Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby

Godmersham Park
by Gill Hornby
416 Pages
Published November 2022 by Pegasus Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Austenprose PR

Publisher's Summary: 
On January 21, 1804, Anne Sharpe arrives at Godmersham Park in Kent to take up the position of governess. At thirty-one years old, she has no previous experience of either teaching or fine country houses. Her mother has died, and she has nowhere else to go. Anne is left with no choice. For her new charge—twelve-year-old Fanny Austen—Anne's arrival is all novelty and excitement.

The governess role is a uniquely awkward one. Anne is neither one of the servants, nor one of the family, and to balance a position between the "upstairs" and "downstairs" members of the household is a diplomatic chess game. One wrong move may result in instant dismissal. Anne knows that she must never let down her guard.

When Mr. Edward Austen's family comes to stay, Anne forms an immediate attachment to Jane. They write plays together, and enjoy long discussions. However, in the process, Anne reveals herself as not merely pretty, charming, and competent; she is clever too. Even her sleepy, complacent, mistress can hardly fail to notice.

Meanwhile Jane's brother, Henry, begins to take an unusually strong interest in the lovely young governess. And from now on, Anne's days at Godmersham Park are numbered.

My Thoughts: 
As those of you who have been around a while know, I'm not a huge fan of books that play off of the classics, especially my beloved Jane Austen. But because this one picks up a tangential thread from Jane's life, rather than her books, I decided to give it a chance. 

Godmersham Park
Godmersham Park
is based on the real experiences of Anne Sharpe during her time at Godmersham Park, home of Edward Austen, Jane's brother. During her time there, her young charge, Fanny, kept a diary detailing the small details of life in the home; there were, as well, letters between Fanny and Jane, Hornby had a wealth of information to build her story from. Little is known of Anne's life before her arrival at Godmersham Park, leaving it entirely to Hornby's imagination as to how a woman of Anne's education and polish ended up working as a governess. 

I was drawn into this book immediately because of Hornby's writing style, which so closely resembles writers of the period in which the story is set. Hornby brings to the book some of the wit I so enjoy in Austen's books, as well as the details of life at that time that plop me right down into the story (the clothing, food, setting, and politics of life in a monied home). As much as I enjoyed reading Anne's story, I was equally taken with the chance to "get to know" Jane better - her struggles with life as a single woman without money, her first forays into writing, her relationships with her family. 

My one quibble with the book (don't you just hate that I always use that word to describe the things I have issues with in a book - I wish I could come up with another word that described my feelings as well) is that it sometimes went on a bit too long for me when Anne returned to visit her former nurse. But those visits resulted in a payoff that made perfect sense for how Anne came to find herself unsupported by her father, after having turned down marriage proposals. 

Gill Hornby
I don't think I'm giving anything away when I tell you that Anne's tenure at Godmersham Park was short lived; certainly readers will see that coming - Mrs. Edward Austen was bound to find fault in some way. But good golly did I want Anne to find a place to call home, to be able to stay with her dear Fanny and educate the other Austen children, to continue to be able to spend time with Jane. 

Thank you so much to Laurel, of Austenprose PR, for inviting me to join the tour for this book. And my apologies to her for entirely missing my tour date. As I've thoroughly enjoyed every book I've read and reviewed for Austenprose PR, I do hope she'll forgive me! 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Life: It Goes On - November 28

Happy Monday! Yeah, I know these are meant to be posted on Sundays but Sunday just got away from me. I'd like to say it's because I was so busy taking down Thanksgiving and putting up Christmas or spending the whole day with family or, even, enjoying the first of many holiday events. But the truth of the matter is that from mid-afternoon on, I spent most of the day vegging out, unable to make myself move. While I was feeling guilty about that, The Big Guy assured me that I deserved to have a day of rest. Which made me feel marginally less guilty. And I did appreciate the support. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To:
 I started the week listening to A Snake Falls To Earth but didn't get it finished before it was grasped out of my hands (ok, returned automatically off of my phone) by the library. And now I won't get it back for something like 16 weeks. To avoid having that happen again, I've started Mohsin Hamid's latest, The Last White Man, which runs at just 3 hours. Surely I can get that finished soon, right? I certainly hope so because next up I have Anthony Marra's latest, Mercury Pictures Presents, which I most assuredly want to be able to finish before I have to return it. 

Watched: My beloved Husker football team win their final game of the season and my beloved Husker volleyball team unexpectedly get dominated, at home, in two matches. 

Read: I started Barbara Kingsolver's latest, Demon Copperhead. At over 800 pages, I see very little chance that this one will get finished before the library threatens to fine me for not returning it. Still, I refuse to rush it; because at just 25 pages in, I'm, once again, blown away by Kingsolver's writing. 

Made: Breakfast pastry (yum), a new cranberry recipe (thanks, Kim - another yum), pumpkin pies (forgot to double the sugar so only a yum because of whipped cream), gravy (I'm told it was a yum), and stuffing (most decidedly not a yum). BG did the turkey, using a method we saw on Pioneer Woman. It cooks beautifully and in a fraction of the time so we'll definitely be doing that again. 

Celtic symbol for 
 So much time with family, including Thanksgiving dinner Thursday with my dad, Mini-him, and BG at my dad's place (those folks put on a terrific spread); three days with my sister and brother-in-law; Thanksgiving dinner a day late at our place; and a short visit with Miss H, who had to work Thursday and then had to head back home Saturday morning. At least she was here long enough to go with me and hold my hand when I got my tattoo on Friday. Yep, I didn't chicken out! Did it hurt? Yes, it did. Did it hurt as much as tearing my meniscus? Not even close. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: The calendar is very clear this week so I'll be getting the house decorated for Christmas. 

Thinking About: Christmas shopping. It's taken up a lot of my free time since Friday. The scramble is on to get the shopping done for my Alaskans so I can get their package mailed soon. Do you all remember the year I waited until the last minute to mail their package to Milwaukee and ended up spending $95 to get it there on time? Can you even imagine what it would cost to ship a package last minute to Anchorage??

Feeling: Tired. 

Looking forward to: Hopefully getting time to see friends this week. 

Question of the week: How did you spend the holiday? 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Book of Maps by Ernest Thompson * Guest Review

The Book of Maps
by Ernest Thompson 
480 pages 
Published October 2022 by Global Collective Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
In the summer of 2002, Brendan Tibbet, a filmmaker whose luck has run low, takes his ten-year-old son Brenlyn on a raucous road trip across America. Following a 1930s travel guide Brendan purchased at a yard sale, the two-week trek from LA to New Hampshire covers 16 states, hitting the iconic stops along the way, Yosemite, the Great Salt Lake, Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, replete with wild exploits both hilarious and perilous, but it’s the interior journey that is enlightening, deeply poignant and life-changing. 

Brendan assures the boy that each state will be an adventure, and on the second day proves it, seeing the kid washed away in fast-moving rapids, then foolishly putting them both in danger by refusing to back down to the massive black bear invading their campsite. That’s Brendan, impetuous and foolhardy, inciting trouble wherever he goes, a man with demons and bubbling angst. But neither of those missteps, or the many and scarier ones to follow, can begin to compare to the threatening storm cloud hanging over the expedition: the father’s struggle to find the perfect, worst time to reveal to his son the news that will break his heart and affect everything to follow. 

Ernest Thompson’s debut novel is a skillful, magical piece of 20th-century fin de siècle writing depicting a United States that, even in the aftermath of 9-11, seems almost innocent contrasted to the horrors and divisions, racism and rage challenging us now. The Book of Maps, with its powerful father-son relationship and one man’s relentless albeit unintentional quest to evolve into the better angel we all aspire to be, will capture the imagination of readers and leave them wanting to relive this mad, irresistibly moving, ridiculously funny, reflective and inspiring cross-country odyssey again and again.

Guest Review:
My husband loves travel novels so I knew this was one of him when it was offered to me for review. Here are his thoughts: 

The Book of Maps, appears to be, from its cover, a normal travel story between a father and his son; but it ends up going many different directions along the way.  Not quite as nuts as Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; but plenty of excitement, fun and danger, especially if you are a parent.  

Other travel stories I've enjoyed include Blue Highways and a number of Paul Theroux books that were high on my list.  The Flashman Chronicles would, I think,  would be considered a strong contender for some of my favorite travel tales and of course a good many of Mark Twain's stories.  

The first thing you notice is that Ernest Thompson has tremendous control of the English language.  It takes a bit of getting used to at first, as his prose is pretty thick with his ability to use All of the English Language.  But from the guy that wrote On Golden Pond, Thompson has great credentials, a strong grip on the human condition and the ability to create, build and expand relationships. 

I presume the story comes, at least somewhat, from personal experience as Brenden and his son Brenlyn take us on a journey across the US from Southern California up to his home in New Hampshire.  Lurking in the background is his crumbling marriage to Lynsay, that Brenden is slowly figuring out was destined to fail from the beginning.  But the couple still have love, however incompatible.  However, like is often the case in a break-up, they have a boy in the middle of it all. Brenden is going to take Brenlyn on a last big trip with using the Book of Maps as a bible.  Brenden knows he is going to miss his son a great deal, not being around all of the time and being located across the country.  

Brenden has had some strong success in his past but that's gone a bit dormant; on this trip he is beginning to hash some of this out.  When Brenden gets back, and after weeks with his son where he knows this is the end of a normal family life,k we really don't know where Brenden is going to be in his life.  Will he become a lazy drunk that circles the drain and dies lonely or will he get is mojo back and find some of the success he had early in life?  

Of course, the other obvious element of the story is the question of what will become of the relationship between Brenden and Brenlyn.  Early in the trip there is quite a bit of strife between the two; but they begin to find some common ground.  Will they stay close after this long strange trip together or does Brenlyn find out things about his father that pull them further apart? Brenden has to spring the concept of divorce on him at some point along or at the end of the trip.  When they separate will they have developed a bond that will last a lifetime and carry them forward or just visit once in the summer and over the holidays?  

The Book of Maps is a very well written story, a nice read the flows well, has deep character building of characters who you care about and plenty of good and bad surprises along the way.  Like on On Golden Pond, the story and characters feel real and the reader is convinced that the encounters along the way could be and may well have happened and they most people can relate to these slices of life.  I really enjoyed the ride along.  

Thanks, Big Guy!

About The Author:

Ernest Thompson has written numerous films, plays and songs, and has worked extensively as an actor and director. In addition to his Oscar for On Golden Pond, Ernest’s work has won two Golden Globes, a Writers Guild Award, a Broadway Drama Guild Award and been nominated for a Tony, an Emmy and a British Academy Award. His plays have been seen in theaters around the world, his most enduring, On Golden Pond, translated into 30 languages and presented in more than 40 countries. He currently is developing Cries of Valor in Defiance, depicting life in the pandemic and, with his writer wife Kerrin Thompson, has established Rescind Recidivism, a prison writing program designed to give inmates a chance to feel creative as well as human, capable and worthy.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Life: It Goes On - November 20

Happy (late) Sunday! It's been a busy weekend as we continue to work on getting my dad's house cleaned out, try to get the final touches on my dad's place before my sister and brother-in-law arrive on Thursday, and get our house in order to host dinner on Friday and have family staying over. I'm sure it's been much the same at many of your houses this weekend. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I've been listening to A Snake Falls To Earth by Darcie Little Badger, which my dad is also reading in print. In fact, it's the Big Library Read in November. 

Watched: The other night I caught a little of the latest adaptation of All Quiet On The Western Front on Netflix with my dad. I need to start watching again from the beginning; but, also, it's probably time for me to pick up this classic. 

Read: My hold on Denise Mina's Confidence came due to I'm trying to race through that...because I also picked up three more books at the library the other day. I have GOT to start actually reading more!

Made: I'm not sure we had the oven on all week. We are working to use things up in our freezers - they are both just packed and so much of it is boxed foods. Today was sesame chicken for three. But this week, oh, this week I will cook!

Enjoyed: Book club Tuesday and an evening with The Big Guy's brother and his wife (she gave me some recipes I'm very eager to try and made a delicious soup!). I'm sure I've mentioned before how happy we are to have them living nearby again but it bears repeating. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: For dinner for seven on Friday (we will be a very small group this year) and guests in both guest rooms (the first time that's happened in more than three years - yea!). 

Thinking About: Making a run to Trader Joe's tomorrow...not unlike thousands of other people, I'm sure. My sister-in-law showed me a couple of wines I really think I need for Friday. Either that or it's just an excuse to go buy a lot of things I don't really need. 

Feeling: Like this week is going to fly by. 

Looking forward to: Getting my hair done on Tuesday and getting my first tattoo on Friday. 

Question of the week: Do you have any tattoos? I never thought I would get one but I decided I wanted a reminder I could always see of the strength I've relied on these past twelve years. 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Mini-Review: Midnight Library by Matt Haig

 Yeah, I could have written full reviews for the books I've reviewed this week and gotten another week of reviews; but, if I put this off longer, I'll forget the books, let alone what I want to say about them. So here's another mini-review of a book I've read, and really enjoyed, recently. 

Midnight Library
by Matt Haig
304 pages
Published September 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my public library

Publisher's Summary: 
Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better? 

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig's enchanting blockbuster novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

My Thoughts: 
Recommended by a friend at work (thanks, Ann!), this is a book that really makes you think about the what ifs of your life, and there are so very many more what ifs than you ever considered. If you had a chance to see every single possible version of the life you might have led, which would you choose? Nora discovers that getting what you thought you wanted out of life isn't necessarily what you would have chosen had you known how it would have ended. 

I wasn't a fan of the ending of this one. I wish it had ended about six pages earlier, left the reader wondering. But there were some really great things in this book. 
"Nora had always had a problem accepting herself. From as far back as she could remember, she'd had the sense that she wasn't enough. Her parents, who both had their own insecurities had encouraged that idea. 

She imagined, now, what it would be like to accept herself complete. Every mistake she had ever made. Every mark on her body. Every dream she hadn't reached or pain she had felt. Every lost or longing she had surpassed. 

She imagined accepting it all. The way she accepted nature. The way she accepted a glacier or a puffin or the breach of a whale. 

She imagined seeing herself as just another brilliant freak of nature. Just another sentient animal, trying their best. 

And in doing so, she imagined what was like to be free." 

Monday, November 14, 2022


It's time to admit that I'm not going to get full reviews written for a lot of the books I've been reading lately and just go with some mini-reviews. 

by Colleen Hoover
336 pages
Published October 2021 by Grand Central Publishing

Publisher's Summary: 
Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish. 

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity's notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn't expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity's recollection of what really happened the day her daughter died. 

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents would devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen's feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife's words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue to love her.

My Thoughts: 
I've read that this is way out of Hoover's normal oeuvre but I don't know quite what to make of that. Does she normally not write mystery/thrillers? Or does she normally not write books that are almost soft porn in sections? I know, I know - I've repeatedly said I'm not a prude when it comes to my reading and then the sex in a book turns out to be a problem for me. Just felt like there was way more of it and far more detail than was necessary to move the story forward. 

As for the story itself, I'm super surprised to find this one has a 4.4 rating on Goodreads. There were just so many things that seemed contrived in the plotting of this book. Still, I was bought into finding out exactly what was going on and the ending took me by surprise so it wasn't a total loss. 

The Phantom of the Opera
by Gason Leroux
Librivox Recording
Originally published 1909

The Phantom of the Opera is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine's childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous 'ghost' of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. 

The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux's work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik's past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.

My Thoughts: 
I understand this book was written over one hundred years ago, when writing styles were different and I get that I was listening to a translation (but also following along with another translation in print). But also remember that this is not the first book I've read that was written long ago so I'm familiar with the differences in the time periods. This is by far the most stilted language in a book I think I've ever read - it was often painful to listen to and no easier to read in print, making it hard to enjoy the actual story. 

My book club read this one and only one person liked it. I can see why there have been adaptations of it; there is a lot in the story to parse out to create an interesting story from. But there is so much that muddies the story that I can hardly see how it came to be considered a classic in the first place. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Life: It Goes On - November 13

Happy Sunday! It snowed (ever so little yesterday but it snowed) and it's really cold out. It may be sunny out; but, otherwise, it's feeling a lot more like winter than fall right now. Which means that even though I set my dining room table for Thanksgiving, I'm seriously thinking of breaking my rule and starting to pull out the Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. Probably I should use that time to catch up on laundry and cleaning instead, right?

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished People Person and started on Fredrik Backman's Bear Town. Both have terrific readers. 

Watched: Um, only sports, I think. 

Read: I realized that I had completely forgotten not one, but two, book tours in the past couple of weeks. I'm probably kicked off of both group's email lists now, deservedly so. Maybe then I could come close to keeping up with my reading. 

I have been reading, though. Just not getting the reviews written. I promise to do better this week. My plan is to catch up with mini-reviews (except the two that I owe to publishers) and then, maybe, I can get back on track. 

Made: Literally nothing. I don't even remember what we ate one single night. 

Enjoyed: I took my dad out to eat Friday night, just the two of us. He flirted outrageously with the server and she brought his tea in a mug that said "Chick Magnet." 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Oh, let's be serious - my plans have fallen through most weeks lately. No point in making them. 

Thinking About: My parents' house. The less and less of them that is in the house, the harder it seems to be getting for me to be there. Maybe it's becoming more of a reality to me that it will not be ours soon. 

Feeling: My vote never counts because of where I live; but I do it anyway because, once in a while, it has made a difference. I'm so grateful to those who got out and voted this week whose vote really did make a difference. 

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday. 

Quote of the week: “Goodbyes make you think. They make you realize what you’ve had, what you’ve lost, and what you’ve taken for granted.” – Ritu Ghatourey

Monday, November 7, 2022

Life: It Goes On - November 7

Happy (late) Monday! After a relatively leisurely weekend, somehow yesterday came and went without me getting a Sunday post up. And since that's about all I'm getting posted these days, I figured I'd better get one up today. Fingers crossed, I'll be getting some (at least mini-) reviews posted this week. Although I haven't been posting, I have been reading. And what with the new piece of furniture I put in my house two weeks ago, I may not be hitting these keys as much as I used to (more on that later). 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I'm about finished with Candice Carty-Williams' latest, People Person. Very glad to be listening to this one - the reading is superb.

Watched: The usual football, volleyball, baseball, The Voice. Plus, a couple of episodes of The Crown and  Annika on PBS. 

Read: I raced through Verity by Colleen Hoover, although I can't say that I loved it. I'm not even sure I liked it. 

Made: Pizza, fried potatoes, fried apples, homemade mac 'n' cheese. I'm easing back into cooking. Yea, me!

Enjoyed: Seeing this smile on my dad's face as, more and more, we turn his new digs into his home. 

This Week I’m:

Planning: Work continues on getting my dad settled and in getting things cleaned up in his house. 

Thinking About: How happy I'll be to not have to listen to these campaign ads any more. So much hyperbole and so many lies, and we get the ads from both Nebraska and Iowa since Omaha sits on the state line. 

Excited about getting back to playing the piano. I've only stumbled a bit with it so far; this week I'll get the music brought up from the basement so I can get to it seriously. 

Looking forward to: Highs in the seventies for a couple of days this week. Dinners will be held on the patio in November...without jackets! We won't talk about the highs in the thirties later this week. 

Quote of the week: "Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be." - Abraham Lincoln