Wednesday, March 29, 2023

"Jane of Austin" by Hillary Manton Lodge (again)

This book is such a joy.  It's a retelling of Sense and Sensibility set in the modern world and... please don't throw things at me, but... I like it better than S&S.  I do.  There are multiple characters in this that I like better than their S&S counterparts.  There are plot points and relationship tangles that work better for me here.  And this one has the sweetest service dog.  

I mean, obviously I do like Sense and Sensibility.  I led a chapter-by-chapter read-along of it, after all.  I just like this better.  

Jane and her older sister Celia make their living selling tea in a trendy tea shop in San Francisco after their father leaves the country.  And then, their landlord dies, and they get turned out of both the apartment and the shopfront they rented from him.  Desperate to find somewhere that they can live and remain guardians of their younger sister Margo, plus find a new space for their shop, they accept an invitation from a cousin they barely know.  He offers they can live in his guest house while they find a new shopfront.  The only problem?  He lives in Austin, Texas.  But moving halfway across the country is not that big a deal, right?  It only means leaving behind their home state, Margo's school, and the man Celia has been dating for years and years.

They move.  Jane falls in love with a handsome country singer.  A friend of their cousin's, a wounded veteran, falls in love with Jane.  Jane falls out of love with the handsome country singer when he turns out to be despicable.  And so on.  I really love that this retelling is told from the Marianne character's point of view because I never feel like I get to know and understand Marianne very well in S&S.  This book also has a lot of chapters from the POV of the Colonel Brandon character, Callum.  He's an absolute sweetheart, gentleman, and hero.  

Also, there are lots of yummy recipes included.  I'm going to make the tea-infused Texas Sheet Cake today to take to a potluck :-9

Particularly Good Bits:

Kissing Callum was like finding a favorite thing I hadn't known I was looking for (p. 295).

"I don't think it's ever wrong," I decided, "to love what you have more than what you had" (p. 299).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for a plotline involving an unwed pregnancy, mention of marital infidelity in an off-screen character, quite a few non-steamy kisses, and mention of characters "making out."  Also, Callum deals with a lot of emotional trauma from the combat situation where he lost a leg.  Not a racy book, no bad language, no real violence.  Clean, but not something all younger teens would be ready for.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Want an ARC?

Do you enjoy YA fantasy with exotic settings and a dash of clean romance?  My friend Charity Bishop is giving away Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of her new YA fantasy book Night of Wonders.  I'm reading it right now myself, and really enjoying it.  Night of Wonders is set in India, with lots of traditional Indian mythology woven into it.  Here's the official synopsis:
Get lost in a world of wonder and imagination! 

Anik lives and works inside the magical Library, a place where the books whisper to each other and can come to life. It’s a dangerous position for the ambitious young man, because he has hidden magic in a society that forbids it for his caste. If discovered, a witch known as a Dayan could remove his powers—and his soul, a fate that soon befalls his master, the Librarian. 

For the first time in his life, he gets to meet the maharaja’s twin children, Nyan and Ishana, both near his age and powerful beyond compare. Each intends to compete in a Night of Wonders, a magical competition whose victor receives a chance to rule on the Cabal. Thousands of enchanters from all across India amass to compete, among them Anik’s former best friend, Rajan, who has great plans for India if he succeeds. 

Though Rajan warns Anik not to get attached to the twins, he cannot help but fall in love with the beautiful Ishana, but her indulgence of the powers of darkness frighten him. To reach the competition, Anik must accompany the Library hundreds of miles through a haunted wood full of unseen threats. But that’s the least of his problems when something dark and terrible emerges from the depths of the Library. A creature hated and feared among illusionists. And he has only himself to blame… 
You can request an advance copy by emailing Charity at today!

If you're a Goodreads user, you can add Night of Wonders to your to-read list right here.  And you can learn more about this book, plus learn how to sign up for Charity Bishop's newsletter, check out her blog here.

Friday, March 24, 2023

"What Happened to Goodbye" by Sarah Dessen

Did I buy this for $1 from my library's used book sale shelves on a whim?  I did.  Did I savor it for more than a week and wish it could have been longer?  I did.

McLean has been living with her dad ever since her parents' messy divorce a couple years ago.  Her mom has a new husband and twin toddlers to deal with, and McLean wants nothing to do with that.  Instead, she moves with her dad from town to town whenever his job as a restaurant rescuer requires him to move on.  Usually, when she arrives in a new town and starts at a new school, she gives herself a new nickname and creates a new persona to go with it.  Will she be a cheerleader?  A joiner?  Super studious?  She never knows until she arrives and picks a new nickname.

But, when McLean and her dad move to this latest town, where he'll be rehabilitating a local restaurant once again... McLean tells people her real first name.  And tries to remember who she actually is.  She gradually makes some real friends for the first time in years.  And she slowly begins rebuilding her relationship with her mom, sometimes against her will.

I really love how Dessen writes clean books about realistic teens.  Nobody is sleeping around, nobody is doing drugs, nobody is behaving in radically inappropriate ways.  They're just teens grappling with school, friends, relationships, growing up, making decisions, living with consequences... and I love the dickens outta that.  Granted, I have only read one other book of Dessen's before this, Saint Anything, but it was similarly age-appropriate in content, behavior of characters, everything.  I was kind of afraid Saint Anything was some kind of anomaly, but What Happened to Goodbye was similarly clean and refreshing, and so now I am just going to have to read more of Dessen's books.

Particularly Good Bits:

Amazing how you could get so far from where you'd planned, and yet find it was exactly where you needed to be (p. 279).

Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map.  It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together.  Not a place but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a sold shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go (p. 364-365).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some occasional cussing, mentions of underage drinking (treated as troubling), and plot points that revolve around marital infidelity (never described; shown as damaging).  There is a scene where two adults were obviously making out until a teen walked in the room, and there are a couple of very sweet, brief kisses between teens.

This is my 16th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfChallenge2023.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

"A Very Bookish Easter" by Kelsey Bryant, Abigayle Claire, Sarah Holman, and Kate Willis

It's another Very Bookish Holiday collection!  This springtime anthology was a fast, fun read, and I'm happy to add it to our shelves.

Like the previous books in this series, the four novellas here each revolve around a classic book or story, and retell it a little bit too.

"The Prayer Garden" by Kelsey Bryant revolves around The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  In it, a young woman with uncertain ideas about God and Christianity moves into her grandmother's old house to take care of it now that her grandma is in a care facility.  She discovers a hidden "prayer garden" in the woods behind the house, and the combination of her grandma's gentle witnessing and the help of a godly young gardener soften her heart for the seeds of faith to grow.

"Lilies and Thorns" by Abigayle Claire involves Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.  The manager of a grocery store's floral department falls for the owner of the town's independent florist shop.  Rivalry and resentment take a back seat as they get to know each other and help one another out of a few unpleasant situations.

"An Easter Canticle" by Sarah Holman is inspired by A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  A successful businessman gives up his whole business and seeks calm and clarity in a gardening job at a retreat center after a decision nearly costs two innocents their lives.  Healing and forgiveness can be his only after he confronts his past and contemplates his future.

"Addie's Mountain" by Kate Willis is informed by Heidi by Johanna Spyri.  Two sisters, one with chronic health problems, move to their grandfather's remote farm.  They make new friends, learn new skills, and bring new joy to their grandfather's life.

I really liked that both "An Easter Canticle" and "Addie's Mountain" dealt with chronic illnesses and disabilities.  We need more stories that reflect the painful realities so many people live in.  "Lilies and Thorns" dealt a bit with shyness and anxiety, and "The Prayer Garden" included the difficulties of watching a loved one struggle with dementia.  While none of the stories felt heavy or discouraging, they also didn't try to offer platitudes or easy fixes for these troubles.  Instead, they accepted that life on this earth involves trouble and pain, but that those don't need to define us.

One caveat: some of these stories contain decision-based theology that is unbiblical, from a Confessional Lutheran standpoint.  Read with discernment.

Particularly Good Bits:

Losing your memories seemed like losing pieces of the life you worked so hard to live.  Few things could be so tragic (p. 63, "The Prayer Garden").

"The best books help us process our past, inform our present, and help shape our future.  The Bible often is the best at that.  Yet, there is no denying that God often uses the stories of others to help us too" (p. 254, "An Easter Canticle").

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G -- clean and uplifting.

This is my 15th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Be Kind, Rewind

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Rewind: pick a previous topic that you missed or would like to re-do/update."  My pick is a prompt from July of 2018: Books That Are Linked to Specific Memories/Moments In Your Life

I link memories to objects.  This is one reason I own so many physical copies of books -- reading one over again often brings back the memories of the previous time(s) I read that book.  Of course, a lot of books just remind me of sitting on my couch or on the swing in our backyard, as those are where I tend to read the most.  But some books remind me very vividly of the place or time when I read them.  Here are ten fifteen of those that cover the past 20+ years:

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes -- I remember reading this while curled up on a fancy couch by a fire in the lobby of a Michigan hotel one winter evening.  Christmas was always a very busy and tiring time for my parents because my dad was a pastor and my mom was in charge of the music for the children's Christmas program at church every year.  So we would often do some kind of overnight getaway a day or two after Christmas as a family.  Just check into a hotel within an hour or two's drive, somewhere with an indoor swimming pool and hot tub.  One night of swimming, a hot tub, and getting to watch an old TV show or two on Nick-at-Night (we didn't have cable at home) really refreshed all of us.  One year, the hotel we stayed at had a fireplace with a real fire going in their lobby, and we all hung out there for a bit, reading and enjoying the ambience.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas -- I remember taking my library copy along to the orthodontist when I was eleven years old, and insisting on taking it into the exam room with me so I could read while waiting for the orthodontist to come in and adjust my teeth.  I had read a radio-play adaptation of just one small part of this book in a literature book for school, and I fell absolutely in love with it.  I convinced my mom to let me check out the real book from the library, and I read the whole thing.  Didn't understand the hashish stuff or some of the other, more adult subtextual matter, but I very much understood the plot, characterizations, and so on.  It's been one of my top favorite books ever since.

The Man in the Box by Marylois Dunn -- I found this book on the shelves in the junior fiction section of our North Carolina library, quite at random, and became somewhat obsessed with it.  In fact, I loved it so much, I wrote a little poem about how wonderful it was and tucked it inside the library copy when I returned it.  I don't know if the librarians didn't notice it, or thought it was sweet and left it in there, but I know that poem stayed inside their copy for years.  I know because I used to check to see if the book was on the shelves whenever I visited the library, and then see if the poem was still inside, and it always was!

The Princess Bride by William Goldman -- Although I'd loved the movie for years by then, I had never read the book until a friend gave it to me for Christmas my first year of college.  I remember reading the book on the plane when I flew home for Christmas break and having such a hard time containing my laughter because I didn't want to annoy my seatmates!

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury -- I first read this book in my family's car on the way back to college to begin my sophomore year.  I quick bought it at a bookstore before we left because I had heard that Mel Gibson was in talks to make a movie version, and I was quite a Gibson girl at that point, so that intrigued me.  I was absolutely enraptured by the book, and it's still really the only dystopian novel I enjoy.

Dracula by Bram Stoker -- I bought a cheap paperback copy of Dracula at a bookstore in Toronto, Canada, while on choir tour in May of 2000.  I'd become obsessed with vampires during my sophomore year of college, thanks to the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff, Angel, and I decided I really ought to read the most-famous vampire book.  I read it while sitting on our tour bus, driving from one concert stop to the next, then the next, and so on.  I actually didn't care for the book much, but I stuck with it because I didn't have many other books packed.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde -- For four years after we finished college and got married, my husband and I both worked third shift.  I worked at Walmart, stocking shelves all night long.  Because I worked full-time, I got a full hour for my lunch break, and I would spend my lunches in the breakroom nibbling a sandwich and reading.  Reading, reading, reading.  I remember laughing aloud over this book so often there, and how amused my coworkers in the breakroom would be because I found the book so funny.  They used to say I read books the way they watched movies, which amused me because I once had a literature professor tell someone I watched movies the way other people read books.  Those both make sense, though, as I experience stories in both mediums basically the same way.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King -- That same college professor recommended this book to me, but I didn't have time to read for fun while in college because I took a lot of reading-heavy courses in literature and history.  So I wrote this down in a little book where I kept my list of things I'd like to read someday.  I found it in our small-town Wisconsin library a few years later and was absolutely delighted with it.  But my main memory of this book is buying a copy in a mall bookstore in Connecticut years later and rereading it in little snatches while my toddler sat on my lap to watch his daily dose of VeggieTales Silly Songs on YouTube.  I can't hear "Monkey" without being immediately reminded of this book.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling -- I pre-ordered my copy of the final Harry Potter book, and the bookseller shipped it a week early by mistake!  Scholastic Books offered me a free Harry Potter t-shirt and a gift card if I would agree not to read it before its release date, and I agreed.  I used that gift card to buy a boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia, and I honored my agreement not to read it before the day it released.  I was still working third shift in 2007, I was pregnant with my first baby, and I had Tuesday nights off.  So when I woke up around 5pm, I started to read, and I read all night long while my husband was away at work, and I finished the book before we went to sleep around 9am the next morning.  It was glorious to just immerse myself so fully in that world.  And then I didn't have to worry about any of my co-workers sharing spoilers when I went back to work the next night!

Middlemarch by George Eliot -- I took this book along to the hospital when I had to have my gall bladder out.  I remember getting wheeled to and from the imaging center so they could take an MRI to see if I really had to remove it or not, and I was just merrily reading this chunkster paperback while they pushed me up one hall and down the next.  The nurses and techs and other hospital staff had a great time teasing me about how I must think I was going to be there a long, long time if I brought such a massive book with me.  It was a cheery touchstone in what was an otherwise unexpected and stressful event.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell -- I basically never stay up past my bedtime reading.  I never pulled a single all-nighter in college.  When I am tired, I sleep.  However!  I took my kids to visit my parents a few years ago, and brought this book along.  It was my first time reading it, and one night when I went to bed, I was about two-thirds of the way through the book.  I figured I would read to the end of my current chapter and then go to sleep.  Except, I just couldn't quit reading, and I ended up staying awake until 3 am and finishing the book.  Which I regretted in the morning when my little ones woke me up at 7am, ready for breakfast and playtime.  The book will forever remind me of my parent's guest bedroom in their North Carolina home.

The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler -- I bought this at a really amazing Barnes and Noble in Baltimore and happened to take it along when I visited a podiatrist because I had to have a toenail removed.  I was very glad to have this larger-than-usual paperback along to focus on and shield my gaze from what the podiatrist was doing.

Borden Chantry by Louis L'Amour -- I bought a lovely, battered vintage paperback copy of this at a hole-in-the-wall used bookstore up in the Shenandoah Valley while we were on a family vacation last year, and read the whole thing while cozied up in the cabin we had rented.  Which is now my gold standard for where and how to read a western, to be honest.  They hit different when you're in a cabin built in the 1700s and snuggled up under a soft throw while curled up on an antique loveseat.  

The Black Swan by Rafael Sabatini -- I took this book along to the pool while my kids swam there last summer, when I couldn't swim because I had broken my arm and my surgical incision hadn't healed yet.  If I couldn't splash around in the water, at least I could read about adventure on the high seas!

Beauty by Robin McKinley -- I read this book on the flight home after an idyllic visit to my best friend earlier this month.  I finished it just before landing again, and the happiness of the book's ending got all tangled up with my joy over such an incredible visit and my gladness at being home with my husband and kids again.  

Do you also have vivid memories of where you read particular books?  What did you do for Top Ten Tuesday this week?  Please share!