Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

Title: The Jane Austen Society
Author: Natalie Jenner
Format: ARC
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: May 26, 2020 (Today!)

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists. Now it's home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen's legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen's home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society."

My Two Cents:

"The Jane Austen Society" is the story of a group of people brought together by their love and appreciation of the beloved author, Jane Austen, in order to try to save her legacy. The book largely takes place in the mid-1940s just as England is beginning to come out of World War II. The quiet novel is the story of how different people with singular goal in mind can come together to do something wonderful.

The group that comes together comes from all sorts of backgrounds that don't seem to have much in common with each other: a laborer, an actress, a doctor, a widow, and many others. I loved how this book shows how these people are able to find common ground and organize to do something wonderful. This was certainly comforting to read during these uncertain times when it seems like in many ways, people are having difficulty coming together!

While the Jane Austen Society is the center of the book, there are lots of different offshoot story lines between all of the characters in the story, which added some interest to the book. There are love stories and mysteries and many of these stories are often seen through the lens of Jane Austen's stories, which I enjoyed as a fan of Austen's work.

Chawton, Jane Austen's home is at the center of the book. It's a place that I dream about being able to visit someday! And since I can't go anywhere now, I loved reading about it and how the group of characters come together to save such a great place. This book is a very cozy read. It's not flashy, nor fast-moving but it is comforting, like a perfect cup of tea.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Review: The Way You Burn by Christine Meade

Title: The Way You Burn
Author: Christine Meade
Format: ARC
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publish Date: April 14, 2020
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "When David approaches his New Hampshire cabin one cool October night to find it engulfed in flames, he knows his girlfriend Hope set the fire. At least, he’s pretty sure he knows.

David first decides to upend the creature comforts of his post-collegiate life and try roughing it for a year after he inherits two acres of land and a rustic cabin from his deceased grandfather. Life at the cabin proves to be more difficult than expected, however, and it all starts with the woman he loves—Hope—whose dark past is written in the twisting pink scars covering her body. Their relationship is challenged after his car slides through an intersection one dark night and, later, his realization that someone is out there, watching him through the trees

Over the course of five seasons, David struggles to maintain his relationship with Hope. Ultimately, in an attempt to understand the sacrifices she has had to make, he decides to rewrite their story. In doing so, he explores the lessons he’s left with--after everything he thought mattered is gutted or burned away—and the surprising bits of wisdom he finds in the ashes."

My Two Cents:

"The Way You Burn" thrusts us into a scene where our main character, David, is watching his grandfather's house burn to the ground. David now lives there in rural New Hampshire after his grandfather gave it to him in his will. David looked at the cabin as a fresh start, both for him and his girlfriend, Hope. Fresh starts don't always come so easily though and David is beginning to see that the proverbial writing on the wall may have been there with Hope the whole time!

First off, I love the way this story unfolded. I love that we initially get to see the aftermath of the other events in the book. Arriving at the fire right away really made for a good entry point into figuring out where the characters stood with each other. I found myself wondering how everything collapsed so spectacularly! Talk about leaving you wanting more!

As the story rewinds, we see how David is desperate for a new start. He can't figure out why his grandfather gave him the cabin in the first place but he recognizes that it may give him the independence he is seeking just entering adulthood. Enter Hope. She's witty, funny, and she makes David feel so very happy... at first at least. Hope is hiding a lot of things from David and she may not be who she says she is. I really loved watching the relationship between them unfold. The author gives us a lot of small details to keep us going throughout the book and I couldn't wait to see what dropped next.

I also really liked the family secret at the center of the book. Between the mystery of David's grandfather and the relationship between David and Hope coming together and then falling apart, you have a really great thriller that kept me reading!


Friday, May 8, 2020

Review: The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana by Maryse Condé

Title: The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana
Author: Maryse Condé
Format: Ebook
Publisher: World Editions
Publish Date: May 5, 2020
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Born in Guadeloupe, Ivan and Ivana are twins with a bond so strong they become afraid of their feelings for one another. When their mother sends them off to live with their father in Mali they begin to grow apart, until, as young adults in Paris, Ivana’s youthful altruism compels her to join the police academy, while Ivan, stunted by early experiences of rejection and exploitation, walks the path of radicalization. The twins, unable to live either with or without each other, become perpetrator and victim in a wave of violent attacks. In The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana, Maryse Condé, winner of the 2018 Alternative Nobel prize in literature, touches upon major contemporary issues such as racism, terrorism, political corruption, economic inequality, globalization, and migration. With her most modern novel to date, this master storyteller offers an impressive picture of a colorful yet turbulent 21st century."

My Two Cents:

"The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana" is the story of fraternal twins born on the island of Guadeloupe to a single mother. Their father, a famous musician in Mali, looms larger than life, over their childhood as their mother has imparted that if their father had just stayed that Ivan and Ivana would have had a much better life. The twins are closer than close (this is reiterated often throughout the book). They will travel from their island home to their father's homeland of Mali to Paris. This book is explores what happens when a seemingly unbreakable bond is broken by terrible events.

The highlight of the book for me was all of the detail about the various locations throughout the book. Guadeloupe and Mali were new-to-me locations in terms of reading about them. I really liked how the author brought both of these to life for me. You can feel the breeze in Guadeloupe and see the stores and restaurants in Mali. You get a good sense of how Ivan and Ivana see Paris.  The places almost become characters in the book, which I really liked.

The relationship between Ivan and Ivana is so incredibly close, particularly with regard to how Ivan sees Ivana. Parts of this were definitely out of my comfort zone but I think the idea was to just show a general closeness or essentially one being in two bodies. In particular, Ivan's romantic ideas about his sister are reiterated over again throughout the book (perhaps to exhaustion). The repetitive nature did take something away from the story, however, the closeness sets the scene for just how devastating the later events of the book are.

What kept me reading is the good writing and pacing. While the subject matter was uncomfortable, Conde's details kept the book flowing.  

Thursday, May 7, 2020

TLC Book Tours: Dali Summer by T.J. Brown

Title: Dali Summer
Author: T.J. Brown
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Publish Date: May 5, 2020
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Nothing is more important to prim, colorblind Dolors Posa than family and living down the shame of her illegitimate birth, but when the sudden onset of fantastical visions threaten her sterling reputation, she must search for answers before the inhabitants of the tiny village of Cadaqués brand her as demente— crazy like her mother. In a quest to stop her hallucinations, she befriends a beautiful, intoxicating fortune teller and her handsome anarchist brother, as well as becoming a reluctant muse for thirteen-year-old Salvador Dali. In a summer that changes everything, Dolors must choose between her family’s reputation and a life filled with adventure, friendship, rapturous color and the possibility of love."

My Two Cents:

In "Dali Summer," Delors is consumed with the idea of ensuring that her reputation escapes the fate of her mother's. She has unexplainable visions and she isn't sure what to make of her color-blindness but it frightens her. She will thrust herself into new situations, in part because she is running away from her past and her fears of what her future may look like! Summer is a time of freedom and Delors finds it in the form of a beautiful fortune teller and her brother. She will also become the muse of a young Salvador Dali. This book has lovely detail and a thoroughly engaging story line - a treat for sure!

This book pulls you in right away as you find out about Delors and her background. She is trying so hard to escape her past and trying to outrun family secrets, sure that they'll knock her down just as they had her mother. You're pulling for her so hard to be able to find her own footing and a better way forward than living in fear of the past and her future.

The detail in the book really made it shine. During these times when we can't travel, I have been doing a lot of traveling through books and I loved visiting sun-dappled Spain through this book. The  lower clamber of revolution and war is in the air and acts as a background beat to the story. I also really loved the glimpse that we get of Salvador Dali. I'm a huge fan but I don't recall having read a lot about him as a young person so seeing him as he is so inspired by Delors was great!

This book was a perfect escape, filled with great romances and great detail!


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

TLC Book Tours: The Last Blue by Isla Morley

Title: The Last Blue
Author: Isla Morley
Format: ARC
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publish Date: May 5, 2020 (Happy book birthday!)
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In 1937, there are recesses in Appalachia no outsiders have ever explored. Two government-sponsored documentarians from Cincinnati, Ohio—a writer and photographer—are dispatched to penetrate this wilderness and record what they find for President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.

For photographer Clay Havens, the assignment is his last chance to reboot his flagging career. So when he and his journalist partner are warned away from the remote Spooklight Holler outside of town, they set off eagerly in search of a headline story.

What they see will haunt Clay into his old age: Jubilee Buford, a woman whose skin is a shocking and unmistakable shade of blue. From this happenstance meeting between a woman isolated from society and persecuted her whole life, and a man accustomed to keeping himself at lens distance from others, comes a mesmerizing story in which the dark shades of betrayal, prejudice, fear, and guilt, are refracted along with the incandescent hues of passion and courage."

My Two Cents:

In "The Last Blue," Jubilee Buford definitely stands out. Her coloring is blue and she comes from a family that has some members who have had this distinctive coloring and have been the subject of a lot of scrutiny and intolerance at the hands of others in their small Kentucky town in the middle of Appalachia. Clay Havens, a photographer, finds himself in the middle of Appalachia to document everyday life for President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration. What he will find, or rather who, will be anything but everyday. This book tackles a fascinating bit of history with a wonderful romance at the center of it!

Initially this book sort of almost has a magical realism vibe to it. Jubilee truly has a blue hue to her skin. When she goes out, she can't be missed. Her family is often equal parts protective and mystified by her condition. Because of her blue skin, she has bared the brunt of so much hatred and misunderstanding by those who won't even begin to give her a chance. I felt so bad for her throughout the book. It's clear that she is a really kind and decent person but she is often not given the chance to just be a normal person. The hate she faces is so raw and so devastating and so maddening.

Jubilee hates herself for what she looks like and she hates how much attention her looks bring her. When Havens first meets her, he is of course drawn to her because of what she looks like and as a photographer, he can't help but to want to take pictures of her. As he gets to know her, he sees that she is both beautiful inside and out and he falls so hard for her. I really loved the romance between Havens and Jubilee. They both initially come together with some trepidation but that quickly melts away as they get to know each other as people. The detail of how they fall for each is really amazing and I love how the author got us to cheer for this unlikely pairing.

I've said it before and I'll say it again but I love how historical fiction can introduce readers to things that they've never read about before. There really were blue people in Kentucky and they faced a lot of the things that Jubilee faced. This bit of history makes a great basis for a story that was really all-consuming for me. And the writing, oh, man, the writing! There are some amazing scenes throughout the book that really took me from the highest highs to the lowest lows and back again! I loved how much of a ride this book was! A mark of a good book for me is when I can't stop thinking about the story or the characters after I close the pages and these characters and their story are very much stuck to me!

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