Book review: ‘The Grand Sophy’ by Georgette Heyer

grand_sophyMy first foray into the world of Georgette Heyer — and Regency romance — was not a disappointing one! Like the countless lords, fools and gentlemen who fall in love with brash, bewitching Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy, I don’t think I’ll be able to forget The Grand Sophy for a long while.

When her father leaves for South America, Sophy is deposited in the care of her father’s sister, Lady Ombersley, who lives in London with her indifferent husband and great brood of children — among them the beautiful Cecilia, close in Sophy’s age, and Charles Rivenhall, the eldest son and executor of the estate. After arriving at Berkeley Square, Sophy can quickly see she’s needed to set a great many things to rights in her family’s world: Charles and his terrible temper must be contained — and his engagement to Eugenia Wraxton, a pious and droll woman, cannot stand; the infatuation Cecilia has for handsome poet Augustus Fawnhope must also come to an end; and the children need some joy in their lives — coming in the form of Jacko, the pet monkey Sophy entrances them with upon first stepping out of her carriage. And despite any of their efforts to resist her charms — or their anger at her turning their world upside down — it’s impossible for anyone not to love the Grand Sophy.

Myself included! Heyer’s novel of manners, family and love is witty, fun, entertaining and romantic. Sophy Stanton-Lacy is such a powerful presence in the story, you’d think everyone else would be totally washed out — but that couldn’t be further from true. Each character comes to life through Heyer’s spot-on descriptions and eye for detail, letting us know just what kind of a numbskull the dowdy Lord Bromford is without having to beat us over the head with the facts. As a writer, her touch is light — but very effective. And I would have loved to go “for a turn” in the phaeton of one Lord Charlbury or Mr. Charles Rivenhall, I’ll tell you that! I love the romantic English turns of phrase, and Heyer’s language seems as authentic as I can imagine.

Though I’m quite the Jane Austen fan and love historical fiction, I was a little worried that the language and syntax of the writing would overwhelm me — but definitely not. I found the entire book easily readable and digestable, and I had a hard time putting it down. I even considered taking an hour of vacation time in order to finish the book on a lunch break! The unexpected turns in the story kept it fresh and lively, and I couldn’t have asked for a better — or happier — ending . . . though I was sad to see it end. One of my favorite books this year!


5 out of 5!

ISBN: 140221894X ♥ Purchase from AmazonHeyer at Austenfans.com
Review copy provided by publisher

Book review: ‘Along For The Ride’ by Sarah Dessen

along_for_the_rideThe summer before she starts college, overachiever Auden West makes the unexpected decision to spend her vacation with her father, stepmother Heidi and newborn baby sister Thisbe in their beachside town of Colby. Since her parents’ divorce two years ago, Auden has thrown herself completely into education and ignored any pull at having a social life. Without friends and tired of trying to get the attention of her intense mother, a well-respected college professor, Auden decides to get on “beach time.”

But any hope she’d had of spending time with her father — a once-successful novelist — are thwarted as Robert West holes himself up in his office daily, trying to grind out chapters of a new book which will catapult him back into literary stardom. And there’s another problem bringing down the walls of the West beach home: baby Thisbe just can’t stop screaming. Ever. Overworked, exhausted and at her wit’s end, Heidi comes to rely upon Auden for assistance in navigating the troubled waters of new motherhood and a tense relationship with Auden’s dad. She can only do so much, though — and when she meets Eli, a fellow insomniac who also wanders the town’s sleepy streets late at night, Auden begins to see just how much she have missed while spending her life trying (in vain) to gain her parents’ approval and attention.

What I loved about Along For The Ride — and all of Dessen’s works — is her uncanny ability to blend family stories with romance, friendship and, in many cases, a larger “social issue.” In this novel we’re talking about the children of divorce — and I think she explores that well without it ever becoming treacly. For me, Dessen’s works feature characters about as authentic as they come. I loved watching Auden change, trying more and more of what she never thought she could do, or would be interested in — and watching her friendships develop with Maggie, Leah and Esther. Life with Eli seemed very real, too, and though I knew ultimately what would probably work out between them, I was still excited to get there. The novel didn’t focus exclusively on family dynamics — nor did it talk about the love interest nonstop. Everything was in balance, producing a fun, thoughtful read.

While I have to admit that Along For The Ride lacked the emotional resonance of some of Dessen’s other works — like Just Listen, my personal favorite — I read it very quickly and really felt for many of the characters, especially Heidi. And the ending was perfect! Definitely recommend her work to anyone looking for a great read with very memorable characters.


4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0670011940 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘The Sugar Queen’ by Sarah Addison Allen

sugar_queenSarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen is one seriously delightful, magical story — and I gobbled it up in two sittings! I probably would have devoured it whole if, you know, real life hadn’t gotten in the way (it always seems to do that!).

Josey Cirrini has been dealing with her mother’s firm disapproval for as long as she can remember — and now, at 27, she’s finally realizing that we can’t try to atone for past mistakes forever, and there certainly comes a time to move forward. She probably wouldn’t have reached this conclusion if Della Lee Baker, a local waitress and ne’er-do-well, hadn’t taken her closet hostage, moving in with a stack of her own worries and a demand to stay for as long as she needs to. After Della Lee discovers Josey’s secret stash of candy (oh, delicious candy!) and paperbacks, the two are bonded through their secrets — and the threat of blackmail.

At Della Lee’s (often tough) encouragement, Josey slowly begins to widen the tiny world in which she’s been sequestered in Bald Slope, North Carolina as the only daughter of local developer and hero Marco Cirrini. She meets Chloe, the owner of a local cafe, and the two strike up an immediate friendship which strengthens as Josey realizes Chloe’s connection to mailman Adam, whom Josey has longed for since the moment she first saw him.

Filled with mystery, suspense, romance and plenty of surprises, I absolutely loved The Sugar Queen. The dynamics between Josey and her mother were intense but realistic, and I adored troubled Della Lee, whose heart was always in the right place. I really related to Chloe and Jake’s relationship — the pull of first love, the intensity of finding someone so special to you. The effort it takes to forgive them for their mistakes… which turns out to take no effort at all. Addison Allen’s descriptions of their relationship really struck a chord with me.

And though magic is a recurring theme through the novel, it never seems strange or unrealistic — it feels right, an awesome and whimsical touch in a very fantastic story. Was it a tad predictable at times? Perhaps — but that bothered me little. I knew the journey getting there would be worth it, and there still plenty of unexpected moments to keep me flipping the pages fast.

I loved Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, and I have to say that I found this one just as entrancing — if not more so. She has a way of immediately drawing you into a story, surrounding you as though you’re caught in a silvery snowstorm. Highly recommended!


4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0553384848 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Charmed Thirds’ by Megan McCafferty

charmed_thirdsAfter finishing Megan McCafferty’s Charmed Thirds, the third installment in the Jessica Darling series, I had a dream that Marcus Flutie and I were traveling on a fast, red train across Europe. Marcus had just gotten into some crazy altercation resulting in a busted lip and black eye — oh, that guy! — and I was tending to his wounds on our way to Germany, or Switzerland, or somewhere mountainous and cold. He wrapped his arms around me, moved his lips close to mine and —

Ahem.

True story.

Yes, I’ve definitely found myself a new literary crush — and these books have definitely gotten into my brain. They’re swiftly moving up to almost-favorite-book-series-ever territory (behind Harry Potter, natch).

From the back cover:

 Jessica Darling’s in college!

Things are looking up for Jessica Darling. She has finally left her New Jersey hometown/hellhole for Columbia University in New York City; she’s more into her boyfriend, Marcus Flutie, than ever (so what if he’s at a Buddhist college in California?); and she’s making new friends who just might qualify as stand-ins for her beloved best friend, Hope.

But Jessica soon realizes that her bliss might not last. She lands an internship at a snarky Brooklyn-based magazine, but will she fit in with the überhip staff (and will she even want to)? As she and Marcus hit the rocks, will she end up falling for her GOPunk, neoconservative RA … or the hot (and married!) Spanish grad student she’s assisting on a summer project … or the oh-so-sensitive emo boy down the hall? Will she even make it through college now that her parents have cut her off financially? And what do the cryptic one-word postcards from Marcus really mean?

 

Oh, Jessica — it’s a whole new world! Columbia is certainly a far cry from life in Pineville, New Jersey — and what we have on our hands now is an older, more jaded heroine. I know lots of readers have been up in arms about all the changes in Jessica, and I definitely see where they’re coming from. As Jessica leaves high school behind (or does she?), her entire viewpoint shifts.

Charmed Thirds chronicles Jess’s entire college experience — from the early days of freshman year through her anticlimatic December graduation. That’s a pretty serious chunk of time to cover in one novel as McCafferty basically skips from semester break to semester break. But I felt the pacing was appropriate, and I’m not sure I would have wanted to really dwell on all those long academic days in between summer vacations and winter breaks . . . it probably would have ground everything down to a screeching halt.

Jess’s trademark observations in Charmed Thirds lacked much of the spot-on snark of the first two novels, but I can’t say I found her to be a terribly jaded or bitter narrator. I guess at this point, I’ve really gotten to know her — and I don’t hold these “faults” against her. The voice in the novel was just as strong as ever, and I’m more than happy to listen. McCafferty’s writing style is so distinct and commanding — I have no choice but to listen.

I really loved seeing deeper, more meaningful connections between Jessica and her family in this one, and the introduction of niece Marin was really great and adorable. Many of the characters I’ve really liked seemed more fleshed out, too, like Len Levy. His emergence in the story really took me by surprise.

And the drama with Marcus! Oh, there was drama. In a new place with new expectations and really different people, Jessica finds herself inexplicably drawn to a guy who is, basically, her polar opposite — and doesn’t quite know why. She created a mess where there didn’t need to be one, and that was frustrating to watch. But on the same token, I understood her insecurities . . . and could definitely relate to her desire to know if what she had with Marcus was really real, or just “high school” real.

I think it’s really real.

And I have two more books to tear through to find out the answer! But I’m going to pace myself . . . in the fourth book, Jess is starting her first post-college job and battling all of that anxiety. Worried it’ll hit a little too close to home, I’m taking a break from the series and will savor Fourth Comings when the time is right . . . if I can keep myself from reading frantically before then.


4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1400080436 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

Book review: ‘Second Helpings’ by Megan McCafferty

Second Helpings I. Am. Addicted. To. These. Books.

I’m serious. It’s bad. It’s Twilight-level bad — to the point that I’m stopping friends at the bookstore where I worked and shoving a copy into their hands. It’s… embarrassing. And taking over my life.

But I just can’t quit it.

Here’s the nice, tidy description from Amazon — a synopsis much more succinct than anything I could come up with:

Jessica Darling is up in arms again in this much-anticipated, hilarious sequel to Sloppy Firsts. This time, the hyperobservant, angst-ridden teenager is going through the social and emotional ordeal of her senior year at Pineville High. Not only does the mysterious and oh-so-compelling Marcus Flutie continue to distract Jessica, but her best friend, Hope, still lives in another state, and she can’t seem to escape the clutches of the Clueless Crew, her annoying so-called friends. To top it off, Jessica’s parents won’t get off her butt about choosing a college, and her sister Bethany’s pregnancy is causing a big stir in the Darling household.

With keen intelligence, sardonic wit, and ingenious comedic timing, Megan McCafferty again re-creates the tumultuous world of today’s fast-moving and sophisticated teens. Fans of Sloppy Firsts will be reunited with their favorite characters and also introduced to the fresh new faces that have entered Jess’s life, including the hot creative writing teacher at her summer college prep program and her feisty, tell-it-like-it-is grandmother Gladdie. But most of all, readers will finally have the answers to all of their burgeoning questions, and then some: Will Jessica crack under the pressure of senioritis? Will her unresolved feelings for Marcus wreak havoc on her love life? Will Hope ever come back to Pineville? Fall in love with saucy, irreverent Jessica all over again in this wonderful sequel to a book that critics and readers alike hailed as the best high school novel in years.

We open Second Helpings to discover that in a fit of self-loathing, high school senior Jessica has destroyed the diary which stood as a shrine to her obsession with one Marcus Flutie — the text of Sloppy Firsts. After their non-relationship came to a very abrupt end on New Year’s Eve at the end of the first novel, I wasn’t quite sure where we would find Jess and Marcus at the onset of this installment . . . and we found them nowhere, really. As Jess is away for the summer at a creative writing camp and ardently refusing to think and/or talk about Marcus as anyone other than He Who Shall Not Be Named (whoa, Lord Voldemort?), we run through the summer with Jessica and Call Me Chantelle, Jess’s promiscuous and vapid bunkmate.

Then school starts up again. Jessica is grappling with her classmates taking the SATs, applying to colleges and worrying about AP tests — but she stands apart from all of that, so secure in her own intelligence and abilities that school just seems to be . . . whatever. In any other character, this would really irk me — but we know, as readers, that Jessica isn’t like all the other seniors. So I was willing to accept that fact that we wouldn’t be reading about her studying long hours or panicking about biology tests. She’s the certified Class Braniac, right?

And she’s also the Class Loudmouth — known for her scathing editorials and loud opinions regarding the dense, clueless people with whom she shares a class. When an e-mail begins popping up in the inboxes of Pineville High’s seniors — aptly called Pinevile Low — everyone assumes she’s behind the embarrassing, supposedly secret gossip that’s now become fodder for everyone around her. But she isn’t. Isn’t she?

Add in the fact that Jessica now has her heart set on attending Columbia in New York City — recent site of the 9/11 terrorist attack — and the knowledge that her parents will never, ever want her to attend, especially when she’s been offered scholarships to a bevy of other schools, and Jess is ready to panic.

Oh, yeah. And Marcus Flutie, the semi-reformed (but still nonconformist) bad boy she was thisclose to just flat-out falling into crazed love with is now trying to hook her up with his best friend (and fellow Class Brainiac) Len Levy.

I know, it’s a lot going on. Definitely a lot. But I can tell you that I tore through this book as though I had seconds to live — and I had to make peace with the Marcus-and-Jess situation before it was too late. I was far from disappointed! Megan McCafferty’s books are funny, poignant, realistic and just . . . good. Really, really good. I wasn’t psyched about the conclusion of Sloppy Firsts but I didn’t mention it, knowing that I had Second Helpings right behind it. You could probably end the series right after this novel and feel satisfied, but I love knowing that the saga continues as Jessica goes off to college. Which one, you ask? Well, if you haphazardly check out the synopsises like I did, all will be revealed quite quickly. So don’t do that. I say run to the store, grab books one and two, devour them in a day or two — and shoot back over to tell me what you think.

And then you’ll be like me — running to Borders at 9:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, sweaty coupon in hand, looking around like a crazed beast for Charmed Thirds, the next installment in this addictive series. I’ll probably just go ahead and get the fourth one the next time I’m out, too. If I’m stuck on a plane next week — and hanging in the balance between Marcus and Jess’s complicated, exhilarating relationship — I’ll be one unhappy Meg.

5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0609807900 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

Book review: ‘Looking For Alaska’ by John Green

looking_for_alaska Beginning John Green’s Looking for Alaska, we know two things: the entire novel exists in a “before” and an “after.” Reading this from page one, I was immediately filled with a sense of foreboding — everything was leading up to the “after,” and I was terrified of what that would mean. When the shoe eventually dropped, so to speak, I was prepared for it — but, then again, I wasn’t. This isn’t a book that hits you all at once . . . Alaska, this enigma, washes over you in waves.

Our hero here is Miles “Pudge” Halter, a young man who leaves his family for Alabama, where he enrolls in Culver Creek Boarding School. Pudge — a nickname devised by Chip, or “the Colonel,” his new roommate and eventual best friend — leaves the general ordinariness of his adolescence in Florida seeking “the Great Perhaps,” and brings his penchant for memorizing the famous last words with him. Despite his parents’ warnings, Pudge immediately worries he’s fallen in with “the bad crowd” at Culver Creek — the kids dashing down to the Smoking Hole with contraband cigarettes, sipping on Strawberry Hill wine and generally getting up to mischief.

But any of those fears melt away when he meets Alaska Young, a brilliantly beautiful but mysteriously moody young woman who rooms just a few doors down from the Colonel and Pudge. With Takumi and Lara, the five friends spend the first semester of Pudge’s life at Culver Creek reading, loving, learning and attempting to get back at the Weekend Warriors — the crew of rich kids who attend the school during the week, but are free to return home to their mansions and extravagant lifestyles on the weekends. The regular students hate them — particularly Alaska and the Colonel. And all signs seem to point to making them pay for the slights the Warriors have committed against Pudge and the others . . . until things fall apart.

I’ve heard so much about this novel in the past year or so, it was really hard for me to actually sit down and read it. I knew that my expectations were really high, and I was worried that I was dooming myself to not enjoy it from the start. Still, after reading Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, I was interested in his unique storytelling and awesome descriptions — I had to read Alaska. And I’m so glad I did. It’s for moments like this one:

If only we could see the string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing is useless.

Or this:

When adults say, ‘Teenagers think they are invincible’ with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we are never irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they are old. They get scared of losing and failing.

What really holds Looking For Alaska together, for me, was Green’s way with words — and the way in which everything at Culver Creek seems to operate under strict, serious edicts. Until the “after,” life is black and white. Pudge loves Alaska completely, unreservedly, despite his inability to understand her. The Colonel cautions Pudge to “never rat” out the other kids at the school, no matter what offense the other side has committed, and they regard that as a law. Pudge knows that his friends’ incessant drinking and smoking is wrong, but he can’t justify not participating. Unlike in Florida, Pudge needs to be accepted here. He needs to fit in. He chokes on the cigarette the first few times, sure, but then he gets the hang of it. Easy. Black and white.

Of course, in the “after,” nothing is easy. Everything is a mystery. Life continues on for the friends, but none of it is making sense. The pieces don’t fit together — and things fall apart. It’s up to them to make sense of it all — to understand, as Alaska states, the way out of the labyrinth. Even if it takes them, perhaps, their whole lives to determine it.

This novel is powerful — powerful, serious and enveloping. While I never really felt like I was a part of the pranks and adventures, I was definitely content with going along for the ride, though it made my stomach hurt. The structure of this novel — every section serving as a countdown to the “after” — really put me on edge, unable to calm myself down. Everything I read seemed a clue pointing me to the after, where I knew the gravity of whatever happened would be extreme. As the days trickled down and the after approached in earnest, I actually flipped ahead twenty or so pages to see what was going to happen. I really, really had to know. The waiting was the worst — and I figured that the knowing couldn’t be any more terrible.

I don’t know if I was right. But I do know that Looking For Alaska is one of those books that will return to me for quite some time — the tendrils of smoke rings rising up unexpectedly, pulling me back toward them. It raises questions of death and dying, of survival, of loving and of loss. Of how to figure out the things which seem maze-like — impossible. How to move forward. How to seek our own “Great Perhaps.”

And, because I love poetry (and so does Alaska), I’ll leave you with the lines running through my head the entire time I was reading Green’s novel:

“The Second Coming” (1921)
By William Butler Yeats

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 014241221X ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Blog
Personal copy purchased by Meg

GIVEAWAY — Stephanie Snowe’s hilarious ‘Meeting Mr. Wrong’

meeting_mr_wrong In honor of the start of a brand new week, I’m happy to announce my next giveaway — for Stephanie Snowe’s hilarious memoir Meeting Mr. Wrong: The Romantic Misadventures Of A Southern Belle (see my 4-star review and check out Stephanie’s blog).

From the back cover:

‘Don’t email me if you want a supermodel. I’m twenty-two, divorced, and I have twins. I’m also overweight, unattractive, and have no education to speak of. I’m pretty much not going to bring anything to the table except the fact that I’m pretty nice and won’t ask you to pay my bills. Here’s my email address. Don’t email if you’re full of it.’

With this ad, Stephanie Snowe relaunches herself into the world of dating. In this real-life account, she discovers that the search for Mr. Right can include a lot of wrong turns. With light-hearted sass, Stephanie introduces us to each Tom, Dick, and Denny, and their neuroses, pets, mullets, lies, and puking.

A girl can get discouraged having to deal with dive-bombing birds, first-date proposals, and eavesdropping mothers. Is there a knight in shining armor out there with a higher IQ than his horse? Stephanie hopes so. 

 

Want to enter?

I really loved this book, and I’ll be happy to pass it on now to one lucky winner! And, you know, I’ll probably include some other goodies in there, too. For one entry, just leave a comment on this post. Make sure to include your e-mail address. That earns you one entry.

An optional bonus question? Tell me your craziest relationship story — good or bad. I have some good ones, but to protect my “innocent” ex-boyfriends who may or may not be prowling around here, I’ll refrain (for now — but you’ve been warned!).  

And, of course, for one additional entry, blog / Twitter / e-mail / etc. about this contest, and then let me know that you did so by either including me in the post or leaving a separate comment here with the address to your post. One entry per mode of communication!

Contest open to U.S. residents and ends at noon on Friday, March 27. Winner will be chosen by Random.org and e-mailed shortly after.

Good luck!