Sunday, November 23, 2014

Life: It Goes On - November 23

Yikes! How did this week pass by so quickly?? Between a cold, book club, time with my girl, and a lot of work on "my" room, we've worked our way back to Sunday.

The Omaha Bookworms met Tuesday and had a great discussion about The Paris Wife by Paula McClain. We'd definitely recommend it for other book clubs. You've gotta know a book's discussion worthy when we spent as much time talking about the book as we did talking about other things!

It finally warmed up enough this weekend that we were able to finish our outdoor work for the year. Just in time to put up the Christmas lights next weekend! Have any of you ever wintered a strawberry plant? I've brought in one in a small pot a month ago I'm going to try to keep alive with my herbs over the winter.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'll finish Sea of Poppies this week then I'll be listening to podcasts for a while since I've neglected to get over to the library to pick up some new reads. Have any of you started listening to "Serial," the podcast launched by This American Life? I think I'll download that to listen to next week.

Watching: We rewatched the final episode of season one of Benedict Cumberbatch's "Sherlock" on BBC America and caught up with "Manhattan" in addition to our usual rounds of football, "The Voice," "Person of Interest," and "Elementary."

Reading: I read both The Paris Wife and Jane Austen's First Love this week and now I'm back to The Secret History which is definitely starting to pick up. For some reason, though, it just doesn't call to me to pick it up and fall into it for a couple of ours at a time. Too many other things on my mind?

Making: Omelets, skillet barbecued chicken and mashed potatoes, chocolate chip cookies. I know we were more productive in the kitchen than that this week - we actually made a plan every night before we went to bed for dinner the next night.

Planning: On continuing work in my new space. The goal is to get everything in there and organized so I can start using it the next week. The books are largely in and organized; shelving and cupboards are almost all in place; and the sewing, crafting, and scrapbooking supplies are making their way up from the basement. Come spring I'll push it all back into the middle of the room so I can paint and then I can finally make curtains of fabric I've been holding on to for 20 years for just the right space.

Grateful for: A pantry full of food. This time of year I definitely become more away of how many people are not so fortunate. My sister has challenged me to do some grocery shopping for a worthy cause, take a picture of it and post it to Facebook. I'll be planning meet that challenge this week.

Moving photos mean I find things like this!
Enjoying: Time with all of my kids this week. Had a two-hour lunch with Miss H on Thursday then she spent the night Friday night and spent most of yesterday with me. Today Mini-me came out to spend the day. Mini-him was around a good chunk of the time so he was happy to get to spend time with his siblings as well. We are blessed that they are all such good friends.

Feeling: Content and confident. I'm getting used to Miss H being gone (heck, I've seen more of her since she moved than I did when she lived here!), my house and yard are mostly in order, and I've got a plan to survive the holidays. Although, I kind of hate that I think of it as "surviving" instead of "enjoying."

Looking forward to: Spending time with our families...and cranberries, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and Grandma's beans!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James - Review and Giveaway Announcement

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James
Published August 2014 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy, and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honor of her brother's engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door—the wealthy, worldly, and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realizes that there are obstacles—social, financial, and otherwise—blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.

Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned.

My Thoughts:
I'm a huge fan of Jane Austen (making my reservation soon for the annual tea to celebrate her birthday) but have I've had mixed results reading books based on her characters or her life. But I knew that this type of book is Syrie James forte so when I was offered this book for review, I didn't hesitate.

It did take me a bit to get into the book but I think that's as much because I jumped straight from an entirely different kind of writing and historical time period as because of anything that James had done. Soon I fell into the rhythm of the book and was carried along with James' vision of Jane Austen falling in love for the first time, the ways of the wealthy in the late 18th century, and the kinds of people who might have influenced her writing.

Edward Taylor was a real person, a man whom, Austen noted in a letter, she had once "doated" on. It's also a fact that Jane and her sister Cassandra traveled to Goodnestone Park to celebrate the marriage of their brother Edward to Miss Elizabeth Bridges. I'm a sucker for a book that blends real people into a fiction novel. James has taken the known facts about these characters and fleshed them out into characters who James imagines as the inspiration for characters who will later appear in Austen's novels. Jane herself, playing matchmaker among the couples present at Goodnestone Park, brings to mind the machinations of Emma Woodhouse, title character of her novel Emma.

Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.

Grand Giveaway Contest 

Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages 

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen's First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen's First Love Holiday Blog Tour.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie's unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jane Austen's First Love Holiday Blog Tour - Guest Post, Author Syrie James

The Challenges of Writing Jane Austen’s First Love
 By Syrie James

One of the greatest pleasures of being a novelist is that you get to climb into the minds and hearts of the characters you’re writing about, and bring them to life on the page. I enjoy writing many types of fiction, from contemporary love stories and romance to suspense and the paranormal, but one of my favorite genres (one I return to time and again) is historical fiction—and I particularly enjoy writing about real people. Choosing to tackle a famous historical figure, however, is full of challenges. I do an enormous amount of research, because I feel a great responsibility to portray them as accurately as possible. But novel readers aren’t looking for a biography or a simple recounting of facts; they want a narrative tale. They want active scenes, realistic dialogue, meaningful interior monologue, and a satisfying character arc. In short, they want the author to use his or her imagination to bring the person to life, while still honoring the truth of their known history. It’s a challenge I absolutely love!

Jane Austen is one of my favorite writers, and my desire to give her a romance of her own inspired my first Austen novel, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, in which a mature Jane has a passionate, life-changing romance with a dashing kindred spirit. My wish for a seventh Austen novel, and the speculation of how much fun it would be to find one, led me to write The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen. My new novel, Jane Austen’s First Love, differs from the others in several ways: the object of the youthful Jane’s affection, Edward Taylor, was a very real (and truly remarkable) young man; in fact, nearly every single character in the book is a real person who Jane Austen knew; all the manor homes they live in and all the places Jane visits are completely real; and the story itself is inspired by actual events in Austen’s life.

Bifrons Park
Austen scholars didn’t know much about Edward Taylor, except that he was heir to Bifrons Park, an ancestral estate some five miles from Goodnestone Park in Kent, home of the Bridges family (Elizabeth Bridges married Jane’s brother Edward Austen in 1791.) They knew, from Jane’s mentions of Edward Taylor in her correspondence, that she was deeply enamoured of him as a teenager. But that was about it. Imagine how excited I was when, after extensive research, I uncovered the truth about Edward Taylor—a treasure trove of information which Austen biographers weren’t aware of! Knowing that Edward Taylor was a real person who Jane Austen adored, and that I had in my possession so many little-known facts about him, was thrilling. My research (and the existence of Jane’s short story, “The Three Sisters”) led me to believe that Jane visited Kent in the summer of 1791 to celebrate the engagement of her brother Edward to Elizabeth Bridges. In my novel, Jane not only meets the young ladies who inspired that short story, she also meets and falls in love with the irresistible Edward Taylor, a young man who challenges her to see the world differently.

Goodnestone Park
I spent a great deal of time researching every single person in Jane Austen’s First Love, from the Austen, Taylor, and Bridges families and their offspring (Sir Brook and Lady Bridges had eleven children!) to their neighbors, cousins, and suitors. I learned about the history of Bifrons Park and Goodnestone Park, where most of my novel is set. In order to depict Goodnestone Park accurately, I visited the estate and was fortunate to get a personal, guided tour of the manor home and its vast, beautiful grounds by a member of the FitzWalter family—a descendant of the Bridgeses who Jane Austen knew over two hundred years ago. Jane Austen’s First Love was a challenge to write, but it was also a labor of love. I’m thrilled when people tell me how much they love the novel, and I hope new readers will discover it and enjoy the tale of the extraordinary young man who first stole Jane Austen’s heart!

Thanks, Syrie! My review of the book will be posted tomorrow along with exciting details about a prize pack giveaway Ms. James is hosting!


 To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen's First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books! To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen's First Love Holiday Blog Tour.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie's unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on this page on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Life: It Goes On - November 16

Baby, it's cold outside! From the looks of the weather map in the mornings, it looks like most of you can relate. We've had a couple of hits of winter weather this week - a morning of black ice for the drive into work and yesterday our first real snowfall of the season. I'm ready for spring already! Although the snow was pretty.

It's been a wedding weekend hangover week (not literally - golly, I didn't drink that much!). Between that and the cold, I haven't been able to convince myself to get much of anything done; I've hardly even made time for reading. I have gotten to spend quite a bit of time with Miss H (we see her more now that she's moved out!) and the better part of a day with my parents, so that's good!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Still listening to Sea Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. It's a little tricky to keep track of, a lot of characters with, for me, unusual names. Thanks to a road trip, I'm now about 2/3 of the way through it.

Watching: Back to the usual this week. It's almost movie rental season for us and then I'll finally have something new to tell you about.

Reading: Oops. Got well into The Secret History when I remembered that I needed to get this month's book club book read and I have a scheduled review this week. So, right now I'm racing through The Paris Wife and then it's on to Syrie James' Jane Austen's First Love.

Making: Beef stew, chicken and noodles, chicken and wild rice, chili - you can really tell the temps tanked this week, can't you?!

Planning: Nothing got done on Miss H's room until this weekend. The carpet is finally cleaned and today can start moving furniture in. This week will be about finishing that piece, moving my crafting and sewing things in, and figuring out how much of the stuff on the walls I can take down without upsetting Miss H too much. Even though the room is mostly empty, she still seems to think we'll leave it as is...just in case, you know.

Grateful for: Good doctors and nurses.

Enjoying: The kickoff of college basketball. BG and I went to a game Friday night and had so much fun.

Feeling: A little bit like a grinch. I'm really not ready for it to be the Christmas season. It's all just so overwhelming.

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Published July 2014 by St. Martin's Press
Source: I bought this one at my local indie bookstore when I went to hear Ms. Rowell speak

Publisher's Summary:
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply—but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her—Neal is always a little upset with Georgie—but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts. . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

My Thoughts:
You know who some book summaries are dense and loaded with details, just like some books? The publisher's summary for Landline should also give you a good idea of what you might expect in the book in terms of both story and style. Clutter free, a quick and easy read.

Let's just address the elephant in the room right off the bat, shall we? Spoiler alert - there's a magical phone in this book. Yep, that's the way Georgie finds to communicate with Neal in the past. And it's a problem for a lot of readers. Then there's this girl, who generally shies away from magic or fantasy in books. For some reason, I had no problem with that magical phone line at all. I couldn't figure out why but then I read a review, by Janet Maslin of the New York Times, who compared the magic in this book to the magic of an angel who gave George Bailey a look at what life might have been without him in the movie It's A Wonderful Life. I love that movie and I have no problem with that plot device to allow a character to develop, to rethink life. Likewise, as a plot device, I was okay with a magical phone to allow Georgie to rethink her life and her marriage.
"It wasn't dancing. It was just a way to make the wedding last. A way to stay in the moment, rolling it over and over in their heads. We're married now. We're married.
You don't know at twenty-three.
You don't know what it really means to crawl into someone else's life and stay there. You can't see all the ways you're going to get tangled, how you're going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in the - in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn't know at twenty-three."
"Maybe Georgie had gotten a glimpse of it then, the way infinity unspooled from where they were swaying. The way everything she was ever join got be from then on was irrevocably tethered to that day, that decision."
I got married two days after I turned twenty-two. I didn't know at twenty-two. But like Neal and Georgie, no matter what problems there might have been in our relationship then, we couldn't imagine life without each other.

In most relationships, it's give and take. Even to Georgie, though, it seemed like Neal was the one doing most of the giving. She knew that; she just didn't know how not to make that happen. So when she was given the chance to talk to Neal in the past, she knew she had the chance to keep him away from her, to give him a life where he might get to do more of the taking. I loved "watching" her wage this battle in her head, loved "watching" her fall in love with Neal all over again, loved "watching" her think about what matters in her life and what she would be willing to give up to make someone she loves happy. Mostly, though, I loved, as I always do with Rowell's books, the dialogue between the characters. It's such a vital part of all of her books and she is so very, very good at it.