Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: Mark of Royalty by Jennifer K. Clark and Stephonie K. Williams

Synopsis:  From Amazon, "At a time when royal infants are marked at birth, a royal advisor makes a terrible misstep, and an infant princess must be secreted away to save her life. Named Sarah by Miranda, the woman who agrees to raise the child as her own, the girl is unaware of her royal heritage, even though Miranda has done all she can to pair Sarah with the king's nephew, Lord Chad. But unexpected events prevent the expected betrothal. Determined to fulfill her devoted mother's wishes, Sarah reserves her heart for Chad despite her growing affections for another man. But as plots against the crown unfold, someone accidentally discovers Sarah's mark of royalty, setting the stage for discoveries that will shake the kingdom to its core."

Review:  As far as historical reads go for teens, this was a pretty cute one.  There is a definite Ever After vibe to the story that keeps you flipping pages, routing on Sarah from the very beginning.  Having been passed off at birth, marked with a tattoo that was the insignia of her royal lineage, Sarah grew up knowing nothing about her past.  All she knew was that Miranda, her adopted mother, was her protector and biggest fan.  Going against the grain of other "Cinderella" tales, in this one it is her step-father who comes to resent her, especially after Miranda's death.  Sarah then has to try to impress the king's nephew, Lord Chad, who seems more bent on her step-sister.  Along the way she meets a different, mysterious young man, who she meets while out on one of her outdoor adventures.  Little does she know, this young man might just be the real key to her happiness and freedom.

In characteristic fairytale-like style, this story has a bit of royal intrigue, a bit of romance, and a bit of history all rolled into one.  While the use of descriptors in the story (adjectives and adverbs) were used in odd ways and too often, you soon become accustomed to them and focus more on the story than some of the language issues.  Honestly, I think that teen girl readers would really love this book for its ease in storytelling and sweet romantic tale.  I have no doubt that girls would really enjoy this slightly different telling and wouldn't think twice about how the story was told. 

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a personal copy of the novel.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Late Sunday Blatherings

Today has definitely been a lazy day, which is perfect for reading and relaxing.  I'm not 100% sure why last week was so difficult, especially since I've finished up my online classes that kept me so busy at night, but it was one of those weeks that seemed to never end!  On Friday, I wanted to shut the door to my classroom and just walk out on time, but I decided to stick it out and get my giant stack of late and absent work all put in the computer and a stack of projects all graded.  As much as I hate that, I love coming home to no big project hanging over my head.

This weekend I've been trying to finish up Dreaming of Mr. Darcy, which I started last week.  It's really good so far, although I've been tweeting about my thoughts on the "romance" that isn't seeming to be all that romantic.  I have high hopes that it's going to get better though, since it has so many awesome Austen themes mixed in with the modern story that is set in Lyme.  I love the mood of the novel and am now dying to spend a huge chunk of time in England, traveling to some of the towns mentioned in the book.

Outside of doing a bit of reading, I cleaned my house from top to bottom on Saturday.  I love how it smells, feels, and looks now!  I had done some surface cleaning, but I really gave it a good scrubbing on Saturday and can now face another work week with things put in order.

Well, that's my pretty boring weekend.  I have been a little out of sorts though, so I'm going to embrace life's small moments of boring-ness when I get it!  I like nesting a bit, with some nice chunks of time built in for reading.  What about you?  What has your weekend entailed? 

Now.  Off to get ready for the fourth installment of Downton Abbey!  I understand that I need a stack of Kleenexes ready for this particular episode, so I'll be ready. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fiction to Film to Fantastic Music Friday: My Fair Lady

Growing up, my mom played musicals in our home pretty much nonstop.  In fact, I almost feel as if it's a requirement to listen to the soundtrack of Camelot while you clean on a Saturday morning. I actually really love it and have to give my mom credit for pretty much educating me on every great film out there.  Now that I think about it, that's probably why I really am such a film buff.

One film that we watched three or four times a year was My Fair Lady.  I loved Professor Higgins, and maybe I was channeling my future profession as an English teacher, but I loved his passion for language.  He was snarky, pushy, and a little grouchy.  I loved him.  Add Eliza into his refined-world mix and it was just priceless.

Now as a teacher, I get the opportunity to teach and recommend plays for my students.  Although the actual play Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, does not match up to the musical exactly, it is still a genius of a play.  When my students start to get down or feel as though all "classical" literature is a bummer, I point them towards a wonderful George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde play and they brighten up.  I like a good tragedy or gut-wrenching drama, but sometimes we really need to have a laugh and a smile.  Thankfully, Shaw's Pygmalion does just that, and the film My Fair Lady fits the musical bill.

If you're unfamiliar with this glorious classic, let me include one that I love, "Without You."  Honestly, I could hardly pick one because there are so many great songs. Here is one of my favorites.

* Fiction, to Film, to Fantastic Music Friday is my own little weekly post. The premise is just to share my favorite books made into film, with amazing soundtracks to boot.  There might even be times where it's just a great film and soundtrack, or great book and film.  Either way, join in if you would like! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: Marzi by Marzena Sowa

I recently started a new reading program with  my students at school and showed them how I help to reach some of my reading goals--diversity.  What I used to consider as taking a kind of cop out to reading long novels, I now know has opened up my eyes to a whole new variety of genres and forms.  Now, I can honestly say that I'm pretty sold on graphic novels, poetry collections, etc.  Having said that, I recently accepted a copy of Marzi by Marzena Sowa as part of  the Amazon Vine program.  Although not like any of the other graphic novels I've read recently, this was a great story and coming of age tale.

Synopsis:  Told in  series of vignettes in Marzi's life, we are introduced to the life of Marzena Sowa just ten years from the end of communism in Poland.  During this time, we see the family live through bread lines, worker's strikes, and the effect of Chernobyl to the east on their town in the west.  Throughout these tales of fear, poverty, and trial, we see Marzi's view of her own family living their lives day to day, as any little girl would view her world.  The things is, this isn't any day to day life; this is growing up near the end of communist rule.

Review:  Let me just say how much I loved little Marzi.  Her character is sweet, charming, and vulnerable, with a healthy dose of insecurity brought on by the culture of her environment and a mother who seemed to feel she had to bring Marzi up with an iron first.  Marzi was just a normal little girl, watching as her parents stood in line for simple food staples, went to school with friends who had goods her family seemingly couldn't afford, and spent time with her country relatives, learning to store up food for leaner times.  Marzi's life is what is not normal.  Although she is a little girl who wants to play, to learn new things, and to have her own puppy, the world she lives in is much too oppressive for a little girl to really understand.  Through her eyes, we really get to see how scary and challenging it was for the people of Poland to negotiate these last days under communist rule.

Overall, I really did enjoy this graphic novel.  The version I had was a little over 200 pages long, and with the vignettes,  it made it hard to stick with the novel in one sitting.  I found myself coming back to it, to read a few stories at a time.  One part of the story that I found especially interesting was the section after the accident in Chernobyl.  Although it was far away, the affect of the radioactive cloud that traveled to Marzi's town in Poland was huge!  The fears they had over the rain, the food, and even their animals sent a country already suffering for food and work into a greater tailspin.  I don't know that I'd ever considered the dramatic affect this event had on other nations, but we really do get a good first-hand account from little Marzi.

On the whole, this was a good graphic novel that I could see being used to help explain more about Poland's modern history and about communism.  Honestly, it has made me want to learn more about the author today and her thoughts on these events as an adult.  Not a short read, but a good one!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on an Amazon Vine program selection.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Review: Before Versailles by Karleen Koen

Ever since I had a chance to  visit Paris back in June, I've been a bit obsessed about books set in Paris or Versailles, to be specific.  It took a little searching, but there really are a number of great books set in France, so I've been very lucky.  One new book published just last June was Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV by Karleen Koen.  I really loved the historical bent of this novel and how it gave the reader a view of how it was, not long before Versailles was built.  This has gone along perfectly with my current reading of To Dance With Kings, which is basically picking up where Before Versailles left off.  It has been quite an education, through fiction!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "After the death of his prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, twenty-two-year-old Louis steps into governing France. He’s still a young man, but one who, as king, willfully takes everything he can get—including his brother’s wife. As the love affair between Louis and Princess Henriette burns, it sets the kingdom on the road toward unmistakable scandal and conflict with the Vatican. Every woman wants him. He must face what he is willing to sacrifice for love.

But there are other problems lurking outside the chateau of Fontainebleau: a boy in an iron mask has been seen in the woods, and the king’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, has proven to be more powerful than Louis ever thought—a man who could make a great ally or become a dangerous foe . . ."

Review:  I really loved reading Koen's tale of King Louis XIV and his court.  Filled with intrigue and so many characters that I could hardly keep them straight, there are a number of character-driven stories going on at once.  I've always wondered if the promiscuity of these monarchs was completely just due to their own personalities and appetites, or also driven by marriages that were made without their involvement at such a young age.  When two young people are forced to marry, as a way of uniting two countries, who is to say that they know anything about love, romance, or the heart?  It does seem like they are seemingly coached into romantic intrigue.  It's just something I found interesting to consider, especially as we watch young Louis really only driven by relationships with women he met in the court around him.  In other words, like we see today, he had a group of people he "hung out with" and then clicked with some of the women, who later became his courtesans.  It's all very, very interesting. 

There were many different characters to follow in this story, and I first had to establish who was supposedly "good" and who was "bad."  That list was a bit static, but once I kind of knew the cast of characters, the story fell into place a bit more.  Although the novel could have delved into even more about political and social issues facing France during his reign, this was a novel about relationships, conspiracy, and intrigue, all surrounding a need for power, attention, and control.  Not really told from one point of view, we get a nice look at both men and women in this story, to get a truly interesting tale of King Louis XIV.  I really enjoyed it.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the novel.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Blatherings

What a week!  We started a new Term at school, so although I wasn't weighed down with grading every night after work, I was frantically trying to adjust to a new schedule that included an extra class and one less hour to prep.  It was crazy, but I think I will get used to it pretty quickly.  Honestly, I'm feeling good about the progress each of my classes are making, so the extra work feels worth it. 

I did pick up a bunch of reading this week, which was nice.  I finished reading Before Versailles by Karleen Koen, Holly Lane by Toni Blake, and Mark of Royalty by Jennifer Clark.  The three were each pretty good reads and helped me relax after the frantic pace of end of term.

One thing I'm really trying to ward off is accepting too many books for review.  Last year I backed off doing a long list of challenges, which took a TON of pressure off of my shoulders.  It sounds silly, I'm sure, but I had grown to feel like year-long challenges weighed me down with one extra thing to keep track of, which is ridiculous of me.  Anyway, I've since tried to focus the number of books I accept, but with a growing number of books that I just can't pass on, my greedy side is coming out!  Needless to say, I have several up for review really soon and I need to get a move on!  Here's what I'm working on now:

Well, we'll see how far I get.  I've been rotating way too many books lately, and I'm hoping to whittle them down so I can stick to just a few.  I'm excited about what I have on deck though! 

Here I am on a beautifully sunny Sunday afternoon, having cooked yummy stuff, and ready to sit down to read before Downton Abbey comes on later this evening.  What about you?  What are you doing on this lovely Sunday afternoon?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Film Review: Iron Lady (2012)

As a gift to myself for finishing out the term, I slipped into a theater to watch the new Margaret Thatcher film, The Iron Lady.  Starring Meryl Streep as the "Iron Lady," herself, I wanted to see what all this early buzz was about!  With each year I've come to embrace the fact that I'm probably every bit as much of a film connoisseur as I am with books, and so each year I try to make a point to go and see as many of the Oscar-buzzed films as possible, so The Iron Lady was a must see.

Set in a modern context of Thatcher's life, we see the development of her life and career through flashbacks she has from her home, where she is being watched over by nurses and family as she slipped further and further into the throes of dementia or Alzheimer's disease  (we never really know which).  Throughout the film, she sees people from her past and interacts with them, which causes her caretakers more and more concern.  From this Thatcher gains a steely determination to stay in control of her "hallucinations" and either not address them, or keep them hidden from those around her.

As she deals with her present sense of lost awareness, she constantly flashes back to her life and all that she has experienced--and lost.  We get a real sense that although she desperately loved her husband and children--enough so to be at a loss without them in her old age--that her career was the penultimate in her life.  Her real sense of self came from serving her country, come what may in terms of approval or understanding.

I absolutely loved the film and immediately called a few people that I knew would also love it, to recommend it to them.  This is a thinking-man's film, for sure.  There are no flashy action scenes or blatant messages, but what we do get is a real film of introspection and thoughtfulness that had me thinking about my own life.  Margaret Thatcher, whether you agreed with her politics or not, was an absolute standard in Women's History, and someone that should be given real attention for the bravery she showed in moving through what has always been a "man's world."  Her real "iron"-fisted approach to life and her career was very interesting, especially considering how she used it to have a control over her life that had be admired in many ways.

The young Margaret & husband in the early days of her career.
One interesting thought I took away from the movie had to do with her hallucinations in her old age.  As she hallucinated her husband into real life, over and over again, I wondered how damaging is it really to allow someone that comfort--if it is a comfort?  I think we've all dealt with people in our families or lives who grew older or were sick, and slipped a bit in their sense of reality.  Is it our own need to keep them grounded, for our own security, that is important, or is it possible that this gives a person a level of comfort in the end?  I really don't know the answers there, but I have a much greater sense of empathy after watching this film.

The Iron Lady, in my estimation, is a real must see if you are a film buff at all.  Meryl Streep's performance was really amazing, as she slipped into the role of Thatcher, almost flawlessly.  The filming, en media res, was a great technique for moving us backward and forward in time so we could see and feel as Thatcher might feel.  Overall, I found it to be a great film, and one that I think will win Streep more than just that Golden Globe from Sunday night!

Below is one of the official trailers if you want to check it out.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday Blatherings: An End of Term Celebration!

Another semester has come and gone, and miraculously, I've survived!  My apologies for taking my whining viral, but I owe you all a big thank you for all the kind words here and on Twitter.  Now I can celebrate and do nothing more than read ALL DAY tomorrow, if I want to.  Now that is something to cheer about!

For tonight, I'm off to watch the Golden Globes and Downton Abbey.  What a night!  As a film fan, I really want to see what happens at the Golden Globes tonight.  I had the chance to see Iron Lady and will be sharing my review this coming week.  It was brilliant, and I hope that it and Meryl Streep get some recognition.

By the way, let me send out an online congrats to my cousin and her husband, who welcomed their third baby this week.  Love, love, love--all being sent your way!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou

In a continued effort to read novels that have appeared on multiple suggested reading lists, I picked up Maya Angelou's The Heart of a Woman.  I've read her first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a long time ago and always wanted to pick up and keep reading.  This book jumps ahead a bit in years, but does pick up her story again, which is pretty interesting.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Maya Angelou has fascinated, moved, and inspired countless readers with the first three volumes of her autobiography, one of the most remarkable personal narratives of our age. Now, in her fourth volume, The Heart of a Woman, her turbulent life breaks wide open with joy as the singer-dancer enters the razzle-dazzle of fabulous New York City. There, at the Harlem Writers Guild, her love for writing blazes anew.

Her compassion and commitment lead her to respond to the fiery times by becoming the northern coordinator of Martin Luther King's history-making quest. A tempestuous, earthy woman, she promises her heart to one man only to have it stolen, virtually on her wedding day, by a passionate African freedom fighter.

Filled with unforgettable vignettes of famous characters, from Billie Holiday to Malcolm X, The Heart of a Woman sings with Maya Angelou's eloquent prose her fondest dreams, deepest disappointments, and her dramatically tender relationship with her rebellious teenage son. Vulnerable, humorous, tough, Maya speaks with an intimate awareness of the heart within all of us."

Review:  Covering a later period in Angelou's life, her young son is now a teenager and Angelou has moved to New York City.  I was stunned by the wide range of experiences she had, from rubbing shoulders with greats like James Baldwin to uprooting her life and family to live in Africa.  To go along with her various life experiences, Angelou also had such a range of talents and abilities that she seemed almost unreal or superhuman!  It seems like her writing was not her primary talent, but more of the outlet for all else she had done with her life.  Her words hold weight and power and carry her readers through the experiences of her life and how they shaped her.  
Angelou is an obvious activist, focusing her time and energy on the rights of blacks in America.  Her role in plays and politics, music and education were all aimed at helping open the eyes of the oppressor and of freeing the enslaved.  Ironically, I thought her own relationships with men to be the one area that felt contradictory to many of her points.  Although she later married an African diplomat who worked for the United Nations, even he had a way of treating Angelou that created mistrust and chaos.  The points she slips into her narrative about the treatment of men, and in his case the treatment of African men to their wives, is an interesting moment of weakness on her part.  We see her as so strong and yet she has these difficult relationships with men that make her more human that we at first might consider.  Thankfully she pulls her life together, if nothing more than for her growing son's sake.  

Whether she talks of politics, art, or relationships, there is that distinctive eloquence to her writing that makes it interesting to read.  There were moments in her story that felt slow and drawn out, but she experienced so  much in this one book that it was intriguing to consider.  In this way, her writing is engaging.  The Heart of a Woman is a stand alone novel, but definitely feels like a mere chunk of a life's story.  In the case of Maya Angelou, that is one amazingly varied life story!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the novel.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Double Review: Twilight Graphic Novels by Stephenie Meyer and Young Kim

I couldn't help myself and had to check out Stephenie Meyer's novel Twilight made into graphic novel format.  Thankfully, this also helped me finish up my reading goal for 2011.  I'm not sure if Meyer and Kim plan on making her other three novels into graphic novel form, but Twilight was made into two, short graphic novels.

As with most graphic novels, the drawn out descriptions of thoughts and feelings, as well as descriptions of settings are left out of the mix.  The pictures replace any descriptions so that we have to focus on the pictures and the dialogue.

The story is pretty straight forward and tied in with the original.  Major lines spoken are the same, as well as the general "gist" of the action that propels the story forward.  I wasn't always 100% sure what the tear drop was about on Bella's cheek in some of the scenes.  It was there a lot, regardless of how happy or sad the scene might be.  Was this a beauty mark or meant for some symbolic meaning?  I'm not really sure.  The other thing I found strange was the clenching fist thing with Edward?  I think it was meant to show him trying to maintain control.  Oh, my!  What drama.  All you need is a little fist clenching to show one's power, right? 

On the whole, I did think these graphic novels were well done.  The washed out color scheme and really nice pictures do make for a great graphic version of the novel.  Although I had my moments of "what's up" in the depictions of this wildly-popular novel, they were still really well done and I would recommend them to curious readers.

*This review was based on library copies of the graphic novels. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Author Interview: Phillipa Ashley of Carrie Goes Off the Map

After a few mix ups only days before Christmas, I am excited to get the opportunity to interview the talented Phillipa Ashley, author of Carrie Goes Off the Map, Wish You Were Here, and Dating Mr. December.  I've thoroughly enjoyed her novels for their great escape read and chick-lit, star quality. I hope you enjoy my interview with Phillipa!

Me:  Thank you so much for letting me interview you about your newest book for my blog! Your book was an undeniable treat, just as your previous two have been.  I have loved reading and reviewing them on my blog, so I’m extra excited to have you stop by my blog to share a bit more.

In the three of your books that I’ve read, there always seems to be a journey involved.  Is there a reason for that, or is that just a fun element thrown in for our couples?

Phillipa:  Apart from Carrie, I don’t think I consciously planned to send the characters on a journey but now you come to mention it, you’re absolutely right! Someone once told me there are only two basic plots for a book, namely ‘A Stranger Comes to Town’ and 'A Journey.’ That’s oversimplifying things, of course, but it does apply to an awful lot of stories. I’d say that Dating Mr. December was A Stranger Comes to Town and Wish You Were Here and Carrie are journeys. A journey makes a very relatable metaphor for the characters emotional discovery.

Me:  Your books are endlessly romantic, with a lot of tension leading up to the endings.  How do you work out the pacing so that you don’t frustrate the reader (which I never have been), but hold us off long enough to make us want the couple to get together?

Phillipa:  Oh gosh… I guess some of the pacing just happens naturally, I start off with a beginning and end and usually two or three big scene ‘turning points’. Then I start writing and the rest of the story unfolds naturally, or I think it does. There are times when I’ve stuck to a plan and realized that it’s not really happening naturally enough so I go back and scrap thousands of words. That hurts but it’s important that the characters lead the story, not my whims. I don’t micromanage scenes – I have no idea what ‘beats to a scene’ are etc.; I write in a ‘train of thought’ way which sometimes works and sometimes leads me into a lot of trouble!

Me:  Has anyone ever mentioned that you don’t describe your female lead characters very much?  In a way, it makes me picture myself in their positions.  Is that on purpose, or am I really overlooking the physical descriptions here?

Phillipa:  No one has said straight out but you are spot on! I think I want my heroines to be every woman and for the reader to fit right into their shoes and hearts and minds - but also I don’t want them to be bland! I made Carrie the most volatile of my heroines. I wanted her to show real reactions to her situation – she’s a bit of a drama queen in every sense and she reacts by turns, devastated and angry, vengeful and confused. Her fight or flight instincts keep kicking in, leading to a journey of true emotional ups and downs. I don’t think I could ever write a ‘kick ass’ heroine but my girls could cut any one down to size with a tongue lashing!

Me:  Specifically for Carrie Goes Off the Map, her fiancĂ© who chucked her seems completely unhappy by the end of the novel.  Was that just me, or was that just wishful thinking in my once-dumped experience to hope that he was miserable without Carrie?

Phillipa:  Of course he’s miserable, lol. Serves him right. Happily, you can take revenge in a book in a way you might not in real life, but people do move on and find new partners who are more right for them than the person they thought was ‘The One.’  I found writing the scene where she returns pretty difficult to write. I wanted their resolution to be quiet and regretful – the ultimate revenge, of course, being to live well as Carrie has started to do. Huw’s not a bad man but he’s made a very bad decision that he has to live with. The worst scene to write, however, was one with Natasha and Carrie that made me cry and made my agent cry. She won’t let me send a book off to an editor unless it has made her shed a few tears!

Me:  I loved Doctor Matt in Carrie Goes Off the Map and kind of think he felt like the reserved version of Mr. Darcy.  In fact, at one point in the story you said he was like a “dirty Mr. Darcy.”  Is that who you pictured here? 

Phillipa:  Matt is my favourite hero. In fact, after I wrote Carrie, I found I couldn’t write for a while (my books are published out of sequence in the USA.) It sounds odd, but I fell hard for Matt and no one could top him for quite a time. The Dirty Mr. Darcy thing comes from a couple of places.  One is the fact that Matt was inspired by a photo of Richard Armitage who had been playing John Thornton in North & South. There had been a lot of stuff in the press referring to Thornton as the ‘Industrial Darcy.’ Matt has that Darcy class thing going on – he’s typical of your posh Oxbridge boy and I did a lot of research with my daughter’s medic friends from those universities. He tries to hide his seriousness and passion all under a veneer of sarcasm and bravado. I can’t give away any spoilers, but yes, he knows exactly how to handle Carrie and exactly what she needs and he gives it unselfishly as he does to his patents. Question is, what does he need?

***Sidenote:  I mentioned to Phillipa on twitter that the "dirty Darcy" bit had me laughing aloud and completely picturing the male hero in a much different way.  What a great way of describing a hero!  :)  (Thank you to Phillipa for providing this awesome picture of Richard Armitage.)

Me:  Do you have any other books that will be coming out in the U.S. that have already been published, and do you have any other books that you’re working on for the moment?

Phillipa:  Just Say Yes is being published by Sourcebooks in June – it’s probably a bit lighter and funnier than Carrie, more of a romp and a stab at reality TV culture. It has a blond, uncompromising, working class hero who was a real challenge to write. After that I have my fingers crossed for the publication of a new longer book featuring a history-loving heroine who has no past of her own and a tortured modern day aristocrat who share a romantic island castle

Me:  I can't wait!  I will definitely be picking them up!

Thanks again Phillipa!  Your books are a real treat for this overworked high school teacher.  In fact, they make me want to escape back to the U.K. and can’t wait for the day that I can travel back over for a longer visit.

Phillipa:  Becky, it’s always a pleasure and thank you for such interesting questions. I’ve loved answering them and would love to meet you if you come over here in future.

Phillipa Ashley
Me:  I can't wait to get back over to the U.K. for a visit and would love to get in touch.  Thanks for such a great interview and for sharing more about your books with us.

Honestly, I can't recommend Phillipa Ashley's books enough.  She has great, romantic-comedy meets British Chick Lit.  There is substance to her writing and a great escape for any reader.  Although Carrie Goes Off the Map was recently released in December, you can also check out her other two novels--Dating Mr. December and Wish You Were Here.  Happy reading!

Knowing Phillipa Ashley based her hero on our fan-favorite Richard Armitage, how does that shape your reading?  Does it change the way you view the character and make you love them more?

What great questions do you have for Phillipa?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Blatherings: Just Another Downton Abbey Countdown...

Yes, I'm counting down the hours until Downton Abbey Season 2 starts back up on Masterpiece Classics.  I almost broke down and watched it somewhere online, but I resisted and am now ready to watch on TV later tonight.  I made a lovely dinner, have a friend here from out of town, and am geared up for some amazing Downton time!  (I'll own my nerdy English Teacher--Fan Girl--Anglophile madness.)  I'm just proud of the fact that I got my mother into it on New Year's Eve before she went home.  She'll be tuning in as well.  Check out this awesome trailer for the new season:

                     Watch Downton Abbey 2: The Critics Can't Stop Talking on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

As for reading and all that.  I'm not sure I know what that is?!?  It's end of term and my friend is here through Tuesday, so when I'm not visiting, I'm grading into the wee hours.  The essays are going a bit faster though, as they always do once I get into a routine.  I should be fine this term.  The only worry I have then is that my online class has their finals this week, and next week I start a brand new course at school.  It will all be okay, but reading might not be on my agenda until things even out a bit.

Until I can get back to reading, here's what I'm trying to make some headway in:

What great things are you up to this weekend and will you be tuning into Downton Abbey?

Friday, January 6, 2012

End of a Holiday and Now End of Term

I wish I could report that I've done all this glorious reading, but really I've been trying to survive this back to work madness!  My bff is here from Michigan, so I'm loving having my holiday joy extended.  There's only one problem--I have to grade a stack of these:

The only way to get the grading finished with people around is to stay up late.  After about 8 hours over four days, I'm ready to crash!  Thankfully I see the light at the end of the End-of-Term grading and paper pile.  Once I've pushed through the last 37 essays, I think I'll finally settle back into a normal schedule again.   I can't wait to get back to my reading!  

What did you face once the holidays were over?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Review: Beautiful Days by Anna Godbersen

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "After a month in New York, Cordelia Grey and Letty Larkspur are small-town girls no longer. They spend their afternoons with Astrid Donal at the Greys' lush Long Island estate and their nights in Manhattan's bustling metropolis. But Letty's not content to be a mere socialite. She is ready at last to chase her Broadway dreams - no matter the cost.

Cordelia is still reeling from the death of her father at the hands of Thom Hale, the man she thought she loved. Now she is set to honor Darius Grey's legacy... and take her revenge.

Promised to Cordelia's half brother, Astrid is caught up in a world of dazzling jewels and glittering nights - and the sparkle is blinding. Charlie Grey is a gangster playing a dangerous game; and for Astrid, Cordelia, and Letty, the stakes could be deadly."

Review:  At a time when I feel as though a good historical read has fallen by the wayside, Anna Godbersen's novels always seem to deliver.  As the follow up to Bright Young Things, we pick back up with Cordelia and Letty trying to make a life for themselves in busy New York City during the days of the prohibition.  In the case of a second novel, there is a lot to remember about the first book that I couldn't always piece together.  Having said that, I did, slowly pull the story back into one whole so I could enjoy the rest of the story. 

 In what reminds me of a Gossip Girls type of a story, the drama is high and the action is even higher.  There's a little bit of everything here, with its showgirls, prohibition, gangsters, wealth, and prestige.  However, the glitz and glamour are offset by moments of poverty and crime.  There were moments of girls languishing by the pool, in sorrow over whatever male interest wasn't paying them enough attention.  That was annoying, but I would suppose, pretty important in the development of a relationship?  I can't say that this was my favorite of Godbersen's novels, as the lead female characters feel a bit unreachable and  not relatable to me (while her Luxe series characters felt much more real in my estimation), this was still agood YA historical read.  I plan on grabbing whatever follow-up comes out next so I can find out what happens to these characters. 

*This review was based on a library copy of the novel.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"Best of 2011"

Thank you to all who joined in for a fun "12 to 2012" read-a-thon on New Year's Eve.  Thankfully, I finished the final two books I needed to complete my Goodreads' goal for the year.  For the past four years we've been in Hawaii, surrounded by friends, food, and fireworks (and more FIREWORKS), so I knew that it would be a blue holiday if I didn't do something that I loved.  While I read, I introduced my mother to Downton Abbey (which she had never heard of), and heading to a movie or going out was completely out the window.  After that point, all my mother wanted to do was watch Downton Abbey and I could stay and read!  It was a really lovely evening.  Thanks again to all who joined in!  It's always fun meeting new people and meeting up with friends I've known for awhile.

As for 2011, I had to stew on my "Best of" post this year.  When I thought back over the year, it felt like it went so fast that I couldn't think of a single book that knocked me off my socks.  That's not true though.  Once I really went back over my 100 (Woo hoo!) books that I'd read, about fourteen jumped out at me. 

In order from the beginning of the year until now, here are my top ten reads of 2011:

This was such a Gone With the Wind meets Jane Austen sort of twist, that I couldn't help but grin.  There were some fun name dropping and Austen-related story lines that you would only catch if you were a fan, but overall it was just a really good Austen-reading good time!  (Review:  Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell)

I was actually a little shocked when I saw the mixed reviews on this book.  The sweetness of the story, with the gut-wrenching twist to it was a surprise and a beautiful gift all at the same time.  This was one of those reads that I couldn't put down.  (Review:  Things I Know About Love by Kate Le Vann)

This was no light read.  Considering that it took me an hour to read 15 of these weighty pages, it took me over 8 months to finish.  Even then, I skipped some of the chapters (on horticulture and such).  I loved that this biography really took me into Wharton's world, in a very academic sort of way.  I had missed the depth that Hermione Lee provided here, and considering what a fan I have always been of Wharton's work, this was an amazingly insightful read that taught me more than I ever thought about the author, the time period, and the other artists with which she surrounded herself. (Review:  Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee)

How could I NOT mention Anna and the French Kiss this year?  Having read both of Perkins's novels in the same year, I really was in for a treat.  I found the teenage voice in this novel to be spot on with what I knew of my students (and what I remember of my own teenage years).  The romance felt real, the tension created was palpable, and the location a delight.  What was there not to like about this read?  (Review:  Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins)

I really debated about whether or not Shadowfever would make my "best of" list this year.  Although it drove me absolutely batty with its constant jerking me around (is he or isn't he, is she or isn't she), I really got into this series and had to give Moning credit for creating a story that I felt like I simply couldn't predict.  In some cases you don't mind predicting what will happen, but when you can't and it all makes sense somehow, it's a treat.  These were not for the faint of heart, but for friends that could handle it, I was out recommending this series left and right!  (Review:  Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning)

So here's the surprise read of my year, Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe.  The name dropping and anecdotes in this autobiography were infectious and tantalizing.  I've never really been a rabid fan of Rob Lowe, but always kind of appreciated his acting (and let's not forget his handsome face).  This was actually one of my first audio books that I listened to after returning to school and I found myself, many a night, not wanting to get out of my car.  What a great Hollywood and human tale!  I highly recommend this autobiography if you haven't read on in awhile.  (Review:  Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe)

Here was another shockingly fun read this past year.  Although I really enjoy poetry, I couldn't have imagined that a little book of poetry would win me over as much as this one did.  With all of its cheekiness and "bro" oriented storytelling, I really enjoyed these poems.  They have some great classical connections, but I can't exactly take them into  my classroom.  Regardless, for my own personal reading, I found them a little naughty, a bit ironic, and very funny!  (Review:  Broetry by Brian McGackin)

Yep.  Both Perkins novels made my "best of" list this year.  For sheer enjoyment, originality, and modern storytelling, Perkins really gets my vote.  Lola was a bit quirky, but every bit as vulnerable (if not more so) than Anna.  I love the originality in her stories and yet the way she brings the YA chick read into out times.  Altogether, I just really enjoy her novels!  (Review:  Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins)

I don't know that my year would be complete without a great Austen-esque novel by Sharon Lathan!  This year I thought that Miss Darcy Falls in Love came out of nowhere, with its stand alone qualities, to recapture more of that Austen story and time period that I so love.  I'm an obvious fan of all things written by Lathan, so no surprises here that another of her books would make my top 10 list.  (Review:  Miss Darcy Falls in Love by Sharon Lathan)

My final choice this year was a delightful British Chick Lit. novel, Carrie Goes Off the Map by Phillipa Ashley that I recently read and reviewed.  This is now my third by Ashley, and I really have grown to love the escapist nature of her novels.  When I need a bit of a reprieve from my own busy life, Ashley's novels with their strong female characters and romantic tension really fit the bill.  (Review:  Carrie Goes Off the Map  by Phillipa Ashley)

This has been one of the most intense years of my life, professionally speaking.  Because of that, I noticed that most of my personal reading has been escapist reads.  I didn't want to be pushed and I didn't want to read with a pen!  It was interesting to see that come through here in my list this year.  

As for 2012, what are my goals?  Well, I've decided to forgo reading challenges once again.  I have no idea when my career will slow down, so I'm riding the wave for now and getting out of debt!  It really is all good, but super busy, so I take life one step and one day at a time.  I did, however, join the Goodreads Challenge and have given myself another 100 books to push myself with during this upcoming year.  I look forward to seeing what my list will look like next year!