Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: This Is How I'd Love You by Hazel Woods


This Is How I'd Love You
By: Hazel Woods
Publisher: Plume
ISBN: 978-0-14-218148-5

Review:

Fresh from Harvard, Charles Reid is one of thousands of young men eager to be the first to enlist, the first to represent America at long last entering the Great War that has long been raging on the European continent. Desperately brave and desperate to matter, in his hunger for an anchor from home to ground him while overseas, Charles enrolls in a pen pal program seeking a chess partner, and is matched with Sacha Dench, a vehemently antiwar journalist. Dench is far from the type of patriot Charles was sure would seek to boost the morale of the boys overseas, but like his wealthy parents' disappointment in his choice of military service, he views Dench as a challenge. Desperate to prove his mettle and the rightness of his place in the world gone mad, Charles posts his response just prior to embarking for France. And thus the game is set, and the first volley of words is fired between two very disparate men whose mutual love of chess will spark a connection with staggering, unforeseen consequences.

Hensley, Sacha's only daughter and just seventeen, is shattered -- her heart broken and her life uprooted simultaneously, with an intensity and force that has left her reeling. Her future once so bright and assured, when her father loses his position at the newspaper thanks to his antiwar sentiments they are forced to accept the largess of a distant cousin and a job across the country, far from everything that defines home and comfort. Yet this loss is relatively minor compared to her internal loss of confidence in herself. For having given her heart to a teacher, only to have her trust thoroughly abused, Hensley is left desperately longing for a place to belong, for a truth to once again anchor her in a world gone mad.

Their correspondence begins when Hensley impulsively scratches her own desperate words of optimism in the margins of her father's latest reply to Charles, instinctively recognizing and responding to a kindred soul in search of an emotional anchor. In the face of once unfathomable horrors, now made everyday, commonplace occurrences by the reality of war, Charles -- serving as a medic -- grabs onto Hensley's words with both hands. A connection, a lifeline writ in whispered hopes and dreams and scribbled on fragile pieces of paper, quickly forms between the lost girl and the boy trapped in a nightmare world. For these two lives, nothing makes sense until they intersect on the page, their words breathing hope and life and purpose into their days. But when trial and tragedy strike, will words prove strong enough to overcome the secret scars Charles and Hensley have sustained from their respective battles?

When I first heard about This Is How I'd Love You, I was immediately interested in the novel, as historical interest in the time period aside, I am an absolute sucker for a love story told through letters. There is something undeniably appealing and romantic about a love story crafted through words, especially handwritten, one's heart and soul poured onto the page, and a connection forged through a meeting of minds and hearts alone, irrespective of appearance or background. But I was nervous. Hazel Woods is not only a new-to-me author, but a new-to-me debut author...and while I'm always open to trying new authors, the very concept of this story resonated so strongly with me that I was desperately afraid of meeting disappointment within its pages. Thankfully, I couldn't have been more wrong to worry, for This Is How I'd Love You is, frankly, a stunner of a debut. Not only one of my favorite reads of the year, it is quite simply one of the best debut novels I've ever read.

Alternating between Charles and Hensley's point-of-view, Woods has crafted a love story that is absolutely breathtaking in its intensity. More than just a romance, this is the story of the very human need to know and be known, and the power of that connection when found. Ideally suited to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, Woods doesn't shy away from the reality of the battlefield atrocities a man in Charles's position would have faced, the impact of those horrors serving as the impetus for him to ground himself within the safety of the cocoon created by Hensley's un-looked for but welcomed words. Likewise the war's impact is felt on the homefront, thought thanks to Sacha's political stance from a very different angle. Hensley struggles with the physical sense of ostracism brought on by her father's firing, compounded by the emotional ostracism of the brief affair with her teacher and its life-changing result. Their shared words give them the courage to face the unknown, as Charles writes "Hold on....I would see us through to a happier day."

But when the voice behind the prayerful words gains a face, both Hensley and Charles are faced with a second choice: to find the courage to claim this chance at happiness, or hold forever to a dream come true -- but physically unfulfilled. And therein lies the essence of this book, for in its stunning simplicity, their story cuts to the core of some of the greatest fears one must face as a human being -- the fear of the unknown, and of being known. For while their words "have created a self," there is still the truth of that self, the living, breathing, physicality of it, that has as yet remained shadowed. Here Woods has crafted a love story for the ages and a stunning, heart-wrenching portrait of grace. For as Charles and Hensley both discover, they each have mistakes and imperfections, those "deal breakers" that they fear will destroy the gift of their shared words. And that is where each has the chance to be a living embodiment of grace to the other, living out their words of love in each other's lives, the once bleak and empty uncertainty of the future "trumped by the fact that it is" theirs to share together.

With her debut Woods has crafted a novel to savor, a gorgeously-rendered portrait of grace and the power of words to inspire, connect, and change lives. With her meticulously-crafted prose, Woods has sketched a powerful picture the Great War's social impact, touching on issues of class and particularly the expectations faced by women like Hensley who desperately desired to live life on their own terms, shedding the shackles of social convention that placed them under the control of male family members (no matter how well-intentioned). Her characters are both wholly of their time and timeless, the desire for connection and acceptance resonating through Charles and Hensley's now "antiqued" (but oh-so-romantic!) method of communication. This Is How I'd Love You is a novel sure to wend its way into your heart, bring tears to your eyes, and remind you of the power and beauty of a life fearlessly lived.

About the book:

As the Great War rages, an independent young woman struggles to sustain love -- and life -- through the power of words.

It's 1917 and America is on the brink of World War I. After Hensley Dench's father is forces to resign from the New York Times for his antiwar writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she though she would have. Instead, Hensley is transplanted to New Mexico, where her father has taken a job overseeing a gold mine. Driven by loneliness, Hensley hijacks her father's correspondence with Charles Reid, a young American medic with whom her father plays chess via post. Hensley secretly begins her own exchange with Charles, but looming tragedy threatens them both. When everything turns against them, will their words be enough to beat the odds?

Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours for the review opportunity!



About the Author


03_Hazel Woods

Hazel Woods lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children. For more information please visit www.hazelwoodsauthor.com. You can also find her on Twitter. 

This Is How I'd Love You Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, August 25
Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, August 27
Interview at Dab of Darkness

Friday, August 29
Interview at Book Babe

Monday, September 1
Review & Interview at Closed the Cover

Tuesday, September 2
Review & Interview at A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, September 3
Review at The Bookworm

Friday, September 5
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Monday, September 8
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry

Tuesday, September 9
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, September 10
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes

Thursday, September 11
Review at Booktalk & More

Friday, September 12
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews

Monday, September 15
Review & Guest Post at Bookish

Tuesday, September 16
Review at Book of Secrets

Wednesday, September 17
Review at Book Nerd

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New Once trailer!

Less than THREE WEEKS until Once Upon a Time's fourth season premiere! And there's a new trailer with a few new clips! And this GORGEOUS screenshot of Belle (Emilie de Ravin) in THE DRESS. The Rumbelle feels! *dies*



Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: India Black and the Rajah's Ruby by Carol K. Carr


India Black and the Rajah's Ruby (India Black #0.5)
By: Carol K. Carr
Publisher: Berkley
ASIN: B007P7HX4M

Review:

India Black, the proprietress of Lotus House, is one of London's most sought-after madams. But before she struck out on her own and made a name for herself, she was simply India Black of Mother Moore's establishment, where her mane of ebony hair, startling blue eyes, flair for witticisms and sharp mind made her one of Moore's most popular earners. Possessing no illusions about life or her place in it, she possesses an extraordinarily good head on her shoulders...but isn't above acknowledging the appeal of a handsome face. And that is exactly what Philip Barrett, one of her regulars, possesses in abundance, leading India to agree to accompany him on a business venture, where she'll pose as his wife in order to provide Philip with the veneer of respectability required to fleece a rich American investor, Mr. White. India anticipates a quiet, boring weekend in the country, but when White's priceless ruby is stolen and all signs point to Philip as the culprit, she must use her every wile to escape.

I've seen glowing reviews of Carol K. Carr's India Black series for several years now, and in the mood for a short, quick read I opted to meet India via the pages of this novella. India Black and the Rajah's Ruby is actually the third release in the series, but as it tells the story of how India gained the funds necessary to become an independent businesswoman, I decided to read it first. Structured as a short memoir, with India the madam sharing the secret behind her legendary business acumen for the benefit of those "tarts" seeking to follow in her footsteps, this short novella proves to be an entertaining introduction to India and her world.

I expected India's attitude but I didn't expect quite so MUCH of it, which was a refreshing surprise. I confess I'm accustomed to reading about more refined, proper heroines from this time period. And while India is far from crass, there's a rough edge to her voice that is at once both hilariously matter-of-fact and very much in keeping with her background and profession. While I got a kick out of India, I do wish that the restrictions of the novella format had allowed for greater character and plot development. This tale lacks the overt mystery element one can only assume is present in the full-length novels, but occasionally I felt as though Carr was trying to cram so much information into this reminiscence that the resulting prose was occasionally stilted and the story flow uneven.

That minor issue aside, India Black and the Rajah's Ruby left me wanting more, and I'll be checking out the first full-length India Black novel at the earliest opportunity. I love a heroine who defies expectations, and India promises to do that in spades with a great deal of humor, style, and verve.

About the book:

India Black uses her wit and wiles as both a madam and a spy, proving she’s the best there is when it comes to undercover work…

Drawn into intrigue by her lover Philip Barrett, India finds herself being used as a pawn to help him steal a valuable jewel. Turning the tables, she proves that India Black answers to no man, no matter how attractive he may be…

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review: Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie


Sparkling Cyanide
By: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Harper Collins
ASIN: B000FC13WW

Review:

One year ago, everything changed for a seemingly close-knit group of friends and family -- for it was one year ago that one of them died. Seven went to dinner in a celebratory mood, and only six returned, for the seventh -- sparkling, effervescent, attractive Rosemary Barton -- drank champagne laced with cyanide. Rosemary was a golden girl, with everything to live for, and her suicide shocked the circle of survivors, for although suicide emotionally out of the question as a viable option for the inexplicable, horrific events of the evening, it was the verdict. For who would want to kill Rosemary? It must have been the depression she'd suffered as a result of a particularly nasty bout of flu. As horrible and tragic as it was, depression was the only option, the only way to bring order and reason from chaos. The only other option was even more unthinkable...that one individual who walked away from that fateful dinner was a killer...

As the anniversary of Rosemary's death approaches, the six other attendees begin to reminisce about their respective relationships with Rosemary...for as time has distanced them from the immediacy of her passing, so too has it dulled their comfort level with the suicide verdict, giving rise to uncomfortable questions. George, the long-suffering, dully respectable husband, has his doubts fanned by anonymous letters claiming Rosemary was murdered. Iris has begun to fear that she never truly knew her sister at all, while the mysterious Anthony bitterly regrets his onetime flirtation with Rosemary for jeopardizing his secrets and his hope of a relationship with her sister. Stephen, an up-and-coming politician, fears his long-time liaison with Rosemary may have jeopardized his career and his marriage, all the while wondering if his wife Sandra might have taken drastic steps to eliminate her rival. And last but not least, the quietly efficient Ruth, George's secretary, begins to ponder just how much she hates her employer's late wife. All connected, all harboring secrets...but only one with enough vitriol to kill Rosemary...and the ripple effect of that rash action threatens to strike again as the anniversary and the questions it raises inches ever closer...

When I first started reading Agatha Christie years ago, I almost exclusively confined myself to the Poirot mysteries, having fallen in love with the mustachioed, fastidious detective in no small part thanks to David Suchet's portrayal in the long-running television series. Thankfully, as the years passed I learned to broaden my reading horizons and discovered the gems that lay waiting in the other corners of Christie's extensive backlist. Sparkling Cyanide has long been high on my list of Christie standalones to read, especially since it is based on one of my favorite Poirot short stories: "The Yellow Iris." (The episode is one of my favorites among the television series' hour-long adaptations.) And when I finally tracked down a copy of the elusive 1983 film version, starring my much-loved Anthony Andrews and transplanting the story to Los Angeles (!!), I knew that at long last I had to read the source material.

There is something irresistibly compelling about a dinner table set mystery. Similar to a locked room tale, the dinner setting (also employed by Christie in Lord Edgeware Dies) immediately limits the pool of potential suspects. There is something extraordinarily creepy about the thought of sitting at table with a killer. The very idea of taking a meal with someone (typically) implies a certain conviviality, one Christie happily turns on its head by taking her limited guest list and making them question everything they thought they knew about each other.

As the novel opens, Rosemary Barton has been dead nearly a year, the approaching anniversary leading her family and friends reminisce about their acquaintance with Rosemary. It becomes quickly apparent that no one knew Rosemary as well as they'd thought...nor any other member of the group that witnessed her shocking death. I loved how Christie structured the novel, beginning with chapters told from each survivor's viewpoint, building tension as the mystery of Rosemary's relationships with each and her true state of mind at the time of the fateful dinner gradually click into place. At the one-third mark, Christie brings the story into the present, building towards the anniversary and the ramifications of George's insistence that his wife didn't commit suicide as widely assumed, leading him to plan a second -- and equally fateful -- dinner party.

The multiple viewpoints utilized aren't the neatest method I've ever seen Christie use for a mystery of this ilk, but the characters are engaging and I loved watching the secrets of their relationships and views of each other unfold in all their scandalous glory. This novel marks the final appearance of Colonel Race (also seen in The Man in the Brown Suit and as Poirot's friend in Cards on the Table and Death on the Nile), who, while never a star investigator, ably plays the assistant role, facilitating the investigation and here the dashing Anthony's creative breakthrough in recognizing the murder method.

Each and every main player in the cast is deliciously over-the-top in the best soap opera fashion (with the exception of Colonel Race), and though Sparkling Cyanide may not be Christie's most tightly-plotted mystery, in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- it's eccentricities it is one of her most delightful. This book was sheer, unadulterated fun to read from start to finish. This mystery is all about relationships, running the gamut from love to loathing and everything in between, replete with Christie's signature droll sense of humor and a dash of romance between Iris and Anthony. I would love to see this tale get a proper film adaptation, playing up the period elements and keeping the characters true to their time period and scripted histories. This is pure, delicious soap opera as only the Queen of Crime can deliver, a diverting breath of fresh air for mystery lovers looking for something a little different from a favorite author.

About the book:

Agatha Christie's genius for detective fiction is unparalleled. Her worldwide popularity is phenomenal, her characters engaging, her plots spellbinding. No one knows the human heart - or the dark passions that can stop it - better than Agatha Christie. She is truly the one and only Queen of Crime.

Sparkling Cyanide

"Rosemary that's for remembrance" Six people are thinking about beautiful Rosemary Barton, who died nearly a year before. There's the loving sister, the long-suffering husband, the devoted secretary, the lovers, and the betrayed wife. None of them can forget Rosemary But did one of them murder her? 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Storybrooke gets Frozen...

With Once Upon a Time's fourth season set to premiere Sunday, September 28th (how on EARTH is it September already?!), ABC has finally dropped some fresh promos introducing Frozen's Elsa to Storybrooke...and vice-versa. The reception is (no pun intended) a trifle chilly...



Downton Abbey Series 5 Trailer!


It's getting close people, it's getting very, very close! Downton Abbey's fifth season starts in the UK on September 21st (happy birthday to me!) and let's be honest, January will be here before we know it. Last week ITV finally released a proper trailer...enjoy!



*Image copyright ITV/Carnival Films/Masterpiece. No copyright infringement intended.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos


Undressing Mr. Darcy
By: Karen Doornebos
Publisher: Berkley
ASIN: B00BI37KA6

Review:

Vanessa is a workaholic, public relations genius with little time for love or leisure. If she can't tweet it, hastag it, or distill it into a succinct sound bite, it isn't worth her time or attention. The only exception is her beloved Aunt Ella, the grand dame of the local Jane Austen Society chapter and the one familial constant in Vanessa's life since childhood. But now, with Ella facing a diagnosis of dementia, her aunt has enlisted her niece's help to make this year's Jane Austen Society convention the best yet, a fitting swan song for a woman who has devoted her life to all things Jane. So what if Vanessa barely knows her Bennets from her Dashwoods? She's determined to bring the full force of her expertise to bear on the situation and make the convention shine, for work at least keeps her too busy to ponder a future without the only family she's ever known.

The scheduled highlight of the conference is guest speaker Julian Chancellor, author of the memoir My Year as Mr. Darcy. Within the book this real life Darcy details his quest to the live the life of a true Regency gentleman, bringing history to life in his accompanying promotional talk, provocatively -- and very literally -- titled "Undressing Mr. Darcy." Pure catnip for Austen aficiandos, the show sees Chancellor perform a "historical" striptease, all in the name of historical authenticity, and all for a good cause -- restoring Chancellor's crumbling family home. Vanessa never expected to find a man the very antithesis of everything modern that she embraces so attractive. As she finds herself succumbing to the romance and allure of the Austen mystique, Vanessa finds herself questioning everything she thought she wanted and the truths she held as fact -- but in her eagerness to embrace this new way of life, will she lose sight of what matters most?

I love a good chick lit novel, and it's a well-established fact that I adore all things Austen-related, so when I stumbled across Undressing Mr. Darcy I was sold. The cover alone is sheer perfection -- the little black dress, the pop of red, the provocative title -- I eagerly bought the package hook, line, and sinker. However, what I discovered within the pages of Doornebos's chick-lit flavored homage to Jane Austen was something several degrees less effervescent and sparkling than I'd hoped.

Doornebos knows the world of Austenites, and takes great delight in expounding on her knowledge on the page ad nauseum. As Vanessa, who has spent most of her life scorning anything Austen-related, throws herself into the conference, she finds herself intrigued by Julian Chancellor's apparent affinity for an old school, technologically free existence -- and his enticing, unorthodox presentation of a Regency gentleman's most intimate habits doesn't hurt, either. But as Vanessa immerses herself in the conference and begins to experience for herself the timeless allure of Austen's life and works, the narrative veers into pedantic territory. If I wanted a lecture about Austen's life and works, I'd attend a conference myself or read a non-fiction title. The more heavy-handed approach taken here grinds the narrative momentum to a halt.

Character-wise, I appreciate the fact that Vanessa was clearly a pro at her job, and I thought the social media "hashtags" sprinkled throughout the narrative were a fun, if slightly over-used, nod to the electronic realities of modern life. And I ADORED Vanessa's relationship with her delightfully eccentric Aunt Ella. Though she doesn't delve too deeply into the heartbreaking realities faced by families coping with a dementia diagnosis, Doornebos does touch on those struggles -- from living arrangements to memory loss -- which adds a welcome note of emotional gravitas to the storyline. Where the novel falters is in Vanessa's overall arc and romantic interests.

The novel is roughly divided into three sections: the stateside conference, Vanessa's visit to the UK, and back again. For the first portion of the novel, Vanessa remains relatively true to her introduction -- she's intrigued by Julian (who wouldn't be?), but at her core she's still a driven professional...just one with a few new, attractive "distractions" in her life. But Julian is a poorly-realized Darcy stand-in, as early on something seemed "off" in his interactions with Vanessa, so it was frustrating to see this supposedly smart, savvy businesswoman swallow is act wholesale. It's even more frustrating to witness when there is a PERFECTLY AMAZING SECOND OPTION waiting in the wings. Chase may moonlight as a pirate and lack a British accent, but he is SOLID GOLD and accredited by Vanessa's family and friends. As attractive a dream as Darcy coming to life is, there is no contest here -- which makes Vanessa's insistence on mistaking "proximity for intimacy" all the more frustrating.

Undressing Mr. Darcy is a study in missed opportunities. This is a novel that wants to be a fluffy, humorous chick lit but lacks the sparkle that one not only expects from such but that I would argue is an absolutely necessary component! The pieces are in place, and there are moments of golden humor (the reaction Julian's performance garners at the conference is hilarious), but I couldn't help but think that they needed to be culled by a good scriptwriter and transferred to a film. Clocking in at nearly 400 pages, Undressing Mr. Darcy has an unfortunate tendency to crawl when it should zing with energy, leading to a lot of skim-reading -- a frustrating reality given the cute concept and the appeal of Vanessa's American love interest. There's lots to like here, not the least being Doornebos's passion for Austen and Austenites, but unfortunately the resulting story left me cold. (For the record, I still ADORE the cover!)

About the book:

Taking it off in the name of history…

Thirty-five-year-old American social media master Vanessa Roberts lives her thoroughly modern life with aplomb. So when her elderly Jane Austen–centric aunt needs her to take on the public relations for Julian Chancellor, a very private man from England who’s written a book called My Year as Mr. Darcy, Vanessa agrees. But she’s not “excessively diverted,” as Jane Austen would say.

Hardbound books, teacups, and quill pens fly in the face of her e-reader, coffee, and smartphone…

…Until she sees Julian take his tight breeches off for his Undressing Mr. Darcy show, an educational “striptease” down to his drawers to promote his book and help save his crumbling estate. The public relations expert suddenly realizes things have gotten…personal. But can this old-fashioned man claim her heart without so much as a GPS? It will take three festivals filled with Austen fans, a trip to England, an old frenemy, and a flirtatious pirate re-enactor to find out…