Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review – A House Among The Trees by Julia Glass

A House Among the TreesA House Among the Trees by Julia Glass
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a run of disappointing reads, it was a delight to discover A House Among The Trees by Julia Glass. The book centers on the recently deceased children’s book author and artist, Mort Lear, and the various characters who are left to pick up the pieces after he dies, including his long-time assistant, an actor who will be playing Mort in an upcoming bio-pic, the man who unwittingly inspired the character that made Mort famous, and the museum curator who is desperate to secure Mort’s papers and drawings for her museum. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into with this book, particularly themes of honoring the people we lose, (their stories and their legacies), of how and why people distance themselves from each other and how easy it is to get trapped – even by things that originally seemed positive. But what I really loved the most about A House Among The Trees was the author’s skill at creating her central character. Glass used the real-life children’s author, Maurice Sendak as the foundation for Mort, grafting layers of fiction onto elements lifted directly from Sendak’s life and using Sendak’s classic children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, as inspiration for the fictional story book that rocketed Mort to fame and fortune. In the hands of a lesser author, this could have backfired badly, but Glass manages to use just enough of the real author to make Mort feel like a real (and beloved) part of her readers’ childhood and to infuse Mort’s book with the same sort of menace and wonder that was often found in Sendak’s work. This works well to draw the reader into the story, giving them a real emotional connection to Mort and making them feel invested in his story and legacy.

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Book Review: Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

Mr. RochesterMr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hate to admit it but I am a bit of a purist when it comes to books. It’s rare that I find a modern take on a classic that is both faithful enough to the original text to avoid annoying me but that still brings something new and interesting enough to the story that makes it worth reading. To my surprise, Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester – a re-telling of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre – manages to achieve both. Since the original book was from Jane’s perspective, readers only learned what Mr. Rochester chose to share about his past and motivations. But Shoemaker takes advantage of that fact and provides a rich backstory that builds upon Bronte’s foundation. In the first part of the book, we learn about Rochester’s youth and education and I got both a slight Dickens vibe at times and subtle parallels to Jane’s early years.

Later on, Shoemaker turns her attention to life at Thornfield Hall after Rochester meets Jane Eyre. During this part of the book, the author turns the original dynamic on its head so that now it’s Jane that comes across as inscrutable and out of reach, while Rochester becomes increasingly desperate to force some acknowledgement of her feelings from her. Since the odds are that anyone reading this book will have read the original story and know how it ends, Shoemaker focuses on exploring the motivation behind some of the Bronte’s most baffling plot points – specifically why Rochester behaves the way he does when he is trying to win Jane’s love and why his father and brother trick him into marrying Bertha in the first place even though they knew she was mad. If at times the author works a little too hard to justify some of Rochester’s odder moments, including dressing up as an old gypsy woman or pretending to be in love with Blanche when he really wants to marry Jane, it’s totally forgivable since she, (and Charlotte Bronte), have done such a good job at making Rochester into a character that readers want to love. The extra plot elements she added to explore the history between the Rochester and Mason families was interesting and well done and I have to admit, after all the ups and downs of the story, I broke into a huge grin at the line, “Reader, she married me.”

All in all, I definitely recommend Mr. Rochester for all my fellow Charlotte Bronte fans who are looking to revisit this classic story.

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Book Review: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Happy Friday, book lovers! Looking for your next read? Check out my book review of Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April!

The Enchanted AprilThe Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ultimate “staycation read” for when you are longing to run away from your everyday existence, The Enchanted April is every bit as enchanting as the title suggests. The story tells of four English women, each struggling with various disappointments and loneliness, who decide to pool their resources and rent a romantic Italian villa for the month of April. Although the woman are very different in background and temperament – which leads to the occasional, (and rather funny), butting of heads – each experiences a sort of renewal during their stay at San Salvatore.

My only complaint about this light but highly enjoyable book is that the resolution of all the character’s problems seemed to come together rather quickly and easily without much more effort than a simple (and much needed attitude change). I guess the moral of the story is that it’s easier to evaluate your life and make changes in a villa on the Mediterranean than back home in your everyday life, and if that’s the case, I am more than willing to try it. I would have also loved an epilogue (or a sequel) that explored how all of these vacation epiphanies and romances continued (or didn’t) once everyone got back home. But other than that, I really enjoyed this fun little novel and highly recommend that you add it to your summer reading list.

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Book Review: After Rome by Morgan Llywelyn

After Rome: A Novel of Celtic BritainAfter Rome: A Novel of Celtic Britain by Morgan Llywelyn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Have you ever been disappointed in a new book by one of your favorite authors? That’s the situation I found myself in this week after reading Morgan Llywelyn’s After Rome. I really wanted to love the book as much as I have loved other Morgan Llyweln books but, as hard as I tried, I really couldn’t see After Rome as anything other than a pale and lifeless re-treading of old stories and characters that Llywelyn has used to much better effect in her previous books.

After Rome, particularly suffers in comparison to the book Morgan Llywelyn wrote about the coming of the Romans, Druids. If After Rome was a stronger book, it would have felt like a continuation of the saga that Llywelyn told brilliantly in Druids, but instead the two main characters felt like blander reincarnations of Druid’s two main characters without any of their strength and personality. And while Druids had an engrossing plot that had me emotionally invested from the first page, After Rome never seemed to reach any kind of satisfying payoff with a plot that just trailed off rather than concluded.

I seriously considered not reviewing After Rome because I adore Morgan Llywelyn and her brand of historic fantasy inspired by Celtic / British myths and history. As a long-time Morgan Lywelyn fan, I just think that it would be a shame if a new reader picked up After Rome as their first Llywelyn book and judged her writing by it. So instead, here is what I think. Skip this book and instead pick up one of the many brilliant Morgan Llywelyn books that came before it. I STRONGLY recommend Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish, Finn Mac Cool, Red Branch, Lion of Ireland, Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas, and, as you can probably guess, Druids. You won’t regret it.

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Book Review – In Calabria by Peter Beagle

In CalabriaIn Calabria by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since I was introduced to the Last Unicorn living alone in her lilac woods, Peter Beagle has been one of my all-time favorite authors and my go-to writer for unicorn stories. Over the years, he has revisited the magical beast that made him famous with his book, The Unicorn Sonata, a sequel to The Last Unicorn entitled Two Hearts, and as an editor for The Immortal Unicorn anthologies, (which incidentally contain the best short story ever written, Peter Beagle’s Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros). I always enjoy Peter’s work – not just the unicorn books – but since I never completely out-grew that unicorn-crazy phase I went through in my pre-teen years, I was especially looking forward to getting my hands on Peter’s latest unicorn story, In Calabria.

SUMMERY: In Calabria tells the story of a curmudgeonly, old farmer, Bianchi, who lives on a tiny farm in Italy, too far from anything to be a tourist attraction, and spends his days tending to his cows, writing poetry, and basically living a solitary, 19th century life while ignoring the modern world around him. But when a pregnant unicorn chooses to have her baby on his farm, Bianchi’s quiet existence comes to an abrupt end as reporters, tourists, animal rights activists, hunters and gangsters descend on him.

MY THOUGHTS:  First things first, I know we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the cover art on the hardcover edition of this book is beyond gorgeous! I have a stunning, leather-bound Easton Press edition of The Last Unicorn and In Calabria can more than hold its own on the bookshelf next to it.

And I really enjoyed what was inside the book as well. One of the great things about Peter Beagle’s work is how he can create a totally new world for each book. If another author kept coming back to unicorns time and time again, I would probably get a little bored after a while, but each of Peter’s unicorn books have such a distinct flavor and tone to them that he never seems to retread the same ground. In this book, there is a focus on time and the reader gets a sense of several different eras converging on each other, with Bianchi’s old-world life (and his inability to let go of the past) colliding with the modern world – both in the form of threatening mobsters and his unexpected, (and rather sweet), romance with the postman’s sister – and then both the old and the modern contrasted with the agelessness of the unicorns. The setting of a small mountain village in Italy, the cover art featuring a classic image from the Unicorn tapestries, and the little smatterings of Italian scattered throughout the dialogue all reinforce the sense of a medieval fable brought into a modern story.
All in all, I really enjoyed In Calabria and highly recommend it for fantasy fans who enjoy timeless stories of magic found in unexpected places.

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Book Review – Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

Miranda and CalibanMiranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now that Memorial Day weekend is finally here, book lovers everywhere are looking for their next summer read and I recommend Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban. An interesting read for Shakespeare fans, Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban, tells the back-story behind William Shakespeare’s Tempest. While Carey’s re-telling of the tale gives the ending a much more bittersweet, conflicted resolution, I really enjoyed her attempts to flesh out Miranda and Caliban, taking them from Prospero’s pawn and slave to independent characters with feelings and motivations of their own. All in all, Miranda and Caliban is a great summer read for theatre lovers looking for a good beach book.

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Have you read Miranda and Caliban? I’d love to hear what you thought of the book. Let’s chat in the comments below!

For more Shakespeare – inspired summer fun, check out this summer outfit inspired by Miranda from The Tempest. Featuring a handmade Tempest pendant from the C. S. Literary Jewelry Etsy shop and crochet barefoot sandals, this outfit is perfect for dreaming on the beach or soaking up some sun while re-reading your favorite Shakespeare plays.

 

Miranda

 

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Happy reading, book lovers, and have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend!!!!

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Book Review – Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Dear Mr. KnightleyDear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear book lovers, I have to admit that I’ve been stressed lately, and with the state of the world as it is, I have been indulging in more than a little literary escapism. It’s not unusual to hear book lovers talk about books as a safe place they go to whenever they are upset or in trouble but the main character of Dear Mr. Knightley, Samantha, takes this concept to an extreme. After a traumatizing past and years in the foster care system, Samantha has trouble relating to people and has distanced herself from her own emotions. She copes with this by emotionally retreating behind the characters of the books she loves and often using their words instead of her own to express herself. But all that gets challenged when Sam gets a grant to go to grad school. There are two conditions of the grant. The first is that she study journalism instead of English lit, forcing Samantha out of her comfort zone and out into the real world. The second is that she write letters to “Mr. Knightley,” the anonymous benefactor who is funding the grant, telling him about her experiences at school. The name, taken from the hero of Jane Austen’s Emma, has comforting associations to Sam and she decides to take the letters, which are never returned or answered, as an outlet for all the thoughts and feelings she has trouble expressing anywhere else as she struggles to break through the walls she has built around herself and begin to live as the main character in her own story.

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Of all the books I’ve been reading lately, I had the most fun reading Dear Mr. Knightley. While the idea of a tough-shelled former foster kid talking almost exclusively in adapted Jane Austen quotes took me a little while to adapt to, Sam’s story was an interesting look at the strengths (and limitations) of living inside your favorite books. But to be honest my favorite part of Dear Mr. Knightley, was how much I got into the story. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve yelled out-loud at a book but that’s how invested I got in this one. If you are looking for a touch of literary escapism with lots of heart, I definitely recommend Dear Mr. Knightley.

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P. S. Want your own Mr. Knightley? Check out this sweet heart necklace inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma or click here to see more Jane Austen jewelry for book lovers.

 

Until next time, book lovers, take care and happy reading!!

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Book Review – Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them by J. K. Rowlings

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original ScreenplayFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not the most devoted of Harry Potter fans. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the books and I have been known to embark on passionate rants about (among other things) the sheer awesomeness of Neville Longbottom and how he is the true hero of the story. But, Niffler-like, I’ve been known to get distracted by something shiny – in my case, other books and series – and miss out on the later additions to the Harry Potter universe. This is why, sadly, I am coming late to the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them party. And it is truly sad because Fantastic Beasts was simply the most fun I have had in the Harry Potter world. I am sure I am not alone in this but I want a Niffler and a Bowtruckle as pets, (Despite the fact that a Niffler in my jewelry studio would surely be a disaster in the making!)


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I also think the 1920’s style and flavor blended beautifully with the Harry Potter universe – A Diagon Alley-esque speakeasy? Brilliant!!) If nothing else, Harry Potter cosplay just got a million times more fabulous! All in all, I really loved Fantastic Beasts and I will be first in line to check out the further adventures of Newt Scamander and his suitcase of fantastic beasts!

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