A Weekend with Mr. Darcy

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy (Austen Addicts, #1)A Weekend with Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A quick, fun read (even though it took me 3 months to read…) – light-hearted, cozy Austen fan fiction. Called the first of a trilogy, there are now 6 in the series. Don’t expect any great wit or social commentary, but there are plenty of references to Austen novels, Austen characters, Austen movies, etc. No explicit sex – this could be read by your age-13 teenage daughter. There are two love stories – the college professor, Katherine, an Austen scholar, who secretly loves the bodice-rippers of Lorna Warwick, and has carried on a correspondence with her – not knowing she is a he. When she meets him at a Jane Austen conference (not knowing his secret identity) and falls in love – well, you know it isn’t going to turn out well when she does find out… And then we have the young secretary who comes to the conference, followed by her long-time boyfriend that she is trying to ditch. He crashes the conference in several humorous scenes, and surprises her with a very public marriage proposal, but Robyn has fallen for the brother of Dame Pamela, whose home is the setting for the conference. I didn’t find a lot of sympathy for Katherine – she came off as rather cold – and Warwick bordered on TSTL. But Robyn’s story – stuck in a dead-end relationship out of guilt and not knowing how to move her life forward – was sweet and satisfying. For both of them the answers boil down to “What Would Jane Austen Do?” Shallow and sappy, but I just might try another in the series.

Book description: Of course she’s obsessed with Jane Austen…Surrounded by appalling exes and fawning students, the only thing keeping professor Katherine Roberts sane is Jane Austen and her personal secret love for racy Regency romance novels. She thinks the Jane Austen Addicts conference in the English countryside is the perfect opportunity to escape her chaotic life and finally relax… But then she encounters a devilishly handsome man at the conference who seems determined to sweep her off her feet. Is he more fiction than fact? Or could he be the hero she didn’t know she was looking for?

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At the Water’s Edge

At the Water's EdgeAt the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am just not sure what this book wanted to be. Historical fiction? A love story? A story about Scotland, its culture and superstitions? It didn’t really do any of them very well. I pretty much hated all the characters until Maddie finally started to WAKE UP in the last third of the book. Rich, privileged Americans abroad during wartime and oblivious to the lives of the people around them. The love story angle kind of came out of nowhere. Throw in some hot sex and – no, it just wasn’t believable. The ending was satisfying (just) but utterly predictable. Over all I was rather disappointed with this book, so three stars is maybe generous. It wasn’t helped by a narrator whose affected British accent really made me cringe. Or laugh. I couldn’t decide. They all sounded vaguely Irish. Most definitely NOT Scottish. Okay, I’m changing my rating to a 2. The premise sounded really interesting. I love Scotland, and the idea of Americans hunting for the Loch Ness monster. And a good love story. The author has an okay rough draft here, but it should have been so much more. It might have worked better as a love story between Ellis and Hugh. They seemed so obviously gay, at least Hugh was…. but it was never developed. Or develop Maddie more. She was just so superficial for most of the book. Or develop the monster more. It, too, was a bit too ambiguous. The potential is there. It could make a really good TV movie with the right actors.

Book description: After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind. The trio find themselves in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie is left on her own at the isolated inn, where food is rationed, fuel is scarce, and a knock from the postman can bring tragic news. Yet she finds herself falling in love with the stark beauty and subtle magic of the Scottish countryside. Gradually she comes to know the villagers, and the friendships she forms with two young women open her up to a larger world than she knew existed. Maddie begins to see that nothing is as it first appears: the values she holds dear prove unsustainable, and monsters lurk where they are least expected.

A Fall of Marigolds

A Fall of MarigoldsA Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars rounded up to 4. I liked the overall plot – two women, two tragedies a century apart, lots of parallels between the two, enough psychological drama to make it interesting, and the scarf to tie the two together. My problem with books like this, similar to At the Water’s Edge which I happened to finish the same day, is that it isn’t quite historical fiction – there just isn’t enough meat to it. The dual time frame is a plot device, nothing more. And it isn’t quite a love story. Basically it is about love, and loss, and moving on. The Welsh character could have been any nationality – it is inconsequential to the story. But since I am the “Welsh” Bookworm, I will add a little more about that. Andrew Gwynn and his brother Nigel: being American myself I can’t speak with any certainty, but those are not common Welsh forenames and especially for the turn of the century. The way the characters are written they are very English – despite some doubt about whether or not Andrew speaks English when we first meet him. There is also an inscription to his sons written by the father (Alistair Henry Gwynn) in the pattern book given to Andrew written in English. I certainly would have expected it to be in Welsh. But then Clara wouldn’t have been able to read it. Minor points certainly, and didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the story.

So bottom line, a light, fluffy read, (despite the nature of the tragedies that frame the story.) A bit too “romancy” and not enough historical details to be a 5-star read. A good summer beach read.

Book decription: September 1911. On Ellis Island in New York Harbor, nurse Clara Wood cannot face returning to Manhattan, where the man she loved fell to his death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Then, while caring for a fevered immigrant whose own loss mirrors hers, she becomes intrigued by a name embroidered onto the scarf he carries…and finds herself caught in a dilemma that compels her to confront the truth about the assumptions she’s made. Will what she learns devastate her or free her?

September 2011. On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, widow Taryn Michaels has convinced herself that she is living fully, working in a charming specialty fabric store and raising her daughter alone. Then a long-lost photograph appears in a national magazine, and she is forced to relive the terrible day her husband died in the collapse of the World Trade Towers…the same day a stranger reached out and saved her. Will a chance reconnection and a century-old scarf open Taryn’s eyes to the larger forces at work in her life?

Dogs and Goddesses

Dogs and GoddessesDogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goofy, funny (the talking dogs are hysterical, and the narrator of the audiobook did a WONDERFUL job with them), interesting characters (although a couple of them were very similar) – just right for a beach read or when you need to clear your brain after a hefty/intense/intellectual read. Now I’m ready to tackle some of the medieval non-fiction I’m taking on for a library conference later this year…

Lots of explicit sex if you like that sort of thing. It didn’t make me cringe, so I guess that’s a plus. It’s a little disjointed with three different authors. I assume they each wrote one of the three main “goddesses.” My favorite was Shar, the middle-aged heroine and her dog Wolfie. The other two women and their romantic interests were not as well developed (and as I said, at times hard to tell apart.) The mythology was okay, but don’t expect anything historical (it was made up.) The romances really didn’t have enough tension (will they, won’t they?) to create a very satisfying ending (endings?) And the fate of Kamani Gula (the Mesopotamian goddess) and especially Mina (the evil priestess) was just silly. Like cotton candy – fun once in a while, but I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it.

Book description: Abby has just arrived in Summerville, Ohio, with her placid Newfoundland, Bowser. She’s reluctantly inherited her grandmother’s coffee shop, but it’s not long before she’s brewing up trouble in the form of magical baked goods and steaming up her life with an exasperating college professor. And then there’s Daisy, a web code writer, and her hyperactive Jack Russell, Bailey. Her tightly-wound world spins out of control when she discovers the chaos within and meets a mysterious dog trainer whose teaching style is definitely hands-on. Finally there’s Shar, professor of ancient history at Summerville College, who wakes up one morning to find her neurotic dachshund, Wolfie, snarling at an implacable god sitting at her kitchen table, the first thing in her life she hasn’t been able to footnote. What on earth is going on in this unearthly little town? It’s up to Abby, Daisy, and Shar to find out before an ancient goddess takes over Southern Ohio, and they all end up in the apocalyptic doghouse…

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.75. Although it is never stated, Don is clearly someone with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome. I can’t speak to how well he may or may not represent a true picture of someone with Asperger’s. Don is just Don. The book doesn’t label him, and I’m not sure how helpful that is in real life any way. I think we have all experienced being socially uncomfortable and can both empathize with and laugh at the humor in Don’s predicament. And he does manage to get himself into some highly amusing situations. Don and Rosie are both quirky, unique characters. This is a light and funny read, and other than that, the plot is completely predictable. Some of the quirkiness began to get a bit tiring by the end, so I’m not sure I want to read the sequel.

Description: Don Tillman is a brilliant, yet socially challenged professor of genetics. Don decides it’s time he found a wife and designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page survey that filters out the drinkers, the smokers and the late arrivers. Rosie Jarman is not a perfect candidate. Although he disqualifies her for the Wife Project, Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. Suddenly a relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project.

After You

After You (Me Before You, #2)After You by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This sequel to Me Before You is every bit as good. But don’t expect it to be like Me Before You. Lou has changed. Will’s death left a hole in her heart that money and travel has not healed. Jojo Moyes gives us an unflinching look at love and loss, and how sometimes it takes a devastating accident, and to have our world turned upside down before we find how to move on. I loved all the zany characters and all their faults. I have half a mind to read everything else Jojo Moyes has ever written…

Book Description: Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started. Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

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The Winter Witch

The Winter WitchThe Winter Witch by Paula Brackston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a sucker for pretty much anything set in Wales, good or bad, but this book turned out to be a loving tribute to the landscape. The author has a lyrical way with words, and was able to create a strong sense of time and place, helped by the use of Welsh language words throughout. Morgana was an interesting character, and without the imposition of magic and witchcraft this could have been a 5-star historical romance. While I enjoy a good paranormal or fantasy story, I struggled a bit with it here. I wanted to be immersed in historical Wales, so every time magic was introduced it just didn’t seem quite right to me. I had a few historical quibbles – the use of the famous song Calon Lan, for example, which wasn’t written until 1890 probably at the earliest. It was interesting to learn something about Welsh cattle droving which died out in Wales after the introduction of railroads in the 1840s and 50s. Aside from the language (no glossary provided, which wasn’t an issue for me, but those who don’t know some basic Welsh might wish it had one), other elements of “Welshness” seemed contrived – let’s throw in some references to Welsh cakes and bara brith and carving love spoons. And corgis, of course. The author does live in Wales, and obviously loves her country. Despite my nit-picking here, I enjoyed the book enough to give it four stars. It’s a sweet love story, a tribute to Wales (especially the language and the landscape), and the triumph of good over evil.

Book Description: In her small early-nineteenth-century Welsh town, there is no one quite like Morgana, who has not spoken since she was a young girl. Her silence is a mystery, as well as her magic. Concerned for her safety, her mother is anxious to see her married, and Cai Jenkins, a widower from the far hills, seems the best choice. After her wedding, Morgana is heartbroken at leaving her mother, and wary of this man, whom she does not know, and who will take her away to begin a new life. But she soon falls in love with Cai’s farm and the wild mountains that surround it. Cai works to understand the beautiful half-tamed creature he has chosen for a bride, and slowly, he begins to win Morgana’s affections. It’s not long, however, before her strangeness begins to be remarked upon in her new village. A dark force is at work there — a person who will stop at nothing to turn the townspeople against Morgana. Forced to defend her home, her man, and herself, Morgana must learn to harness her power, or she will lose everything. (from book jacket)

About the author: Paula Brackston lives in a wild, mountainous part of Wales. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and is a Visiting Lecturer for the University of Wales, Newport. Before becoming a writer, Paula tried her hand at various career paths, with mixed success. These included working as a groom on a racing yard, as a travel agent, a secretary, an English teacher, and a goat herd. Everyone involved (particularly the goats) is very relieved that she has now found a job she is actually able to do properly. (from author’s website)