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
Review copy provided by publisher

Book review: ‘It Happened One Autumn’ by Lisa Kleypas

happened_one_autumnWhen Lillian Bowman and Marcus, Lord Westcliff meet each other first in Lisa Kleypas’s Secrets of A Summer Night, their dislike for each other is palpable. Lillian finds Marcus arrogant, haughty and boring; Marcus views Lillian as loud-mouthed and improper. And Marcus doesn’t hesitate to quickly lump her in with friend and fellow wallflower Annabelle as little more than a “husband hunter” — one of the countless women on a quest to marry a rich, titled Englishman, no matter the cost.

But things change in It Happened One Autumn, the second book in Kleypas’s Wallflowers series. As Lillian — the daughter of a wealthy Americans who made their fortune in the soap industry, but lack the “blue blood” so demanded to be accepted in privileged circles — returns to Westcliff’s Stony Cross Park with her family, she begins to see Marcus more in his natural element . . . and, in turn, he begins to let his guard down. While the two first avoid one another in mutual annoyance, Marcus surprises Lillian and her sister Daisy by joining them in a game of rounders. Shocked that Marcus could have fun for even one moment, Lillian’s surprise gives way to interest . . . and quickly to infatuation. Marcus returns the sentiments, though he adamently refuses to acknowledge them. Until . . . one kiss from Lillian keeps Marcus up at night, wondering how he could possibly have feeling for someone he despised just days ago. Until . . . another wealthy suitor shows an avid interest in her — and she in him, hoping to get her parents’ demands that she marry a wealthy man off her shoulders. And until Marcus realizes he could lose her forever — if he doesn’t just lose that stodgy, straight-lipped English demeanor and do something about his feelings.

Like Secrets Of A Summer Night, I really got into this story. I never thought I would be so into historical romance, but this series has totally changed my opinion of what a great romance novel should be. I loved the interplay between sisters Daisy and Lillian, and so enjoyed the constant banter between Lillian and Marcus. Readers can see from the get-go that for all their feigned indifference to one another, they can’t help staring at each other sidelong from across any room. But the build-up was great and believable, and I loved getting to know all of the characters from Kleypas’s first novel better. I thought the dramatic turn of events toward the end was a bit odd . . . and had to chuckle a bit at the antics. But I guess it fit well into the greater whole, and I’m willing to suspend my belief a bit to enjoy a great story!

I’m looking forward to the next installment and seeing what’s in store for another dear wallflower . . . and can’t wait to see the progression of Marcus and Lillian’s relationship from here.

4 out of 5

ISBN: 0060562498 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Secrets Of A Summer Night’ by Lisa Kleypas

secrets_summer Here we go — my first serious foray into the romance genre! I picked up Lisa Kleypas’s A Wallflower Christmas this past December, wanting to read a holiday-themed novel to get me in the spirit. After some light research, I realized my sister andI had inadvertantly stumbled into a full-blown series — and just read the final book! That’s what I get for not looking it up on LibraryThing first. Regardless, I picked up Kleypas’s Secrets of a Summer Night, the first book in the Wallflowers series — and loved it!

Annabelle Peyton has a serious problem — after the death of her father and the collapse of the family’s finances, she, her mother and brother Jeremy are in a desperate situation. In her mid 20s, still unmarried and part of an illustrious group of “wallflowers” who seem to be shunned by the upper echelons of English society, beautiful Annabelle has some hard decisions to make: will she continue to attempt to snag the affections of a mawkish, geeky lord, or is she doomed to become the well-paid mistress — and unwed maid — of another?

Enter Simon Hunt — the wealthy, handsome and charistmatic businessman who remains on the outside of well-to-do British society himself. While Annabelle and fellow Wallflowers Lillian, Daisy and Evie hatch a desperate plan to win the attentions of a wealthy, if timid, lord at the estate of Lord Westcliff, Simon has plans of his own — namely, to finally win over Annabelle, a woman he’s admired for years. Annabelle is used to deflecting Simon Hunt’s attention, however — until she’s forced to admit there’s something tender to him she hadn’t perceived before.

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Book review: ‘A Wallflower Christmas’ by Lisa Kleypas

wallflower_xmasOther than a few Danielle Steele novels I rifled through a few years back, Lisa Kleypas’s A Wallflower Christmas was my first real foray into the romance genre. And it was pretty interesting! I have this annoying habit of picking up books from the middle of a series lately — or, in this case, from the very end of a series — but I managed to enjoy this Christmas novel without knowing too much the back story.

Sisters Lillian and Daisy have rich, aristocratic husbands, live in fine estates in England and are extraordinarily close to their good friends — the “wallflowers” of the title — and their family. Daisy and Lillian’s eldest brother Rafe Bowman is still a bachelor due to inherit his father’s very lucrative manufacturing business — but only if he plays his cards right. And in Thomas Bowman’s world, all of Rafe’s “accomplishments” and diligence mean nothing if he doesn’t have a rich, suitable and blue-blooded wife at this side to bring greater honor to the family name.

Enter Lady Natalie, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy Englishmen, and her dutiful if outspoken cousin, companion and chaperone Hannah Appleton. Natalie’s father believes a match with Rafe could be largely beneficial to both families, but he wants Hannah to investigate the young man as he arrives from America. Lillian, Daisy and their friends set up a tea in order to introduce Hannah to the ladies — and Hannah accepts, hoping to gather information on their brother. As usual, Rafe’s reputation precedes him — and nearly scandalizes Hannah, who is duly shocked by his lack of English propriety and quick, teasing smile. And it doesn’t take too long for this unlikely twosome to pull together like magnets.

At a little more than 200 pages, A Wallflower Christmas was just a light, fun read. Unlike some historical fiction I’ve read in the past, I was able to get caught up in the cadence of the “old tyme” words and language without finding myself lost and confused. The dialogue was realistic, the scenes entertaining, and the characters well-drawn. I found myself grinning at Rafe’s antics — as well as Hannah’s steadfast attempts to dissuade him from pursuing her. The plot reminded me a bit of “Becoming Jane,” one of my favorite films based on the life of Jane Austen. Rafe Bowman embodies a sort of Thomas Lefroy-type character: lean, smug, wealthy, devastatingly handsome, clever and condescending — but with a big heart and propensity to love and defy familial expectations. I’d venture to say many women are looking for their own Rafe . . . but if they can’t find him now, A Wallflower Christmas is a great way to escape from that hunt!

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0312533780 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy borrowed from my sister

Book review: ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’ by Karen Joy Fowler

Like many literature buffs, I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen — so I found it hard to believe I hadn’t picked up Karen Joy Fowler’s bestselling The Jane Austen Book Club yet. I grabbed it at work and set down to finish it — and I did devour it in just a few servings. But it didn’t exactly inspire me.

The Book Club centers around the complicated, often painful lives of its members — five women and one man living in California. While two of the women are lifelong friends, the rest all meet and convene by chance, taking turns sharing their love of Austen through the re-reading of her six famous novels.

Prudie is a high school French teacher trapped in her own lack of self-confidence. Sylvia is dealing with the sudden end of her complicated marriage, which ended in infidelity — as her daughter Allegra struggles to balance her need to take risks with finding stability in her relationship with her parents and girlfriend Corinne. Sylvia’s best friend Jocelyn, an avid dog and literature lover, has never been married — but hasn’t been too bothered by her singularity. Until the club’s only male member Grigg shows up, touting a tome of Austen’s works and a passion for science fiction the ladies don’t quite understand. Saucy Bernadette, the group’s oldest member, rounds out the piece-meal crowd.

My main trouble with The Jane Austen Book Club is that, despite my most valiant efforts, I really felt nothing for the characters. If they weren’t coming off as cold, abrasive and indifferent to the world around them, they were condescending, mean-spirited or lifeless. The stories weren’t exactly leaping off the page for me . . . they were more limping along than anything.

While I loved the integration of Jane Austen’s quotes and ideas through the entire book and enjoyed the brief discussions of her works during the club’s meetings, this pleasure wasn’t really enough to sustain me. Fowler’s writing style is understated and more than competent, but I still didn’t feel a pull for any of the women or Grigg — the closest I got was through Sylvia, who struggles with her estranged husband’s wanton entrances and exits. And I liked Prudie enough when she actually stood up for herself late in the novel — but absolutely despised her habit of interjecting little French phrases through the book. Pretentious much?

I’ve seen the movie adaptation of the Book Club, and I have to say that I enjoyed that experience far more than this one. The film seemed to dive much deeper into the actual feelings and thoughts behind the actions of these people — and showed with more clarity why they became who they are. And how they all found themselves together on one of their front porches, an open Austen in their laps. As it was, Fowler’s method of passing quickly back and forth between the past and the present was distracting. I couldn’t get into either portion of those stories.

If you need an Austen fix, I’d get the film instead — or check out Syrie James’ The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, a satisfying novel based on Austen’s loves and losses.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0452289009 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Oh, the Magical Christmas Cat

I came across this book the other day at work over in Romance and I literally burst out laughing. I’m not sure what it is exactly about this cover — the daydreaming cat? the snowglobe? the “magic”? — but I can’t stop chuckling every time I see it! I was trying to describe it to my mom yesterday, but she couldn’t quite grasp the hilarity without seeing it.

Here, grasp:

Now, I should point out in the sake of fairness that I have absolutely no idea what this book is about. I’m sure these authors are quite lovely people — and their stories could be artistic, faceted and enchanting! But this cover. The cover! And The Magical Christmas Cat? Really?

Book review: ‘Apart From the Crowd’ by Anna McPartlin

What Anna McPartlin’s novel Apart from the Crowd lacks in lyrical writing or impressive prose, it more than makes up for with an engaging story, warm characters and a dynamic plot I found anything but predictable. In an interesting character study without a ton of “action,” Apart From the Crowd was a winning, moving story of family and friends struggling with mistakes and wrong turns they’ve made that have brought them to the present — flaws and all.

Mary stands as the central character of the novel, but there are really so many people in Kenmare, Ireland to examine, it’s sometimes difficult to keep all of their turmoils straight. Mary is struggling to move on from a life marred by tragedy — the death of her mother, her boyfriend and her young son, though not all at once, have come to define her life completely. She’s often felt trapped with their ghosts as she journeys through a quiet life in Kerry with Mr. Monkels, her dedicated dog companion. The arrival of Sam Sullivan — packing plenty of angst, secrecy and pain of his own as he hopes to settle down and reconnect with his beloved grandmother’s homeland — changes her life irreparably. Slowly and with plenty of gentle guidance, Sam and Mary come to be understood and ease each other out of the woods, so to speak.

While Sam and Mary do seem like the “central” relationship in the book, they’re definitely not the only characters of importance. The book is sprinkled with fully-developed cousins, aunts, grandmothers and lifelong friends, all of whom people the novel in a warm, engaging way. Mary’s cousin Ivan is also struggling to move on after his wife leaves him for another man, taking their two children in tow. Penny, Mary’s childhood best friend and journalist, has become a raging alcoholic after ending a long, painful affair with her first love, Adam — a man who married someone else while Penny was out trying to make a name for herself in the world. Sam’s American girlfriend Mia is searching for a way to make her identity her own — and stop living her life assuming another heartache is just around the corner.

So, you see, everyone has their troubles.

If it sounds dark and unpleasant, I can tell you sincerely that it’s not. McPartlin creates a winning character study and explores all sorts of “complex” issues with a light hand, discussing death, grief, drug and alcohol abuse with compassion. While her writing was certainly a bit clunky at points and I didn’t have to look too hard to find contextual and grammatical errors a few times, I was actually able to ignore these usually dealbreaker issues and be swallowed up in the story. I read on from page to page, drinking it all in. The book is full of delicate ambiance and beautiful scenery, all described well. And the progression of Sam and Mary’s relationship was surprisingly authentic — slow, realistic and kind.

Without giving anything away (I hope), there were several surprises I didn’t see coming — and with which I was definitely not disappointed. While not everything is perfect by the end of the story, things are good — and on their way to being excellent. And that’s just fine by me.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1416569723 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Information
Review copy obtained as a perk of being a bookseller