February 25, 2019

Book Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:
Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride—or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia—the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!
Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances—one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.
I thought I was getting a light-hearted, pretty confection of a graphic novel about a Cinderella-ish fairy tale, but The Prince and the Dressmaker quickly became much, much more than that.  Yes, it has beautiful dresses and picture panels that remind me of Disney picture books I used to read as a little girl.  But it also has surprises and fantastic themes of acceptance, tolerance and thriving on nonconformity.   Loved it!

February 18, 2019

Book Review: Graphic Novels by Audrey Niffenegger

Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger, Illustrator Eddie Campbell

Internationally bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger, and graphic artist Eddie Campbell, of such seminal works as From Hell by Alan Moore, collaborate on a wonderfully bizarre collection that celebrates and satirizes love of all kinds. With 16 different stories told through illustrated prose or comic panels, the couple explores the idiosyncratic nature of relationships in a variety of genres from fractured fairy tales to historical fiction to paper dolls. With Niffenegger’s sharp, imaginative prose and Campbell’s diverse comic styles, Bizarre Romance is the debut collection by two of the most important storytellers of our time.

Judging by the cover, I thought I would be reading stories about oddly-matched couples, such as a cat with a bird for example. With the first story, “Thursdays, 6 to 8 p.m., I thought it was heading in that direction but it quite deftly surprised me. Anything by Audrey Niffenegger will have a strange whimsical aspect to it. Eddie Campbell’s illustrations differ rom illustrated story to story; some don’t have accompanying graphic images at all.  Romance, friendships, filial obligations – the stories run the gamut. All are thought-provoking. 

The Night Book Mobile by Audrey Niffenegger

Audrey Niffenegger, the New York Times bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, has crafted her first graphic novel after the success of her two critically acclaimed “novels-in-pictures.” First serialized as a weekly column in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, The Night Bookmobile tells the story of a wistful woman who one night encounters a mysterious disappearing library on wheels that contains every book she has ever read. Seeing her history and most intimate self in this library, she embarks on a search for the bookmobile. But her search turns into an obsession, as she longs to be reunited with her own collection and memories.

The Night Bookmobile is a haunting tale of both transcendence and the passion for books, and features the evocative full-color pen-and-ink work of one of the world’s most beloved storytellers.

The Night Book Mobile looks at first like a picture book for adults, with an intriguing premise.  A traveling library containing every book, ephemera you’ve ever read. This is not like a physical Goodreads shelf because its curated by an omnipotent librarian.  For bookworms, like me, this would be a portrait of my own soul – and would be as alluring to me as it is for Alexandra, the protagonist in this book. Although it keeps eluding her, Alexandra searches for this bookmobile all her life.  And once she finally finds it again… well, the outcome is unexpected and unforgettable.

February 11, 2019

Book Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick

Publication Date: February 26, 2019

Source: Vine

London, 1765

Lady Isabella Gerard, a respectable member of Georgian society, orders her maid to take her new golden gown and destroy it, its shimmering beauty tainted by the actions of her brutal husband the night before.

Three months later, Lord Gerard stands at the shoreline of the lake, looking down at a woman wearing the golden gown. As the body slowly rolls over to reveal her face, it’s clear this was not his intended victim…

250 Years Later

When a gown she stole from a historic home as a child is mysteriously returned to Fenella Brightwell, it begins to possess her in exactly the same way that it did as a girl. Soon the fragile new life Fen has created for herself away from her abusive ex-husband is threatened at its foundations by the gown’s power over her until she can't tell what is real and what is imaginary.

As Fen uncovers more about the gown and Isabella’s story, she begins to see the parallels with her own life. When each piece of history is revealed, the gown—and its past—seems to possess her more and more, culminating in a dramatic revelation set to destroy her sanity.

First, the description for this book touts it for fans of Kate Morton.  I respectfully disagree.  While it has some elements similar to Morton's novels - alternating timelines, a mystery in the past, and complex characters, The Woman in the Lake can't compare to Morton's novels.  The comparison to Susannah Kearsley is a bit more on the nose, as there are supernatural elements woven into the narrative which are never explained to my satisfaction. 

"Her fingers brushed against something soft and smooth, silk, aged and pale yet still retaining the shimmer of gold.

"A sensation shot through her, recognition and dread and a strange sort of excitement.

"The golden gown came free of its wrappings with a whisper of sound that was like the past stirring.  It felt as though it sighed, shivering in Fen's hands. Unconsciously, she held it close to her heart in exactly the same way she had done in her bedroom fourteen years before.


"This is yours. Do with it what you think best but be aware of the danger.'"

The novel is written from three different points of view: Fenella in the modern day, Lady Isabella and her lady's maid, Cordelia, in the 1700s.  In both storylines, the female characters are in jeopardy from a lover or ex-lover and must go from a place of helplessness to one of strength.  Ultimately, this is what I liked about The Woman in the Lake - its theme of female empowerment. The last chapters moved fast towards a triumphant conclusion for both storylines. But my interest was piqued by the Author's Note which revealed that Lady Isabella was based on a real-life aristocrat, Lady Diana Spencer (not that one, but an ancestor of hers).  I would wait to research the author's inspiration as doing so might spoil some narrative turns. 

February 4, 2019

Book Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

Publication Date: March 26, 2019

Source: Vine

Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people—though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.

All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend—her grandmother Zelda—who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.

At first I had a hard time connecting with Martha Storm, who, despite her last name, is a timid doormat. She lets everyone, including her sister and library patrons, step all over her. She mends people's clothes, vases, does their laundry, keep their goldfish alive. She has no life of her own, too busy trying to please everyone.  I felt extremely frustrated with her.  But then I came upon this passage early on and realized she's good people:

"When Martha stepped inside the library, she closed her eyes and inhaled the earthy, almond scent of books. if she could bottle the aroma, she'd wear it as a perfume. L'eau de la Bibliotheque.

"She took the small battered book from her bag and gave that a sniff too.  It smelled musty and sweet with a hint of something else she couldn't place, maybe amber or cinnamon."

There's more to Martha than the long-suffering librarian.  All the vibrant parts of her personality somehow got suppressed over the years. But when she finds an unusual book that should not exist, all the uncomfortable secrets surrounding her childhood, domineering father, and dead grandmother come to light.  

The Library of Lost and Found went to unusual places and surprised me with the twists and turns of the story. It is heartwarming in the end, but some aspects made me angry and sad, such as Martha's childhood, a study in how to crush a bright and beautiful spirit.  Throughout the book, short, original fairy tales are sprinkled here and there to illuminate or enrich what was happening with scenes in the past.  These were my favorite parts -as the stories were whimsical but multi-layered.  

"The library had been her Narnia, and it still was."

I know the reader was supposed to find Zelda charming and eccentric but her stubborness about explaining everything drove me up the wall.