Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fall Reading Challenge | The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig

Title: The Passion of the Purple Plumeria
Author: Lauren Willig
Publication Date: August 2013
Publisher: NAL Trade
Series: Pink Carnation {Book 10}
Source & Format: Library; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Colonel William Reid has returned home from India to retire near his children, who are safely stowed in an academy in Bath. Upon his return to the Isles, however, he finds that one of his daughters has vanished, along with one of her classmates.

Having served as second-in-command to the Pink Carnation, one of England’s most intrepid spies, it would be impossible for Gwendolyn Meadows to give up the intrigue of Paris for a quiet life in the English countryside—especially when she’s just overheard news of an alliance forming between Napoleon and an Ottoman Sultan. But, when the Pink Carnation’s little sister goes missing from her English boarding school, Gwen reluctantly returns home to investigate the girl’s disappearance.

Thrown together by circumstance, Gwen and William must cooperate to track down the young ladies before others with nefarious intent get their hands on them. But Gwen’s partnership with quick-tongued, roguish William may prove to be even more of an adventure for her than finding the lost girls.

Miss Gwen is one of those characters that has made a huge impact on the story as a one dimensional character. I expect her to be blunt, somewhat gruff, and willing to do anything for Jane. I've never truly considered her past or how she became to be a living in the English countryside, but her story was well worth it.

When I first discovered that Miss Gwen was the heroine of The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, I wasn't sure what to think. I love her character's personality and I was reluctant to let it change - surely, Miss Gwen as a romantic figure would completely change her personality. Instead, Willig opens the door into an intensely complicated character, one that wields her parasol as a defense as much as an offense. Her intensity shows in every aspect of her character: her emotions, her defenses, and her love of the League of the Pink Carnation. 

I wouldn't say that William Reed and Gwen Meadows need each other - instead, they fit each other, puzzle pieces slipping together, matching just right. Gwen needs William's warm nature and Gwen's blunt bravery fits William's personality perfectly. 

There was a clear, defined story line of The Passion of the Purple Plumeria that I loved - the mystery of the two missing girls kept me turning the pages. The side plots of tension among the ranks of the Pink Carnation and Gwen and William's slow burning romance only enhanced the main story line.

I applaud Willig for writing a romance with older characters. It was unusual, making the story stand out among the other romances lining the shelves. I didn't expect to love this change as much as I did - both characters had the time to live their lives, to become the best versions of themselves, that the romance was enchanting.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Review | Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell {website}
Publication Date: February 2013
Publisher: St. Martin's 
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.

Eleanor... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.

Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

I knew I was going to love this book when I found this scene. Park and his friend are in class, assigned with comparing and contrasting two of Shakespeare's greatest heroines, Juliet and Ophelia.

"Eric said something else, and Eleanor frowned again. Then she looked over at Park - and stopped frowning. Park smiled.

"'One minute,' Mr. Stressman said.
"'Crap,' Call said. 'What have we got... Ophelia was bonkers, right? And Juliet was what, a sixth-grader?'" (pg 63).

Aside from the (astoundingly concise) observations of some of my favorite characters, this quote epitomizes Rowell's narrative. There's a quiet friendliness in her work that sneaks up on you, grabs you when you aren't paying attention, and steals at your heart. Eleanor & Park made me laugh, cry a little, and miss those beginning moments of falling in love. 

The journey of first love, with all its gloriously romantic moments, intense insecurities, and tender hearts all come together in an amazing relationship between Eleanor and Park. Both are on the outskirts: Park doesn't quite fit in, but is accepted. Eleanor, the new girl, is a prime target for the bullies. It's so easy to fall in love with both characters, to identify with them, to understand their natures. It was so wonderful to watch them fall in love.

The things that brought them together - not fitting in and a love of music - is what made these characters come alive for me. I want to say I can identify with how Eleanor felt, but she has the guts and willpower to face things at home that would wilt some of the strongest people I know. That extra element made her a sympathetic character, but I didn't pity her - there were signs of strength in her that made her an underdog. 

Eleanor & Park was so engrossing that I stayed up half the night to finish the story (thank goodness for coffee) - I couldn't put it down. I had to know what happened, how it ended, how it left... That's the world that Rowell created. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review | Blood Magick by Nora Roberts

Title: Blood Magick
Author: Nora Roberts 
Publication Date: October 2014
Publisher: Berkely Trade
Series: The Cousins O'Dwyer {Book 3}
Source & Format: Library; paperback
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
County Mayo is rich in the traditions of Ireland, legends that Branna O’Dwyer fully embraces in her life and in her work as the proprietor of The Dark Witch shop, which carries soaps, lotions, and candles for tourists, made with Branna’s special touch.

Branna’s strength and selflessness hold together a close circle of friends and family—along with their horses and hawks and her beloved hound. But there’s a single missing link in the chain of her life: love…

She had it once—for a moment—with Finbar Burke, but a shared future is forbidden by history and blood. Which is why Fin has spent his life traveling the world to fill the abyss left in him by Branna, focusing on work rather than passion.

Branna and Fin’s relationship offers them both comfort and torment. And though they succumb to the heat between them, there can be no promises for tomorrow. A storm of shadows threatens everything that their circle holds dear. It will be Fin’s power, loyalty, and heart that will make all the difference in an age-old battle between the bonds that hold their friends together and the evil that has haunted their families for centuries.

If you poke around on The Canon, you'll notice I have a mad love affair with Nora Roberts' work. Her romances are my go-tos, my rereads. I even bought M's mom one of my favorites for Christmas. So it surprised me more than anyone how much I dislike this book.

The characters were flat and predictable. There weren't any surprises in the six main characters, but how could there be? Six main characters? No wonder character development fell flat. I couldn't help comparing the Cousins O'Dwyer series to another of Roberts' Irish series - both series have six main characters, but the character development in The Gallaghers of Ardmore was fantastic. The Cousins O'Dwyer series doesn't hold a candle to it. I can't think of any defining characteristic of a character - they blurred together.

The romance wasn't there. There is so much potential here, but it gets mixed in with the other four characters and plot, so there is no chance to shine. Finbar (Finbar?) and Branna could potentially have sparks, but Roberts never give them the opportunity to fall in love. There's no seduction, no courtship, just...the dreaded instalove. One moment she's not so sure, then wham! it's love. 

I never got to know them as people, so the romance never caught my attention. I found myself skimming when the story should have been enthralling, but I couldn't care less about these people.

The plot just has problems. There is entirely too much going on. Future plans, past worries, a magical battle that should keep the tension building, but didn't...there was no straight storyline, no consistency. I was stunned at how often mundane mealtimes were described. I remember how to make Branna's roast potatoes, but the plot made no impact on me whatsoever.

 I'll say it again: the predictability factor was a problem. The story line was overly predictable, almost to the point of boredom. This novel, in fact the entire series, felt like something of Roberts' I've read before. Typically, the romance is enough to save the book, at least earn three stars, but Blood Magick just made me unhappy. It was such a disappointment - I hoped for a new favorite series. Instead, I can't wait to return this to the library.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Canon's 2014 Christmas Gift Guide | Last Minute Buy and DIYs

I love Christmas, kind of like Buddy the Elf...

...and as I finished up some last minute Christmas shopping with during my lunch earlier this week, I started to think about last-minute gifts. We all need them - the hostess gift, the coworker gift, the Secret Santa gift you forgot you signed up for - you get it. Here's a guide to for last minute bookish buy or DIY gifts for the book lover in your life.

Ribbon Bookmarks | May Arts
Homemade Coffee Mug | Give this quote a try...
DIY Magnetic Poetry | Lit Reactor
Tea Bookmark | Genuine Mudpie

Hobbit Garden Soy Candle | Bubble and Geek
Tequila Mockingbird | Barnes & Noble
The Great Gatsby Tote | Amazon 
Sherlock Holmes Poster | Amazon 

And, the fail safe gift for a book lover?
A book (gift card links to Amazon and the Book Depository!)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Fall Reading Challenge | The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig

Title: The Garden Intrigue
Author: Lauren Willig
Publication Date: February 2012
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Series: The Pink Carnation {Book 9}
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Secret agent Augustus Whittlesby has spent a decade undercover in France, posing as an insufferably bad poet. The French surveillance officers can't bear to read his work closely enough to recognize the information drowned in a sea of verbiage.

New York-born Emma Morris Delagardie is a thorn in Augustus's side. An old school friend of Napoleon's stepdaughter, she came to France with her uncle, the American envoy; eloped with a Frenchman; and has been rattling around the salons of Paris ever since. Widowed for four years, she entertains herself by drinking too much champagne, holding a weekly salon, and loudly critiquing Augustus's poetry.

As Napoleon pursues his plans for the invasion of England, Whittlesby hears of a top-secret device to be demonstrated at a house party at Malmaison. The catch? The only way in is with Emma, who has been asked to write a masque for the weekend's entertainment.

Emma is at a crossroads: Should she return to the States or remain in France? She'll do anything to postpone the decision-even if it means teaming up with that silly poet Whittlesby to write a masque for Bonaparte's house party. But each soon learns that surface appearances are misleading. In this complicated masque within a masque, nothing goes quite as scripted- especially Augustus's feelings for Emma.

Augustus Whittlesby is one of those characters so integral to the story of the Pink Carnation that the story truly wouldn't be the same without him, but I never considered him a major player. He was another goofy character, playing in the background, providing distractions, and had a knack for being everywhere at once. How would I know that his story would soon become my favorite of the series?

Augustus is constantly playing the role of the corny poet, a man that talks sometimes simply to speak. His inner personality contrasted with this role made for fabulous thoughts and monologues within the narration. He has been in the role of Augustus Whittlesby, poet of twenty-two cantos devoted to Jane Wooliston, that he has almost forgotten what it is like to be himself. His slow evolution from the man trapped inside the poet to a man with poetry in his soul was fascinating to read. 

I enjoyed Emma's character as well, but she didn't have the same depth for me. Her blunt honesty and false society face didn't quite match up - I liked her ability to tell the truth (almost to a fault), but why she felt the need to provide a happy-go-lucky face to society at large confused me. It didn't feel like it quite fit with her character.

There was a magic in their romantic chemistry that kept the story moving. The complicated mix of emotions made the story come alive, the characters' interweaving romances and motivations made each and every story line stand out. Simply, I fell in love with this story.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Break for Saturday

Normally, on the weekends I rush to get stuff done. 

Gotta clean the house, finish books, write posts for the week, make lunches and dinner, laundry...after finishing a forty hour work week, doing all this is exhausting. 

So today, I'm taking a break.

I went out to breakfast with M, finished a long run with one of my good friends I haven't seen in a while, and then did this: 

It feels good to take a day even I have posts to write and presents to wrap...I'll see ya Monday!