Friday, June 3, 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

This modern retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was so fun!  The Bennet family, Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Darcy have been completely updated while maintaining essential elements of their personalities.  All the additions to the story are entertaining and fun to experience.

Liz is in her late thirties and works at a magazine.  Jane is a yoga instructor.  Both sisters reside in NYC.  Kitty and Lydia are way into CrossFit and Paleo (and as vain as they come).  Mary is working on her third online master's degree and is a bit of a recluse.  Mrs. Bennet just wants to marry off the daughters, especially as Jane's fortieth birthday looms on the horizon.  Darcy is a neurosurgeon at the same hospital where Chip Bingley works.  Bingley is a doctor who just finished filming a season of Eligible, this novel's version of The Bachelor.

Mr. Bennet has a health scare that sends Liz and Jane home for awhile, and during their stay they meet Bingley and Darcy.  Bingley is charming and takes an immediate interest in Jane.  Darcy is less charming and he and Liz get off on the wrong foot.

So I picked up Eligible through the Book of the Month Club.  I heard about this service on the Book Riot podcast (they were a sponsor).  I decided to give it a try and I'm loving it so far.  This was my pick for May, and I just selected Modern Lovers by Emma Straub for June.  I highly recommend checking out this service!  I went with Eligible because I'm in the midst of some stressful personal stuff and was craving something I could get lost in and just enjoy.  I picked a good one!

I loved this so much.  I've read Pride and Prejudice a couple of times and I really appreciated how Sittenfeld took the characters and updated them.  They still had their original qualities - the original Lydia is brash, beautiful, and spoiled.  So it makes sense that her modern version would be jobless and still living at home, crass and somewhat inappropriate, obsessed with her appearance, and coasting along on her good looks.  Darcy and Liz don't go for walks around the countryside estate.  They meet while taking a jog.  And the whole Eligible plot addition was super fun to read.  I'm not a TV person in general, but I have definitely seen my share of reality TV.  She nails it in the best way.

This is the first retelling of a classic novel that I've read.  I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.  I'm a fan of the original version, so I was a little worried this would piss me off.  I wasn't sure how closely Sittenfeld would follow the original plot.  She really stuck to it for the most part.  I had a really good time trying to decide how she would organize key plot points.

Finally, Sittenfeld takes on some social issues in her writing.  She addresses gender, class, family dynamics, and relationships.  I felt like Austen really tackled these issues too, but Sittenfeld does it in a more direct way.

I loved this!  If you're looking for a fun read, this book is for you.  If you're a fan of Pride and Prejudice, this book is for you.  And if you're into retellings or want to give a retelling a try, this book is for you!  Click here to grab a copy!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Review: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Willowdean Dickson is a teenager living in Texas.  She's a self-proclaimed fat girl and is completely at home in her own skin.  Her mother is a former beauty pageant queen and has been calling Willowdean "Dumplin'" since she was just a little kid.

Will has always been comfortable with herself until the summer before her junior year.  Her relationship with her best friend, Ellen, is on the rocks, and she's smitten with a guy from work, Bo.  She's surprised and a little embarrassed that Bo seems to really like her as well and she's suddenly not so confident about her body and herself in general.

To gain her confidence back, and to prove that she doesn't have to be a size zero to be worthy, Will - as well as a handful of other "unlikely contestants" -  enters the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant.  Along the way, Will navigates her life, finds herself, and shows the town (and herself) a thing or two.

This was a delightful read.  Will has an amazing heart, and is a lot more self-assured than I was as a teenager.  The message is a good one, and an important one.  Will doesn't change who she is in order to prove her point or to compete.  She references fad diets her mom had her do when she was younger, and how as soon as she stopped adhering to the diet she gained all the weight back immediately (and sometimes even more).  She isn't trying to transform anything - she is who she is.  And I love this about her.  The book isn't about Will turning into a beauty queen, it's about how you don't have to conform to have self-worth.

Willowdean is a great character, and she meets up with some other fantastic characters as well.  They're all well developed.  They all have strengths and flaws.  I tore though this book and just loved it.

Click here to check it out for yourself!!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Think of England by KJ Charles

Think of England by KJ Charles

Captain Archie Curtis has accepted an invitation to spend a fortnight visiting his uncle's old school friend, Sir Hubert Armstrong, at his very isolated and very modern country estate.  It is the fall of 1904, and only two years prior, Curtis was severely injured and lost several friends in a horrific military accident.  He can't seem to shake the feeling that the accident was not an unfortunate incident, but sabotage.

Daniel da Silva is a poet who has also accepted an invitation to spend a fortnight visiting the Armstrongs.  Daniel is sarcastic, aloof, and quite obviously queer.

Curtis is investigating his theories of sabotage and treason, and it turns out that Daniel is also pursuing some secret information.  Although the two men appear to clash when they first meet, as the story unfolds they realize they have a shared desire for information.  They also realize they share an incredible amount of sexual tension.

The two men find themselves drawn to each other while at the same time uncovering a trail of blackmail, treason, and murder.  The reader gets to watch the romance between Curtis and Daniel unfold while also getting to know the other guests at the Armstrong estate, and realizing that things are not always as they appear.

So, obviously this is a romance between two men.  Up until now, my only experience with romance has been the (amazing, fabulous) author, Sarah MacLean.  She writes regency romance between a man and woman - and I've loved everything she's written!  I'm fairly new to the genre and quite happy I decided to give it a try.  I had been snobbishly avoiding romance and am pleased to discover that it can have strong characters (both male and female) and some real depth.

I was really curious how the romance element to the story was going to play out between two men.  Honestly, it read very similar to other romances I've read, only obviously the sex scenes had a slightly different feel.  It was refreshing and really well written.  The romance follows the familiar formula - two characters meet and at first it seems like they dislike each other, attraction unfolds, there's a conflict where it seems like they may not end up together, but they all live happily ever after.  This is the romance formula, yes?  I absolutely loved both Daniel and Curtis.  Great characters, fully developed, and incredibly interesting.  There was more to them than meets the eye, and I don't just mean their sexual preferences.  (Well, the reader knows that Daniel is gay right from the get go, Curtis takes a little more time to unfold.)

The male/male element to the story made this different than other romances I've read.  However, the bigger difference was the fast-paced tale of blackmail and murder.  There's a lot going on in this story!  The romance part was really well written, but I think the circumstances under which Daniel and Curtis find themselves working together are even more interesting.  Aside from all the romantic stuff, there's an incredibly interesting storyline being told with all the corrupt stuff happening in this country estate.  As excited as I was to see the progression of Curtis and Daniel's attraction, I was equally excited to find out what was really going on under the elegant facade in the Armstrong estate.

If you have preconceived ideas about romance novels (as I certainly did), I highly suggest you give Think of England a try.  It's not what I was expecting and I absolutely loved it!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I wish I had read this book as a kid.  I would have been in love with it.  It was delightful and creepy - and I think as a kid it would have scared the shit out of me in the best possible way.

Coraline is exploring in her home and finds a door that appears to lead nowhere.  It opens to a brick wall, except one day the bricks are gone and she's able to go through.  Inside, she finds a house just like her own but slightly modified.  The colors in her room are brighter.  The toys are more fun.  Her other mother and other father are there too.  They have paper white skin, long, sharp fingers, and buttons instead of eyes.  And they are very interested in convincing her to stay in their version of the house.  Forever.

If the idea of a kid going through a secret door has you thinking The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, think again.  Coraline is dark.  I found parts superbly unsettling, and I think the suggested reading age is 9 for this YA novel!  As I said above, this would have totally freaked me out as a kid, but I love scary/creep stuff so it would have been right up my ally.  Also, this was my first experience reading Neil Gaiman.  He's great!  The version I had on my eReader included an interview with him about writing Coraline and what inspired the story.  If you decide to pick this up, go for the enhanced version, it's worth it.  Click here to check it out on Amazon.

I loved reading about a strong, smart, brave, and witty little girl figuring things out for her own.  And although this was technically a YA novel, it didn't feel young to me.  I used Coraline as my eReader/iPhone read.  I've been trying to keep a book going on my device for on-the-go reading and as an opportunity to grab a few pages when Dominic is playing.  After the week I've had, a nice, immersive read was just what the doctor ordered!  Highly recommend!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ghost Summer - Tananarive Due

I received Ghost Summer in my Book Riot horror box this fall.  I purposely saved it for the week before Thanksgiving because I knew I'd be super busy.  A short story collection was just the thing I needed.

About a year and a half ago I read my first collection of short stories.  I've been hooked ever since.  It takes so much talent to pull the reader in when your'e dealing with only a few pages.  I think a good short story not only conveys a plot in a limited page count, but also makes the reader really understand and/or connect with the characters right away.  For me, my favorite short story collections also have the element of the surreal - not necessarily supernatural, but the feeling of something being slightly off.

Tananarive Due does an amazing job at all the things I mentioned above that make a short story collection fantastic.  Ghost Summer is divided into four sections.  The first section features stories all set in Gracetown, a fictional Florida town.  In Gracetown, in the swampland, strange things happen - particularly to children - in the summer months.  The second section is called "The Knowing" and all of the stories have something to do with folks who able to see things and know things they should't be able to.  The third section, "Carriers" explores the idea of pandemics (this was my favorite section).  Finally, the fourth section is about vanishings.

I really loved this collection.  Due does an amazing job of completely immersing the reader in the story after only a few pages.  Before I got into short stories, my fear was always that by the time I really got into the story, it would be over.  This is not the case with well-written short stories.  You're pulled in right away.  If you've never tried short stories, give this one a try.  It's fantastically written and just a little bit suspenseful.