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review 2018-12-22 14:19
Mr. Maybe by Jane Green
Mr. Maybe - Jane Green

To Libby Mason, Mr. Right has always meant Mr. Rich. A twenty-seven-year-old publicist, she’s barely able to afford her fashionable and fabulous lifestyle, and often has to foot the bill for dates with Struggling Writer Nick, a sexy but perpetually strapped-for-cash guy she’s dating (no commitments–really). So when Ed, Britain’s wealthiest but stodgiest bachelor, enters the picture, her idea of the fairy-tale romance is turned on its head. Libby soon finds herself weighing the advantages of Nick’s sexual prowess and tender heart against Ed’s luxurious lifestyle and unlimited retail therapy. But when the diamond shopping commences, Libby is forced to realize that the time for “maybe” is up. 

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

Londoner Libby Mason has busted her tail all her life to make a little notch for herself in the world. Now a successful publicist to the stars, Libby has carved out a relatively comfortable, mostly financially stable situation for herself as a single gal, but she comes to the realization that she's not really interested in working THIS hard for it for the rest of her life. Feeling her 30s quietly encroaching on her little by little, Libby sets out to nab a rich husband willing to foot the tab for the rest of her life. In her ultimate fantasy, not only will the mystery guy set her up for life financially, but he'll also be insanely good-looking and wildly in love with her til the end of their days. Rich, hot, romantic AND with a crazy generous sex drive --- that's right, Libby's taking us on the hunt for that relationship unicorn! 

 

Just a little hiccup along the way: Nick. Introduced through mutual friends one night, Nick and Libby click instantly. Going through Libby's mental checklist, Nick is undeniably  gorgeous, charismatic, funny, attentive... and as it soon turns out, tons of fun in the sheets! Only one problem for our main girl --- charming as the guy is, Nick is POOR. Gasp! Horror!  Ahh, poor Libby -- so close! But yeah, charmer Nick is a currently unemployed (living on unemployment checks for the time being) aspiring novelist. One other hitch: he says from the beginning that he's not in the market for a serious relationship, just some fun. Raise your hand if you've had a Nick in your past. *waves* 

 

Unable to give up the good time that this guy is, Libby decides to put the rich husband search on hold and revel in this "have some fun" period with Nick. But what pretty much always inevitably happens in that FWB scenario? Yep, someone here caught a case of the feelings, despite their best efforts. In this instance, it was both of them, though a good bulk of this story is both of them adamantly denying it. In a bit of a panic, Nick decides to end things with Libby, claiming that he can see SHE is the one who is falling too hard for him, and he just likes her too much to hurt her further. 

 

Heart and ego bruised, Libby scuffles around in a mope fest for awhile before deciding to dive into her rebound fella, investment banker Ed McMahon (*Note: this is a UK publication, so obvs not the same Ed McMahon known in the States, but still, I had a hard time shaking that image... but it sort of helped with the gag-factor Libby tends to describe around outings with her Ed LOL... wonder how many stars he gave her... ). Again, introduced through mutual friends, Libby and Ed have a decent chat one night while the group is out on the town, but she's not really feeling anything spark-wise on her end. She also doesn't find him terribly attractive (for one, he rocks a mustache -- just the 'stache -- which grosses her out). Ed does ask her out to dinner though, an offer Libby puts off accepting UNTIL she discovers he's a bit of a small time celebrity about town as a highly desired eligible bachelor. Libby doesn't entirely understand his celebrity status, as she finds him kind of ugly and socially awkward, but she likes the idea of being seen with him and having the envy of others, so after a few dates, she agrees to let a relationship develop between them. 

 

Before long, Libby finds herself engaged to a man whose touch still seems to induce her gag reflex no matter what she tries. But his bank account does fulfill some most excellent shopping sprees at all the poshest stores around town! She secretly pines after Nick, but figures that door is solidly shut. Little does she know, Nick hasn't been able to shake his case of the feels either. Libby's best friend, Jules, becomes concerned that, in the case of Ed, Libby's "falling for how he treats you rather than the man himself." Libby's immediate response to her friend's comment, naturally, is "I really don't think that's the case..." even though throughout the rest of the story she goes on and on about how Ed spoils her like no one else before in her life... mmmhmmm.

 

What's a girl to do? Go for the guy who honestly makes her heart flutter but may be ages away from a place of financial security ... or settle in with the one who can fulfill all her materialistic needs right off (but all fumbly thumbs in bed) ? The choice might seem obvious, but then we wouldn't have a much of a novel, would we? ;-) 

 

Told in first person perspective, with Libby talking right at the reader like a close friend, this ultimately ends up being about how Libby narrows down what she really truly wants in her heart of hearts, sorting out what would be nice versus what does she honestly need to feed her soul. A journey all of us have to set out on one time or another. Granted, Libby's here is a little more superficial and entertaining than most, but still. Libby starts out as pretty relatable but becomes progressively more obnoxious and shallow the more she becomes involved with Ed. At least she admits the personality shift near the end of the book though, I'll give her credit there.

 

Being based in London, there is some Tony Blair-era political discussion amongst the characters, as well as some debates regarding the Labour Party. This could possibly leave US readers feeling a bit isolated (or bore them) if they're unfamiliar with international government history but if this might be an issue for you, these passages only crop up momentarily so you could easily skim and not lose the meat of the novel. I'll also note for more sensitive readers that there are a few passages in this story that are mildly sexually explicit, but again, it's only a paragraph or two here and there. The bulk of the novel is pretty tame. Don't expect a lot of depth here, just one of those ones that's fun for what it is.

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review 2018-10-22 13:01
The Library at the Edge of the World (Finfarran Peninsula #1) by Felicity Hayes-McCoy
The Library at the Edge of the World - Felicity Hayes-McCoy

As she drives her mobile library van between villages of Ireland’s West Coast, Hanna Casey tries not to think about a lot of things. Like the sophisticated lifestyle she abandoned after finding her English barrister husband in bed with another woman. Or that she’s back in Lissbeg, the rural Irish town she walked away from in her teens, living in the back bedroom of her overbearing mother’s retirement bungalow. Or, worse yet, her nagging fear that, as the local librarian and a prominent figure in the community, her failed marriage and ignominious return have made her a focus of gossip. With her teenage daughter, Jazz, off traveling the world and her relationship with her own mother growing increasingly tense, Hanna is determined to reclaim her independence by restoring a derelict cottage left to her by her great-aunt. But when the threatened closure of the Lissbeg Library puts her personal plans in jeopardy, Hanna finds herself leading a battle to restore the heart and soul of the Finfarran Peninsula’s fragmented community. And she’s about to discover that the neighbors she’d always kept at a distance have come to mean more to her than she ever could have imagined. 

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Twenty years into marriage to a London barrister, Irish native Hana Casey gets hit head on with the news that he's been unfaithful to her pretty much from the beginning. She decides to pack up their daughter and move back to her hometown to try to start her life over. Now three years later, Hana is still living with her mother while daughter Jazz is traveling around the world as a flight attendant. Feeling stifled, with her mother driving her mad, Hana decides it's time to be on her own -- fully on her own -- once more. 

 

At the start of divorce proceedings, Hana had told her ex (in anger) that she didn't want a cent of his money. Now those words are coming back to bite her as she struggles to find housing on her paltry income as the town's librarian. Hana contacts her ex, presenting her case as to why he should help her all these years later. Her plea is not well received, in fact he quickly shuts her down with an ol' "you made your bed." That's right, this is coming from the unfaithful one himself... Malcolm is a true piece of work in this story. He somehow manages to shirk much of his responsibility in their breakup, instead accusing Hana of being a terrible mother for ruining their daughter's life with the sudden move back to Ireland. This guy! Divorcees, brace yourselves! 

 

"A little discretion. A sense of responsibility. A willingness to look beyond your personal agenda. That's not a lot to ask, Hanna. Not of someone who claims to be a loving mother."

 

~ Malcolm, Hanna's ex-husband

 

(Can you imagine hearing this out of a man you'd just discovered had been having an affair for pretty much the entirety of your marriage?!)

 

Just as she's nearly at wit's end, a solution comes to our main lady. She remembers she was left an old derelict cottage by the sea by her great aunt Maggie. How one forgets that they own a piece of property on prime picturesque real estate in Ireland stumps me a bit, but there are parts of this novel that ask the reader to suspend disbelief a bit. Taking on the renovation of the place proves to not only solve the housing issue for Hana, but also provides her with an outlet for the depression she continues to battle, the hurt of having been a faithful wife left to feel "not good enough" by a greedy, emotionally immature husband. 

 

The project brings out numerous interesting characters in Hana's town, as they all come forward at different points to help her reach her goals. While overseeing the renovation of this small cottage, Hana also juggles trying to improve the relationship with her mother, Mary, (who comes off as harsh initially, but the reader comes to see it's more of a tough love thing... she might lack tact now and then, but the intent is generally coming from a caring place), continuing with the book mobile service throughout Ireland's West Coast counties, and taking on the town council as they threaten to possibly shut down her library in favor of more profitable real estate developments in the area. 

 

 

Glancing in the rearview mirror, Hanna saw her walking back to the house with a spring in her step. It had only been a few minutes spent with an acquaintance but the human contact and the prospect of a couple of books to read and chat about had obviously made her day. No matter how isolated the scattered farms and villages on the peninsula might seem, there was a web of personal and communal relationships that linked people together, offering mutual support. 

 

 

Library at the Edge of the World will appeal to many booknerds in general, but especially those who have worked as librarians or booksellers themselves. There are references to some of the crazier, more laughable customer service-type aspects to the industry, such as the shocking condition books are sometimes returned in or the aggravating, information deficit type of book inquires some readers bring to the help desk: "I'm looking for a book with a dog on the cover." (This particular patron of Hanna's is an entertaining recurring character as his diligent search -- on nearly zero information -- progresses).

 

What Hanna now desperately needed was to think. But inevitably, two women turned up in the last ten minutes of opening time and stood in a corner discussing the relative merits of Barbara Cartland and Barbara Pym. Hanna covered the computers, pulled down the blind on the door and announced that the library was closing. But the women took no notice. Eventually she had to chivvy them over the threshold, receiving the same outraged clucks and beady-eyed looks that she'd got as a child from the intrusive hens in Maggie Casey's kitchen. As soon as they were gone, she set the security alarm, locked up, and crossed the courtyard, wondering where to go to find peace and quiet. 

 

I was thoroughly engaged in the plot for the majority of this book but I struggled with the later chapters a bit. The plot started to feel a tad flimsy and dragged out. All in all, it was great fun getting to know this little community... but there was something about Hanna... I realized as I finished the book that there was just something about her that didn't sit quite right with me... something I wasn't noticing too much until I got to the end. It was almost but not quite a feeling of not entirely liking her. But why? She doesn't immediately come off as an immediately terrible person. But on further thought, I think I might have pinned what was bugging me. 

 

While most of the people Hanna interacts with in this story act civil enough toward her, very few seemed to honestly LIKE her. Her own behavior around town gave the impression that the feeling was mutual.... but suddenly she wants everyone to band together to save the community when HER job is at risk? She spends much of the story either trying to keep to herself or keeping social interactions to a minimum, yet for some reason the town as a whole later feels compelled to help her furnish her cottage? It was so subtle a thing, like I said, I didn't quite realize all the scenes that played out that way ... til I had finished the story. And now I struggle to be entirely comfortable with that....to the point where I'm now on the fence whether I want to continue this series. This book is the first in what's set to be a trilogy. I had fun visiting the town, and I may pop back in down the road for the later books, but I don't know that I'm in any major rush for it. 

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review 2018-09-30 14:48
Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen
Cambridge - Susanna Kaysen

London, Florence, Athens: Susanna, a precocious young girl growing up in 1950s Cambridge, would rather be home than in any of these places. Uprooted from the streets around Harvard Square, she feels lost and excluded in all the far-flung cities to which her father’s career takes the family. She always comes home with relief—but soon enough wonders if outsiderness may be her permanent condition. Written with a sharp eye for the pretensions—and charms—of the intellectual classes, Cambridge captures the mores of an era now past, the ordinary lives of extraordinary people in a singular part of America, and the ways we can—and cannot—go home.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Kaysen takes the confusing route and writes a novel featuring a protagonist with the author's name, so keep in mind when reading this -- the Susanna of this story is fictional (but kind of not...wow, I'm not helping here, am I? LOL)

 

At the novel's start, 1950s era fictional Susanna is the precocious, book loving daughter of an economics professor and a former professional pianist. The family relocates often, but wherever they set up home base always seems to be a house full of music, learning, and comedic matchmaking attempts among the house staff. Even young Susanna comments that home life is such a warm and fun environment, she dreads time spent having to attend school. Kaysen offers so many heartwarming interactions within this family, the reader almost begins to feel cheated they're not a member themselves!

 

Even though the child version of our protagonist clearly displays a dreamer's soul early on, full of curiosity about the world, part of her also longs for a stable, established place to call home once and for all. This yearning becomes the basis for her attachment to the college town of Cambridge, Massachusetts. But as she moves beyond childhood into adulthood, she comes to find that even such a town as this with, its picturesque exterior, is not guaranteed to have all the answers her soul craves. 

 

There's no clear-cut, linear progression, per say, to this novel's plot, more like  strung-together episodes of the character's remembrances over a lifetime. What this book does really well is illustrate that sense of nostalgia that people tend to develop when they become increasingly distanced from their memories over the years. Hard disappointments, given enough time, tend to morph into these glowing vignettes that have the older you smirking, "Those were the days."

 

There is something in Susanna (the character) that rings very relatable to many: boredom with school, struggles with math, a love of books. Readers even get a bit of a crash course in Ancient Greek history! There's one section I found especially charming, where little Susanna offers her nine year old perspective on things after her first experiences with reading Greek mythology. 

 

Where the story gets a bit bogged down is in the background minutiae ... great at first, but in some portions of the story the richness turns to overindulgence and ultimately "reader bellyache". Examples: Susanna's teen years -- the description of her first period went on for several pages. Then the environmental details. At first, it's lovely. Especially for any readers enamored with all the best of Massachusetts life: walks around Cambridge parks, vacations on Cape Cod, etc. But after so many pages of it with not much else going on, it can border on tedious. Though this could be argued as a case of reader preferences and what you're in the mood for when you dive into this book. 

 

Cambridge is not the easiest book to explain or class, and it might not be for everyone, but I'd argue there is a definite audience for it. There are for sure some great take away lines I was noting, such as a pessimist being "a disappointed optimist" or the Daria-esque "my long, agonizing apprenticeship in failure had begun." LOL  

 

University town setting, bookish references... a bluestocking's dream! The opening sequence alone -- that first whole page of an artistic deconstruction of the novel's first line -- just screams " word nerds unite!"

 

 

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review 2018-09-12 02:26
A Love Made New (Amish of Birch Creek #3) by Kathleen Fuller
A Love Made New (An Amish of Birch Creek Novel) - Kathleen Fuller

It seems as if everyone is falling in love in Birch Creek, including Abigail Schrock. But when heartbreak descends on her already fragile world, she can’t help but feel that if she’d only been a little prettier, she could be on her way down the aisle. To make matters worse, Abigail’s two sisters have found love, and all Abigail can seem to find is the chocolate she has stashed away in the pantry. Asa Bontrager has never had trouble with the ladies in his Amish community—his good looks have always gotten him far. Which is why he’s baffled by the call he’s received from God to pursue Abigail, a woman who seems determined to turn him away. Can Abigail find the peace and joy she so desperately desires? Will she allow herself to stop running and melt into the embrace of unforeseen comfort? If she does, she may discover a love powerful enough to restore her hope in a promising future.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

This series has been following the emotional growth of three Amish sisters -- the Schrock ladies; Sadie, Joanna and Abigail -- after a personal tragedy. Abigail, the 22 year old less pretty middle sister is trying to heal from her own recent run-in with heartbreak. Though she gave her heart to Joel, he turned around and promptly dumped her for perky, petite Rebecca. 

 

Then in walks Asa Bontrager. Previously known as a bit of a ladies man (by Amish standards), the handsome charmer believes he is given a divine message one day to pursue lonely, hurting Abigail. But Miss Abigail is a little self-conscious about her recent weight gain from secret food binges and is not altogether certain she wants a new romance right now. Or so she says. But Asa has big plans on how to bring down her defenses and heal her wounded heart. His speech to help ease her fears about her weight gain were a good start, I have to admit:

 

"You need to stop cutting yerself down...I'm not going to judge you if you want donuts or a hamburger or a candy bar. It doesn't matter to me what you eat. It shouldn't matter to anyone else, either...You deserve someone who will treat you well and put you first in his life. Someone who will love you the way you are, for the rest of his life, who thinks you're perfect the way you look right now."

 

*Though part of me also thinks, it's sweet, but some of what he says to her toes the line between being supportive in a healthy way versus being an enabler to bad choices. 

 

Readers also get an update on Sol, who shows a noticeable temperament shift in this book.. is he becoming... likeable?! Thanks to a meddling mother with an itch for matchmaking, Irene Bailer is wrangled into working as Sol's assistant, painting his birdhouses. Irene proves to be a sweet influence on Sol, teaching him how to forgive himself for past indiscretions and struggles with alcoholism, loosen up and find his inner child again. 

 

As the reader, I sometimes struggled with how believable the romance between Asa and Abigail was --- nothing between them, I actually grew to like them together, but in the beginning it seemed like Asa's intensely deep feelings for Abigail came out of nowhere. I get that he got the idea to court her because he felt he was divinely inspired but guy had no chill at the start! Ease into things, son! Wouldn't a guy want to make sure he ACTUALLY had feelings for a woman and wasn't just doing something because God said so?! But as I said, he and Abigail do end up as a good match, IMO. I had a good laugh at Asa's utter SHOCK at Abigail's dislike for anything pickled. 

 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

___________

 

My reviews for the previous books in this series:

 

#1 A Reluctant Bride

#2 An Unbroken Heart

 

*Note: a fourth installment, The Teacher's Bride, is due to be released this December.

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review 2018-08-22 11:01
Midnight In Austenland (Austenland #2) by Shannon Hale
Midnight in Austenland - Shannon Hale

When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests' Austen fantasies. Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn't sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside's mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And-perhaps of the most lasting importance-could the stirrings in Charlotte's heart be a sign of real-life love? The follow-up to reader favorite Austenland provides the same perfectly plotted pleasures, with a feisty new heroine, plenty of fresh and frightening twists, and the possibility of a romance that might just go beyond the proper bounds of Austen's world. How could it not turn out right in the end?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Charlotte Kinder's life seems to be fraying at the seams. First her marriage breaks up after her husband's infidelity, now her daughter is flirting with a questionable male of her own. When Charlotte tries to start up a conversation about the boy, her daughter gives her an "ugh, don't you remember what it was like to be young?!" moment. Spurred by the hurt of such a comment, Charlotte gets all nostalgic and starts digging through photos and old papers, where she finds a journal with an entry marked "Things To Do Before I'm 30"... a list that includes reading all of Austen's works and, at some point, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Charlotte admits to herself that Kilimanjaro might not be quite the thing to tackle at this particular moment of unrest in her life, but maybe the Austen idea is still doable.

 

While she doesn't delve into the Austen novels themselves, Charlotte does decide to take a vacation to the exclusive Austen-themed resort, Austenland. Maybe there, she can find the old Charlotte, the one that was a bit more than the bland, simple "nice" everyone seems to label her. She doesn't want to be just good ol' reliable Charlotte, she wants some edge! But, you know, old habits die hard. 

 

This Austenland 2 revisits Pembrook Park and brings back a few characters, mainly Mrs. Wattlesworth and Miss Charming, but also offers a whole new cast of characters as well. And this cast brings the edge Charlotte thinks she's missing... but maybe more than she bargained for! Also returning is resident lush Mr. Wattlesworth. 

 

"Attempted murder is becoming so mundane."  ~ Charlotte

 

Taking inspiration from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, Midnight In Austenland toys with the same themes Austen did in her novel, namely our main character getting caught up in a possible murder mystery, leaving her not knowing who to trust. But is there an actual threat or is it Charlotte's runaway imagination? So as you might notice, the plot here is a bit darker in tone than its predecessor. Once again, author Shannon Hale has her characters struggling with the question of what is or isn't real in this recreated Regency world.

 

Instead of ex-boyfriend recaps at the start of each chapter (as seen in Austenland), Midnight in Austenland prefaces each chapter with flashbacks of moments from Charlotte's childhood or marriage, memories she thinks back on that might hold clues to how / where / why her life took a turn for the worse. 

 

 

 

I read Midnight In Austenland shortly after watching the film adaptation of Austenland starring Keri Russell. Though the film naturally pulls largely from the first book, after reading a few chapters into this second book, I suspected that some minor details were taken from this book as well and incorporated into the film (on which author Shannon Hale was an associate producer)... lines from the film like Mr Nobley uttering "you make me nervous" or him being related to Mrs. Wattlesworth... those details actually appear in this second book, not the first (although it is character Mr. Mallery who is related to the proprietor, not Nobley, as presented in the film). Also, there is a speech Charlotte makes near the end of this second book that incorporates details that make up part of the ending of the film. All that said, these two novels, though linked by the setting of Pembrook Park, can easily be read as stand-alone novels. 

 

 

Though much of the inspiration for this story comes from Austen's Northanger Abbey, a heads up to readers: there are a few spoilers here for Austen's Mansfield Park as well. 

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