Monday, June 28, 2010

Tea & Read: She Walks in Beauty

Title: She Walks in Beauty
Author: Siri Mitchell
Rating: Two Cups of Tea

For a young society woman seeking a favorable marriage, so much depends on her social season debut. Clara Carter has been given one goal: secure the affections of the city's most eligible bachelor. Debuting means plenty of work--there are corsets to be fitted, dances to master, manners to perfect. Her training soon pays off, however, as celebrity's spotlight turns Clara into a society-page darling. Yet Clara soon wonders if this is the life she really wants. Especially when she learns her best friend has also set her sights on Franklin De Vries. When a man appears who seems to love her simply for who she is and gossip backlash turns ugly, Clara realizes it's not just her marriage at stake--the future of her family depends on how she plays the game.

Siri Mitchell has proven herself to be a versatile writer. I was first introduced to her with her contemporary fiction, Moon over Tokyo, Chateau of Echoes and The Cubicle Next Door. Chateau of Echoes gave me a glimpse of the fact that Mitchell could write historicals, and she delivered with A Constant Heart and I was hooked.

She Walks in Beauty, another historical, has several great things going for it. First, it is a Victorian novel, but it’s set in New York City instead of the traditional England. But the same traditions and customs rule. This story is just as Victorian, with all its beauty and grace. Victorian on American soil gave the book a unique slant that I’d not seen in Victorian novels.

Second, Mitchell captivates with wonderful characters. Clara is a striking character, the type of character I tend to gravitate to. She goes against the grain of what is expected of her. I love her reactions to social requirements, which are very close to what my own reaction would be. I also enjoyed the tension created between Clara and Lily and the unexpected character of the DeVries Heirs. And, in the tradition of overbearing Victorian women, Clara’s aunt plays her part perfectly.

Third, as in all her books, Mitchell has done her research and it shows. I often found myself just as perplexed as Clara in learning some of the social customs. I particularly found the custom of “cutting” (which means something totally different from a girl from Baltimore) interesting. Clara’s education in social graces proved amusing and gave great insight into Clara’s world.

My only complaint is that there were a couple of loose ends that I felt needed to be cleared up. I would have like to have heard more about Clara’s mother and her father’s work. There was also three other characters in the book, Katherine Mr. Douglas and Ms. Miller. But the book is solid and a great read overall.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Life in Stitches: Multitasking

I’m not a fan of audiobooks. I’m completely in love with paper books, the feel of the pages between my fingers. I always find it amusing when I read experts predicting that paper books will soon be a thing of the past. If given the choice, I’ll choose paper over audiobooks every time. I plan to singlehandedly keep print books in business.

Not that I’ve had listen to a bunch of audiobooks. As a matter of fact, I’ve only listened to one, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. My children and I were on our way to Corolla, NC for Thanksgiving. I needed something to keep me alert on the long drive. One of my sons had the book on his iPod and so I gave it a shot. It turned out to be ok, but it wasn’t an experience I wanted to repeat—the long car drive or the audiobook. But I had a change a heart brought on something totally unrelated to books or my paper preference: multitasking.

As much as I don’t like audiobooks, I love multitasking. It drives me crazy to only do one thing at a time. If I’m writing, I have to have music going. If I’m talking on the phone, I’m normally sweeping or folding laundry. But, when I’m knitting, that’s all I can do. I can watch TV but I’m bound to make mistakes. Of course I can listen to music, but that’s something I do all the time. Knitting, although I love it, requires single-tasking or lots of tinking (removing stitches by reverse knitting).

So when a woman in a knitting group I’m a part of mentioned that she listens to audiobooks while she knitting, a light bulb came on. Audiobooks would allow me to do multitask and combine two of favorite things: books and knitting. Also, it allows me to take advantage of the audiobook service my library offers. (And as a public service announcement: Please take advantage of your library services. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.)

So right now I’m listening to In Search of Eden by Linda Nichols. So far so good. And I’m making progress on the baby blanket. And for the sake of multitasking, I’ll deal with not holding a paper book.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Life in Stitches: Back in Stiches

I’ve picked up knitting again. Miss Ola, my two best friends’ grandmother, taught me how when I was a child. I remember sitting days in their kitchen, trying to knit and purl and talking to my friends. It was one of those experiences that you have but your young mind can’t comprehend its importance.

As far as I was concerned, Miss Ola was my grandmother. I didn’t get a chance to get close to my grandmothers; one of them died when I was still in my early teens and the other lived several states away. I didn’t realize how precious that grandmother time with Miss Ola was or how much it would mean to me later in life.

Knitting was the first craft I learned. As an adult, my husband taught me how to crochet, which turned out to be very valuable while I was on bed rest with my second son. But I always found myself daydreaming about picking up my knitting skills again, always commenting that knit patterns looked better than crochet.

Finally, about a year and a half ago, I pulled out my knitting needles and started working on a scarf. And I’m glad I did. It’s been very rewarding and I’ve taught my family how to knit. Remember I said I didn’t realize how meaningful my moments with Miss Ola? Well, now I do. She, even though she’s gone to heaven now, is still impacting lives and making my family better. Thanks Miss Ola.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tea & Read: A Tailor-Made Bride

Title: A Tailor-Made Bride
Author: Karen Witemeyer
Rating: Spend The Day Sleepy

When a dressmaker who values beauty tangles with a liveryman who condemns vanity, the sparks begin to fly!

Jericho "J.T." Tucker wants nothing to do with the new dressmaker in Coventry, Texas. He's all too familiar with her kind--shallow women more devoted to fashion than true beauty. Yet, except for her well-tailored clothes, this seamstress is not at all what he expected.

Hannah Richards is confounded by the man who runs the livery. The unsmiling fellow riles her with his arrogant assumptions and gruff manner, while at the same time stirring her heart with unexpected acts of kindness. Which side of Jericho Tucker reflects the real man?

When Hannah decides to help Jericho's sister catch a beau--leading to consequences neither could have foreseen--will Jericho and Hannah find a way to bridge the gap between them?
I have a soft spot in my heart for novels set in the Old West. Cowboys, marshals and hard working, rugged men appeal to me. I’ve populated a list of my favorite cowboy/US Marshal/Old West books over the years and A Tailor-Made Bride by Karen Witemeyer has rightfully earned its place on that list.

I think the thing that stuck out me the most is the freshness of the storylines. I’ve read a lot of books like this and after a while they’re storylines seem to run together, but not this one. Witemeyer tells a unique tale of a profession not normally highlighted in Old West historical. Most stories tell of heroines trying to secure the right fashions so it was refreshing to read a story from Hannah’s, a seamstress, point of view. Another element that makes this book unique is that in includes an exercise fitness angle, not common to western historicals. It’s another small touch that makes this book stand out from the rest.

Hannah’s occupation isn’t the only thing that makes her interesting. I really enjoyed that fact that Hannah is a tough girl, but not in a “farm girl” kind of way like in other historicals. Hannah has grit, smarts and the drive to run a business. Witemeyer doesn’t just stop with Hannah when creating believable characters. JT, Cordelia, Ezra and Tom are not simply placeholder characters; they add to the tale. I also love the way the relationship between JT and Hannah forms.

If you want to read an Old West historal that different than others you’ve read, this book is for you. I’m looking forward to reading the next book from Witemeyer.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tea & Read: So Over My Head

Title: So Over My Head
Author: Jenny B. Jones
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

When the Fritz Family Carnival makes its annual appearance in Truman, Bella's keen reporter instincts tell her the bright lights hide more than they reveal. Her suspicions are confirmed when one of the stars is murdered. Though the police make an immediate arrest, Bella doubts this case is quite that simple.
She needs her crime-solving boyfriend, Luke, more than ever. Problem is, his ex-girlfriend has moved back to town, giving Bella some murderous thoughts of her own. Then again, there's no time for a relationship crisis when Bella's doing her best to derail her father's wedding and stay one step ahead of a killer.

Is God sending her a message in all of this madness? With a murderer on the loose and her boyfriend's ex on the prowl, this undercover clown has never had more to juggle--or more to risk

There is nothing I dislike more than a book series that gets worse with each installment. Like the author ran out of steam after the first book. But that is not the case with the Charmed Life Series by Jenny B. Jones. Each book in the series is better the previous one and the third book of this series, So Over My Head, is a great read.

Jones has a way with character development. I greatly appreciate the way she has metered out Bella’s personality changes over the series of the books. Bella is a very different person than the first book, but her changes are realistic. She changes in the right areas but stays the same in others. Her quirky outlook on her life in Truman and her sense of style are just as strong as they were in the first book. I like the fact that Bella remain the same in the areas that made me fall in love with this book series in the first place.

Trouble finds Bella despite her attempts to avoid it and Jones does a great job of making Bella’s penchant for drama believable. Even some of the stranger personalities, like Ruthie are endearing. Ruthie’s character brings funny and enjoyable new perspective of Bella’s crime fighting exploits. And Cherry, the new addition to the cast, provides a good balance between Bella and Ruthie.

Great pacing is another one of Jones’ accomplishments in this book. The book flowed smoothly from scene to scene, quickly sucking you into the plot. And even though this book is considered YA, the mystery angle is solid. Jones accomplished something that I enjoy when I read a good mystery: she had me guessing about the “whodunit” until the end. And when the protagonist was revealed, it wasn’t a complete shock, but it was a believable surprise. Jones did a great job of hiding the clues in plain sight.

So Over My Head brings to mind the Nancy Drew books I loved in high school, except with a little more spunk and a lot more fashion. And I renew my position that I’ll take Bella Kirkwood over Bella Swann any day.

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