Lies Jane Austen Told Me

austens lies

Book Review:  Lies Jane Austen Told Me by Julie Wright

I need an intervention. Someone needs to stop me from wanting to read books that reference Jane Austen.

This one isn’t bad, but Jane and her apparent lies have very little to do with anything. Sure there’s hints of Austen’s plots, but there’s also hints of Austen’s plots in 80% of romances on the market and they don’t try and cash in on her name with their titles. (Well, some do, granted, which is why I need the invention.)

Emma believes her boyfriend, Blake, is going to propose; instead she catches him entertaining another woman. Fleeing the scene, she meets Blake’s brother, Lucas, who chivalrously sees her home. A few days later she meets Lucas again when her boss hires him as a consultant who will partner up with Emma at work.

I’m not a huge fan of love triangles. This one is written more sweet than sexy, which was a little unrealistic in a way. As in, Emma assumed Blake was going to pop the question, so one would have to expect they’d had sex at some time during their relationship. But there was no mention of it. If you have a younger reader looking to start something in the chick lit/romance genre, this one could be a winner.

Wright also adds in another conflict in the shape of a child, giving Emma a chance to prove to Lucas she really is a wonderful woman or something… *yawn* Actually this is another sure sign that the target audience for the book is younger and less grumpy than me.

There are a few fun moments in this book, but overall it’s pretty forgettable.

3 out of 5

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Uncommon Type: Some Stories

type

Book Review:  Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks

Okay, unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past couple of months, you will know that Tom Hanks, the actor, is now Tom Hanks, the writer. It’s a bit of a paradox: Because Tom Hanks is an A list actor I wanted to read this book, and because Tom Hanks is an A list actor I feel a little disappointed by it. Perhaps Tom needed to do a JK Rowling and publish via a pseudonym.

Anyway, as the title suggests this is a collection of short stories. I don’t usually read short story collections, and the last couple I picked up remain firmly in my ‘did-not-finish’ pile. So, firstly, the format might be influencing my rating as I can’t be sure how good this collection is compared to others.

Most of the stories are quite long. You do get a good sense of the characters in each. I had no trouble picturing them and thought Tom did a roaring job when it came to characterisation in each shorter format story. However, I must confess that quite often I pictured Tom himself as the leading male characters. As I listened via audiobook (and yes, it’s read by Tom Hanks, the actor and now audiobook reader) it’s difficult not to picture Tom in the roles.

There is also a good balance of comedy and drama/tragedy. More often than not, the stories contain both. I found myself chuckling quite a lot and, though I didn’t cry, a couple of the stories are very poignant. The stand out for me in this arena was ‘Christmas Eve 1953’, which starts out as a gentle story about a family getting ready for Santa’s arrival and turns into the harsh reality of war and PTSD.

“Go See Costas’’ was also very good. I felt Hanks used its historical time settings and situations to highlight the parallels of current politics.

There were some stories not so memorable, however, and not all the plots captured my attention fully. I found myself being distracted and bored with some stories’ tedious descriptive passages.

I have a friend who is big on descriptive writing and she always points out how important it is — perhaps Tom has been speaking with her. Unfortunately, for me, it did feel like Tom was reading out his grocery list at times.

All the stories are stand-alone, but there’s three stories that feature the same group of friends and they’re all very entertaining but in a bubblegum disposable type of way. The characters and their adventures kind of remind me of an American sitcom.

The whole book’s tone feels very American actually. Tom includes culturally diverse characters with a streak of patriotism included. (I’m not saying this is horrid; it’s not at all ‘we’re superior Americans’ but rather an undercurrent of ‘I’m proud of my country’ — which is nice.)

A typewriter features in every story. A couple of times it’s central to the plot and story, but a couple of times the machines are merely mentioned in passing and have zero reason for their inclusion.

Tom Hanks actually wrote this on a typewriter, an idea, in this day and age, that I find incredible. I mean, I couldn’t even write this review without deleting words and editing like a madwoman. It’s a habit I’ve (and 90% of the population, I assume) gotten into when it comes to writing, and the thought of now banging something out on a manual typewriter amazes me.

There is one story particularly, ‘These are the Meditation of My Heart’, which romanticises the machine completely and it wouldn’t surprise me if it starts a trend with hipsters around the world. (I can imagine the Instagram posts — a typewriter with a sheet of paper still sitting in it, the words of an inspirational quote typed upon it, an out of focus coffee and cat in the background…)

I don’t think I’ll search the antique stores for one though. Other than being in love with my delete button, my first job was in a typing pool using a manual typewriter, so any romance I could have found was eroded during those years. (Or else I’ll buy one and it will sit in the corner gathering dust beside the diaries I insist on buying each January before discarding them for my phone around February.)

Oddly, given that I always enjoy his movies, I didn’t enjoy Tom’s narration. His voice seriously started to grate on my nerves after a while. He drawls in a way I’ve never noticed before. And incredibly, seeing he wrote them, I felt his missed the comedic timing in some scenes. I think I’d recommend reading it instead. This was the only advantage of the short story format actually — I could easily take a break between the stories.

As I said, it’s Tom Hanks so it’s hard to judge (or easy to judge, whichever way you look at it) but I think I’ll give this book a 3 ½ out of 5.

 

Seven Days of Us

7 days.jpg

Book Review:  Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Could you spend seven days in confinement with just your family? It’s an interesting question that far too many of us would answer with a laugh or a lie. Here Hornak has taken that question and turned it into a brilliant novel.

Olivia is a doctor who’s just returned from Africa where she was dealing with an Ebola-like virus. She, and subsequently her family if they want to see each other, must stay in quarantine for seven days across the Christmas period until it is certain she has not contracted the disease and therefore, not brought it to UK soil.

Joining her will be her immediate family — her parents, Andrew and Emma, and younger sister, Phoebe — all of whom she has avoided at Christmas for many years. What starts out as a rocky ride – with Olivia unable to adjust to the thoughtless disregard of those closest to her when it comes to their wealth and entitlement compared to where she has been — gets bumpier with the addition of George, Phoebe’s finance, and Jesse, Andrew’s surprise illegitimate son.

The book is an easy read, with short chapters written from the point of view of the various family members.  At times the family have more curve balls thrown at them than a daytime soap opera, however, they still keep an air of reality, and Hornak’s writing is literary enough to prevent the plot falling into a cliched heap.

In fact, Hornak adds a lot of her deep thoughts with such subtlety that many readers might just skim over things that others might ponder much longer.

I must point out that the family’s conflict is not War of the Roses throwing of punches. All the characters have their moments of light and shade, which makes it easy for us to accept and empathise with their actions.  I also swapped loyalties quite often when they were embroiled in their moments of conflict. Actually I didn’t dislike any of the characters; I even found a fair bit of sympathy and fondness for George.

I like how there’s nothing predictable about this book, and just when I was all proud at myself for having one plot point figured out correctly, Hornak added a twist which I hadn’t seen coming at all.

Seven Days of Us is highly enjoyable. I highly recommend it while I’m eagerly anticipating Nornak’s future novels.

5 out of 5

Done Deal

done deal

Book Review:  Done Deal by Lynda Aicher

This novella is a prequel to an erotica series which has a general premise of consenting adults having free-for-all sex in an office boardroom.

I don’t usually read the genre and the straight-laced girl inside of me freaked out at the thought — and not just because of group sex.  I mean, there’s the uncomfortable furnishings and air conditioning in such rooms, and I’d never be able to stop worrying about cleaners and security men bursting into it.

The two main characters apparently have some sort of past and can’t be together in their everyday lives. In the boardroom, however, they gravitate towards only the other, which isn’t the point to the room but shows us they’re in love or something. We get no resolution of whatever their problem was nor any explanation which really annoyed me as there seemed no point without either.

The book is short – basically just a sex scene – one that goes on maybe too long. As I said, I would have liked some sort of backstory reveal, or some scene featuring why the characters can’t be together in their everyday real life.

Oh, and I took a star off for ‘Trevor’. I mean, maybe it’s different overseas but I can’t think of a less sexy or romantic name than Trevor right now. (Sorry to all those Trevs in my life! LOL)

Novellas should make me rush out and buy the next in the series and/or something else written by the author. I’m not sure if that is really the case. However, if you want to give erotica a go, it’s written okay. It’s just a little difficult to care about the characters due to its brevity.

2 1/2 out of 5 on the novella scale

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe

 

p&p mistletoe

Book Review:  Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa De La Cruz

This book was a train wreck. I should have tossed it into the DNF pile, but I kept rubbernecking right to the very end – mostly to test my blood pressure levels, I’m sure.

Firstly, the incorrect spelling and grammar was very distracting. So many simple errors that even the most junior editor should have picked up. ‘No’ instead of ‘know’, and ‘breaks’ instead of ‘brakes’ were the ones that raised my salt levels the most. Many times characters were referred to by the incorrect gender also. Hopefully this was sorted out before it hit the shelves. (I received a net-galley copy – thanks anyway!)

The plot is a modernised version of Pride and Prejudice with a gender swap. Darcy is female, and Lizzie becomes Luke.

There’s nothing particularly imaginative about the gender swap scenario. I know it’s been used over and over by fanfic writers, for starters. (I firmly place this type of book into the published fanfic category. I don’t have any issues with that – let’s celebrate published fanfic! But then, I became all sad that the book ended up being badly written fanfic with a pretty cover.)

Can I just add this cover is particularly pretty and it will probably boost sales?

The book’s target audience would appear to be much younger than myself. The point of view remain’s Darcy’s throughout. A couple of times we got (literally) pages of nothing but rambling from Darcy. I particularly remember the rather vein-opening scrutiny of The Twelve Days of Christmas (as in the carol) and The Gilmore Girls (as in the tv show). I think I was supposed to find these passages amusing, but… Maybe I’m just too old…

I have now had a quick look at the author’s other works and noticed she has written a plethora of young adult titles. Therefore, I’d firmly drop this one into the young adult genre too. The lack of actual conflict in the plot might be overlooked by the younger reader and there is no graphic sex scenes or obscene language.

There is a slight Christmas setting, but as per usual it doesn’t make too much difference to the storyline. There is a nice touch with some gift giving towards the end, so I’ll add a star for that effort.

Looking for another positive and all I can come up with is this was a fast read. This is probably the only reason why I bothered to finish it. Even then, it was quite a struggle from around the 50% mark onwards. Ms Cruz tried to spice things up too by adding another conflict for her characters as a climactic cliffhanger towards the end, and she failed miserably. The conflict was ridiculous and forced and I’m now wondering if Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility is a piece of fine literature. Mmm… No.

Probably a slightly generous 2 out of 5.

The Secret, Book and Scone Society

book and scone society

Book Review:  The Secret, Book and Scone Society by Ellery Adams

This cosy mystery follows the rules of that genre but does so with enough charm that it’s sure to become many people’s favourite.

The book sets up a series starring four women who have moved to Miracle Springs, a small North Carolina town which promises its residents and visitors peace along with physical and mental remedial treatment.

The women strike up a friendship when a man they’d all met, albeit briefly, is found dead. Deciding the man’s death is not a suicide but murder, they form the society of the title and work together to solve the case.

All women get to reveal their secrets which have drawn them to Miracle Springs, but Nora, the owner of Miracle Springs’s bookstore, is easily the most interesting and fully fleshed out of the four. Nora is scarred, inside and out, having being burnt in a car accident; the details of which are finally revealed towards the end of the book.

Like all cosy mystery heroines, Nora has a ‘special power’. No ridiculous paranormal skills though; Nora’s skill is choosing books as therapy for her customers. I really enjoyed this more unusual and realistic but heartwarming talent. In addition to the books Nora recommends, Adams adds many more literary references throughout the novel. Beware, you might end up adding way too many books to your TBR pile whilst reading.

The mystery/murder plot itself was okay, but I would complain that the villains of the piece were quite one-dimensional and stereotypical despite the one small twist at the end in this department. While speaking of the ending — it offers us a new mystery to tempt the reader into seeking out the next book in the series, just as you’d imagine it should.

There is also a touch of romance which I expect might be explored further in the subsequent books in the series.

All in all this was a strong debut of the characters and Miracle Springs. Recommended if you’re looking for an introduction to cosy mysteries and/or a new series.

4 out of 5

The Memory Shop

memory shop

Book Review:  The Memory Shop by Ella Griffin

I loved Griffin’s last book, The Flower Arrangement, so when I had the opportunity to review her new release, The Memory Shop, I jumped at it. And I’m happy to report that The Memory Shop was just as good, if not better, as that earlier novel.

There’s a lot of similarities between the two books.

In The Flower Arrangement the main setting is a romantic and charming florist. I said in my review of The Flower Arrangement that the shop gave Griffin an opportunity to gift us with the most beautiful flower porn. This time Griffin demonstrates her brilliant descriptive prose again by detailing antiques and window displays. I love that Griffin steers clear of the usual food porn and uses something unique and surprisingly satisfying. Yeah, who knew that there could ever be antique porn or shop window porn? Or that a reader could enjoy it so much.

Both books also have a chick-lit multitude of characters who cross paths in a Love Actually type way. All get their moment in the spotlight but my particular favourites were Nora, the central character and owner of the antique shop, and Fiona, who owns the cafe next door.

The individual stories are romantic, sad, and poignant, and include some topical issues such as domestic violence and alcoholism.

There are some happy endings for the characters, but not all the threads are neatly tied in the end, prompting me to hope for a sequel using some of the extra characters.

Griffin used the Irish setting a little more fully this time around, but I would argue that it again never stood out for me as particularly important part of the book and that the place setting could be any country. I wonder if Griffin’s descriptions of the shops are so draining that she has little left for her home country!

Another similarity between the books is their gorgeous covers. I’m sure many will want the print version on their shelf. There’s just so much pretty.

For cover and content, if you’re looking for a book to gift someone, I highly recommend The Memory Shop.

5 out of 5