Friday, April 18, 2014

Review | War Brides by Helen Bryan

Title: War Brides
Author: Helen Bryan
Publication Date: June 2012
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Source & Format: Borrowed; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
As war moves ever closer, the sleepy English village of Crowmarsh Priors settles into a new sort of normal: Evacuees from London are billeted in local homes. The nightly German air raids become grimly mundane. Rationing curtails every comfort. Men leave to fight and die. And five women forge a bond of friendship that will change their lives forever in this engrossing novel of loyalty, loss, and love in the shadow of World War II.

With the hardships of war intensifying every day, the women band together to defeat formidable enemies and find remarkable strength within themselves to help one another. It is a war-forged loyalty certain to endure years and distance.

When four of the women return for a celebration fifty years later, their mission is not simply to commemorate or remember. They’ve returned to confront a traitor whose actions cost countless lives — and to avenge one of their own at last.


Lately I've been really intrigued by books that tell the lesser-known perspective. The men who helped build the railroads instead of the corporations that took all of the attention; the families that journeyed to make a new, different life for themselves; and the women of war. When my boss passed over her copy of War Brides to me (we've got a weird little reading group at work), I wasn't sure what to make of it. When I read the author's introductory note in the beginning, I was in.

THE CHARACTERS

When I read the title, I expected something along the lines of Cary Grant's "I Was A Male War-Bride" (fabulous movie if you haven't seen it). The title made me think of military romances. Instead, the novel tells the tale of five different women who come together in Crowmarsh Parish, creating a bond that outlasts the horrors of the war. 

I liked that each character had an extraordinarily different perspective and personality: Alice was the good vicar's daughter, Frances the radical, Evangeline constantly struggled with her love life, Tanni the young mother, and Elsie was the soft-hearted character with a hard shell. These occasionally clashing personalities brought out the best in each character, especially as they struggled through their own problems brought on by the war. 

The various men in their lives faded into the background for me, more or less. Once they returned to the scene, I remembered them, but this isn't their story.

THE PLOT

My only complaint about War Brides is how the book deals with the two separate stories at hand. On one side, the novel tells of VE Day, fifty years later, and the reunion of the women. Although it was interesting to see where they had ended up, I didn't like the mystery that was thrown in at the end - it didn't fit the rest of the novel cohesively. There wasn't a lot of closure about how the women had lived for the past fifty years, only bits and pieces.

On the other side, I loved the story take ranged from 1938 to 1944. I am not a history expert whatsoever, but from a literary side, I enjoyed the narration about the state of the world through these characters' eyes. Although the war played a major role in the novel, other issues shine through, such as women's rights, which I personally loved. The story's twists and turns stayed fairly close to the timeline of historical events, and seeing it all through the characters made it come alive in a new way. 

THE WRITING

War Brides is in a third-person POV, fairly standard to today's novel. The rotating narration kept me interested because it allowed for little glimpses inside the mind of each character. One thing that stood out to me was the inconsistent accents. The Cockney accent (Elsie) and the Southern accents were fairly well featured, but others fell by the wayside. For me, I prefer all or nothing, but that's a minor issue for me.

THE VERDICT

Overall, a good book, especially for the history and chick lit lovers. War Brides tells the story of five strong women overcoming one of the worst events in history. Although there were some missteps in the novel, I enjoyed the main historical story. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review | The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

Title: The Engagements
Author: J. Courtney Sullivan {website}
Publication Date: June 2013
Publisher: Knopf
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years—forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love—the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction, and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding—beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings—and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own. 

As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

A rich, layered, exhilarating novel spanning nearly a hundred years, The Engagements captures four wholly unique marriages, while tracing the story of diamonds in America, and the way—for better or for worse—these glittering stones have come to symbolize our deepest hopes for everlasting love.


Diamonds are forever. I don't remember the first time I heard the slogan, but it's always been a part of our culture. Diamonds and engagements are so connected in my mind that I never thought about the origins or how it's effected us as a society. Sullivan's The Engagements drew me in through the five stories of how people's lives were changed by diamonds, love, and life. 


THE CHARACTERS

There really is no other way to say it: I though the characters were fabulous. With the five different stories, there were so many characters to learn and know. After the first part of the book, the characters were immediately identifiable and familiar. I loved how each character's story was affected by marriage and engagement, love and, to some extent, diamonds. As we learned more and more about the characters, the real magic came from seeing how their lives were interconnected, revealing more depth about them than surface level. It's hard to pick a favorite story, especially since the characters grew dramatically throughout the book. Delphine's story of a woman coming into her own was fabulous, but I think it's Frances's story that really grabs my heart.

THE PLOT

The symbolism of the diamond is huge throughout this book. The five stories discuss the impact of Frances's slogan, a diamond is forever, upon not only future generations, but Frances herself. Sullivan discusses how a diamond engagement ring has evolved from a sweet gesture to a necessity and how love has grown with it. I didn't realize the magic of this plot until I was almost done with the book. What caught my attention was the power of love despite the influences of a diamond is forever

THE WRITING

One of the best elements of this novel is how these five completely different stories were wove together into one strong novel. I loved the multi-story narration and the vibrant characters. The novel was a bit slow at first, but picked up around part two when the characters started to become alive. The slow reveal of plot points kept the tension high and I couldn't wait to see how everyone's story concluded. 

THE VERDICT

I loved The Engagements much more than I expected. The strong characters and their stories made me fall in love with their worlds. Sullivan's work made a huge impression on me, and I can't wait to read more of her work. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Canon Sees | Seattle


I think I fell in love with the idea of Seattle with Sleepless in Seattle. Constant rain, port city, and the magic of the Emerald City? I'm in! 

This past week, M and I finally took the week-long trip we've been dreaming of. 


Everything, from our hotel to the coffee shops (caffeine-addict's heaven!) to Pike's Place and the random Dim Sum place we found in the International District was amazing. I fell in love with the feel of the city more than anything: everyone was so kind. In California, it feels like we are always go, go, go and Washington had a slower, gentler pace that I loved. 




We spent most of our mornings in Pike's Place, watching the people and drinking coffee. There's a Chinese pastry place in the market that had the best steamed pork buns (one of my favorites!) and every day we did something a little different. One thing we did every day? Bookstores.

Okay, maybe not every day..three out of five. On Friday, we went to the Seattle Public Library (it was so amazing that it deserves its own post!). I couldn't wait to share my haul with you guys!


It was hard; this city has so many bookish things, from stickers to rulers with 
Shakespeare quotes (it was so hard not to buy this)! At the Queen Anne Book Company, I grabbed my new favorite mug, Return of the Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett and Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. They had this cute tote silkscreened with "I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie," which was calling my name.

On Bainbridge Island, we came across Eagle Harbor Book Company. Although I didn't pick up anything here, I loved the cozy, welcoming atmosphere of this store, especially the book recommendations and the shelves devoted to local book clubs. 

The Elliot Bay Book Company was deemed by all the guide books as the bookstores to go to. Yeah, I'm the person who loads up on the tour books before the trip. It's fun! Anyway, I could have easily spent a day in the stacks here. I bought a tote with a map of Seattle drawn on it - I buy a lot of totes - and The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg and The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King. 

I grabbed the newest Nora Roberts from the airport bookstore (again, had to restrain myself) and found the two J.D. Robb books used at the library for three dollars! Books are my weakness. 


I'm in love with this city. It felt like home, if that makes any sense. I'm already planning another trip for us to go back. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bookish Dreams | My Top Ten Bookish Items

We're renters. It's a dream for us to buy our own home someday, but for now, we're happy renters. I've always dreamed about having my own library. Maybe not as grandiose as those old-fashioned ones with the wood paneled walls, scotch in crystal snifters and a roaring fire in the fireplace (although that last bit sounds appealing), but a space of my own to let my bookish insanity run free. I adjusted today's Top Ten Tuesday to show you what I'd put in my dream bookish room.


1. White BILLY bookcases from Ikea lining two walls. 

These are so simple and clean. I like the white because it would make all the colors of the book covers stand out.

2. This sofa from Pier One...

...that I could never afford in my wildest dreams, but it's nice to pretend. 

3. A gorgeous rug to bring in some color.

I loved the blue tones of this one. Blue and white are one of my favorite color combinations! 

4. A cozy throw to snuggle up with a good book. 

How pretty is this? I love the color and the chunky texture. 

5. Some lovely tea.

As much as I love coffee, tea is my go-to for downtime reading. I love the flavors and variety of Teapigs, especially the gorgeous glass storage jars they sell with them. (P.S. - they're coming to the U.S. soon! Yay!)

6. This Mug.

Or this one. YES!

7. Colorful art for the walls not crowded with bookshelves.

I have always admired this piece I found on Etsy. 

8. A radio...

...because I like listening to NPR and the classical stations while I read. Lately, I feel like I don't want any other electronics. 

9. Huge bay windows framed by these curtains. And these.

I love the effect of sheer curtains against the sunlight - it makes for such a lovely muted light. The heavier ones would be perfect for night or when I needed a little peace and quiet.

10. And most importantly...books.

Books. And books. Upon books. I love them. It's an addiction.



Thanks for stopping by to read about my dream bookish room! What do you think? Any ideas? Let me know! 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review | The Here And Now by Ann Brashares

Title: The Here and Now
Author: Ann Brashares
Publication Date: April 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source & Format: Netgalley; ebook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins. 
Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth. 
But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves. 

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is no way swayed, influenced, or changed my opinion. Promise!

We should probably get this out in the open: I loved Brashares's The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. I devoured those books like candy (except for the fifth one - I didn't even know there was a fifth until I started researching for this review). I did go into The Here and Now expecting the same feels and type of characters from the series I knew and loved. 


THE CHARACTERS

Prenna James was okay. Her character was fairly well-fleshed out, complete with a good background story that made her motivations believable. She didn't have that oomph I was looking for to make her alive and memorable to me; instead she was, well, just okay. I didn't feel that instant connection to her at all. As the story reveals Preena's horrible background, I wished that the story actually showed in her character; she didn't have any reactions or lingering emotions that I would typically expect of someone who has lived her life.

The other characters in The Here and Now aren't bad; they are solid characters, but they aren't surprising, engaging. If anything, fairly predictable. I had Ethan's number the moment he stepped into the scene. The bad guys were fairly obvious. Again, they weren't bad, just not the caliber I was expecting. 

THE PLOT

The blurb on GoodReads classifies this book as "[a]n unforgettable epic romantic thriller". This got my hopes up - you know how I am about my romantic suspense novels - but this book fell short. The romance between Ethan and Preena was forced and flat. It added a little tension to the plot, but I didn't enjoy it. The background fell flat and the symptoms of the ever-dreaded teenage insta-love didn't help. 

I did really enjoy the science fiction basis of The Here and Now. The hidden society within the outer rings of larger society was fascinating to me; the little glimpses into the hierarchy of their world were engaging. However, it felt like there were little gaps in the time travel theory, leaving larger holes in the story overall. 

THE WRITING

The writing of this novel was okay. Dialogue was solid, scenes were cohesive...in general, good writing. I didn't find that element that kept me engaged; it was all too easy to get distracted. Maybe it's my expectations, but I wanted more from the writing overall. There wasn't the same strong Brashares writing I've come to know.

THE VERDICT

 I realized soon I was just reading to finish the book, not because I enjoyed it. The Here and Now was okay all around. Not much of a romance, but if you're looking for a gateway YA science fiction novel, give it a try. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Seven Reasons to Read Plum Lovin' by Janet Evanovich

Title: Plum Lovin'
Author: Janet Evanovich {website}
Published In: Between The Plums
Publication Date: January 2007
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Series: Stephanie Plum {Book 12.5}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Mysterious men have a way of showing up in Stephanie Plum's apartment. When the shadowy Diesel appears, he has a task for Stephanie--and he's not taking no for an answer. Annie Hart is a "relationship expert" who is wanted for armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. Stephanie needs to find her, fast. Diesel knows where she is. So they make a deal: He'll help her get Annie if Stephanie plays matchmaker to several of Annie's most difficult clients. But someone wants to find Annie even more than Diesel and Stephanie. Someone with a nasty temper. And someone with "unmentionable" skills. Does Diesel know more than he's saying about Annie Hart? Does Diesel have secrets he's keeping from Stephanie and the two men in her life--Ranger and Morelli? With Stephanie Plum in over her head, things are sure to get a little dicey and a little explosive, Jersey style! 


Last week, I gave you ten reasons you should read Evanovich's Visions of Sugar Plums. I loved the next book in the anthology so much that I couldn't resist giving you...


SEVEN REASONS TO READ PLUM LOVIN'


I know Valentine's Day is over, but come on...we all need a little Cupid now and again.



Well, maybe not quite this much.

Anyway.

1. Annie's Clients

The assortment of characters that Stephanie and Diesel help find love were so endearing and cute. From the shy butcher in love with the coffee girl to the thirty-five-year-old virgin, the characters were sweet and hilarious.

2. Stephanie and Diesel

He's got no shame and she's got little control. 

3. The Cupid Mission

I love the match-making plot of Plum Lovin'. Beyond the zany clients, the task itself of making sure that each client has a lovely Valentine's Day is daunting. 

4. Diesel's Mission

Instead of the plot focusing on Stephanie's Failure To Appear, Diesel's supernatural mission takes control. I do like the change from the typical Stephanie Plum novel, and the addition of the fantasy world, courtesy of Diesel, makes for a fun read.

5. Stephanie's Love Life

I don't know how she handles all these men...to be honest, I don't think she does, either.

6. The Writing

It's like escaping into a shiny, crazy world when I open a Stephanie Plum novel. The dialogue is always quick and snappy, and there's rarely a dull moment. 

7. The Surprise at the End

There's a twist to the main story plot in Plum Lovin'...better read it to see what it is! 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review | The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

Title: The Constant Princess
Author: Philippa Gregory {website}
Publication Date: September 2006
Publisher: Touchstone Books
Series: The Tudor Court { Book 1} 
Source & Format: Owned; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

"I am Catalina, Princess of Spain, daughter of the two greatest monarchs the world has ever known...and I will be Queen of England."

Thus, bestselling author Philippa Gregory introduces one of her most unforgettable heroines: Katherine of Aragon. Known to history as the Queen who was pushed off her throne by Anne Boleyn, here is a Katherine the world has forgotten: the enchanting princess that all England loved. First married to Henry VIII's older brother, Arthur, Katherine's passion turns their arranged marriage into a love match; but when Arthur dies, the merciless English court and her ambitious parents -- the crusading King and Queen of Spain -- have to find a new role for the widow. Ultimately, it is Katherine herself who takes control of her own life by telling the most audacious lie in English history, leading her to the very pinnacle of power in England.

Set in the rich beauty of Moorish Spain and the glamour of the Tudor court, The Constant Princess presents a woman whose constancy helps her endure betrayal, poverty, and despair, until the inevitable moment when she steps into the role she has prepared for all her life: Henry VIII's Queen, Regent, and commander of the English army in their greatest victory against Scotland.



THE CHARACTERS

I have always been a huge fan of Tudor court historical fiction. It was actually The Other Boleyn Girl that started my fascination with this particular time in history. Even though I have read books upon books about the lives of those involved, I've rarely stumbled across the story of Katherine of Aragon. Katherine had a rough life in her later years, and this time period eclipses her earlier life: particularly, when she arrived in England. She was adored by the people, her new family, and the court. It was the life.

As it is her story, Katherine acts as our main narration and protagonist throughout the story. Although it isn't fully told from her perspective, her character is most often the focus. She always has this aura of strength about her, even when she's frightened. 

Katherine grows throughout this story from the Infanta to a Princess of Wales and eventually the Queen of England. She is always depicted as quiet and pious, so what I didn't expect from Gregory's interpretation is a slight arrogance to the character. It fit her youth well and helped show her life transitions, especially as she moves from Arthur's wife to his widow. I loved the mix of piousness and determination that made up the core of her character. 

THE PLOT

I've touched on this a little, but Katherine's story is one that I've rarely considered, so reading The Constant Princess was a little literary gift for me. I loved reading her life and how the different men in it affected it (or not). Katherine was very much her own person, even when she was shipped off to marry a man she had never met. 

Her relationship with Arthur is one of the great mysteries of the Tudor legacy, and I enjoyed how Gregory depicted it. Although I believe she loved Henry, the way she considered Arthur is the stuff of a romantic legend. He was in her heart, always, through his father's later courtship of his daughter-in-law to her eventual marriage to his brother. It looks a little strange, written out this way, but reading her tender thoughts and prayers are particularly emotional.

THE WRITING

The book is written in Katherine's first person perspective and in a third person perspective. I loved reading both, but Katherine's italicized first person made it hard to concentrate. Normally, a little italics are no big deal, but page after page of them is a little wearing on my eyes. 

Gregory's novels never lack detail and her world building in The Constant Princess is supreme. I feel I'm on the ship with Katherine, in the castle in Wales, and struggling with her through the hard times. Her smooth writing makes reading her works a fantastic ride.

THE VERDICT

A must for Tudor history buffs and historical romantics. The Constant Princess is an excellent glimpse into the life of one of England's most famous queens and tells her story from the very beginning. However, this book is a little heavy handed in the details and world-building, which might be a little too much for some readers.