Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Plot: Carrie is an author researching her latest novel set in the early 1700's.  Her journey started in France and quickly takes her to Scotland, to visit her editor.  Pulled by the beauty of the landscape, she decides to base part of her novel in the area.  Soon Carrie is hearing a soft female voice on the wind, which leads her to create an new lead character.  While researching the ruins of a castle, Carrie discovers the characters are very much rooted in reality and starts to wonder if she might be loosing her mind.  The locals are a friendly group who not only help her with every inch of her research, but two brothers have both decided to make a play for her.  While one is someone she trusts and thinks fondly as a friend, the other has captured her imagination in more ways then one.  Soon, Carrie is torn between her reality, her novel and her own past as everything comes crashing together on the waves just outside her cliffside cottage.

The Winter Sea is a story within a story which author Susanna Kearsley manages to weave with perfection. Like a spider dangling in the delicate center of a web, drawing you into both the modern and the historical sides of it.  The romance that blossoms between modern Carrie and Graham, roots you firmly in the here and now, suggesting a comfort that only comes around once in a lifetime. Meanwhile, the historical romance between Sophia and Moray plays out with an innocence that lives up to any fairy tale.

The author herself -Kearsley- manages to bring together the idea of time travel and past life regression into a buyable plot line, with the help of science, metaphysics, and a healthy dose of romanticism. Giving  the novel a chance to cross from one genre (science fiction) to the other (historical romance) seamlessly.

You find yourself breathless at times with the way she describes the setting of the castle at Slains, to the point you can almost hear the waves themselves crashing against the edges of the cliff.  In fact, the wind and clouds that hover endlessly through most of the modern setting are a character unto themselves, delivering a voice and dream like quality to the writing muse that "Carrie" must follow.

Divided into chapters within chapters, you soon forget you're reading a whole novel and begin to think of it as the author's -Kearsley- diary and manuscript. As it brilliantly combines the two worlds.

From the moment I picked up this novel I was intoxicated by the idea of finding not just a muse but true love by pure accident. The introduction of both Graham (the modern setting) and Moray (the historical setting)  in their respective sections are subtle hints at how love can sneak up on you when you're not looking for it and grab you fully.  And how a hero can appear out of the shadows.
The other subtle traces of the historical characters turning up in the modern setting (Kirsty the maid in the historical section having a modern twin in the form of the librarian,  the Countess having a modern twin in the editor) helps to bind your believing that the lead "Carrie" is meeting her soul family for a purpose, following a trail of breadcrumbs down a delicious rabbit hole.
Instead of giving off an unsettling feel that some past life stories have done in other novels/movies, you are gifted with a sense of rightness.  When you are reading the parts about the return of King James to his crown you never feel like you are being mislead or talked down to; but instead like you are truly reading research notes.
Sophia's feelings of loss and desire come through as clear and honest as if you were reading actual letters  from her place in history.
Making Graham a history professor helped to fill in areas that would have otherwise seemed too unrealistic for the modern scenes.

The balance that the author -Kearsley- gives her leads in both time frames, is an extremely potent one. Having her females Carrie/Sophia and the Countess/Jane being strong independent women and the men Graham/Moray being emotionally available is something too many writers try but do not always nail. Kearsley gets it and manages to keep the flow even through out the two parallel worlds.
Another nice touch I found, was the addition of having "Carrie"while in Scotland, keeping in constant touch with her father in Canada. As the male elements were running strong in the modern setting and the female elements running strong in the historical one another balance was found without being too obvious.

A book not to be missed, The Winter Sea will have you believing in love at first sight as well as wanting you to move to Scotland for the spring.

Friday, December 3, 2010

365 Thank Yous by John Kralik

1 man, 1 year, 365 letters.

This is a personal journey that lawyer John Kralik under took in the course of what ended up being just over 15 months.
In the late winter of 2007, his life had hit rock bottom. The simple act of receiving a thank you note from an ex-girlfriend, made him realize just how blessed he really was.
After what seemed like a hour of being lost on a hike (which actually turned out to be his defining moment) a plan was thought of to express his gratitude for all the millions of little things people had given him over the course of his life.

This began his plan to send one thank you card a day for a year, 365 handwritten letters, to the people in his life.

As with all personal journeys, his was paved with minor set backs (including the market crash of 2008) most of which revealed themselves to be positive reinforcements of strength, causing him to reschedule  his goal to just over a year.  And get in return not just his own thank yous but the knowledge that he'd started a trend in his community.

This book is perfectly timed.  At lest it seems to be for me.  The idea of sitting down and not just taking stock of the things in life that are truly blessings, but of the time that goes into sitting down and writing handwritten notes to the people who gave you those gifts (both material and emotional) in this day and age is almost ground breaking.
This book, which is really a diary of one man's ability to pick himself up after the worst emotional fall of his life, is a gentle reminder that as human beings we are more then the sum of our own parts, we are part of the greater some.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Interview with Rebecca Ann Collins

 In her latest and final chapter of the Pemberley Chronicles,  author Rebecca Ann Collins, brings you once last time to the world of the Darcys and Bingleys as she weaves together a spell of innocence and betrayal.
She was also kind enough to grant me an interview.

Plot: The Darcys along with the Bingleys, have gone to the southern areas of Europe for the winter, leaving Pemberley estate to their children and Mr. Darcy's younger sister Georgina.  Newly widowed, Georgina is at her wits end dealing with a full grown daughter who seems to have no patience for the rules.  Meanwhile, two new comers to the area Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Fraser have endeared themselves to the locals, at the same time a wealthy land developer is trying to buy up the estates.  Can Pemberley's guests get through the year without the guidance of Mr. Darcy or will this mean the end for it's legacy?

My favourite character was Daniel Faulkner, he's a large departure from the usual gentleman you would find in this type of novel, what inspired you to add him?

RAC: Thanks very much for inviting me to contribute to your blog.  I am glad that you liked Daniel Faulkner; he is one of those characters I grew to love as he developed through the story. I live in Australia, so it wasn’t difficult to place Daniel Faulkner here.

It was quite a natural development to add a couple of “gentlemen” from the colonies into the cast of the Pemberley Chronicles. This was a period (it was the mid-19th century) in which many people were going out to America  and Australia, India and Ceylon, as settlers, investors and adventurers. Unlike the earlier convicts, these people went willingly looking for a new life, fame and fortune. Some never returned, others came home and brought with them a completely new outlook.  I used Daniel Faulkner and Adam Fraser to add something new and interesting- in character and outlook- to the story. They are quite different in character and help to illustrate the contrast between the two young women too.

Two of the "young ladies" are at the age of thirty, were you expressing the fact that youth has no bearing on love, or was it more a case of showing the contrast of maturity between the two girls?

RAC: I believe there is a bit of both . In other volumes of the series (A Woman of Influence or Recollections of Rosings), I’ve used older women as central characters and the feedback from readers has been terrific. Many women in that age group, who are aware that age is no barrier to love, have felt marginalized by the cult of youth that dominates the modern romance genre. They were thrilled to see older women  given a chance to find love and express their feelings in the Pemberley novels. It’s a recognition of reality.

In the case of Rachel Fitzwilliam and Virginia Grantley, I was also trying to demonstrate the contrast between the two women.

There seemed at first to be a teasing towards Daniel Faulkner and Caroline Fitzwilliam being a couple (having him remember meeting her twice when he was a teenager, and joining her during the cricket game) did you originally intend for these two to become something other then what they did?

RAC: Not at all, I always intended Daniel for Rachel, who is one of my favourite minor characters. But, I also needed to work it out in a credible way. Rachel is not as outgoing as her mother; she is rather shy and needs some encouragement. It would not have been very credible in that era, to have her meeting and falling in love with a complete outsider—a man who appears from Australia after twenty years.  Using the link with Caroline, who is a very socially adept woman, eases the situation. Also Daniel is somewhat older than Rachel and is quite at ease socially with Caroline, so it made sense.

Georgiana, after what had happened to her in the original works, did you feel her innocence was what made her character as endearing as it was?  As when the information was given to her about Adam Fraser, she acted with a sense of disbelief, when one would think she of all characters would have been more careful. Even with the explanation that you've given her for her latest actions in regards to Fraser, it came across to me like Georgiana was set to just prove everyone wrong. Was your intent to show a "like mother like daughter" innocence when it comes to men like Fraser (and Wickham)?

RAC:  To answer the first part of your question, yes, Georgiana’s innocence when we meet her at age sixteen in Pride and Prejudice is an endearing quality and that is continued in our first volume, The Pemberley Chronicles. Her complete dependence upon the approval and judgment of her brother, then Elizabeth and later her husband, Francis Grantley, contributes to a continuation of that impression.

As to the rest of your question, no, I did not want a “like mother like daughter” comparison at all. While Georgiana is genuinely naive and innocent and that does get in the way of her judgment of Adam Fraser, Virginia is self-indulgent and stubborn.

The novel carries within it a sense of bitterness at times by Elizabeth (Bennett). Did you feel that in the original works, her stubborn streak was downplayed? Or just that as she would have aged, she would have kept a stricter view of what society should have evolved into? 

RAC: I don’t think Elizabeth’s attitude can be called “bitter;” she has nothing to be bitter about. She has lived a long and happy life with a loving husband and family. But she has known sorrow too and that has affected her character, the loss of a child in a stupid accident is likely to cause the same kind of reaction in any normal person.

Apart from that however, Elizabeth is in her seventies in the final volume and it is quite natural that her attitudes would be “stricter” and more critical of those who fall below her standards.

For you was there a particular reason you made such a contrast between the careers of Daniel Faulkner and Thomas O'Conner?  You made both men very likable/similar in attitudes and yet, gave them careers that would at once put someone in the mind of polar opposites. 

RAC: Well, isn’t that just how life is? In the same community you can meet two people who are polar opposites in their interests, but share the same values. I have two brothers –in-law. One is an intellectual and the other a mad keen sportsman, yet they are both thoroughly likeable, decent men.

As to the careers of Daniel and Thomas: there were not many careers for gentlemen if they didn’t go into the church, the military or Parliament. Daniel returns from Australia and it is revealed that he is an ordained clergyman, while Thomas wants to be a writer. Both these careers were popular with educated young men at the time. I also wanted Tom to be somewhat different—with that touch of magic intensity that the Irish brought to ordinary life—for young Laura Ann.  Making him a promising young writer gave him that quality.

I noticed in your author's notes that you teased a bit on the idea of very minor characters and their future. As someone coming into your characters at the very end of their run, I found The Legacy of Pemberley to stand very easily on its own. Was your hope to not just wrap up your series but to maybe plant some seeds for a new direction? 

RAC: My farewell note was quite genuine; I really felt sad at letting my characters (and those I had borrowed from Jane Austen) go, after more than a decade in which they had become part of my life. I was just saying what I felt—that it was difficult to part from them and not wonder what might happen to some of them, like young Anthony Darcy, the next Master of Pemberley, whose lives had not yet run their course.

I have no plans to return to Pemberley, at this stage, but one can dream, I suppose. 

I do hope you have enjoyed the answers to your interesting questions. Thank you for having me on your blog!

You can find out more about Rebecca Ann Collins and her complete series of Pride and Prejudice stories at her official website

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giveaway- Legacy of Pemberley

Hey folks.  I'm doing something I never do,  a giveaway! I'll be hosting an interview next week on the 29th of Nov with Rebecca Ann Collins author of The Legacy of Pemberley, which is the final chapter in her series, and will announce the winners at that time.

Here are the rules.... there are no rules.  You just need to be from Canada and the U.S. and leave me a comment with your name, email and if you are in Canada or the U.S.  That's it.  Then come back next week for the winner.   We've got 2 books to giveaway.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Forever Queen by Helen Holick- review

Plot:  Emma, at age 13,  has been promised by her brother, to the current King of England. AEthelred, a coward king. A middled aged man with children older then herself. On sight, Emma is filled with disappointment and feelings of betrayal which soon turn to shear loneliness. Abused and humiliated at the hands of her husband, Emma still fulfills her duty as a Queen, baring children before she's out of childhood herself. The death of the King brings with it relief and fear mixing itself to one solution if she wishes to keep the crown for herself and the lives of her children safe, marry the man who defeated her husband.  Her second marriage to Cnut, is lighter, happier and filled with love and even more children. 

Cnut too brings with him grief from the death of his second wife and their only daughter, who soon is taken by accident leaving him in despair. Emma is Cnut's third wife, his first having been a forced arrangement to AElgifu, a woman who would plague Emma her entire life. 

Both Emma and AElgifu claim the legal rights of their sons for the crown of England. But it is Emma who has earned the love and respect of the people, who has herself stood with the armies over the years to protect and defend the land; with her first husband, then with her step-sons, then her second husband and finally with their own son.  

In her long life, Queen Emma outlasted three generations of men to stand tall and serve England.

This historical fiction covers 50 years in the life of Emma, and contained in a volume of 616 pages. The cast of characters it welds spans from Normandy to England to Sweden to Rome and back again, filling up your imagination as it pulls you to it, engulfing you.

The author's notes give up the fact that the real history of Emma is but a footnote, even though she was one of the first- if not indeed the first- to have her life penned in a biography.  Which is still unproven to be a loyal truth or a biography of semi-fictions.

For me, this novel was both breathtaking and difficult.  Even with the maps, timelines and pronunciation guide, because so many of the book's characters had similar names I found it difficult to keep everyone straight.
As working with historical fiction is never an entirely easy task, Forever Queen  manages to keep it's pace steady and forgiving for it's readers.

Emma is a woman's woman. She's been delivered into a life that is little more then slavery for the first half of her years. Having been  abused, mocked, raped, mentally tortured (seeing her pet dog killed at the hands of her first husband) and even silenced, she some how managed to rise above it all and find her own strength as well as a voice. One that would trickle down though the centuries to find itself in a present day novel.  You can't help but wonder what heights she would have risen to had she been alive today.
What I found most interesting about her character, was her lack of motherly instincts for half of her children. The connection she has or more properly the lack of connection she has with her sons from her first marriage, really start to show a great amount of residue from the years of abuse.
Speaking as a woman who has chosen not to have children myself, I found the intricate emotional tug of war between her devotion and duty to her country and to her own self to be brutally honest, to the point of  asking myself would I have been able to go through what she did just to be Queen?   The fact Emma sees no alternative but to be the physical embodiment of the title of queen is at times both desirable and horrific. 

I also found myself cheering for some of the unlikely players in this novel, namely Cnut and Edmund.

Cnut, I thought was a more suited match for Emma as well as a more interesting man. He is played as a very human hero, when kings were seen as being gods.  The twists his character goes through would give any modern movie hero a run for his money.
We meet his character as a angry teenager who not only represents the "generation me" aspect of things, but you know from the first meeting between Cnut and Emma that sparks will end up flying. It graciously foreshadows his arch throughout the rest of the novel.
When his character dips into despair, folding back and forth on his own trustworthiness; you find yourself forgiving him. There seems to be a sampling of innocence through his adulthood with his three marriages, such as when he can't turn his back on his first wife even when he knows she's going to be his destruction.

Edmund is the perfect hero. From start to finish he embodies everything you would expect the hero to be.  He learns at the feet of not his father but Emma and her personal knight. His devotion to his family is something to be held as he puts all aside for the good of England.
Edmund is written with a sly smile, as if the author knew in the back of her mind he would be the one to catch your eye and hold it.

Forever Queen  could easily be a complete work of modern fiction just by replacing the Queendom of England for a President of a Multi-million dollar company, the court for a boardroom, and the wars for ad campaign. Power, trust, jealousy and betrayal stays the same no matter what century it's brought out in.

It will be interesting to see how she weaves the remaining story of Edmund's legacy in the next installment.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Forever Queen Book Tour

The author of Forever Queen, Helen Hollick,  has been busy on a virtual tour for the novel.  Some of the upcoming dates include

November 1
November 2
November 3
November 4
November 5

November 8
November 9
November 10

November 11
November 12

November 15
November 16
November 17
November 18
November 19

November 22
Book Club Chat on   
7pm-9pm EST

I've just finished reading it myself, and will be posting my thoughts on it next week on Nov 18th. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A new blog... sort of

I have started to contribute to a new community blog -Dream Books LLC.  Most of the other bloggers are fast paced, adding reviews and interviews and personal publishing stories; but with my current work load, I'm working on a column idea.   So far I have posted an introduction and this start to my "column".  
I'll post each issue of the column here too for anyone who might want to read it here. 

Is It You

Those of us who are writers besides being bloggers, have you found you have a different voice for blogging then you do for writing?

Anyone can tell you that when you blog, be it professionally or as a hobby, you will have a few weeks or even months where you are trying to find your own style.

For me, it took six months of blogging to get my groove.  I started off doing one blog post a week, having spent that full week working on the post and trying to make it sound as much as possible like it was something you'd see on Sex and the City.
It's seven years later, and I still have times where I hear the voice of actress Sarah Jessica Parker reading in my head as I write.

Ironically, I did not find my own blogging style till after I started to read a column by Hunter S. Thompson.  It was his style of reporting sports that helped to free me from what I thought a woman was expected to say.

I come across hundreds of blogs a week, where the blog's author talks about wanting to be a writer, but not showing any of themselves in their blog.  Most of them have fallen into the same trap I did in the beginning, trying to be like everyone else when they blog.  As a writer many of us have turned to blogging as an easy outlet for our stories.  Many seem to be afraid to let loose and really put in their soul when they do; feeling that to be successful they must be able to fit in to an ideal.

I'll end my observation with a question... are you writing for yourself or are you blogging for the world?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Save the Assistants by Lilit Marcus

Lilit Marcus, co-creator of the website Save the Assistants, has turned her own career ups and downs into a complete editorial on living with a job you hate.  A simply must have book for anyone fresh out of college or thinking of doing an internship at an office building.

The book is peppered with humour and pop culture references that help to drive the book home.  (Warning: If you are like me and have never seen the movie Office Space or television show The Office you will be as lost on the references as I was )
With everything you would need to identify the different  boss-stress types,  to how to take a personal day, to how to hunt for a better job; Save the Assistants is a handbook for the modern worker.

One of the best tips I feel the book's author gives is a simple one "Get Your Job Description Clarified" 
How often have many of us gotten to day one of a job only to get bowled over by it not being what we thought? Or worse, being there for awhile only to have it change on us in a bad -not a promotion- way? as talked about on page 16 under the Buzzword heading of Combo Job.

The addition of  personal stories from the STA blog readers,  was a great way to make the points on a personal and universal level, while the pop quizes I found reminded me too much of something you'd find in a fashion magazine,  the splattering of buzz words were entertaining as well as useful, (and proved how out of the loop I am) as were the movie/music lists where were added for an extra lightness.

The lists of bad celebrities vs good celebrities who are famous or infamous as the case may be, for their treatment of their assistants was both endearing and point on.  This really gives you a sense of how good your job can be even if you are just the average person at an average job.

I have to admit something here,  this book threw me for a bit.  I wasn't expecting a strict how to book; and I've been puttering around for a full week on just how to tackle a review for it, which included me listing off every job I have had in the last twenty years on my personal blog.  As when I first was offered a chance to review it, I'd never heard of Lilit Marcus or the website and was expecting more of a satire.

The book proved to be more then good, it's essential.

But in this case, do not take it from me, hit up your book store and get one.  Actually get two, one for your house and one for your office library, trust me your co-workers will thank you for it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mail Bag Update October 15th 2010

You know that old saying "Life happens whenyou're making plans" Well it's been one of those times. So much that I forgot to come in here and give the mail bag updates for the last few weeks.

I have on the list here Save the Assistants by Lilit Marcus, Darcy and Fitzwillam by Karen V. Wasylowski, Yours for the Taking by Robin Kaye, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen.

I am also reading right now for review, The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick,

And I won a signed copy of An Unlikely Missionary by Skylar Hamilton Burris simply by being a reader of the new site.

Save the Assistants comes from Hyperion
An Unlikely Missionary comes from Double Edge Press
The other titles are all Sourcebooks

Monday, September 20, 2010

I am now taking

Only books slated for 2011 release.

The remainder of 2010 has been filled with a current list of books to be reviewed containing

  • Desiree The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love by Annemarie Selinko with an October release date for Canada and the U.S.
  • The Distant Hours by Kate Morton with a November release date for Canada and the U.S.
  • The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick with a November release date
  • The Legacy of Pemberley by Rebecca Ann Collins with a November release date
  • The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley with a December release date

I also have a couple more coming to me later this week.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You Comma Idiot -by Doug Harris

Plot: Lee is having a bad summer. His dream girl is his best friend's girlfriend, his oldest buddy is being stalked by the news because they think he kidnapped a teenager, and his drug dealer has cut him off. At the edge of turning thirty Lee finds himself at the crossroads everyone has to face at some point, only he's not so sure he's ready for it. But somewhere between hamming it up for the news reporter to get them off his buddy's tail and starting an affair he manages to fit in one last youthful summer in Montreal.

I could sit here and feed you some hype about this novel telling you it's the next big thing. I could do that. And you know what, I'd be right, as you would be to believe what I tell you.

It's rare that a novel comes along that has me wanting to share it with people before I've even finished reading it. (I actually carried it around the grocery with me yesterday and showed it to a few people) It's beyond imaginable that I would want to share anything with my mother, but I found myself telling her the basic plot of this story and showing her the book jacket.
The design by which I think is brilliant! It gives the cheeky-humour that this story is ripe with an extra visual expression.

Doug Harris has opened a world that goes beyond borders, that anyone with a longing for missed chances and homegrown fantasies can relate to. It just happens that it's a Canadian story which lovingly embraces elements of it's maple roots.

You get the sense right off that Lee, the main character has a hole in his heart, something is missing from his life, only he hasn't figured out himself what that is. Then you are introduced to Honey. The center of his world. Only she belongs to his best friend, a best friend who is like a brother. From there a cast of sweet, sour and very real people float into the plot and you soon forget you are reading and feel more like sitting in a friend's kitchen hearing a tale of youth.
Following Lee down his urban rabbit hole was both enchanting and familiar. He could have easily been to a major degree myself (I had moments where I could easily have replaced the male components with female ones) or any number of guys I have known over the years.

The character of Henry was touching in a mix of paranoia and sadness given his underscored innocence towards what the media hounds were doing to him. You can understand how the rest of the characters flip flop in their support.

I found myself laughing out loud at moments, and booing at others. The character of Cuz, a street weasel, had me at one point thinking of people I had grown up with, but never got to see get theirs. There is a character I am sure is waiting, plotting and getting ready for the sequel to let loose.

Doug Harris proves with this novel that coming of age does not need be attached to a number, just a reason.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mail day Sept 7th

I just got another lovely book in the mail today.

This I believe has a Sept 17th 2010 release date.

You comma Idiot by Doug Harris and from GooseLane

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The All Austen Authors Blog

I just got word from my favourite person over at SourceBooks that their favourite and hard working Austen authors have launched their own blog.

Now all of us Jane Austen fans can go to one blog to see the up and coming Austen authors next selections.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fearless Female Journalists by Joy Crysdale

This is part of a series by Second Story Press  called "The Women's Hall of Fame Series"

It's a thin volume of 118 pages.  But do not let that fool you.
This entry to the series packs a punch.  It gives a brief overview of the hardships that many of the women who dared to become a voice of their generation had to battle.

From Mary Ann Shadd Cary who wrote about ending slavery, to Margaret Bourke-White who was one of the first photo-journalists, to sports journalist Pam Oliver to many others, this book is a brief history of women in the media for the last 200 years.

I received this book about two and a half months ago, and have been carrying it around with me ever since, trying to get to it but having deadlines on other books, and it kept getting put back into my pile.  Or more rightly, my purse, as I did carry it around with me while I did my other reviews.  I finally had a chance this morning to get to it, and was more then glad I did.

Thought provoking, touching, enlightening and over all powerful.  It made me remember why I had started my own career in Broadcasting so many years ago.  The only difference is I did not have the guts to stick it out, unlike the courageous women who broke down the barriers and crashed open the doors for the rest of us.

Joy Crysdale has managed to turn a collection of biography profiles and essays into a collection of strength and dignity.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mr. Darcy's Little Sister by C. Allyn Pierson

Plot:  Georgiana Darcy is set to debut.  Hot on the heels of both Elizabeth marrying her brother and Jane marrying Mr. Bingley, we find the youngest Miss Darcy planning her coming out Season.  Her guardian,  and cousin Fitzwilliam, seems to set off her temper at every turn making the already shy Miss Darcy feel as if she does not know how to act.  Soon, she is the center of attention from more than a few gentlemen, and a Mr. Walker being at the top of the list. Will Mr. Walker be true or another Mr. Wickham with nothing but  bad intentions for  Miss Darcy. With the help of Elizabeth and her sisters Jane and Kitty, Georgiana soon finds her own footing and dares to dream of a love as true as theirs.

This was a slow go at first.  With nearly 500 pages and 29 chapters, Mr. Darcy's Little Sister takes a bit of warming up to; but once you are in you are hooked.

There are more then a few surprises in this Austen sequel, including Lord Byron as a slight character, but they add just enough plot twist to keep you turning pages.
The addition of Kitty, one of the younger Bennets was a sweet touch as she was always a under used figure in the original story.  Giving the Regency period more space also helped to form a fuller backdrop then Miss Austen ever did, and the addition of the Prince Regent into the personal lives of the Darcy's gave a flavour of independence for the women. Forcing them to stand alone while Mr. Darcy was off on a private mission handed him by the Prince Regent.
Georgiana's growth from a shy innocent girl to full blown society lady in such a short time is felt more from her own frustration then the actual act of going through the paces of coming out.

Witty and captivating, this novel could stand up to Miss Austen's original works with ease.

The only part for me that I felt was over used was the idea of St. George, the older cousin of the Darcy's.  He has a typical feel of many Austen villains jumping from one young lady to the other while Mr. Darcy and his family do much of nothing but worry about the situation. Which they in fact just finished doing over another character Mr. Walker.

You are at times finding yourself almost routing for Miss Bingley as well as Miss Anne.  Both ladies who's characters were originally viewed as snobs. This time around they're more then just background noise.  Miss Anne is one character I hope to some day see given her own sequel.

Friday, August 27, 2010

My Current Reading List- Review Books

And as always, I am two weeks behind.

I am in the middle of Mr. Darcy's Little Sister  Which will be done for next week.

As you see the stack, two of which (Winter Sea, Forever Queen)  just arrived this morning.

This may put a large hold on my book club reading selections, as all these need to be completed before November.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Emma and the Vampires by Wayne Josephson

Plot: Emma Woodhouse, beloved by all who live in her small town and matchmaker to humans and vampires alike, now has to fight a group of rogue vampires.
Emma has always been a carefree girl with nothing to vex her as far as society goes, mistress of her father's house, secure with a large fortune and never without a friendly ear.  Her dear friend Miss Smith though seems to be a magnet for vampires wherever they go.  It's not bad enough that Miss Smith has fallen in love with two already, now Emma must keep her friend from becoming dinner. Meanwhile, the town is abuzz with the return of another vampire gentleman, Frank Chruchill and an ever pale Miss Fairfax.  Everyone is very much looking forward to the two strangers visits.  Too bad it's at the height of vampire attack season.

Jane Austen and Vampires.   Two of my favourite topics.  This should be a given that I would love this idea.   
But it's not.

I was greatly disappointed with this remake of Emma. There were plot points that just did not seem to go anywhere.  Two major things were going through my mind during the course of this book, 1) why does everyone feel they need to have "vegan" vampires?   and 2) why does this feel way too much like a missing script of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  

I did like the new depth it gave Mr. Knightley, making him a vampire.  It added a layer of understanding that you always felt was missing in the original character.  As well, with Mr. Elton and Mrs. Elton being of the undead variety, their natural rudeness came across more appealing then ever their original characters did.  

The metaphor of biting the newlywed wives on the wedding night was a nice touch, only the question then was are we to assume that the vampire can only feed off his wife once and only because she'd have been a virgin?   The male characters keep thinking about how each other is in desperate need of sustenance and hoping each will marry soon. It was a subplot that made little sense to me, as you would think if half the town is inhabited by vampires, would there not be an "outlet" for such a thing? 

I wanted to love Emma and the Vampires but sadly, I could not.

Interview with Liane Shaw

Liane Shaw author of  over at Second Story Press was kind enough to do a short interview with me last week.  You can read my review of the novel here 

Me: I know the author's notes lists you as having survived your own battle with an eating disorder, what made you decide to use this as a story plot?

 Liane Shaw :My reasons are threefold.  First of all, as a teacher of mostly adolescent aged students, I was very worried about the extreme emphasis on body size I was seeing in both girls and boys.  I was particularly concerned when I had a student in my class who was quite thin and the other students were teasing her by calling her "anorexic".  It seemed to me that using that term as an insult indicated a real lack of understanding of the seriousness of the issue.  Secondly, as the mother of two young women, who were teens at the time I started this project, I was worried about the influence of media and societal expectations.  My youngest was trying to fit into size 0 pants...what does that mean anyway!...and I started researching current thoughts on eating issues.  That's when I tripped, literally because I'm not too techno savvy, over the Pro ana movement.  Which brings me to reason 3...I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened to me when I was young if I had had the kind of "support" that the sites can accidentally provide....the kind that encourages rather than discourages eating issues.  When I had an ED, few people even knew what is was, and certainly no one encouraged me to keep losing weight.  Putting the three reasons together, I wanted to do something to share what I felt about ED, the internet and body find a way to "teach" about it while reaching as many young people as I could.

Me:  You chose to do this in diary form, was there a reason for that?

LS : Yes.  I realized that everyone's actual experience of having an ED would vary, and that young girls today are dealing with a very different world than I was as a teen.  But I thought that the feelings would probably be much the same and that's what I wanted to convey.  I thought a diary was the best way to really delve into feelings.   I worried that it was a bit trite, but overall I think it worked.

Me:  Your use of the internet, it was as if it were a character all it's own. Was that on purpose or just simply a way to make the story more hinged in modern culture?

LS :What a great question!  To be absolutely honest, at the very beginning I wanted to find a hook that would, as you so aptly put it, hinge the story in modern culture.  However, the deeper I went into the pro ana, thinspiration etc sites the more I wanted to really shine a light on the internet as a potential factor in the perpetuation of ED for some people.   It was obvious to me that these young people were not intending to hurt anyone, least of all themselves, but unfortunately the potential for harm seemed overwhelmingly clear.
In retrospect, I think I could have made the internet an even stronger "character".

Me: My attention was grabbed by Wolf. The male character you gave the illness to. What was it that made you choose to add a man to the rehab center ? Have you met many men who have had this illness over the years, as I know it's wide spread but rarely talked about (the fact boys suffer from eating disorders too)

 LS: Another great question.  I have had equal parts praise and criticism for adding Wolf to the "cast".   I have dealt very directly and personally with young men struggling desperately with their body images.   More attention is gradually being given to the presence of ED in males, but it is still not enough in my opinion.

Me:  You left the end of the story slightly open, was that because you wanted to give the impression that she would be dealing with this for the rest of her life, or just hoping for a sequel?

LS:  Actually neither.  I wanted to leave the impression that the most important step is the first one, recognizing the issue and being willing to look at getting help.  I believe that's the part of the story that is the same for everyone but I think the next chapter would be radically different for each person dealing with this issue.  I do think some people deal with ED for most of their lives but I don't know if this is true for everyone.   I had an agent a long time ago who wanted an earlier version of the novel to be tied up with a neat bow of healing at the end.  I felt this was unrealistic and disrespectful to anyone actually dealing with an ED so I refused to change it.  That was the end of that relationship /and/ the novel until I re-wrote it a couple of years ago with the ending I thought most appropriate and found a publisher who understood what I was trying to say.

 Me:  As a teacher, do you see that the illness is developing in younger and younger students or is it something that is only apparent with middle to older teens?

LS:  I don't have any data on this question and my personal experience hasn't really given me a clear perspective.  I worked with grades 6 and up for the most part, and really felt that my 11 and 12 year olds were far too worried about their weight at an age where adolescence had barely had time to kick in.  In terms of the illness itself, I have certainly read articles that support concerns about development in younger children.

 Me:  When doing your research for the websites that you modeled  on, did you find there were more that lean towards caution or more towards the risks (pro sites) of the illness?

 LS: The most concerning aspect for me was trying to tell the difference.  Most of the sites I researched seemed to offer positive advice and medical information...on the surface.  However, with many of them, a little clicking on headings led me directly to chat rooms and other types of to lose more, and purge more easily for example...and to pages with ultra thin images that seemed to be there for young people to aspire to.   Beyond the concerns over how many sites I found, was the ease with which I found them.  There are many really positive sites out there as well.  I have tried to include lots of them on my blog and as I find more, I will continue to add them.

Me:  There were moments when you almost seemed as if you were going to move away from Maddie your lead, and follow her family member's story more closely, was there a purpose to your not going that route?

 LS:  I do think that family is a huge part of the process but I was really attempting to focus on Maddie and her personal journey.  Maddie was very absorbed in her own struggles and her own emphasis was on herself.   I was trying to find the balance between the reality of how wrapped up in yourself and your body you become when dealing with ED, and trying to find ways to demonstrate the impact on those around you as well.

Me:  Getting back to the internet side of it, you managed to address another subculture with the fact you had your lead feeling closer to her internet friends then her real life friends. I know myself, my relationships with my internet friends are as close if not closer then my offline ones, was that done to show Maddie's feelings of loneliness or just a natural by product of modern society?

LS:  A little of each.  My youngest daughter is very much a part of the modern, electronic social communication age and I am fascinated watching her deal with people online as if they are right in front of her.  Arguments and making up via text and far from my personal experiences but so interesting to watch with a new generation.  I wanted the novel to be something young people could relate to and this is so much a part of their lives I felt it had to be there...besides my daughter told me I /had/ to have it in there or the novel would suck (her word not mine!).
In terms of Maddie's loneliness, absolutely.   Her feelings of being misunderstood by those in her "real" life are what led her to find new friends online.  I really believe that I would have done the same thing if I had the chance when I was young.  I also believe that the lack of "understanding" I had...literally no one understood what was going on with me...might have helped me on my way to recovery in a strange way.  No one told me what I was doing was "normal" or "OK" so at some point, I started to wonder myself.  If I had others like me, even online, I might have kept on going further down the path than I did.

Me: This is a brave topic to begin with, did you have any outside pressure to not tackle the topic?

  LS: Not in my personal life.  Family and colleagues were totally supportive.  However, there were critics and bloggers who questioned the book before it was even formally released, wondering if it was going to be harmful to young people....which upset me of course as that would be the exact opposite of my dream when writing it in the first place!  My dream was to help people better understand what someone with an ED is going through and to perhaps encourage even one person to seek help.  I do have to admit, it's a tough topic to start a writing career with.  Some of the negative responses (thankfully few in number!) to the novel seem to come as much from passionate opinions about the topic itself as about my ability to write about it.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

July 31st 2010

You would think by now I would know better then to give a date on stuff when blogging but no.  I haven't learned my lesson yet.

I know, I promised three book reviews that I have not posted yet,  and I am behind on one right now.

I'm currently reading Emma and the Vampires for review.   I will have it up shortly.

PLUS  I was lucky enough to get an interview with Liane Shaw the author of thin and beautiful . com 

I will post that soon.  

And you're wondering what my hold up is?  Well, I have been suffering from a back injury.   Yes, I'm a mess.   Just sitting here for this last 5 minutes is torture.   Sitting is torture.  I've been in and out of the hospital all week.  

So fear not, the reviews and interviews are coming.  Just not as fast as I was hoping.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

This is book two in the Cousins' War series

Plot: Margaret Beaufort has been enchanted since she can remember with the idea of Joan of Arc and feels that she was meant for greatness.  First believing that she is meant for a holy life, Margaret is sent with great disappointment to be married at age twelve.  After nearly dying in childbirth, she is widowed and sent to be remarried.  Her one goal is to see her only son and heir Henry be crowned king. Years pass and her second husband leaves her a widow, forcing her to marry a third time.  This time around as Lady Stanley, she lives her life as close to being a nun as she's allowed, serving as advisor to a queen she would rather see dead. Can she pull herself out of her own shadow and see her own heir king or will she have to bow down to a woman known to be a witch?

There is a lot of ground to cover in this novel.  The first part takes you solidly through the life of Margaret Beaufort and her quest for divinity, before switching to a more common view of royal ruling.  Set mostly on the battlefields, this story slithers in and out of the lead's narration and having been  done beautifully with letters making you feel as if you are truly looking over the shoulder of Margaret.   I found myself towards the end feeling the hurried frustration that Margaret was, as she was being forced to play her hand silently, never knowing who was telling her the truth and who was spying on her.  It's rare for an author to give you the sense of urgency like this while reading their words.

As you grow with the character of Margaret, you feel both pity for her and in time distaste.  Her ever present desire for control which is supplied first under the disguise of her visions from God then begin to show their true colours as being jealousy for a more adored woman.

There is a small segment where upon Margaret has lost favour with the court and is sentenced to both house arrest and to be the guardian of the future queen. You feel the full weight of her character here the most, as she is still plotting revenge while in denial about her situation. Ever flaunting her religious devotion in the face of her ward, increasing the divide between the two women. This is the standoff that tells more about the future of things then even the final battle scene. The Princess Elizabeth never bends to the will of Margaret once during her stay with her, ever holding onto her own truth.

Margaret is both cunning and cruel in her sense of self and her loyalty to the house of Lancaster. Stopping at nothing to secure her name and her place in the royal line, letting her own vanity cross out the weakness in herself, seeing it (vanity) only in her rivals.  There are moments when you are not sure if she is mad or just so blinded by her own upbringing and devotion to both her religion and her greed.
Either way, the idea of a woman keeping to her choices and her show of faith in them is refreshing.

There were moments when reading this when I wished her third husband had been expanded on as a character.  As strong as he was, Lord Stanley was left short in actual personality. Easily the most interesting of the three husbands, I kept waiting to see more direction from him.

The character of Jasper Tudor, the brother -in-law from the first marriage, at times seems like a half forgotten element.  The first part of the novel has him a prime player in the plot, but he tappers out a little too much and is nearly used as a means to bridge the shift from one husband to the other.  At times very one dimensional,  at other times, you feel the hopelessness he is balancing on the edge of.

This is not just a story about power but a story about devotion. What you are willing to sacrifice for your visions and how you are able to stand for the choices you make.

As someone walking in on this series at the second book, it does indeed make me want to go out and find the first book in the series The White Queen, to see what I've missed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010 by Laine Shaw

I know I've said recently that books I've read have been emotional,  but this was a roller coaster.

Plot: Maddie is worried about her weight after visiting the doctor.  She is fifteen when she starts to "diet" and soon is being both praised and punished for her rapid weight loss.  Feeling as if no one understands her, she turns to the internet for help.  Website after website list the ways one can diet and quickly loose weight, but only one lets her chat about it.  Almost two years pass before Maddie's family and friends make her get help for her eating disorder and Maddie ends up in a rehab clinic.  The people she meets here help her realize that she's more then just her shadow. 

I could not put this book down. It left me needing a few deep breaths and a little shaky.  It's listed as being semi-biographical, as the author herself has dealt with eating disorders.  

Okay, this really hit home. I've admitted in the past that at one point I suffered from Bulimia and have had issues with my weight my whole life.  I only publicly talked about it in the last few years, but I also grew up in a time when internet was not available everywhere at all hours.   This novel uses the internet as a co-star, showing that just because the information and so called support is at your fingertips, does not mean it's good advice. 

The group of girls Maddie ends up finding are all under 90 pounds and still thinking they are fat. 
One scene had me caught between anger and tears, when Maddie is shopping for jeans with her mother and the sales lady keeps telling her how thin she looks.   

  Given that the novel is seen mostly through the eyes of a teenager suffering from the disorder, there are moments when it almost seems pro-disorder,  ALMOST but not completely.  Then it switches gears very quickly as you get moments of the story as seen through the eyes of the rest of the characters and it is clearly anti-.   is a hard pill to swallow,  as it should be.  This is not a pretty topic and it is laid out very vividly in all of it's harshness. I have to give a big nod to the fact the author did not limit her research to just women having this disorder, men fall victim to this as well.  Lots of men. I think she made a brave and smart move adding a male character who not only had the disorder, but was aware of it and seeking help.   
The fact Maddie has fallen into paranoia over her life shows a level of normalness that all teenagers no matter if they are suffering from an illness or not, go through was another sub-plot that added extra texture to the story.  Feeling of betrayal,  confusion, low self esteem, and simply being misunderstood flows through the entire novel with a serpentine grace that manages to weave you up inside itself.  

The journey we are taken on with Maddie and her Girls Without Shadows, is a bumpy one that points the finger where it belongs, on the individual and the media in a joint effort to expose the rawness of the illness. Not enough is ever said on the topic of eating disorders and this novel serves up a cold mirrored image that is needed. 

This is a book I feel needs to be standard reading in high school.