"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bonus: How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days

Avon Books
How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days
Laura Lee Guhrke

The Summary
"From the moment she met the devil-may-care Duke of Margrave, Edie knew he could change her life.  And when he agreed to her outrageous proposal of a marriage of convenience, she was transformed from ruined American heiress to English duchess.  Five years later, she's delighted with their arrangement, especially since her husband is living on another continent.

"By marrying an heiress, Stuart was able to pay his family's enormous debts, and Edie's terms that he leave England forever seemed a small price to pay.  But when a brush with death impels him home, he decides it's time for a real marriage with this luscious American bride, and he proposes a bold new bargain:  ten days to win her willing kiss.  But is ten days enough to win her heart?"

The Good
I picked up Laura Lee Guhrke's novel on a whim.  I spied it in a stack of returning books and I found myself curious.  I can't say why, but it suddenly appealed to me, so I picked it up and took it home with me--and, honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by the story.

It's a romantic story, so it's pretty obvious that it will end up having a "happily-ever-after" as most romance novels do, but it's very well done.  It's not as predictable as I imagined; rather, it manages to develop an emotional relationship that is first sown in adversity and creates a strong female protagonist who manages to hold her own role.

Moreover, it doesn't shy away from darker aspects or attempt to gloss over hard truths--and it doesn't try to color Edie and Stuart's relationship as anything it's not.  Edie is a "ruined" American heiress (through no fault of her own, mind you), and Stuart is a scarred African traveler who is returning home after five years abroad.  They're not young, foolish lovers.  They've been tested by time and society, and they've grown into mature people with a relationship that reflects their experiences.

It was an interesting little novel, and I actually liked it.  More than I expected, if I'm being truthful.

The Bad
It has that typical element of predictability, but I think it did fairly well in keeping me on my toes.  I mean, you expect a happily-ever-after ending when you jump into a romance novel, so it fulfills in that regard.  But it didn't disappoint me.

The Ugly
Not all courtships are based on mutual respect, and not all men are respectful of women.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sorcery & Cecelia: Or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

Open Road Media
Sorcery & Cecelia:  Or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot
Patricia C. Wrede
Caroline Stevermer

The Summary
"Since they were children, cousins Kate and Cecelia have been inseparable.  But in 1817, as they approach adulthood, their families force them to spend a summer apart.  As Cecelia fights boredom in her small country town, Kate visits London to mingle with the brightest lights of English society.

"At the initiation of a powerful magician into the Royal College of Wizards, Kate finds herself alone with a mysterious witch who offers her a sip from a chocolate pot.  When Kate refuses the drink, the chocolate burns through her dress and the witch disappears.  It seems that strange forces are convening to destroy a beloved wizard, and only Kate and Celia can stop the plot.  But for two girls who have to contend with the pressures of choosing dresses and beaux for their debuts, deadly magic is only one of their concerns."

The Good
Although I was initially hesitant to begin this book because it began at such a slow pace, I found myself gradually falling in love with the story.  I enjoyed the exchange of letters between Kate and Ceclia, because you really get the chance to see their personalities blossom--hot-headed, quick-witted Kate; brash and brave Cecilia--and you have the opportunity to see both their stories unfold.  You couldn't enjoy one without the other.

Additionally, I found most of the characters enjoyable.  Cecelia and Kate are excellent narrators, both taking a great deal of time and effort to illuminate even the smallest details; moreover, they're both incredibly forward-thinking for the Victorian Era.  While they don't exactly defy social conventions, they certainly push the boundaries for "young ladies of good breeding" by starting foolish antics (there's some episode with a goat that I've not quite understood) and getting into trouble.

I have to admit, I was especially fond of Kate.  I liked Cecelia for her bravery, her uncompromising wit, and her unexpected adventures in the country-side; however, I liked Kate for her temper and her obvious intelligence.  She's all sass, which I liked.  She recognizes her need to rely on her relatives and her reputation, but she's doesn't let it define her.  She's a troublemaker deep down, and I liked her all the more for it.

I also like the scheme concocted by Miranda Tanistry and others (I'd rather not spoil the surprise).  It's a very wicked plot against one of the more powerful sorcerers in England, and it's surprisingly effective.  Miranda is an adept villain, along with her co-conspirator, and she's more than a little unsettling.

The Bad
Sorcery and Cecelia is a jarring mixture of Victorian social life, bucolic English countryside, danger, and sorcery.  I always found it strange to have Cecelia and Kate revert back to teenage girls in the midst of their "marriageable season" after they've been discussing wicked wizards, dangerous sorcery, black magic, and more that would imperil their lives.

It's a strange juxtaposition that would often leave me wondering how well they saw the danger to themselves.

The Ugly
Dark sorcery.  And devious men.

Black magic is, of course, a dangerous thing:  I mean, Miranda Tanistry's ultimate goal is to steal another magician's power to supplement her magic and leave said magician for dead.  It's a bit of a gruesome fate if we're being honest.

And, right up there with essentially leaving a magician as a lifeless husk, are men like Mr. Strangle (a very unfortunate--and foreboding--name) and Hollydean.  I found them infuriating, and I couldn't help hoping one or the other would get caught in magical trap or fall down a steep hill and break his neck.  Perhaps that's cruel, but I really, really disliked them.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bonus: Sweet Trouble

HQN Books
Sweet Trouble
Susan Mallery

The Summary
"Jesse Keyes has done some serious growing up.  With a steady job and a vibrant four-year-old son, Gabe, she's in a far better place than when she left Seattle five years ago...pregnant and misunderstood by almost everyone in her life.

"Now it's time to go home and face her demons.  But her sisters, Claire and Nicole, aren't exactly impressed with the new and improved Jesse.  And then there's Matt, Gabe's father, who makes it clear that he never wants to see her again despite the lust that still smolders between them.

"Jesse doesn't know if she can make up for all the mistakes of her past.  But the promise of sweet nights with Matt might just give her the extra incentive she needs to make it worth the trouble..."

The Good
With Sweet Trouble I finally rounded out the Bakery Sisters trilogy and completed the Keyes sisters saga.  Although it was a little jarring to be transported five years into the future, especially considering Sweet Talk and Sweet Spot were so closely linked, I was pleasantly surprised by the beginning of Susan Mallery's third novel.  Moreover, I was pleased by the character development of Jesse Keyes.

In Sweet Spot, I was left with a lingering dissatisfaction over Jesse's disappearance.  After a certain point, you literally don't hear a word about her.  All the information is essentially secondhand:  we only learn what happens to Jesse and where she ends up after others discover where she finally landed.  But, luckily, this novel resolves all those questions.

I like that Jesse matures as an individual.  She grows up and takes responsibility for her actions, she holds a steady job, she learns how to take care of herself and her son--and she tries to make amends.  While I don't like the circumstances that conspired against her (wrong place, wrong time, wrong man), as they seem a little contrived, I'm pleased with how she developed after things spiraled out of control.

And, oddly enough, I liked Gabe.  That is, I like the way that Mallery characterizes Jesse's son.  Some authors have a difficult time creating believable children in their novels, making them into micro-adults or simply struggling to reflect the appropriate characteristics of children.  Mallery, however, succeeds in creating fairly believable characters and, moreover, believable children.

It's a sweet little romance about love and redemption.  It's about making amends, healing hearts, and reuniting families and loved ones.  And, even if it doesn't have the best pacing, it's easy to finish in a day or a little less.

The Bad
On a personal level, I simply didn't like the way this novel bounced back and forth in time.  Sure, it was nice to have a peek into Jesse's life, to see where things went wrong and her life fell apart.  You get to see a side of Jesse when she was younger, you get to see her side of the story--about what happened with Matt, what happened with Nicole and Claire--but I can't say I enjoyed it very much.

For me, the past is in the past.  I already know the heartbreak and turmoil Jesse suffered.  I already know what happened between her and Matt, and I already know she's moved past that moment in her life and managed to become a wonderful mother to a healthy, happy child.  I know what happened, so I was less interested in how she first met Matt and fell in love--and more interested in what was going to happen.

I skimmed, I admit it, but I won't be ashamed.  I read enough to know I'm all caught up with the story, so I didn't miss anything particularly important.

The Ugly
Revenge:  one word, a whole lot of hurt.

I understand why Matt is so upset.  I mean, he missed the first four years of his son's life and he's missed many of the milestones that accompany those years; however, I should point out that he made the decision to ignore Jesse's pleas.  He made the decision to cast her out, to disbelieve she carried his child.

Sure, she could have made the added effort to contact him later and tell him about Gabe, but, given the way he treated her in the first book (and we had the opportunity to relive it in Sweet Trouble), I can understand her hesitation.  He broke her heart once, and now he wants to break her heart again by taking her son.

No.  Just no.

I don't care how much money Matt has managed to accumulate.  I don't care how much time he's had to brood over his heartbreak when he could have moved on with his life.  I understand he's hurt, I understand he was devastated by Jesse's supposed infidelity, but I don't understand why on earth he would ever think trying to take Gabe was ever a good idea.  I mean, she's attempting to make amends, she's offering an olive branch, and he has the audacity to try and take her child for revenge?

It makes my blood boil.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Happiness for Beginners

St. Martin's Press
Happiness for Beginners
St. Martin's Press

The Summary
"It was time, Helen Carpenter knew that.  Thirty-two and divorced for a year, Helen knew it was time--past time--to pull herself together.  She needed to do something wild and adventurous and completely out of character.  Which is why she signed up for a wilderness survival course in Wyoming.

"Thus begins the strangest adventure of Helen Carpenter's well-behaved life:  three weeks in a remote mountain range where she will survive a summer blizzard, a group of sorority girls, rutting season for the elk, and more than one infuriating man.  Yet, despite the hardships and the indignities, the mountains bring their own wisdom to Helen's life, somehow teaching her the very things she needs to learn.  Like how to stand up for yourself.  How being scared can make you brave.  How the things you hold on to become the story of your life.  And, maybe most of all, how sometimes you just have to get really, really lost before you even have a hope of being found."

The Good
I absolutely loved listening to Happiness for Beginners.  After picking it out on a whim, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed listening to Marguerite Gavin relate Helen Carpenter's story.  Gavin was an excellent narrator, lending her voice and attitude to Helen, making the story come to life.  It was an exceptional experience:  I found myself laughing in the midst of every chapter, thoroughly enjoying the narrator's company as I walked my dog.

Although I enjoyed the retelling of Katherine Center's novel, I also enjoyed the story and the characters.  Helen Carpenter is a candid narrator and a wonderful character, developing as her story builds and transforming from tentative, broken-hearted grade school teacher to a thoughtful, more knowledgeable woman.  She grows closer to her brother; she gains friends; she learns how to survive in the wilderness.

And it's wonderful to see how she develops, how she accomplishes her goals and, more importantly, manages to surprise herself in the end.

Her adventure is ludicrous--two weeks in the wilderness, surviving on her wits and little else--and her story is full of unintended twists, which even she acknowledges.  She goes in search of a new identity, in search of happiness and a piece of herself that she feels has been missing for years.  And she succeeds, reinventing herself, "rising from the ashes like a phoenix"--one of her many goals for her survival course.

I'm glad I had the opportunity to witness Helen's growth as a character.  Helen is really a wonderful character:  smart, a touch sarcastic, insightful, courageous and thoroughly grounded in reality.  As a recently divorced woman, she's been through the wringer and managed to come out on the other side--and I like that she succeeds in reinventing herself and reevaluating her life, as well as her relationships.

Overall, Happiness for Beginners was the perfect combination of narrator and story.  Something about the way the author wrote and Marguerite Gavin retold the story made me enjoy every minute of it.

The Bad
Some mild language and mature themes, which means it probably isn't for all readers, but it doesn't really detract from the story.  I loved it, nevertheless.

The Ugly
I loved that Katherine created such a candid narrator.  Helen Carpenter is a vivid storyteller, weaving emotion into every fiber of the novel, filling it with personal commentary and detail.  It's a wonderful story; however, her candid account means that she shares absolutely everything--even the most heart-wrenching, embarrassing and mortifying moments.

And, sometimes, it leaves you feeling just the tiniest it awkward for prying into the most personal areas of Helen's life.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bonus: Howl's Moving Castle

A Greenwillow Book
Howl's Moving Castle
Diana Wynne Jones

The Summary
"Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate.  But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady.  Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills:  the Wizard Howl's castle.  To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on.  Along the way, she discovers that there's far more to Howl--and herself--than first meets the eye."

The Good
Howl's Moving Castle is a strange and fantastical piece of fiction.  The characters are unusual, but they're incredibly fun:  Howl is an odd creature, full of spite and pride, and he preens like a peacock; Sophie is cranky and sorely missing her younger years, but she has a lot of sass and a great deal of insight; Calcifer, like Howl, has a unique attitude that sees him alternating between grumpy and smoldering, bright and fiery.

Diana Wynne Jones does an excellent job of fleshing out her characters.  She gives Howl and Sophie, Calcifer and Michael, among others, a great deal of leeway, letting them grow and evolve as characters.  I was especially intrigued by Sophie:  I couldn't wait to see what would happen, and how she would grow into her new life with Howl.

While I did sometimes feel like I was missing pieces of the story--Howl was very bad about offering any sort of explanation, and I don't think I ever quite understood Howl as "Howell" who comes from the mysterious land of Wales--because circumstances were always changing so quickly, I remained enthralled by the story.

Magic is unique in the land of Ingary, which is what made it so strangely enchanting.  It's different from character to character.  For instance, Michael's magic is different from Howl's whose magic is different from the Witch of the Waste's.  Howl has a natural capacity for magic and enchanting, whereas Michael works best with spells and potions and mixtures, and Sophie weaves magic unexpectedly into whatever project she works.  It's intriguing to see how magic builds, develops and, more importantly, affects those around it.

Overall, I really enjoyed Jones' novel.  It's a book I would definitely recommend reading at least once, especially if you intend to watch the Miyazaki movie rendition.

The Bad
I have to admit, I was sometimes confused by the story.  Since Howl proved reticent about his past and how to use magic (expect when it proved beneficial to himself) and just about everything else, I found I didn't always understand what was happening.  Moreover, I always had moments where I'd realized things had changed--and then I'd look back, wondering where I'd missed such an astonishing development.

The Ugly
Howl isn't a good person.  He isn't evil, but he also isn't the best person upon which to rely.  He alternates between vain, selfish, and fickle--and, while he might sometimes affect a selfless attitude, he's a terrible coward and has to force himself to do anything remotely resembling brave.  Even the author points out that he would make a wonderfully horrible friend, partner, or husband, saying, "My opinion of Howl is that, much as I love him, he is the last person I would want to marry.  Apart from anything else, I would want to get in the bathroom sometimes."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Glass Kitchen

St. Martin's Press
The Glass Kitchen
Linda Francis Lee

The Summary
"Portia Cuthcart never intended to leave Texas.  Her dream was to run the Glass Kitchen restaurant her grandmother built decades ago.  But after a string of betrayals and the loss of her legacy Portia is determined to start a new life with her sisters in Manhattan...and never cook again.

"When she moves into a dilapidated brownstone on the Upper West Side, she meets twelve-year-old Ariel and her widowed father, Gabriel, a man with his hands full trying to raise two daughters on his own.  Soon a promise made to her sisters forces Portia back into a world of magical food and swirling emotions, where she must confront everything she has been running from.  What seems so simple on the surfaces is anything but when long-held secrets are revealed, rivalries exposed, and the promise of new love stirs to life like chocolate mixing with cream.

"The Glass Kitchen is a delicious novel, a tempestuous story of a woman, washed up on the shores of Manhattan, who discovers that a kitchen--like an island--can be a refuge, if only she has the courage to give in to the pull of love and the power of forgiveness, and to accept the complications of what it means to be family."

The Good
I loved everything about this novel:  characters, story, tone--everything.  The descriptions were wonderful, luscious and full of food imagery that connected with me on a tactile, gustatory level.  Portia likens all her experiences and emotions to food, since that's what she knows best with her knowing--her inexplicable ability to plan and create food for just the right occasion.  I thought the author did an excellent job of connecting the dots and appealing to my love of food, especially Southern food.

I also loved Portia's mysterious family gift, her magical sense of knowing.  It immediately makes me think of Sarah Addison Allen and her style of writing:  vibrant, fun, threaded with magic that makes the novel shine just a little brighter.  Portia's knowing adds an element of adventure and complexity to the novel, adding a special spark that makes The Glass Kitchen that much more enjoyable.  It's a relatable story about turning over a new leaf, starting over, but it has that hint of magic that makes it whimsical without being fantastical.

And I enjoyed watching the progression of the sisters' relationship.  Their interactions seem genuine:  Olivia, Rose, and Portia fight and fuss, but, ultimately, they forgive one another and make up.  They're family, so it's only natural that they disagree, that they're brutally honest and grumpy, but they love one another, regardless of what happens.  It's sweet, which I really enjoyed, because it's just the sort of relationship that siblings can hope to have.

Overall, I loved reading The Glass Kitchen.  It hit all the right notes for me, bringing together all the qualities I love in a narrative and telling it in a compelling, beautiful way that keeps from hooked from cover to cover.  I can't wait to read more by Linda Francis Lee.

The Bad
The Glass Kitchen is a bit of an odd story, but I don't really have any complaints.  I wish Portia's knowing was explained a little better, but even Portia didn't fully understand her gift, so it isn't a surprise it remains undefined.

Otherwise, I loved every bit of Lee's novel.

The Ugly
Loss.  Tragedy.  Betrayal.  Divorce.  Love.  And more betrayal.

I feel bad for Portia, I really do.  My heart goes out to her as she tries to stand on her own two feet, as she tries to get back up after being knocked down, only to have the most important men in her life to a) lie to her, b) betray her trust, and c) deliberately withhold the truth.  It's frustrating and, in some cases, humiliating for Portia.

I couldn't imagine finding myself in the same situation.

Friday, March 11, 2016


Feiwel and Friends
Marissa Meyer

The Summary
"Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

"Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won't approve of her feelings for her childhood friend, the handsome palace guard, Jacin.  But Winter isn't as weak as Levana believes her to be and she's been undermining her stepmother's wishes for years.  Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that's been raging for far too long.

"Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?  Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer's nationally bestselling Lunar Chronicles series."

The Good
I devoured this book.  Truthfully, I was obsessed with the entire Lunar Chronicles series.  I originally read Cinder in 2014, and then I promptly purchased all the available books (i.e. Scarlet and Cress) and finished the series in a weekend.  Although I haven't had the opportunity to read Fairest or Stars Above, I have fallen in love with the Lunar Chronicles.

Like Cinder, Marissa Meyer's latest book in the Lunar Chronicles has an intermingling of science-fiction and fairy tale elements, which I've enjoyed throughout the series.  It has many of the same qualities that I loved in the first book: a cast of quirky and intriguing characters, a perfect pace (enough to keep me embroiled without wearing me down), a wonderful tone and interesting descriptions, and an exceptional story.

Let me emphasize again:  I loved this story, and I love this series.

I couldn't wait to finish Winter and uncover what happens to Winter, what happens to Cinder and Scarlet and Cress, and what happens as Luna is gifted with a startling revelation--and, perhaps, a new queen.  It was exciting.  I finished the book in two days, and I was very happy with it.

Yes, part of me was simply relieved to have finished the series.  I'd been dying to read the conclusion of the Lunar Chronicles for more than a year, so, yes, I was excited to reach the epic conclusion I'd been craving.  While I wasn't completely on board with the way it ended (I would have liked for a few things to be different), I can't say I'm disappointed.

I was pleased to find that "happily ever after" so common in fairy tales.

The Bad
If I was bothered by anything, it might be Meyer's habit to let Cinder's story run on...and on.  I liked the story, I understood the need for new dangers and newer obstacles; however, I felt the final book dragged the story out unnecessarily.

Yes, Cinder needed to build her support on the lunar colony; yes, she needed to thwart Levana's authority; yes, she needed to rescue her friends and unite with Winter.  But why must it alternate between Cinder's capture and escape, recapture and daring second escape?

As Cinder and Winter and the entirety of Luna scramble to bring the story to a close, it felt like too much was happening, like everything was about to boil over, crash and burn so to speak.  It didn't, but it skirted a little too close for my taste.

The Ugly
Fairy tales are always laced with tragedy:  two children being left alone in the forest, a princess pricking her finger and falling into an eternal sleep, a young girl eating a poisoned apple, a little girl getting attacked by the Big Bad Wolf.

And Winter is no different.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Bonus: Finding Perfect

HQN Books
Finding Perfect
Susan Mallery

The Summary
"When Pia O'Brian's best friend dies, Pia expects to inherit her cherished cat.  Instead, the woman leaves Pia three frozen embryos.  With a disastrous track record in the romance department and the parenting skills of a hamster, Pia doesn't think she's meant for motherhood.  But determined to do the right thing, Pia decides to become a single mother.  Only to meet a gorgeous, sexy hunk on the very same day.

"A former foster-care kid now rich beyond his wildest dreams, Raoul Moreno runs a camp for needy children in Fool's Gold, California.  After his last relationship, Raoul thought he was done with women and commitment.  Still, he can't get sweet, sexy Pia out of his mind--and proposes a crazy plan.  But can such an unconventional beginning really result in the perfect ending?"

The Good
I've had some experience with Susan Mallery's "Fool's Gold Romance" series.  So far, I've completed four books in the series (barely a dent considering there are nearly thirty books altogether), and I've found many of the same good qualities in each book.  Although I find the plot a bit predictable, I still enjoyed Finding Perfect.

Pia is a lovely character, who's faced with a difficult choice:  motherhood at the bequest of dying friend.  Given this strangely sweet request, she doesn't know what to do--and who can blame her?  Her decisions, however, reflect her growth as an individual as she dives into motherhood and struggles to balance her professional life with her love life.

I liked it.  It's one of many, which makes it something of a face in the crowd, but I liked reading it and that's really the only thing that matters.

The Bad
Reliable predictability.

Like most romance novels, Finding Perfect features a similar plot:  boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl are driven apart by circumstances beyond their control and/or their inability to see eye to eye, boy and girl manage to live happily-ever-after.  Sometimes, it involves different circumstances--girl returning to her hometown, or girl recovering from some previous loss and learning she can love again, and etc.--but it's mostly the same.

That's what makes it a comforting.

The Ugly
Sure, motherhood is a beautiful thing.  But it can also be incredibly painful--and, well, scary.

There's so much that can go wrong and, for Pia, it's a heart-wrenching opportunity to relive a past loss that she never expected.  It squeezed at my heart unexpectedly and left me feeling a little breathless.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Moment of Everything

Grand Central Publishing
The Moment of Everything
Shelly King

The Summary
"Maggie Dupres has been 'involuntarily separated from payroll' at a Silicon Valley start-up.  Now she's whiling away her days in Dragonfly Used Books, a Mountain View institution, waiting for the Next Big Thing to come along.  When the opportunity arises for her to network at a Bay Area book club, she jumps at the chance - even if it means having to read Lady Chatterly's Lover, a book she hasn't encountered since college, in an evening.  But the edition she finds at the bookstore is no Penguin Classics Chatterly - it's an ancient hardcover with notes in the margins between two besotted lovers of long ago.  What Maggie finds in her search for the lovers and their fate, and what she learns about herself in the process, will surprise and move readers of this witty and tender novel."

The Good
I loved reading The Moment of Everything.  Maggie Dupres is a witty, vibrant narrator among a cast of funny and eccentric characters.  She's clever, but she's also capable.  Along with Dizzy, her best friend, she basically starts a company from the ground up--and then, when she suddenly finds herself in an economic rut, she eventually manages to make the best of it and befriends one of the most powerful ladies in the Silicon Valley.

Maggie is a strong, capable person, and she's a wonderful narrator to boot.  Her story isn't particularly extraordinary--heck, it's the story that a good portion of my entire generation was suddenly facing with the economic recession--but she tells it so well.  It's a sweet, romantic story, but it has a punch of reality to it that makes it worth reading.

I mean, you could probably characterize it as a romance novel; however, I think it's best to read it as a personal narrative, as Maggie's personal narrative.  Her story can't simply be quantified as a romance, that's too constricting, rather it encompasses a broad range of human experiences from love to heartbreak and financial uncertainty to job security.

It's a good story that I feel can appeal to a lot of people who have found themselves in her shoes, jobless and searching for what's missing in her life.  I find I enjoyed it from cover to cover, and not just because it's based in a bookstore.

Furthermore, I loved the other characters involved, especially Hugo.  Oh, I liked Jason--and Dizzy was a charmer, being both fabulous and wonderfully funny--but there was just something particularly special about Hugo.  He's full of strange wisdom and unusual life experiences.  He's a kind-hearted person with an eccentric streak and a (probably unhealthy) love for books.

And, okay, I adored Hugo for it.  I can see why Maggie loved and respected him as both employer and friend.  He seems a bit nutty, but beneath that veneer of eccentricity, he's incredibly intelligent and, like Maggie, quick-witted.  Their friendship is rich and wonderful, and their dialog is an unusual kind of perfection that I just can't even describe.  Their verbal exchanges had me cracking up at every opportunity.

I feel like I get the best of both worlds with The Moment of Everything:  a good story and good, solid characters.  Could I ask for anything more?

The Bad
Honestly, I have no complaints about The Moment of Everything.  It's one of those unusual novels that the more I dwell on it, the more I seem to like it.

The Ugly
Love is complicated.  Maybe even more so when two lovers are speaking to one another through a battered old copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover, and then their love letters are subsequently shared online.

Perhaps not the most conducive environment to starting a relationship.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Read Harder Challenge (Part Two)

Feiwel & Friends
Continuing with my Read Harder Challenge of 2016, I've managed to complete:
  1. Read a book over 500 pages long.
  2. Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900.
  3. Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie.  Debate which is better.
Shortly after the New Year, I finished reading Winter by Marissa Meyer.  At just over 800 pages, it fit nicely into the "over 500 pages" category--and I couldn't be more excited.  As the conclusion of the Lunar Chronicles, which spanned four books (including Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress) and spawned a novella (Fairest) and a short story collection (Stars Above), Winter is the book I've been waiting all year to read.

In Meyer's latest novel, you have the opportunity to meet Winter, princess of Luna.  She is the step-daughter of Queen Levana, ruling monarch of the Lunar colony; moreover, she's the cousin of the lost princess, Selene (who's very important to the story, trust me).  Several years ago, she vowed never to use her manipulative powers again--which means she's slowly going crazy--and she quietly rebels against the queen.

Open Road Media
I loved the whole concept of Winter, the mixture of fairy tale and science fiction that originally enchanted me in Cinder, and I loved the story.  Winter is an unusual character:  she's totally batty, but she's genuinely nice and she's surprisingly adept at thwarting Queen Levana's wishes, considering she's spent a number of years under her stepmother's thumb (and suffered terribly for it).  Overall, I was inordinately pleased to get my hands on a copy and add it to my collection--and I couldn't wait to see what Meyer would do with the traditional "happily-ever-after."

Next, I read Sorcery and Cecelia; Or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer.  Although Wrede and Stevemer's novel technically falls into the realm of fantasy, I think (read:  decided) it can also be construed as a historical fiction novel.  Being set in England in 1895, it's at the very cusp of the 19th century.  So, yes, I think it qualifies.

Sorcery and Cecelia is a strangely pleasing novel.  Think Jane Austen, but throw in a bit of wizardry and magic for spice.  It's an enjoyable little story that features the exchange of letters between Cecelia and Kate, cousins who share an adventurous spirit--and a fiery attitude.  Their correspondence begins at a bit of a slow pace, but once the schemes of Miranda Tanistry begin to unfold, the adventure picks up pace and soon Kate and Cecelia are drawn into a twisted web of danger and deception--and, of course, intrigue with a distinctively Victorian flavor.

Greenwillow Book
It's an immensely satisfying story, and I was ultimately thrilled by the novel.  It appealed to my love of classic English literature and fantasy without compromising on either one.  Although I was initially hesitant to begin Wrede and Stevemer's novel (for the slow pace, mind), I'm glad I stuck with the story and finished it.  It was surprisingly enjoyable and, I'll point out, exceedingly fun.

Last, I read Howl's Moving Castle by Diane Wynne Jones.  Finding a book that I wanted to read and watch onscreen proved a trifle more difficult than either entry listed above.  Howl's Moving Castle is both a classic young readers novel by Jones and an animated movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  Having watched Miyazaki's movie in the past, but needing a refresher, I decided it would be appropriate to pick up Howl's Moving Castle and decide which is ultimately best.

Except I don't really have an immediate answer.

Howl's Moving Castle as a book and Howl's Moving Castle as a movie are two very different beasts.  First, they are very different formats and have their own merits as such; two, they tell different stories; and, three, the characters feel completely different that I have a hard time classifying them as the same individuals.  For instance, in the book, Sophie is quiet and mousy as a young woman, but she's an outspoken curmudgeon when she's morphed into an old woman; however, in the movie, she's pretty quiet throughout and she's more like a doting grandmother, rather than the nosy old grouch in the book.

Studio Ghibli
Likewise, the stories have an entirely different flavor to them.  In the book, the Witch of the Waste is the real danger.  Her machinations have directed the kingdoms toward disaster and put Howl's loved ones in grave danger (and, yes, Howl does have loved ones outside Ingary).  Howl is, in fact, running from his responsibilities and putting a number of miles between himself, the King of Ingary, and the Witch of the Waste--and the curse she's heaped upon him.  But in the movie, Howl is caught in the midst of a war and the Witch of the Waste, while still a daunting figure, is certainly not up to challenging Howl, less so the Wizard Suliman (who is of a different gender entirely in the novel, but that's another story).

Anyway, as I said, I can't really pick which one is better.  Miyazaki's creation is wonderful:  beautiful animation, an intriguing and compelling story, and a whole heaping of creativity that takes a story and gives it wings--quite literally.  And Jones's book is absolutely lovely:  magical and creative, full of quirky characters and fabulous stories and a weaving, winding plot that's sure to keep readers on their toes.  Both are equally wonderful and entertaining, but if I lean more toward appreciating the book, I can only say I like it best for the fact that I can physically hold it in my hands and let my imagination truly wander.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Robin Sloan

The Summary
"The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from his life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.  But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than its name or its gnomic owner might suggest.  The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything--instead, they "check out" large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store.  Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele's behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends.  But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore's secrets extend far beyond its walls.  Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like:  an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave."

The Good
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore was an exciting novel for me.  Although you might not think it at first, Mr. Penumbra's Bookstore is a mystery--a mystery that must be solved to proceed into an unlikely adventure, a mystery which the narrator finds himself inexplicably following.  It's fascinating to see new aspects of the bookstore come to light as Clay Jannon discovers new secrets and learns new things.

Speaking of Clay, I found I absolutely loved all the characters Robin Sloan introduced.  Clay was an excellent narrator.  Witty, bright, and unexpectedly creative, he put his mind to the test and set out for answers on a grand scale.  I loved his sense of humor and his adoration of fantasy, and I loved all of his friends:  kind, contemplative Penumbra; brilliant and boisterous Matt; friendly, loyal Neel; and, finally, smart and sassy Kat.

They helped make the novel everything it was.

I spent much of my time curious, wondering where the story would lead.  It's a strange story, meandering between the nearly archaic world of Mr. Penumbra's bookstore and the modern interconnected universe of Google, but I wasn't disappointed.  I found the connections between characters, between the mysterious society behind the bookstore and the modern world, between history and the present made sense without being overwhelming.

Granted, I might consider it a touch over the top--fantastical adventures criss-crossing the United States, delving into medieval history--but I enjoyed the element of fantasy involved.  It intrigued me, invited me to read more.  And while I may have been slightly disappointed by how the story ended, another part of me was relieved and exhilarated by the unexpected changes.

The Bad
Honestly, I don't have any complaints.  The story was a little wild, a little unbelievable, but I, nevertheless, enjoyed it and had a fun time reading Sloan's novel.

Clay has a few internal monologues that I belatedly realized were said aloud, which tripped me up a bit; however, I thought it was clever and funny rather than annoying.  It made me wonder if Clay sometimes had moments when he thought, "Did I really just say that out loud?", and I couldn't help but giggle.

The Ugly
Even the best things can't continue indefinitely.