Review: “Jane of Austin” by Hillary Manton Lodge

32143887As a Jane Austen fan, I was fairly excited for this book, despite the fact that I think Jane Austen retellings are very overdone. Hillary Manton Lodge‘s Jane of Austin is a modernized version of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility with a few nods to other Austen works mixed in. Though the concept was exciting, the ultimate result– unfortunately– was not.

In this version, we follow Jane Woodward and her sisters Celia and Margot (Marianne, Elinor, and Margaret Dashwood, respectively) as they are forced to close their San Francisco tea shop and relocate to Austin, Texas (hence the title). In Austin, Jane meets her John Willoughby (known to her as musician Sean Willis) and the expected events of the story unfold. Interwoven with Jane’s story is retired Marine Callum Beckett’s (our Colonel Brandon), who instantly falls in love with Jane (emphasis on instantly).

The story strongly mirrors the original Sense and Sensibility, but adds a cozy modern flair. The tea shop, in particular, was my favorite addition. (Food is a huge driving force in this novel and Lodge kindly provided multiple recipes for the described food throughout the book.) The skeleton of the story is well planned and carefully adapted, but being that it’s a retelling, it falls prey to underwhelming predictability. I couldn’t invest myself in the story because I knew how things would pan out– and not just because I’ve read the original.

Not only was the story underwhelming, the characters were, too. I felt like I just got to know cardboard cutouts of them, maybe with the exception of Jane. Even more importantly, I felt like I missed out on a lot of character interaction and development through interaction. I couldn’t invest in the romances because I didn’t get enough growth from the characters. I love flawed characters but the only flawed ones in Jane of Austin were the “villians,” if you know what I mean.

Overall, this book just made me feel neutral. I didn’t love it or hate it. I’d recommend it to someone looking for a simple romantic read or a hardcore Jane Austen retelling fan. Or someone looking for some good Texas inspired recipes. This was simply not my cup of tea. (See what I did there?)

2.5/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of Jane of Austin from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Once and for All” by Sarah Dessen

32078787When I got the notification for this Galley, my high school self just about screamed. High school self had read every Sarah Dessen book she could get her hands on, multiple times, in a rotating order. High school self and friends rated the dreamy-ness of all the love interests (Wes was our favorite, Dexter a close second) and mapped out which characters crossed over into other books. High school self even wrote an article for the school newspaper about Dessen’s books and it made the front page of the entertainment section for the May issue.

But let me get to the point.

Sarah Dessen’s writing has an almost magical quality to it that sucks you into the pages and pulls on your heartstrings and steals your time away, because before you know it, it’s four in the morning and you’re internally sobbing over characters that you just met. At least that’s how it was with Once and for All.

Once and for All is about love– not just romantic love, but first love, family love, broken love, all love in its many forms and functions. It’s also about weddings and bets, but I’ll get to that. Louna is our main character in this novel, she’s a smart, overly cautious, recent high school graduate, working at her mother’s wedding planning business for the summer. Being the daughter of a highly popular wedding planner, she’s seen weddings of all shapes, sizes, and meltdowns. As expected, Louna is cynical about love and marriage and happily ever after. *cue dramatic flashbacks to Louna’s first love*

Enter Ambrose. He’s an absolutely charming weirdo and I mean that in the nicest of ways. (I think he’s up there on that list with Wes and Dexter, now.) Abrose is a bit cocky and a lot rich, but as Louna’s counterpart, he loves to love (and by that I mean he’s a serial dater). After a bit of a rocky start, Louna and Ambrose develop a friendship and place an entertaining bet– but as to what, you’ll have to read and find out.

Dessen has tackled some serious topic in her other novels and Once and for All is no exception. Louna’s flashbacks, which alternate chapters with real time, build up to some heartbreaking truths that I won’t spoil, but Dessen is really on the nose with writing about the somber subject.

Once and for All nicely tells us Louna’s journey to self discovery and coming to terms with things that you cannot change. The cast of characters are fun to get to know and all add their own purpose to the story– shout out to Louna’s mom and William for the best duo and BFF Jilly for being all around awesome. The novel lives up to Dessen fan expectations and delivers a satisfying ending. High school self would be proud.

Once and for All comes out June 6, 2017.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free e-ARC of Once and for All from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Review: “The Backstagers, Vol. 1” by James Tynion IV

31390219The Backstagers is basically a gender swapped version of The Lumberjanes (it’s fantastic, so if you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?). I’m not complaining, though, because I absolutely adore Lumberjanes and I really loved getting to read the first issue of Backstagers. It’s a quirky story of friendship done with some colorful and imaginative art.

In the first issue of the new comic series The Backstagers,” Jory is the new kid in an all-boys private school, St. Genesius. Considering himself an outcast, Jory tries to join the drama club but ends up backstage instead. Behind the theater scenes, the self-named “Backstagers” are not only responsible for setting up the scenes and fetching props, they’re job also requires reigning in the supernatural stuff that happens in the changing tunnels underneath the school.

This issue sets up Jory and his new friends for further hilarity and adventures. With adorable creatures and a cast of diverse characters, The Backstagers promises to tell some entertaining and heartfelt stories about friendship, magic, and good times. I’ll definitely be keeping in tune with this series, not only for the stories but for the representation that shines in the characters.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free e-ARC of The Backstagers, Vol. 1 from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1” by Mark Lewisohn

23308447Well, if there’s anything you ever want to know about the Beatles here’s a 900 page textbook that covers their beginnings through 1962. If you want anything after that, you’re in luck because there’s supposed to be two more volumes. If they’re both 900 pages long each, then good luck to you because that’s a lot of information.

I’m a Beatles fan– I really am. A lot of older people think that young people don’t know who the Beatles even are, but my dad loves them, so by default, I love them, too. Given that, I know their music well, but I’m not as familiar with their history, so that’s where Tune In comes in.

Mark Lewisohn’s epic about the Beatles thoroughly chronicles the pre-fame lives and beginnings of John, Paul, George, and Richy (a.k.a. Ringo). The book is filled with more facts than you can imagine. Lewisohn is clearly an expert on Beatles history and demonstrates that in his ability to get the reader to turn the page with a ‘gotta know more!‘ attitude. Though, to counter that, the writing style misses engaging prose because it seems to literally just be fact after fact.

Tune In: All These Years is definitely a must read for fans who want to know absolutely everything about the Beatles and who have a lot of time on their hands. For those not so inclined, the book has pictures. And I mean, they’re pretty nifty pictures of the young Beatles, so that’s a major bonus.

3/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1 from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal” by Erin Gilbert, Abby L. Yates, and Andrew Shaffer

28185873Ghost from Our Past is a media tie-in to this summer’s new Ghostbusters film. In the movie-verse, the book was initially written by Drs. Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates (Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, respectively) during their college days in the 90s. It was a doomed failure until recent events (spoiler alert) forced the scientists to become the Ghostbuters in order to save New York (end-ish of spoilers, but just go see the movie). Now published as a “Newly Revised and Somewhat Updated” edition, Ghosts from Our Past has the throwback nostalgia as a ghost hunting book of the 90s with the comedy of modern techniques and technologies.

This is a laugh-out-loud guide to the interesting history of paranormal studies and ghost hunting with the positive promotion of girl-power and women in science (including some on-point clapbacks at some of the misogynist new movie haters out there). Ghost from Our Past gives a thorough, factual history of early ghost studies, including hunting and communicating. Tied in are some anecdotes and history on our new Ghostbusters and includes some special appearances by Holtzman, Patty, and KEVIN. At the end of the book, there is kind-of a DIY guide for ghost hunting. It comes complete with an equipment checklist and a handy questionnaire for gathering your ghost knowledge.

I really enjoyed diving into this book. Outside of the fact that it takes place in the Ghostbusters-verse, it has a lot of cool information. The real author, Andrew Shaffer did an excellent job at gathering data and embodying the Gilbert and Yates’ characteristics and attidudes from the movie, allowing them to really come to life.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of Ghost from Our Past from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “A Fine Imitation” by Amber Brock

26053121Amber Brock’s A Fine Imitation is 1920s glamour mixed with high society issues and a commentary on restricting gender role expectations. Told with two alternating narratives a decade apart, A Fine Imitation tells the story of Vera Bellington, a woman born into privileged life in Manhattan. In 1913, Vera is an art student discovering a new friendship with Bea Stillman, a wild and energetic girl with a knack for catastrophe. Flash forward ten years to the Prohibition era and Vera is now un-happily married, living the life of a lonely, very wealthy socialite.

Then handsome artist Emil Hallan arrives at Vera’s Park Avenue penthouse to work on a mural for the building. Despite his mysterious past, Vera finds herself drawn to him through their mutual connection to art. Emil stirs Vera’s familiar world of elegance and expectations causing her to question herself and what she really wants from life– comfort or love?

I honestly didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did, but once it picked up steam, I couldn’t put it down. Not only was the world constructed in an elegant Gatsby-like way, the characters were meticulously developed. Vera’s change throughout the story was seamless and entirely fitting to the plot. Brock’s writing managed to transport me back to the early decades. She wrote smoothly, well educated in her subject matter. She not only brought her characters to life, but she brought the whole world to vibrant, glamorous life, too. I could really feel Vera and Emil’s love for each other; I believed in their story and rooted for them until the satisfying end.

A Fine Imitation is also an excellent title– and I’m a sucker for a good, metaphorical title. The Imitation not only plays on the subject of art and forgery, but also within many of the characters, who are not face-value as the story line develops.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of A Fine Imitation from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Simply Calligraphy” by Judy Detrick

25734064For a long time, I’ve always wanted to learn the art of calligraphy but I just never took the time to sit down and do it. Getting an ARC of Simply Calligraphy helped solve that problem. With book and new broad-edge pen in hand, I sat down to read and practice.

Judy Detrick’s calligraphy guide is a well-informed how-to handbook to introduce the beginnings of artful writing. It’s not simply a how-to though, Simply Calligraphy provides the history of calligraphy and breaks down the science of pen strokes and letter forms.

Simply Calligraphy really works to help with comprehension of calligraphy, how different writing tools work and how the math of angles factor into letter positioning so that the final product looks elegant and finished.

The guide is educational and well put-together, simple and easy in explanation. Compared to other calligraphy handbooks that I have seen, it is a forerunner to be among the best. Everything you need to know to get started in word art is in Simply Calligraphy; the only thing you need to do to keep going is practice.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of Simply Calligraphy from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “The Bee-Friendly Garden” by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn

bee-friendly garden.jpgFor a concise and colorful guide to the art of gardening and bee-saving, look no further than Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn’s The Bee-Friendly Garden. Packed with vibrant photos and easily accessible information, this guide will get any gardener and bee activist fired up to start planting.

As both a gardener and bee enthusiast, I really enjoyed sitting down to read The Bee-Friendly Garden. It is loaded with tips for not only sustaining and maintaining ones garden, but it’s got the spirit of activism within its words. Bees are an important part of our natural environment, so I was pleased at the approach this guide was taking to not only inform, but to inspire gardeners to take a special interest in the dwindling bee population.

The Bee-Friendly Garden makes it easy for planters to decide what kind of bee-attracting plants work for ones own backyard. It addresses complimenting flowers, shrubs, and trees that can work together to benefit the landscape. Also handy in the guide, is a quick know-it-all course to identifying different kinds of bees their needs.

Not only is the guide well designed in its layout, its also well written. Frey and LeBuhn demonstrate that they are truly educated and passionate about their subject. They prove to be well researched and experienced.

Overall, fantastic book with plenty of information and gorgeous photography.

5/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of The Bee-Friendly Garden from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: “Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy” by Dinty W. Moore

24871112“The difference between a story and an essay is that the storyteller just wants to entertain the reader, while the essayist has been to graduate school.”

Of the above quote, both statements ring true when Mister Essay Writer Guy is involved. Mr. Essay Writer Guy himself, Dinty W. Moore, has penned the ultimate not-so-helpful self-help book for writers. The advice guide is both an entertaining story and scholarly essay.

Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals is a statement novel that every would-be writer should at least pick up. Even if one doesn’t get past the dedication of “To the Polar Bears. Be gentle with me.” one has already benefited from the little bit of laughter and from the exercise of putting the book back  down.

Written in the style of an advice column, Mr. Essay Writer Guy has a knack for skirting around the asked question, only to actually answer it in his own flamboyant, turned-around style. In short, the advice-seekers start with the inquiry of “What?” and end with the inquiry of “What?” with just a bit more sarcasm and eloquence.

Not to say that Mr. Essay doesn’t answer his questions. He does.

But, when not answering questions, the author supplies his own self narrative to fill in the blanks of both question and answer. The humorous anecdotes add to the advice in their own creative and quirky ways. There is no blatant “do this, not that,” but there is fodder for thought, leaving the writing-reader a chance to make their own creative choices and mistakes.

What this book does is what every writer needs to know. There is no one right way to do something, but there are many ways to make it a challenge and to make it stand out from the crowd– which is exactly what a book about writing, love, and cannibals is supposed to do.

5/5 Stars.

I received a free copy of Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals  from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Review: “Black Widow: Forever Red” by Margaret Stohl

23358109Marvel Fans– the Black Widow merch has finally arrived! Well. Sort of.

Comic book turns Young Adult novel in the witty and exciting Black Widow: Forever RedCentered around well-know Marvel character Natasha Romanoff (also known as the Black Widow) and new-comers, teens Ava and Alex, Margaret Stohl’s Forever Red explores a different side of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the YA genre.

In a world where the Avengers are already celebrities, iconic master-spy Natasha carries on her life both avenging and fighting crime. Enter her most lethal enemy– Ivan Somodorov, the Russian creator of the Red Room. The same night she takes down Ivan, Natasha saves orphaned Ava, a fellow Black Widow sister. Eight years later, Ava is in danger again and its up to unwilling Natasha to stop the mad man that threatens their future.

Forever Red not only explores the world and character of the Black Widow, but it dives deep into the Black Widow Program. The novel finally gives Marvel fans a look into the life of Natasha. The perspective is fresh while still building off of the already established and well loved world (see spot-on guest appearance by the one and only Tony “Iron Man” Stark). Natasha remains the superior, butt-kicking super spy that we know, while growing her character into someone even more complex. The introduction of Ava and Alex, brings an added dynamic to the story.

Plot-wise, the story is great. It manages to capture the essence of the comic world in novel form, while staying firmly planted within the boundaries of YA novel world. In short, it takes what you want from a comic and adds novel-y prose. With that aside, as good as the characters of Ava and Alex were, I wanted more. The seemed a little too flat considering the importance that they carry to the plot. The flatness went hand-in-hand with the pacing problems– important parts flew by, while the unimportant lagged a bit too much. But, still taking those problems into consideration, the novel was still wildly entertaining, thanks to Stohl’s storytelling skills.

4/5 Stars.

I received a free e-ARC of Black Widow: Forever Red from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

**On a side note, I highly recommend reading a print copy of Forever Red, due to the artful way it was constructed. Since I read an e-book version, I found the layout wasn’t as cool as in the print edition.**

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