A prequel of sorts to Valentine's Holland Springs series, Drive Me Crazy showcases some familiar characters and introduces a few new ones as well. I d...moreA prequel of sorts to Valentine's Holland Springs series, Drive Me Crazy showcases some familiar characters and introduces a few new ones as well. I didn't enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed the Holland Springs books, but it was an entertaining way to pass an evening. (less)
At first glance, it seems Gabriel Delange has it all – a successful career as one of France’s top chefs,...more Originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
At first glance, it seems Gabriel Delange has it all – a successful career as one of France’s top chefs, his own three-star restaurant, and all the fame that goes with it. But Gabriel has never forgotten his past, and how his old mentor Pierre Manon pushed him out of the way and claimed Gabriel’s work as his own. So, naturally, Gabriel can’t stand to see the sight of his famous dessert, the Rose, on the cover of Pierre’s new cookbook. Pierre’s daughter, Jolie, wrote the cookbook and is now faced with keeping Gabriel’s lawsuit from her father as he recovers from a stroke. Jolie agrees to a devil’s bargain with Gabriel, helping him write his own cookbook in exchange for dropping the lawsuit. But fraternizing with the enemy is more dangerous than it looks; Jolie is in danger of falling in love, and Gabriel just might end up rethinking his plans for revenge.
The Chocolate Rose is Laura Florand’s third book in her Amour et Chocolat series, featuring the great (ficitional) pâtisseries and restaurants in France. In this novel, the action shifts from the busy bustle of Paris to the lazy, sun-drenched villages of Provence and the Côte d’Azur. Like the previous two books in the series, Florand brings a wealth of rich details to make readers feel as if they are right there with the characters, walking down ancient cobbled stone streets, breathing in the scent of jasmine and lavender. She also sprinkles the novel with French phrases and words, which may not work for every reader, but as an intermediate Francophone, I really enjoyed having the French mixed with the English (especially because Gabriel swears in French quite a bit – they don’t teach you those words in school).
I’m not always a fan of the “blackmail that turns into love” type of plot. If it’s not well written, it can end up feeling manipulative, instead of romantic. But in The Chocolate Rose, it works, and that’s in large part due to the wonderfully flawed, utterly frustrating and entirely loveable main characters, Gabriel and Jolie. In many ways, Gabriel is typical of Florand’s heroes: arrogant, self-assured and supremely confident – until Jolie walks into his kitchen and he completely falls apart. For all of his success, Gabriel still harbors some self-doubt and insecurity, in part stemming from his history with Jolie’s father, and in part because he’s so adorably clueless when it comes to women. Like Jolie, there were times when I wanted to slap him silly and then there were times when I wanted to hug him until his vulnerability went away.
I found Jolie harder to read; she kept so much to herself and spent so much time sacrificing her own desires. There were moments when I felt she was being too martyr-ish, but I also admired her love and dedication to her father, and her infectious enthusiasm for the art of food. Together, they both learn from each other and by the end of the novel, they are better people as a result.
Having now read three of Laura Florand’s books, one of the things I’ve been consistently impressed by is her ability to vividly describe the scenes in the restaurant kitchens, the pâtisseries, and in France itself. My knowledge of gourmet food and chocolate extends to one simple fact: I like to eat it. But by reading Florand’s words, I’m given a glimpse into these worlds, where the most exquisite plates are created and destroyed within the same breath. Her descriptions make these things and places come alive, so I can picture exactly where Gabriel’s restaurant might be and what it might look like, even though I’ve never been to Provence. Florand’s books drag you into a highly visual world. And I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: yes, this book will make you hungry. Just go with it.
If you haven’t yet discovered Laura Florand and her Amour et Chocolat series, you need to remedy that, immediately. The Chocolate Rose, like the famous dessert itself, is sweet and sumptuous, with a hidden center that will surprise you. Vivid descriptions, fantastic characters and plenty of sensual innuendo can be found within its covers. Find yourself some good chocolate, a comfortable chair and lose yourself in Gabriel and Jolie’s story.
Full disclousre: The author provided me with a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.(less)
So I went back to the beginning and read the first book in the series after reading all the others. I think it's obvious it's the first book, so I did...more So I went back to the beginning and read the first book in the series after reading all the others. I think it's obvious it's the first book, so I didn't like it as much as I love the later ones. But it was fun to see how Dan and Phoebe started, since their relationship is held up as the standard throughout the series. I even appreciate football a little bit more. (less)
His name may not be as widely known as Woodward and Bernstein, but John McPhee still has plenty of acc...more Originally published on The Librarian Next Door:
His name may not be as widely known as Woodward and Bernstein, but John McPhee still has plenty of accomplishments. An American writer and journalist, McPhee is considered one of (if not the) originators of creative nonfiction. He’s been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize four times; he’s also won the Pulitzer Prize, in 1999, in the General Nonfiction category. McPhee’s work sometimes defies categorization. He’s a journalist, with an obsessive attention to detail and facts, but he’s also a literary writer, weaving stories out of those same facts.
Last month, my book group read The John McPhee Reader as our selection. This book offers samples of a wide range of McPhee’s writing, from his earliest pieces for The New Yorker magazine, to his later works that stretched into full-length books. The selections are wide-ranging and diverse. There are profiles of specific people (including a young college basketball star named Bill Bradley who would eventually run for President), the history of Florida’s orange groves, and even a story on a hybrid airship. Despite the fact that nearly all of the selections are taken from larger works, they don’t feel out of place or incomplete. Each selection stands easily on its own, a testament to McPhee’s skill as a writer to make every word count.
McPhee attended Princeton and continues to teach there to this day, so there is a subtle sense of elitism that pervades The John McPhee Reader, especially with regards to his profile of Bill Bradley (a fellow Princetonian) and a profile of Thomas Hovings, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But McPhee also writes about the people of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, and the crofters on the island of Colonsay off the coast of Scotland. Whatever his own experiences were or are, McPhee has the enviable ability to fit in with his subjects and draw out their own thoughts, ideas and opinions. Most of all, the level of detail is mind-boggling. From a description of the precise appearance of a piece of art, to so-strange-it’s-true facts of an orange-growing empire, McPhee packs his essays, articles and books with a truly impressive number of details.
Interestingly, the one part of the book I found most interesting wasn’t written by McPhee at all. The editor, William Howarth, introduces The John McPhee Reader with a McPhee-esque mini profile of the writer himself. In it, Howarth outlines McPhee’s personal and exceptionally disciplined approach to writing. It’s a fascinating and intimate look at how the writer embraces his craft and how McPhee works meticulously in stages, tweaking and pruning his words until what remains is exactly right. You’ll end up reconsidering your own writing style as a result.
McPhee’s talent is undeniable, so if you’re a fan of creative nonfiction, The John McPhee Reader is a great introduction to one of the first and still one of the best when it comes to literary journalism.(less)
A fun prequel and one that gives you a different perspective on familiar characters. (See a review of the whole series so far under "A Different Witch...moreA fun prequel and one that gives you a different perspective on familiar characters. (See a review of the whole series so far under "A Different Witch.")(less)
Beauty and the Blacksmith is a Spindle Cove novella, taking place just before the fourth and final Spindl...more Originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
Beauty and the Blacksmith is a Spindle Cove novella, taking place just before the fourth and final Spindle Cove novel (Only A Duchess Will Do, publishing in May 2013) and it features Miss Diana Highwood as the hero. Those of you familiar with Dare’s series will remember that the Highwood family came to Spindle Cove in the first novel, seeking fresher air for Diana’s health. Her younger sister Minerva saw her happy ending in A Week to Be Wicked and now it was Diana’s turn for love. Unfortunately for Mrs. Highwood, Diana does not have her eye on an earl, a marquess or a duke. No, her eyes are only for Spindle Cove’s resident blacksmith, Aaron Dawes.
I’m fairly indiscriminate in my enjoyment of historical romance novels – I’ll give just about anything a try – but I tend to enjoy those novels that subvert expectations just a bit more. In Beauty and the Blacksmith, the traditional roles are reversed. There’s no dashing peer of the realm looking for a humble – but beautiful – woman to sweep off her feet. In this novella, Diana is a young woman from society and Aaron is the common man, working with his hands in this small village. Both are uncertain about their future (though for different reasons) and both are wary about starting something without knowing where it might lead.
There’s a lot that I loved about Beauty and the Blacksmith, starting with Diana’s determination to prove that she can fit into Aaron’s life and Aaron’s passion for Diana spilling over into his delicate jewelry designs and ending with Charlotte’s loyalty to her sister’s happiness and even Mrs. Highwood’s overwrought ridiculousness. But by far my absolute favorite part of this novella came at the very end, when Diana and Aaron stand before the minister and prepare to say their vows:
“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
“I do.” Diana looked up at Aaron and smiled. “I give myself.”
I don’t know what else I can say other than I loved that. I adored that line and that sentiment, not only because it speaks to Diana’s newfound ability to stand up for herself, but also because in a historical romance novel, that’s pretty daring. Today, most women would be horrified to be considered property of their fathers or husbands. But in Regency England, that was the name of the game. So I loved that Diana bucked tradition and gave herself to Aaron. Tessa Dare, you win everything.(less)
Back in January, Pride and Prejudice celebrated its 200th anniversary. Jane Austen blogger Laurel Ann of...more Originally posted on The Librarian Next Door:
Back in January, Pride and Prejudice celebrated its 200th anniversary. Jane Austen blogger Laurel Ann of Austenprose decided to host a year-long Pride and Prejudice celebration (because, why not?) and I’m participating. As part of this Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge, I’m reading and watching several P&P adaptations, but it seemed wise to start at the beginning. Thus, I recently re-read Austen’s very own Pride and Prejudice for probably the 100th time (give or take a few).
It’s surprisingly difficult to find new things to say about a novel as classic and timeless as Pride and Prejudice. Everyone knows the story so well and it’s been part of our literary culture for so long that I would be more surprised to find someone who didn’t know anything about it. So then – where to begin?
To start, one of things I enjoyed the most about this particular re-read was Austen’s wit. She was certainly known as a clever and talented writer, but I sometimes feel that her sense of humor is overlooked, especially in a novel like Pride and Prejudice when everyone wants to focus on the love story aspect of it. And it certainly is that, but Austen was also wonderfully sly and astute. The funnier moments (for me, at least) come not from the overly ridiculous Mr. Collins or the outlandish Mrs. Bennet, but from Lizzy and Darcy’s verbal tete-a-tetes and even, on occasion, from Mr. Bingley. The banter between the two main characters is a large part of why the book works so well; it still stands up, even after all this time.
I’ve always found it interesting that Pride and Prejudice was originally an epistolary novel, told entirely in letter format. In its finished form, letters still play an important role in the novel. A letter heralds the arrival of Mr. Collins, Darcy’s letter to Lizzy after his disastrous proposal is a key turning point in the book, and letters signal both Lydia’s downfall and the possibility that all hope for Darcy and Lizzy might not be gone. As someone who consistently expresses herself better in written format, I like this idea that letters can allow characters to say what they might not (or can not) otherwise say. In particular, Darcy’s letter has always struck me as being one of the (if not the) most vital parts of the story. A man of few words, Darcy and Lizzy may never have had their chance if Darcy hadn’t taken the risk of giving Lizzy the letter, despite the social constructs of the time that would have considered such an action scandalous.
There are, of course, bookshelves filled with books written by countless Austen scholars, all of whom have studied Pride and Prejudice for years and all of whom can probably talk about the book far more eloquently than I can. A most beloved novel for two centuries, it’s not difficult to see why so many readers are still so enamored with this story.(less)
One of my very favorite historical romance authors, James has never written a novel or novella that I...more Originally published on The Librarian Next Door:
One of my very favorite historical romance authors, James has never written a novel or novella that I did not enjoy. With This Kiss is no exception. In her last full-length novel, The Ugly Duchess, James wrote about James and Theo Ryburn, Duke and Duchess of Ashbrook. Then, she released Seduced By a Pirate, a short companion novel featuring James’ pirating friend Sir Griffin Barry and his wife, Phoebe. With This Kiss brings both of these families together as Lady Grace Ryburn (James and Theo’s daughter) falls hopelessly in love with Colin Barry, eldest son of Griffin and Phoebe.
With This Kiss was James’ first serialized novella; she released it in three parts, over the course of three weeks, and invited readers to participate in a reading group with her as the story unfolded. In addition to adding a social aspect to the traditionally solitary activity of reading, With This Kiss gave readers a chance to discuss and dissect the book as it was happening. Though the novella itself is historical, there was a sense of real time to its publication, which gave it a sense of relevancy. James herself participated in the conversations; I really like that she takes the time to interact with her readers, even if it means teasing them because she knows what happens and we don’t.
With This Kiss is a sweet story about the process of falling in love slowly. Grace loves Colin for many years, even after she accepts another man’s proposal, and she finally gives herself one chance to find out if he loves her as well. Colin – endearing, block-headed Colin – takes so long to fall in love with Grace (indeed, he doesn’t even realize that it’s happening) that you wonder if everything will ever work out. Of course, it does, but not without some difficulty first. There are moments that make you smile, moments that make you cringe and moments that make you believe that happy endings always triumph in the end.(less)
This might be my favorite in the series so far. There's just something about two people completely mismatched who end up in love. I also really love t...moreThis might be my favorite in the series so far. There's just something about two people completely mismatched who end up in love. I also really love the thieving little Pippi. What a character - literally and figuratively. (less)
No full review for this series, but I'm really enjoying it. Surprised by how much depth each individual novel brings. That sounds like a backhanded co...more No full review for this series, but I'm really enjoying it. Surprised by how much depth each individual novel brings. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but I really do mean it in a good way. (less)
I'm enjoying this series more than I thought I would. Not going to write full reviews, but I appreciate flawed main characters who don't become perfec...moreI'm enjoying this series more than I thought I would. Not going to write full reviews, but I appreciate flawed main characters who don't become perfect, but learn to love each other even with all their flaws. (less)
In a small, forgotten fishing village on the Italian coast, on an otherwise ordinary day in April 1962...more Originally published on The Librarian Next Door:
In a small, forgotten fishing village on the Italian coast, on an otherwise ordinary day in April 1962, a beautiful American actress steps off a boat and into Pasquale Tursi’s life. The actress, Dee Moray, was working on the set of Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Now she’s sick, possibly dying, and waiting for the man who has promised to follow. Dee’s unexpected sojourn in this little village will set off a chain of events that will span decades and entangle dozens of people, from sunny Italian beaches to snowy Idaho mountains and the crazy, non-stop motion of Hollywood. Families, love affairs, dreams and ambitions all come into play when Tursi decides, nearly fifty years later, to track down Dee Moray and learn what became of her after she left his tiny village.
When my book group decided to read Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins for March, I was excited. I’ve heard nothing but good things since this book was published and I wanted an excuse to read it. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. Beautiful Ruins lives up to the hype – and then some. Masterfully written, with a sweeping plot that covers most of the 20th century, Beautiful Ruins is captivating and completely entertaining. There’s romance, betrayal, broken dreams, sacrifice and compromise and a truly memorable cameo appearance by Richard Burton himself. Whether he’s painstakingly describing the sleepy fishing village of Porto Vergogna or gleefully skewering the idiocy of modern reality television, Walters’ writing is vivid, clearly the work of an insanely talented author.
Beautiful Ruins boasts as many as eight main characters and several more supporting ones. Over the course of the book, their stories intertwine and meld, with people coming together, falling apart and then finding each other again. There’s Pasquale, the young Italian starstruck by a beautiful actress and caught up in his own impossible dreams; Dee, the enchanting young actress; the aging Hollywood producer Michael Deane who refuses to believe his time is past; his idealistic, yet cynical assistant Claire; Alvis Bender, a novelist who has only managed to finish the first chapter of his book; and Pat Bender, a troubled musician stuck in a cycle of bad decisions.
All of these characters are deeply flawed, and yet still completely fascinating. Deane, for example, is probably the most repugnant character of the bunch and yet you can’t help but be swayed by his ability to sell a story, to rebound again and again. Through these characters, readers see promises broken, dreams deferred, and relationships crumble and, in spite of all of this, Beautiful Ruins is still somehow hopeful. For these characters, so much is lost over the course of their story, but Walters still makes you feel and care for them, even when everything is going absolutely wrong.
“Stories are people. I’m a story, you’re a story … your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, our stories join into one, and for a while, we’re less alone.”
The thing I loved most about Beautiful Ruins, though, was the ongoing theme of stories and how telling our own story links us to others who have come before and others who will come after. With the story jumping back and forth between years and including pieces of other stories – including Alvis Bender’s incomplete novel and Shane Wheeler’s dramatic movie pitch – Walters has created several “stories-within-a-story” in this book. Stories link the characters together through time and place, bringing a disparate group of people together on a strange quest to find the end on one particular story – and perhaps the beginning of another. Thanks to the interwoven nature of Beautiful Ruins, Walters has created a book that is layered with story upon story, each one helping to tell the other.
It’s rare that a book can live up to quite a lot of hype. This book is one of those rare books. Absolutely vibrant and engrossing, Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins defied my own odds and proved to be every bit as epic and enjoyable as I hoped it would be. Surprisingly funny and achingly romantic, Beautiful Ruins is a novel that will sweep you up and carry you off. Let go, and enjoy the ride.(less)
It was a quick read and mostly enjoyable, but I thought it was also wildly unrealistic. The main characters didn't act like any 18-year-old college fr...moreIt was a quick read and mostly enjoyable, but I thought it was also wildly unrealistic. The main characters didn't act like any 18-year-old college freshmen I know (or remember). Not bad, but not great. (less)