Top Five Friday: Best Books of 2014

I only get to sneak my “Top Five Friday” posts in occasionally these days, since the Pink for All Seasons recaps generally happen on Fridays. But I finished my GoodReads 2014 Challenge on Wednesday (with only hours to spare), so I’ve been thinking about all the books I read in 2014.

Do you use GoodReads? If you do, it’s fun to look at your stats about what you read. I know that I read 85 books in 2014, but GoodReads tells me that I read a total of 26,865 pages. Of all the books I read, I rated seven books as 5 stars and also seven as 2 stars. No books in 2014 got a 1 star rating – how excellent. The vast majority of the books I read were mysteries, and then several of my other categories (like books about India, fairy-tale inspired books, and nonfiction) were tied for second place. The majority of the books I read were published after 2000, and the oldest book I read was Around the World in Eighty Days (published in 1873). Maybe it’s nerdy of me to think that’s interesting, but I definitely do!

Looking back over everything I’ve read this year, I’ve come up with my Top Five list for 2014 reads. I’m excluding everything written by Lauren Willig, since I cover that pretty extensively in Pink for All Seasons. Here they are!

thousand stars 1. Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn. Don’t get me wrong or come after me with your torch and pitchforks. I love Lady Julia, but Deanna’s standalone novels from 2013 and 2014 are what put her on my list of favorite authors. A Spear of Summer Grass made my 2013 list, and she’s absolutely at the top of this year with Night of a Thousand Stars. Deanna has a gift for hooking you with her first lines. This story is no exception. Have a look: “I say, if you’re running away from your wedding, you’re going about it quite wrong.” When we meet Poppy, our heroine, for the first time, she is literally paused with one leg over a window sill in the process of bolting from her wedding. I loved this book. Poppy was funny and spunky, the setting was exotic, the mystery had a great pace, and Deanna’s storytelling is absolutely on point. I gulped this book down in two sittings and loved every page of it. Yes, it has connections to the Lady Julia series and also to A Spear of Summer Grass and City of Jasmine, but you can read this one and still thoroughly enjoy it without having read the others.
 every secret 2. Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley (writing as Emma Cole). This book is different from Susanna’s projects of the last few years. Kate Murray is a journalist who is covering a high-profile court case when she witnesses a terrible accident. A stranger is hit by a car and killed only moments after he tells her that he has a story she could research – a story that stretches back to World War II and a killer who has managed to hide his crimes for decades. As Kate begins to trace the stranger’s past, she finds an unexpected connection to her own family, and she realizes that she is placing both the people who are close to her and the people who can help her in serious danger. The story flickers between Kate’s research in the present day and flashbacks to the 1940s in Canada, the US, UK and Lisbon. I really enjoy stories about World War II, but somehow this one hit me on an extremely personal level. The mystery was excellent (I did NOT see the end coming), the period detail is flawless, and if you are a fan of Mary Stewart novels, you will really appreciate this one.
 cress 3. Cress by Marissa Meyer. This is the third book in Marissa’s Lunar Chronicles series that began in 2012 with Cinder. In the Lunar Chronicles, Marissa creates a futuristic world where the citizens of Earth have been brought to the brink of war by a devastating plague, the threat of invasion from the Lunars (who live on the moon), and a tangle of international and intergalactic politics. Cress is a Rapunzel story, but instead of a beautiful princess locked in a tower by a witch, we have a young girl trapped in a satellite orbiting earth by an evil queen. Cress has been watching the situation between Earth and Luna deteriorate for years, and with nothing but computers and television for company, she has grown sympathetic to Earth’s cause. When an opportunity comes to be rescued from her satellite, she jumps at it, although she learns quickly that Earth is not the welcoming sanctuary it has always appeared from several thousand miles away. In this book, Marissa does a great job of bringing together several different plot lines she created earlier in the series, and I cannot wait to see how she will move the story forward. Cress stood out to me as the best in the series so far, and I feel like Marissa is preparing us for an unbelievable ride in Winter (due to be released in November 2015).
 Princess 4. A Princess Remembers by Gayatri Devi. In this book, Gayatri tells the story of her life in India, and it is fascinating. She lived in a time of unbelievable change – the India from the days of her childhood is so incredibly different from the India she knew as an adult. She grew up as the daughter of a Maharaja and became the third wife of the Maharaja of Jaipur after a secret six-year courtship. She was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, and she was the last Maharani that Jaipur would ever see. After Partition, Gayatri Devi ran for Parliament in 1962. She won her seat by the largest landslide in the history of democratic elections, confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records. Her story is fascinating, and her descriptions of both day-to-day life and political events are wonderful. I don’t read many memoirs or biographies, but this one was wonderful.
 fortune2 5. The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin. This story is based on true events from the lives of Charlotte Baird, Bay Middleton, and Empress Elizabeth of Austria. It’s a great period piece, and it will satisfy that part of your soul that wants to watch Downton Abbey and drink tea in your pajamas all day. I wrote a full review for NetGalley back in May, if you want more details.

 

So there you have it – my favorite books from 2014. What were the best books you read last year?

Library Sale Giveaway

Last weekend, Brad and I went to the Wake County library book sale. Have you ever been to a library book sale? I’ve been to a few, but the Wake County sale is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s so enormous, it has to be held at the NC state fair grounds. It is all in one building, but that building is slammed. So. Many. Books.

For a person like me who loves to read, you would think this would be heaven. But I felt so overwhelmed by the number of books around me, the number of people, and the lack of any organization beyond “general fiction on the right, mystery and romance to the left,” that I wound up feeling like Rachel in that episode of Friends where they try to find Monica a wedding dress. I just wanted to curl up under a table with my hands over my head and blow my safety whistle.

I digress. I think it’s really interesting to see what’s on offer at the book sale, because the books you see the most copies of tell you something about what books were trending in the past year or so. At last year’s book sale, I must have seen at least fifty copies of The Help. Strangely, this year I saw tons of copies of The Lovely Bones – I wouldn’t have predicted that one. I also find it interesting that I hardly ever run across a copy of a Harry Potter book at these sales, but there were entire boxes full of Twilight books. I’m not trying to hate on Twilight. I read and own all four of the books. But I think it’s interesting.

Brad found some biographies and histories, and I found a few hardback copies of Mary Stewart novels that I’m really excited about. Here’s the thing, though. Brad and I already have a LOT of books. We have stacks of them, actually. People say, “Oh, do you need bookshelves?” No. We have seven. They are full, thus the stacks on the floor. Brad and I walked away from the library book sale with 25 books.

winter seaforgotten garden

Since it’s nearly Christmas, and I love to share things with you, I am going to give away two books that I bought at the library sale. I have a paperback copy of Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea and Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden to put up for grabs. They are both previously owned, obviously, but they are in very good condition. Both books are excellent – The Winter Sea is actually one of my all-time favorites. I’m giving both books to one lucky commenter on today’s post. I’ll announce the winner on Friday.  Good luck!

An Interview and a Giveaway with Susanna Kearsley

I am so excited about today’s guest that I hardly know how to act.  Be cool, y’all, and cover for me.  Susanna Kearsley has agreed to be our December guest for an interview and giveaway!

skfirebird

I first found Susanna’s books through Lauren Willig’s “If You Like” posts.  I kept seeing repeated recommendations for Marianna, which I believe Lauren says is her favorite.  I started with The Rose Garden and I absolutely fell in love.  Since then, I’ve read nearly everything she’s published, including her novel Every Secret Thing that is published under the name Emma Cole (quite possibly my favorite, actually!) and a few of her books that are trickier to find in the States, like Named of the Dragon.  Why have I done this?  Because her stories are absolutely phenomenal.  I have never read an author that could match Susanna for writing a story that I feel completely, totally immersed in.  From her sense of place in her novels to her pacing and her wonderful, lovely characters, her books are an absolute joy from start to finish.  I did mention I was excited that she’s here, right?  Before I am run away with my feelings, let’s give Susanna a chance to tell us a bit about herself and her writing.

Susanna, when you walk into a book store, where do you go first?

I don’t have a set pattern. I’m very easily drawn by pretty covers, but the section I wander to first will usually depend on what book I’m working on at the time, because that will dictate what I’m currently fascinated by. When I was writing A Desperate Fortune, for example, I always went first to the travel section, looking for books that might contain or reference old travel narratives from the 18th century Grand Tour days. When I was writing Mariana, back in the early 1990s, I started every bookstore visit in the New Age and Spirituality section, looking for firsthand accounts of reincarnation and past lives. So it changes. But in both new and used bookstores—especially used ones—I always end up in the history shelves, browsing not only for books on the subject I’m writing about, but on curious incidents I’ve never heard about—that’s where the next story frequently starts.

If I took a sneak peek into your writing space, what would I find?

An absolute disaster area! I’m not the greatest housekeeper at the best of times, but when I’m working on a novel I don’t notice clutter, and things tend to pile up. There are always, always documents of every age and type—from old maps to photocopied letters from assorted archives. Stacks and stacks of these (though I do try to tame the piles by sorting things into archival storage boxes, when I have the time). There are books, of course. My writing room has 14 feet of wall space on each side and I use most of it for bookcases that go up to the ceiling and are stacked at least two layers deep. Some of the books are for reference and some are for pleasure, and some are for rainy-day reads in the future. There are things I’ve brought back from my research trips: gravel from the rose garden of the English manor house I used in Mariana; a limpet shell from the rock beach below St. Govan’s Chapel in Wales; pressed flowers from Greece; an oyster shell from the Long Island location I’m using for my next book—I like to have these small things round me when I am writing. And you’ll usually find coffee cups—some empty, some forgotten, and at least one still half-filled with coffee that’s gone cold because I got distracted by my work.

If you were having a dinner party, and you could invite 6 characters (other than yours) to attend, who would you pick?

Only 6? Hmm. It’s not easy to choose—I love so many characters, it’s hard to narrow down the list. I’ll keep it to people from books written by authors who are no longer living:

Marian Halcombe, from Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, because she was such a resourceful and wonderful character and I always thought Walter was an idiot for preferring the beautiful but vacuous Laura to Marian.

Keith Stewart, the titular character of Nevil Shute’s book Trustee from the Toolroom, is one of those seemingly ordinary people who isn’t ordinary at all once you get to know him, and I’d love to hear him go on about his miniature mechanical creations.

Rilla Blythe (daughter of Anne of Green Gables and Gilbert Blythe) from L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside, has a tendency to speak before she thinks, which makes her fun and unpredictable and perfect for a dinner party.

Josh Canfield, the hero of Catherine Gaskin’s The File on Devlin, is both dashing and understated—a rare and attractive combination in my book—AND he’s both thoughtful and well-read, so he would definitely rate an invitation.

Elspeth Lamond, from Bride of the MacHugh by Jan Cox Speas, has the proven ability to hold her own in any gathering, and possesses both a lively curiosity and an original mind.

And I’d round out the guest list with the charming Sir Julian Gale, father of the hero Max from Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, who could regale us with endless witty tales of his life on the London stage.

What are you reading now?

Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice, a gift from my mother who re-reads it annually, a Christmas ritual I now follow, too.

When you finished The Winter Sea, were you already considering a sequel?  How did your idea for The Firebird take shape?

To be honest, I didn’t think the story of The Winter Sea was going to continue. I “see” the novels playing like a movie in my mind while I am writing them, and when I’ve got the ending of a book right the character stop “talking” in my mind, and at the end of The Winter Sea the characters all seemed content and happy with the way things had worked out. But then I started “seeing” Colonel Patrick Graeme, from the past part of the novel, standing framed within the doorway of a cottage on the northeast coast of Scotland. And I knew he’d come for Anna. So I knew I wasn’t finished with her story.

At the start I tried to think of some new problem I could give the modern characters to take them through a second book, but they were just so happy where they were I didn’t want to give them problems. Then a reader, quite by chance, asked if young Robbie from my book The Shadowy Horses was ever going to get his own novel, and that kind of stuck in my mind and I started to see how Rob’s psychic gifts could make an interesting bridge to the past—and The Firebird was born.

Your books frequently include a paranormal element like ancestral memory, psychometry, or time travel.  What inspires you to write about these topics?

For one thing, it’s a useful way of linking both the stories in the present and the past to one another. I don’t always use the paranormal to do this—in Every Secret Thing my modern day heroine is a journalist interviewing people, and whenever they start telling her about the past I use their narratives to just slide backwards. And in the new book coming out this spring, A Desperate Fortune, I use an old journal as the mechanism to connect the two strands of the storyline. But sometimes the paranormal connection just seems to work the best, and it adds another layer to the books that I find interesting. Reading the data from some of the university research studies into things like ancestral memory and psychometry is absolutely fascinating to me, and while I’m fairly convinced that many of the things we now consider “paranormal” will come to be seen as “normal” in the coming decades, I have to admit I kind of like the fact that we can’t yet explain, through science, everything that happens in the world.

What is an interesting fact or subject you’ve come across in your research that you haven’t yet included in your books?

Beginning with my research for The Winter Sea, and carrying on through my research for The Firebird, and now A Desperate Fortune, I’ve become quite well-acquainted with the Keith brothers: William, who became the 10th Earl Marischal, and his younger brother James, who became a general in first the Russian and then the Prussian army. Both men are strongly connected to the historical hero of A Desperate Fortune—although only the Earl Marischal makes an actual appearance in that book—and both were friends of a number of the other characters I write about, from General Pierce Lacy to Admiral Thomas Gordon. In 1737, when James Keith was taking part in the Russian siege of Ochakiv, on the Black Sea, he rescued a small Turkish girl named Emet-Ulla, whom he then delivered for safekeeping to his brother, the Earl. The Earl Marischal adopted Emet-Ulla as his daughter, and instead of trying to convert her to Christianity had her raised in her own Muslim faith (though she converted of her own accord in 1763, before marrying a man whom she afterwards quickly divorced). The Earl Marischal clearly loved her, and her own correspondence, coupled with that of those who knew her (including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the biographer Boswell) left behind the record of an intelligent and interesting woman, and—to judge by the portrait painted of her in her lifetime—a beautiful one. Women are so often left out of the historical record, and Emet-Ulla’s history intrigues me so much that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her turn up in a future book of mine.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just started work on a new novel, Bellewether, set on Long Island, New York. It’s a book that grew out of an incident drawn from my own family history, with a twin-stranded storyline interweaving the lives of the people restoring a modern-day museum house that may or may not harbor a determined ghost, and the intrigue and adventures of a politically-divided family living in that house in 1757, at the height of the French and Indian War.

I’m happy to say both my American and Canadian publishers have already bought Bellewether, which I’m planning to deliver to them in the spring of 2016, so it should be in bookstores a year after that.

If readers would like to learn more about you and your work, how would they do that?

I’m all over the place!

My website, which I update a couple of times a year, is at www.susannakearsley.com

You can find me on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSusannaKearsley

Or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SusannaKearsley

I also play on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/susannakearsley/

And blog (although sporadically) both on my own: http://www.womaninjeopardy.blogspot.ca/

And as a member of The Heroine Addicts: http://theheroineaddicts.blogspot.ca/

 Thank you so much for having me here. One more wonderful debt that I now owe to Lauren Willig!

Susanna, you are welcome, and we appreciate your willingness to share your time with us today.  Since she is a generous soul, Susanna has offered to give away an autographed copy of The Firebird to a commenter on today’s post.  You have until midnight EST on December 18 to enter. I will announce the winner on Friday.

Want to earn extra entries for this giveaway? You can enter up to three times. Here’s how:

  1. Leave a comment below.
  2. Follow the blog! If you are already a follower, just mention that in your comment. There are links in the top right corner of this page to become a follower.
  3. Post a link to this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter. Again, you can just let me know in your comment that you’ve done this. I trust you.

On Friday, I will use the Random Number Generator to pick a winner. Good luck! And thanks again to Susanna, for many things, but most of all for your wonderful stories.

Happy Release Day, Susanna Kearsley!

Season of Storms

Today, we are celebrating the re-release of Susanna’s novel Season of Storms. It has been out of print in the US for over a decade, but (mercifully) Sourcebooks has been re-releasing several of her older titles with beautifully redesigned cover art to match her newer books. The Splendour Falls had its re-release back in January, and I’m hoping Named of the Dragon will have its turn sometime in the near future…

I owe Lauren Willig a great big thank you for introducing me to Susanna Kearsley’s books. Lauren frequently mentions Susanna on her Weekly Reading Round-ups or If You Like lists. After seeing Susanna’s name pop up repeatedly, I finally decided to give her a try, and now I recommend her books to anyone who will listen. I have read almost all of them, and every single one has been good, but my absolute favorite is The Winter Sea.

Here is what Sourcebooks has to say about Season of Storms:

In the early 1900s, in the elegant, isolated villa Il Piacere, the playwright Galeazzo D’Ascanio lived for Celia Sands. She was his muse and his mistress, his most enduring obsession. And she was the inspiration for his most stunning and original play. But the night before she was to take the stage in the leading role, Celia disappeared.

Now, decades later, in a theatre on the grounds of Il Piacere, Alessandro D’Ascanio is preparing to stage the first performance of his grandfather’s masterpiece. A promising young actress – who shares Celia Sands’ name, but not her blood – has agreed to star. She is instantly drawn to the mysteries surrounding the play – and to her compelling, compassionate employer. And even though she knows she should let the past go, in the dark – in her dreams – it comes back.

If you’ve never tried one of Susanna’s books, head over to her website, where you can read the first chapter of each of her books for free!  Also, Susanna tweeted a link to a Pinterest board of pictures for Season of Storms earlier today – check it out!  I love it when authors share photos that inspire their work.

A Twist in the Usual Top Five Friday

On Monday of this week, author and editor William Giraldi wrote an article for the New Republic, and he decided to spend his time and energy slamming women who read romance novels. He judges all romance novel readers by the standard of Fifty Shades of Grey, and he proceeds to spend his entire article explaining exactly why that makes us all stupid, pathetic, middle class white women with disappointing sex lives and overweight husbands. I’m not kidding. He really does say that. Twice.

I have never read Fifty Shades of Grey. I probably won’t, because it doesn’t really appeal to me. But I have at least twenty friends who have read it, and I think Giraldi would be shocked (and probably a bit disappointed) to know that they are all intelligent, productive members of their community. They also read other books. Lots of them. Painting all romance readers with the same brush and implying that we’re all brainless morons who have decided to use Fifty Shades as a self-help book is a truly shocking display of ignorance.

Here are some other gems from Giraldi’s article that really stood out to me:

  1. “[R]omance novels, like racists, tend to be the same wherever you turn.”  Not all romance novels are alike.  Romance Writers of America lists seven romance subgenres on its website, and GoodReads has a staggering 186 pages of lists devoted to different types of romance novels.  This is a genre that contains everything from Jane Austen to Diana Gabaldon.  Also, that’s a pretty offensive metaphor, Mr. Giraldi.
  1. “Romance novels… teach a scurvy lesson: enslavement of the passions is a ticket to happiness.”  I think Elizabeth Bennett and Scarlet O’Hara would both be very surprised to hear that the point of their novels is to teach women that the only way to be happy is to have sex. Actually, now that I think about it, Elizabeth would probably have a terrible fit of the giggles, and Scarlet would just scratch Giraldi’s eyes out.
  1. At least people are reading. You’ve no doubt heard that before. But we don’t say of the diabetic obese, At least people are eating.” Just wow. Giraldi really has a fixation about fat people. Also, is he seriously comparing the effects of reading romance novels to a disease? That’s how I read it. I don’t think I’m wrong.

So what advice does Giraldi have for us, the sad, sappy, unintelligent readers of romance novels? Read Clarissa. Again, I am not kidding. If you haven’t read it, Clarissa is a story about a naive girl who thinks she has found the man of her dreams, but he tricks her into running away with him to live in a brothel. She dies. This, my friends, is what Giraldi thinks will be good for our souls, which are so clearly crying out to be educated about what happens to women who have the audacity to follow their heart.

Mr. Giraldi, I don’t know what your goal was for this article or what your motiviation is.  I don’t know if a romance novel reader ran over your dog with her car, or if a hardback copy of Gone with the Wind fell on your toe one day, or if you believe that your brand of shaming will turn people into avid readers of your novels rather than romances. All I do know is that you are entitled to have any opinion you like about the romance genre – it won’t change my mind, and it probably won’t change the minds of thousands of women who, as you point out in your article, buy 46% of all mass-market paperbacks sold in the USA.

In honor of the romance novels that I have unapologetically loved for years and that have enriched my reading life, here are my top five favorite romance novels. They fall into all sorts of other categories as well – they are historical fiction, mystery, and magical realism. But they are romance novels, and I am not embarrassed to say that I love them or to recommend them to you whole-heartedly, because they are entirely worthwhile.

pavilions 1. The Far Pavilions, by M.M. Kaye.
From the book jacket: When The Far Pavilions was first published nineteen years ago, it moved the critic Edmund Fuller to write this: “Were Miss Kaye to produce no other book, The Far Pavilions might stand as a lasting accomplishment in a single work comparable to Margaret Mitchell’s achievement in Gone With the Wind.”From its beginning in the foothills of the towering Himalayas, M.M. Kaye’s masterwork is a vast, rich and vibrant tapestry of love and war that ranks with the greatest panoramic sagas of modern fiction.The Far Pavilions is itself a Himalayan achievement, a book we hate to see come to an end. it is a passionate, triumphant story that excites us, fills us with joy, move us to tears, satisfies us deeply, and helps us remember just what it is we want most from a novel.
 winter sea  2. The Winter Sea, by Susanna Kearsley.
From the book jacket: History has all but forgotten…In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her…
 masque  3. The Masque of the Black Tulip, by Lauren Willig.
From the book jacket: “The Masque of the Black Tulip opens with the murder of a courier from the London War Office, his confidential dispatch for the Pink Carnation stolen. Meanwhile, the Black Tulip, France’s deadliest spy, is in England with instructions to track down and kill the Pink Carnation. Only Henrietta Selwick and Miles Dorrington know where the Pink Carnation is stationed. Using a secret code book, Henrietta has deciphered a message detailing the threat of the Black Tulip. Meanwhile, the War Office has enlisted Miles to track down the notorious French spy before he (or she) can finish the deadly mission. But what Henrietta and Miles don’t know is that while they are trying to find the Black Tulip (and possibly falling in love), the Black Tulip is watching them.”
 spear  4. A Spear of Summer Grass, by Deanna Raybourn.
From the book jacket: Paris, 1923
The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even among Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savanna manor house until gossip subsides.
Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.
Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming—yet fleeting and often cheap.
Amidst the wonders—and dangers—of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for—and what she can no longer live without.
 girl  5. The Girl Who Chased the Moon, by Sarah Addison Allen.
From the book jacket: Emily Benedict has come to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother’s life. But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew, she realizes that mysteries aren’t solved in Mullaby, they’re a way of life: Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor, Julia Winterson, bakes hope in the form of cakes, not only wishing to satisfy the town’s sweet tooth but also dreaming of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever. Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily’s backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.

 

Never let anyone make you feel ashamed to read what you love. Happy Friday.

Happy Friday!

It’s been a very long week, and I’m smack in the middle of two books at the moment – The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley and The Collector of Dying Breaths by MJ Rose.  So I don’t have a new review to post, and instead, I thought I would share some great book things happening around the web!

  1. Deanna Raybourn is offering up a signed ARC of her new book, City of Jasmine, and a sweet initial necklace from Altruette.  You can sign up to win this giveaway over on Deanna’s blog.
  2. Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance is devoting the entire month of February to reviewing Downton Abbey readalikes.  She’s already posted her first few books, and today’s review is about The American Heiress.  I keep seeing this book everywhere, and after reading her review, I’m convinced to give it a try.  Also, she is giving away a very cute Downton Abbey bell that looks like a decorative version of the ones that hang in the servants’ hall.  No charge to enter, just comment on her blog post!
  3. The New York Times has asked author Sarah Maclean to review four romance novels for this week’s Sunday Book Review.  Possibly this doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s actually a pretty big deal.  The NYT has a history of taking a “wall of silence” attitude about romance novels – they just keep ignoring the fact that romance is one of the most widely-sold fiction genres today in favor of reviewing “literary fiction.”  I think it will be interesting to see the reaction to Sarah’s reviews.
  4. There is an excellent list on Buzzfeed of 16 books to read before they hit theaters in 2014.  Since Winter’s Tale comes out next weekend, I’d better get cracking on it!  Not sure what’s up with Colin Farrell’s hair in some of the pictures I’ve seen, but Jessica Brown Findlay (Sybil!) and Alan Doyle (from Great Big Sea) are going to be in this, so I’m excited.
  5. Lauren Willig posted on Facebook that she’s working on a new novel set in the 1920s, and her hero reminds her of Benedict Cumberbatch.  I knew I liked Lauren for a reason.  And as an additional treat, check out this video of the man himself discussing the importance of reading and then proceeding to do just that.  Because it’s Friday, and I love him.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Happy Release Day, Susanna Kearsley!

Image

I love Tuesdays in book world – there is always something to look forward to.  Today is release day for Susanna Kearsley’s novel The Splendour Falls.  This isn’t a new release in the traditional sense.  The Splendour Falls was actually published in 1995 by Corgi, a Random House imprint.  I think it was only available for purchase in the UK and Canada.  But since Susanna was picked up by Sourcebooks Landmark in the US, her new books are available in the US and her older books are getting a cover makeover and re-release.

Here’s what Landmark says about The Splendour Falls:

1205 – the town of Chinon is beseiged by enemies of King John, and his young Queen calls upon a trusted servant to conceal her treasured jewels.

Emily Braden is intrigued by the medieval story of Queen Isabelle, and cannot resist when her cousin Harry, a historian, suggests a trip to the white-walled town of Chinon, nestling in France’s Loire Valley. But when Harry vanishes and Emily begins to search for him, she stumbles across another intriguing mystery — a second Isabelle, a chambermaid during the Second World War, who had her own tragedy, and her own treasure to hide.

As Emily explores the ancient town of labyrinthine tunnels, old enmities, and new loves, she finds herself drawn ever closer to the mysterious Isabelles and their long-kept secrets.

Sounds excellent to me!  Because Susanna is such a lovely person, when I emailed her to ask her a question last week and mentioned I was looking forward to The Splendour Falls, she responded to me almost immediately and also shared some thoughts about today’s release.  Here is what she had to say about The Splendour Falls:

“It’s an older book, so a little different than my newer ones, and the characters probably smoke more than they ought to (and don’t carry cellphones) (and listen to cassette tapes) but it’s set in what’s probably my favourite place on earth, so for that reason alone will always be special to me.”

If you’re interested, lots of other information is available on Susanna’s website.  You can see her photos of Chinon from when she traveled there herself and even read the first chapter of the book for free.

I’ll be getting my hands on a copy today.  Happy Tuesday to you, wherever you are.

Best of 2013

Looking back at everything I read in 2013, it’s hard to pick favorites.  There are obvious trends in my reading that I never noticed until I started shelving books on GoodReads.  I knew I liked historical fiction, but I had no idea how many historical mysteries I read until I saw the numbers.  Evidently I really gravitate towards those!  Also, I’ve discovered that the half-modern, half-historical mystery/adventure hybrid books that I could never find a name for do, in fact, have a genre.  They are evidently called timeslip novels.  So it seems to me that the easiest way to narrow down my best books of 2013 is to pick my favorite book from each of those 3 categories.

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Historical Fiction: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

From the publisher’s description, I was expecting a book about a spoiled little rich girl who is exiled to Kenya for bad behavior, and falls in love with a man who is different enough to make her settle down. I probably would have enjoyed that book. But what I actually got was SO much more, and so much better. Yes, Delilah starts off the spoiled little rich girl, but she is infinitely more complex than that. Every time I thought I had Delilah all figured out, I learned something that forced me to think again. Delilah is a walking contradiction, and it’s impossible to put any sort of label on her. This isn’t a trite story about a bad girl with a heart of gold. Delilah is damaged and difficult, and I hated her and loved her in turns.  I really enjoy a heroine who keeps me on my toes, and Delilah certainly delivered.

Deanna does a great job with her description of 1920s Kenya. She dips into a little of everything – politics, culture, the white “club” society, the tribal dynamics, and life on safari.  Loved it, cover to cover.

Historical Mystery: The Paris Affair by Teresa Grant

Picking up almost immediately where Grant’s previous book, Imperial Scandal left off, The Paris Affair drops Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch in the midst of post-Waterloo Paris, where political intrigue and danger abound. Grant doesn’t waste any time setting up her story. Before the end of the first chapter, Malcolm and Suzanne have blackmail, a hidden child, a foiled assassination plot, and a corpse on their hands.

One of Grant’s biggest assets as a writer is her ability to place you seamlessly into her setting.  She also has a gift for making her readers feel like they are participants in the story, working right alongside Suzanne and Malcolm. And on a more trivial note, good GRIEF do her dress descriptions make me wish I lived in the early 1800s.  Some of my favorite characters in the first and second books were back again, and I enjoyed watching Grant expand on their backgrounds, their relationships, and their hopes for the future.  My personal favorite, the incomparable Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan, is back in all her glory.  You don’t have to read the first two books in the series to enjoy this one, but I would recommend them simply because they’re great stories!

Timeslip: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

There are two stories at the heart of The Firebird. In the modern-day story, Nicola Marter is a woman who has the gift of psychometry. She can touch objects and see glimpses of people who owned them in the past. When Nicola touches the wooden figurine of the firebird, the tug of its past is so strong that she has an inadvertent vision of its history. This vision sets her off on a journey to discovery the truth about the firebird’s origins. Nicola also reaches out to Rob, a former flame whose power of psychometry is more practiced than her own, for help with her journey.

The historical story involves Anna, a child whose family is so entangled in Jacobite politics that, for her own safety, she is sent from home to an adopted family, to a convent in Ypres, to France, and eventually to Russia. As a child, Anna learns some hard lessons about who she can trust, and she grows into a young lady who is well-adjusted and well-mannered but guards her heart ferociously. When Anna meets Edmund O’Connor, she begins to wonder if she’s truly the good judge of people and their motives that she considers herself.

Kearsley is a fabulously talented writer.  I’m very particular (and sometimes unfairly judgmental) about books that have supernatural elements, but I enjoyed reading about psychometry. I found the concept interesting, and Kearsley’s way of moving between time periods felt fluid to me.  When I finished this book, I had the feeling that I can only describe as “book catharsis.”

Several of the other books I read in 2013 are worthy of an Honorable Mention (doesn’t THAT sound official?), but more on those later.  I’ll share two final things before I close for the day.  First, Joshilyn Jackson’s newest novel Someone Else’s Love Story is on sale for $1.99 today on both Kindle and Nook.  Let me tell you, that is a bargain.  As someone who already owns the hardcover, I might just buy the e-book too!  And lastly, I saw a good Buzzfeed book list today that got me excited about a few books that are coming to the big screen in 2014.  Gillian Flynn is on here TWICE.  I may have to read Gone Girl.