Sunday, January 20, 2019

The First Book Reviews of 2019

I have been sooooooo busy in late autumn through the winter that I have over a dozen books to add to my 2018 list of books I have finished, much less the several books I have read in the first weeks of 2019. (I am very much enjoying the free month of Kindle Unlimited that came with my new Paperwhite, my Christmas present!)

So while many more reviews will be coming as soon as I have time to breathe among teaching an online poetry workshop at Brave Writer, grading essays for my online essay grading service, taking care of my parents who are needing me to drive the hour each way to see them twice a week now for doctors' visits and shopping trips, and our youngest (diagnosed with autism five months ago) who is in college in Arizona and needs help with his assignments, here are a few from early autumn 2018.

Edenbrooke Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's very rare that I read a book in a single sitting. Especially when sitting in a Jacuzzi. But that's exactly how I read Edenbrooke.

It was a simply delightful three hours. I don't know if I've ever read a book of this length (250+ pages in a large trade paperback format) in so short a length of time. I couldn't put it down despite shivering in the outside spa while finishing the last chapters.

I can definitely see the influence of Austen and Georgette Heyer in this lovely Regency story of Marianne who lives with her irascible grandmother in Bath after the death of her mother. While her father retreats to France to grieve, Marianne's twin, Cecily, goes to London with their cousins while Marianne is exiled to Bath, a city she grows to dislike, mostly because she misses her family's estate where she had followed tomboy and artistic pursuits in her beloved orchards and fields.

Events begin to unfold as Marianne's grandmother decides to disinherit her profligate nephew in favor of Marianne on the condition that she works on becoming a lady of the ton. Her training is to begin at the country estate, Edenbrooke, of her mother's dear friend Lady Caroline. While en route in her grandmother's carriage to Edenbrooke, Marianne and her maid are beset by a highwayman, and after her maid takes a shot at the brigand with the pistol hidden in the carriage, Marianne drives the carriage with their wounded driver and maid to the nearest inn. There Marianne meets a rude young gentleman who refuses at first to assist her...and she informs him that he is not a gentleman. As she settles her maid in a room and cares for the driver who was shot by the highwayman, she wins the grudging respect of the gentleman who only gives his name as Philip.

Arriving at Edenbrooke the following day, Marianne discovers that the mysterious Philip is none other than Lady Caroline's son, and they quickly become fast friends. But when Cecily, Marianne's twin, writes that she is determined to marry Philip, Marianne prepares to step aside, as she always has done, for her sister. After all, Cecily is an accomplished lady who has just experienced her first London Season and has chosen Philip as her future husband based on his title, wealth, and handsome appearance. But Marianne has learned to love Philip based on his kindness, his intellect, and their discussions of literature, history, and nature.

This story is gentle and compelling, with characters who are far more developed than the usual "stock" characters of Regency romance stories: the plucky female, the calculating and spoiled brat, the rascally rogue, the annoying fop, etc. I really didn't know what to expect of this novel and these characters; they truly kept me guessing most of the way through the book. And the characters were written so winsomely and without the usual "saccharine sweetness" typical of less-accomplished writers of this genre.

This book is subtitled "A Proper Romance" which is lovely--there are no scenes to cause embarrassment if a young teen were to read it. It was a pure story--not overtly religious in the least yet following the precepts of Philippians 4:8: "...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (ESV).

This book was brought to my attention via either BookBub or Book Gorilla, both of which are daily emails of e-books on sale (usually $2.99 or less, often free) in genres chosen by the recipient. I enter the titles that appeal to me into our library's database and order any of them that I can. If a book isn't available state-wide, then I consider whether to purchase it or not.

I rarely give "5" votes to books that are not established classics (Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, etc.), but Edenbrooke was truly THAT good. It's a wonderful lighter read that is completely enjoyable.

ESV Illuminated Bible, Art Journaling Edition ESV Illuminated Bible, Art Journaling Edition by Anonymous
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a gorgeous edition of the English Standard Version of the Bible. It's a cloth hardcover in a beautiful, sturdy slipcover, and the "gold" leaf decorating the dark blue cloth cover, the cardboard slipcover, and magnificent title page--WOW!! And then the golden ink in the margin Scripture quotations and the whole-page quotations in Art Deco and Art Nouveau fonts and illustrations--mindblowingly beautiful!!

Next to having a Bible filled with medieval illuminations, this is the most richly, smartly, and beautifully illuminated Bible I could ever imagine!! The wide margins for notetaking, journaling, and sketching are so inviting, and the whole Bible is simply "a thing of beauty and a joy forever," to slightly misquote Keats.

I love the ESV translation anyway, and then to add the illuminations and the artwork throughout--it's going to be my favorite Bible for the rest of my life. (Unless someone gives me a Bible filled with medieval illuminations, of course.)

I would give this edition of the ESV Bible ten stars if I could. Such a lovely birthday gift from my husband!!

Sparks Fly, Tires Skid: A Modern Pride and Prejudice Variation Romantic Comedy Sparks Fly, Tires Skid: A Modern Pride and Prejudice Variation Romantic Comedy by Ari Rhoge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intriguing modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice in which Elizabeth and Jane meet Darcy and Bingley when they get into a fender-bender. Darcy is Bingley's attorney as Bingley seeks to expand his family's hotel empire, while Elizabeth is a kindergarten teacher with a foul mouth and Jane is simply perfectly-perfect. It's a fun romp through Austen's original with lots of twists and turns along the way. Charlotte is Elizabeth's roommate and seeks to marry Bill Collins, a physical therapist who works for Catherine De Bourgh. This book is funny, too--Lizzy especially is a hoot in an endearingly strange sort of way, and we can see how straightlaced Darcy falls for her fun-loving spirit. It just keeps getting more and more intriguing as the story continues.

I first read this book on (and yes, I used a fanfiction downloader to get my copy of this book; I'm making up for it by writing this review and publishing it on Goodreads and my blog, and thence to Facebook and Twitter), and I'm thrilled that the author has published it on Amazon where it's now available for purchase. This was my second reading of the tale, and I enjoyed it even better the second time. It's funny, poignant, depressing, and hilarious all by turns, and it really takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. It's a great read, and I definitely recommend it!

A Season Lost: A Pride & Prejudice Continuation A Season Lost: A Pride and Prejudice Continuation by Sophie Turner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An amazing continuation of this series, I am riveted as always by Sophie's Turner's brilliant characters, compelling dialogue and plots, and beautiful prose. The amount of research that must have been invested in this series astounds me; Sophie's attention to detail, especially the different ports of call that Matthew and Georgiana experience, is exquisite. I felt as if I have learned so much and in such a pleasant and entertaining manner!!

The first two books in the series, A Constant Love and A Change of Legacies are also outstanding novels, and A Season Lost makes much more sense when both books are read before tackling the third in the series. (Or at least read the second book before the third, but all three books are definitely woven together masterfully!). I read the first two on, then I broke my meager book budget by purchasing the third book in the series, and I am sooooo glad I did!!

This third book was even more addicting than the first two as it switched back and forth between the Darcys at Pemberley and in London and with Georgiana and her Navy Commodore as she accompanies him on the Caroline on a trip that was far more extended than the original orders to Gibraltar. I truly could NOT put this book down, and my teaching and grading suffered as a result.

A truly outstanding continuation of this series--the best yet!! I highly, highly recommend Sophie Turner's books!!

* * * * *

And these are all of the reviews I have handy now until I start writing more. I have three pages of notes on all of the books I've read and have yet to review. Lots more book reviews (and not all of them Austenesque) are on their way this winter and spring! 

Happy reading!

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