April 30, 2018

Book Review: How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

Nightingale Books, nestled on the main street in an idyllic little village, is a dream come true for book lovers—a cozy haven and welcoming getaway for the literary-minded locals. But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open after her beloved father’s death, and the temptation to sell is getting stronger. The property developers are circling, yet Emilia’s loyal customers have become like family, and she can’t imagine breaking the promise she made to her father to keep the store alive.

There’s Sarah, owner of the stately Peasebrook Manor, who has used the bookshop as an escape in the past few years, but it now seems there’s a very specific reason for all those frequent visits. Next is roguish Jackson, who, after making a complete mess of his marriage, now looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. And the forever shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant for two in her tiny cottage—she has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section, but can hardly dream of working up the courage to admit her true feelings.

Enter the world of Nightingale Books for a serving of romance, long-held secrets, and unexpected hopes for the future—and not just within the pages on the shelves. How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the delightful story of Emilia, the unforgettable cast of customers whose lives she has touched, and the books they all cherish.

All the diamonds in the world are nothing in comparison.  Books are more precious than jewels.

Every once in a while, I just crave a novel about or set in a book store because 1) I know it’s going to celebrate books and speak my language and 2) I sometimes pine for the days when I used to work in a book store and the close friendships I formed there. Book people are the best people there are.

"'It must happen to you all the time,' said Sarah. 'People telling you how much a book has meant.'

"'Yes,' said Julius. 'Its why I do what I do.  There’s a book for everyone, even if they don’t think there is.  A book that reaches in and grabs your soul.'”

So of course when I heard the title of this book I immediately perked up – I just had to read it. I thought I knew what it was going to be like and how it was going to go – but in the most pleasant way, it surprised me. With a title like that, you think it’s going to be all meet-cutes in a small town but in actuality, there are some sad moments.  Unrequited love, tragedy, and messy details of real life. But there’s also enchantment and, yes, happily ever afters, some of which were unexpected. 

And she knew from all the books she had ever read, that life was complicated, that love sprang from nowhere sometimes, and that forbidden love wasn’t always something to be ashamed of.

Not only did this novel satisfy my itch for novels set in bookstores, but it also spoke to my love for food and makeovers. If that combination sounds appealing – then you MUST read this book!

April 9, 2018

Book Review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Sophie’s husband James is a loving father, a handsome man, a charismatic and successful public figure. And yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to rip them apart. 

Kate is the lawyer hired to prosecute the case: an experienced professional who knows that the law is all about winning the argument. And yet Kate seeks the truth at all times. She is certain James is guilty and is determined he will pay for his crimes.

Who is right about James? Sophie or Kate? And is either of them informed by anything more than instinct and personal experience? Despite her privileged upbringing, Sophie is well aware that her beautiful life is not inviolable. She has known it since she and James were first lovers, at Oxford, and she witnessed how easily pleasure could tip into tragedy.

Most people would prefer not to try to understand what passes between a man and a woman when they are alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in an elevator… Or alone in the moonlit courtyard of an Oxford college, where a girl once stood before a boy, heart pounding with excitement, then fear. Sophie never understood why her tutorial partner Holly left Oxford so abruptly. What would she think, if she knew the truth?

There is a big “twist” in Anatomy of a Scandal, one that I did see coming as soon as the first flashback is introduced. However, predicting the twist did not make it any less of a pageturner. There are other surprises in store for the reader, not the least of which is if James is truly guilty of what he is charged with. Some of my curiosity derives from following a case through the English criminal system, albeit a fictional one. I was surprised, for instance, to learn that barristers still wear old-fashioned robes and wigs in court, even the female ones. 

As the novel begins, it at first seems that we are meant to find Kate as our touchstone in the story – the crusading prosecutor determined to seek justice. The wife of the accused, Sophie, initially seems like a cold, unsympathetic character, who was lived, along with her husband, a too-perfect life all these years. But as the story reveals one twist after another, Sophie, who might have been a calculating or complicit at first becomes richer with dimension. There are more to the characters than meet the eye.

Scandalous yes, but also an anatomical glimpse into a genuinely realistic scenario apropos for these times. 

“But the truth is, women are often scared of antagonizing their assailants or they feel conflicted; not so very long ago they may have been charmed by them. And we women aim to please. It is hardwired into us that we should placate and mollify-bend our will to that of men….

“And so, yes, a young woman whose boss has touched her up or whose supposed friend has kissed her might well seek to minimize what has happened.  To think the best: that it was an out-of-character mistake, best forgotten or brushed over, whatever the pounding of her heart-and the shot of fear coursing through her-might betray.

“But she is a fool, and it is no wonder.

“Men can make fools of us all.”

April 2, 2018

Book Review: Strange Star by Emma Carroll

One stormy June evening, five friends meet at Villa Diodati, the summer home of Lord Byron. After dinner is served, they challenge each other to tell ghost stories that will freeze the blood. But one of the guests–Mary Shelley–is stuck for a story to share.

Then there’s an unexpected knock at the front door. Collapsed on the doorstep is a girl with strange scars on her face. She has traveled a long way with her own tale to tell, and now they all must listen.

Hers is no ordinary ghost story, though. What starts as a simple tale of village life soon turns to tragedy and the darkest, most dangerous of secrets. Sometimes the truth is far more terrifying than fiction . . . and the consequences are even more devastating.

I was thrilled to read Strange Star by Emma Carroll as I have been obsessed with that fateful summer when Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Polidori gathered at Lake Geneva. That stormy summer gave rise to assorted poems, “The Vampyre,” and most famously, Frankenstein. I've often envisioned what it would have been like to have been there and heard the seeds of these stories being recited out loud for the first time. Carroll re-imagines that amazing episode from the point of view of two children - Felix, a black servant; and Lizzie, a country girl.  Although this is a middle grade book, Carroll retains some of the more scandalous players such as Claire Claremont without going into adult themes. The narrative takes an interesting diversion from Switzerland to the English countryside and an imagined inspiration for the tale of Frankensteinwith a new cast of fictional characters. I enjoyed Carroll's take - which gave me some shivery moments and revitalized a favorite "back story" of a literary masterpiece.