Review of “Mary B: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice” by Katherine J. Chen

Chen, Katherine J. Mary B: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice. New York: Random House, 2018. 

Hardcover | $27.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399592218 | 322 pages | Historical Fiction

1.5 stars

I had high-ish hopes for Mary B. While I did not expect it to fully measure up to Austen, given my prior experience with Austen fan fiction, I liked the idea of giving Mary Bennet a chance to shine, which not many other authors of Austen fics had done.

And in terms of making Mary of sympathetic character, Chen succeeds. Her character and indeed elements of the story itself feel Bronte-esque (which is ironic, given Charlotte Bronte’s disdain for Austen’s work), but it was still marginally satisfying to see Mary given her own voice and see her come into her own. I also really enjoyed that she took to writing, and had that been the main focus of the story without some of the other elements, I would have enjoyed this much more.

But the characterizations of almost everyone else is where it falls flat. Split into three parts, the first part covering the timeline of P&P is consistent enough with the source text, but I found it hard to believe some of the developments in parts two and three. Elizabeth is this book’s biggest character assassination, with her marriage to Darcy turning her into a vapid matron who cares for nothing but parties. That on its own would be bad enough for some, but I was willing to give it some benefit of the doubt, were it not compounded by the apparent dissolution of the happy ending for Elizabeth and Darcy, in favor of the most ludicrous pairing ever. The excuse that they found they did not suit each other also makes no sense given the depth of their relationship development over the course of P&P.

While quite a few of the other characters were likewise inconsistent (Colonel Fitzwilliam), or at least so obvious of a caricature that they are impossible to mess up (Mrs. Bennet), there were a few characters who actually benefited from this new perspective. While he is still very flawed, I found seeing through the eyes of someone who didn’t think Mr. Collins was insufferable, albeit temporarily, was an interesting experience, as it helped provide some perspective as to why Mary (and perhaps even Charlotte) would consider him an attractive suitor, aside from financial security. And I also was incredibly touched by the way things evolved for Mary and Lydia’s relationship, especially given that Chen imagines a rather dire fate for Lydia after she becomes Mrs. Wickham.

All in all, this is a very disappointing book. I would not recommend it to other devoted Austen fans. I might recommend it to the more casual fan or to someone who hasn’t read P&P before.

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Review of “Empire of Sand” (The Books of Ambha #1) by Tasha Suri

Suri, Tasha. Empire of Sand. New York: Orbit, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316449717 | 485 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

Empire of Sand is a rich book, and considering it’s a debut, I’m definitely impressed both with the quality of Tasha Suri’s writing and worldbuilding. I love that she drew from Indian history and Hindu myth to create such an engrossing world.

I also love the way Mehr as a heroine stands apart from the average fantasy heroine in that she doesn’t have to be a physically strong, kick-butt heroine to make a difference in a patriarchal society, as she makes up for it with her own gifts.

She also interacts with an enchanting (literally and figuratively) cast of characters that are incredily well-drawn, from the intense god Maha to her jealous stepmother, so while at times I did find myself feeling a little less invested in her own journey, I marveled at the amount of detail put into fleshing these characters out.

However, I did feel like the plot did drag in places. A fantasy can benefit from a slow build to get the reader acquainted with the world, but given that the plot did not feel that memorable due to the slow pacing, I was mildly annoyed.

However, it is still an excellent first effort from what I hope will become a mainstay within fantasy, and would recommend it to anyone who wants a new take on the adult fantasy genre.

Review of “Rich People Problems” (Crazy Rich Asians #3) by Kevin Kwan

Kwan, Kevin. Rich People Problems. New York: Doubleday, 2017. 

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0385542234 | 398 pages | Multicultural/Contemporary

4.5 stars

Rich People Problems is my favorite of the “Crazy Rich Asians” trilogy, because of the depth and growth to this fun cast of characters. Like the previous installments, it is as funny and catty as ever between the various people in this elite club of the crazy rich, but along with that, I loved seeing the nuances to them.

One of my favorite characters is, surprisingly, Shang Su Yi, Nicholas’s grandmother. The drama surrounding her last days among the living and the revelations it brings led me to see her and her relationships with different family members in a completely new light, especially concerning the cold way she acted toward Rachel in the first book. In her youth, she was passionate and brave, but did not have the same opportunities concerning her love life that Nick and Rachel, and some of the other characters did, making her story somewhat cliche, but bittersweet all the same.

In relation to that, I loved being on the journey with Nick, first to repair the breach between himself and Su Yi, and later to preserve the legacy of Tyersall Park, even against tremendous odds. It was beautiful to see him persevere in this, due first to his own personal connection to the place, and later, the discovery of Tyersall Park’s deeper historical relevance to the public.

I was, of course, finally satisfied to see things work out for Astrid and Charlie, although the road was not without domestic disputes. I love the way their arc built up the trajectory of them being faced with both of their revenge-seeking exes. And the way the arcs concluded for other recurring major characters, like Edddie Cheng and Kitty Pong-Tai-Bing had me oddly satisfied, given the ambivalent feelings occasionally verging on annoyance I felt throughout reading the book.

This whole series is a treat to read, and I would recommend it to fans of domestic dramas and romantic comedies.

Review of “Tempt Me With Diamonds” (London Jewels #1) by Jane Feather

Feather, Jane. Tempt Me With Diamonds. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2019. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-142014360 | 266 pages | Edwardian Romance

2 stars

I received an ARC of this book through a Goodreads Giveaway. All opinions are my own.

I haven’t read Jane Feather before, but I feel that Tempt Me with Diamonds was a poor introduction to her work, considering her lengthy career as a published author, dating back to the 1980s. I don’t know how her prior work compares, but I felt this one misused a totally great premise both for the book itself and for the projected series.

Rupert as a character was one of the few redeeming features of this book. Normally, infidelity is a deal-breaker in romance, except in extreme circumstances, but I felt he was at heart a good person, both in his friendship with Diana’s late brother, Jem, and for the most part in conducting himself in this new situation, even being the one to back down at first when the living arrangement becomes intolerable.

But Diana was incredibly hard to like, due to her spoiled nature. And I felt like the growth of their feelings wasn’t navigated well, given the love-hate factor, and things wrapped up with me still wondering if they had truly resolved their issues, or if divorce would be in their future.

I also found it super weird that this was promoted as the first in a series about “three friends who met at an elite English boarding school,” since I got little to no hints of that aspect in the book from my perspective (I admit I may have glossed over what mentions of it there was), and the friends were both even more annoying and one-dimensional than Diana.

Needless to say, while I may check out some of the books in Feather’s backlist, I will likely not be keeping up with the series. I also don’t know if I would recommend this to anyone. Perhaps anyone who has read Feather’s other work, so they can give a more informed opinion as it regards this book’s consistency with her style.

Review of “The Luckiest Lady in London” (London Trilogy #1) by Sherry Thomas

Thomas, Sherry. The Luckiest Lady in London. New York: Berkley Sensation, 2013. Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425268889 | 276 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

The Luckiest Lady in London was selected by OSRBC (one of the Facebook groups I’m in) as one of the Monthly Reads, and despite initial reticence, due both to past experience with Sherry Thomas’ historical romances and some of the elements of the blurb, I picked it up.

Thomas has a unique writing style that takes a while to get used to, especially with occasional use of omniscient POV to foreshadow the trajectory of the story, particularly at the beginning. However, I still found the story and characters compelling enough that it wasn’t that much of a turnoff.

Felix himself was surprising. While at first, I was a bit annoyed with him, as he seemed like yet another “heartless hero with a tragic past hidden behind a cold facade.” But I could not help but feel for him as the story went on, delving into his internal struggles.

Louisa is somewhat underwhelming by comparison, in that we’ve seen many a heroine like her before: the poor girl with wealthy connections who catches the attention of a wealthy peer. However, I did like the exploration of her intelligence, through the scenes concerning astronomy and mathematics.

I also really liked that the development of their relationship felt organic, and there were very real hurdles they faced as a newly married couple. It never felt like the story devolved into a Big Misunderstanding that simply talking to each other could have fixed, and I appreciate the story for that.

I would recommend this to fans of emotionally rich, complex historical romance. It might not be the best introduction to historical romance, but it is a great book for more seasoned readers.

Review of “From Twinkle, With Love” by Sandhya Menon

Menon, Sandhya. From Twinkle, With Love. New York: Simon Pulse, 2018.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481495400 | 330 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

From Twinkle, With Love is a cute book, and has quite a lot of the same charm as Sandya Menon’s previous book. I love how once again the story centers on a strong, go-getter heroine who has a guy who not only shares her interests, but goes the extra mile to support her, even if she is a little in her own head at times.

Twinkle did get on my nerves at various points throughout the book, given that she was hyper-focused on herself and her own issues, and she took a lot longer to evolve. Between leading Sahil on while also leaving the option open for a meeting with Secret Admirer “N” (who she hopes is his brother, Neil) and being a bit too judgmental of her best friend Maddie and Maddie’s new friends, she could be difficult to like at times. However, when she eventually came around, I did like that she showed genuine growth on all fronts.

I would still recommend this book, however, to fans of When Dimple Met Rishi, due to some of the basic thematic similarities, as well as to fans of cute and fun YA romantic contemporaries in general.

Review of “Valentine Kisses” by Abigail Drake, Bridie Hall, Lisa Hahn, Kim Briggs, Shilpa Mudiganti, and Sarah Vance-Tompkins

Drake, Abigail, et. al. Valentine Kisses. Pinckney, MI: Inkspell Publishing, 2017. 

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1542411653 | 480 pages | Contemporary Romance

I received this book in a giveaway from Sarah Vance-Tompkins. All opinions are my own.

Despite having diversified my reading a lot over the past year, contemporary romance remains a subgenre I don’t seek out often. But this anthology contains a great group of contemporary stories which, while varying in quality and personal enjoyment, as anthologies often do, ended up being a solid read overall.

“Lola Flannigan” by Abigail Drake

4 stars

This story is unique, in that it also has paranormal elements, which I found myself also enjoying. I loved the sweet romance between Lola and Morgan, and how that developed in such a high-stakes situation that Lola was thrust into. I did feel like the novella left a lot of room for growth of this world, however, and I found myself wishing there was more about the paranormal elements included.

“Hearts Must Be Broken” by Bridie Hall”

3 stars

This story had a great concept, with a great existential question, but I found the way it was executed largely forgettable. I also felt it leaned a little too heavy on the dark side, and while I don’t mind dark stories, I did feel like this one stuck out in comparison to the others.

“Not Today” by Lisa Hahn

5 stars

This was one of my favorites from the collection, largely due to the connection between two lovers of literature. Both Emily and Ezra aren’t prospering in their lives in different ways, and it’s wonderful to read about how they support each other to eventually grow through the challenges they’re facing.

“Avalanche” by Kim Briggs

2 stars

This was another story that felt a little on the blander side, again feeling a bit more intense than my liking. I also felt like the pacing was a bit weird, with a bit too much time spent on the mechanics of being a ski instructor, and the ending coming about a bit too quickly.

“Lost and Found” by Shilpa Mudiganti

5 stars

I tend to really like “second chance at love” stories, especially if tragedy is involved, and I was not disappointed. I love how Liam cares for Aisha, and how right they are for each other. It’s a beautiful story that shows how Aisha moves on and finds love again, instead of continuing to wallow in grief.

“What’s Better Than a Book Boyfriend?” by Sarah Vance-Tompkins

5 stars

My other favorite, also due to the presence of books, as well as the inside jokes about libraries and librarians. I loved Charlie and her friends’ discussions of the great literary boyfriends they’ve had, but how it builds up to Charlie finding someone who actually is better than a book boyfriend. And while she and Hank initially have some awkward interactions, I love how they come to see that they are both on the same wavelength concerning a love of literature and scholarship.

Review of “Unveiled” (Turner #1) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. Unveiled. Don Mills, Ontario: HQN, 2011.

Mass Market Paperback |$7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0373775439 | 378 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

Unveiled is an unexpected delight, and much more in line with what I have heard from others about Courtney Milan’s work, with uinique and sympathetic characters that don’t fall into annoying cliches like the “alphahole” or the innocent debutante.

And it is an even greater accomplishment, as the book is billed as a story involving revenge, and I can’t stand reading about heroes who essentially prey on an innocent to get their ends, with no redeeming qualities to them whatsoever, and wait for it to all blow up in their face. Ash is very different. Yes, he is out to get revenge, but I love how honorable he is in making his family’s needs his paramount concern, which provides a stark contrast to that of the current Duke of Parford and his sons, who care for nothing but themselves.

I also love the evolution of his dynamic with Margaret. She begins their acquaintance with deception and misplaced loyalty to her family, and once this is discovered, Ash doesn’t hold it against her. And I love how even though the idea is brought up that Ash might try to use her to legitimize his claim to the title, he doesn’t do that, and both of them end up compromising to show how much their love for each other and seeing the other happy is the most important thing.

This is definitely a fabulous book that I would recommend to new and old readers of historical romance alike.

Review of “The Dark Days Deceit” (Lady Helen #3) by Alison Goodman

Goodman, Alison. The Dark Days Deceit. New York: Viking Books for Young Readers, 2018.

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0670785490 | 527 pages | Historical Fiction/Paranormal

4 stars

The Dark Days Deceit is a good book overall, but in terms of concluding the trilogy, it is definitely the weakest. However, in terms of the main arc of the series, it did accomplish most of what it needed to do.

To start off with the good points, I love seeing Helen’s growth as a character and really coming into her own as a Reclaimer. I love the growth of her relationships with Darby, attending Darby’s wedding to Quinn, and her aunt, especially as her aunt finds out about and comes to accept her unique destiny instead of continuing to try to mold her into a proper lady.

And while the reveal of the Grand Reclaimer was predictable, especially given the story’s setup of a romantic conflict, I did like the way Goodman both foreshadowed this reveal throughout the trilogy while also providing artful misdirection.

My one major complaint is that there was NO conclusion to the romantic tension between Helen and Carlston. I kept reading, hoping it would be addressed, but it wasn’t. Given the promotion of this series promising a “blend of Regency romance and with supernatural adventure,” I was disappointed that the supernatural elements all reached a fitting conclusion, but everything concerning the romance was left up in the air, robbing these amazing characters of their well-deserved happy ending.

However, I do still recommend this series for fans of Regency/paranormal mashups, given the sheer depth of the world, combining Regency history with well-thought out paranormal elements.

In Defense of Marie Kondo (Part 1?): Book Review, Reaction to Book Community, and Book Unhaul Plans

Kondo, Marie. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Translated by Cathy Hirano, Ten Speed Press, 2014. 

Hardcover | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-160774737 | 213 pages | Self-Help/House and Home

By now, you’ve probably heard the name Marie Kondo at least once, or maybe a hundred times. I admit, despite the fact that she’s been in the business of tidying for a while, she only really entered my radar secondhand through the backlash surrounding an out-of-context comment that blew up in the book community where some people insinuated that she was suggesting that a person should have only thirty books. Amid many memes that the Netflix show inspired was one that kept being repurposed to demonstrate how resistant book lovers are both to giving up their books.

But most who bought into this meme and others like it, and engaged in perpetuating this falsehood ignore the fact that this statement is not only false, but the reactions feed into some incredibly toxic behavior by people you would think had basic reading skills. Some even went on to suggest that she doesn’t value books (because people who get their books from the library or buy books and give them away afterward can’t be avid readers, right?) For reference, this is the “thirty books” passage (abridged with just the most pertinent parts) that inspired the furor:

I now keep my collection of books to about thirty volumes at any one time, but in the past I found it very hard to discard books because I love them…One day I decided to take a closer look at what I had. I started with books I considered taboo to discard…Books like this, which fall into one’s personal Book Hall of Fame are simple to identify. Next, I looked at the books that inspired pleasure but didn’t quite make into the Hall of Fame. As time passes the content of this category naturally changes, but these books are the ones I definitely want to keep right now…Books that provide this degree of pleasure are also fine to keep.” (Kondo, 93)

The “I’s” in bold are to provide emphasis that this is how she does things, but that you don’t have to follow her example. There are definitely useful tips in this book, like the folding method and the theory of how you really think about how much you value this item, but nowhere in the aforementioned statement does she say that every person must have thirty books. The underlying factor is to discard until you reach what she calls the “click point,” which will vary from person to person. Later, she writes, “For a shoe lover, it might be one hundred pairs of shoes, while a book lover might not need anything but books. Some people, like me, have more loungewear than clothes for going out, while others may prefer to go naked in the home and therefore have no loungewear at all.” (124-5) So, Marie Kondo is not some tyrannical ascetic who wants you to throw everything away and will break into your house if you don’t, but rather, is someone who is hoping to encourage you to live your best life. I mean, the 2 million or so people who bought her book and the scores of people who hired her must have done it because they wanted to change, right?

With that said, I’m committing to trying out the KonMari Method on my personal space and belongings in the very near future, and will do a follow-up on the results. Considering this is a book blog, the focus will be on my results as pertains to books (maybe in the form of a Book Unhaul Challenge or something like that?), although I may note exceptional things as relates to some of the other categories as well.

This is a book that I would recommend to anyone else who feels bogged down by clutter in their space. The tips offered are so simple, yet packaged in a way that is so beautiful.