Book Review: “Anna and the French Kiss” by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins 9754815

Publisher: Speak 
Published: August 2011
Genre: young adult, romance, travel
ISBN: 9780142419403
Goodreads: 4.16
Rating: ★★★★★

Anna is happy in Atlanta. She has a loyal best friend and a crush on her coworker at the movie theater, who is just starting to return her affection. So she’s less than thrilled when her father decides to send her to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year. But despite not speaking a word of French, Anna meets some cool new people, including the handsome Étienne St. Clair, who quickly becomes her best friend. Unfortunately, he’s taken —and Anna might be, too.

It’s not that Anna’s unhappy to be in Paris. She’s upset her parents didn’t give her a choice to go to boarding school, to leave her best friend and work crush. Besides, she can’t even speak French. But as the days pass, Anna begins to make friends, and rather rapidly becomes close with Étienne St. Clair, resident Beautiful Guy. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t stop her growing affections, even though she knows he’s not available at all.

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This book is so stinkin’ cute. I couldn’t stop giggling, I struggled to repress any squeals of giddiness, and I simply struggled to put this down. It’s adorable. It’s honest. Truly, think back on high school relationships (heck, even adult ones are like this!) when you were confused but excited — he likes me…he likes me not — about your crush. Tack on the fact he’s unavailable, your determination to keep this great friendship intact despite your awkwardness and feelings of blatant attraction, and you’ve got this book. Yes, it’s about a girl who studies abroad, who learns French, who goes to the cinema to watch and critique films for her blog, who obsessively cleans and straightens her surroundings, and who comes to terms with her father’s growing collection of cliché cancer romance books. But all of this is background to the actual story: her crush on St. Clair.

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His character is wonderful. He’s American by birth, but his British accent and impeccable French confuse Anna at first. He’s not your usual tall-and-gorgeous male lead. St. Clair likens himself to Napoleon Bonaparte, because he too is rather short, with crooked teeth and unkempt hair. He’s friendly with everyone, charming, intelligent, and artistic. Whether he’s being a friend, an almost-boyfriend, or boyfriend, St. Clair is remarkably observant and immensely loyal. I loved the moments when his British slang slipped out, and experiencing those cultural differences all over again was so much fun.

St. Clair and Anna quickly become best friends. They’re lab partners, they share stories, they go to the movies together, he helps her order food in French, he gives her tours of the city, she helps him deal with his mother’s illness, she aids in confronting his controlling father — and everything about their relationship is filled with tension and mixed signals. Does he like her? Does he know she likes him? Why did he do this, say that? And why is Ellie still in the picture when it’s so very clear to the both of them that they’re more than friends?

Oh my gosh. Anna’s basically my brain. Any girl’s brain. From the overanalyzing minute details, to basking in the absolute thrill of being the object of a guy’s affections for the briefest space of time, Anna and the French Kiss is just…sweet, young romance perfection. Perkins truly captured the whole journey of falling in love.

In short, I want to read this again. Right now.

I think I will.

Book Review: “The Major’s Daughter” by J.P. Francis (ARC)

The Major’s Daughter by J.P. Francis 18667981

Publisher: Plume
Publishing Date: July 29
Genre: historical fiction
ISBN: 9780452298699
Goodreads: —
Rating: ★★★.5

April, 1944.  The quiet rural village of Stark, New Hampshire is irrevocably changed by the arrival of 150 German prisoners of war.  And one family, unexpectedly divided, must choose between love and country.

Camp Stark is under the command of Major John Brennan, whose beautiful daughter, Collie, will serve as translator. Educated at Smith and devoted to her widowed father, Collie is immediately drawn to Private August Wahrlich, a peaceful poet jaded by war. As international conflict looms on the home front, their passion blinds them to the inevitable dangers ahead.

Very little is known about the POW camp set up in Stark, New Hampshire, in 1944. But it was there, and one can only imagine what sort of fascinations and wonders it induced. Under Major John Brennan, the German prisoners of war are sent out to work for the logging community, treated humanely despite everyone’s mistrust. Major Brennan’s daughter, Collie, serves as his translator and assistant, which brings her close to another translator and POW, Austrian Private August Wahrlich. The attraction is instantaneous, and noticed by all at the camp, but both know that nothing could come from it, nothing could be built on unsteady ground of war. But as the months pass, as Collie watches her friends change and August’s hope for a return to his family diminishes, the lovers consider a future together despite all costs.

This slow and quiet novel was quite beautiful. The reader follows all sorts of characters, not just Collie and August. We’re privy to Collie’s best friend Estelle’s mind and heart, the difficult decisions she makes regarding her future. We follow the rich brothers Amos and Henry, how vastly different they are from one another, with different dreams and ambitions. We track Major Brennan and his dedication to running a smooth, cooperative camp. Everyone’s story interweaves with another, ultimately colliding in the end’s momentous flight.

Collie and August’s love is pure. He’s poetic, artistic, and very much a dreamer. He shows us that not all German soldiers are Nazis — there’s a different between fighting with the Germans (enlisted and drafted from Austria and other countries overtaken by Germany) and being a member of the political party. He is kind and open-hearted, a gentleman and a boy, with no ulterior motives. It’s sweet. Collie is an educated young woman, who fights hard to suppress her growing affection. She struggles to maintain that her feelings are simply a little crush, but when she gives in, her fall is great.

Nothing about this book felt rushed. In fact, everything about it was smooth, enchanting, romantic, and quite authentic. For anyone in need of a deep, powerful historical romance that really does consider the weight of war, this is most certainly the book to read.

Thank you, Penguin, for providing this book for review!

Book Review: “The Book of Life” by Deborah Harkness

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness 16054217

Publisher: Viking
Published: July 15, 2014
Genre: fiction, fantasy
ISBN: 9780670025596
Goodreads: 4.39
Rating: ★★★★★

Historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

One of three missing pages from Ashmole 782 is in Diana and Matthew’s possession. After the news of Diana’s pregnancy takes hold on the de Clermont family, the politics of the covenant and Congregation, the secrets inside the manuscript, Diana’s growing power and purpose, and Matthew’s blood rage and past guilts become more pressing than ever. From the laboratories at Yale to the many homes of Europe, from Diana’s childhood home to a deserted concentration camp in Poland, Diana and Matthew must face the world together and fight for the love, family, and future.

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Once again, I’m stunned by Harkness’s brilliance. She somehow managed to write a stunning, scholarly, thrilling ending to this trilogy — all while continuing to career as a professor and academic. Wow. I bow to her. I am Fernando to her Diana.

Like A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of NightThe Book of Life is filled with academic jargon across all disciplines and fields, making this reviewer long once more to be locked in a library and researching just for the sake of researching (and the hot beverages and tweed and autumn leaves and cozy warmth…I digress). Everything from modern science and DNA coding to history and art helps piece together the giant puzzle that is the connection between vampires, witches, daemons, and humans. This book could also be described as one giant family reunion, one crisis after another around every page turn. Characters from the previous books crop up and play their role, some of them more crucial than before. My heart swelled for Gallowglass, to name just one character in many.

What’s fantastic about these characters and their secrets are how all their stories are truly interwoven, without many of them realizing it. It makes the world feel more authentic. Even more so, it humanizes these creatures — many of whom (particularly one of Matthew’s disowned offspring who is the main villain of this book) remind us that the horrors we read in books do, in fact, happen to people every day.

Book One focused on discoveries, particularly on an all-consuming love. Book Two focused on accepting one’s identity, and the growing love between Matthew and Diana, and how the boundaries changed in that relationship. This book particularly tested them — as partners, as lovers, as mates, as parents, as creatures — and while all was not rosy, it was never without love. So beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them grow together. I’m sad to see the trilogy end, as I’d love to know what happens (to every character), but that’s the joy of imagination: I can think of their futures in my head and believe it to be true.

Intelligent and exciting, the All Souls trilogy is not one to be missed.

Book Review: “The Fortune Hunter” by Daisy Goodwin (ARC)

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin 18404135

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publishing Date: July 29
Genre: historical fiction
ISBN: 9781250043894
Goodreads: —
Rating: 
★★★★

In 1875, Sisi, the Empress of Austria, is the woman that every man desires and every woman envies.

Beautiful, athletic and intelligent, Sisi has everything – except happiness. Bored with the stultifying etiquette of the Hapsburg Court and her dutiful but unexciting husband, Franz Joseph, Sisi comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her. Ten years younger than her and engaged to the rich and devoted Charlotte, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his. But Bay and the Empress are as reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied.

Meet Charlotte Baird, a young heiress with a dislike of snobbery and a passion for photography. Enter Bay Middleton, a calvary captain who notices and flatters Charlotte and her family, while still stubbornly maintaining his “lower” position as a pilot during hunting season. Chaos ensues not when Charlotte hears of Bay’s past philandering ways, but when Sisi, the Empress of Austria, visits England to experience the English hunt. Rumored to be the most beautiful woman of Europe, Sisi captures every man’s attention and feeds the fire of gossip among the women. Charlotte is eager to take a photo of the Empress for her portfolio, but after one glance at the finished result, her trust in Bay begins to waver.

Though the book comes across as a character study on Sisi, there’s an equal balance of attention given to Sisi, Bay, and Charlotte, whose lives were indeed intertwined in history. Charlotte is wealthy but leans toward the liberal, modern woman. She’s quirky and fun, focused on artistry rather than class distinctions and the upcoming season — to her future sister-in-law’s dismay. Bay is a womanizer, but there’s something about his character that switches and softens with Charlotte, leaving you wondering if he’s truly loyal to her up to the very end. Finally there’s Sisi, who truly was a beautiful woman with very strange habits in maintaining beauty. She led an interesting life, and much of what happened to her — or, in this case in the book, will happen to her — is reflected and hinted toward in Goodwin’s novel. Absolutely fascinating. If you ever get the chance to research her or the Hapsburg history, you’ll understand what I mean. She’s a poster girl for the future standard of female beauty and the media.

Like all great historical fiction, this book took it’s time in unfolding the plot. The drama is slow and low – it’s intriguing, layered, and watching the story come to life is the most fascinating process. Not only are the characters interesting, but the history and social class politics and trinkets at the time, too! For example: photography. The time it takes for a photo to be shot and later developed, the ways in which photography was viewed by various people across the classes, the great things people could do to manipulate their photos. So exciting! And though I’m not much of a horse person, the hunting scenes were thrilling and wonderful — and the race at the end! Phew. Even English cultural norms for the time were compared to that in Vienna when Sisi’s chapters were showcased.

Well done. A great read for hist-fic readers interested in a particular time in English and Hapsburg history.

Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from St. Martin’s Press for review!

Book Review: “Landline” by Rainbow Rowell

Landline by Rainbow Rowell 18081809

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Published: July 8, 2014
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9781250049377
Goodreads: 4.08
Rating: ★★.5 or ★★★

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Georgie finally catches a big break in her TV writing — an opportunity to write the show she and her college best friend Seth have been planning for over a decade — but it’s due a few days after Christmas. Her husband, Neal, is not too thrilled she can’t join him and their daughters in Omaha for the holiday, and leaves without her. Frustrated, tired, and confused, Georgie attempts to contact him to make sure their marriage isn’t ruined, but Neal won’t answer her calls. At least, not modern day Neal. When Georgie uses her mother’s old landline phone to call Neal’s mother’s landline, she winds up speaking to the Neal she fell in love with, the Neal of 1998, shortly before he proposed to her. This is her chance to fix her marriage, or alter history.

It breaks my heart a little inside that my rating is so low for this book. It has absolutely nothing to do with Rowell and her writing and everything to do with the characters. And that’s where the stickler comes in. I’ve spoken to other bloggers and booksellers, and there’s a difference between younger, mainly single people’s opinions of the book (rather low) and older, married people’s opinions (rather high). I genuinely think there’s a specific audience for this book because of that. The younger, mainly single group really liked Georgie’s flashbacks to college and modern day Georgie talking to 1998 Neal passages. The Neal and Georgie of not-yet-married. Young love is thrilling and exciting and wonderful, and you begin to see how hard they work to make the relationship last. The Neal and Georgie of the modern day are distant, seemingly unloving, and appear to only be together to keep their daughters happy. It’s a sad, exhausting situation, yet many long-time married readers understood it. The married readers enjoyed the whole book because it reminded them of why they fell in love with their spouse, and how hard they work to continue that partnership.

Despite understanding that, Neal and Georgie’s characters frustrated me. Mostly Georgie. Her family means the world to her yet she does next to nothing to contribute to their happiness other than bring home paychecks. I could sympathize with Neal’s near-silence towards her. I come from a stay-at-home-Dad-and-working-Mom family, and I can tell you that my mother and father took equal share in raising us and taking care of the home. I really don’t think that’s the issue here. It’s Georgie’s promises to be better and not following through. Her anxiety is sky-high and yet she doesn’t acknowledge it or accept it, which in turn ruins her marriage. I wanted to shake her and tell her to snap out of it, wake up, and look at what’s happened before it’s too late.

The phone was the star of the book. I dragged through all the TV script writing scenes with Seth – Seth, I really liked Seth — and the Mom-and-sister drama scenes and looked forward to the phone. The phone made everything worth it.

Rowell did not write a poor book. She wrote a genuine book with authentic characters. Not everyone you meet will be good, likable people — and that’s not to say they’re bad, either. Not everyone’s lives, especially love lives, work out the way they hope, the way they imagine. I understand that completely. The protagonist doesn’t need to be likable and relatable, just authentic. Georgie and Neal are authentic, but I simply believe that my life experiences (and lack thereof) prevented me from liking them and sympathizing their situation. But their story of young love? And this magical phone? Loved it. I understand that. I understand thinking about the what ifs and how we might be able to change history. I understand wondering whether the person you’re deeply in love with right now is truly the one for you forever and ever. Those portions of the story I loved.

Advance Excitement at a Glance VII

This year, in an effort to blog more, to become more involved with the blogging community, and to keep up with the latest publications, I thought I’d create a monthly post about the ARCs I’ve received. These ARCs will be read and reviewed a month prior to the publishing date. The Advance Excitement at a Glance posts will feature one or two (or more, depending on what happens this year) books to look forward to, and it will motivate me to keep my to-read list on track.

Last month I shared two YA books out for publication in July. August is filled with ARCs (and I have no idea how I’ll get to all of them!), but I’ll share two in particular that I’m deeply excited about.

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Deliverance by C.J. Redwine 
(August 26, Balzer + Bray)

Everything hangs in the balance, and nothing is certain: Rachel has been kidnapped by enemy forces and is being taken to Rowansmark while Logan, imprisoned and awaiting trial, is unable to leave Lankenshire. Separated from each other and their Baalboden comrades, each must find a way to achieve what they desperately want: to rid their world once and for all of the Commander and the tech that controls the deadly Cursed One.

I can’t do my own summary for this one. In fact, I don’t even care what this book’s summary contains — I just want the book SO BAD. *grabby hands* I love CJ Redwine. (Defiance and Deception reviews!)

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The Secret Place by Tana French
(August 26 [possibly September 2], Viking Adult)

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. The Secret Place, a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.
But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper.

Once again, I can’t even do my own summary. Tana French is another author whose books I’ll read simply because her name is plastered on the cover. She’s such an excellent writer, and this Dublin Murder Squad series is so psychologically mind-bending I can’t help but flail.

Which ARCs did you receive for August? What books are you looking forward to reading?

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Classic Books & TBRs

Top Ten Tuesday, a concept started by The Broke and the Bookish, is a themed post that connects bloggers to bloggers, bloggers to readers, and readers to readers. Every Tuesday has a special topic, and this Tuesday is Top Ten Favorite Classic Books / Classics I Want to Read.

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Whenever someone mentions “classic,” my brain immediately jumps to British classics. It’s my love, my passion, my one true academic piece of nerdom. But sometimes this person means “classic” like Greek and Roman plays or epic poems, or classic world literature, or American literature. I’ve played a game since high school to see how long I can go without having to read Hemingway, Vonnegut, Kerouac, Red Badge of Courage, The Things They Carried, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye…you know, Good Solid American Classics.

Favorite Classic Books 

Jane Eyre because really, if you haven’t figured this out by now…wow.

Northanger Abbey is my absolute favorite Austen. Early YA right there!

Wuthering Heights not for the love story (because we can all admit it’s…odd), but for the passion, the class clash, the discrimination, all the topics used to discuss in literature courses. SO MUCH STUFF is in here, and it’s golden.

Dante’s Inferno, mostly because my AP Lit teacher would point out all the fart jokes and other inappropriate humor. He taught us that, no matter how high brow or difficult the language can be, one can still find something humorous in the writing.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as it’s another interesting study in human character (like Wuthering Heights).

Classics I Want to Read 

Emma, even though I know what happens. There’s something intriguing about Austen loving the public’s least favorite heroine.

Les Misérables because it sounds so enriching.

Little Dorrit has always fascinated me. It seems relatively short for Dickens, but just as wonderfully creepy.

As You Like It, mostly because it’s one of the least talked-about Sheakespeare plays. I like going in blind!

Villette, because as autobiographical as Jane Eyre began, this is Brontë’s true autobiographical story (with a changed ending, of course).

What are some of your favorite classics? What classics would you like to read? Have you read any of these, listed above?