In Clodagh Murphy’s latest book, Girl in a Spin, politics, public relations and perceptions collide as the lines between fact and fiction gets very bl...moreIn Clodagh Murphy’s latest book, Girl in a Spin, politics, public relations and perceptions collide as the lines between fact and fiction gets very blurry.
Originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
On the outside, Jenny Hannigan looks like a typical party girl: staying out to all hours, hazy memories, and copious amounts of alcohol. Underneath that misleading exterior, however, is a young woman who wants nothing more than the stability she has lacked all her life. When she starts dating Richard Allam, a rapidly rising star politician, she thinks her prayers have been answered. Before she can get her happily ever after, though, she has to face Richard’s not-so-ex wife, the frenzy of the scandal-hungry media and Dev Tennant, PR whiz extraordinaire and Richard’s director of communications. Dev is charged with spinning Jenny in a positive light – a task that proves increasingly difficult as secrets come to light, emotions run high and everyone questions who they really are – and what they really want.
This book had many of the qualities I enjoy: some romance, some politics, one devastatingly handsome hero, and Irish and English people. There was a constant back and forth between the truth and the somewhat factual half-truths told by the characters. Every character had his or her own desires and motivations, making the act of sorting fact from fiction tricky and difficult.
As a politician, Richard’s running on a family values platform, which means spinning the truth about his ex-wife (who’s not so much an ex) and his girlfriend. As the campaign’s director of communications, Dev is trying to make sure every story is a positive story, but even he can’t salvage everything – and he’s not entirely sure he wants to. Meanwhile, Jenny naively believes she’s the perfect girlfriend for Richard, without realizing how the secrets of her past could ruin Richard’s career if the truth ever came out.
In Richard, we have the stereotypical creepy, out-for-himself, midlife crisis politician we love to hate – if only he weren’t so pathetic at the same time. Richard is such a cliche that it would normally bother me, but here, in this story, it works because he comes off mostly as sad and lost. Dev is the perfect reluctant hero, torn between wanting to do what’s right and knowing that he’s obligated to do the opposite.
More than anyone else, though, Girl in a Spin belongs to Jenny. At first glance, Jenny is a trainwreck, foolish and silly, an endless ealking contradiction. But as you get to know her, you start to see just how much of her behavior is a false facade for her insecurity, her vulnerability and her deeply rooted desire for a stable, uncomplicated, fairy-tale life. She has an inner strength she’s often not even aware of. And, though she does seem immature and innocent at times, those same qualities provide her with the determination and confidence she needs to stand up to the naysayers around her.
Even when I wanted to shake some sense into her, I still respected her desire and ability to stay true to herself, while everyone around her was telling her to change. Even when faced with a barrage of constant criticism, she never loses her self-confidence or her resolve to prove everyone wrong. She knows she’s not perfect, so she doesn’t try to be. She just wants to be herself and it’s kind of refreshing that she genuinely believes she can conquer anything if she just tries. Jenny refuses to give up and that’s admirable.
Girl in a Spin‘s strength comes from the characters, which makes the plot lag a bit in the middle of the book, though towards the end, it starts to pick up steam as Richard’s elections draw closer and he, Jenny and Dev all begin to question the truths and lies they’ve told themselves and each other. It’s only once they really begin to be honest with themselves that they figure out what they want. In a fun bit of art imitating life, Girl in a Spin was nicely relevant as I read it in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections in the U.S. The fact that I was an American reader, reading an Irish author’s book about English politics didn’t matter. Some things, it turns out, are universal.
Clodagh Murphy’s Girl in a Spin is highly enjoyable and entertaining, with fabulously flawed characters you end up falling for anyway. I definitely recommend it, even if you do have to cross the Atlantic to find a copy (right now, Murphy's books are only available in the UK and Ireland - but I think Amazon UK will ship to the US.)(less)
You absolutely cannot miss Demonglass, the second book in the series in Rachel Hawkin’s Hex Hall serie...more Originally published on The Librarian Next Door:
You absolutely cannot miss Demonglass, the second book in the series in Rachel Hawkin’s Hex Hall series. Demonglass takes everything good about Hex Hall and makes it better. The mysteries get more complicated, the mythology of the Prodigium deepens and just about everyone is harboring a secret or two. This time, Hawkins shakes things up by moving the setting to England. Outside of the comfort, familiarity and relative safety of Hex Hall, Sophie now has to contend with the Council, the ever-present threat of the Eye and Nick and Daisy, two teenagers who are also demons – demons who should not exist.
Hawkins’ plot twists and turns at breakneck speed and keeps you constantly guessing. Like Sophie, readers are trying to figure out who – and what – to trust. Best of all, Sophie is still Sophie, with her trademark sarcastic wit that leaves you laughing aloud throughout the book. Just when I thought my girl-crush on Sophie couldn’t get any bigger, I read Demonglass. She’s still wickedly smart, but with just the right amount of vulnerability to make her completely lovable. I was especially glad to see how much stronger and tougher she was in this book. No longer content to wait for things to happen, Sophie takes charge, demands answers and goes looking for them when she doesn’t get them.
One of my favorite parts of the book was Sophie’s developing relationship with her dad. It’s clear from the start that Sophie is a regular chip off the old demon block. Her quick retorts and snarky comebacks are mirrored in her father’s dry sense of humor and it was fun to watch them realize how alike they really are. Despite his years of absence, James obviously cares for Sophie a great deal and though I’m certain there’s still a lot more to learn about him (and Sophie’s mother), I really loved the inclusion of a “good dad” in the story.
But for those more interested in boys, never fear! There’s plenty of swoon – and kissing – in Demonglass with Hawkins’ well-crafted supernatural love triangle. It would be easy to say that Sophie has to choose between bad boy / potential archenemy Archer and strong and silent Cal, but it’s not that simple. There is more to both guys than even Sophie knows and I really liked both of them. I still waver back and forth when trying to decide who I think Sophie should ultimately end up with. Kudos to Hawkins for writing a love triangle where all options are appealing – to readers and to the main character.
The most frustrating and aggravating part of this book (and I do mean that in the very best way) was the ending. Hawkins ends with a tantalizing cliffhanger that leaves you demanding the third book RIGHT NOW and in agony when you realize you’ll have to wait a year to find out what happens next. Though some answers are given, many more new questions arise – as a result, I now have plenty of theories about Book Three. Still, the ending is worth it because everything that comes before it is so exciting and good. As Rachel Hawkins is fond of saying, this book is made of awesomesauce and you would be crazy to miss it.(less)
The DUFF. The “designated ugly fat friend.” That’s what Wesley Rush calls Bianca Piper before she throws her Coke in his face. Bianca’s not really ugl...more The DUFF. The “designated ugly fat friend.” That’s what Wesley Rush calls Bianca Piper before she throws her Coke in his face. Bianca’s not really ugly or fat, but she thinks she isn’t as pretty or beautiful as her friends. Deeply cynical, but ultimately loyal, Bianca doesn’t have time for Wesley’s games. Her mother took off and has been absent for months, while her father teeters precariously on the edge of sobriety. Then one day, desperate for something to take her mind of her problems, she kisses Wesley and realizes she likes it. A lot. Bianca and Wesley embark on a clandestine “not-really-friends with benefits” arrangement. But as things heat up between them, Bianca realizes that there’s a lot more to Wesley than what he shows to others and, if she’s not careful, she could end up falling for the one guy she swears she hates.
Bianca is a familiar character with a distinctive voice. I found her incredibly realistic and relatable, especially when she was observing and commenting on the people around her. She uses cynicism and sarcasm to deflect deeper emotions and has a snarky sense of humor that isn’t fully appreciated by her peers. Since she narrates the story, you get a good sense of just how far she’s willing to go to avoid having to deal with her problems and you understand exactly why she does what she does. Most of the other supporting characters fell a bit flat in comparison, though Keplinger does give Wesley a nice bit of “bad on the outside, good on the inside” flair.
The DUFF is a young adult novel, so I especially liked that Keplinger depicted a (mostly) healthy view of teenage sex, complete with a few requisite mentions of birth control. Perhaps because Keplinger is a teen herself (the book was published when she was 18), there’s no judgment involved when Bianca and Wesley’s relationship becomes intimate – just fact. There’s also an awareness of the consequences, particularly when Bianca realizes that her feelings for Wesley are much more complicated than she would have liked.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that I loved The DUFF. The novel lacks that touch of nuance and subtlety. Little is left to the reader’s imagination as Keplinger more or less spells everything out. I never had to wonder what Bianca was thinking or what Wesley’s intentions were, because it was all there on the page. As I mentioned above, Keplinger wrote this novel when she herself was a teen, so that’s what readers get: a book about teens written by a teen. There’s a certain finesse missing that more experiences authors usually have. While this doesn’t take away from the good stuff, it does make for an overall weaker story.
Mostly, though, I think my experience with The DUFF was ruined by hype. There was so much buzz and chatter going on about this book in the book blogosphere and I am generally quite susceptible to hype – I fall for it all the time. So I think my expectations for reading Keplinger’s debut novel were higher than maybe they should have been. All of the positive, glowing, raving reviews set me up for a story that just wasn’t there when I read the book. I guess I didn’t see what others saw.
According to a quick Google search, Keplinger has another book coming out in 2011. I’ll be interested to see how that one compares to The DUFF and I’d also be interested to see how she progresses and evolves as a writer. I loved the idea behind this story and there were good aspects of The DUFF. In the end, though, I found myself wishing for more things left to the imagination and thought it was mostly “okay.” (less)
So here are the ten reasons I loved Sarah MacLean’s new book.
10. Sarah MacLean is from Rhode Island. Maybe that’s not a good reason for you, but it’s...more So here are the ten reasons I loved Sarah MacLean’s new book.
10. Sarah MacLean is from Rhode Island. Maybe that’s not a good reason for you, but it’s a good reason for me. Rhode Island is a small state. We get lost in the shuffle or compared to the size of icebergs floating in the icy, arctic waters. So whenever someone from Rhode Island does something awesome, I feel the need to be “Rhode Island REPRESENT!” Also, I see it as my solemn duty to evangelize to the rest of the world that Rhode Islanders are more than just Elizabeth Hasselbeck from The View and the guy who told President Obama to “shove it.”
9. The book is the second in a series and the first one was great. Ten Ways continues the story of the St. John siblings. Gabriel’s story comprised the first book, Nine Rules to Break, and it is one of my favorite Regency romance novels. I’ve read it so often that the binding is all worn down. So, naturally, it stands to reason that the second book in the same series by the same author would be wonderful as well – and it was.
8. It’s a Regency romance, so there’s lords and ladies and dukes, oh my! Given my obsession with enthusiasm for English Tudor and Georgian history, I really should have been born years earlier so I too could wear fancy ball gowns, waltz with notorious rakes and libertines and ride in carriages. Instead, I can live vicariously through books. I love nearly all Regency romances, but I especially love the ones featuring members of the aristocracy and nobility, two classes so far removed from my own life that I can’t help but be fascinated.
7. Of course, no book is a good book without good dialogue and, in Ten Ways, plentiful witty, clever banter abounds. In the grand tradition of Jane Austen’s spirited heroines, all good historical romances (like MacLean’s novels) should feature delicious wordplay and wickedly entertaining back-and-forth between many of the characters, engaging readers and eliciting laughs.
6. No romance novel is complete without a devilishly handsome hero! MacLean kicks it up a notch by giving Nicholas St. John a few secrets, one well-placed roguish scar and the classic trait of being entirely unable to resist a damsel in distress. And, as if all of that wasn’t enough, he’s a genuinely good person too, determined to help others and take care of those who need protecting. Swoon!
5. And what good is a hero without a kick-ass awesome heroine, with secrets of her own? Lady Isabel may need some assistance, but she’s no damsel in distress. She’s strong and independent, perfectly capable to taking care of herself and infinitely resourceful. She’s also resolutely determined to do things her way, even when that infuriates Nicholas.
4. One thing that makes Ten Ways stand up from other Regency romances is the undercurrent of feminism throughout the book. Isabel may be low on funds, but she’s essentially been running her estate for years, a task not often left to women. More importantly, though, she provides safe haven for women looking to escape desperate situations, resulting in a home run entirely by strong, capable women. It’s girl power, Regency-style.
3. It’s a romance novel, so of course, there’s lots of smooching. It wouldn’t really be a romance if there wasn’t some kind of smooching. Isabel and Nicholas’ chemistry is evident from the moment they meet and while it’s fun to watch them try to avoid and delay the inevitable, there’s a sense of satisfaction when they finally realize what you’ve known for chapters: they belong together.
2. No, really, there’s A LOT of smooching. Romance novels can run the gamut from tame to sizzling hot, with every sort of variation in between. Ten Ways doesn’t shy away from the fun, sexy times AT ALL. Nicholas and Isabel are not, after all, repressed Victorians! I’ve heard people argue that pre-marital fun, sexy times are unrealistic to a Regency romance and that’s a perfectly fine opinion to hold. But I’d rather just enjoy the chemistry. And the smooching.
1. Last, but certainly not least, Ten Ways concludes with a sweet and happily-ever-after ending. Obstacles have been overcome, mistakes have been corrected, forgiveness has been obtained and all is right in the world. Perfect endings are rare in real life, which makes them all the more rewarding in fiction.
You don’t have to read the previous book first to enjoy Ten Ways, though I’d recommend that one as well. In fact, I have to confess that, as much as I enjoyed Ten Ways, I still prefer Callie – the heroine from Nine Rules – more, as she is like the Regency equivalent of me (sort of). I’d also love to know what happens to some of the supporting characters in both books, which means I’ll just have to wait and see.(less)
Miss Juliana Fiori is no simpering, quiet English miss. She lives her life boldly and passionately. She d...more Originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
Miss Juliana Fiori is no simpering, quiet English miss. She lives her life boldly and passionately. She disregards the rules of society and never thinks twice about saying exactly what’s on her mind. She is a favorite of London’s gossips, both because of her behavior and her scandalous family. She is everything Simon Pearson, Duke of Leighton, wishes to avoid. He places the highest importance on having an unimpeachable reputation. When Juliana’s actions put Simon’s reputation – and his secrets – at risk, he decides she needs to learn a lesson. But Juliana has plans of her own and sets out to prove that no one – not even Simon – can stay cold and unfeeling forever.
Sarah MacLean’s 11 Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart is the third (and, regrettably, final) book in the Love by Numbers / St. John siblings trilogy. I ADORED the first two books and therefore had high hopes and expectations for this third book. But I was also nervous – how can an author possibly top two of my favorite books from 2010? Well, I don’t know exactly how she did it (I personally suspect magic), but MacLean has delivered a thoroughly wonderful, thrilling and delicious book that is a worthy ending to this series. 11 Scandals is easily my favorite of the three books, thanks in part to the undeniable attraction between the two main characters.
On the surface, Juliana and Simon could not be more different. She is stubborn, determined and vibrant; he is cool and logical, always doing and saying the right thing. But they both put up false, fronts, hiding behind carefully cultivated personas and hiding so much of their true selves. Juliana pretends to scorn society’s opinion of her, but underneath her bravado is vulnerability and a longing for acceptance. Simon rarely deviates from the appropriate behavior, yet still struggles with the weight and responsibility of the dukedom and his family’s secrets, pushing aside his own desires for the sake of others. In reality, they are perfectly matched. While their chemistry is immediately obvious, the real treat is watching them discover the person behind the facade, learning new things about a person they thought they already knew.
MacLean is a wonderful storyteller, crafting a tale that draws you in and compels you to keep reading. Just when you think you’ve figured out how Juliana or Simon will act (or react) in a specific circumstance, MacLean manages to surprise – and delight – you with their behavior. And even when you’re convinced that there will be a happy ending, a few twists and turns (that I definitely didn’t see coming) pop up to keep you guessing. 11 Scandals is also quite humorous; I laughed aloud at many of Juliana’s antics and adventures, but Simon and Gabriel’s responses were even better. Having older brothers myself, I know exactly how exasperating a younger sister can be!
One of my favorite aspects of this book was the inclusion of characters from the previous two books. Of course, Juliana’s brothers Gabriel and Nicholas show up, along with their wives Callie and Isabel. But I was also glad to see members of Callie’s family and the women of Minerva House in Yorkshire. It felt comforting to see familiar faces and favorite characters from the past two books, especially since 11 Scandals helped provide a sense of completeness to all of the stories. (Spoiler-y side note: poor Benedict! He needs a chance to find his happy ending.)
11 Scandals will make you laugh with (and at!) Juliana, but your heart will also ache for her. You will find Simon (and even Gabriel and Nick, to lesser extents) infuriating and arrogant and then your heart will melt when they do something worthy and heroic. This book worth every minute of angst, worry, swoon and happiness. Juliana and Simon’s happy ending is hard-won and therefore that much more satisfying, because you feel as if they’ve fought for it and earned it. I cannot say enough good things about Sarah MacLean’s 11 Scandals to Start – it’s funny, sexy, entertaining and I highly recommend you read it.
(I received this book as an e-book ARC from Net Galley. I read it as part of Historical Tapestry’s 2011 Historical Fiction Challenge.)(less)
Review originally posted at The Librarian Next Door:
Classical literature is classic for a reason: the stories – and characters – have weathered the ch...more Review originally posted at The Librarian Next Door:
Classical literature is classic for a reason: the stories – and characters – have weathered the changes in time and history and yet have still remained beloved. Fictional characters become real to readers, forging literary friendships and delighting us over and over again with adventures that never seem to grow old. Indeed, where would I be – where would any of us be – without Lizzie Bennett, Anne Shirley or Laura Ingalls? There heroines played a large role in my childhood and now, thanks to a thoughtful book by Erin Blakemore, I’m still learning from them as an adult.
The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder is a series of essays that explore the lives of the female authors and their famous heroines, extracting important and vital lessons. Blakemore digs deep into the authors’ pasts to uncover how their own lives informed the creation of their characters’ lives and what, exactly, a 21st century woman – a heroine in her own life – can learn from them. Each heroine/author pair is examined through the lens of one particular quality; Jane Austen and Lizzie Bennett, for example, embody “self” while Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre are, of course, “steadfastness.”
The Heroine’s Bookshelf may not have been written for me, but it may as well have. In the introduction, Blakemore reveals her own bookworm tendencies, thereby guaranteeing that I would love her and this book:
“Call me a coward if you will, but when the lines between duty and sanity blur, you can usually find me curled up with a battered book, reading as if my mental health depended on it. And it does, for inside the books I love I find food, respite, escape, and perspective. I find something else too: heroines and authors, hundreds of them, women whose real and fictitious lives have covered the terrain I too must tread.”
From the start, I knew I would find kindred spirits in this book, but I also found a sense of comfort and familiarity, a feeling that comes with revisiting literary friends I know so well. This book also conveys a sense of discovery. I was pleasantly surprised to learn things that I didn’t know before, both about the authors I’ve loved since I was a child and the characters who have become as real to me as any living person. I also truly enjoyed the fact that Blakemore included many of my favorites (Austen, Bronte and Alcott), but also exposed me to a few heroines I’m learning to love in a new way for the first time (I’m looking at you, Miss Scarlett O’Hara).
One of the reasons I think The Heroine’s Bookshelf works so well is because these authors and their heroines struggle with issues that are universal. There’s a timelessness to these stories, which makes it easy to go back and re-read them time and again and still find a new way of looking at them. While my 21st century live might be very different from Lizzie Bennett’s economic and marriage woes or Mary Lennox’s magic garden, there are still things they can teach me, still ways in which our lives do connect. For all of their flaws – and for all of my own – these heroines are women who triumph, women who find their own way, and there’s certainly a lot to be said for taking that lesson and applying it to my own life.
Every reader has his or her own relationships with and memories of these heroines. These women mean different things to each of us and that’s part of what makes The Heroine’s Bookshelf so great. While the lessons therein are largely universal, every reader will have a different experience with this book because we all have our own way to relating to these fabulous characters. My Lizzie Bennett might be quite different from yours, and that’s okay because neither one is wrong. The Heroine’s Bookshelf is a must-read for any literature lover, for any girl or woman who grew up with these characters or anyone who just loves looking beyond the surface and seeing more of a character or author.
“As women, we are the protagonists of our own personal novels. We are called upon to be the heroines of our own lives, not supporting characters…luckily, we’re not required to be brave to be heroines…all we have to do is show up for our own stories. Even if the reality is less glamorous than fiction, even when it feels impossible to tap into a spirit that’s bigger and better than you, but IS you, we’re called upon to lead big, sloppy, frustrating lives.”