Wednesday, November 26, 2008

To Read or Not To Read ~ Historical Fiction

I have a confession to make ... I don't want to read historical fiction. 

(gasp!)

Yes, it's true. I've gone to the library and bookstores, I've read the reviews online, I've picked up the books and thumbed through them and thought "this sounds really good" ... and yet, I can't bring myself to read them. Why?

Because I like a happy ending. And one book ruined them all for me. (cough, cough ... Cold Mountain ... Charles Fraizer, are you listening?)

Let's face it, in most historical fiction novels, the guy isn't going to get the girl. Nope, in most cases, something really tragic happens. Which is why the events were impressive enough to be recorded in the first place. History loves to be gloomy. So when a book is based on a true historical events, you are bound to put down the book feeling cheated out of your happily ever after. And so that's why I don't read them. But lately, the urge to really give one a try has gotten stronger. I mean, maybe I am wrong. Maybe it doesn't always happen that. Maybe I just happened to chose the one book guaranteed to prejudice me against historical fiction for all of time. Maybe. 

And so, in the spirit of trying new things (and since I am out of things to read until a new crop of books gets published), I have turned to the one thing I vowed I would never do. Read. Historical. Fiction. 

My heart actually hurts at the thought of all that time spent reading, enjoying the rich tapestry of the author's world only to be blindsided at the end. But I am going to give it a shot. I really am. I chose three books from the library yesterday and one of them is going to be good. I hope. I already know the story of The Other Boleyn Girl (although I refused to see the movie - just as I refused to see Cold Mountain much as I love me some Jude Law). So I am not going into that one blind. The others? We shall find out. I'll keep you posted. 

Here are the quick book blurbs:

The Other Boleyn Girl ~
When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family's ambitious plots as the king's interest begins to wane and she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. Then Mary knows that she must defy her family and her king, and take her fate into her own hands.
The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte ~
Charlotte Bronte, the beloved author of Jane Eyre, lived a quiet and private life in her father's Yorkshire parish. Or did she? What if a diary was uncovered that revealed her secret involvement in one of the most thrilling adventures of the 19th century?
Upon learning that she has been falsely accused of breaching her publishing contract, the normally mild-mannered Charlotte sets off for London to clear her name. But when she unintentionally witnesses a murder, Charlotte finds herself embroiled in a dangerous chain of events. With the aid of her sisters, Emily and Anne, and of the suspiciously well-informed but irresistibly attractive brother of the victim, Charlotte works to unravel a deadly web of intrigue that threatens now only her own safety but the very fabric of the British Empire. Charlotte is plunged into a perilous adventure and a passionate romance that leads her from the peaceful Yorkshire moors to the crime-infested streets of London, across the seat to the Continent, to the ports of Cornwall, the wilds of Scotland, and the palaces of Queen Victoria herself. Will Charlotte be able to stop a devious invisible villain whose schemes threaten her life, her family, and her country?
The Sealed Letter ~
Miss Emily "Fido" Faithfull is a "woman of business" and a spinster pioneer in the British women's movement, independent of mind but naively trusting of heart. Distracted from her cause by the sudden return of her once-dear friend, the unhappily wed Helen Codrington, Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen's failing marriage to a stuffy admiral and her obsessive affair with a young army officer. What begins as a loyal effort to help a friend explodes into a courtroom drama that rivals the Clinton affair - complete with stained clothing, accusations of adultery, counterclaims of rape, and a mysterious sealed letter that could destroy more than one life. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Teaser Tuesday ~ Delicious


Today's teaser comes from Delicious by Sherry Thomas
Three years had passed since she kissed him goodbye, weeping uncontrollably. He didn't remember her name, or anything else about her. But he'd known instantly that she loved him. 
(pg. 106 paperback)
Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Should Be Reading:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

This Girl Recommends ~ If His Kiss Is Wicked (Jo Goodman)

(review can also be round at Reading Romance Books)

Shy by nature, Emma Hathaway usually leaves the drama to her rebellious cousin, Marisol. But when Emma agrees to meet with her cousin’s secret lover to end the affair, she is pulled into a dangerous game. Now Emma is convinced her involvement in the scandal has put her life in jeopardy. The trouble is none of Emma’s confidantes believe anyone is trying to harm her. As whisper of madness begin, Emma turns to the only person who might be able to help …

The very handsome, barely respectable Restell Gardner has gained a reputation for helping people out of compromising positions. Never one to turn away a lady in need, Restell agrees to help solve the intrigue. Sensing there is more to the green-eyed beauty than meets the eye, Restell feels himself falling for Emma. But he resists succumbing to his passion … at least until he learns the truth about the danger that is haunting her. For if he gives into temptation too soon, he could lose Emma forever …

In most cases I like to recap the plot in my reviews but this time around, I think I’ll keep that part to myself. Why? Because the plot is unbelievably grand and therefore I think readers should be able to savor the book page by page instead of having an idea of what happens. The back blurb should be enough to satisfy.

I admit, I have author crush on Jo Goodman. Why? Because her books cannot be considered your run of the mill Regencies. They are dark, they are brooding and they make you think – all things that occur in If His Kiss Is Wicked. I would never want to be Emma Hathaway, not after the horrors she endures but if in being so, I was delivered to the care of Restell Gardner, well, the lady does not end up with a bad deal.

Funny, charming, obtuse and dangerous, Restell Gardner is the perfect combination of an Alpha and Beta hero. Sure, he takes command and does what needs doing, but only after intense thought and deliberation. He never dives in head first and because Emma is a strong heroine, she is involved in most of his decisions.

As for Emma, like most of Goodman’s heroines, she is reserved and smart – able to think and do for herself even when the family she blindly loves condemns her for her actions. She doesn’t accept the fact that she may be mad, she goes out and tries to prove otherwise. This is the kind of heroine I love the most, the kind that really deserves the happy ending.

Things I Liked:

  • The intrigue. I’m not a big fan of mystery and suspense in my romance novels – that is to say, I don’t intentionally seek it out unless I have previous experience with an author. For the most part I think it’s because in most cases, the villain is obvious. Goodman, however, kept me guessing until the very end. I thought I had it all figured out and then in the final pages, the truth hit me between the eyes. Perhaps it had been obvious throughout and I had been too caught up in the story, thinking I already knew the villain, to give it much thought. Bravo Ms. Goodman. 
  • The art references. The characters are intelligent beings who are not undermined by under-researched material. The book is very well researched and the references are well woven into the story. I never felt as though information was being foisted upon me and when done reading, I rather felt like I knew more about art in Regency England than I had previously.
  • As always, Ms. Goodman’s dialogue is superb. And her pacing to be marveled at.
  • My favorite scene was the one in which Restell proposed marriage and Emma accepted with hardly a hesitance. It’s refreshing to read a romance in which love is the easy part. And Restell is at his best in this scene – it shows his respect for Emma as a person, not an object. He recognizes and comes to love her for her intelligence and opinions. Consider: 

“Your ability to put me out of patience is unnatural. What do you suppose would come of a marriage between us?”

“Children, I suspect.” He glanced at her lap and saw her hands were bunched into fists again. It seemed prudent to elaborate. “We would have mutual respect and admiration, tolerance of each other’s foibles and vanities, and a partner for the waltz and whist. We should share a home, the newspaper, a box at the theatre, perhaps a piece of fruit from time to time – I am fond of oranges – and naturally enough, a bed.”

(pg. 190-191)

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • Marisol ~ she seemed to be a two-dimensional character is a sea of well-rounded others. But then, there is always more than meets the eye.
  • Ms. Goodman began a character trait here in her heroine that she later repeated in The Price of Desire. I found the trait (Emma physically attacks Restell without seeming to know what she is doing) a distraction for it smacked too closely of Olivia and Griffin.
  • Emma’s willingness to believe the best in everyone, even after the vicious attack she sustained.

Additional Info:

  • Published ~ September 2007
  • Price ~ $6.99
  • Favorite Jo Goodman ~ This one takes the top spot: If His Kiss Is Wicked
  • Author Website ~ www.jogoodman.com

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Carmel Apple Love

In charge of the appetizer for Thanksgiving? Scrambling yet? I have your solution. A five minute solution. A solution so easy, The Husband even offered to do it for me. Carmel Apple Dip. And no, not straight from the tub. This does actually require some work so you don't have to feel guilty about your lack of effort. 

All you need is a tub of carmel dip (16 oz) and a bar of cream cheese (you're already adding carmel, no need to get fat free, go for the glory!). And a bag of apples. I prefer the Honeycrisp variety (btw, there are an amazing amount of websites out there dedicated to apples ... ). 

Heat the cream cheese in the microwave for 30 seconds, then using a mixer, combine the carmel and cream cheese. Cut up the apples and wa-la! A simple app for not much money or time. The only problem? Getting it to your destination without eating the whole batch first! And even after refridgeration, the dip is still nice, smooth and easy to get on that apple slice.

Next up - Apple Cider

A gallon of apple cider, a carton of Aspen Mulling Company Spiced Apple Cider Drink Mix and a little bit of rum. Just a little bit of rum, so that when you're pulling the turkey out of the oven you don't lose your grip and send that fabulous bird sliding across the floor. I keep the whole mixture on low heat on the stove all day (just make sure you stir occasionally so the bottom doesn't start to burn). Then after the family has returned to the comforts of their own home, feel free to add a bit more rum.

Of course, it's still just as good without the rum, but not half as fun. 

(I did not intent to rhyme. Don't make fun.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Comfort Reads


It's the beginning of winter here in Central Illinois, complete with cold winds and snow. Which always brings to mind my "comfort reads". These are books that I turn to again and again each winter to get me through the chilly months when I absolutely despise going outside to the library or my favorite book store.

I messed around with Picasa today and found a way to collage images so the above is a random sorting of some of my favorite books. I thought about posting lightening quick reviews on each of them but I would only drool over each one of them and become boring, so look at the pretty pictures instead.

(if you click on the picture, you can get a better view of it)
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Teaser Tuesday ~ Birdsong


Today's teaser comes from Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
He felt the simple elation of his victory, the fact that it was he who had won, who had persuaded Isabelle against the weight of convention and sound argument to do the difficult and dangerous thing. And there was the deeper happiness of being with this woman, whom he loved ...
(pg. 96 trade paperback)
Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Should Be Reading:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

A Review ~ Secret Desires of a Gentleman by Laura Lee Guhrke

Today I posted my first review over at Reading Romance Books. This week's selection was Laura Lee Guhrke's Secret Desires of a Gentleman. So head on over to take a peek. 

Overall, it wasn't my favorite of Guhrke's but it was still an enjoyable read once I overlooked certain pet peeves. Like the insufferable alpha-hero who persisted in misunderstanding the feisty heroine for most of the book. As far as the Girl Bachelor series goes, this was definitely the weak link. If you are new to Guhrke, don't start with this one but no need to skip it either. 

Let me know what you think!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

You Can Now Find Me ...

As if my life isn't hectic enough, I recently joined Reading Romance Books as a reviewer. Look for my first review on Tuesday (hopefully!). I'll continue to post reviews here as well, or at least a link to the ones I do over there with the other lovely ladies. 

I'm really excited about this. I love group blogs and this is the first one I've had the chance to participate in. 

Also, Kohls is awesome. Yeah, Kohls. The Husband and I went there yesterday (and nearly died in the pre-holiday season rush, it was like Black Friday!) and I picked up my annual stash of Sugar Cookie and Pumpkin Spice candles. Currently the Sugar Cookie is on the candle warmer and my house smells like I am the best cook in the world. Which is complete rubbish, of course. The only downside is that the smell makes my mouth literally water for a really thick pastry or huge slice of cake. Neither of which is at my disposal. 

And NaNo? I don't wanna talk about it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Place Without Trouble

Auntie Em: Find yourself a place where there isn't any trouble!
Dorothy: Some place where there isn't any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?
When I was a little girl, The Wizard of Oz was my favorite movie (along with The Sound of Music). In my earliest TV memory, I was in front of our old turn-dial set, with a plate of pizza (a huge treat) watching the Wicked Witch of the West flying around her castle. To this day, that remains one of my most vivid memories. Dorothy's journey, from her home to the land of her dreams and back again, where she finds she really wants to be, is familiar theme in books and movies. The epic journey - the quest to find your heart - to find fulfilment, contentment, love - is in every story, whether it takes center stage or not. But what always got me was that one line: 
Some place where there isn't any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?
I wonder, is there a place? It's hard to believe so. Every day some new trouble seems to pop up - the pesky mortgage payment, an unexpected death, a hateful co-worker, losing a friend to a misunderstanding - all these things and more are represented by The Wicked Witch of the West

Is Dorothy's quest in vain? Perhaps. But she went forward, she walked down that yellow path because she had no choice but to move onward. Just like all of us, we have no alternative but to set our feet forward, dodge that evil witch and gather good friends and good lessons along the way. And sure, at some point (probably more than once) we'll end up facing the witch in her castle with only a bucket of water for defense, but just like Dorothy, we are always provided with the tools we need to beat down that obstacle. All you have to do is look around and trust yourself. 

At times, like the Scarecrow says: 
Of course I don't know but I think it will get darker before it gets lighter.
Remember though, whether it's green or not, everyone has an Emerald City. You just have to find it. Trouble found Dorothy in the Emerald City, but she also found the very thing she was looking for there. She took the good with the bad and was a better person for it. She found her Happily Ever After

On another note, every time I watch the movie, I always wish that somehow Dorothy would have taken the Red Brick Road ... what do you suppose was at the end of that one?

Because I Can't Resist

And neither can my Jack. 

Remember a few days ago when I caught him on the kitchen table? Well, he's back. And this time inside a soft-side cooler that was previously upright and mostly zipped. I can't be mad because he's just so cute but if he continues to attack my feet tonight he just might find his butt locked in the basement. It's Friday night. He's bored. You know, he only does this when The Husband isn't home. Cute little jerk. Jack, not The Husband (who is also adorable).

Cool Jack


Cooler Jack

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Good Bit of Writing Today

I didn't write much today,  but what I did I felt was good. So, here's a little peice of it. Judge kindly. I haven't even proofread, which I know is dangerous but the point of NaNo is to not edit, just write. So I just wrote

Finn stared at her in wonderment. “By God, Miss Leavenworth, but you are forward.”

Her flush returned and she bent her head. “I know. It’s a curse.” Her face darkened for a quick moment, so quick Finn almost missed it. “I do apologize. It comes, I think, from living only in proximity to Aunt Maddy and Jane. There are no secrets nor pretendings between us, you see. I suppose at times, I forget that we are not at all meant to speak exactly as we think.”

“We’ll have to cure you of that if you intend to enter society.”

Philippa raised slightly from her seat. “You’ll help me then?” she squeaked. “Despite my rudeness to you?”

“On more than one occasion,” he added in good humor. They were clear of questions about his situation for the moment. He took her surprise as an opportunity to steer the conversation into safer waters. “I like you, Miss Leavenworth. I’d like to be considered a friend of sorts and not a stranger. Do you suppose we could accomplish that?”

She pursed her lips at him, reminding him of just how friendly he wished to be, then waved her hand as if waving aside his invisible concerns. “I would like that. Although I don’t suppose friendships have restrictions?”

“Not at all,” he answered with perfect aplomb. Which of course there were. A friend, for example, did not look at a friend and imagine her stretched across a bed in naked abandonment. But there was no need to trouble her with such an image. He was quite sure she wouldn’t appreciate it. “Do you have any?”

“I do,” she said, matching his tone. “First—"

“You mean to say there is more than one?”

Her eyes flew to the side, then returned to his face. “Several. Actually.”

“Oh, well then, by all means continue.” Finn pushed himself out of his seat and moved to walk behind her to the set of shelves holding his books. He wasn’t sure he could listen to her restrictions on their friendship without betraying his humor or disappointment. For he wasn’t quite sure which he felt. Whether she amused him with her restrictions at complete odds with her straightforward nature or disappointed at the extent she would allow their relationship to go.

“First,” she said and swiveled her head around the chair, “I would ask that you do not arrive at my residence unannounced. It troubles Aunt Maddy so, as you’ve witnessed.”

Finn focused on the row of books before him. “Friends are often given to dropping in, but I concede your point. Shall I sent ‘round a note first, asking for an audience?”

He heard her huff of impatience. “Are you mocking me, Mr. Kinsley?”

He spared her a glance. “Not at all, Miss Leavenworth.”

“Because I must warn you, I am responsible above all else to the comfort and security of my aunt.”

Finn removed his eyes from the books and turned to face her. “I understand family,” he said softly, “even if it doesn’t seem to you that I do, given my apparent estrangement.”

Philippa rose from her seat and moved to stand beside him. She was so close her could make out the dusting of light freckles across her nose. “Will you tell me about them sometime?”

He shrugged and stepped away to rest an elbow on the book shelf, effectively removing himself from her space without seeming obvious. “It depends on the remainder of your restrictions.”

“Right.” She drew in a breath. “Secondly, I must beg that you do not question the nature of my need to enter society. Suffice to say, this need stems from a desire to see more of my world.”

A strange friendship indeed for friends did not lie to friends and yet there she stood, spewing falsehoods in his face. “You aren’t on the hunt for a husband, are you?” he grunted.

“Good gracious no!”

“London,” he said, “is not the world.”

She tilted her head to the side, considering him with her serious COLOR eyes. “No, it is not. But before I can step into the greater unknown, I must step into the little known, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Baby steps.”

“You understand then,” she said with a measure of pleasant surprise.

Finn turned back to the books, pretending to pursue the titles. “I know a bit about stepping into the greater unknown myself.” He turned back to her, unwilling to keep the reassurances to himself. “It’s easier than one would suppose, if one is truly motivated.”

There was a light in her eyes that hadn’t previously existed and he glimpsed a bit of hope there. He faltered back from such a look. He didn’t want her looking upon him with hope. There was too much expectation there.

“What other restrictions?” he asked abruptly and she blinked rapidly.

“Of course. Others.” Philippa tapped her forefinger to her chin. “Honesty,” she pronounced. “I merely ask that you are honest with me in all endeavors. If you come to feel as though this friendship is in any way damaging or has become a bore, you must tell me so we can remove ourselves as quickly as possible.”

Finn held out his hand. “Agreed.”

She hesitated. “And do you not have any for me?”

He quirked up his mouth. “No. I offer this friendship without strings. I told you, I like you. And I wish to help you. You have to trust me completely, of course, or else we are doomed to failure.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Odds & Ends On A Wednesday

While trolling through blogland earlier this week I stumbled on an event hosted by ReadingAdventures and The Written Word called Blog Advent Tour 2008. These two bloggers are recruiting like-minded people to post about Christmas ~ your favorite memory, what the holiday means to you, a funny story ~ anything Christmas related. Posts start up on December 1 and because I absolutely adore the holiday season, I threw my name into the ring and will now be hosting a Christmas-themed post on December 14th. Do I have any earthly clue what I'll be writing about? Absolutely not. But that's OK, I haven't started shopping yet either so it's fun to pack all the holiday goodies into a few insane weeks.


If you are a blogger too and have interest, head on over to either ReadingAdventures or The Written Word to sign up. I believe they have every day filled (Dec 1 - Dec 24) but they are more than willing to take on several each day. Already I have found a goldmine of interesting blogs just by looking at the scheduled bloggers.

Speaking of the holidays ... 

It seems as though each year the consumer Christmas season starts earlier and earlier (at least most retailers have the sense to wait until after Halloween!). In years past I've resented this tradition greatly. I mean, you have to wait until after Thanksgiving. I am still looking forward to pilgrims and huge feasts, not fat men in red outfits and candy canes. Yet this year, I have found myself drawn into the spirit much sooner than anticipated and it's not bugging me that much. Sure, when I heard Jingle Bells while picking out frozen pizzas at the grocery store this weekend, it was a touch odd. And the Salvation Army bell ringers at the mall weirded me out a lot (plus, call me a Bah Humbug but by the time Dec 24th rolls around I am out of change and the bells start to sound really obnoxious). BUT I did pick up an adorable "marshmallow" snowman at a local crafts store. I had to pick him as my favorite of three. SIGH. I should go back and get the other two. He might get lonely without his buddies.


All right then. Just one more Holiday related odd or end (I should have named this post Christmas Odds and Ends but I couldn't bring myself to do it). An effort has been started by My Friend Amy to save the publishing industry from certain economic doom during the holiday season. Books for the Holidays encourages all book lovers to buy only books this holiday season for those special people on your gift list. I love the idea and hope it actually generates an upturn in book buying but I have to admit, I wouldn't ever buy a book for someone like my brother-in-law for Christmas. He just isn't a reader. Nor is The Husband (though we did read the last Harry Potter book together). Still, I can name at least 7 people on my ever growing list of present needers for whom I could buy books. So, anyway, spread the word and spread the love, buy more books!


Here's the mission statement on the blog:
Our goal is to promote buying books as gifts for the holidays. We hope to share information about different genres and the book publishing industry, as well as help each other find books for even the most reluctant readers!
NaNo Word Count: 7,475

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Teaser Tuesday ~ A Year In The World

Today's teaser comes from A Year In The World by Frances Mayes
Bodnant was also someone's dream, but only of a house and large garden. We glanced at the upright Tudor mansion, perkier than most, with many pointed dormers and crisp white paint between the beams. The sublime first impression of wide terraces above the river Conwy and views of mountains only began the extravagant delights of Bodnant.
(pg. 221 hardcover)
Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Should Be Reading:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

Monday, November 10, 2008

This Girl Recommends ~ Sarah Addison Allen

This is a dual review of two books from Sarah Addision Allen. According to Ms. Allen's website she has a new book coming in 2009 and the picture references love, magic, barbeque and cake.


GARDEN SPELLS

From the author's website:
Welcome to Bascom, North Carolina, where everyone has a story to tell about the Waverleys. There's the house that's been in the family for generations, the walled garden that mysteriously blooms year round, and the wild rumors of dangerous loves and tragic passions. Claire has always clung to the Waverleys' roots, tending the enchanted soil in the family garden from which she makes her sought-after delicacies. She has everything she thinks she needs, until one day she wakes to find a stranger has moved in next door and a vine of ivy has crept into her garden... and Claire's carefully tended life is about to run gloriously out of control.
I picked up Garden Spells at a library charity sale with no thought to actually reading it. The cover was beautiful but the book itself didn't really sound like my cup of tea. Plus, I was in the middle of furious edits and didn't really have time to read. But one rainy Sunday the edits got the best of me and I closed my laptop in disgust and went in search of a good book, only to be thwarted. I hadn't bought any good books in a good long while because I was attempting to remove temptation. Then the cover of Garden Spells caught my attention and all my good intentions about returning to the edits went out the window. I picked it up and began to read. I was hooked. Immediately.

Consider the first paragraph:
Every smiley moon, without fail, Claire dreamed of her childhood. She always tried to stay awake those nights when the stars winked and the moon was just a cresting sliver smiling provocatively down at the world, the way pretty women on vintage billboards used to smile as they sold cigarettes and limeade. On those nights in the summer, Claire would garden by the light of the solar-powered footpath lamps, weeding and trimming the night bloomers - the moon vine and the angel's trumpet, the night jasmine and the flowering tobacco. These weren't a part of the Waverley legacy of edible flowers, but sleepless as she often was, Claire had added flowers to the garden to give her something to do at night when she was so wound up that frustration singed the edge of her nightgown and she set tiny fires with her fingertips.
The story feels familiar, two sister with special powers and I was reminded of Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic and Nora Robert's Three Sisters Trilogy. But the book definitely stands on its own merit. The writing is simple yet provocative and the characters feel like people I know. I especially connected with Claire, the oldest sister. As I was reading, listening to Claire lament the longing for belonging (nice rhyme, I promise I won't attempt that again) and for a reconnection with her sister (although she isn't sure how much of a reconnection she wants) I found myself sympathizing with her in a way I had not done in a long time. Sydney, the youngest sister, is also a bit universal. She made mistakes when she was younger and paid her dues, made mistakes when she was older and found a way out of them. She doesn't make excuses for herself and she does what is best for her daughter Bay, never once taking into consideration her own feelings. She makes the family whole again, and in the process, fills the voids in herself. She and Claire are remarkable characters and they stayed with me long after I put down the book.

I liked the dual romance between Claire and Tyler and Sydney and Henry but I also liked that the romance didn't overtake the book, nor was it underscored. It was part of the story, not the whole story.

And as for the apple tree, my do I wish I had one of those. Allen does a fabulous job of making you believe in her magic.


THE SUGAR QUEEN

From the author's website:
Josey, at 27, doesn't go out except to do chores for her mother, she doesn't wear clothes that her mother says don't suit her, and she eats, secretly, as a substitute for the life she's not living. One morning, when she goes to her closet to raid her secret stash of sweets, she finds a woman sitting there. Della Lee, on the run from something in her own life, has decided to take up residence in Josey's closet. Thus begins Josey's quest to get this madwoman out of her closet, and along the way she discovers a world where the color red has astonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom any time -- even for her.
After I finished Garden Spells I immediately went in search of more from Allen. Unfortunately, I only found one. The Sugar Queen. I checked it out of the local library and devoured the novel in one sitting. If possible, I enjoyed this book more than Garden Spells.

Again, the story resonates with other plots - the overbearing mother with a secret, the secretive maid who knows more than you think she knows, a dark and dangerous criminal who gets the girl to fall for him - and yet, all these things combined make a completely different plot. So all these devices may be cliché but they work and work well.

What I liked most about Sugar Queen is Allen's way of making you forget the book is contemporary. Josey Cirrini (painfully shy Josey who hides food in her closet from the prying eyes of her mother) lives in a house and a world that would be more comfortable in the early 1900s and when she steps out of the house, and into her new life, it's like she is stepping into a time warp. But it doesn't feel awkward in the least. Rather, the symbolism is strong and vibrant. The secondary characters, most notably Chloe, add to the spell of book by providing a look at the real world while Josey is still trapped inside her own life. Eventually with the help of the other characters, Josey breaks out of this world and away from her mother, much in a way that a princess would escape an evil queen.

As for Della Lee (the woman who shows up in Josey's closet without any explanation) ... I think I will leave that bit alone because she adds such twists and turns to the story I would feel as though I were robbing a potential reader of the enjoyment of discovery. Suffice to say Della Lee is a surprise all in herself but again, like the other characters, she reflects Josey's life, providing another scope to The Sugar Queen's complexity. All the characters serve as a mirror for Josey - who she wants to be, doesn't want to be and finally, how she finds herself. The supporting cast is her conflict and her resolution.

Like Garden Spells, the romance with Adam (who I adored) is part of the tapestry of the story instead of being the whole story. In this book, however, I enjoyed the romance much more. Perhaps because it was very fairytale-ish. A girl wishes for something she never thought she could have and the boy finds something he never expected to find, and the theme of FATE. That's my favorite kind of romance.

Things I Liked: 
  • The writing style - Allen literally pulls you into her character's world and it's only when the secondary characters show up that you realize her heroines are not living in some magical fairy land, but everyday America.
Things I Disliked: 
  • I have been wracking my brain for things I do not like but it's been a least three weeks since I read the books and I can't think of a single one. This doesn't mean they didn't exist, but it does mean that whatever they were, they did not diminish my enjoyment of the story in the least.
Facts:
  • Released ~ Garden Spells: April 2008 (paperback), The Sugar Queen: May 2008 (hardcover)
  • Price ~ Garden Spells: $5.99 (paperback), The Sugar Queen: $22.00 (hardcover)
Other Reviews:

Garden Spells

The Sugar Queen