Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

I had the chance to read this for a short time on my e-reader, so I had to hop to it! At first I was a little worried I wouldn't like it, but the story got under my skin and I absolutely loved it and was sorry to finish and say goodbye to the story. 

The Jane Austen Society takes place shortly after World War 2 in the small village of Chawton, England; an unlikely mix of people come together over their love of Jane Austen's novels. Dr. Grey, a widower who is beloved by the village, but secretly still held back by his grief seven years after his wife's accidental death; Adeline, the charismatic school teacher who lost her husband during the war and is expecting a child; Frances, the heir to the great Knightly estate after the death of her emotionally cold and distant father. There's also Andrew, a lawyer to Frances' father and, once long ago, in love with Frances. There are more characters, and they all play a part in a plot that slowly reveals the dynamics between all the characters. 

There is not much action, and that is just fine. I was thoroughly engaged in the play between all of the characters, as they draw together to start the Jane Austen Society. Jane had lived in Chawton for ten years, and wrote her last three novels at her brother's estate, where Frances is the last Knightly and direct descendant of Jane's brother. Each of the characters absolutely love Jane's works--some find Emma their favorite, while others are firmly in the Pride and Prejudice camp. But all of them adore Jane Austen, and want to create a place for other fans who travel to Chawton in search of Jane's last home. 

So a novel about Jane Austen that definitely has the feel of a Jane Austen novel, with unrequited love, misunderstandings, the local gossip, the charming cad, and everyone just looking for happiness in the aftermath of a war that devastated a country and left a lot of wounded souls. What a charming novel. I am so very glad I had the chance to read it, and didn't give up early on. It is definitely worth taking the time to linger, and I'm sure you will be tempted to reread some of Jane's works. The cast of characters are delightful, and I couldn't help but cheer them all on towards their particular happy endings. 

Rating: 5/6 for a sweet and gentle read that really nails the hard work of developing not just one character, but multiple characters. Once I moved past the first 50 pages, I was hooked, and you will be, too. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James

I'll admit it was a bit odd finishing this book on a warm, sunny May day, because it's all about the Cornish coast, chill winds, a cold mansion, and a curse. 

I've been reading this book for weeks, and not because I didn't like it--actually, I really enjoyed all the elements of this novel. Gothic to the core-a windswept coast, a family curse, a witch, a handsome tormented owner, and love gone awry. The story bounces back and forth between 1947 and the present day; the link that binds the two timelines is slowly revealed and makes for a fascinating tale. 

1947: Alice is hired to be a nanny to twins Constance and Edmund at the Winterbourne estate on the coast of Cornwall. Their father, Jonathan de Grey is a wounded vet from World War 2, and his wife Laura died a few years before, after he returned from the war. Alice sees this as a chance to escape her miserable life in London, as well as her troubled past and awful secret. 

Alice immediately is drawn to Captain de Grey, and the children love her. But the  kids are a little weird, I'll admit. They seem innocent and loving, but tend to also be cruel and play malicious games on Alice. She's so desperate for a loving home she soon falls for the idea that she will be the children's mother, and Captain de Grey loves her, too. Alice is a bit unstable, to be sure. But there's dark, terrible things swirling around Winterbourne that are helping her along the road to madness. 

Present day: Rachel Wright lives in New York, and has just opened a successful art gallery. She's single, alone, and has no family. She receives a letter from a solicitor in England, telling her she is the sole heir to the Winterbourne estate. Knowing nothing about her birth parents, she's been driven her whole life by the feeling of being unloved and unwanted. This is her chance to find out who her parents were, and why she was put up for adoption. Winterbourne is the key to her mysterious past. Off she goes to Cornwall, to stay at Winterbourne, find out who her parents were, and prepare the estate for sale. 

Alice and Rachel are two women who have some similarities, but definitely Rachel is more of a solid, no nonsense person. Alice was hard to connect with because she definitely has some problems, and it wasn't much to tip her over the edge. I had a hard time feeling bad for her because she was so ready to believe her fantasy life. She was helped along by the evil that permeated the estate. That evil destroyed every woman who hoped to find happiness at Winterbourne. 

Rachel slowly digs away at the secrets of Winterbourne. She's also had a few weird experiences there, and while she is a bit freaked out by it all, she's also determined to stay and figure out her home-it's the only thing she can call her own, and the only link to her past. Will she be able to uncover the dark past and lift the curse from the de Grey family? Or will she succumb to the madness and death that has followed all the women who dared make their home at Winterbourne? 

This was definitely a thriller, and a bit creepy, too. I was a bit put off by Rachel at first, but she eventually defrosted and became more likable-and she was smart enough to dig and investigate. Alice, however, I had a hard time connecting with-mostly because she just wasn't a good person. Molded by an unhappy childhood and a cruel father, she was desperate to be loved and that was her undoing. She was also a bit unstable from the get-go. Oh, the house loved to torment her. 

This was a great read--so many people trapped by the past, and bound to suffer for it. A family curse that did, indeed, live on for generations. Will Rachel break the curse?

Rating: 5/6 for an atmospheric, dark, and creepy tale of love spurned, a family curse, and looking for identity. The last 50 pages or so really kicked in, and answered a lot of questions. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Library of Legends by Janie Chang

This was definitely a book that had me at the cover. Then when I read the front flap blurb, I  had to read it. A legendary library? Heck yes! 

Sadly, I was a bit disappointed in the story. I finished it because I wanted to see what happened to the main characters but it was not quite as magical and legendary as I had hoped it would be. 

It's China, 1937. Japan is invading China, and slowly swallowing cities and moving inland. The Communist party is gaining some momentum and is recruiting young students. Lian is a young student at Minghua University in Nanking, and they've been ordered to leave the city for safety--a thousand miles away, across China. They'll have to walk at night to keep themselves safe from Japanese bombers, and they have a great treasure that must be delivered safely: the Library of Legends. Volumes of China's history of legends and folklore; a five hundred year old priceless collection that would be an immeasurable loss to the Chinese people if it fell into enemy hands or was destroyed. 

Lian is accompanied by a large group of students, but a few stand out: Liu, his servant Sparrow, and Lian's friend Meirong. Lian has a bit of a crush on Liu, who is the son of a rich and powerful man, and handsome to boot. He's smart, but never has had to really work hard or push himself for any reason. Sparrow, his servant, quietly takes care of him and also has a secret agenda: she's immortal, and one of the mythical four maids in waiting. She has returned in human form in the hope that Liu will fall in love with her. It's a tale of reincarnation that unfortunately is doomed to never have a happy ending. 

Oh, there's more to this story. I had hoped the legends and folklore would be much more of the tale, but that just isn't the case. I had hoped the Library of Legends would factor more into the story, but its journey concludes a bit before the end of the book. What I did find interesting was the message moving across China to all Gods and Goddesses: the gates to heaven were going to close, and they had to move quickly to enter once and for all.  Once people worshipped Gods and Goddesses and prayed to them; that had faded, and they were no longer needed or wanted in modern China. So, it was time for them to leave China for their home, never to return. I found that really sad. And knowing what was to come for China makes it even more poignant to me. 

This wasn't a bad story by any stretch; it was fascinating to read about the travels of the students to another place, very far into China, where they could continue their education. The Chinese government believed their students were the future of the country, and did everything they could to protect them and keep them in school. They were losing the war with Japan, which had much more military might. China just had a lot of men to put through the war machine. 

If you like mythology, this would be a novel to read-if anything it will peak your interest in Chinese mythology. The historical background is interesting as well, and a period of history I didn't know much about. The characters are all just trying to survive as best they can in a world that is falling down around them. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that falls short in the mythology that I was looking for; however, it is an interesting tale and would appeal to historical fiction fans. 

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick

I do enjoy Phaedra Patrick's novels. The best way to describe them is that they are "gentle" reads. That's just what I needed when I picked this one up. No murder plots, no violence; just easy reading that relaxed me at night. 

This novel begins with Mitchell Fisher. He's raising his young daughter Poppy on his own, after his partner Anita died years before. He's still grieving, and the only way he copes with it is to be super organized and to write a letter to Anita every night before he goes to sleep. He keeps the letters tucked in a drawer next to his bed, along with the last letter Anita wrote him just before she died. He hasn't been able to bring himself to open it and read it because he's afraid of what it might say. 

Mitchell works for the city cutting locks off a popular bridge. It's a big deal for couples to put locks on the bridge and toss the keys into the river below. However, this is causing stress on the bridge--there are thousands of locks!-and Mitchell's job is to cut them off and send them away. He's a bit grumpy about all those locks. One day, he sees a woman attaching a lock to the bridge. She loses her balance and falls off the bridge into the river below. Mitchell jumps in and saves her, and becomes a minor celebrity. His mysterious woman disappears soon after being pulled ashore, and he's haunted by the mystery of her. 

His daughter Poppy is taking music lessons from a teacher at her school. Liza is a bright and breezy woman who has an interesting link to the woman from the bridge. As Mitchell gets to know Liza and they work on finding the mystery woman, he's suddenly starting to feel something he wasn't expecting for Liza. He's pretty comfortable in his stuck-ness. And Liza is nothing like Anita. Meanwhile, a reporter has put out a call for people to send letters to the "hero" Mitchell about their lock stories, and he's getting flooded with letters he just doesn't want. Yet when he does start reading them, he's touched by the stories people share about their lock on the bridge. Mitchell's got a whole lot going on emotion-wise. He's just not prepared for all of it. 

I'll leave the rest for you to discover. It's a sweet tale about learning to live and love again, and confronting the past even when it could possibly really hurt you. Mitchell is a bit of an old poop trapped in a younger man's body, but he grows on you. Poppy is a delightful daughter who is patiently waiting for her Dad to wake up. All of the characters in this novel are quite nice, actually. All are working on something in their lives that is holding them back. 

Rating: 4/6 for a sweet tale of love lost, love found, and living life with a whole heart. A charming tale. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Someone We Know by Shari Lapena

A very cool, windy, and gloomy Sunday gave me the chance to read the e-book of Someone We Know, and I discovered Shari Lapena. 

This was a quick read, and that's a good thing, because I couldn't put it down. I've read quite a few domestic thrillers, and I'll admit, I was a bit burnt out. However, I had never read Shari Lapena's novels, and once I started reading, I quickly got over my blahs about domestic thrillers. I've even made plans to read the rest of her books over the summer. And I've already told my sister she needs to read them. It's been a busy Sunday. 😀😀

Anyway-back to the story. Raleigh is a sixteen year old boy who gets a thrill out of breaking into neighboring homes and hacking into people's computers. He doesn't do it to find information, but to hone his skills as a hacker. Unfortunately, a friend leaves a text that his mom finds, and all hell breaks loose. And this is the tip of the iceberg in a neighborhood where a missing wife is found dead in the trunk of her car; affairs are rampant, and there's a cold blooded killer lurking somewhere in the midst of it all. 

Raleigh's parents Olivia and Paul Sharpe are horrified their son has been breaking and entering. He's promised not to do it again. That's the least of their worries, of course. 
Amanda Pierce-a beautiful, flirty, neighbor has been reported missing by her husband Robert Pierce. She said she was meeting a friend for a weekend shopping trip but never came home. The friend said they never had a trip planned. Suspicion quickly falls on Robert, and he definitely is a utter jerk and a total creep. But does that make him a killer? Other neighbors are quickly pulled into the mystery; Becky and Larry live next door to Robert and Amanda, and hoo boy Becky is tangled up in Robert's web.  What does she see out her windows?

Then there's Glenda, her husband Keith and her teen son Adam. She's so worried about Adam! He's been binge drinking, and she doesn't know what to do about him. Oh, the neighborhood seems to be falling apart. 

This thriller ping pongs around from couple to couple, each one falling under suspicion in the investigation. Truth and lies swirl around, and you just can't tell who may be guilty, until the end. There isn't any one person who is very likable, and certainly all are guilty of keeping secrets--some pretty darn big, too. 

I throughly enjoyed this novel. It's been a long time since I've read so quickly and in a few hours. A big thank you to Penguin for offering me the chance to discover a new author--and NetGalley for providing an ebook copy for me to read. 

4/6 for a domestic thriller full of twists and turns, revelations, and a whole lot of suspicious people. Add Shari Lapena to your summer reading list! 

Available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and ebook. 

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Two Reviews: The Cookbook Club and Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop

I recently read advanced review copies of two novels that helped me kick my book blockage. Neither is out just yet, so you'll have to make sure you add them to your TBR list for later. 

The Cookbook Club by Beth Harbison is about three women who come together through a cookbook club. Margo has just been dumped by her husband--he's moving to San Francisco without her. She's really annoyed because she's been unhappy for a long time, but felt like she couldn't rock the boat and leave the marriage. And then her husband dumps her! Aja is in a relationship with an older, wealthy businessman who doesn't treat her very well. And, she's got a secret she won't be able to hid much longer. Finally, there's Trista, who left her lawyer job and bought a bar. She's got a lot of work to do to make the bar a success and may be in over her head. 

A trio of unlikely friends, yet their monthly cookbook club has all three women indulging in their love of food and developing a strong friendship. The food in this novel is mouthwatering, and features a lot of familiar cookbooks. This novel was a short, quick read that put a smile on my face. Loved it. 

It's not out in the U.S. until October! Ugh. Something to look forward to for cool nights later this year. I give it a 4/6 for a fun novel with likable characters. It has inspired me to try new dishes this summer. 

Roselle Lim's second novel was just as much fun as her first novel, Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune. Vanessa Yu has a big family in Palo Alto, California. She's an accountant who works for the family tea business. It's an okay job, but not what she really wants to do. Vanessa is also one of two people in her big family that has the gift of prophecy. Yes, she's a fortune teller, and it's something Vanessa has tried to avoid her whole life. They come out of the blue, and she can't help but spit them out, whether they are good or bad fortunes. Her Aunt Evelyn is also a fortune teller, and has managed her gift so well it's effortless. A few terrible fortunes for two family members force Vanessa to realize she needs to embrace her gift and learn to control it. Off to Paris she goes with Aunt Evelyn, who is opening a special tea shop in a quaint neighborhood. 

In Paris, Vanessa's love of food and art sends her out and about, and bumping into a potential love interest-even though she knows it will never last. And she suspects there's something Aunt Evelyn is keeping secret; the reason she's moved to Paris and left her whole family behind. How will Vanessa learn to control her gift and be able to find her true calling? 

This was such a fun book to read. Again, another book with so much delicious food that you'll find it hard not to drool. Add in some delicious tea blends and a bit of magic, and you'll love this perfect summer read. 

This novel will be out in early August, 2020 in the U.S. A perfect end of summer read. 
Rating: 4/6 for a magical novel about love, family loyalty, art, happiness, and taking chances. And the food! Yum!