TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Worth Waiting For” Edition

“The Little Book”~ Selden Edwards

Book Description (From Amazon):  Thirty years in the writing, Selden Edwards’ dazzling first novel is an irresistible triumph of the imagination. Wheeler Burden-banking heir, philosopher, student of history, legend’s son, rock idol, writer, lover, recluse, half-Jew, and Harvard baseball hero-one day finds himself wandering not in his hometown of San Francisco in 1988 but in a city and time he knows mysteriously well: Vienna, 1897. Before long, Wheeler acquires a mentor in Sigmund Freud, a bitter rival, a powerful crush on a luminous young woman, and encounters everyone from an eight-year-old Adolf Hitler to Mark Twain as well as the young members of his own family. Solving the riddle of Wheeler’s dislocation in time will ultimately reveal nothing short of one eccentric family’s unrivaled impact upon the course of human history.

Edwards, author of The Lost Prince, brilliantly weaves romance, art, history, and culture in this unforgettable and dazzling debut novel.

Hello? *taps microphone* Is this thing on? I mean, it’s been so long I’m beginning to question if this little channel to the Internet is even still open.

Fortunately for me, it appears to  be. That means I can fill you in on the little secret that I discovered thanks to Shelf Awareness. (Yes, since I am spending so little time communing with my fellow book bloggers anymore, Shelf Awareness is quickly becoming my sole source of all things bookish. They have yet to steer me wrong, I’m happy to say.)

About two months ago, they shared a review of the book “The Lost Prince,” by Selden Edwards, referring to a wonderful time travel plot and delicious female characters. And joy of joys, it was a SEQUEL to “The Little Book.” Which I had never even friggin’ heard of. I promptly hightailed it to my library, reserved a copy, and dug in.

Let me preface by saying this: If you enjoyed “The Time Traveller’s Wife,” this book is for you.

The book begins with Wheeler Burden waking up in 1897 Vienna with absolutely no idea how he arrived there. The last thing that he remembers is a book signing in 1980s San Francisco, so he’s really stumbled into quite a dilemma. Fortunately for him, he had a Wise Older Mentor who was FROM 1897 Vienna, so he has a bit of an advantage right off the bat. He allows himself to travel through the city as an observer, and then to gradually become absorbed in the exciting turn-of-the-century culture. He’s aware of the care he needs to take when interacting with people, lest he inadvertently affect the future he is to be born into. That becomes exponentially more difficult when he starts to stumble across figures from his own past, and the resulting complications are delightful to witness.

Selden Edwards is obviously deeply in love with the time period he writes about, and his book reflects it. The story is deeply sensual, with descriptions of everything from glorious coffee with cream to intricate gowns, and even a night at the opera. There is a rich cast of characters both male and female, and it wonderfully prepares the reader for the next installment, in which we get to revisit one of the female characters. The reader also is treated to encounters with a host of historical figures, including a young Sigmund Freud and Gustav Mahler. With a time travel plot, it’s difficult to discuss too many details without giving away spoilers, but I am so glad that I was clued into this book’s existence. With my crazy schedule, it took me far longer than usual to get through its packed pages (Hint: I renewed it at the library TWICE. Oh, the shame!!), but it was worth every minute. I’d highly suggest it as a great read for the cooler weather ahead.

Four and a half cups of strong coffee.

TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Bite-Sized” Edition

Well hello,  Interwebs!  Oh, I’ve missed all of your lovely faces! We’re finally back in working-computer business here at the Casa, so my brief hiatus is over. I’ve been reading like a fiend (thanks to some downtime in training classs… which is now over, le boo.), and not able to write nearly as many reviews as I’ve read, so I wanted to crank out a couple of mini-reviews to get myself caught up.

Hopefully I can get back on the ball and return to my regularly scheduled posting.

“Tigers in Red Weather” – Lisa Klaussmann

I admit to primarily choosing this book because of the setting- I have a soft spot for anything that takes place on Martha’s Vineyard. Having spent time there during the summers as a little Brooke, there are very few places that I love more. Just the name can evoke so many wonderful memories. Something about being able to picture the environment so clearly in my head makes the story come a live that much more vividly. There’s something about the New England Islands that gets into your blood and stays there, as one of the characters astutely remarks: “I think it’s in the genes, salt water. Whether you like it or not.” There’s a certain blue to the sky and bite to the air that you can’t find in any other places, and it’s the perfect setting for this fever dream of a novel.

The thing that’s so remarkable about this book is the plotting- Lisa Klaussmann nails it, introducing her characters and their motivations gradually, so the build to the climax is gradual and allows the feeling of dread to build up beautifully. Something  in the characters’ world is verrry wrong, and you will keep breathlessly turning pages to find out what it is.

Five out of five perfect martinis.

“Crossed”~ Ally Condie

It took me quite a while to be motivated to pick up the second book in this series, and now I remember why. It’s just mediocre. The writing wasn’t good enough to keep me caring about the characters, and the plot was far too commonplace- “two characters in love are on a journey to find each other, testing their limits and taking most of the book before they find each other only to immediately get in a fight and eff it up. And then they make up and unforeseen circumstances separate them again. Look out for the love triangle!” Yawn.

Two pages of poetry.

“Uglies/Pretties”~ Scott Westerfeld

I have no idea why I didn’t pick up this series until now. I honestly think that I was put off by the covers/titles enough to avoid them completely. “Uglies” was a pleasant surprise- Tally lives in a dystopian society in which you are “cured” of being ugly at age 16. She’s missing her best friend Peris, who was two months older than her, and is spending her days killing time until she can have her operation. She meets a new friend Shay, who opens Tally’s eyes to the possibility of remaining “ugly”, and questioning a society that places so much value on appearance. When Shay escapes to the wild, Tally is recruited to find her or risk being “ugly” forever.

Oh, and then “Pretties” happened… and the YA curse appeared and made me lose interest in reading the third book. Tally has finally become Pretty, and spends her nights partying with all of her new Pretty friends. She’s been reunited with Peris, is bff with Shay, and has caught the eye of the mysterious Zane. Everything seems pretty perfect until she meets a mysterious masked stranger at a costume ball, and she remembers her real reason for becoming “Pretty.” The rest of the book struck me as convoluted and a bit overdramatic.  See my issues with “Crossed” above. 😉 A potentially fascinating subplot is introduced, only to be interrupted by the ending. Which I  haaaaaaaaaaated.

Uglies: Four out of five hoverboards.

Pretties: Three out of five bungee jackets.

“Day After Night” ~ Anita Diamant

After “The Red Tent,” I’ll read anything written by Anita Diamant. While this book didn’t quite grab me the same way, her talent with historical fiction can’t be denied. Based on a true story, the book follows four women who have survived the Nazis only to be kept in a British detainment camp in Palestine. Each character reveals her experiences during the war slowly, gradually coming to terms with the reality of being one of the “lucky” people who survived when everyone they cared about was lost. Watching them gradually find joy again was both hopeful and bittersweet, and simple moments caught me completely off guard with their emotional depth.

Four out of five loaves of challah.

TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Here There Be Dragons” Edition

Seraphina~ Rachel Hartman

Book Description (From Amazon): Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

Soundtrack: “Ave Maris Stella”~ Otto Olsson

So much of the book revolves around Seraphina’s relationship with music, and this gorgeous choral piece came to mind immediately.

After reading about this book in a recent issue of “Shelf Awareness,” I was beyond excited to snag a copy from the library.

In a country where there is an uneasy truce between humans and dragons, Seraphina has spent her entire life attempting to hide her true identity.  Turning her considerable musical talents to a position as the assistant to the court composer, she is unable to evade notice for long.

When a member of the royal family is killed, and the murder appears to have been commited by a dragon, Seraphina finds herself dragged into the investigation and forging unlikely relationships along the way.

It is not exaggeration to say that I LOVED this book. Seraphina’s character is so richly imagined that she practically leaps off the page. The reader sharply feels her turmoil at reconciling her public and private lives. She’s a very typical young woman, wanting to feel beautiful and valued but believing herself unworthy of those things. Seeing her explore her unique talents and realize that what makes her different also makes her remarkable is fantastic.

While Seraphina herself is reason enough to read this book, I can’t do it a disservice by neglecting to mention the supporting characters.  Each of them is challenged in some way by their role in society- Prince Lucian is contracted to marry his cousin regardless of his personal wishes, Orma finds himself fighting his very nature when it comes to loving his niece, and Seraphina’s father is an expert in the law despite having broken it himself long ago.  The mythology is developed to a wonderful degree.  Ms Hartman developed a unique class of dragons, with their own quirks, emotional characteristics and habits. She’s given the human residents of her world their own caste rules, prejudices and religious system.

In the case of this book I would even be tempted to break my own rule regarding YA series. Though the ending resolved the plot well, I wouldn’t have been opposed to spending a lot more time with Seraphina and following her as she and Kiggs move forward and prepare for a potential war between the humans and the dragons. I didn’t do a great deal of searching, but if I were to read that Rachel Hartman was planning a sequel, it wouldn’t cause any gnashing of teeth on my part.  There’s music, there’s romance, and plenty of intrigue to keep you turning pages until the end.

Five out of Five Ivory Flutes.

TxtingMrDarcy Reads: Sentimental Edition

“Sisterhood Everlasting”~ Ann Brashares

Book Description (from Amazon):

“On the cusp of turning thirty, Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget are now living
separate lives, out on their own. Yet despite having jobs and men that they
love, each knows that something is missing: the closeness that once sustained
them. Carmen is a successful actress in New York, engaged to be married, but
misses her friends. Lena finds solace in her art, teaching in Rhode Island, but
still thinks of Kostos and the road she didn’t take. Bridget lives with her
longtime boyfriend, Eric, in San Francisco, and though a part of her wants to
settle down, a bigger part can’t seem to shed her old restlessness. Then Tibby
reaches out to bridge the distance, sending the others plane tickets for a
reunion that they all breathlessly await.

And indeed, it will change their lives  forever—but in ways that none of them could ever have expected.”

Soundtrack: “Both Sides Now”~ Joni Mitchell

Love, in all of its many forms, has always been a key topic of the Sisterhood Books. This one is no exception, only it’s a bit more bittersweet this time around.

Best Enjoyed With: A cold beer and a brownie. Preferably to share.

I have to admit to some sentimentality when it came to choosing this book. I’d read The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants when it came out, and loved the four Septembers in their first appearance. Likewise, I enjoyed both of the movie adaptations. I’ve kept up with the books over the years, even as I grew older and the characters became “too young” for me.

Ann Brashares returns to her girls ten years after the events in the last books. They’ve all pursued life paths true to character- Carmen is a successful actress, Lena teaches art, and Bee floats wherever the wind takes her. The only mystery to the girls is Tibby, who moved away to Australia with Brian when his software design took off. They’re overjoyed to receive letters from her with an invitation to a reunion in Santorini, and each girl knows that it’s been far too long since she’s spent time with her best friends.

**Spoiler Alert! If you intend to read this book, stop here. I tried to write this review multiple times, but found it impossible to discuss some of the themes without revealing this one important plot point**- One of the girls dies tragically early in the story, and a letter she leaves behind indicates that her death was not an accident.

I admit to getting pissed off at Ms Brashares at that point. How could she possibly continue the story after making a plot choice like that?! And why create such seemingly unnecessary drama in something that was supposed to be a “light” read full of friendship and love?

Trust me, she has her reasons.

The tragedy forces each of the characters to deal with grief in her own way. For one, it’s running off the rails and once again coming to terms with the sadness in her own past. For one, it’s throwing herself into planning a wedding she doesn’t necessarily want. For the last, it’s cocooning herself even further into the solitude she’s cloaked herself in, to the point of pushing away anyone who would try to help her.

Rather than pulling the girls closer together, their sadness drives them apart. Each feels that trying to cope in the presence of the others would magnify her own sadness, and each blames herself for the loss of one of them.

I know, I’m making this sound like a real downer, but trust me, it is a gorgeous book and a very fitting end to the story of the Septembers. It’s a lovely examination of the ruts that we can fall into in life, and that the people we allow ourselves to become are not necessarily who we truly are. There’s just enough magic to remind the reader of the Pants, without being corny, and returning to this group of characters (all of them. Even Effie.) was reminiscent of visiting with old friends.

If you’ve read any of the story to this point, you absolutely must read this book. I read most of it in one day, and was sad to turn the last page. Could it be called too sappy? Possibly. Consider it a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, or raw cookie dough. Sometimes, you just need some sweetness.

Four and a half fireflies.

TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Stay Away From The Punch!” Edition

“Clockwork Prince”~ Cassandra Clare

Book Description (From Amazon): In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street—and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.

With the help of the handsome, self-destructive Will and the fiercely devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal. He blames them for a long-ago tragedy that shattered his life. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors, from the slums of London to an enchanted ballroom where Tessa discovers that the truth of her parentage is more sinister than she had imagined. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister himself knows their every move—and that one of their own has betrayed them.

Tessa finds her heart drawn more and more to Jem, though her longing for Will, despite his dark moods, continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will—the wall he has built around himself is crumbling. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa the answers about who she is and what she was born to do?

As their dangerous search for the Magister and the truth leads the friends into peril, Tessa learns that when love and lies are mixed, they can corrupt even the purest heart.

Soundtrack: “Be Here Now”~ Ray Lamontagne

 The shimmering strings in this one and the lovely message make me think of Tessa and Jem. (Those crazy kids!)

Best Enjoyed With: A cup of fizzy lemonade. Preferably not spiked with Warlock powders.

It was such a treat to return to Cassandra Clare’s version of Regency London, I have no idea why I didn’t do it sooner.  This book picks up immediately after the events of Clockwork Angel, and I have to admit that I actually enjoyed this book more than the first book in the series. (Considering my feelings about YA series in general, that’s high praise.)  The plot took off like a runaway carriage, keeping the reader breathlessly following the events after Mortmain’s attack on the London Institute at the end of book one.

It’s imperative that the Shadowhunters discover more about the infamous Magister in order to attempt to discover his motives and his eventual plan of attack.  Meanwhile, other Shadowhunters are questioning Charlotte’s competency of running the Institute.  The consul gives them two weeks to discover the Magister’s plans, or Charlotte will be removed as director of the Institute, and the unsavory Benedict Lightwood will take over.

Meanwhile, Tessa is caught in a whirl of uncertainty. Not only is she not entirely sure where her powers come from, she’s fallen in love with two young men who she just happens to live with. Cassandra Clare kicks the romantic tension up a notch in this installment, and does a fabulous job of it. While the love triangle could a bit overused in the young adult genre right now, Will and Jem (short for James, if you haven’t started this series yet) are both so totally dreamy that it’s understanding why Tessa is torn. Unlike Jace and Simon in the Mortal Instruments books, there really isn’t a “best choice” between the two of them, and I found myself just as confused as Tessa. With two equally vivid heroes to fall in love with, we’re reminded exactly why the love triangle is such an effective plot device.  It’s been a while since I’ve had a legitimate book boyfriend, and I might have to fight Angela for Jem.

Aside from gushing over the main characters, this book was a feast for the imagination. The characters leave London and travel by train to Yorkshire, where the stark beauty is described perfectly. There are plenty of grand manor houses and beautiful clothes, and what regency novel is complete without a masked ball? I think that writing within the Victorian conventions of propriety added some great dimension to the story. The love scenes were steamier because of it, and the exploration of character relationships on all levels were very authentic.

Another aspect of Cassandra Clare’s writing that I seemed to have forgotten was the humor she manages to sneak into various scenes. While her characters in the Infernal Devices series are bound by the constraints of society, there’s a degree of truth to the fact that they’re still teenagers, with all of the inherent snark that comes with that job description.  Revisiting some of the characters that cross between the two series is a delight as well.

I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Clockwork Princess, and not just for the drop-dead gorgeous cover art.

Four and a half automatons.

TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Girl Power!” Edition

“Beauty Queens”~ Libba Bray

Book Description: (from Amazon) Survival. Of the fittest.

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of  the  program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild?  And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness…

Soundtrack: “Survivor”~ Destiny’s Child

Everything about this song is PERFECT for these fiesty young women, who prove that they are far more than pretty faces.

Best Enjoyed With: A Pina Colada. There were none in the book, but damn those ladies could have used one.

My only experience with Libba Bray so far has been the Gemma Doyle trilogy, so imagine my surprise when I opened up Beauty Queens and was laughing out loud within in the first few pages.  She skewers practically every aspect of popular culture, from Beauty Products to Bratz dolls, and does it gleefully.

As Army Boy asked, “She doesn’t make fun of the Amish, does she??”

Yes my dear, she certainly does.

I received a copy of this book from the adorable blog The Broke and the Bookish as part of their blogoversary giveaway, and I can’t thank them enough! I’d been wanting to read it for ages, and this was the perfect excuse to pick it up! Thank goodness, they didn’t question my YA street cred. (Not reading Libba Bray is like… not reading the latest Jeffrey Eugenides. Unthinkable!)

Reading this book during training caused a lot of double takes (mostly because of the hilarious cover), and prompted a lot of conversation with my new coworkers. Hopefully at least one or two of them will think to pick it up next time they’re searching for a new author.

As the book description indicates, a plane of contestants for a beauty pageant crashes on a deserted island, and the girls must band together if they want to have any chance of survival. Watching their transformation from pageant princess to friends is an absolute joy, and the characters are wonderfully dimensional. Writing so many distinct personalities, one easily could have gotten lost in the shuffle, but none do. They all have backstories that contribute to their motivation to wanting to be “Miss Teen Dream,” and each has skeletons in her closet that she has to overcome. By the end of the story, I loved each and every one of them (Even the slightly fanatical Miss Texas).

Total side note: this is the second book that I’ve read recently that contains a character that is remarkably similar to a former governor of Alaska.  I have to thank the 2008 presidential campaign for that, really. They gave authors a perfect character for use in satire. 😉

While the girls initially find their pageant programming difficult to overcome (some feel that keeping pageant ready is more important than, oh, survival), it’s a joy to see them putting aside their preconceived notions of who they are and exploring the capable women that they could be. Among their numbers they’re lucky to have some girls familiar with engineering and first aid, along with some who just have a fabulous sense of interior design. Getting away from the pressure of society allows them to explore their actual passions, not the interests that are being dictated to them. They each realize what it truly means to be themselves, not the carefully crafted image that they’ve been projecting to the world.

Of course, everything is not as it seems, and the girls start to realize that their presence on the island is more dangerous than they initially thought. Throw in a corporate conspiracy, some bumbling security agents and a confused dictator, and everything comes together in a delicious romp that’s far more James Bond than Miss Congeniality. Even the structure of the book is entertaining, with the plot interspersed with some “notes” from the Corporation that is bringing the girls’ story to the reader, and  even a commercial or two thrown in.

This book quickly insinuated itself onto my favorites bookshelf, a spot it’s sure to hold for many years to come.

Five out of Five Sparkle Ponies. *jazz hands!*

TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Center Stage” Edition

Bunheads”~ Sophie Flack*

Book Description (From Amazon): On-stage beauty. Backstage drama.

As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet.

But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah’s universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other “bunheads” in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life?

Soundtrack: “Soldier” ~ Ingrid Michaelson

The solitude and personal strength portrayed in this song really speak to me when I think about Hannah’s drive and sacrifice. She totally isolates herself because she feels that she has no other choice if she wants to totally commit to her dream.

Best Enjoyed With: Kale Chips. Seriously, reading about the ballerinas’ crazy diets left me starving.

This book is a sweet little read that I zipped through in about 24 hours. It’s as light as the tulle of a tutu, but contains some layers that give it a satisfying fullness in the end.

Hannah has dreamt of being a professional ballerina for as long as she can remember. It didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice to her to move to New York at age fourteen to purse her passion full time, but after years in the corps de ballet at the Manhattan Ballet she’s starting to notice all of the things that she’s missing out on. Like free time. And dating.

When she meets a cute college student named Jacob, the contrasts in their lives are thrown into sharp focus, and she’s forced to make a choice between continuing to give 100% to ballet or attempting to squeeze a “real life” into her insanely packed schedule.

I have to admit, what I found most interesting about this book is the fact that it’s apparently semi-autobiographical. Sophie Flack was a member of the New York City Ballet for nine years, and is currently attending Columbia University.

The characters and drama (or relative lack thereof) ring with a note of truth, but there’s none of the ridiculous melodrama that’s come to be associated with dance in popular media. There’s competition among the dancers, mention of crazy diets and loads of bitchiness, but nothing terribly over the top. The dance scenes are clearly written with an insider’s eye for detail, and the description of the dancers’ various physical ailments and fatigue is eye-opening.

My only gripe is that there should probably be a glossary of common dance terms in the back. Flack tosses them around as though she assumes we all know what they mean, but it made it difficult to picture the dance scenes in my head without understanding the nuances of the steps. Like some of the novel’s “pedestrians” (anyone outside the dance community) I can’t tell the difference between a piqué and a bourrée. On the other hand, I could totally see young girls who are in love with dancing adoring this book.

Hannah is a difficult heroine to like- she’s so incredibly driven that it can come off as being self-absorbed (a complaint of one of the main characters.) I could relate her, after majoring in music myself and spending years consumed with performances and practices. Similarly, her character development made her even more sympathetic to me. Being a performer takes a far thicker skin than I have naturally, and years of competition and critiques wore me down to the point where I needed to step away and assess whether I really had the drive to pursue singing as a career. Obviously, I didn’t.

The supporting characters are relatively one-dimensional, each given one defining characteristic with which to stand out. Daisy binge-eats when she gets upset, Leni is perpetually cheerful despite knowing that she’ll never get promoted, Zoe’s an upper-class snot and Bea is… from Nebraska. As a first novel, it’s a decent effort, but unfortunately I chose to read it after Shadow of Night.

Two and a half broken-in pairs of toe-shoes.

*Not related to or to be confused with the new show on ABC Family starring Sutton Foster