Sunday, January 30, 2011

Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen V. Wasylowski

Plot: Mr. Darcy and his beloved cousin Col. Fitzwilliam have been as close as brothers their whole lives. Now, Darcy is married and facing the birth of his first child. Fitzwilliam has sworn to stay single forever, that is until he meets an American named Amanda.  Not only will Fitzwilliam have to convince Amanda to marry him, but that her son from her first marriage will be safe with them. After the young couple run from Amanda's former mother-in-law they find themselves hiding at the Darcy estate.  Meanwhile, Caroline Bingley still has not given up on wanting Mr. Darcy for herself, and is not letting a little thing like him being married get in her way.  Can the two cousins survive the women in their lives and raise their new families or will all of London fall victim?

There were some interesting twists in this story.  Caroline Bingley being more of a tart, Anne de Bourgh being more of a hypochondriac, and Catherine de Bourgh being a comedian all gives a new layer of normality to the iconic characters.

I was much surprised with the direction Catherine de Bourgh was taken in, then anything else. Seeing her moments of outrageous teasing of Caroline Bingley as well as her staff had me laughing out loud.
There is also a slight hint at something romantic between Catherine and Mr. Bennet at times, which I would have liked to see more of actually.
The bulk of the novel is about Fitzwilliam, and makes for a much more interesting subplot then the title first suggests. As we follow him through his nightmares, his obsessions, and his redemption.

The scenes in which Elizabeth has meltdowns because of being pregnant were tired for me on the whole. I could have done without the birthing scene as well. It was there, it seemed, mostly to build a bridge between the two women -Elizabeth and Amanda- but didn't lend itself to really much else.
I also found the epilogue a little bit of overkill, just an extra chapter that wasn't really needed.

All in all, I enjoyed this story more then I have with other recent Austen sequels.  I thought that focusing on the Colonel as the tragic hero refreshing and the softness of Catherine long over due. The story is laced with humour and written with the ability to capture the attention of both die hard Austen fans and newcomers alike.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy- Mary Lydon Simonsen

Plot: Georgiana Darcy, and her cousin Anne de Bourgh, are both fearful that Mr. Darcy has ruined his chances at happiness. Anne, who knows she herself will never be able to marry wishes to see her cousin with the woman of his dreams, Miss Elizabeth Bennett. Georgiana, who is ready to come out in society and ready to find a husband herself,  is now the Mistress of Pemeberly, and does not want to see her brother lonely. Together they decide to create a very deliberate plan to set Mr. Darcy up to be in the same place at the same time as Elizabeth. The only thing getting in their way happens to be everyone else. From Wickham and Lydia, to Miss Bingley, to Darcy's former lover. Who knew one house could hold so many broken hearts at one time?

I have to say, it took me nearly 25 of the 53 chapters before I was really into this novel. The idea was a solid one, just a bit on the long side as we follow not one love story but almost seven. (Darcy and Elizabeth, Bingley and Jane, Wickham and Lydia, Mary and Mr. Nesbitt, Jane and Mr. Nesbitt, Darcy and Caxton, Caroline and Fitzwillam) There is just so many characters, it's hard to figure who you should be paying attention to at any given time.

The fact the author gave Anne de Bourgh a spotlight is the thread I found to be the most captivating. I wish there had been less Lydia and Wickham and more of Anne.

Giving Mr. Darcy a past that rips a tear in his "perfect armor"  was a nice refreshing touch. Too many other Austen sequels make Darcy a saint, which can get boring.
There are a few scenes with Kitty reading a gossip mag of the time, exposing parts of Mr. Darcy's past in lush colours. I felt this dimension was something needed to make Darcy more a man and less an icon, and gave the little used Kitty some stock.

Jane, at one point, is given way to her emotions which also was a refreshing twist on the character.

You know the old saying, never judge a book by it's cover... well this is one time I can't seem to get past the art work.
I know that some times, we as reviewers get copies with temporary covers.  I really wish this had been the case. The cover for Perfect Bride is just is too much like the cover of Twilight. Which might have been the idea, given that Twilight is a modern remake of Pride and Prejudice, and this is a sequel to P/P.  Unfortunately, everyone who spotted the book on my table felt the same way.
Were it me, I would give the art an overhaul for next printing.

It just seemed to me, that this novel took too long to get it's pot boiling and then got a bit over plated.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Interview with Catherine McKenzie- 2011

Last year, I was lucky enough to get to interview Catherine McKenzie about her debut novel Spin. I am pleased to say she was able to spare some time to grant me another interview, this time to talk about her new novel Arranged

KH: - Arranged is your second offering, how much harder was it writing on such a short schedule? Does it hamper the creative flow or help to push it along?

Catherine McKenzie: I’m actually very lucky that, although Arranged is being published only a year after Spin, I’d already written the book when I got my book deal. In fact, I wrote Arranged before Spin and so I only had to go through the editorial process in the last year (edits from my editors, line editing and copy editing) rather than starting from scratch or an outline. I know from other writer friends that writing on that kind of deadline can be very difficult, especially when – like most of us – you still have a day job.

KH: - I devoured Spin when I was given the chance to read it last year, and still recommend it to people when I am talking about books. I noticed a slight nod to one of the characters from Spin (celebrity Amber on the gossip show) near the beginning of Arranged, was that meant as a wink for your previous fans, or was Arranged originally meant as a sequel? 

CM: Thank you! That was definitely meant as a wink to the fans – something I added in the editorial process. A funny anecdote: the copy editor – who, among other things, checks to make sure that cultural references are correct – queried who Amber Sheppard was because she hadn’t been able to find her in an extensive internet search. She hadn’t read Spin J.

KH:-  Anne Blythe, is a 30-something writer who has a bad string of heartbreaks, with lovely red hair and a desire for the perfect man. I think I was 30 pages into Arranged when I was hit with a blast of emotions. You very easily could have been describing me.  You've hit your target audience to a bullet point. How much of "Anne" came from your friends and from yourself and how much came from research?

CM: Again, thank you. I don’t generally research characters – other than those who have a specific job, like Anne’s therapist or the marriage broker she meets. On the other hand, I also work hard not to base characters in my books on my friends. Every once in a while, someone around me will utter a great line of dialogue and I’ll ask if it’s okay for me to use it in a book. As to whether Anne is based on myself, I think, inevitably, any author who writes first person narratives has to be ready to have people assume that the main character is them. Example: Katie, the main character in Spin, goes to rehab. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve been asked whether I went to rehab since the book came out. Since I look a bit like Anne – we have the same colouring anyway – I’m sure this assumption will rear it’s head again, but while we might have some similar opinions, I really try not to be the main character in my books. I’m in there somewhere, though.

KH:- I've been waiting to hold off on the question that I know everyone must have asked, but what was the first inspiration for the whole novel? 

CM: Actually, the first question most people ask is whether or not Anne is ethnic – i.e. not a white girl from North America. That being said, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that led to that “aha” moment. I do know a few people who’ve had arranged marriages, and have watched my share of The Bachelor etc. This kind of information – and questioning of who would undertake either – was floating around my brain hopper and Arranged is what it spat out.

KH:- Therapy, has made an appearance in both your novels, as part of the narration.  Do you feel that in modern society we rely too much on what others think of us and how easily led some of us can become?

CM:Deep question. I use therapy for two different purposes in the books. In Spin, she had to be in therapy since a large part of the book is set in rehab. Since this was the case, I used it as a device to let us know more about Katie. In Arranged, I added the therapy aspect as a way for Anne to talk out the idea of going through with an arranged marriage without it all being in her head. I’m also not sure that therapy is about what others think of us, but rather, how to overcome caring about that, if that’s holding you back in your life.

KH:- Another series of stories plays more then a few notes in Arranged,  that being Anne of Green Gables.  What made you decide to pick that as a backdrop for the mother?

CM:So many books these days are based on or have a nod to the works of Jane Austen. I love Jane Austen, but that has been done – literally in some instances – to death. I thought it would be fun to work in another favourite author. Julie Buxbaum also does this with The Secret Garden in her book After You (Another book I’d recommend). I also wanted to explore the whole consequence of believing that your life should turn out like the books you read. I think too many of us grow up expecting that perfect ending, and end up disapointed when it doesn’t materialize.

KH:- In your first novel Spin, you used music to decorate the story, I noticed in Arranged you used other books in the same way. (On The Road really sets the foreshadowing for Jack) Was there a conscious decision to do this?

CM:There certainly was in Spin; I always envisioned that book as a musical, if that makes any sense. I think it was less consciously done in Arranged, other than the fact that since Jack and Anne are both writers, it’s natural for them to be interested in – and to discuss – books that are important to them.

KH:- Margaret is this fabulous minor character who is just so rounded and full of colour. She manages to sweep you along in her scenes making you forget she's just a character in the book. She's also the opposite of Anne.  Did you create her just  for that balance ?

CM:Thank you. And pretty much. Anne is so full of doubts, so self-questioning, that I thought it was important to have someone who took the opposite approach. Plus she was really fun to write.

KH:- To me, the philosophy in Arranged is that without a strong series of friendships, nothing solid in life can really be obtained. Do you feel that in our society people are forgetting what truly matters?

CM: I think what I was trying to get across – within the boundaries of something that is supposed to be, ultimately, a little bit of fun fantasy – is that believing that there is only one person out there for everyone – a soulmate – can be limiting. I think that we choose to go in certain directions in our romantic lives, but those are choices. I guess I don’t believe in predestination when it comes to love.

KH:- Without giving away the ending,  I have to say I was not expecting it to end in the tone it did.  There almost seemed to be a moment when I thought either the characters of Richard and William would have a stronger role. What made you decide to leave them as minor elements? 

CM: Again, within the boundaries of what I was writing, I wanted to keep people guessing how it would end until the end. So, I’m glad you were not expecting it to end the way it does. Not sure I can say more without revealing too much.

Thanks for the great questions!

KH: Always a great pleasure. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

Plot: Anne Blythe is a talented writer working at a magazine while putting the finishing touches on her first novel. Her latest relationship has just fallen apart, finding out the man who she's trusted was cheating on her.  Anne then begins to bump into a few more of her ex boyfriends, all whom are now married.  She discovers a business card for what she thinks is a simple dating service and after hearing that her best friend is engaged, decides to try it. Anne soon learns that they are more then just a dating service, but a company that performs arranged marriages. Anne turns this chance discovery into a new column for the magazine, her research leading her to join up herself. The matchmakers pair her up with a man who could be considered perfection, only to find out he's not what he seems after the wedding.

Is love by chance or illusion?  In this case it's both.
Once again, Catherine McKenzie offers up vivid characters who have a sense of witty sadness to them, that makes them very real.

I'm at a loss for words on this one folks. I can't review this book without comparing it to my own life. Which means once again Catherine McKenzie has hit the nail perfectly on the head, she knows her audience with a bullet point. 

The situation that the character Anne is in- in her 30's unmarried, a writer, a redhead, who's past boyfriends have moved on while she's still stuck- it's as if the author Catherine McKenzie were exposing pieces of my own life. I kept reading hoping she had a solution for me, then I remembered this was a novel. A beautifully sculptured piece of fiction that just happens to ring true.

The character of Anne's mother, who is currently on the edge of her own reality and not really paying too close of attention to Anne,  was a brilliant element of distance. (Also too close to home for my nerves.) Even though she's a minor character, the mother was a fresh view, given most mothers in modern fiction are too involved, too annoying.

There are moments when you find yourself wanting to slap the character of Jack and then give him the benefit of the doubt.  From the scene where he takes Anne boating you're left with this sense of menace that melts into a feeling of "maybe they got it right this time". I can not tell you how many times I sighed thinking if only there were more real men like this. 

In this day and age,  almost everyone has used the internet to meet someone, so the idea of falling for someone you've never really met is not as shocking as it first might have appeared. This gives an added weight to the element of Anne going to the matchmaker in the first place. Which I thought was mixed perfectly with the minor characters that Anne interviews who have had their own arranged marriages.
Too much in modern society is hinged on how we look, how we present ourselves and not enough on the real person.

Catherine McKenzie manages to take something as simple as eating lunch and deliver every emotion, every scent, every taste with such clear intent that it's no wonder her characters are so easy to identify with.

If you liked her first novel Spin then you're going to devour Arranged. (click here to browse inside the book)
Check out Catherine McKenzie on the Savvy Reader the official blog for Harper Collins Canada

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Yours for the Taking by Robin Kaye

Plot: Gina is a tough girl from the streets of Brooklyn. Ben is a cowboy from Idaho.  Ben is on a deadline, he needs to be married soon or he will loose the only thing that's mattered to him, his family ranch. His grandfather is set on having his only living relative having it all or nothing, and will do whatever he needs to see Ben follows orders.  Without any other options, Ben asks Gina to marry him, a women he's only met once before. Gina has never let anyone into her private life before, but a quickie marriage and even quicker divorce would give her the money see needs to save her own family. Neither of them had any idea that once they signed their pre-nup all bets would be off. Can they survive their marriage and both their families or will falling in love destroy both their dreams?

This starts off as your typical romance novel but quickly proves it's a step above the competition. The characters are more in depth then I've seen in the usual offering of romance novels, and the dialogue  is as sharp as a nail.
You are pulled in with the first page, engulfed within a set of  emotions wrapped up in humour.

A sweet twist comes in around the midway mark when the lead characters find themselves adopting a stray dog who quickly becomes a focus point on more then one level. A lovely bridge between the softer side of Ben and Gina, that makes you feel like the characters themselves didn't even know they had.

The moments of steamy description were handled to perfection without taking anything away from the plot or characters (which I've seen happen too many times in typical romance novels) and even the scenes where the leads are fighting, you're left breathless following their rise and fall of emotions.

If only there were more real men, more like her hero Ben and his cousin Trapper...

I wish someone had told me about Robin Kaye a few years back, as this is her fourth book in her line of "Domestic God" novels.