Thursday, April 28, 2011

Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl

Prisoners in the Palace: How Victoria Became Queen with the Help of Her Maid, a Reporter, and a Scoundrel by Michaela MacColl

“London, 1856. Seventeen-year-old Liza’s dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in a tragic accident. Alone and penniless, she accepts the position of a lady’s maid to the young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servants’ world below-stairs as well as the trickery above. It is possible that her changing circumstances my offer Liza the opportunity to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future Queen?”

This really is a wonderful historical novel. From the first page I was interested in the plight of Elizabeth Hastings, whose parents have just died. She then discovers that her father has left behind large debts, including the bill for the hotel at which they were currently staying. Desperate, she follows the first job lead that comes her way—becoming a maid to Princess Victoria at Kensington Palace. As the daughter of a successful business man and minor nobility she enters into a whole new world as a servant. It takes a while for Eliza to get the hang of her new duties, especially since they include keeping her mouth shut, but the Victoria’s governess decides to keep her around because she can speak German. This makes it possible for her spy to on Victoria’s mother and her man, John Conley, who want to discredit Victoria and become her regents.

I had a hard time putting this book down once I started reading. The author makes you sympathize with Liza’s new status and portrays the detailed life of a servant in historic Victorian England. She also portrays Princess Victoria as a clever and strong character, though as a bit thoughtless because of her inexperience. Her Mother and John do not let Victoria have a moment alone and she really does lead a miserable existence, so it is interesting to watch her form a friendship and alliance with Liza to combat the scheming and plots of Sir John and her Mother.

In addition the novel also portrays the plight of orphans on the street, and the working class. A significant sub-plot is dedicated to Annie Mason, a servant that is dismissed as Victoria’s maid without recommendation. She is forced into prostitution and then a reform house, a very tragic storyline that shows the reader just how much Liza stands to lose if she is fired from her position, and the harsh realities of the Victorian world. I enjoyed the fact that the author showed not only the complexities of class and wealth in the Victorian world, but made interesting and sympathetic characters at all levels of society. So, while this is a fabulously plotted and superbly detailed historical novel parents/teachers of young teens should be aware of the heavy issues in the novel, and be ready to talk about the unfairness of the historical predicaments that sympathetic characters face.

Still a wonderful read and I find myself wanting to go read more about the life of Queen Victoria.

Author Michaela MacColl’s website

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Marry Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society by Marry Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I am not usually interested in reading popular literary fiction. I am very much a genre reader, but I saw the book trailer for The Gurnsey Potato Peel Pie Society, and I found myself very interested in the premise of the book.
The Channel islands were occupied by German troops during WWII, and this book tells the story of the occupation through the lens of a literature society formed hastily one night in order to hide the fact that the participants were feasting on an illegally acquired pig. This varied group of party goers then has to keep up the pretense to throw off the German authorities. Very few of the party goers were naturally readers, but all of them end up finding meaning in the literature they read to help them through the brutal German occupation.

The entire book is told in the format of letters. Much of the story is told through the voice of Juliet, a writer, who is looking for a new story idea after her popular war time humor column. She receives a letter from a man named Dawsey, a member of this literary society. Juliet becomes interested in the literature society and the plight of the entire Island during the war. This correspondence spreads to include the entire literature society, and several of the Island inhabitants. The book often reads as first hand historical accounts of the German occupation of the Channel islands during WWII, and since Juliet is collecting information for her book there is a ton of different perspective and stories.

I found the characters and format of the novel interesting. Each character has a strong personality and voice of their own, and so many of the letters have unique flavor, which makes them pretty fun to read. The literary society is such a random group of people with weird personalities that hearing about how they interacted is pretty amusing at times. Yet it can also be sad as they remember the trials they had during the war time, and how the struggled to get through it.

That said I felt like the book didn’t have that strong of a plot because of the format. The letters were interesting to read because of the characters and history, but it felt like the book went on forever because there was not a huge plot line linking everything together. Some letters were very heavy on history and background. So, some of the book dragged on for me. Yet, by the end I was won over and I still had the characters wandering around in my head for couple days afterward. I felt like the novel did a good job of transporting the reader to another time and place, and I was disappointed when the story ended. I wanted to hear more little anecdotes about the lives of these funny, beloved, and flawed characters.

So, if you like history (especially WWII) and are game for a unique storytelling style this really could be an enjoyable read.

Cross My Heart by Julie Wright

It was Easter last Sunday and so I decided everyone in the house got a book and some candy. Except Sera— she, of course, can’t have candy, but she did get a book. (Olivia by Ian Falconor) The husby requested I don’t want to kill you by Dan Wells. So, while I shopped online for an Easter book for me I settled on Cross My Heart by Julie Wright. I had read the first chapter on her website and was so incredibly charmed that I could not resist. Since I had a good excuse to buy a random book just for me it became my girly Easter purchase.
My husband laughs at me when I read girly books (read: chick lit novels), and this book was full of enough drama, romance, and humor to keep me entertained. I even skipped my afternoon nap for this one. High praise indeed from a sleep deprived mother of an exhausting newborn.
This book snatches you from the first pages with the witty, and sometimes scathing voice of the main character Jillian, a successful designer at an advertising agency. She fled her literary hometown—Boston to escape her fiancé, Geoffrey. He stole one of her ad ideas and got a promotion based off of it. She ended up in L.A. until her boss transfers her back to the Boston office with a mission to uncover who has been stealing the ad agencies accounts.
On the way there she meets a dentist named Allen, who has recently been dumped by his girlfriend for a hotshot advertising guy. She soon discovers they are connected in an unlikely way. Her fiancé is engaged to his girlfriend, but she will have to discover if this connection will help the form a relationship or only stand in their way.
As stated before the voice is charming, and I really liked the main character Jillian. She was hilarious, smart, and sympathetic. She really makes the entire book, and the plot has several enjoyable comedic twists that makes the romantic comedy genre so much fun to read. Sometimes, you just need a drama fest to feel better about life! So, if you are looking for a light, fun romance. I would totally recommend you pick up this book.

Author's website

Friday, April 22, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

Matched by Ally Condie
"In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one… until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow — between perfection and passion."

Okay so, I finally get around to writing my review of matched. This was one book that I looked forward to reading all year. I saw so many ARC reviews of it on other book blogs that I almost got sick of hearing about the book! So when November rolled around I dropped by the bookstore to pick up a copy finally I was really excited to read the book. I was in the middle of my pregnancy reading slump, but I was immediately drawn into the setting. Condie managed to find a perfect balance between description, voice, and foreshadowing to bring me right into her dystopian world from the first chapter.

It was such a relief to enjoy a book again! I actually even liked the love triangle! Love triangles usually annoy me, but I could see why Cassia loved each boy, and I felt sympathy for both of them. They were both strong and interesting characters and I found myself wanting to know more of their background. The author hints at a curious relationship between Ky and Xander, and I found myself wanting to know more about these two boys, and their experience living in the society. I don’t think I have wanted to get a longer background story about the characters in a novel since the Harry Potter Series. That is high praise indeed. There is an air of mystery about these two, and feeling that there is more to be said about their relationship than the novel hints at, and so I found the relationships dynamics entertaining and fascinating.

My only problem with the novel was the ending. Cassia is determined to find Ky, but she ends up in a random work camp unrelated to any other part of the plot. It seemed really odd and was a little bit dissatisfying to not see her not make more progress on finding Ky. It was more of a set up for the next installment rather than a satisfying end to the story line. Still I expect the rest of the series will be excellent, and I am excited to see what the author will present us with in the next installment, Crossed.

Author Allyson Condie's Website

Monday, April 11, 2011

Baby girl is here!

On March 24th our beautiful baby girl was born at 11:54 pm. She is already two weeks and 4 days old, and already growing by leaps and bounds. She is a good little eater and I am very pleased with her progress. She has dark blue eyes, and ashy blonde hair on her head.

So, this little tyke has been the reason why this blog has been dormant for the last few weeks. I hope to start posting reviews again either this friday or next friday. Still trying to recover and organizie life around a demanding little newborn. I still have books to read and review. I also have been working on other interesting projects that I shall reveal at a later date.

until later!