Kim’s Guest Post of Another Place In Time by Mary Lydon Simonsen

apitmlsMr. Darcy? Time travel? New Austenprose review? Check, check, and check!

Mary Lydon Simonsen (one of my favorite authors in the entire Jane Austen Fan Fiction sphere) recently published her newest novel, Another Place in Time. The premise of the novel has Darcy traveling to the future to find an Austen/Regency scholar that will help him in his bid to win the hand of Ms. Elizabeth Bennet. Darcy in modern times and Chris (the Austen/Regency scholar) in Regency times provides the perfect fodder for laughs as well as much soul-searching.

I truly think Another Place in Time is one of Simonsen’s best works to date. For a direct link to my review, click here.

Kim’s Review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

frrEleanor & Park was my first foray into the world of Rainbow Rowell books. What a wonderful way to “dip my toe” into the Rainbow Rowell reading pool. Upon finishing it I was quickly directed to read Fangirl, also by Rowell.  Given how much I enjoyed Eleanor & Park, I was eager to start Fangirl immediately. Little did I know the profound way it would change me….

From Goodreads:

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

I thought Eleanor & Park was stellar. I still think it’s stellar. But when compared to the absolute perfection that Fangirl exuded they are simply incomparable. Fangirl speaks to a demographic of people who typically aren’t the heroes and heroines of novels. It champions people who are different. People who go against the flow. People with anxiety. People with learning disabilities. It speaks to lovers of fan fiction. To people so in love with fictional characters that it inspires them to continue writing their story. It’s a story for all the people who had to grow up too fast. Who had to be adults way before their time.  Fangirl is a love letter for anyone who’s gone through a difficult time in their life – whether it’s an issue with family, friends, or themselves - Fangirl speaks to the underdog in each of us. Fangirl gives voice to the confident person living (dormant for some) inside all of us. It is in essence, a love letter to the goodness that exists in human nature. The goodness that exists in us.

I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to fully express the feelings I had reading this book. All I can tell you is what I said above and that upon finishing the book I went back and re-read if three times. I urge everyone to read it. Then re-read. Then tell a friend to read it.

5 out of 5 Stars (Really 100 Stars)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Press (2013)
Hardcover: 448 pages
ISBN: 9781250030955

Todd’s Review of The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd

At a time when the average temperature across America is a balmy negati15801724ve 300 degrees, it was a nice change of pace (and scenery) to read Lloyd Shepherd’s The Poisoned Island, which partially takes place in Tahiti.  It was an altogether warmer and intriguing story that kept me from thinking about the chills outside!

From Goodreads:

LONDON 1812: For forty years Britain has dreamed of the Pacific island of Tahiti, a dark paradise of bloody cults and beautiful natives. Now, decades after the first voyage of Captain Cook, a new ship returns to London, crammed with botanical specimens and, it seems, the mysteries of Tahiti.

When, days after the Solander’s arrival, some of its crew are found dead and their sea-chests ransacked – their throats slashed, faces frozen into terrible smiles – John Harriott, magistrate of the Thames river police, puts constable Charles Horton in charge of the investigation. But what connects the crewmen’s dying dreams with the ambitions of the ship’s principal backer, Sir Joseph Banks of the Royal Society? And how can Britain’s new science possibly explain the strangeness of Tahiti’s floral riches now growing at Kew?

Horton must employ his singular methods to uncover a chain of conspiracy stretching all the way back to the foot of the great dead volcano Tahiti Nui, beneath the hungry eyes of ancient gods.

The Goodreads description doesn’t do this book justice; Shepherd packs so much imagery and description into his prose that my imagination had to work overtime to keep up.  I could only imagine the Solander’s arrival, laden with a multitude of colors and scents as it pulled into the docks of dreary London.  This was the backdrop for a creepy murder mystery, where all of the victims were found with looks of pure delight frozen on their faces as they were brutally murdered.  The constable appointed to look into this mystery is Charles Horton.  I took an immediate liking to him, as his natural inclination to investigate connected with me intellectually, and the fact that he is an all-around good guy didn’t hurt either.  As these were the days before detective work was commonplace, Horton is forced to do much of his work alone and in secret.  What’s more, his wife is inadvertently pulled into the fray, making the level of suspense even higher.

Additionally, Shepherd doesn’t just keep us confined to London, as we travel to Tahiti itself and get to view the mystery from the point of view of a young prince.  This added another level of complexity to the story, as this point of view begins to intersect with those of Horton, Horton’s boss, the magistrate of the River Police, and the proprietor of the Solander herself, Sir Joseph Banks of the Royal Society.  With all of these characters so expertly depicted and developed, it was easy to fall right into the story from the first page.  My only complaint is that Shepherd got slightly too descriptive at times, which made things lag slightly.  Other than this, Shepherd has written a solid work that makes me excited to check out his other novel, The English Monster.

4 out of 5 Stars

The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd
Simon and Schuster UK (2013)
Hardcover: 386 pages
ISBN: 9781471100345

Special thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for my review copy!

Kim’s Review of Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos

umrkdWith much of today’s media so dominated by all things electronic and instant, it’s sometimes interesting to think of the ever-growing differences in technology between Austen’s era and today.  A clash between these two worlds is the subject of Karen Doornebos’s latest work, Undressing Mr. Darcy.  I’m no stranger to Doornebos, having read Definitely Not Mr. Darcy previously and was eager to see how she tackled this interesting subject.

From Goodreads:

Thirty-five-year-old American social media master Vanessa Roberts lives her thoroughly modern life with aplomb. So when her elderly Jane Austencentric aunt needs her to take on the public relations for Julian Chancellor, a very private man from England who’s written a book called My Year as Mr. Darcy, Vanessa agrees. But she’s not “excessively diverted,” as Jane Austen would say.

Hardbound books, teacups, and quill pens fly in the face of her e-reader, coffee, and smartphone…

…Until she sees Julian take his tight breeches off for his Undressing Mr. Darcy show, an educational “striptease” down to his drawers to promote his book and help save his crumbling estate. The public relations expert suddenly realizes things have gotten …personal. But can this old-fashioned man claim her heart without so much as a GPS? It will take three festivals filled with Austen fans, a trip to England, an old frenemy, and a flirtatious pirate re-enactor to find out….

As expected, Doornebos writes yet another fabulously witty and adorable novel. I’m always impressed with the extent of growth her heroines show, and Vanessa in Undressing Mr. Darcy didn’t disappoint. Vanessa undergoes a total transformation in these pages, one that I believe was actually a long time coming. I’ve read many criticisms of the book claiming that Vanessa changes for a man, but I find that to be untrue. First: the facts.  1) Vanessa is not really a fan of Austen. When her parents got divorced she moved in with her aunt (the Austen-centric one) and found herself with a jealous sibling. Who was she jealous of you ask? Jane Austen. 2) She is GLUED to all things electronic/social media/etc. She cannot go anywhere without answering emails, tweeting, or texting. Her life has literally become all about her cell phone and laptop. There are other things too, but I really just want to discuss these two points, as they profoundly change over the course of the novel.

So, as to point 1 – the dislike of Austen. Vanessa’s enjoyment of the novel comes from her spending time at the JASNA (Jane Austen society of North America) conference. While she’s attending the event (both as a favor to her aunt and her pro-bono work on Julian’s book) she discovers all of these little hidden oddities in Austen’s works. She discovers the sexual attraction between the lines, the social restrictions of women, and the difficulties relationships faced back in the day. The sessions she sits in on help her discover all of the tongue-in-cheek writing Austen did. I don’t think her new appreciation for Austen was because of a man. I think it happened because she started maturing and growing to appreciate Austen as an author and a woman, not as a jealous sibling.

The 2nd point – her inability to live in the now. When Vanessa encounters Julian, he’s living practically like a Regency gentleman. He doesn’t write email and he hand writes letters. He doesn’t use a cell phone or text, he leaves handwritten notes. Through her dealings/budding friendship with Julian she begins to pay less attention to her tweeting and the like. She begins being present for conversations taking place around her. By the end of the book we discover Vanessa has taken a new approach to life: living. I don’t think she does this BECAUSE of anyone specifically, but because she is maturing and realizing that life is fleeting. Again, it’s due to maturity, not a man.

I truly enjoyed Vanessa’s transformation from young, naive, immature (to a point) workaholic to a confident, successful, endearing, witty woman. The friendships she rekindles and discovers along her journey only help her grow up. For a woman to develop without parents it’s not surprising that she’s a late bloomer. It makes her story more realistic and more understandable.  Doornebos’ writing is a definite stand-out from the crowd of other fiction writers out there. She’s a breath of fresh air, with a story full of twists, turns, and Mr. Darcy. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

5 out of 5 Stars

Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos
Penguin Books (2013)
Paperback: 368 pages
ISBN: 9780425261392

Special thanks to Penguin Books for my review copy!

Series Spotlight: The Summerset Abbey Trilogy by T.J. Brown

Up until now, every single Series Spotlight post I’ve written has been about a series I’m raving about. Sadly, this particular spotlight is on a trilogy that bothered me for a multitude of reasons. The Summerset Abbey trilogy by T.J. Brown started out with an enormous amount of potential.  However, as the series continued I found myself aggravated not only with certain characters, but with larger statements the trilogy was making.

sattjbAll three books revolve around three “sisters.” I say “sisters” because two of the three women, Rowena and Victoria, are actually sisters. The third young woman, Prudence, was their governess’s daughter and was raised like their sister after her mother’s death. When Rowena and Victoria’s father Sir Phillip dies, their uncle steps in to bring them to his estate for his wife to raise. Their uncle is not forward-thinking at all. He believes Prudence has no place in their lives and society, as she’s the daughter of a servant. Thus begins the tale of how one man’s death changes the ideals, lives, and futures of three young women. Rather than talk about each book individually, I’m going to discuss each of the three main female characters.

Prudence: Of the three women, she started out as my favorite. Her plight from a girl raised with wealth, freedom, and status to being thrust into a world of servitude and poverty was captivating. Her odd upbringing did her no favors in terms of helping her find her place in the world. In Rowena and Victoria’s home she was just as they were. Outfitted in nice clothes. Educated and not worked as a servant, though her mother was the governess. Sir Phillip was a man of forward thinking who didn’t believe in the rigidity of the social classes. He encouraged the girls to be freethinkers themselves, and all of this led to Prudence believing she could accomplish great things someday. The girls’ uncle, however, doesn’t believe in this way of thinking and tells Rowena that Prudence is not welcome at his estate. Rowena, needing Pru, tells her uncle that Prudence is really their lady’s maid. This is how Prudence finds herself in the servants quarters. She is not welcome above stairs nor below, as the servants recognize she’s not truly of their class.

I found Prudence to be the character that had the MOST potential and the one that flopped the hardest. She makes a decision at the end of book one that just doesn’t match up to her character’s intelligence at all. Over the course of the next two books we’re left to watch the repercussions of her decision. At the end of three books I still didn’t understand the motives behind her decision nor did I really feel like she was happy. She just seemed resigned to what her life was. And what kind of statement does that tell readers? Here is this young woman, brought up with education, music lessons, and access to the suffragette movement among other things. And where do we see her wind up? Struggling to bake bread and wash clothes. Her potential was completely revoked, the minute that decision at the end of book one was made.

Rowena: From start to finish, I disliked her. From our first introduction to her she’s selfish, impulsive, rude, and stuck-up. I cut her a bit of slack knowing her father had just died, but even in book three – she’s just…ugh, aggravating. All she cares about is herself and finding ways to make her feel “alive.” She allows her uncle to run roughshod over all of her and Victoria’s feelings on moving, their obligations to society, and most importantly, what they can “do” as women. Her inability to help herself or to help others truly bothered me.

Victoria: While she started out a bit boring for my taste, she quickly rose up the ladder in my mind and is the reason why I stuck with the entire series. I wanted to know HER story and her’s alone.  Of the three women she is the only one that fights for what she wants, and the only one that tries to better herself and the world around her. She fights with her Aunt and Uncle about Prudence constantly, even standing up to them pretty amazingly at one point. She becomes a nurse during the war to help those around her. She becomes friends with one of the scullery maids in the estate’s kitchen and brings her to London, giving her a more decent future. She’s definitely the most nurturing of the three women, as she is always worried about the causes of others (a bit naively at some points.)

So what are the larger points of this story that bothered me? For one thing, why were the majority of the women in the books bitches? Also, did the insanely crazy side of the Women’s Suffragette Movement have to be the only one shown? Sure there were women who did crazy things all in the name of women’s rights, but there were also amazing women like Alice Paul and Millicent Fawcett, who could have been used to show another less vindictive/less self-serving side of the movement.

Even with all of the nonsense above that bothered me I do have to give Brown props for her work on the historical front. Her incorporation of the clashing of social classes and overarching effects of the war were done brilliantly.

In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is:

  1. Summerset Abbey – 3 out of 5 Stars
  2. A Bloom In Winter – 2 out of 5 Stars
  3. Spring Awakening – 2 out of 5 Stars

Kim’s Review of The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

tlglrA few weeks ago Todd wrote a post about what it’s like living with me when a book makes me emotional. As much as I feel bad about making him bear witness to me being a simpering mess, I can’t give up books that elicit strong emotional responses from me.  In my opinion, books that can generate these strong responses are well written, engaging, and in some way relatable. Every book that I’ve read by Lucinda Riley can be categorized as one of these books. Her latest, The Lavender Garden, topped my list of reads for 2013 and is every bit as moving as her last two books The Girl on the Cliff & The Orchid House.

From Goodreads:

La Côte d’Azur, 1998: In the sun-dappled south of France, Emilie de la Martinières, the last of her gilded line, inherits her childhood home, a magnificent château and vineyard. With the property comes a mountain of debt—and almost as many questions . . .

Paris, 1944: A bright, young British office clerk, Constance Carruthers, is sent undercover to Paris to be part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during the climax of the Nazi occupation. Separated from her contacts in the Resistance, she soon stumbles into the heart of a prominent family who regularly entertain elite members of the German military even as they plot to liberate France. But in a city rife with collaborators and rebels, Constance’s most difficult decision may be determining whom to trust with her heart.

As Emilie discovers what really happened to her family during the war and finds a connection to Constance much closer than she suspects, the château itself may provide the clues that unlock the mysteries of her past, present, and future. Here is a dazzling novel of intrigue and passion from one of the world’s most beloved storytellers.

As I stated earlier, Riley’s novels make me into a simpering mess. I should add that I LOVE that about her novels. Her novels don’t make me cry due to sadness, they make me cry because of their beauty. The way they explore difficult facets of life. The types of characters she chooses to explore. The Lavender Garden hooked me for one particular reason….the characters. Talk about a smorgasbord of different people!  The mark of good writing is when you get completely immersed into the characters’ lives. You feel joy and pain with them. They aggravate you. They make decisions you cringe or cheer at. Emilie, Constance, Edouard, Alex, etc are all so well-drawn and configured.

Riley is a master at weaving the past and present together in a way where it all makes sense. The elements of mystery, love, romance, and suspense that she is able to incorporate into her stories are what make them such page-turners. The twists and turns present in The Lavender Garden make it difficult to discuss any plot points in-depth without giving things away, so just trust me when I tell you – the emotional journey Riley takes you on is so, so rewarding. If you’ve ever read anything by Kate Morton, you’re sure to enjoy Riley’s novels. And if you’ve never read something by either author you’re sincerely missing out.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley
Atria Books (2013)
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 9781476703558

Special thanks to Ms. Riley for my review copy!

Todd’s Review of Buzz (The Game #2) by Anders De La Motte

16130351Fresh off of the nail-biting adventures of Game by Anders De La Motte, I was excited to see what else was in store for HP and his fight against the Gamemaker and his empire.  Not only did Game end with an amazing climactic action scene, but there was a definite cliffhanger that made me want to start Buzz as soon as possible.  I knew it was only a matter of time before HP found himself ensnared in the clutches of The Game again, and Buzz did not disappoint in this respect.

From Goodreads:

It’s been four months since he was dragged into the Alternative Reality Game that nearly cost him his life, and HP is still on the run. He has everything he ever wished for—freedom, money, and no responsibilities, but he still isn’t happy. Plagued by insomnia and paranoia, HP misses the rush and attention of The Game. Sometimes he almost wishes the Game Master would find him.

In Dubai, HP meets Anna Argos, a sophisticated and beautiful Swedish IT millionaire. When she disappears, HP is questioned by the police. Fearing he has been found by The Game, HP returns to Sweden after being released from custody. Determined to uncover the truth about Anna’s disappearance, HP uses a fake identity to apply for a job at ArgosEye, the company Anna worked for. In the business of online information management, ArgosEye is involved in some questionable practices, under the control of Anna’s husband, the CEO Philip Argos.

Meanwhile, HP’s sister Rebecca has started dating Philip Argos. When she unknowingly reveals her brother’s real identity to Philip, the police try to bring HP in for questioning again. On the run again, HP refuses to give up and tries to uncover what is really happening at ArgosEye. Before he can find the truth, HP is stopped in his tracks. Thinking he’s about to be thrown in prison, HP is taken to the outskirts of the city and left in the woods, where an elderly man hands him a piece of paper. HP believes the game is over, but is it really just beginning?

I think the best part about this series is the fact that it is multifaceted.  Just when you think that you’ve figured out The Game and HP’s place in it, your preconceptions are turned on their head and you are thrown for a loop.  Not only does this make the plot multi-layered, but it keeps you (and HP consequently) in the dark until the last possible moment.  Not only that, but HP’s overall likability and aloofness makes him an easy character to get along with and root for.  I found myself drawing some parallels between the twists and turns of this series (thus far) and my favorite TV show, LOST.  The plots of both of these franchises are complex and deceptive, and I think that’s what draws me in and makes me want to uncover the truth about The Game so badly, just as I wanted to find out the identity of “The Others” in LOST.  Therefore, it’s not surprising that I’ve rated Buzz so highly, and I cannot wait to read the exciting conclusion to this series: Bubble.

5 out of 5 Stars

Buzz by Anders De La Motte
Atria Books (2014)
Paperback: 496 pages
ISBN: 9781476712918

Special thanks to Atria Books for my review copy via Netgalley!

Kim’s Review of Lila and Ethan: Forever and Always (The Secret #4.5) by Jessica Sorensen

laefaajsWhen I found out that Jessica Sorensen had written one more novella to add to her Secret series I’ll admit, I was nervous. I was already really happy with the outcome of the events of the previous four novels (my reviews of those novels can be found here, here, here, and here!)  I was nervous as I thought Sorensen would potentially create another conflict only in the interest of extending the series, and didn’t think much more could be added to the story.  How wrong I was!

From Goodreads:

Lila Summers just wants to know one thing for certain: that Ethan Gregory will be with her always. Once her friend, he’s become so much more, melting the pain of her past away with each kiss. Now Lila is on a road trip with Ethan, in the wilderness under the stars, and she can’t imagine her life without him. But when she talks about the future, something in Ethan changes . . .

Ethan has no doubts about his feelings for Lila. His life with her gets better every day-and that’s the scary part. How can he walk into a future where he has everything to lose? With Lila, his whole heart is on the line for the very first time. But if Ethan can’t give her the promise she needs, his greatest fear might come true: he’ll lose Lila for good.

Lila and Ethan: Forever and Always was a perfect “final act” to The Secret series.  As I said earlier, I was afraid that the main conflict contained within the story-line would be contrived and unnatural.  Fortunately, this was not the case, as the discord between Lila and Ethan seemed to stem from the natural growing pains any relationship would experience.  As these concerns were dealt with and worked through, I was happy to follow along as Lila and Ethan learned even more about each other as they dealt with these problems.  In a way, these differences made their relationship seem even more real and relatable.  I know we as readers are sometimes conditioned to look for the “happy ending” in most stories, but I believe that Sorensen has accurately reproduced the problems that most couples face once the honeymoon period is over, and I was happy to follow Lila and Ethan along for one last adventure.  If you’ve been a fan of the series thus far, you owe it to yourself to finish this final chapter.

5 out of 5 Stars

Lila and Ethan: Forever and Always by Jessica Sorensen
Forever (Grand Central Publishing) (2014)
eBook: 128 pages
ISBN: 9781455584659

Special thanks to Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for my review copy via Netgalley!

Kim’s Guest Review of Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson

umdtwMy first Austenprose review for 2014 is now live! I reviewed Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson, which is a contemporary retelling of Pride and Prejudice.

You guys know I love my Pride and Prejudice re-tellings and am always looking for the newest, most creative one out there. Imagine my surprise when I was scouting around NetGalley and discovered Wilson’s version had Darcy as a purebred dog breeder and Elizabeth as a down-on-her-luck teacher turned dog shower. 

Sparks really flew in this book, which absolutely captivated and charmed me thoroughly.

For a direct link to my review, click here!

Jen’s Review of The Storycatcher by Ann Hite

tsahI’m not entirely sure how to review this book without sounding overly cliché. So, let’s start with the fact that I read mainly British or French historical fiction. This book, The Storycatcher by Ann Hite, is neither of those. But after reading some reviews on Goodreads which stated, “I usually don’t read this kind of book, but it was awesome,” I decided to give it a try. I’m very glad I did.

The synopsis really doesn’t do the book justice. It’s far more complex than it leads you to believe. There are many characters and what seems like many plots, however, they come together in a huge spider web (make sure you read the names on each chapter as the POV changes with each one. I did not find it hard to follow, but I can see how one might be confused.)

From Goodreads:

Shelly Parker never much liked Faith Dobbins, the uppity way that girl bossed her around. But they had more in common than she knew. Shelly tried to ignore the haints that warned her Faith’s tyrannical father, Pastor Dobbins, was a devil in disguise. But when Faith started acting strange, Shelly couldn’t avoid the past; not anymore.

Critically acclaimed, award-winning author Ann Hite beckons readers back to the Depression-era South, from the saltwater marshes of Georgia’s coast to the whispering winds of North Carolina’s mystical Black Mountain, in a mesmerizing gothic tale about the dark family secrets that come back to haunt us.

If a book is listed in the “supernatural” category I tend to stay away. I mean, I never finished one of The Babysitter’s Club books because: ghosts. But the “haints,” as they’re called in The Storycatcher are more like messengers than ghosts. The only thing the people on the mountain really had to fear was one who was still alive. The story of these haints had to be told, no matter the cost. Only the truth can allow these haints to rest.

Sins of the past and present collide in this intrinsically woven novel that really is … a page-turner. Suspenseful, interesting, amazing characters and “AHA!” moments make this a very epic read.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Storycatcher by Ann Hite
Gallery Books (2013)
Paperback: 352 pages
ISBN: 9781451692273

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!