Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bookish Secret Santa



Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday but despite that, this was my first year participating in a Secret Santa blogger gift exchange.  The lovely Michelle from The True Book Addict posted on Facebook that she was organizing the event and I just had to get in on the fun. 

I was thrilled and excited to receive my Secret Santa package last weekend. 





Traditional Christmas candy, yum!  What could be in the packages?




A new Sarah Jio book!  Squeee!   A pretty little notepad to hold my (crazy) thoughts and ideas!

Thank you to my Secret Santa, Kristen of We Be Reading - - she did a fantastic job and her gift definitely got me into the Christmas spirit.

Thank you, Michelle, for organizing the Secret Santa gift exchange - - I will most definitely be participating again next year!

Readers, do you participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange?  If so, what's the best or most unusual gift you've been given? 



Sunday, December 14, 2014

JANE AUSTEN'S FIRST LOVE by Syrie James



DescriptionIn the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy, and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honor of her brother's engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door—the wealthy, worldly, and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realizes that there are obstacles—social, financial, and otherwise—blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.
 
Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned. 




My Thoughts on Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James

One of the greatest tragedies in classic literature, in my opinion, is that Jane Austen died young, leaving us with only six pieces of work.  Brilliant pieces but only six.  Author Syrie James has given us Janeites a real gift in conceiving a novel imagining a fifteen year old Jane Austen's first love and how it shaped her as the future novelist the world would come to know and adore.

I am not wholly an Austen purist; I appreciate and enjoy a variety of Austen and Austen inspired variations but I am picky.  I accept creative license with "our Jane" but within reason - - I still want Jane to be Jane.  Jane Austen's First Love checked all the boxes with me and then some.

To put it plainly, I loved this book.  I read it in one sitting, quite an accomplishment for someone who works full-time outside the home, with a variety of outside activities, including writing, and with a touchy back and neck that often makes sitting for long periods difficult.   I simply could not put this book down.  I was enraptured from the first sentence, desperate to know about this first love of Jane's, feeling her heartache and emotions and falling in love with the feisty character of Jane as well. 

Having the viewpoint be from a teenaged Jane was inspired.  Many fictionalized accounts of Jane's life place her as either a young adult or toward the end of her life.  Seeing an adolescent Jane, with her personality developing into many of the characteristics the author Jane Austen would be noted for, was rewarding and oh so enriching.  I was particularly fond of seeing small flashes of strength, willfulness and wit that would become fully developed in the adult Jane. 

Jane's relationship with her sister Cassandra was showcased to perfection.  The sisters' clear love and joy with the other was heartwarming - - they were confidantes and seeking counsel from the other from early on.   While their personalities were different, they were a perfect offset to the other.   Cassandra was clearly Jane's biggest supporter.

As to the other characters, and there were many in Jane Austen's First Love, Ms. James penned them vividly.   From the Austen parents and siblings to the families of the Knights, Bridges and Paylers, these wonderful people came alive through Ms. James' talented hand.  Turning the pages, I could distinctly visualize the haughty Fanny, competitive Elizabeth and their snobbish mother Lady Bridges; the sweet natured mediator Sophia and the sickly Marianne; their genial father Lord Bridges and Mr. Lewis Cage and Mr. William Deedes.  Not given short shrift are the amazing estates - - Godmersham Park, Goodnestone Park and Bifrons, the home of Edward Taylor.

Ah, Edward Taylor.  Is it wrong that I fell in love with this young man that so enchanted Jane Austen in this telling?  (Don't answer that.)  Mr. Taylor seems to be the best combination of Jane's future literary heroes, complete with their strengths and foibles, bringing out Jane's own prejudices and first impressions.  Sound familiar?   He matched Jane wit for wit and adventure for adventure.  Even knowing how the story must ultimately end, my heart was hurting for these two, wanting so desperately for them to end up together.  

Jane Austen's First Love is full of romance, not just that between Jane and Edward.  We are given an entertaining glance as to the seeds of not only Pride and Prejudice but also Emma and Mansfield Park and this glance is richly gratifying.  Picking up on these ciphers made an already jubilant read an outright blissful one.

Already a fan of Syrie James and her earlier works, and having had the great pleasure of meeting her, Jane Austen's First Love only cements my opinion of her as one of the very best historical fiction writers today and one of a small and elite group of  Jane Austen successors.   Having her Author Afterward detailing how the idea for this book was brought to fruition and the immense amount of research she conducted, using real people and events, was a parting gift at the end of this work.  

Thank you, Syrie James, for this enchanting, sweet and lovely book - - one that has earned a permanent place in my home library and easily one of the very best books I have read this year.  Thank you too to Laurel Ann Nattress for encouraging the author to write this charming story.  Your dedication is well deserved.

Jane Austen's First Love is a delightful tale, not to be missed by fans of Ms. Austen, Ms. James or any reader who appreciates historical fiction of the highest caliber.  I wholeheartedly and highly recommend it. 

So readers, tell me . . . what story of Jane Austen's (based on her life or on her work) would you like to see published next? 

I'd like to hear your thoughts - - plus commenting on my question enters you for the FANTASTIC giveaway below!

Amazon

Author Website

Author Facebook Page

Author Twitter Page    



FTC Disclosure: The review copy of this book was provided by Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose for the book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.  In no way did the provision of the book affect the outcome of my review.  




  
Grand Giveaway Contest
 
Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages
 
To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen's First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

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

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

LOST IN AUSTEN (2008): A Movie Review



Movie Description:    Amanda Price is sick of the modern world. She yearns for the romance and elegance found in the books by her favorite author, Jane Austen. But she's about to get a rude awakening as one fateful evening, she is propelled into the scheming 19th century world of Pride and Prejudice while that book's Elizabeth Bennet is hurled into hers. As the book's familiar plot unfolds, Amanda triggers new romantic twists and turns within the Bennet family circle as she clumsily tries to help the sisters nab husbands and even captivates the tantalizing Mr. Darcy herself. But what about Elizabeth...and what will become of one of the world's greatest love stories?





My Thoughts on Lost in Austen

I want to love this movie.  I mean really love and flat out adore this movie.  It has Jane Austen, it has Pride and Prejudice, it has Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy and it has a modern girl transporting back to Regency England and into that amazing book.  Can't go wrong, correct?  Unfortunately, no.

Let's start with the good.  The concept is gold.  If you're a Janeite (like me), devoted to Pride and Prejudice (like me) and feel that Mr. Darcy is the greatest romantic character in literature (like me) you have fantasized about saying "screw it" to this modern world and waking up in Regency England to being Elizabeth Bennet and being courted by Mr. Darcy (like me).  So Lost in Austen is already ahead of the game because those bases are covered.   Amanda Price doesn't wake up in Regency England but rather finds a portal in her London flat that transports her to Longbourne, the Bennet home, while bringing Elizabeth to modern day London.  So far, so good.  Amanda escapes her apparent lackluster job and completely unromantic boyfriend (who drunkenly proposes to her with the tab from a beer can, ugh!) to stay with the Bennet family.

And this is the best part of the miniseries.  The crazy Bennet family and Amanda's culture shock over not only daily life during the Regency period but that this fictional family is apparently real.  This is also one of the biggest failures of the series but more on that later.

Mr. Bennet, true to form, keeps to himself in his study, reading his books and shutting out his shrill and melodramatic wife.  Mrs. Bennet and her ever-present nerves spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about what will become of her and her daughters should her daughters not marry well.  Jane, the eldest Bennet daughter, is sweet and accommodating while Lizzy is more adventurous although we don't really get to know Lizzy very well since she is in Amanda's modern day London while Amanda is at Longbourne.  Mary is serious and studious, although a bit more lighthearted here than ever before.  Kitty and Lydia are silly and precocious.  All of that is well and good.

We, the viewers, expect that Amanda will find the reality quite different from the book.  And yes, we even expect for her to throw a wrench into Ms. Austen's beloved tale.  I did enjoy Amanda's confusion at what constituted a grand dinner at Netherfield as well as the primitive instruments used to brush teeth.  But overall I was disappointed and flat out angry with the character of Amanda.

She claims to have been a fan of Austen's and Pride and Prejudice from the age of thirteen and that she has longed for Mr. Darcy for thirteen years.  Given that, wouldn't you think that she would know how to conduct herself accordingly for the Regency times?  Yes, we can allow the initial culture shock and that she's not dreaming or on a reality show with hidden cameras.  Once she realizes that she is indeed within this story, wouldn't she realize that addressing persons by their Christian names is not allowed?  When she addresses Caroline Bingley by "Caroline", I cringe, or Charlotte Lucas upon first meeting as "Charlotte."  It simply was not done during that time and Amanda should have known that.  Additionally, allowing her hair to be down made me stabby.  There is no way any of the Bennet women, most especially Mrs. Bennet and Jane - - the model of propriety - - would have allowed Amanda to walk around with her hair loose. 

As mentioned above, Amanda not only throws a wrench into the general plot of Pride and Prejudice, she turns it on its ear.  Parts are humorous and downright funny but others are painful.  I am not an Austen purist, I enjoy variations of all types, but certain liberties were taken with some of the characters that changed not only the overall story but the characters themselves.  In that regard, I suppose I am a purist and I thoroughly disliked what was done.

Amanda was a troublesome heroine for me.  On the one hand, I liked her.  I liked her at the start of the movie and felt for her when she merely wanted to read her book and her boyfriend had other ideas.  I liked and empathized with her confusion over finding Lizzy Bennet in her bathroom and then meeting all of these fictional characters come to life.  But she lost me when she became borderline unhinged and began acting out and doing things that simply were not done in Pride and Prejudice.   She did continue to try and correct where the plotline went off the rails but her corrections oftentimes led to further (and worse) disasters and that led me to a gradual dislike of her. 

The actress playing Amanda did a fine job, as did the others.  The acting wasn't an issue, nor were the locations and sets.  I have read online distaste for Elliot Cowan as Mr. Darcy but I have to say that I found him rather amusing and fairly well cast.  He fit the shoe, so to speak, looks-wise and he certainly nailed Mr. Darcy's haughty command and personality.  Perhaps the haughtiness continued too long but that may have been more an issue with the script than with Mr. Cowan's portrayal. 

Speaking of Mr. Darcy, while I had no issues with how he was played, I did take serious issue with the notion that he would ever develop feelings for Amanda.  Like ever.  In a million years.  Nevermind that Amanda was completely disgraceful by Regency standards, she was rude and crass and that Mr. Darcy at one point told her he was repulsed by her.  This, by the way, is likely exactly how Mr. Darcy would feel but as a gentleman, he would never make such a comment aloud to her.  It is beyond farfetched to think that within a few days of making that un-Darcy like statement to her, he would then be professing his love.  Just . . . no.  

The most egregious error on the part of Lost in Austen was that Lizzy - - Lizzy - - became a secondary and supporting character.  For me, Lizzy was the heart and soul behind Pride and Prejudice and for this production to relegate her to basic cameos is downright sinful.  I expect they hoped the viewers would attach themselves to Amanda and root for her but it simply did not happen here. 

Lost in Austen is most definitely not for the Austen purist who will likely be horrified over what has been done to their beloved characters.  It is a somewhat entertaining romp through Regency England for a rainy afternoon and one not to be taken seriously.  I have seen it a few times and certain aspects do have charm upon repeated viewings. 

Amazon

FTC Disclosure: This movie is from my own personal collection and was purchased by me. I was neither paid nor compensated (ha ha) for this review.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Audiobook Review: STORIES I ONLY TELL MY FRIENDS: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Rob Lowe




Description:   A wryly funny and surprisingly moving account of an extraordinary life lived almost entirely in the public eye.

A teen idol at 15, an international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at 20, and one of Hollywood's top stars to this day, Rob Lowe chronicles his experiences as a painfully misunderstood child actor in Ohio who was uprooted to the wild counterculture of mid-70s Malibu, where he embarked on his unrelenting pursuit of a career in Hollywood.

The Outsiders placed Lowe at the birth of the modern youth movement in the entertainment industry. During his time on The West Wing, he witnessed the surreal nexus of show business and politics, both on the set and in the actual White House. And in between are deft and humorous stories of the wild excesses that marked the 80s, leading to his quest for family and sobriety.

Never mean-spirited or salacious, Lowe delivers unexpected glimpses into his successes, disappointments, relationships, and one-of-a-kind encounters with people who shaped our world over the last 25 years. These stories are as entertaining as they are unforgettable.







My Thoughts on Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

As a teen of the 80s, I was superficially familiar with Rob Lowe, the actor.  I knew him as Billy from St. Elmo's Fire, Sodapop from The Outsiders and a handful of other roles.  I knew him as the one-time boyfriend of Melissa Gilbert and Princess Stephanie of Monaco.  Who could forget the details of his sexcapades during the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta?  Not this former Atlanta resident.  I wasn't a fan but I wasn't opposed to him either.  He was just another Hollywood actor in my book, albeit a stunningly good looking one. 

I purchased this audiobook for a road trip, thinking it would be entertaining and likely a piece of fluff.  Imagine my surprise when after listening to this audiobook, not only do I consider myself a fan of Mr. Lowe's but I can also add "author" to my mental description of him.

Put aside all of your previous opinions of this former (and, honestly, still) pretty boy and read or listen to this book.  It's worth every moment.  Mr. Lowe gives a painfully honest account of his background, from his family to his rise in Hollywood to his days of being in the Brat Pack.  He is never mean, he doesn't throw anyone under the proverbial bus but he also doesn't mince words or spare details. 

He speaks openly about his dysfunctional early family life and his mother's myriad of quests for living all naturally (to the point of hysteria) and dealings with depression.   He talks of knowing from a very early age that he wanted to be an actor, but having a strong attraction to politics, and of arriving in Malibu and being an outcast for years.  Unlike today, back in the 1970s it was not cool to be an actor.  Even friends, and future thespians, Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen and the Penn brothers, were not necessarily the popular kids.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Lowe's recounting of Malibu and Hollywood in the 1970s - - how fascinating was it to hear that he was present at one of very early shoots on the then unknown Star Wars?  That Charlie Sheen's first love wasn't acting but baseball and that he hoped to be drafted and play major league ball?  And that Mr. Lowe himself had already decided to throw in the towel on his minor career and attend college when he was cast in The Outsiders

Did anyone know that Mr. Lowe and John F. Kennedy, Jr. had met and spoken about John's decision on marrying?  I certainly did not although Mr. Lowe begins his book with a recounting of meeting the one person he was most excited and humbled to meet - - yes, John F. Kennedy, Jr.  In Mr. Lowe's retelling, Kennedy is a down to earth, all around nice guy who loved the sneak peek he was given of The West Wing and demanded that Rob Lowe, and Rob Lowe alone, be given the cover of his new magazine George.  It is somehow shocking to know that Mr. Lowe was doing the same as the rest of the nation back in July of 1999 . . . waiting to hear news on the plane crash and being shocked and saddened over the loss.

Serious Rob Lowe fans may already know this but Rob Lowe has lived a heck of a life so far.  He has met scads of famous people, from trying to meet Telly Savalas (unsuccessfully) as a child in Ohio to getting future career advice from Liza Minnelli to the pre-career and teenage Darryl Hannah to the aforementioned Princess Stephanie of Monaco (whose lifestyle will make you scratch your head in wonder.) Despite the many connections, the women, the alcoholism and career success, Mr. Lowe manages to come across unscathed.  He's your next door neighbor, the father of a child in Little League, someone who is incredibly humbled by the good fortune bestowed upon him and who ultimately holds himself to a high standard.    Surely I wasn't the only one feeling triumphant over his comeback with The West Wing.    

Perhaps this is the most surprising part of Stories I Only Tell My Friends. . . Rob Lowe can write.  No, really.  He is as blessed with the pen as he is with looks.  From the first chapter, his prose draws the listener/reader in, inviting you into his world and his story.  Listening to the audio version of this book versus reading it, I was privileged to hear his own voice and his incredible impersonations.  He is a gifted narrator, from the pleasantness of his voice to verbal inflections.  His impersonation of Tom Cruise had me giggling in the car.

There was one thing I didn't like about Stories I Only Tell My Friends and that was the book had to end.  It was so good and so enjoyable I did not want to part company with Mr. Lowe.   The upside is that he has generously written a follow up memoir, one I will be picking up to savor.

I would not hesitate to recommend Stories I Only Tell My Friends.  It's the perfect celebrity memoir -  interesting, fun and dishy without being catty or cruel. 

Amazon

Audible

Author Website

Twitter

FTC Disclosure: This audiobook is from my own personal collection and was purchased by me. I was neither paid nor compensated for this review. You're welcome. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Giveaway Winner: MY SISTER'S GRAVE



The lucky winner of a copy of My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni is . . .


Jennifer Ricketts


Congratulations, Jennifer!  I hope you enjoy your new book.  I will be emailing you directly to get your mailing address for your new goodie.

A big THANK YOU to all who visited Psychotic State Book Reviews and entered this giveaway.  I appreciate each and every one of you taking the time to visit and to post your entries. I hope you will stick around for future reviews, giveaways and interviews. 



Thank you to TLC Book Tours for making this giveaway possible.