Jane by April Lindner

Genre: Young Adult (?)
Main characters: Jane Moore and Nico Rathburn
Time and place: present day; mostly Connecticut
First sentence:The chairs in the lobby of Discriminating Nannies, Inc., were less comfortable than they looked.”
Verdict: Interesting. Nothing can match Jane Eyre though :)

Summary
The story of Jane Eyre brought in a contemporary setting :)

Jane Moore is nineteen when she has to drop out of college and find a job, as her parents have recently died and her older siblings are uninterested in her whereabouts. She ends up as the live-in nanny of Maddie, the daughter of an once famous rock star who’s planning a comeback. Her employer seems quite rough at first, but he is friendly, and, in time, a relationship develops between the two of them. In the light of his future word tour he even asks Jane to marry him, and she accepts. But…

General impression
First of all, kudos to the author for managing to bring the events from the 19th century world of Jane Eyre to present day US, in a believable manner. There are some elements that the author let go of, such as Jane’s inheriting a fortune, or her being related to the family that takes her in after she runs away, but I am glad she did so, as they would have made the book feel contrived. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint the reason why (fewer pages perhaps? a simplified language?), but this book, while interesting enough, felt like it lacked some of the depth the original had. However, this isn’t to say I did not enjoy it :)

Characters
Although she’s only nineteen, Jane takes everything very seriously. The book starts a little before she gets the job as the nanny of Mr. Rathburn’s child, so her formative years are mostly skipped (we are treated now and then to her memories of her family, mostly her mother, and how little affection she’s had as she grew up). I liked this Jane, the way she always thought of Maddie’s well being (I don’t remember Jane Eyre being that devoted to her charge, although she may have been and I may have forgotten it). Most of all I liked the way she always told the truth, and the way she tried to avoid saying bad things of people if she could avoid it.

Nico however got the short end of the stick: he’s supposed to be this reserved character, who does not talk all that much, which makes him hard to get to know. Sure, Rochester is the same way in principle, but the flowery language of the era had him passionately expressing himself quite a bit. His contemporary equivalent had no such luck => he ends up with a number of lines that I felt were not enough for me, as a reader, to actually grow to care for/about him. And then there is this other problem: in the beginning he goes out of his way to spend time with Jane, and it seemed to me a bit contrived; I can buy them falling in love after they got to know each other, but a rock star deigning to notice one of ‘the help’, as someone in his entourage puts it, and then ignore his own busy schedule to spend time with her did strike me as a bit odd (it was not so in Jane Eyre, where Mr. Rochester had only a handful of people around the house, all of them servants, so it wasn’t that much of a wonder he took an interest in the one newcomer; however Mr. Rathburn’s house is teeming with people, making any particular one of them that less likely to stand out).

The thing about the characters (less so with Jane, more so with Nico) is that while the author has done a great job with adapting the major scenes and dialogue of Jane Eyre to modern times, the parts that are her own contribution seemed to me less good. Starting with Jane’s family, who are so uni-dimensional they seem more like cardboard props than anything else, each of them having a single trait and that’s that (sister = self-involved, brother = aggressive, mother = uncaring). The rest of the newly introduced cast is less cardboardy, but not by much; the scenes, while not particularly bad, do not stand out in any way, they never made me feel things; which is quite a pity since, again, I was happy to see how ingeniously adapted the Jane Eyre parts were.

For example, I thought the motivations Nico had for his choices were surprisingly believable and rather well done:
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Names
As usual, I am fond of the small details :)
While the author has changed some of the names completely (no Edward Rochester, *sigh*), she did keep or subtly altered some of the others. “Adele”‘s mother is named Celine, the brother of the “madwoman in the attic” is also named Mason. Thornfield, which I always envisioned as a gray, gloomy estate, is now Thornfield Park, a place surrounded with greens and giving off a completely different vibe. The dog, named Pilot in the original, is now named Copilot :) Diana and Mary have almost the same first names, with a different last name; St. John Rivers is now River St. John :) Last but not least, Blanche Ingram turned into a Bianca Ingram (which is fun, given that both Blanche and Bianca mean ‘white’, in French and Italian, respectively).

My reaction on the names the author has created ‘from scratch’ is a less happy one. I hated having someone named Bibi with all my might. And Nico… it’s true that ‘Edward’ is one of my favorite names, so it would have been hard to find one to match it, but still, Nico does not sound imposing enough (plus it’s sort of obvious it’s not his real name, and as such it sounds fake, on top of it all). Alas, I admit that these are my personal pet peeves (as it happens, in my country Nico is a girl’s name and Bibi is sort of a joke name for a boy), but they did detract from my enjoyment nonetheless.

Thoughts on the title
Love its simplicity :)

Thoughts on the ending
While in the first moment I was in two minds about the injury the author gave Nico, after I finished reading I ended up admitting it was the best choice.
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Recommend it to?
Anyone who is curious about how Jane Eyre would sound like in contemporary times. I would say this is the best Jane Eyre retelling I’ve ever read, but so far this is the only such book that has crossed my path. I’m sure however that this is one of the best adaptations out there :)

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Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

Genre: Chick-Lit
Main characters: Charlotte Constance Kinder
Time and place: an 1816-like contemporary British retreat
First sentence:No one who knew Charlotte Constance Kinder since her youth would suppose her born to be a heroine.
Verdict: Liked it better than I liked Austenland :)

Summary:
Charlotte Kinder is going through a rough patch: her husband asked for a divorce, turning her nice, ordered world upside down. She feels she needs a vacation, somewhere far away. Perhaps another era entirely. And thus she ends up in Austenland, an estate where female tourists get to live like in one of Jane Austen’s novels (complete with courtship, a ball, and a proposal at the end).

Charlotte knows that the dark, brooding man who acts attracted to her is nothing but an actor following a script. Yet he seems so mysterious… can she, should she join the game?

General impression
I have no idea why I felt it lacked depth. The characters are likable, the heroine gets to grow throughout the book, the mystery is somewhat mysterious (although the author tells us who the guilty part is even before we find out there’s been a crime). However, it felt like the quintessential three stars book: I liked it, I enjoyed reading it, but I didn’t feel there was anything in it truly memorable in any way. Sort of a shame, as I am certain I could LOVE Shannon Hale’s style1.

Setting
One of the most interesting parts in the Austenland books is Austenland itself. A large estate mimicking those of Austen’s time, Pembroke Park tries to be as faithful to the Regency era as possible. Even the served foods respect the theme, including such timeless classics as pickled quail eggs and sheep eyeballs. Nothing modern is allowed anywhere on the estate, so as not to break the illusion. Actors are hired to play maids and valets and visitors, and everyone’s speech is delightfully quaint. I almost think I would love visiting Austenland myself2.

Characters
Charlotte, our heroine, is thusly described on the very first page:

She was a practical girl from infancy, only fussing as much as was necessary and exhibiting no alarming opinions.
[...]
She was… nice. Even her closest friends, many of whom liked her a great deal, couldn’t come up with a more spectacular adjective.

She got married at twenty-three, because that’s what people do, and had two children, thinking that becoming a mother will make her feel an adult, and as such in control of her life. After a while, when she was done with what she thought was expected of her, she also turned out to be a smart business woman: she started a landscaping web site that made her & her family rich.

Unlike the usual heroines in contemporary Austen-related books, Charlotte has never read Jane Austen. She does so after her husband left her for a woman named Justice, and is glad to discover the characters feel like old friends, thawing a little of the cold desert her heart felt like ever since the betrayal. And then taking a vacation to go and live ‘the Austen life’ seemed like a logical next step :)

I have liked Charlotte quite a bit. She is indeed very nice, in an too-much-for-her-own-good kind of way, yet not unbelievably so3. She is also funny, and smart, and although for most of the book she lacks confidence in herself she is nonetheless an interesting character4.

As for the two male characters5, we have light versus darkness: there’s Eddie, a guy that I kept picturing as quite young, and blonde, although IIRC he is described otherwise, and that smiled often, showing off his dimples; and then there’s Thomas Mallery, someone who smiled all of one time throughout the whole book and who, as Charlotte’s mind puts it, has probably smoldered since birth :) (“While the other two gentlemen would look comfortable on a GQ cover, Mr. Mallery didn’t seem likely to feel comfortable anywhere–except maybe a castle on a moor.” — why yes, a sort of Darcy to the extreme :) )

As supporting cast we have the same British-wannabe Miss Charming, an old acquaintance of ours, that in this volume gets to have a back story, and depth (I loved seeing that, although the ending she got did seem a bit far-fetched), plus a down-to-Earth teenage star, that I very much liked despite thinking of her as a sort of Miley Cyrus (and I am so not a fan). And then there’s the landlady that insists on keeping up 1816′s appearances, the awkward-moving valet, and some more.

Relationships
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Plot
While seeing how the heroine managed to find a true hero in a make-believe world could have perhaps been interesting enough by itself, the author chose to add another layer to the book: true to the parallel with Northanger Abbey, Charlotte’s overactive mind busies itself with trying to find a mysterious murderer, although no body is to be found and she is not entirely sure a murder has taken place either. It’s been fun watching her explore options, and one of the things I liked about the book.

What I liked
On the topic of ‘details that I have enjoyed’, they are as follows:

1) Charlotte’s favorite Austen character is Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey, the one with the overactive imagination :) Quite a nice change from the overly-used Elizabeth Bennett, usually nominated for the honor.
2) the actor playing Eddie describes himself at one time as having read every Pratchett novel at least three times *aawwwww* :) :)

The writing feels a bit overly-simplistic at times6, while at others is very nice indeed. My favorite quote:

The kiss had shifted the whole world forty-five degrees, and she was still falling.
[...and then after a while...]
The world kept tipping, and maybe she was upside down now, blood rushing to her head, feet in the stars.

Thoughts on the title
Love it! Especially the way it implies there’s something dark going on :)

Thoughts on the ending
Nice :) :)
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Recommend it to?
Anyone who thinks they’ll enjoy a nice chick-lit book whose action takes place in an 1816-like setting :)
You don’t need to have read Austenland before this one, as the two are but loosely related.

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Companion novel:
Austenland

Written by the same author:
The Book of a Thousand Days

  1. judging from the quotes on Goodreads from her fairy tale books []
  2. although then I’d have to make do without the Internet, oh my []
  3. I am actually curious to see other reviewers’ take on this, as her niceness does go to some extreme lengths at times — however, I myself used to be that kind of people-pleaser so I for one have no trouble believing it []
  4. or at the very least I was rather curious what she will do to find the key to the mystery []
  5. another thing I liked about this book was the same ‘I wonder who will she end up with’ thrill I remember having while reading the first Austenland book, a feeling that one very rarely gets with chick-lit; or at least I have very rarely gotten []
  6. which I think is the reason I did not like the book more []

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

Genre: Chick Lit
Main characters: Poppy Wyatt, Sam Roxton
Time and place: present day London
First sentence:Perspective.
Verdict: Four and a half stars.

Summary:
Poppy Wyatt is engaged to be married and blissfully happy. Her fiance, Magnus Tavish, is “a tall, handsome university lecturer who’s written a book and even been on the TV“, could life get any better?

A few days later, while she is out celebrating with her girlfriends, disaster strikes: she loses her engagement ring. A very expensive family heirloom, that’s been in the family for three generations! To say that Poppy needs to get it back is an understatement. After searching every nook and cranny of the hotel where she lost it, she resigns and leaves her phone number to all the members of the staff, in case someone eventually finds it.

And then she goes outside and someone steals her phone.

What is she to do now? Frantic with worry and annoyance she paces the hotel floor, when… she finds a phone. Just like that, abandoned, in a bin. She takes it and re-gives the number to the hotel staff. Crisis averted. However, the phone turns out to be a company phone, belonging to the PA of the CEO, no less. And the CEO needs it back, as all his very important emails are routed through the said phone. But Poppy cannot relinquish it, what about her ring??

General impression
Yesterday I had a very long day at work (it ended past midnight). When I finally got into bed, I figured ‘hey, I’ll just read a few more pages of this book before I fall asleep’. And, tired as I was, I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. True story. And if this doesn’t show how much I enjoyed reading this book I don’t know what does.

As usual, a heartfelt thank you to NetGalley; I cannot say how happy having access to the next Kinsella book, a few weeks before release, has made me. All the more so since it turned out to be a book I liked so much.

Plot
The plot is what I come to call ‘classical Kinsella’, as it’s present in most of her books: a nice British girl gets carried away by her enthusiasm for one thing or another, and ends up really messing up her life. There’s also a guy in there somewhere, usually one she’s just met; they are brought together by strange circumstances — they are not lovers, they are not friends, and yet fate keeps bringing them together one way or another. Usually by the end she helps him with something really important. And over the course of the book their relationship develops into something more, so they end up together. The end.

Well, this may not sound like much (and pretty formulaic to boot), but the charm is in the execution. And I did like most of Ms. Kinsella’s books, so she must be doing something right :)

Back to our present novel. So Poppy loses the heirloom ring her fiance gave her, and this, in a strange turn of events, makes her cross paths with Sam. She is engaged, he’s very uncommunicative. And yet (of course!) I knew all along that they’ll end up together. What I did not know (and kept reading in order to find out) was the ‘how’. A clear case of ‘focusing on the journey rather than the destination’ :)

Characters
The characters themselves are the book’s forte, and the very reason I enjoyed the book so much.

A pleasant surprise for me was Poppy’s job, and the way she related to it. I for one love my line of work, and as such I have grown kinda tired with the usual chick lit heroines who are trapped in office jobs that they hate and sometimes they’re quite bad at. Poppy on the other hand is a physiotherapist (she had relatives in the dental field and initially had wanted to become a dentist herself, but then she thought she wouldn’t limit herself to just teeth :) ). It is obvious throughout the book that she loves her job, she does it well, and she cares for her patients’ welfare. I cannot begin to say how much I liked that.

Although I don’t think I could have resisted Poppy even without the job component. She is quirky and funny and very, very nice (sometimes she lets people step all over her because of that); she is a bit impulsive (as all the chick lit heroines, they kinda need this trait to land their troubles :) ), but not so much as to make her do really stupid things.

I also liked Sam quite a bit. He’s also a typical chick lit hero (a career guy, making good money and having a heart of gold), but there is more to him than that. I was particularly amused by his emails (“Yes. Sam”), and the way they never had a word more than they needed to. He starts out as this unfeeling guy, neglecting people at his company because he never had the time plus what did he care it was one of them’s birthday anyway? I actually like this attitude in a way: at such a big firm, he could hardly be expected to get to care about most of his colleagues, and he chose not to say things out of mere complaisance. He doesn’t actually care what most others thinks of him (a trait I have always envied :) ) and never shies away from awkward conversations. As the story enfolds we get to find out more about what he hides behind the cold facade: he’s funny, and reliable, and smart, and loyal; and he does have friends & good, healthy relationships in his life (despite what Poppy initially thought :) ).

And then there is the matter of both characters’ growth throughout the book. They start out at different ends of the spectrum (Poppy’s always wanting to please others + Sam’s being very much the opposite), and each of them gets to learn that sometimes there are cases that require a different strategy. I liked that, and I also liked the way the relationship between the two of them evolved, from distant to more and more intimate (none of that ‘love/lust at first sight’ stuff, just two people getting to know each other and liking what they discover).

What I liked

The whole getting to know each other by texting back and forth was quite a novel idea (for me at least, it is the first book I read where this element is present), and quite a well-done one too. I liked that they both felt the difference between their intimacy in writing (where they slowly became close friends) and their awkwardness in real life (where they treated each other like the random acquaintances they actually were). And I liked the way their texts changed over time, becoming warmer :)
(ah, what can I say, I am a sucker for a good relationship-developed-in-writing story :) )

Two quotes I thought were nice:
Poppy’s thoughts during a meal with her future in-laws, the ones that always intimidated her:

We’re halfway through the Bolognese, and I haven’t uttered a single word. It’s too hard. The conversation is like a juggernaut. Or maybe a symphony. Yes. And I’m the flute. And I do have a tune, and I’d quite like to play it, but there’s no conductor to bring me in. So I keep drawing breath, then chickening out.

and

It’s been quite addictive, scrolling down the endless strings of back-and-forth emails and working out the stories. Always backward. Like rewinding little spools of life.

Oh, and
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What I did not like
This is where I show off my nitpicky side.
First of all, there was the matter of the footnotes. I found them to be a cute idea (Poppy got into the habit of using footnotes after reading Magnus’ book, when she discovered they can be quite useful — “you just bung them in whenever you want and instantly look clever” :) ), and pretty well executed. But. They are a total nightmare when it comes to reading on a Kindle. I never knew where the actual footnote will end up, and I had to scroll a few pages forward looking for it, and then of course I had to go back a few pages to where I was; and then, a few lines later, another footnote, and I had to scroll again. And again, and again. Eventually I gave up and ignored the footnotes altogether, but I do feel like I missed some of the fun because of that. If you have a choice between the Kindle version and the paper, by all means do choose the latter.

However, if there is one thing I did not like about this book that is… the heroine’s name (I know, I told you I was gonna be nitpicky). But… Poppy? It seems to be a bit too childish to be taken seriously. Again, I liked the character herself quite a bit, it is the name that I am not fond of.

Thoughts on the title
Not glamorous, but it does describe the book quite well :)

Thoughts on the ending
I very much enjoyed the ending, of course.
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Recommend it to?
Anyone in the mood for a chick lit book :)

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Written by the same author:
Can You Keep a Secret? | Remember me? | Shopaholic & Baby | Twenties Girl | The Undomestic Goddess

My Unfair Godmother by Janette Rallison

Genre: Fantasy, YA
Main characters: Chrysanthemum Everstar, Tansy Miller Harris, Hudson Gardner
Time and place: mostly Sherwood Forest in the year 1199; a small Arizona town in “early twenty-first century”
First sentence:Dear Professor Goldengill,
Thank you for another opportunity to raise my semester grade with an extra-credit project.

Verdict: Four stars.

Summary:
By the time Tansy was twelve, she had worlds without number enfolded in her heart. And each one of them was built with the scaffolding of her father’s voice. She couldn’t read without hearing him narrate the story in her mind.

By the time Tansy turned thirteen, her parents got a divorce and her father moved away. Tansy, always a Daddy’s girl, feels that he has abandoned her, like she no longer mattered. When Tansy’s sister gets a part in a Broadway play, their mother has to go on tour with her, and Tansy is sent to live with her father and his new family. She still feels unimportant to him though. She starts dating a boy her Dad disapproves, just to show him that she couldn’t care less about his opinion either :)

But things go awry one evening and Tansy ends up at the police station. She tries to play tough, but she is a good girl at heart so she is easily tricked into divulging the guilt of her boyfriend and his gang. The next days are a difficult time for Tansy, who feels both hopeless and pathetic. There is a huge surprise in store for her though: her level of patheticness was so high it earned her a fairy godmother, complete with a set of three wishes to be fulfilled!

Alas, Chrysanthemum Everstar, the fairy, is but an amateur one, the kind that did not pay much attention in school. Tansy’s wishes end up taking her on a wild ride, including Robin Hood, King John, Rumpelstitskin, and… Hudson, the local police chief’s son. The only way to get back to a normal life is for Tansy to figure out the moral to her own story — will she be able to?

General impression
After reading and liking My Fair Godmother so much, it was absolutely obvious that this will be the next book I pick up. Now, however, I am not sure it was such a good idea. Thing is, I have found the first book absolutely charming not in the least because of the novelty of it all; while the wishes-gone-horribly-wrong theme is hardly novel, I do not remember when was the last time I encountered it, so I enjoyed everything and its freshness. In this context, the second book, which is based mostly on the same ideas, felt somewhat recycled and unoriginal in comparison. A pity, since it was a cute book, and I think I would have liked it a lot more had I read it first (although not as much as I liked My Fair Godmother, mind you, there are no patronizing dwarves here :) ).

Setting
The setting Tansy ends up swept in is a combination between fact and fiction: we’re talking about 1199′s England, the time of King John and Robin Hood, and somehow also the age where Rumpelstitskin made his deal with the miller’s daughter. It’s a time of fairies, and wizards (the king himself has an official one of his own), and other magical creatures; people are used to them and see nothing out of the ordinary in having them around. Rumor has it that the fairies are evil and care about their own interests alone, so mortals usually know better than to deal with them; however now and then someone is desperate enough to ask them for something, and so a new fairytale is born :)

Characters
The thing that I noticed being mentioned the most in reviews of the previous book was that people were happy that the main character doesn’t do well in school; apparently having a straight A student as a main character is somewhat of a cliche. The author must have noticed that too, so she pushes the envelope a bit farther this time: the reason Tansy does not do particularly well in school is that she wants to spite her father, who was a librarian, a book lover, and the one who taught her to enjoy books. It’s actually fun to watch Tansy trying to be a rebel, as deep down she is the goody-two-shoes type :) Luckily, shortly after the book opens, she realizes that the path she’s on leads her nowhere, so she’ll have to think of a new strategy to win her father’s heart. She doesn’t seem to have heard the song about money not being able to buy love, so that ends up being her main wish: to be able to turn everything she wants into gold. I liked the way the author has laid out Tansy’s motivations, managing to allow her to have such a wish without seeming greedy. The thing about Tansy is that, unlike Savannah (who among other things has tried to slay an ogre on her own), she is more damsel-in-distress-y, having people rescue her and take care of her more often than not. Which isn’t to say I did not like her — she’s brave, and kind, and willing to sacrifice things for what she thinks is right.

As for Hudson, I did not feel anything for him for most of the book. I actually spent about half the pages trying to put my finger on the reason why Hudson didn’t particularly work for me (unlike Tristan, whom I found interesting even at the times when I wasn’t sure whether I liked him or not). The closest I could come to an explanation is that Hudson is the distant type, and, as we see things through Tansy’s eyes, we don’t get to know enough about him to become emotionally invested in his adventures. Case in point: he becomes a lot more sympathetic near the end, as he gets closer to Tansy (and she gets to know him better). Coincidence? I think not. :)

Moving on to Chrissy, I was somewhat confused by her behaviour in this book. While in the first one she has been behaving somewhat erratically, yet managed to keep things balanced enough for me to still find her sympathetic despite her lack of logic, in this book she crosses the threshold into downright strange and sometimes silly. While the hint that she may have had a master plan all along is still there, this time I could not buy it, as things were too far out of control at times for her to pretend otherwise. At least I found amusing the way she had to get a job as a tooth fairy in order to feed her shopping addiction :)
I wonder whether there’s ever gonna be a sequel (she still hasn’t been admitted into university, so she is bound to have at least one other extra project :) ), and if so where will the story take her (and us) next.

Relationships
All I can say here is that the relationship between the two main characters started out in quite an original way :) Sure, it was somewhat obvious they will end up together ever since they first met, but the thing that actually brought them together was a complete surprise:
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Something I liked
I thought the way that Tansy was able to solve her problem with Rumpelstitskin was quite cool, in an imaginatively-plausible kind of way.
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Also, I was amused to note that this book answered one of the questions I asked in my previous review (“how do fairies decide which mortal to choose as godson or goddaughter?”). In Chrissy’s own words: “I needed an extra-credit project, and your life qualified according to the pathetic-o-meter.” :)

A quote about King John’s delight on being offered golden thread spools:

He stopped at several of the spools, admiring them like they were works of art. “Resplendent! Prodigious!”

He knelt down in front of one and stroked it. “We shall name this one Theobald, and he shall sit at the foot of our bed.”

Haverton made note of it on a scroll he carried. “I’ll have the guards take it there at once, sire.”

King John moved onto another spool, patting it lightly. “And this one we shall name Helewise because she is beauteous. Splendiferous.”

Something I did not like
There were a few things that I did not like, but all of them are rather small so mentioning them would feel like nitpicking :)

Thoughts on the title
Ah, I even liked the title of the other book better than this one’s :)
Although, to make this title justice, Chrissy does act somewhat out of whack in this book, which I imagine qualifies her for being considered “unfair”. So at least it’s an accurate title if nothing else :)

Thoughts on the ending
The ending was by far the best moment of the whole book’s. Loved it loved it loved it :)
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Recommend it to?
Anyone who wants to enjoy a light but not overly light read. This is a second book in a series, but the only connection between this and the previous book is the presence of Chrysanthemum, so you don’t need to know anything about the first book in order to enjoy this one.

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This book is a sequel to:
My Fair Godmother

My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison

Genre: Fantasy, YA
Main characters: Chrysanthemum Everstar, Savannah Delano, Tristan Hawkins
Time and place: “Herndon, Virginia, early twenty-first century”; also, a land of fairytales, called Pampovilla, in the Middle Ages
First sentence:Dear Professor Goldengill, Thank you for allowing me to raise my semester grade through this extra-credit project.
Verdict: Five stars.

Summary:
The prom is approaching and Savannah, recently dumped by her boyfriend, has no one to go with. Which is why, approached by a fairy saying she’ll grant her three wishes, Savannah thinks aloud about how nice it would be if her life would have a prince to take her to a ball, you know, just like in a fairytale.

Next thing she knows, she’s Cinderella. Eight months before the ball. And the fairy, Chrysanthemum, is nowhere to be seen.

General impression
I loved this! The writing style (I would have quoted half the book if it were possible), the ideas, the characters, the world building, everything. I would never have thought I would like so much a book about an airheaded high-schooler who doesn’t care much about books, but I did! I am so looking forward to the sequel :)

Setting
Somewhere outside our world there is a school of Fairy Godmothers, where teenage fairies are studying various topics meant to help them in their future career. The criteria that makes a fairy become a particular someone’s godmother were not expounded upon; suffice it to say that a fairy is assigned a person, and they have to grant that person three wishes (because that’s how the story goes, right?) :)
Getting to live in a world where a fairy can poof into one’s existence at any moment, offering to grant three wishes, is bound to lead to some interesting adventures — as is the case with this book. Now, while fairies (and leprechauns, and computer gremlins) do exist and take their Godmothering responsibilities very seriously, their assignments are spread around in time and space, so very few people know about them at a given moment.

This is the case in Pampovilla too, actually. While there is plenty of magic there, complete with knights and ogres and dragons to be vanquished, most of the atmosphere is classical Middle Age-y, with folks going around their business, most of them knowing about the magic and the likes from stories only, not having direct contact with it. This made the characters transition from their own world to Pampovilla as seamless as possible in the circumstances, especially as even Savannah knew enough about the fairytales she found herself in to know what to expect.

Characters
The main reason I liked this book so much are the characters, whom I found likable and relatable, despite the difference in age and, well, everything else.

The book starts out focusing on Jane, the straight A student and the serious one (“The way the teachers loved her, they could have erected a statue in her honor. They would entitle it The Student the Rest of You Should Have Been“). And also, as was somewhat to be expected, the one in love with a guy that doesn’t even know she exists.

And then the POV switches to Savannah, the beautiful, airheaded sister, the one who thinks high school exists merely as an opportunity to socialize, preferably with cute guys. I did not know what to make of her at first but, somewhat to my surprise, she turned out to be a very likable character. I was happy to see that, despite her lack of interest in school-related stuff, Savannah never acts dumb, or ditsy. She is smart, brave, kind, and never takes the easiest way out just because it’s the easiest; she always tries to do the right thing, and I can never resist that :)

The fun part is that the fair godmother, Chrisantemum (Chrissy from now on), is very much of a teenage girl herself: good looking, loves flirting and pretty clothes, and is able to spend countless hours shopping at the mall with her friends. Alas, these activities keep her too occupied to actually pay attention to her charge, which is how Savannah ends up in all sorts of situations in the first place. Chrissy is, in a way, too much of a teenager for my taste, and, while it was fun meeting her and all, I am not sure I would have liked interacting with her for a longer period of time (alas, I may be too old and grumpy to get her). To be fair, her lack of patience regarding other people may be related less with her being a teenager and more with her being a fairy, and as such thinking herself way above humans (her paper about her assignment is named “How I Used Magic to Grant Wishes, Make Mortals Happy, and Rescue Them from Their Dreary Lives” :) ). However, when all is said and done I cannot say I did not like her; quite the opposite actually, I am looking forward to reading the next book she stars in.

As for Tristan, I think it was a very good idea to have him spend a few months in the Middle Ages before meeting the narrator/reader again. He must have taken it quite hard at first, but after a while he ends up adjusting very well to the day and age he finds himself in. I very much liked his resourcefulness, how he managed to find a way to earn his bread (by telling stories — according to him people turned out to be great fans of Battlestar Galactica :) ), and how he has formulated a plan to get out of his predicament. A difficult plan too, but he doesn’t waste any time complaining about what he cannot change, he just does his best with whatever tools he has at hand. And to think that in his own land he was a rather shy teenager :)

Relationships
The book starts out in Jane’s POV, so we get to see the way her relationship with her sister’s then boyfriend has begun and evolved from a sympathetic standpoint. Which was quite a nice touch, in my opinion. Jane’s situation is not easy, but she is indeed a far better match for the guy she’s been interested in all year (far before he met her sister) than Savannah is. And deep, deep down Savannah herself knows it, although she is disappointed and heartbroken and lacking a date to the most important social event in the near future. I liked the relationship between the two sisters, although it’s not much dwelt upon. I liked how each of them cared and worried for the other, despite there being a world of difference between them and despite the recent event that has pushed them apart.

As for Savannah and the guy she’ll end up with (I’m not saying who that is :) ), I liked the way their relationship develops. Sure, he has been interested in her all along, and yet she never noticed him until very recently. Drawn to him by a sense of duty, little by little she starts noticing him as a person, the way he looks, the jokes he makes, the way he acts. Just the kind of relationship I like seeing in books :)

Plot
About a decade ago there was a movie called Bedazzled, with Brendan Fraser starring as a guy who’s granted seven wishes by the devil. However, each and every time he makes a wish, the devil (Elizabeth Hurley) takes it literally, making each wish’s fulfillment something to get rid of rather than something good. It’s one of my favorite comedies, and it is the one this book reminded me of over and over again. :)

What I liked
My favorite part was when Savannah found herself in the middle of Snow White story, and everyone was treating her condescendingly because it seems that the original Snow White wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Apparently, she is the one who has nicknamed the seven dwarves Grumpy and Doc and Dopey and the rest, because she couldn’t keep track of their actual names.
On the whole I found the dwarves’ reactions to her to be laugh-out-loud funny, and I am really sorry I cannot quote that whole part here :) They are all quite fond of her, and try to humor her as much as possible (e.g. they all still wear the misshapen caps Snow White has made them when she learned to knit), and yet somehow that always turns out to be quite hard to do (even now, as Savannah has replaced Snow White, because although she is smart enough she still knows too little about the new environment to act like a person who truly belongs).

I cannot help but quoting a part, although I am not sure how much it works outside context:

[...] I thought of the perfect way to learn the dwarfs’ names. I’d just call out a name and see which
dwarf answered me. It would be easy. Ha — and they thought I wasn’t smart.
“Dopey?” I asked.
“Of course you’re not,” the one in the brown cap said. “You’re just not used to cooking yet.” He went to the cupboard, took out a stack of bowls and spoons, and handed them out.
A dwarf in a blue cap went to the soup pot and stirred it. He kept poking the spoon through it as though
searching for something, then sighed, disappointed.
“Well, bring over your bowls and we’ll say grace.”
The gray-capped dwarf looked into the pot. “Aye, it needs praying.”
“Sleepy?” I called out.
“I am now,” the gray-capped dwarf said. “Think I’ll turn in for the night instead of eating.”
I tried one more time, searching the dwarfs’ faces.
“Doc?”
“Don’t be a pessimist,” The brown-capped dwarf said and handed me a bowl. “No one’s gotten sick from eat-
ing your food for days now.”

Fun bits aside, I liked how the author has managed to strike a balance between a clear, readable writing style and beautiful prose. Consider this quote for example:

Guys can smell desperation. It triggers an instinct in them to run far and fast so they aren’t around when a woman starts peeling apart her heart. They know she’ll ask for help in putting it back together the right way — intact and beating correctly — and they dread the thought of puzzling over layers that they can’t understand, let alone rebuild. They’d rather just not get blood on their hands. But sharks are different. They smell the blood of desperation and circle in. They whisper into a girl’s ear, “I’ll make it better. I’ll make you forget all about your pain.” Sharks do this by eating your heart, but they never mention this beforehand. That is the thing about sharks.

It makes me want to go out and find some other book of the author’s, to get to enjoy her writing some more.

What I did not like
Five stars = there’s nothing I want to complain about, I have liked everything well enough.
Which is definitely the case here. :)

Thoughts on the title
The title is the thing that has first piqued my interest in this book. Its explanation is funny in itself: Chrissy is a fair godmother because her grades are only fair, not good. And, according to Savannah, it shows :)

Thoughts on the ending
I cannot help but wonder whether Chrissy knew all along how things will eventually unfold (that everything will end well and everyone will benefit from the experience) or she was just lucky enough to have things work out in the end. I am leaning towards the former, although Chrissy does seem enough of an airhead most of the time to make the latter very plausible too.

The moral of the story is “nothing worth having comes easy”; in Chrissy’s own words:

“Did you think wishes were like kittens, that all they were going to do was purr and cuddle with you?” She shook her head benevolently. “Those type of wishes have no power. The only wishes that will ever change you are the kind that may, at any moment, eat you whole.But in the end, they are the only wishes that matter.”

Recommend it to?
Anyone who doesn’t really and truly hate YA. And who knows, you might like it even so (I myself am not crazy about some of today’s YA tropes, and this book managed to steer clear of all of them; and did I mention it’s fun? :) )

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk

Part of the same series:
My Unfair Godmother

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Genre: Young Adult
Main characters: Adam Wilde, Mia Hall
Time and place: New York, 2011
First sentence:Every morning I wake up and I tell myself this: It’s just one day, one twenty-four-hour period to get yourself through.
Verdict: Three point five stars out of five.

Summary:

Up onstage, in front of eighteen thousand fans, alongside the people who, once upon a time, were part of my family, I felt as alone as I do in [the recording] booth.

It’s been three years since Mia’s accident, two and a half since she has gone off to Juilliard and away from everything in her previous life. So many months that Adam has spent wondering why she has left him without a word, without ever coming back. He’s now a famous rock star, with an even more famous girlfriend, but he feels that his life is getting out of hand. He cannot stand his current band members, he has no patience for the press, and the mere thought of the tour that’s about to begin tires him to no end.

So, this is how it’s become? This is what I’ve become? A walking contradiction? I’m surrounded by people and feel alone. I claim to crave a bit of normalcy but now that I have some, it’s like I don’t know what to do with it, don’t know how to be a normal person anymore.

And then one evening, his last one in the States, he accidentally wanders near Carnegie Hall. There is a concert there, Mia Hall’s. And he cannot resist the temptation of seeing her again, after all this time…

General impression
I’ve read this one in a single sitting too :) That is how impatient I was to see how the book will end. Other than that though I was somewhat disappointed by it. Not that it’s a bad book, it’s quite a good one; my expectations were just so very high. It’s written in the same style as If I Stay (present day scenes alternating remembered ones), it still had an emotional impact on me, and yet… something I cannot pinpoint felt a bit off. Perhaps because I could no longer ‘get’ the characters as perfectly as I could in the first book? Perhaps because every single thing that made the first book stand out for me is now gone?

Characters
In the first book both Adam and Mia were like two innocent children, and it was one of the things I have liked most about them; now that innocence is gone, at least in Adam’s case (the story is narrated by him, so we have lots more details about his past life than Mia’s). Sure, his past years have been rather tame for a rock star, and he does a good job of explaining away all his mistakes — when all is said and done he’s still a decent human being, perhaps even a better one after all his challenges. I very much admired the way he’s been by Mia’s side during her recovery months. I cannot say I did not like him anymore, because he is still likable, and yet there was something missing compared to the previous book. Or maybe it just was a bit harder to have a famous rock star as a hero than an ordinary one (the more things in common I have with a character, the deeper I get into the story, I guess).

In a way I had the same problem — too few things in common — with Mia. She has obviously changed, which is very understandable given that she’s been through a lot. She is now a mystery to Adam (at least in part), and, given that the POV is his, she is somewhat a mystery to the reader too. I liked her still, for old times’ sake; I wonder how I would have felt about her had this been the first time we met.

One thing I did like is the way the author has chosen to depict Bryn, Adam’s current girlfriend. She is flawed, but a decent human being overall (usually in these cases the other woman is a harpy of sorts, and I was glad the author has stayed away from the cliche).
show spoiler

Relationships
Like in the characters’ case, the relationship between Adam and Mia has been almost a disappointment. Not ’cause it was badly written (it wasn’t), but because it lacked the real-world-relationship feeling it had in the first book. In this one their past, everything Adam remembers, seems a tad too perfect. I am the first one to be saddened about the comparison; normally I am a sucker for perfect relationships, but the one depicted in ‘If I Stay’ felt real, felt worth the effort A & M put into it, and in contrast the perfect one felt too easy, and as such less.

Plot
Over and over while reading I was reminded of Before Sunrise. Boy meets girl, a chance encounter. They cannot bear to part, so they roam the streets of the city, officially for sightseeing’s sake, but in reality all they see is each other. Just like in the movie, Adam and Mia have to leave for different horizons in a few short hours. A relationship between them seems impossible now… and yet, what if it isn’t so? As previously stated I couldn’t put the book down :) All signs were pointing towards them saying goodbye to one another, having had closure and explanations, and all that. It would have been a very plausible ending… and yet I kept reading one page after another, well into the early hours, hoping that eventually they’ll realize what each of them has in the other, while at the same time fearing they will part ways.

Thoughts on the title
Complex :)
My issue with it is that the first book was titled ‘If I Stay’. Mia chose to stay, so Mia did not go anywhere (she remained on this plane of existence I mean) — so why does this title imply that she has chosen to go, instead of staying?

Thoughts on the ending
show spoiler

What I liked most
One thing I was glad to notice is the fame component of Adam’s life. I don’t know why it appealed to me so much, the fact that when he walked through the streets, his head filled with his thoughts and troubles, he also had to be wary of people recognizing him. May be because I find rather cool the idea of a chance encounter with a celebrity, on a subway or anywhere else. Or maybe I just like the consistency of it, the fact that the author always remembered to take into account the fact that her main character was famous & recognizable :)

The inclusion of lyrics from the album Adam has written when dealing with his grief, the album that has propelled the band to fame, was also a nice touch. I loved the way everything is rather abstract, filled with metaphors that take on new meanings when one knows what the story behind the words is.

My favorite:

There’s a piece of lead where my heart should beat
Doctor said too dangerous to take out
You’d better just leave it be
Body grew back around it, a miracle, praise be
Now, if only I could get through airport security

What I liked least
The vague supernatural element introduced. Sure, I was expecting Mia to remember the time she spent in a coma; her being able to have her parents around her at all times was a bit stretching it, but an okay way for her to keep on living without them I guess. However anything other than these two (such as the hint of memories Mia had from years before she was born) could have been very well skipped.

Recommend it to?
Anyone who read the first book and is curious what happens next :)

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This book is a sequel to:
If I Stay

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Genre: Chick lit
Main characters: Jane Hayes/Erstwhile
Time and place: about 2007 I would guess; most of the action takes place in Pembrook Park, Kent, England
First sentence: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her.

Summary: Jane Hayes is a young woman with a career in graphic design and a disastrous love life. The latter is, in no small part, caused by her obsession with the books and times of Jane Austen and, most of all, with Mr. Darcy. When her great-aunt Carolyn finds out about Jane’s problem, she sends her to a sort of Austen camp: an estate in England where everyone acts like the year is 1816 and actors are paid to help the guests having an experience as immersive as possible, including gentlemen suitors set on declaring their unending and irrepressible love (as in all Austen novels). Eventually, Jane decides to go, in hopes that the experience will help her set her illusions aside forever. And yet once there she discovers that keeping track of what is real and what is not it’s a bit harder than she has previously thought.

I liked the way Jane grows and develops throughout the book. She is aware that her intensity and her expectations are a roadblock in her path to happiness, and all the time while at Pembrook she is doing her best to play along and, at the same time, reinvent herself. Day by day she discovers that, after all, she could very well enjoy the trip as well as the destination, and that a relationship can be savoured even if a wedding does not appear on the horizon. Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of harmless flirting now and then. Jane does change after her stint in Austenland show spoiler

The writing style is casual and enjoyable, sprinkled with funny bits that made me smile (such as “She thought she should say something witty here. She said, “Really?” “), and some pretty intense moments too (“[He] smiled in his way, the way that made her stare back and wish she could breathe.“). I couldn’t help but very much admire the diligence of the author when she created the characters’ Pembrook lines, because a good chunk of the book is written in Austen-like style, and, at least for a profane like me, it sounded quite close to the original.

Speaking of which, another thing that mightily amused me throughout the book was imagining what I myself would have done in such a setting, being forced to talk in such a style. Each time I ended up being very much impressed with the way the author has chosen to have Jane and the rest of the cast go back and forth between conversational tones: everyone is doing their best to act as 1816 as possible in order not to ruin the Experience for everyone else, and yet their true upbringing and habits do slip through the pretense now and then (making it all the more real because I really wouldn’t have believed a complete change from one way of talking to another can be achieved on such a short notice).

What I liked most: The fact that the ending is not obvious until the last few pages. Or at least it wasn’t for me. Oh, and the whole idea of an Austen-esque estate making guests feel like they went back in time is pretty cool too.

What I liked least: Chick lit, easy reading, nothing to take seriously…what’s there not to like? :)

Recommend it to? Since it’s a chick lit book I obviously recommend it to chick lit fans. Nevertheless I do encourage anyone (especially if they have a penchant for Mr. Darcy) to at least see what it’s about. It’s not perfect but if you’re in the mood for something light it might be just the thing :)

Companion novel:
Midnight in Austenland

Written by the same author:
The Book of a Thousand Days

Message in a Bottle / Nicholas Sparks

Genre:fiction, romance, contemporary
Main characters:Theresa Osborne, Garrett Blake
Summary:That morning on the beach where Theresa, a divorced mother of one, went jogging seemed ordinary enough. When she found a bottle washed by the sea on the shore little did she know that it was going to change her life. The bottle contained a love letter, from a certain Garrett to his beloved Catherine. The beauty of the writing was rather intriguing, especially after Theresa managed to track down another two letters written by the same author. The next obvious step just had to be her finding the guy and going to see him, to get to know the man capable of writing such beautiful love letters. Predictable enough the two hit it off and start a relationship, a very special one to them both. But each of them is hiding a secret and unfortunately it takes them a little too long to realize just how important each of them is for the other.

Though I don’t actually like the name Theresa, I must say I liked the character. Both of them actually. They were both rather endearing getting closer and closer to each other despite the distance that separated them. I must say though that I only partially understood the fight going on inside Garrett, between letting himself love again and his keeping true to his dead wife’s memory. I mean I can understand the guilt and the anguish (probably only partially though as luckily I’ve never been through a similar situation) but I must say I hated those dreams he had about Catherine.

Oh, and of course I couldn’t believe the ending, I almost hoped against hope there was all a mistake and that all was going to end well. Unfortunately it didn’t. Such a pity for such wonderful feelings to go to waste.

Written by the same author:
The Lucky One