Monday, December 29, 2014

Bookalicious Babe's Top Ten Books for 2014 Part 2: Who's Number One?

I'm still wrestling with numbers three and two, so I guess I will make up my mind when I get past number four.  Who knew picking my favorite reads of 2014 would come down to such a struggle?  Without further ado, here's the final four:

4.  Christmas at Tiffany's  by Karen Swan

This book was my biggest surprise of the year.  I was looking for something fun and light to read to get my mind off of homework, and instead I got a fantastic story that sucked me in and kept me up late at night.  I've shared it with friends who have had the same reaction.  Isn't it great when a book really grabs you and doesn't let go?  Read this if you want a great chick-lit story that takes chick-lit to a new level.  

3.  Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

This book had my heart just from the cover and the title.  Ruth Reichl, a famous food writer, takes her passion for food into the realm of fiction and delivers a delightful novel about a woman's search for the young girl who befriended James Beard in the 1940's while he was the food librarian at an esteemed cooking magazine in New York City.  Anyone who loves to cook, loves New York, and loves a good, fresh story should pick this one up!  Coming in paperback in May, 2015.

2.  The Homesman Glendon Swarthout

I first spotted this novel sitting on the fiction cart in my bookstore's receiving room, waiting to go out.  Just one copy.  I could have missed it any other time; I  like to think that wonderful bookstore magic put me in the right place at the right time to find it.  I quickly picked it up (the original cover has a sod house on the prairie) and ran to my manger, who also loves all things pioneer.  We ordered more in, read it, and began telling everyone we could about this amazing novel, which was first published in the 1990's and has been re-released in conjunction with the movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank in the title roles of George and Miss Mary Bee Cuddy.  An unforgettable tale of one woman's decision to transport pioneer women who have gone insane on the wide and lonesome Nebraska prairie to a safe house in Iowa.  Powerful, moving, and one book you will want to share with everyone around you.   Once again reminding us of the incredible sacrifices women made in leaving their homes and families to travel West in hopes of a new beginning. 

And the Bookalicious Babe's favorite read of 2014 is.......

1.  The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

Rarely does a trilogy wow me from beginning to end.  Deborah Harkness, you are brilliant.  I don't know how you came up with this amazing tale of Diana and Matthew, but I thank the stars you did!  You wrote an amazing tale of vampires, witches,  and daemons and weaved an unforgettable cast of characters into a story that left me (and thousands of others) anxiously awaiting each new novel.  Brilliant, clever, sophisticated, and all neatly concluded in The Book of Life.  This is no teen fantasy, but a well-written, meticulously researched, and cleverly imagined tale of love against all odds, time travel, family, righting wrongs, settling past debts, and most of all, faith.  If you haven't read the All Souls Trilogy, please start now.  A Discovery of Witches, followed by Shadow of Night, then The Book of Life.  While I was sad to read the last of Diana and Matthew's story, I was so satisfied with the conclusion I couldn't be sad for too long.  Who knows?  Maybe another character will have their chance in a future book?

That's my list!  I can't wait to see what 2015 brings me.  Thank you everyone for reading my reviews, commenting, and sharing what you love to read.  It makes my heart glad to know so many people embrace books and reading with as much love as I do.  I can't imagine a world without books, can you?  

Have a wonderful New Year!   

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bookalicious Babe's Top Ten Reads of 2014: The Countdown to #1 Begins Here!

To say this year went by quickly is a vast understatement.  I blinked and now 2015 is this week!  Which means I will spend three months thinking and writing "2014".  

I'll be honest and say I didn't get to read as much as I would have liked this year.  It has kinda left a bit of a blue feeling in my reader's soul.  Life has just gotten too big right now to be able to sit down and read whenever I want.  I think I'll take a page from my friend Madeline and start counting down the days until school is finished.  Then I will immediately take a few days off and read to my heart's content.  My soul will be happy and all will be right in the world. 

You know I couldn't possibly make one big post with my top ten reads of the year, right?  What fun would that be?  This post begins the countdown to number one....so here's my favorite reads of 2014, Part 1:   Ten through Five.

10.  Archetype by M. D. Waters

I took a chance on a genre I normally don't read and was pleasantly surprised.  A woman wakes up in a hospital not remembering who she is, but keeps having strange dreams about a man who is not the one visiting her and calling her his wife.  Futuristic fiction. 

9.  Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

I do enjoy Sarah Jio's novels.  I think I've read every one!  This one especially grabbed me because it's all about bookstores, reading, and a childhood built by books.  I recommend Sarah Jio to anyone who likes contemporary women's fiction with a dash of romance and a bit of history.  Always enjoyable and perfect for vacations.

8.  First Impressions  by Charlie Lovett

Oh Charlie Lovett.   A new favorite author.  This was such fun to read.  Did Jane Austen take the idea of Pride and Prejudice from someone else?  What?!  If this is true, just how valuable would that proof be in the world of rare books today?  A literary mystery that is perfect for a summer's day on the front porch.  But if you want to read it in the winter, please do.  

7.  Green Rider by Kristin Britain

The first book in the Green Rider series.  I finally read it and promptly bought the next two in the series.  A strong female character, magic, evil, a kingdom in danger--great fantasy for all ages.  Oh--and a pretty awesome horse, too. 

6.  A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

2014 was the year I first read Maeve Binchy.  And I thought to myself, "Girl, why did you wait so long?!"  A lovely novel about the people who gather for a week at a small Irish hotel and make some pretty important life decisions.  A great cast of characters, and heck--it's set in Ireland.  How can you not love this? 

5.  The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch

A queen bee named Queen Elizabeth. Honey.  New York City. Magic.  Love at first sight.  Sarah-Kate Lynch needs to write faster.  I love her stuff!  Magical realism in the realm of Sarah Addison-Allen and Alice Hoffman.  You too will become obsessed with bees, hives, and urban beekeeping.  

Only four more to go!  All will be revealed in a few days.....
What are your favorite reads of 2014?  

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Last Review of the Year: Longbourn by Jo Baker

Jane Austen is like the energizer rabbit:  she just keeps going and going.  She is the ultimate Girl Power!  

School is done for a few weeks, and I've had a little bit of time to begin reading for fun.  And I've managed to buy another six books just to make myself crazy with which one to read next.  The life of a book lover is never dull.  

Longbourn is a novel that had to wait until I was ready to read it.  It has stared at me from the bookshelves and tables at work, first in hardcover, and now in paperback.  I am so glad I waited to read it, and it's a perfect ending to my reading year.  

Longhorn follows the lives of the Bennet household servants:  Mr. and Mrs. Hill, Sarah, and Polly.  Life is pretty dull washing out the underthings of the Bennet sisters, cooking food, and running up and down stairs at the slightest ring of a bell.  Then mysterious James shows up; he is taken into the Bennet household as their latest servant.  Sarah at first loathes him; but the loathing quickly turns into interest.  Just who is James, and why is he so secretive?  

Meanwhile, the storyline of Pride and Prejudice winds its way through the novel, and the author cleverly starts each chapter with a line from P&P, which helps keep you on track with what's going on above stairs.  Tiny details of life as a servant, the day to day life of British gentry, and the complicated relationships between servants and those they serve all bring a richness to this tale that completely captured my imagination.  I don't think I will ever be able to think of Pride & Prejudice again without this book in my mind.  It certainly did make me look at the Bennet sisters in a new light--and not a particularly flattering one at that.  It dented my admiration of Elizabeth just a bit.  Read it and decide for yourself!

Jo Baker did an amazing job creating a whole new addition to the world of Jane Austen.  Not only did she remain faithful to Pride and Prejudice, but she took the reader away from Longbourn and into the private hopes, dreams, and yes, nightmares of the servants that remain always below stairs, and always behind the scenes.  In this novel, the Bennet sisters and their love lives are merely along the edges--what happens to the Bennet servants is just as dramatic and  full of highs and lows as the best soap opera around.  

Rating:  8/10 for a wonderful story that weaves the world of Pride and Prejudice into a new tale sure to appeal to any fan of historic fiction.  And Sarah is a wonderfully strong female character you won't be able to forget. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

And the Winner of The Novel Cure Is......

The winner of a copy of The Novel Cure is.....

Madeline Jarvis!

Madeline:  please email me your contact information!

Stay tuned for my Best of 2014 Reads coming the last week of December!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Last Giveaway of the Year! The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin

I can't believe this year is almost over!  But before we say adieu to 2014, let's have one more book giveaway, shall we?

This lovely book is sure to cure anything that ails you--a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn't read, being a control freak, or even...ahem...being locked out of your house.  Yes, Ella and Susan have managed to compile a brilliant list of books both classic and contemporary to help you through life's little bumps.  

And now you can have your very own copy of this delightful book, which is coming out in paperback.  

All you have to do is enter the contest below, and do 1 or 2 things:  comment on this post about what you read to cure your afflictions, or like my facebook Bookalicious page.  You can do both if you'd like! The contest runs December 13th through midnight, December 17th.  Please make sure if you are picked as the winner, you send me your email!  Otherwise, no Novel Cure for you.

This contest is open to US peeps only.  Thanks to Penguin for the giveaway!   Now get busy and start entering!

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Second Bite at the Apple by Dana Bate

I'm still on my kick of fun books to read while finishing up my school semester.  I just finished this book today right after I had my last class for the semester!  Now it will take me a few weeks to decompress, then gear up for the Spring semester in January.  I will do my best to read like a fiend.

Meanwhile, let's talk about A Second Bite at the Apple by Dana Bate. If you're a fan of food fiction (or food writing), you will love this book.  If the character of Rick the baker wasn't described as so physically unattractive and chauvinist, I'd want  to marry him just for his baking skills.  I'm pretty sure I can rule out working at a farmer's stand selling baked goods as a future job.  I'd be like the candy-line Lucille Ball of the farmer's market, stuffing food in my mouth in a futile attempt to maintain control. 

Sydney Strauss lives in Washington, D.C.  She's just been handed her pink slip from the television station where she works at a job she hates, with people she can't really stand.  It's not what she wants to do anyway, but once again she feels like a failure at life.  Sydney really wants to be a food writer, but no one will hire her to write about her passion.  A breakup with Zach 5 years previously has given her a complete avoidance of cooking.  They were quite good at creating meals together, and it gave Sydney her passion for food writing.  Now all she has left is a horrendous, visceral reaction to spaghetti carbonara, and plenty of bitterness towards men and love.  

Sydney makes ends meet by working for Rick, owner of the Wild Yeast Bakery.  He travels to local farmer's markets each week and sells amazing breads, cookies, muffins, and pastries.  He's a total crab, a real ass, and a giant complainer.  But his food is amazing.  Sydney meets Jeremy when her friend forces her to go out, and they have a rocky beginning.  Jeremy keeps coming back, and eventually they start to date.  Jeremy has a past that Sydney finds out about, and she questions her choice in men.  Their relationship has plenty of ups and downs, mostly based on Sydney's problem with trusting men.  Oh--did I mention Jeremy is a home brewer, who has a knack for creating pretty awesome beer?  

Things seem to be going slowly, but  pretty well with Jeremy. But Sydney has to make things complicated when she finds out Jeremy is indirectly involved in a huge food world cover-up.  This is her chance to finally have a story in a major newspaper, and jump-start her career as a food writer.  Her decisions are the one thing about Sydney that really, really really  annoyed me.  To the point that I was talking to the book, telling her what an idiot she was; I believe I had a few other choice comments to make to Sydney.  She really does have a problem with her past determining her present decisions.  She makes some really poor choices.  

So.  Did I like this book?  Yes.  Put food in a book and I'm all over it!  I was, and still am, not completely happy with Sydney.  I am a big believer in learning from the past, and moving forward.  Reading a novel about someone who carries her past with her all the time kinda drove me a bit batty.  I would have liked her to have a bit more faith and confidence in herself.  I won't tell you what happens to Sydney, but you'll be satisfied.  And you will love all the food!  And Dana Bate makes me want to jump on a plane to Washington, D.C. in the spring just so I can walk around the city and take in all the sights.  

Available in paperback and e-book.
Rating:  7/10.  The food and city of Washington, D.C. are lovingly described.  Sydney is a complex character that stayed stuck too long on her past for my taste, but otherwise I enjoyed this novel and would probably read more from this author. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Ruth's First Christmas Tree: A Novella by Elly Griffiths--And It's Free!

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and I immediately hunted it down.  And what do you know...it's a free novella!  Anyone who's read the Ruth Galloway series (even just the first one or two) will enjoy this sweet  short story about Ruth's first Christmas tree in her little cottage by the sea.  

A little appetite teaser for me.  Now I want to grab the two Ruth Galloway novels I have on my bookcase that I haven't read yet and dive in!  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites by Libby O'Connell

History + food=me laying on my couch reading voraciously and getting grossed out by the idea of eating beaver tail.  Yes, it was, at one time, considered a yumalicious treat for trappers.  Full of fatty goodness, it was a good source of protein and best cooked over a campfire.  And I've always wanted to know just what exactly pemmican tastes like, thanks to all that history I read in my earlier years about the West and Native American food. (pemmican is dried meat, berries, and animal fat mixed together for a high protein snack bar).

I'll stick to hamburgers.  If you're a foodie like me ( and I say foodie in a very amateur way), this is the  kind of book that will make you giddy.  100 "bites" of food history, from the early 1400's and the three sisters (maize, squash, and beans), to trendy foods of today's American food scene.  Read a few pages, put it down.  Pick it up, thumb through, and turn to something that catches your eye.  You certainly don't have to read cover to cover, although it does move in a chronological order.  But skipping around is certainly part of the fun.  

O'Connell is the chief historian for the History Channel, and it's evident she's a big fan of history and food.  Her personal asides add to the book, as well as some recipes for dishes you may (or may not) want to try.  This would make a wonderful gift for anyone on your list who likes to cook, or is interested in history--or even is a big fan of Uncle John Bathroom Readers.  Short chapters chock full of those little nuggets of history that remind us how unique and interesting the American plate really is, and how far we've come in our food tastes.  These are the stories that make history so darn fascinating.

I'm hoping with fingers crossed this is developed for the History Channel as a series.  I will certainly be glued to the TV--and probably snacking on popcorn.  

Available in hardcover and e-book.

Rating:  8/10 for short, tasty bites of American culinary history.  You won't be able to resist it!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio

If you've been following my reviews for a while, you know I love Sarah Jio.  I believe I've read all of her novels.  When Penguin's First Read program offered up this one, I immediately hit the download button and actually read it on my laptop.  This is something I never, ever do.  I am firmly in the "holding a book in my hand" camp and miss the connection I have with a story when I'm reading it on a device.  

But I digress.  I've had a chance to mull over this book for a few days, and the more I think about it, the more it takes on a rosy glow in my head and I realize I enjoyed the whole idea of it.  It's not the usual Sarah Jio, where she mixes a dual storyline and a bit of history.  This is firmly contemporary and yes, you could say a holiday novel.  Jane Williams is 29, runs a wonderful flower shop in Seattle, and is a bit wary of love.  She finds out on her 29th birthday that she has a special gift:  she can actually see love.  All her life she's had "neurological" problems that come and go, affecting her eyesight.  Her doctor tells her she must have brain surgery to correct the problem, or it can result in permanent brain damage.  Jane, however, believes the surgery will ruin her gift, and she has until her 30th birthday to identify six types of love.  If she doesn't, she will lose her chance of ever finding a love of her own.  

Luckily, Jane's friends and her brother are all deep in the throes of major love issues, so there's no shortage of finding the six types of love.  Her brother Flynn is in love with a woman he sees only through his apartment window; her friend is having an affair with a married man, and her hairdresser finds herself connecting with a man working on her kitchen while her husband continues to put his career before his marriage.  Oh, there are more!  I found myself getting sucked into all of these love dramas, and by the end, I was reading with my fingers crossed.  Not everything works out perfectly, people make choices.  But what's important is Jane's quest:  does she make it?  Does she herself find love? 

This is a quick read, and a sweet treat to enjoy during the holidays.  It will have you looking around at people you know, and trying to figure out just what kind of love, if any, they have with their special someone.  If you're a fan of Sarah Jio, be prepared for something a little different that her usual fare.  But you will love it!  

Rating:  7/10 for an imaginative plot line and characters you will cheer on in their quest for love.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander

The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander combines a bit of modern day fantasy with  one of the most horrible historical women I've ever read about: the notorious Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory.  She was known to bathe in the blood of virgins and was walled up in her castle as punishment.  Lovely lady, right?  

I should also mention two other historical figures who feature prominently in this novel:  Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley.  Dee was famous in his time as a mathematician, astrologer, and all around "magic man" to Queen Elizabeth I.  Kelley was Dee's assistant and had a reputation for channeling messages from angels.  In this story, the men find themselves traveling through Poland at the request of the Polish King to save his sister Elizabeth Bathory from certain death.  
The other side of this story continues in today's world, with Jackdaw Hammond. She's a 30-something young woman who has an unusual life--she's actually dead.  What keeps her alive are the symbols on her skin and the mystic potion she drinks regularly to stay alive.  And where do these come from?  Yep.  Dee and Kelley's trip to Poland, hundreds of years before Jackdaw modern England.   

Is Elizabeth Bathory  still around, hunting victims in present day England? Who is draining other people like Jackdaw of blood?  Jackdaw is working to save  people who have been assigned a time to die, but are saved from certain death by the symbols and potion created by Dee and Kelley. It's a lonely existence and quite frankly exhausting keeping death at bay.

 We all know messing with a sure thing like death is never a good idea, and all of this comes back to create high drama for Jackdaw and occult expert Felix Guichard.  The novel starts a bit slow, with back and forth between Dee and Kelley's adventure in 1585 Poland to present day England and a crime scene Felix has been called to investigate for occult symbolism. Soon, however, the novel picks up speed and I found myself on the edge of my couch, hoping Dee and Kelley would fail on their mission, but knowing their success was creating a puzzling and potentially horrible situation for Jackdaw and Felix.  

I did enjoy this novel.  It was very different from the usual sci-fi/fantasy stuff I usually read, and that's not a bad thing.  I always love a mix of history and fantasy, and I thought this was a clever plot.  At the end, I was left wanting to read more of Jackdaw and Felix.  Surely there are more adventures for them!  The major theme of triumph over death made me ponder the whole idea of everyone having a time to die.  Whether that time is young or old, peaceful or not, should we ever be able to choose or change it?  Or even stop it completely?  

Rating:  7/10 for a clever mix of historical figures and fantasy.  A good book for a sci-fi book club to read and discuss.  This is a novel that requires a bit of reflection after you've turned the last page.  

Available in paperback and e-book.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Christmas at Tiffany's by Karen Swan

At first glance this looks like a Christmas novel.  And part of it does take place at Christmas, but the majority of it doesn't.  This time of year I love to read holiday novels.  They put me in the mood for the season and give me a good break from real life stresses.  Christmas at Tiffany's was awesome!  I really, really, liked it.  Seriously.  As in a "I'm going to be late for work/I can't go to sleep just yet/I don't want to do anything else" kind of read. 

It's a fairly simple story.  Four life-long friends:  Cassie, Anouk, Kelly, and Suzy are in their early 30's, and have gathered together to celebrate Cassie's tenth anniversary with a party at her husband's Scottish estate.  Kelly lives in New York and works in the fashion industry, Suzy lives in London and is a wedding planner, and Anouk likes in Paris and designs high-end jewelry.  Cassie has been happily married for ten years to her stuffy husband, Gil.  He's promised her they can start to think of having children after they've hit their tenth anniversary. 

At the party, Cassie's world crumbles, and her friends bundle her off to New York to escape the pain of a broken marriage.  They have all decided that Cassie will spend four months with each friend, and in doing so, rebuild her life and decide what she wants to do as a single woman.  First stop is New York and Kelly. Cassie's world in New York is the complete opposite of her country life in Scotland. Wow.  I mean completely opposite!  A whole lot of stuff happens that I can't share because then you wouldn't read the book.  Needless to say, Cassie has a lot of choices to make.  Suzy's younger brother, Henry, gives Cassie a list of things to do in each city.  It's Henry's way of helping Cassie move along and rebuild her life--and I have to say the lists are pretty awesome. 

Paris and London follow New York, and in each location Cassie undergoes tremendous change; grows up, and experiences a lot of life.  I couldn't put this book down!  And it clocks in at almost 600 pages.  No kidding.  But you will get completely sucked into Cassie's adventures.  I loved it!  I'm kind of sad to see it end. 

This novel is a bit more serious that the usual chick-lit.  I would recommend it to fans of contemporary women's fiction, college-age ladies, and pretty much anyone looking for a good read with some great international locations.  It's all about friendship, looking at yourself and your choices, and most importantly, timing.  As you will see, timing is everything in this novel. 

Rating:  8/10.  I loved Cassie, Anouk, Kelly, and Suzy and their friendship.  The different locations around the world added a sophistication to the novel that I had me itching to pack my bags. 

Available in paperback and e-book.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Seven Letters from Paris by Samantha Verant

I saw this book at work last month, and after reading the back blurb I was ready and willing to read a memoir about a woman finding a lost love from 20 years before and falling in love all over again with her handsome French man.   

I must confess that if I was not madly in love with my sweetie Bud, I would have scoffed at the notion of  someone keeping letters written 20 years before by a man she met and knew for only a few days on a trip to Paris.  Being in love has led me to believe that people come and go in our lives at certain times to teach us lessons; and sometimes the time isn't right to have the relationship we want--sometimes we have to wait for it.  But--when you do find that special someone, you embrace the wonderfulness of that love.  Sounds corny, I know.  

Samantha is turning 40, and in an unhappy marriage she doesn't have the courage to end.  She's just been laid off her job, and over wine and whine with her friend Tracey they reminisce about a trip they took to Paris 20 years before, when they were 19 years old.  On that trip, they met two attractive French men:  Jean-Luc and Patrick.  The attraction between Samantha and Jean-Luc was immediate and intense.  With only a few days left in Paris, Samantha and Jean-Luc spend every moment together.  He begs her to stay longer, but she insists on keeping to travel plans (and a non-refundable train ticket) and leaves her man behind. She longs for him, but realizes it was too much too soon.  

Jean-Luc writes Samantha 7 letters which are waiting for her when she gets back home to California.  They really are quite extraordinarily romantic letters, full of longing and a desire to see Samantha again.  You get to read them and realize that there is something to be said in receiving a love letter.  

But she never replies to Jean-Luc's letters, and instead packs them away.  Until 20 years later.  She acts on an idea Tracey has to start a blog about those special letters, and after re-reading them, finds Jean-Luc on the internet (it makes these connections so much easier now!) and writes him, apologizing for never replying to his letters.  And so a rekindled romance begins.

There are no surprises in this memoir.  Yes, Samantha and Jean-Luc do find each other again, and get married.  Yes, they live happily ever after in France.  The journey  of Samantha from a confused, very unhappy woman at a major cross-roads in her life is one that we can all identify with in some way.  She's starting out with nothing again--no job, no home, no money, no husband.  To top it all off, she has to move in with her parents.  Pretty much hits rock bottom in her life.  

Enter Jean-Luc and a love story that will make you sigh and smile.  It's truly a wonderfully sweet and romantic story that makes you believe in the power of love and those powerful connections we find in other people that make no sense and aren't explainable--they just are there.  Love works in magical, mysterious ways.  

Rating:  7/10 for a sweet memoir about finding love again and navigating a new beginning.  

Available in paperback and e-book.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett--Win a Copy!

What if Jane Austen wasn't the actual author of Pride and Prejudice?  What if she lifted the idea of Elizabeth and Darcy from someone else?  Yes, I think you felt the earth shake just like I did at the mere thought of this crazy idea.

Charlie Lovett centers his new novel, First Impressions  around that idea and does such a wonderful job of it that I was sad to turn the final page. I'm happy to say this novel will certainly be in my top five favorite reads for 2014.  

First Impressions tells the story of Jane Austen and her friendship with an elderly clergyman, Richard Mansfield.  They meet one day while Jane is strolling through the countryside, and strike up a conversation over books.  This friendship soon develops and grows into a very deep and meaningful exchange of ideas and a love of books.  Jane is in the throes of writing what will eventually become Sense and Sensibility, and bounces ideas off of Mansfield.  He, in turn, shares ideas with Jane.  Could one of those ideas be the kernel of what will become Pride and Prejudice?

Along with Jane's story, we have a contemporary tale of Sophie Collingwood, just graduated from Oxford, who has a passion for old classic books.  She's inherited this love of books from her Uncle Bertram, and her family's country home has a huge library full of precious editions that her father is itching to sell off in order to maintain the family's ancestral home.  Sophie is in a bit of a romantic snafu--she's met Eric, an American who can match her love of Jane Austen quote for quote, and Winston, who comes to Sophie with a request for an obscure book--by Richard Mansfield.  Strangely enough, another man  also requested this book the day before from the rare book store that Sophie works at in London.  

What is the connection between this small, obscure book and Jane Austen?  Why is it so important to find?  And why is Sophie given the task to find it?  What does it have to do with her Uncle Bertram and her family library? Can she trust either Eric or Winston to help her solve the mystery?

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this novel.  It is obvious Charlie Lovett has a passion for books and a reverence for the written word.  And if you're like me and sometimes feel like you're the only one around who feels the same way, well... it's like meeting a kindred spirit.  Toss in Jane Austen, some romance, a cad, and a summer in England and you've got a winning combination.  

And you can win a copy of First Impressions!  Just follow the rafflecopter directions below, and I'll be announcing a winner next Tuesday, October 20th.  Open to U.S. residents only.  Thank you to Viking/Penguin for sending me a copy of this book. 

 It really did make my week to take a break from studying and devour this book.  There are so many wonderful sprinkles of Pride and Prejudice (including the title of this book--which was the first title Jane had for P&P) running through this novel that I found myself smiling as I turned the pages.  

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Rating:  9/10 for a wonderfully entertaining novel about the origins of Pride and Prejudice.  Read my review of  Charlie's first novel, The Bookman's Tale  here.  First Impressions will be released October 20th in hardcover and e-book.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas

Sandra Dallas is a favorite writer of mine.  I know when I pick up her latest book she'll give me a great story featuring strong women who keep marching forward no matter what the situation.  Sandra has a love for quilts and quilting; they show up in every book she writes, and this book is no exception.

A Quilt for Christmas takes place in Kansas during the last year of the Civil War, 1864.  Eliza Spooner is left at her family farm with her two children, Luzena and Davy while her husband Will goes off to fight the Confederates.  All she has of Will are his infrequent letters home.  Eliza decides to make a  quilt for Will, to keep him warm in the coming winter months.  It's a special quilt, made with stars and stripes, and stitched with Will and Eliza's names.  With that quilt, Eliza sends all her love and prayers to keep Will safe in battle.  

Meanwhile, Missouri Ann, a woman Eliza only knows through infrequent town visits, has found out her husband has been killed in the war.  She has nowhere to go, since her husband's family, the Starks, are a cruel, vicious household of men who will force Missouri Ann to marry one of them in order to keep her taking care of the house.  Eliza takes Missouri Ann and her little daughter, Nance, into her home.  A rich friendship develops between the two women over the cold winter.  

And when tragedy strikes, Eliza must find a way to move forward and take care of her farm.  The war is drawing to a close, but the loss of the husbands of her close friends, and the uncertainty of those left waiting for their husbands to return from war weighs heavily on every woman left behind.  Only their quilting circle keeps them together, sharing secrets, concerns, and their meager food supplies. 

This is a gentle story, full of sadness and grief, and perserverence in the face of  grief and uncertainty.  Eliza is a strong woman who takes out Will's letters and reads them when she needs strength.  And her quilt comes full circle, but you have to read the story to find out how and why.

And for those of you who have read The Persian Pickle Club, you'll be happy to know it's the 20th anniversary of the first publication, and it has a lovely tie to this novel.  Both together would make a wonderful gift for Christmas.  Anyone who likes historical fiction, civil war novels, and novels of the West will enjoy this tale.  Sandra just simply writes a great story, and may give you that push to start quilting.  

Rating:  8/10 for a gentle story about the price of war, and the powerful value of friendship.  

Available in hardcover and ebook.    

Here are a few of my other reviews of Sandra's previous books:
Fallen Women 
 True Sisters

Sunday, September 28, 2014

When the Shoe Fits...Essays of Love, Life, and Second Chances by Mary T. Wagner

First of all, I have to apologize to Mary Wagner for taking so long to review her book.  Time flies by just too darn fast!  I've managed to read her collection of essays, and found them thoughtful and full of realizations that do truly only come  to us when we've been through a few things.  Those things?  Life changes, career changes, marriages ending, and moving from your 20's through your 30's and into your 40's.  

I look back at myself in my early 20's and think that if I met my younger self on the street, what would I say to her?  I think it would be:  "Don't be afraid to ask questions.  Live life to the fullest.  Don't worry about making mistakes.  Speak up for yourself--no one else will.  Travel!  And love will find you, even if it takes awhile." oh--and "You'll never ever regret not getting a tattoo."   Reading Mary's essays on her life gave me some food for thought.  

Mary is in her 40's, divorced, and after years of being a freelance journalist and mom of 4 kids, she went back to law school and became a lawyer.  In the meantime, she got a divorce and learned that there is something powerful in being a woman and not being afraid to wield a power tool.  There is a certain feeling of pride and accomplishment when you can take care of yourself.  Yes, it's always easier to have that man around to help out, but knowing you can do it yourself is a powerful confidence booster.  

One particular essay talks about being kind and it really hit home for me.  As Mary says, "That if you have something good to say about someone, say it sooner rather than later, because you just never know what shores that encouragement will carry them to."  Offering advice to someone who's struggling with a life change; telling someone to "Go for it!" and leading by example can work miracles.  My niece said something wonderful to me the other night that made me feel like I am doing something right.  My sister died a few years ago, and I have unofficially stepped into being the Auntie/Mom that my two nieces need.  Yes, they're adults, but they still need a Mom figure.  And that's me.  And she let me know they see it, appreciate it, and it makes them feel like someone is looking out for them when they feel disconnected and a bit lost without their Mom to keep connections to family alive.  That meant a lot to me.  And I'm pretty sure my sister is smiling.  

So read Mary's essays.  They are entertaining, thoughtful, and show a woman who has become comfortable in her skin.  

Rating:  7/10 for a look at a woman who juggles it all, and keeps moving forward.  

Available in paperback 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Moment of Everything by Shelly King

This happens every time I post a "This is What I'm Reading" blog.  I immediately turn around and find something to read that's not on my list.  This is one of the perils of working at a bookstore.  

School has been incredibly busy this month!  I am doggie paddling as fast as I can; it doesn't help that I want to sit and read fun stuff all day and I can't.  I have read two books in the past few weeks, but they are about my other interests:  forensics and death.  I didn't want to post reviews on those, cause I figure y'all want something fun to read!  So here's a fun book to read, and perfect for book lovers, librarians, and fans of bookstores.

The Moment of Everything by Shelly King is a sweet little novel about being at a point in your life where you think you should do one thing, but another is calling to you.  We've all been there...sometimes more than once.   Maggie Dupres is a former librarian who turned her library skills into mining for information at a Silicon Valley business she co-founded with her pal Dizzy.  Unfortunately, through acquisitions, board member stuff, and just bad luck, she's out of a job.  The only thing she knows for sure is that moving home to Mom and Dad is not an option. 

 She finds herself hanging out at Dragonfly Books, a used bookstore that is home to a quirky owner, a vicious cat, and lots of romance novels.  Maggie reluctantly becomes vested in the well-being of the shop when she finds a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover that changes her life.  Inside the beat up, torn up novel are marginalia (the librarian in me is delighted to use that word) between Henry and Catherine that tell of their love story.  What is marginalia?  Scribbles, comments, and notes in the margins of books.  It's also a secret way to communicate between lovers.  Who are they?  Where are they?  Did they ever meet?  Maggie becomes obsessed with this tale, and it becomes a driving force in reinvigorating the business of Dragonfly books.  It also messes with Maggie's ideas of love and romance.  She thinks she's pretty immune to love, but finds out love pops up whether she's ready or not.  

This novel is full of great book references, the smell and feel of a bookstore, and reminds me of why I love books and reading.  I also got a kick out of reading about a librarian working at a bookstore--gee, that kinda sounds familiar....

Anyway.  Read this if you liked The Storied Life of AJ Fikry.  Or if you love books and bookstores.  And if you have a Dragonfly Books in your life, visit it.  

Rating:  7/10 for down to earth characters, a lovingly drawn-out bookstore, and a woman's story that is a bit messy but real.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier

I've finally read a Juliet Marillier novel, and I feel like I need to make a check on my Science Fiction/Fantasy Authors I Must Read Before I Die listI have had so many people recommend her, and I'm sorry to say it's taken me this long.  Thanks to Nita Basu from Penguin, who asked me to review a new series by Juliet Marillier.  Dreamer's Pool is the first in the new Blackthorn and Grim series, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  There's something of the fifteen-year old fantasy geek left in me that just loves to read fantasy.  Bring on the curses, mysterious woods, wisewomen, and ancient tales.  You could even toss in a unicorn and I'd be fine with that.  

Dreamer's Pool doesn't have a unicorn, but it does have everything else that makes a great fantasy novel, and a satisfying ending that doesn't leave you on a cliff until the next novel--but makes you look forward to reading more about Blackthorn and Grim.  The story begins with Blackthorn and Grim as two prisoners in quite frankly, a hellish place.  Blackthorn is a woman bent on revenge against Mathuin, a completely corrupt and evil leader.  He's tossed Blackthorn into jail to rot.  Grim is a fellow prisoner, who relies on Blackthorn (although she doesn't know it) to keep him sane.  And just when it looks like Blackthorn is going to be executed, she gets a chance at freedom from Conmael, a fey creature.  But there's a catch:  she must live near the village of Winterfalls and provide care to anyone who asks her.  And she must do this for 7 years; after that, she is free to pursue her vengeance.  

So things happen (I'm not going to tell you!), and Blackthorn finds herself living in a small cottage at the edge of the woods--with Grim.  Prince Oran is preparing to meet his future bride, Lady Flidais.  He's fallen in love with her through her portrait and letters they've exchanged.  He can't wait to meet her.  

Except something strange has happened, and Lady Flidais is not the kind, sweet, loving person who wrote letters to Prince Oran.  Yes, she matches the portrait to a "t", but her personality doesn't fit at all.  What's going on?  And how can Blackthorn and Grim solve the mystery?  And what does it have to do with Dreamer's pool in the woods?

I would recommend this title to a teen starting out in fantasy, or anyone who likes Mercedes Lackey or Juliet Marillier's series Sevenwaters.  It captures you from the first page and keeps you entertained the whole way through.  Blackthorn is a woman who has suffered much, and struggles to keep her desire for revenge under control.  Grim is her stalwart companion, who struggles himself to be rid of the nightmares of prison.  There's a bit of magic, mystery, and mischief.  Perfect for a cool Fall night.  

Rating:  7/10 for an enjoyable start to a new series.  Can't wait to read more adventures of Blackthorn and Grim!

Available in hardcover in November, 2014.  Also will be available in e-book format.   

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Upcoming Reviews: A Mixed Bag of Good Reading

School is in swing and the summer is over, except for the occasional 90 degree day with high humidity.  Yes, it gets extremely humid here in Iowa. I can feel like I'm in the tropics for free--except there are no fruity drinks to sip while I read unless I make them myself.  And no beach.  

Fall is my favorite season, and mostly because I love Halloween, pumpkin bread, and a reason to make hearty suppers.  But it also brings out the desire to read books that have a slightly spooky, other-wordly slant to them.  I love my ghost stories!  Here is a list of upcoming books I'm going to read and review in the next few months; a little bit of this 'n that:

Witches and curses:  a teen novel

A new fantasy series

A memoir

Historical fiction with-you guessed it--a lighthouse!

Murder and magic

A woman's walking journey to the ocean
So you can see, I have once again set my reading 
bar high. What authors are you looking forward to reading this fall?  

And if you haven't "liked" my Facebook page, please do!  I not only post my reviews, but news about the book world and anything else I find interesting regarding reading, books, and living the life of a bookworm.  Just click Bookalicious Babe and "like" my page. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

My desire to devour a large quantity of books this summer hasn't worked out.  Life got in the way, which is hard for me to fathom.  Not much gets in the way of my reading.  And now I'm back to school; life is so full I don't think I'll get a break until after Christmas.  Those bits of time during the day when I can sit and read keep me sane and help me feel that I can keep managing my hectic schedule.  

In between getting ready for school, planning and executing a surprise birthday party for my boyfriend, and trying to keep my yard and house clean (not winning that battle), I've managed to start quite a few books, but only finished this one.  It was the perfect book to end my summer and begin a new season.  

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen is sure to appeal to anyone who loves Sarah Addison Allen, Alice Hoffman, and anyone who loves a bit of magical realism tossed into a story.  I'm a firm believer in magic and the wonderful, quirky way things can manifest in our lives.  Sometimes there is no explanation, it just is. 

 Olivia Pennywort lives in New York state, in the wonderful Green Valley.  Her farm is known around those parts as a place where a person can go, wander the maze, and find the answer to life's most important question:  what do I do with my life?  Sometimes it can take time to receive the answer; for that reason Olivia provides a barn where women can stay, work the gardens, and await their answer.  They come and go every year and always leave at peace.  Olivia's magic touch with plants of any kind is legendary; she grows flowers and vegetables  when the whole valley is undergoing a horrible drought and heat wave.  

But Olivia has a secret:  she is poisonous to the touch.  Anyone who touches her (or whom she touches) breaks out into a horrible poison ivy rash.  She's kept to herself on Pennywort Farm, working every day on her gardens.  No one knows her secret, except for her father, Arthur.  He lives in a ravine on the farm, in a little shack.  He refuses to move back into the farmhouse, and Olivia visits him every day with food and conversation.  Both are not happy with life, but aware that what they have is all they can ever hope for and expect out of life.

Sam Van Winkle comes back to town, and stirs Olivia out of her prison.  Years before, Sam and Olivia were childhood friends who fell in love as teens.  Sam left town when Olivia broke off their relationship with no explanation.  He tried to find life away from Green Valley, but realized it called to him and was where he needed to be.  Now a police officer, he has to live up to the Van Winkle reputation of being a "hero".  He doesn't feel very hero-like.

Sam, Olivia, and Arthur are all damaged by the past.  Are they courageous enough to take the steps to be happy?  Can Sam and Olivia have a normal life together when physical touch is impossible?  And what of the secret garden locked up in the middle of the maze?  

Love is a powerful emotion, and can make anything possible.  Forgiveness, passion, loving someone wholeheartedly and without reservation; those are all themes in this novel.  Living in the midst of beauty while feeling empty and alone and unable to move forward into the richness of life.  It's all here, in The Night Garden.  

Rating:  7/10 for lush descriptions of gardens, flowers, and nature.  An unusual love story, and a main character who fights for love.  

Available in October in paperback and e-book.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

Madeline is nine.  She wants to be a jazz singer.  And she's amazing.  

Madeline is the center of this wonderful little jewel, 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas.  It's the Eve of Christmas Eve in Philadelphia, and Madeline is heading to school.  She attends a catholic school, and before class, they have to go to church.  Claire, the prissy perfect girl in Madeline's class, is going to be singing a solo  hymn in church.  

Until she gets hits by a bicyclist on her way to school.  Oops.  Cue Madeline.  Her teacher, the wonderfully smart and sassy Sarina Greene, suggests Madeline sing in Claire's place.  It's a dream come true.  Madeline stands up front, opens her mouth, and just as her glorious singing is about to begin, Claire bursts through the church doors:  "I can sing!  I am here!"  


And so begins Madeline's lousy Eve of Christmas Eve.  Her birthday is on Christmas Day, but her mother is dead, and her father sits in his bedroom, paralyzed by grief and listening to old jazz records.  Madeline is on her own.  The Cat's Pajamas is a jazz club in the neighborhood, and it is in trouble.  Citations mean if they're not paid, the club closes.  It's the last chance for Lorca to have a great time and maybe, just maybe pay the citations and keep his legendary club open.  But he's got problems of his own...

There are so many wonderful, quirky characters in this novel it's hard not to talk about them all.  You'll just have to discover them as you read.  I can assure you there are lines where you will laugh out loud.  Did I mention that Madeline has a mouth like a sailor?  Yes she does.  

This novel is about people all standing at a crossroads and deciding where and what to do.  Which path to take.  Do they put the past behind, and move forward?  

Anyone who read Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple will find themselves enjoying this tale of jazz, Christmas, and a little girl's dream.

Rating:  8/10 for a fantastic main character and a story that left me reluctant to turn the last page.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills

I think it's pretty safe to say that the majority of adults in the U.S. have read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I myself read it in 9th grade for my first high school English class.  I also think it's pretty safe to say Mockingbird continues to be considered an American classic and a beloved treasure.  

So where is Harper Lee, and who is she?  Why did she never write another book?  Is she still alive?  All those questions are answered in Marja Mills' inside look at Harper Lee and her life in Monroeville, Alabama.  Harper, known by all her close friends as Nelle (Nelle Harper Lee is her full name), is notoriously reclusive.  We don't know much about her.  Marja Mills begins her extraordinary journey into the life of Harper Lee with a simple letter.  Marja is a journalist, writing about Chicago's One Book, One Chicago project: a city-wide reading of To Kill a Mockingbird.  She's assigned a story that requires her to travel to Monroeville, Nelle's hometown, to talk to townspeople about Harper Lee.  Everyone knows in the news industry that Harper will not grant interviews and her circle of friends won't speak about her. Marja doesn't expect much, but writes Nelle and her sister Alice a letter explaining why she's traveling to Monroeville.  A simple courtesy letter.  And it opens up an unforgettable period in Marja's life that leads to a friendship not only with Nelle's close friends, but Nelle and her sister Alice.  A friendship that includes travels to feed ducks, dinners at small diners, a road trip to New York City, and even renting the house next door to Nelle and Alice.  

Nelle and Alice are two extraordinary women.  At the time of this book, Alice was in her 90's, still practicing law every day in the law firm their father (the basis for Atticus Finch) began decades before.  Nelle, the younger sister, spends part of her time living with Alice in Monroeville, and part of her time in New York City, going unrecognized and remaining anonymous to all but her close New York friends.  They live simply; the royalties from Mockingbird have meant that Nelle doesn't ever have to work.  They are fiercely protective of Nelle's privacy and the legacy of her one epic novel.  

I did truly enjoy this look into Nelle Harper Lee's life.  You do come to know Nelle and Alice and enjoy spending time with them.  Both are incredibly brilliant, sharp, and so well read it puts the rest of us to shame.  And some questions are answered:  what was Nelle's relationship with Truman Capote like?  Why did she never write another book?  Will she ever write a memoir?  An intensely private woman who attempts every day to live a quiet life surrounded by her books, friends, and the legacy of Mockingbird.  I felt Marja's book was very respectful, and shows an obvious deep affection for  Nelle and Alice.  They are two walking repositories of the history of their town, the people who are no longer there, and a time that is long gone.  A gentle and poignant look at small town life, and what fame can do to someone who is gifted in so many ways, but finds the legacy they have created a difficult burden to bear, even after so many years.  

Thank you to Dani at Penguin Press for a review copy.  

Rating:  8/10 for a respectful and thoughtful look at the intensely private life of a beloved author.  

Available in hardcover and e-book.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

I've had this book hidden in one of my floor stacks at home for months.  Wanted to read it, but couldn't find it.  Finally found it a few weeks ago.    Slowly transitioning into a new career made me want to see what Sheryl Sandberg had to say about women and the workforce.  It was very eye opening, and as a woman more than  half-way through my working life,  a lot of it rang true for me.

Sheryl works at Facebook.  She's a big kahuna there and has had an impressive work life.  She's a big advocate for women supporting women, and speaking up for yourself in order to be successful.  Most of what she has to say for women comes from personal experience.  We still have to fight for promotions, still have to fight against stupid sexism, and have to believe in ourselves.  One point Sheryl makes has rung so true to me that I keep it in mind all the time. She talks about men applying for positions at work that they don't necessarily qualify for; women will look over a job description and if they don't fit all the criteria they  won't apply.  More men get better paying jobs because they actually try for positions above and beyond where they are now.  Women need to apply a fashion rule to the whole job seeking thing:  don't be too matchy-matchy.  This is painful for me, since I have no fashion sense and don't like to take fashion risks--by golly my shoes and shirt had better fall in line with the rest of my color scheme.  Heck no.  Wear the yellow shoes; wear that bold shirt.  I've learned to have the courage to apply for positions at school that are outside my comfort boundaries.  I have to take a leap of faith that what knowledge I do have will be the springboard to learning something completely new.   After all, I know the answer will be "no" if I don't try at all.  Putting myself out there is my way of "leaning in ".  I'm learning to have the courage to send myself out there, even for opportunities that I may not be perfectly matched to--take a deep breath and jump!

This book has had many fans and many haters.  I am a fan.  I wish I had this book when I was much younger, but much of it still applies.  All women need to support each other and build a network.  And by doing this, that doesn't mean ignore the men.  Your network includes them, too.  Hopefully we can all work in a place where honesty, collaboration, and fairness are a normal, everyday practice.  Sometimes speaking up can be dangerous; I think we've all be in those situations.  Knowing how and when to pick your battles certainly is an art.   I enjoyed Sheryl's book.  It opened my eyes to things I've seen and heard for years in the workplace, and given me some tools for my professional work tool belt.  

I will say some of the book didn't apply to me, a single woman with no children past the age of having kids.  But whether or not you have a husband or kids, you still need to balance your work and home life.  We are all busy.  

I, for one, am a fan of Sheryl Sandberg.  Read the book, take from it what you want.  I certainly learned a lot!

Rating:  7/10 for a business book that gives sound advice for working women with personal stories told to illustrate key points.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.