Austenland [Shannon Hale]

17552626Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.

Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen; or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

My thoughts on the book: I first watched the hilarious film starring Keri Russell, and I knew I had to read the book. Usually, I do it the other way around. Anyway, the book is actually quite short (193 pages), so it is an easy and quick read. Although the film took some liberty with the script, it is as refreshing and entertaining.

I might not necessarily put it on a must-read list, however I had a really pleasant time delving into this Austen detox Jane Hayes is embarking on. By immersing herself in this Austen full-on experience, she’s hoping to get all the Darcy craziness out of her system in order to enjoy healthy relationships in real life. And boy did she have a string of awful boyfriends! Jane Hayes is a relatable, witty young woman who shares her experience of this odd theme park that will make you wish it existed in real life. I would also retain one truthful quote from the novel “Fantasy is the opiate of women”, and by choosing to indulge in Regency-inspired novels, I must admit it is not entirely false.

All in all, if you feel like having a lovely, fun literary treat, I really recommend reading and watching Austenland. I’m also tempted by the second installment Midnight In Austenland. Why stop the fun?!

My score: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (=I loved it)

Forks, Knives and Spoons [Leah DeCesare]

There are three kinds of guys: forks, knives, and spoons. That is the final lesson that Amy York’s father sends her off to college with, never suspecting just how far his daughter will take it. Clinging to the Utensil Classification System as her guide, Amy tries to convince her skeptical roommate, Veronica Warren, of its usefulness as they navigate the heartbreaks and soul mates of college and beyond. Beginning in 1988, their freshman year at Syracuse University, Amy and Veronica meet an assortment of guys—from slotted spoons and shrimp forks to butter knives and sporks—all while trying to learn if the UCS holds true. On the quest to find their perfect steak knives, they learn to believe in themselves—and not to settle in love or life.

My thoughts on the book: I had first requested the novel on NetGalley but wasn’t quick enough to download the file that was archived shortly after. Anyway, I was really keen on reading it because I was curious about the whole kitchen utensil classification of men. So, months later, I finally took the time to buy a copy online and read it.

Overall, I thought the novel was endearing and entertaining. It was fun to read about the American college experience. The fraternity and sorority societies are culturally foreign to me, but I enjoyed reading about them. Somehow, the action unfolding in Syracuse University made me think of the US show Felicity also set at a time when people didn’t have smartphones or Internet and still used letters and audio tapes. There’s a real sense of nostalgia for this decade.

It’s a well-paced novel with a deep message for girls. It’s moving to watch the main characters navigate college life, love life and friendships. Even though there were some lengthy moments when I slightly disconnected from the intrigue, I had a very good time seeing Amy, Veronica and Jenny grow into mature women, laughing with them during their attempts to categorize men and find their right match, their steak knife! 😊

I like that the story starts at the end of the eighties and then covers a vast period of time. It gives enough time to watch the protagonists evolve in a credible way. The relationships between Andrew and Amy, but also Amy and Matt are a major highlight of the book. But I must say that I have a soft spot for Joey and Veronica who are an unusual but heart-melting pair.

All in all, if you’re looking for a heartwarming, fun and witty novel, I really recommend Forks, Knives and Spoons.

My score: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (=I loved it)

Meet Clara Andrews – Book 1 [Lacey London]

24779543Meet Clara Andrews… Your new best friend!

With a love of cocktails and wine, a fantastic job in the fashion industry and the world’s greatest best friends, Clara Andrews thought she had it all.

That is until a chance meeting introduces her to Oliver, a devastatingly handsome American designer. Trying to keep the focus on her work, Clara finds her heart stolen by lavish restaurants and luxury hotels.

As things get flirty, Clara reminds herself that inter-office relationships are against the rules, so when a sudden recollection of a work’s night out leads her to a gorgeous barman, she decides to see where it goes.

Clara soon finds out that dating two men isn’t as easy as it seems…

Will she be able to play the field without getting played herself?

Join Clara, as she finds herself landing in and out of trouble, re-affirming friendships, discovering truths and uncovering secrets.

My thoughts on the book: Meet Clara Andrews is the first installment in the Clara Series by author Lacey London. I must admit that I had a fun time delving into this easy, light read, which is reminiscent of Bridget Jones and other chick lit novels. Clara has a likeable personality and she’s surrounded by good friends, which makes for an efficient cast.

Granted it contains your average amount of clichés (like the wealthy suitor) — and I also thought that Clara spent a crazy amount of time eating and drinking throughout the plot — but in the end, you get what you hope for, a heartwarming love story. Pretty much a guilty pleasure. Even though it’s not groundbreaking in the romance genre, it’s lovely and entertaining.

I think I’ll read the second book to see whether it gains in depth!

My score: ♥ ♥ ♥ (= I liked it a lot)

The Summer House [Jenny Hale]

Some summers will stay with you forever…

Callie Weaver and best friend Olivia Dixon have finally done it: put their life savings into the beach house they admired through childhood summers, on the dazzling white sand of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. They’re going to buff the salt from its windows, paint its sun-bleached sidings, and open it as a bed and breakfast.

Callie’s too busy to think about her love life, but when she catches the attention of local heartthrob Luke Sullivan, his blue eyes and easy smile make it hard to say no. He’s heir to his father’s property empire, and the papers say he’s just another playboy, but as they laugh in the ocean waves, Callie realizes there’s more to this man than money and good looks.

Just when true happiness seems within reach, Callie and Olivia find a diary full of secrets… secrets that stretch across the island, and have the power to turn lives upside down. As Callie reads, she unravels a mystery that makes her heart drop through the floor.

Will Callie and Luke be pulled apart by the storm it unleashes, or can true love save them?

My thoughts on the book: This is the first “summer” book I’ve read from Jenny Hale. I had already reviewed one of her Christmas novels a few months ago and I had really enjoyed the author’s writing style. So I knew that I was likely to enjoy this new publication.

And the promise of a feel-good, romantic story has been delivered. I really had a lovely time delving into this heartwarming tale. The whole cast was endearing and easy to like. Although at first, I was having some reservations about the “millionaire” side of Luke.

I couldn’t not say anything about this element of the book, especially given that I sort of criticized this recurring theme/cliché in chick lit in my last review of the French translation of “A Night With Grace Kelly” by Lucy Holliday. But, last weekend Pippa Middleton did marry that kind of rare man, so it is not as unrealistic as one would think, right? Let’s accept this feature as part of the wild romantic fantasy we might all nurture to some extent at some point! 😊

Overall, I enjoyed seeing the main protagonists slowly get to know each other. The author really managed to write warm scenes with vivid, dynamic descriptions. I really was under the impression that the film was unfolding before my eyes.

The Summer House is a feel-good love story for the hopeless romantics we all secretly are. Luke is the dream boyfriend we’d all wish to meet one day — kind, supportive and reliable. I recommend this book if you need a sweet, easy read to escape.

My score:  ♥ ♥ ♥ (= I liked it a lot)

*****

Special question for the author: I’m having some doubts about a short sentence that I found a bit odd in the context of the hurricane taking place near the end. Since Luke is a wealthy man, how come his sister is worried about where he would stay if his house is destroyed? One would think that accommodation wouldn’t be a problem for a millionaire? Or did I miss something?

EDIT (May 24) : Jenny Hale kindly answered my question on Twitter. If you need some background info like me, here it goes:

In a year, 38 million people visit overnight on a strip of land a mere 200 mikes long. During a big storm, People need to be in town for repairs but it’s a busy little place and very few hotels. Thanks for the review! Glad you enjoyed it. And all those visitors have rented cottages so they’re all booked or destroyed during a hurricane. Hope all that makes sense! 🙂

Kitty McKenzie [Annemarie Brear]

223788391864 – Suddenly left as the head of the family, Kitty McKenzie must find her inner strength to keep her family together against the odds. Evicted from their resplendent home in the fashionable part of York after her parents’ deaths, Kitty must fight the legacy of bankruptcy and homelessness to secure a home for her and her siblings. Through sheer willpower and determination, she grabs opportunities with both hands from working on a clothes and rag stall in the market to creating a teashop for the wealthy. Her road to happiness is fraught with obstacles of hardship and despair, but she refuses to let her dream of a better life for her family die. She soon learns that love and loyalty brings its own reward.

My thoughts on the novel: If you enjoy reading Downton Abbey-inspired historical novels, Kitty McKenzie is a must-read. After the untimely death of their parents, the McKenzie siblings lose everything after learning their family is deep in debt. Snatched from their comfortable life as members of the upper class, Kitty and her brothers and sisters must fend for themselves and find themselves living in the squalid conditions of the 19th century working class. A reverse rag-to-riches kind of tale. Can they work their way back in the upper class?

Kitty is a strong-willed, endearing character who must now act as a mother and a big sister to her younger siblings after realising that none of their relatives or so-called friends will come to help them. Without references or specific skills, she has difficulty finding employment. Luckily, she’ll find an unexpected source of help and support from Connie and Max Spencer, a childless couple living upstairs from their cellar. As the McKenzie brood navigate their new, tough daily life, Kitty finds some hope for a better future when she meets Benjamin Kinglsey, an attractive young man, heir to a major York fortune. Kitty will have to face the wrath of her future mother-in-law who strongly disapproves of this union. With the help of Benjamin’s father and grandmother, Kitty may stand a chance to pull her family from misery and experience a true love story. To what lengths will she have to go to reach that goal?

I couldn’t put down this book. It’s a riveting and moving tale about family, friendship and love. The author created complex and touching characters who struggle with profound life changes. Fortunately, it’s a tale about hope and new beginnings that will leave the reader with a new appreciation of life and relatives.

After finishing the book which ends on an open conclusion, I was overjoyed to learn that the author wrote a sequel. I cannot wait to read it!

My score: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (= a must-read)

Diary of a Single Wedding Planner [Violet Howe]

25765182Wedding planner Tyler Warren left heartbreak behind when she ran away from her small Southern hometown and started a new life in a big city. Years later, she wants to believe in the fairy-tale endings her job promotes, but the clients she meets day after day seem to be more “Crazily Ever After” than “Happily Ever After.”

Meanwhile, her own attempts at romance play out as bizarre comedies rather than love stories, and she’s starting to think Prince Charming either fell off his horse or got eaten by a dragon. When unresolved issues from Tyler’s past complicate things even further, she discovers she may yet have some things to figure out before she can find her own happy ending.

My thoughts on the novel: When I picked up the book, I was attracted to the girly cover and the light subject matter which made me think of countless Hollywood movies about Bridezillas. I thought I would get a funny, witty, entertaining rom-com. In the end, I felt mostly frustrated and bored. Poor Tyler has to deal with brides and grooms who seem to be blatant clichés of the worst-case scenarios for any wedding planners (except for one or two exceptions). On the personal front, Tyler doesn’t fare better with a smothering, borderline hysterical mother who just never seems to stop ranting about how inconsiderate her daughter is. On top of that, Tyler finds herself dealing with her ex-boyfriend/love of her life (Dwayne) who is back in her life completely out of the blue, five years after cowardly dumping her to marry another one — almost right after their breakup, basically. A betrayal of great magnitude. I mean, there were just too many major caricatures to be a credible narrative.

BUT, not all the characters are caricatural. I must admit that Ty’s best-friend Cabe is an interesting protagonist with a credible personality. So, not all was bad.

The book is less than 300 pages and it felt like it took me forever to finish it. I just couldn’t believe what I was reading, especially the way Tyler deals with the pathetic ghost of boyfriend past. It was so frustrating to see her get sucked into a toxic relationship and actually allocate precious time to a guy who broke her heart in one of the cruellest ways. The author tries to sugar-coat in a “I-have-to-get-a-proper-closure” kind of way, but to me, it was just plain clichéd and hard to believe, especially the way Dwayne addresses Tyler: he sounds oh-so-very pathetic almost the entire time. I couldn’t understand why Tyler would put up with that; “for old time’s sake” has its limits.

Maybe the subject of wedding planners and bridezillas has just been receiving too much coverage in books and films, and now it all seems like déjà-vu?! Who knows, maybe. What I know is that I really hoped to have a good time enjoying a light story, but I ended up hating the way Tyler navigated the curveballs fate threw at her. She rarely could catch a break. Even the dates she goes on are mind-boggling (in a negative way).

To be fair, the final chapters were more to my liking. Tyler finally gets to tell Dwayne how she really feels and she gets her happy ending after all. Although it was predictable, it was nice to end on a positive note after everything else.

I’ll conclude by saying that even though the book definitely didn’t appeal to me for a wide variety of reasons, it seems that it gets some very good reviews. So, don’t just take my word for it, by all means.

Like the author mentions at the very end, there is no such thing as bad publicity. 😊

My score: ♥ (= Quite so-so)

Disney Beauty and the Beast Volume 2 [Mallory Reaves]

In Disney’s live-action film “Beauty and the Beast,” Belle, a bright, beautiful and independent young woman, is taken prisoner by a beast in his castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the Beast’s hideous exterior and realize the kind heart and soul of the true Prince inside.

This manga explores the Beast’s struggle as he tries to move on from his past and learn what it is to love.

My thoughts on the book: Contrary to the first volume which was very difficult to read due to the odd disposition of the pages in the PDF version, I must admit that this volume 2 was far easier and more pleasant to read because it was displayed one page at a time. It made the reading experience less frustrating.

Overall, the illustrations are as good as the first book — very elaborate and neat. However, I didn’t find the Beast very convincing. I think the face looks too human. Anyway, that’s quite minor flaw in the bigger picture of this manga. Speaking of which, I’m not really a manga reader (not at all actually), but given the theme, I was really looking forward to discovering this version of the classic tale.

Based on the Beast’s perspective, this second volume offers a different, interesting angle. The drawings and sketches are expressive and vibrant. I do prefer the first volume because it’s more girly, but this one is worth having a look as well even though it’s more masculine and rough around the edges since you have direct access to the tortured soul and stream of thought of the Beast.

My Score: ♥ ♥ ♥ (= I liked it a lot)