from the house as if for an assignation. I would catch sight of her heading for the little Greek temple that sat on a hill high above the river that snaked through the parkland. She would be there for an hour or two, rising long before her mother and sister were up and about. I never saw anyone else take that path at that time, but there were ways through the woods for those familiar with the estate. As one who missed the solace of family, it never occurred to me that she might be going there to escape that grand house and all those within it.’    

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen is a mystery but at the heart of the novel is the relationship between Anne Sharp and Jane Austen. It’s about the unbreakable bond that exists between best friends even when one of them no longer walks this earth. I hope that if you read it you will be both intrigued and fascinated by a possibility which has been overlooked until now.  

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen by Lindsay Ashford

If you would like to win this book please leave a comment about what most intrigues you about this book or this guestblog.

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 random.org (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 August 23rd, 2013.

Please make sure to check the last week of August 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!