Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour: A Scottish Ferry Tale

When I first saw that Samantha at Chick Lit Plus was hosting some blog tours it took me a little while to decide if I wanted to take part, but I'm very excited about the few that I'm doing (and the list just keeps on growing!). When I heard that Samantha was organizing a tour for Nancy Volkers' A Scottish Ferry Tale I immediately signed up. I gotta admit, it was basically because of the title - I've got quite a bit of Scottish blood in me. Once I read the synopsis though, I was definitely in. Here's the synopsis from the back of the book:
Once upon a time, Cassie Wrentham goes to Scotland and gets her heart broken. She is cynical enough to close the door on true love, but hopeful enough not to lock it. Instead she escapes, to an island off the west coast, where she meets someone who could change her life...if she'd only allow it. Does she? And who is this life-changing person, anyway? Are there dragons? Fairy godmothers? Chocolate cake? What about happily ever after?
I'm really glad that I got a chance to read this book and I want to thank Samantha and Nancy Volkers for making that happen!

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. My favourite part was the setting (obviously) but it was especially because of the way Scotland played such a large part in the story. Volkers really played up the fairytale feeling of Scotland by placing Cassie in such a remote (ie not urban) area. Somehow, having the story set in Scotland made the love at first sight theme much more believable.  In my head Scotland is such a magical place so it really isn't hard to believe that Cassie and Ralph could have fallen for each other so quickly. And there are sheep! You have to love how livestock always make an appearance in books or movies set in Great Britain and Ireland.

I also liked that Cassie was close to my age in this novel. I could definitely relate to her indecision about school and work and what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. What I'd like to know is how the heck she had so much money to travel back and forth from the States to Scotland so many times! I just finished up five years of post-secondary school last April and I didn't have enough money to even get to Scotland once! That, however, is only a minor annoyance and one that is easily overlooked.

One thing that I couldn't get past was the age gap between Cassie and Ralph - it was about twenty years. Anyone else find that kinda hard to accept? I know it happens, my best friend's mom and dad are sixteen years apart, but that doesn't mean I can easily picture it. In fact, I realized the other day while watching Leap Year that, in my head, Ralph looked like Matthew Goode...

Not totally sure why since Leap Year takes place in Ireland, not Scotland, and Matthew Goode is younger than Ralph is supposed to be, but there you have it. In my imagination, Matthew Goode = Ralph, and that made it slightly easier for me to read.

I don't want to give too much away, so I apologize for the vague descriptions. At one point someone tells Cassie that it is hard to get a hold on Ralph and to really figure out what he's like. I felt like this was a good way to describe Cassie too. She's still quite young but she's got such an old soul. She would jet over to Scotland for a boyfriend for only a week (kind of dependent on the boy?) but has no problem going to a small island alone (therefore, independent). She cares about school and finding a good job but parts of her late teen years are divulged and it just seems so completely out of sync with what her goals are. Cassie also manages to have, and I cannot think of another way to phrase it, snooty pastimes - poetry, plays, music - but manages not to be stuck up. She knows all sorts of plays and playwrights but doesn't assume that she is better than everyone else because she knows that so-and-so wrote some play that is the most magnificent thing to ever grace the stage. You know the people I'm talking about, don't deny it :)

What really frustrated me was that Cassie was hemming and hawing about what to do about Ralph and if she should continue the long distance relationship. I just wanted to strangle her! I've been in a long distance relationship for the better part of six years (granted, we're in the same province and not in different countries) and they're hard work but if you actually care about the person you will make the distance work. You don't slowly pull away from them! (Wo)man up and face the issues and you'll all live happily ever after. Phew. Sorry for the rant!

The most touching part of the whole story occurred between Cassie and her three year old niece, Aisling. Again, I don't want to give much away so I apologize for what seems like a half explanation. As a three year old girl, Aisling is completely obsessed with princesses and fairy tales (one part of the clever play on the title, in my opinion) and can't quite understand romantic love. When she sees a picture of Cassie and Ralph she asks who he is. Distraught and stumped for an answer, Cassie finally figures out the best way to describe it to Aisling, and herself: "prince." Because of this discussion with Aisling and her asking Cassie (the princess) has been put to sleep (like Snow White), Cassie finally realizes what she's done and what she needs to do to fix it. It's a sweet analogy made even sweeter by the fact that Cassie is helped by an adorable toddler.

Finally, I finish this incredibly long post (sorry!) with an excellent quote. I think I like it mostly because of my Scottish heritage, but I think it's a great insight.

When people heard I was going to Scotland, they looked at me strangely and made noises about whiskey or golf or sheep. A few said something about the Loch Ness monster or kilts or bagpipes. That was it. People knew nothing about the country, and now, standing on that ferry, I wondered if the Scots didn't want it that way.
Thanks again to Samantha and Nancy Volkers for making this blog tour happen. I really enjoyed this book and appreciate this opportunity. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves a sweet but realistic romance and/or anything to do with Scotland. I'm really looking forward to the sequel!

On the left you'll see my family tartan. I had to share! :)

One final thing: Please join Nancy Volkers on May 10th at 7 pm CST for her own Twitter Party hosted by CLP Blog Tours. Ask Nancy your questions on her books, writing, or more by using the hashtag #CLPNancy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Just Finished: "A Discovery of Witches"

I know it's been awhile since I posted but life has been CRAZY! Not to worry though, I am back and do I ever have a great book for you to read. I just finished A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and it was so incredibly fantastic that I don't think there are enough adjectives to describe how amazing it is. Right now it is definitely the front runner for my favourite book of 2011.

I happened upon a review of this book in an issue on Entertainment Weekly, which you can find here. I'm usually pretty happy with their reviews and both my mom and I decided to check this one out. Boy, oh boy, are we ever glad that we did.

Here's the synopsis from Chapters:
A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.
Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.
Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the "Twilight" series-with an extra serving of historical realism.
Both this synopsis and the EW article compare this book to the Twilight Saga and I have to agree with them. I hate to do it because there's just this sort of stigma associated with Twilight (and as someone who is slightly older than the target audience and as a former bookseller, I've heard and told all sorts of excuses for reading them) but the comparison really is hard to avoid. I'll put it this way - if you enjoy the idea of Twlight, the vampires, forbidden love, and different types of mythical beings, you'll love A Discovery of Witches. This a grown up version of Meyer's novels with more creatures (witches and daemons instead of werewolves) and an amazing historical aspect. The writing is so incredibly well done and, well, Twilight isn't exactly a literary masterpiece (no matter what those teenyboppers think).

Let me explain why the historical aspect is such a great part of this novel. I wasn't a history major in university and I didn't even take any history classes (and since I saw what my roommates had to deal with, I am sooo glad that I didn't) but I enjoy a good documentary or historical novel every once and awhile. Diana is researching alchemy in an effort to push aside her magical ancestry. She has tenure at Yale so is obviously quite the historian. What makes this kind of neat is that she ends up with a vampire who has personally known some of the greatest minds Diana has been reading about her whole life. I love how amazed Diana gets when she learns Matthew knew someone famous and how she becomes distracted from an original conversation once she finds that out. Can you imagine how cool and completely crazy that would be?

There are a ton of secondary characters but Harkness does a great job of giving just enough background information on each of them so they are really three dimensional characters, just like Diana and Matthew. It is a massive book and each page is used to its fullest with descriptions and explanations cleverly written so as not to give too much away at once.

This novel had just the right amount of magic, suspense, romance, and action all wrapped up in its 592 pages. I was so hooked on this book that I couldn't put it down and I was constantly thinking about it when I wasn't reading it. One of the best things about this novel is that it is the first of a trilogy. Of course, I am going to go crazy waiting for the next book in the All Souls Trilogy (it comes out sometime in 2012) but at least there will be a next one!

Overall, I am completely and utterly in love with this book. I love novels that have a bit of witchcraft (as long as they don't venture into the fantasy category) and this one was just about perfect. It created a world where not only witches live, but also vampires and daemons, all with their own unique powers. The regular stereotypes of each creature are present, but with Harkness wisely puts her own twist on the powers and defining features of each. I highly recommend this book. It is well worth the price in hardcover, but buy the e-book or check it out from the library if you really don't want to spend that much money. I would love to hear from anyone else who has read this one or who knows someone who has read it. Were they as enthralled with is as much as me? Let me know!

Another weekend is done and I happily spent most of it reading this amazing novel. Please please please give it a try as it is just so fantastic. Until next time, happy reading :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April Chick Lit Review: "It's a Kind of Magic"

I am incredibly proud of myself for completing April's Challenge on the second day of the month. Usually the middle of the month comes around and I think "Gah! Must read a book. Need to pick a good title. Must choose now before it is too late and the world comes to an end!" Yes, I can get myself quite worked up about things. I then remind myself that I can choose whatever chick lit book my little heart desires and that I have quite the stockpile of them from my years of working at a bookstore with a phenomenal discount. It’s a Kind of Magic was one of those stockpiled books. I believe I bought this one while still working in Waterloo, which would have been prior to June. If you think that’s bad, I’m fairly certain I still have books from when I was working at the store a couple of years ago. Plan is to work my way through those now that I don’t have any textbooks to read! But, enough of that. Onto my review of It’s a Kind of Magic!

I have read quite a few of Carole Matthews’ books (of the 18 her website lists, I have read 7 with two more on my shelves, patiently waiting). I’ve always enjoyed them because they’re witty, sweet, and British. I’m a sucker for British, Scottish, Irish and Welsh Chick Lit (no idea what Welsh chick lit authors are out there but I would feel bad if I didn’t include them). Feel free to recommend some in the comments, maybe someone will recommend an author I haven’t read! Since Chapters has failed me in providing a synopsis, here it is from Goodreads…ok, they fail too. Directly from Matthews’ website it is!

Emma and Leo have been together - off and on - for ever. But their relationship seems to have lost its spark - it's as though the magic has gone.
When Leo turns up at Emma's thirtieth birthday dinner unforgivably late and horribly drunk, embarrassing her in front of her family, she can't help wishing things were different. In fact, she wishes Leo was different. She loves him very much but if someone could wave a magic wand and turn him into a reliable, considerate boyfriend it would certainly save her a lot of trouble.
When Leo's path crosses with a decidedly sparkly wisp of a girl called Isobel, he falls under her magic spell and Emma sees him altering before her very eyes. Soon she regrets wishing for a 'new' Leo at all. And, surely, Isobel can't be for real? One thing's clear, if Emma's going to win him back, she'll need to do some changing of her own...
To be completely honest, it took me awhile to get into this book and I’m not entirely sure why. I like Carole Matthews and I like a good fairy story every once and awhile. However. I’m not sure I like the two together. I do like the underlying theme that I think Matthews was trying to get at – recapturing or finding the magic that’s been lost. While this novel, like all of Matthews’ books, has a romance at its core, it is not the only thing that the “magic” refers to. I think what sort of lost me with this book was the fact that Leo “found” the magic so literally – he starts dating a fairy! There’s a good quote in the book that I think sums up the way humans live nowadays. Leo is trying to explain the way human relationships work and she finds it very sad:

‘Humans are strange creatures.’
‘You have to give us time,’ he said. ‘We’re very stressed out. We’ve forgotten how to enjoy magic. Or even where to look for it. Instead, we all have crippling mortgages and dwindling pensions and plummeting share portfolios and heaps of commitments and spreading waistlines to worry about.’
‘You must be very sad people.’

Once the book got going though, it got a little better, and I think part of that had to do with the changes the characters went through.

The first time I “met” Leo he is at a bar belting out a wonderful rendition of Madonna’s “Material Girl” while on top a table, totally wasted. I soon realize that he is hopelessly late for his girlfriend Emma’s thirtieth birthday party. Really, he just seems like a huge prat and I’m feeling sorry for Emma. Then, I find out more about her and she seems like a stuck up bore. How did these two people end up together and why should I care or root for them to get back together? I’m still not sure how or why they started dating in the first place, but by the end of the book I was cheering for them. Without giving too much away, Isobel helps Leo grow up and while he’s doing that, Emma is realizing that she has been too hard on Leo and desperately wants him back. He may be an inconsiderate goof sometimes, but he’s her inconsiderate goof and she’s not going to let anyone stand in her way. At the end, everyone (Emma’s two girlfriends and Leo’s two buddies included) grows up and realizes what sort of magic has been missing from their lives. Yay! Happy endings! I have to admit that I still don’t really like Emma. There were just too many personality quirks that got on my nerves. I was able to overlook that (for the most part) and I ended up enjoying this book way more than I thought I would. Not my favourite Carole Matthews book but I would still recommend it to anyone who likes chick lit, British authors, or a good fairy tale.

Anyone else read this book? Let me know what you thought! Until next time…don’t forget to look for the magic! :)