Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mini Review: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick
Touchstone Books, June 2014
400 pages

My Review

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, which is based on the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, was an absolute delight to read.  The novel is a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen's beloved Pride & Prejudice, one which I think does justice to Austen's original characters and story. The star of the book is communications graduate student Lizzie Bennet, whose thesis project involves making video diary entries chronicling her life and that of her family, and posting them on the web with the help of her best friend, Charlotte Lu.  Lizzie's path soon crosses with that of William D'Arcy, an arrogant and standoffish businessman who arrives in town when his friend, Bing Lee, rents a home near that of the Bennet's.  What follows is a tale familiar to any fan of Pride and Prejudice, albeit one told from a 21st century perspective.

I've read a few great retellings of Jane Austen's novels, but The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet has to be my favourite.  I love how faithful the authors are to Austen's original story, and how they develop each of the characters to be representative of Austen's yet unique and memorable on their own.  I had not watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries prior to reading this book, but I definitely plan to do so now.

Highly recommended to Jane Austen fans.  

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Source: Purchased

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Review: The Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine


Love is as uncertain and as untameable as war... 

In the summer of 1940, most eyes are focussed on the skies above the South of England. The battle for Britain has just begun. But young Evie Lucas has eyes for no-one but a dashing young pilot called Tony. Evie has a glittering career as an artist ahead of her but seems to be wasting her time sketching endless portraits of Tony. She wants his parents to have something to remember him by in case it all goes wrong in the war... 

Seventy years later, and recently widowed art historian Lucy is trying to put the pieces of her life back together. And in order to do that, Lucy needs to uncover the mystery surrounding a painting in her home. But as she accidentally ends up stirring up a hornet's nest of history which has been deliberately obliterated, Lucy finds herself in danger from people past and present who have no intention of letting an untold truth ever surface.

HarperCollins Publishers | July 2014 | 400 pages | ISBN: 9780007513130

My Review

I've been a fan of Barbara Erskine since reading her wonderful historical novel Child of the Phoenix many years ago.  As such, I always look forward to the release of a new Barbara Erskine book.  Like many of her earlier novels, Erskine's latest release, The Darkest Hour, is a dual-time narrative. The present day storyline concerns Lucy Standish, an art historian who recently lost her husband, as she attempts to write a biography of a prominent World War II artist about whom little is known.  The historical narrative focuses on Evie Lucas, a young woman looking to make her mark as an artist as the Battle of Britain commences. When Evie's path crosses with that of handsome pilot Tony Anderson, she turns her attention to him and the hopes that they can build a life together. But not everyone is happy about Evie's blossoming relationship with Tony, including one person who will stop at nothing to keep them apart forever.  As Lucy begins to dig deeper into Evie's life and slowly starts to uncover some it its secrets, it soon becomes apparent that the past is reaching out into the present to prevent the truth of Evie's life from ever being known.

The Darkest Hour is a relatively quick-moving tale that, at times, I didn't want to put down. Both Evie and Lucy are engaging, as are many of the novel's secondary characters, especially those in Lucy's portion of the narrative.  A key component to the success of dual-time narratives is ensuring that the reader is never jolted out of the story when it transitions between the modern-day and historical narratives.  As one of the masters of the dual-time narrative, Erskine's transitions are always smooth.  As is the case with most of Erskine's other dual-time narratives, there is an element of the paranormal that is weaved throughout the book.  I liked this element for the most part, and found it kept me eagerly turning the pages, but did find it to be a little much at times, leaving me with the impression that certain parts of the narrative had become too fantastic for a non-fantasy novel. 

While several of my favourite books are dual-time narratives, I usually have a distinct preference for one storyline over the other, and it's usually the historical narrative I'm most drawn to.  In the case of The Darkest Hour, however, I preferred the modern-day storyline. While I liked both Lucy and Evie as characters, it was Lucy's quest to uncover the truth about Evie's life that I found most intriguing.   My only real criticism of the novel is that the ending felt too rushed. While the novel concluded as I expected (and wanted), I was ultimately left unsatisfied by how quickly everything was resolved and wish the ending had not wrapped up quite so quickly. 

While I don't think The Darkest Hour is Erskine's best book, fans of her previous novels (as well as those interested in dual-time narratives in general) should still find much to like in this book.     

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: Purchased

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: New(ish) Series I Want to Start

It's time for Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's list is:

Top Ten New Series I Want to Start Reading 
(new is defined as first published within the last one to two years)

(1) The Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes (YA Fantasy). The first novel is Falling Kingdoms (2012).

(2) The Throne of Glass series by Sarah Maas (YA Fantasy). The first novel is Throne of Glass (2012).

(3) The His Fair Assassin trilogy by Robin LaFevers (YA Fantasy). The first novel is Grave Mercy (2012).

(4)Rick Yancy's 5th Wave series (YA Fantasy). The first novel is The 5th Wave (2013).

(5) Conn Iggulden's Wars of the Roses series (Historical Fiction). The first novel is War of the Roses: Stormbird (2013).

(6) Lindsay Faye's Timothy Wilde series (Historical Mystery). The first novel is Gods of Gotham (2012).

(7) Emma Newman's The Split Worlds novels (Fantasy). The first book is Between Two Thorns (2013).

(8) Django Wexler's Shadow Campaign series (Fantasy). The first novel is The Thousand Names (2013).

(9) Saladin Ahmed's Crescent Moon Kingdoms series (Fantasy). The first novel is Throne of the Crescent Moon (2012).

(10) Sylvia Izzo Hunter's Noctis Magicae series (Fantasy).  The first book is The Midnight Queen (2014). 

Are there any series on this list you'd like to start reading?  Are there any you have started?

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dewey's 24-Hour Read-A-Thon: October 18, 2014

Today's the day to get your reading on with Dewey's 24-hour Read-A-Thon!

I'll use this post to provide updates on my progress throughout the day.   To start, here are my responses to the opening meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I'm reading from Ottawa, Canada's Capital City.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Probably The Martian by Andy Weir.  This is the book I intend to read first.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I actually haven't any specific snacks lined up.  I'll just grab stuff out of my cupboards or fridge as the mood strikes me.  I do, however, have lots of tea lined up -- my flavours of choice are Pure Chai and Maple Sugar.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

Well, I love to read obviously, but I also love to travel.  My favourite place to visit is England, and no visit there is complete without a trip to Foyles Bookstore in London!   I'm a huge baseball fan, with the Toronto Blue Jays being my favourite team. 
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I'm a first timer, so I'm looking forward to the whole experience :-)

Happy Reading!


Well, we are now through three hours of the Read-A-Thon, and I've only managed to get 85 pages read. I'm not off to as great of a start as I'd hoped, but I am enjoyed the book I selected to start with (The Martian by Andy Weir).

I have participated in one of the mini-challenges: Coffee or Tea?  As a tea addict I'm clearly TeamCSLewis on this one. I hope to take part in more mini-challenges as the day progress. 

I will be taking some time off this afternoon to take my daughter to see Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (at least it's based on a book), and to buy some groceries (turns out I should have planned some snacks in advance after all). 

Once my afternoon activities are completed I'll plant myself firmly back in my reading chair and get back to it.

How is your Read-A-Thon going?


I did it!  I finally finished a book!  It was The Martian by Andy Weir and it took me longer to read than I expected it would.  But that's okay, it was totally worth it since it was a great read.  

My next book will definitely be shorter :-)  This one wasn't included on my Read-A-Thon stack, but I'm going to give The Giver by Lois Lowry a try since it really should be quick read.

On another note, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a really cute movie, and since it's based on a book, I think going to see it was a great way to take a break from the Read-A-Thon. 

I hope the Read-A-Thon is still going well for everyone!


It's hard to believe the Read-A-Thon is already over!  I fell asleep around hour eighteen, intending to get back up and read for the final few hours, but it turns out I slept right through hour twenty-four and then some :-)   So, I'm a little late with my answers to the end of event meme, but here they are:

1.    Which hour was most daunting for you? 

Hour 18, as that is when I determined I needed a bit of sleep or I wouldn't be able to function the next day.  

2.    Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

I think George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series would work well as Read-A-Thon novels.  I found them hard to put down.  Each book in the series is about 1000 pages long though.

3.    Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

None.  This was my first time participating and I thought it was well run and fun!

4.    What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I enjoyed the fact that people shared their progress on social mediums other than just their blogs, which I admit I had a hard time visiting since I was concentrating on reading.  With Twitter and Instragram I could stay connected without the need to put my book down.

5.    How many books did you read?

Two.  My goal was to finish three, but in retrospect I miscalculated how long it would actually take me to read each book.  

6.    What were the names of the books you read?

The Martian by Andy Weir and The Giver by Lois Lowry.  

7.    Which book did you enjoy most?

Definitely The Martian by Andy Weir.  It was suspenseful, had great characters and surprisingly funny.  

8.    Which did you enjoy least?

The Giver by Lois Lowry.  I recognize this is an award-winning novel, and that lots of people love it, but it didn't work for me.  It was entertaining enough that I could easily finish it, but it left me with a lot of unanswered questions.

9.    How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

So long as future Read-A-Thon's don't fall on holiday weekends, I definitely plan to participate again -- and hopefully make it longer than hour 18 before falling asleep :-)

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

24-Hour Readathon: Book Stack

This coming Saturday I'll be taking part in the Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon for the very first time (click here for more information).  After following previous Readathon's via Twitter, I'm super happy that I'm finally able to participate! 

After careful consideration of my tremendously large TBR pile, I've decided upon the following books for my readathon stack:

Melissa's 24-Hour Readathon Book Stack
While there is no way I'll possibly be able to read all of the books on my reading stack, I like having options to chose from.  My goal will be to read three of the seven books I've picked. 

Has anyone read any of the books I've selected?  Are there any books I simply must make sure I read on Saturday?   Are there any I should stay away from?

Happy Reading! 

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want to Visit

It's time for Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's list is:

Top Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want to Visit (real or fictional)

I'm going to divide this list in two, the first five spots will focus on the real places I'd like to visit thanks to books, while the remaining five spots will focus on the fictional places I'd like to visit. 

Real Places:

(1) The Scottish Highlands -- thanks, in part, to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander novels.  I've had the opportunity to visit Edinburgh, Scotland, but never made it as far as the Highlands, a place of stunning beauty that Gabaldon vividly brings to life in her novels.    

(2) Australia -- thanks to The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. This was one of my favourite books as a teenager, and I've wanted to go to Australia ever since I finished reading it.  

(3) Northern Wales -- thanks to Sharon Kay Penman's England/Wales historical fiction trilogy.  I've been to Cardiff and Caerphilly, Wales, but ever since reading Sharon Kay Penman's England/Wales trilogy I've longed to go to Northern Wales and visit the castles of Caernarvon, Beaumaris and Conwy.  

(4) Pompeii, Italy -- thanks to Robert Harris' historical novel, Pompeii.  My next trip to Italy will include a stop to see the ruins of Pompeii. 

(5) Versailles, France -- thanks to pretty much every historical novel I've read set in France.  I've visited France several times, but somehow none of my trips included a visit to the palace of Versailles. 

Fictional Places:

(6) Hogwarts -- I don't think I even need to explain why or what books inspired this selection :-)

(7) Middle Earth -- thanks to JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels.  I do imagine it would look exactly as envisioned on the big screen by Peter Jackson...which means I also want to visit New Zealand where the movies were filmed.

(8) Westeros -- thanks to George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.  I'd love to visit Westeros as a whole, keeping clear of all the fighting!, but I'm most interested in seeing The Wall up close...and maybe visit Jon Snow while I'm there. 

(9) Anne Shirley-era Green Gables in Prince Edward Island -- thanks to Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables novels.  While Prince Edward Island isn't fictional, and I've visited several times (including stops at "Green Gables"), I'd like to go back in time and visit PEI and Green Gables during the era in which the Anne of Green Gables novels are set. 

(10) Thursday Next's England -- inspired by Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels.  Any place that features literary detectives and allows you to jump into a book is a place I'd like to visit. 

Where would you like to travel thanks to books?

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Blogging Update and Giveaway Winner

Hello fellow book bloggers!

As you may have noticed, it has been two months since I last posted here. While I've generally enjoyed my time as a book blogger, over the course of 2014 I lost my blogging mojo -- not only in terms of writing up my own posts, but also in taking the time to visit other blogs. I blame much of this on the fact that I over committed to reviews during the past year. Even though I only accepted review copies of books I genuinely felt I would enjoy, the number of books I accepted meant that all of my reading time became devoted to finishing these books and writing reviews of them. My own (extremely large) TBR pile was neglected, leaving me wondering if I'd ever get to it again, and blogging (and reading) began to feel less like a hobby and more like a job. As a result, I decided to go on hiatus. This hiatus has been good for me. I've only read books from my own TBR pile, and have been able to choose what I want to read based solely on my reading mood, and not on a requirement to meet a review deadline.

Now that I feel my reading life is getting back to where I want it to be, I've decided it's time to give blogging another shot. My approach will be different this time, however. I'm no longer going to accept any books for review -- no matter how badly I might want to say 'yes'. Instead, any reviews I post from here on out will be for books I purchase myself and want to share with other readers. Although the focus of this blog has primarily been on historical fiction novels, my reading tastes are much broader than this one genre, and my new approach will reflect this -- although there is no need to worry historical fiction fans, I still plan to share my thoughts on titles in this genre too :-)

In addition to recommitting myself to blogging, I also plan to become active once again in the blogging community. I've missed interacting with others. My TBR pile is the size of small mountain in large part due to the great posts, reviews, and lists created by my fellow book bloggers.  

Happy Reading and Blogging!

The Lost Duchess by Jenny Barden - Giveaway Winner

I do have one giveaway winner to announce, one that I should have announced a long time ago!  My apologies for the delay.   I'm pleased to announce that Sarah from A Geek's Bookshelf has been selected (using as the winner for my giveaway of Jenny Barden's The Lost Duchess.  Many thanks to Jenny for offering a giveaway copy.   The winner has been notified by email. 

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