"...Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion." ~Madonna

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: First Impressions

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” ~ Jane Austen

It seemed appropriate to open this week’s Opinion with a quote from Jane Austen since Jane herself plays a large part in Charlie Lovett’s FIRST IMPRESSIONS. Author Charlie Lovett poses the question, “Could Jane Austen have stolen the plot for Pride and Prejudice?  

His story takes us to Steventon, Hampshire in 1796 as a young Jane Austen meets elderly clergyman, Richard Mansfield. The two form a close friendship and Jane finds someone who encourages her love of writing.

Jumping to present day Oxfordshire, England, Sophie Collingwood has found a job in a bookshop that specializes in rare and valuable books. Her beloved Uncle Bertram has been found dead at the bottom of his staircase and his book collection has been sold, much to Sophie’s distress.She had learned her passion for books from her uncle and knew how important his collection was.

Her plan is to hunt down each book that had been in her uncle’s library. She goes to work in a shop that deals with rare and valuable books, thinking that the job would put her in a good position to find the lost books. Things get weird when two men ask her, on the same day, to find the same book. The fact that they both want a second printing is unusual in itself, but then one man begins to court her and the other threatens her with hints that what had happened to her Uncle Bartram could easily happen to her.

The story is told in chapters alternating between Jane and Sophie. The parallels are well done. Jane finds in Mr. Mansfield a kindred spirit as Sophie does with Uncle Bartram. Sophie’s admiration for the works of Jane Austen is intense and there is a feeling of a spiritual link over the centuries between the two women.

The book that Sophie has been asked to find will prove if Jane Austen had actually plagiarized the story for Pride and Prejudice. If proof could be found not only would Austen’s reputation as an author be ruined, but someone could become very wealthy.

Lovett captures the mood of Austen’s England very well. Those chapters have a pastoral feel. The language is more formal; the scenes are done more quiet and leisurely. Sophie’s England is faster, the language more blunt. If Jane had a libido we have never heard of it; we learn that Sophie definitely does. Jane’s little world did not include violence; Sophie’s world has men who would kill for a book.

This is a book for bibliophiles. Although the story revolves around Jane Austen and how she wrote, it is a love song for all who love books. If you appreciate the texture, weight and smell of a book, you will understand the conversations between Sophie and her uncle.

The title FIRST IMPRESSIONS was a clever choice. Jane’s first impression of Richard Mansfield did not prepare her for the effect on her writing career. Sophie’s first impression of the two men in her life proved to be wrong. “First impressions” can also refer to the first printing of a book, an important part of the plot. But most importantly, FIRST IMPRESSIONS was the original title of Pride and Prejudice.

Although I have rather strong feeling about authors who fictionalize historical people, this is well done. (Jane Austen has had more than her share of rip offs, from murder mysteries to speculations on her love life.) The author explains in his after notes where he made changes to fit his story.  The actual facts were not tampered with, but he did add some fictional characters to that life.

Happy Birthday, Pat!!

A note from Wendy:  Since I'm Mom's webmaster, I thought I'd sneak in a little note to wish her a very happy birthday today!!!

You can do the same by leaving her a comment! 

My birthday wish to her is that she always state her opinions, always keep an open mind to others' and keep enjoying her life as it transitions into the next phase!!  All my love.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015


To be honest, I picked up THE TARGET by mistake. David Baldacci is one of my favorite authors and I have been waiting to get my hands his third John Puller book. Instead I found one featuring Will Robie. I was more than satisfied.

Will Robie and his partner Jessica Reed have ticked off some powerful people in the department responsible for handling the trickiest national security problems. Now the President is involved in a very delicate situation, the need to assassinate the head of a foreign nation. It is a job made for Will and Jess, if they can live through the extra training, training that goes from intense to life threatening. The following action takes us from Washington, D.C. to North Korea to Nantucket.  

A Baldacci plot is so full of twists and hold- on- to -your seat action that I would never ruin the fun for you, but here are some reasons why you may want to check out THE TARGET.

If you have read earlier books with Robie and Reed as central characters, you know very little about their personal backgrounds. We know that they are very good at their jobs, have seen them face death and develope some interesting relationships. In THE TARGET we find out about Jess, her family and how she became one of the top assassins in defense of our country. This alone made for an interesting read.

We also meet her counterpart, Chung-Cha, a trained agent from North Korea. Her story was particularly intriguing. We sometimes do not give authors who are best known for action novels credit for good character development. Chung-Cha becomes very human to the reader.

As with any book that revolves around characters who have been introduced in earlier works, THE TARGET assumes that the reader is aware of past adventures. The reason for the animosity of the head of the department happened in a previous book, but enough was explained to make the tension believable. The thing is, now I have to find the book that tells the details of that adventure!

David Baldacci is a very prolific author and I have found some of his works to be less worthwhile than others. I became a fan of his with Absolute Power and it remains a favorite. THE TARGET was as good. It has great action and well developed characters. In the hands of a good author, what more could a reader want!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

BOOK REVIEWS: Bodice Rippers

I take it for granted that you are interested in this week’s Bodice Rippers.  I am still cleaning off book shelves and there is no way any book can leave this house unless I have read it. After all, that is why they were on the shelves in the first place.

A LADY NEVER TELLS by Candace Camp brings the Bascombe sisters to London from America to meet their estranged grandfather, the Earl of Stewkesbury. Their beloved mother has died and their evil stepfather has attempted to marry them off to the highest bidder. Arriving in London, the girls discover that their grandfather has died and his very, very proper grandson is now the earl. Mix four American girls who know their way around guns, but not how to get along in proper English society with several handsome cousins and the threat of somebody wanting to kidnap the second oldest sister and you get a charming, light read.

TESTING MISS TOOGOOD by Stella Cameron finds opinionated Fleur, the daughter of an impoverished minister, in London to find a wealthy husband to save her family financially and make it possible for her five younger sisters to marry well. Fleur agrees to go about society under the watchful eye of Lord Dominic Elliot. She does not need his help because she has developed a list of questions for any prospective husband... some very interesting questions. The trouble is that Lord Dominic is no real help with her husband hunting, but he does answer the questions very well.

Cindy Holbrook, author of LORD SAYER'S GHOST, has given us the delightful story of Prudence and her Aunt Saraphina who have to spend a year in the haunted home of the late Lord Sayer. Lord Sayer’s will has decreed that the family member who can last there for a year inherits his large estate and the wealth that goes with it. The rest of the family has been scared off by  ghostly sounds, bloody visions, and nasty pranks. (It is impossible to keep attractive housemaids. They keep getting pinched). Aunt Saraphina’s ability to converse with the dead and a seance or two help to discover who wanted Lord Sayer’s death. This was a particularly fun read.

In THE LADY CHOSEN, Stephanie Laurens introduces us to the members of the Bastion Club, a club formed to give seven bachelors, retired from His Majesty’s Secret Service, a private place to hide from the aggressive matchmaking mothers of society. In THE LADY CHOSEN we meet the first of the club,Tristan Wemyss who has unexpectedly become Earl of Trentham and must marry within the year to retain the wealth to maintain the estates and the elderly female relatives who come with it. He meets our heroine Lenora, who lives next door to the club, after several mysterious break ins.  THE LADY CHOSEN is the first in a series that feature the members of the Bastion Club. Laurens is one of my favorite Regency authors. Her heroines are spirited, able to rescue themselves, and capable of some steamy love scenes.

Maybe these books will give you a better understanding why I call Regencies my drug of choice. Consider them Jane Austen with hotter sex.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Beautiful Ruins

The Centre County Reads pick for 2015 is BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jess Walter. If BEAUTIFUL RUINS is typical of his work, Jess Walter is an exceptionally gifted author and one I will be adding to my must read list.

The plot line may be a little difficult to summarize because this is a story told on many different levels with complex characters and a time span of about fifty years. The locations include a very small fishing village in Italy, modern Hollywood, the lavish movie set of Cleopatra and various small towns and cities in America and Europe. Sound confusing? Trust the author because he will have you hooked from the opening scene.

In 1962 on a very isolated beach, a dying actress arrives by boat to stay in the Ad-e-quate View Hotel. The hotel’s young owner, Pasquale, is trying to create a beach so that wealthy Americans will come to his little part of Italy.

We soon learn that Dee Moray, the American actress, is in Italy as part of the cast of Cleopatra and that she is not dying of cancer but is pregnant.  The doctor, Liz Taylor’s personal physician, has told Dee that she has cancer because the truth would be very bad for the publicity of the picture...especially if the father’s name would become known.

Jumping to the present, we meet Claire, assistant to a big-has-been movie producer/publicist. Her job is to listen to want-to-be script writers pitch their ideas for the next block buster film. Her boss, the legendary Michael Deane, has been reduced to producing reality shows for television. The pieces of what actually happened in 1962 start to come to light.

At first, BEAUTIFUL RUINS reads as a collection of short stories. We see glimpses of different characters at various times of their lives. At first, we see little to connect these people, but soon their stories start to pull together.

Jess Walter has given us a novel full of wit, irony, pathos, and characters to remember...some to love, some not so much. The scenes in Hollywood scream satire. We are not surprised by the fact that movies that feature walking zombies or reality shows about drunken midgets being forced to live in the same house have become so popular. We can sympathize when Claire has trouble finding a script that tells an actual story.

The intrigue of getting the public relations right so that a multi-million dollar movie, that really stinks, can make it at the box office rang true. It did help that the stars of the picture were having a very hot, very well publicized affair despite their well-know spouses.

I do have some problems with authors who use a historically famous person and drastically fictionalize his actions. Plotwise, it worked in this case and there was an air of authenticity to the characters. I especially felt that Richard Burton’s cameo rang true.

The final chapter, chapter 21, bothered me a bit. It was actually an epilogue that summed up all of the characters in the novel and everything was resolved happily.Too happily. I liked the ending at chapter 20 and the book could have ended at this point. There was a poignancy to it that was just right.  

It is true that in chapter 21 we  once again are a witness to the humor that comes out of irony proving why Jess Walter is considered by many critics to be one of America’s top comic writers.

I am pleased that the committee of Centre County Reads introduced me to BEAUTIFUL RUINS.