When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests’ Austen fantasies. Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn’t sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside’s mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And—perhaps of the most lasting importance—could the stirrings in Charlotte’s heart be a sign of real-life love? (From Goodreads.com)
Bubby: I will admit right off the bat that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Shannon Hale’s books. The Princess Academy books? Love them. Books of Bayern? Not so much. Austenland, the companion book to Midnight in Austenland seems to fall between these two categories for me. I really wanted to love it. I did love parts of it. Overall, though, I found myself a bit dissatisfied. But then I saw the movie. And it was rollicking good fun. So I decided to give Midnight in Austenland a try. At worst, it would still be an enjoyable, clean, decent read. But it was so much more than that. It was hilariously funny in bits and deeply romantic in other bits and I so connected with Charlotte.
Sissy: Well, I do not have a love/hate relationship with Shannon Hale’s books. I have loved all of them (with the exception of The Actor and The Housewife which did not fully satisfy me). When I saw the movie Austenland, I had only read the first book and so I thought that they changed a lot. But I see that Midnight in Austenland, which was written before the movie came out, is a lot more like the movie. Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that I loved the movie Austenland so much that I went back 4 times and dragged every female friend I owned to it. So you can guess how I feel about Midnight in Austenland. Shannon Hale is to writing as Bill Murray is to comedy.
Bubby: Bill Murray? Really? How old are you, anyway? Maybe Tina Fey? Or Jimmy Fallon? Welcome to 2014, Sissy.
Sissy: Well I may be older than dirt and Shannon Hale but she actually refers to Bill Murray in Groundhog Day as “delightful” and can “make her laugh” in the very book we are reviewing right now. I am sorry that your short-term memory is so poor. So much poorer than mine that you didn’t recall that.
Bubby: I recalled fine. I was just trying to make your image more hip and current.
Sissy: It’s hip to be square. I think Shannon Hale is delightful and she makes me laugh. I laughed out loud when Charlotte follows her daughter’s boyfriend and is caught hiding in the bushes outside his cousin’s house and again when she explains to her Austenland hostess Mrs. Wattlesbrook how her husband has died in a “gruesome and exceedingly painful demise” (her husband is now her ex, after she caught him cheating with some young thing).
Bubby: I laughed out loud at those bits too. It’s rare that my favorite character in a story is the main character – I usually enjoy the quirky side characters more – but in this case, Charlotte felt like an old friend with whom I was reconnecting. She tends to let her imagination run away with her – when things take a decidedly scary turn, she lays in bed, searching the shadows and jumping at every noise. I do that when my husband is out-of-town or working late – often mistaking the shadowy outline of the vacuum for a rapist or murderer intent on ravaging my household while we sleep. Mayhap both Charlotte and I are just a touch overdramatic!
Sissy: There are two other things that I really liked. One, how in between scenes at Austenland, Hale inserts little paragraphs from Charlotte’s past giving us insight into what makes Charlotte the way she is now. Two, how Charlotte has conversations with her “inner thoughts” …
Bubby: I almost wrote “inner thighs” there. I don’t know why because that would have been awkward. I think I need medical assistance…
Sissy: Imagine having a conversation with one’s inner thighs. Hmmm. Anyway, that is the kind of borderline irreverence that makes Shannon Hale a lovely author and Midnight in Austenland a thoroughly entertaining read.
Bubby: One of my favorite of those conversations is this: “This scarcely qualified as a secret room-more of a secret hole, or nook, or niche even, perhaps a cavity or alcove… Come up with synonyms all you want, said her Inner Thoughts. It’s not distracting me from the fact that you’re stupid.” Just a sampling of the deliciousness you’ll find in Midnight in Austenland. 4.5 bubbles.
Sissy: Delightfully clever. Delectably romantic. Wonderfully witty. 4.5 quaint and corseted bubbles.
Click HERE to buy Midnight in Austenland at Amazon.com
© Bubble Bath Books 2014
For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way.
Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder . . . are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated? (From Goodreads.com)
Sissy: I think I use the word “delightful” too much so I will say Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg was adorable, agreeable, and pleasing. I sat in my new sleep number bed at zero G setting and read it, and had you looked at my face you would have seen the cat who just licked up all the cream (sans post-licking lactose intolerance tummy ache). The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of our hero and heroine in the past tense, and each chapter cleverly ends with a paragraph or two of bantering commentary between the two in the present. Loved it.
Bubby: Better Off Friends is advertised as “When Harry Met Sally for teens”. It’s a pretty good description. Macallan and Levi become friends right off the bat and stay that way, off and on, through the whole book. Their parents think they are cute and their friends think they are weird. I wish the book had gone a bit further though. Yes, they end up together, but does it last? Do they end up happily ever after? They are only in high school. One wonders what the future holds for these two.
Sissy: I did wonder what the rest of the story was and at what point in life the bantering couple at each chapter end was. Were they happily married? College sweethearts? Two weeks later? Anyway, it is quite charming how we can see inside the heads of both Macallan and Levi, but at the same time are wishing they would know how the other was feeling. But I guess that would make the story too short and rushed and perhaps change the outcome. Time and place, and all that. I thought the characters were sweet and engaging. I had a best friend who was a guy in high school, and although we “like” liked each other off and on it was never at the same time. We spent so much time together people always thought we were a couple, but we never were. So this made Better Off Friends relatable to me.
Bubby: I also had a best guy friend in high school, but we actually tried to be romantically involved. It lasted for approximately 12.5 seconds and afterwards our friendship was never the same. I wished that we had just stayed friends and not done the dating thing. I supposed this experience might make me a little jaded about the future of Macallen and Levi’s relationship! But I also have several friends that fell in love in high school and have now been happily married for years and years. I guess it just all depends.
Sissy: This story is not very deep or complex so its hard to think of what to write about it. That may sound like a negative but it is truly not—I was blissed out by this simple, well-written tale. If you want to feel happy and content as a crumpet, bite into the little slice of heaven that is Better Off Friends. 4 bright and sunshiney bubbles.
Bubby: I agree. Sometimes you want complicated and thought provoking and deep and other times (more often for me) you want happy and fluffy. Better Off Friends fits the happy and fluffy category quite nicely. 3.75 bubbles.
Click HERE to buy Better Off Friends at Amazon.com
© Bubble Bath Books 2014
We received a copy of this title from the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.
Regina Beswick never dreamed of faraway places. She’s happy with her life as a classic car mechanic and owner of a restoration shop. But an unexpected visitor and the discovery of a fairytale, drawn by her great-grandma, causes Regina to wonder if she might be destined for something more. Tanner Burkhardt, Minister of Culture for the Grand Duchy of Hessenberg, must convince the strong-willed Southerner, Miss Beswick, that she is his country’s long-lost princess. Failure could destroy his reputation and change his nation forever. As Regina and Tanner face the challenges before them, neither are prepared for love to invade their hearts and change every thing they believe about themselves. (From Goodreads.com)
Bubby: Remember A Year of Weddings series that we recently reviewed? Well, A March Bride is also by Rachel Hauck. The characters in the two stories do overlap slightly, but either book can stand alone nicely.
Sissy: Princess Ever After actually comes out before A March Bride. It’s scheduled for publication on February 4th, 2014. I thought it was a delightful story and I enjoyed it a bit more than A March Bride. It is a little fluffy but in a good way and there are all sorts of little hidden secrets and treasures to be found in the plot line. I love things like that.
Bubby: Definitely a fun twist on the “Princess Diaries” type of plot. I fell completely in love with the dashing romantic character of Tanner. Totally worth moving to another country for!
Sissy: Which is why Bubby has a man in every port (in her dreams)! The story goes back and forth between past and present, the past being the story of Reggie’s great-grandma Alice as told in her journal. So you just get little bits of tantalizing information about Alice at any one time. Definitely worth a read. Go reserve it on Amazon right now.
Click HERE to buy Princess Ever After by Rachel Hauck at Amazon.com
© Bubble Bath Books 2014
We received a copy of Princess Ever After from the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.
Jarod Klum was trapped in his small life in the small village of Eventide and saw no means of escape. He would never be worthy of the woman of his dreams, never achieve great deeds of valor and never be remembered in song or story. It wasn’t that he was without dreams. He dreamed them every night; of rescuing the imperiled Caprice Morgan from marauding pirates who had somehow come up the river or of returning from a great Quest beyond the village boundaries laden with treasure that he could lay at the feet of the appreciative Caprice Morgan. But each morning he awoke in his straw bed and knew he was just Jarod Klum.
Until, that is, the coming of the Dragon’s Bard. The Dragon’s Bard convinced Jarod to win his fair Caprice through ‘heroic deeds of a more manageable scale’ – setting Jarod on a course of misadventures that turns the town on its head. Jarod’s single-minded pursuit of his greatest wish – even if it is a broken one – escalates until the only thing left for him to do is to become a dragonslayer and save the town from a ferocious, legendary monster that everyone fears but no one has ever seen. ‘Eventide’ is brought to life through the stories of the interweaving lives of its citizens, their follies, joys, tragedies and triumphs on a scale of life to which we can all relate. In the end, it is a visit to a place where we ourselves would like to settle down and live out our lives as we should. (From Goodreads.com)
Bubby: Hey, Sissy, it’s been a while since we’ve done a Friday Favorites!
Sissy: And this one is one of the most fun books I have ever read. It is so clever and goofily whimsical. I applaud the Hickmans for having such creative brain cells! The characters are so weird, entertaining and craftily crafted. I had a ball reading Eventide.
Bubby: Craftily crafted? Really?
Sissy: Do we have to deal with your absurd wordsmith envy again?
Bubby: Wordsmith envy? Really? It’s like you think you are a character in Eventide. Hmm, let’s call you Sissy the Witless Word Coining Sprite. You can even have little purple iridescent wings with all of your strange words and expressions flitting across them. I like it! I like it! And I can be, let’s see…
Sissy: You can be Bubby the Fatuous Foot Fungus Fairy!
Bubby: Hey! Who you calling fatuous? I prefer Sorceress of Sarcasm, thank you very much. Now back to the book. Any novel that has characters like Gossip Fairies and Centaur Farmers and dancing blacksmiths is a win for me. I have long been a fan of Tracy Hickman’s high fantasy work – his Dragonlance books are well known to us nerdy geeky people – but his writing with his wife, Laura is fantastic in a whole new way. Eventide is light and fluffy and just dang fun.
Sissy: The premise of the story is that the Dragon’s bard has to collect stories to tell the dragon king so as not to be killed. So the Bard is always meddling in the villager’s affairs, especially Jarod our main character, with hilarious results. But there’s also a bit of romance and danger and even heart warming moments. I can’t say enough about how satisfyingly enjoyable Eventide was.
Bubby: A great start to a (so far) 3 book series. I can’t wait to read the other books (Blackshore and Moredale) and find out what the Bard is up to next! 3.75 floaty and frothy bubbles from me.
Sissy: Such a fun read for teens and adults alike. I don’t want anyone to think that this is too lightweight or is just for kids. It really struck my funny bone and for that reason, I give it 4 bubbles.
Click HERE to buy Eventide (Tales of The Dragon’s Bard #1) at Amazon.com
© Bubble Bath Books 2013
Marianne Daventry will do anything to escape the boredom of Bath and the amorous attentions of an unwanted suitor. So when an invitation arrives from her twin sister, Cecily, to join her at a sprawling country estate, she jumps at the chance. Thinking she’ll be able to relax and enjoy her beloved English countryside while her sister snags the handsome heir of Edenbrooke, Marianne finds that even the best laid plans can go awry. From a terrifying run-in with a highwayman to a seemingly harmless flirtation, Marianne finds herself embroiled in an unexpected adventure filled with enough romance and intrigue to keep her mind racing. Will Marianne be able to rein in her traitorous heart, or will a mysterious stranger sweep her off her feet? Fate had something other than a relaxing summer in mind when it sent Marianne to Edenbrooke. (From Goodreads.com)
Sissy: I read this book a few weeks ago and really liked it, but I didn’t tell Bubby about it because she is a Regency romance snob. She is very vocal about the fact that she finds them insipid, inane, redundant, ridiculous. In other words, she doesn’t like them and she considers herself far above the whole genre. (She just tried to blow a raspberry at me and ended up spitting on herself which was quite hilarious and made my day).
Bubby: Did not! (While wiping spit off her own chest . . .)
Sissy: At any rate, imagine my confuzzlement when Bubby calls me and tells me we must review this fabulous book called Edenbrooke. What happened, my uppity snobbish one?
Bubby: You’re right. I don’t particularly care for Regency romances. However, let me just paraphrase what Julianne Donaldson herself said: she grew up reading Georgette Heyer, queen of the Regency genre and wanted to write something similar while making it more accessible to the modern reader. That’s me. Miss Modern Reader, right here. Julianne Donaldson said that she tried to accomplish this by moving the story along at a quicker pace and leaving out some of the unnecessary elements. Thank you very much, Julianne Donaldson. I loved Edenbrooke. It was divine. And I didn’t have to wade through 20 pages of wardrobe descriptions (the third pearl button on the cuff of her French-embroidered soigne twinkled in the reflected light from his 18-karat gold hand engraved cufflinks bought at Snooty DeVillier’s on Broad Street . . .) or 50 pages of “she glanced his way. He caught her eye, so she immediately lowered her countenance and scurried to the rose garden lest he espy the unbecoming rose blush upon her cheeks . ..” and similar time-wasting genre specific garbage. I felt quite refreshed to have a story set in a time period that I am actually quite fond of and not get bored with all the minutiae.
Sissy: Well said, Bubby! Edenbrooke is a delectable story set in Regency England. I really don’t have anything else to say after Bubby’s paragraph. I think she used all the words in the whole dictionary. Our readers should just buy the book, recline on their fainting couches and have a splendid afternoon.
Bubby: Oh come now. Wouldn’t you like to discuss how yummy Sir Phillip is? Almost on par with the admittedly incomparable Colin Firth? Or we could compare and contrast the relationship of Cecily and Marianne to our own sisterly bond.
Sissy: Oooh! I’ll bite! How even though you’re shallow like Cecily and I am grounded like Marianne, we still love each other to bits?
Bubby: Not exactly what I had in mind, but sure. I don’t think either of us have much in common with Cecily, though. She is all about the money and the status and how good she looks sitting side-saddle. We are both more like Marianne. Can you imagine living in a time period when gently bred young women were expected to do nothing more than receive callers, do embroidery and play the piano while looking attractive to possible suitors?
Sissy: We’d have WAY too much fun with that. Kind of like how Keri Russell’s character in Austenland sings something inappropriate whilst playing at the pianoforte.
Bubby: Hmm. Wouldn’t know. Someone went and saw that movie without me. Moving on now!
Sissy: If you read the synopsis of Edenbrooke, you may think that it is indeed a formulaic Regency romance. But Julianne Donaldson’s writing is so refreshing, you feel like you are reading a whole new genre. I give Edenbrooke 4 tightly corseted bubbles.
Bubby: We have family issues, romance all over the place and a perfect setting. What more could one wish for? (I have already purchased Julianne Donaldson’s next book, Blackmoore – that’s how much I liked it!) 4.5 perfectly proper bubbles from me.
Click HERE to buy Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson at Amazon.com
©2013 Bubble Bath Books
Sissy: Someone had the great idea of recruiting different authors to write retellings of favorite fairy tales and call them Once Upon A Time. We have chosen two of those, Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguié and Snow by Tracy Lynn, to review for you this week. Midnight Pearls is based on The Little Mermaid and Snow is, of course, based on Snow White. Each of these has an interesting twist on the original story; one is a merperson/human love square and one involves human/animal mutants. Yes, you read correctly.
Bubby: I know that someone out there is saying, “More fairytale retellings? Haven’t you already done that? Why would we want to read more of those?” Well, you naysayer you, let me tell you why. There is a reason why singers keep recording new versions of classic songs and authors keep rewriting fairy tales. When something is good, it’s good and it’s so much fun to take something classic and put your own spin on it. One of my favorite stations on Pandora is an a capella station that is all covers of popular songs redone without accompaniment. It’s fabulous. I feel the same way about fairy tales – and I especially love this series because they are so well done and unusual.
Sissy: I thought these were rather cleverly done. If I had to choose my favorite of the two, it would be Snow, because of Tracy Lynn’s interesting characterizations. If you like this kind of story (always a guaranteed happy ending!) you will like these and you will want to look up the others (19 of them, including several by one of my favorite authors in this genre, Cameron Dokey).
Bubby: Both stories are beautifully written and are just the thing to cure the “oh crap it’s almost winter” blues. There is nothing quite like a well-done fairy tale to make me feel all happy and bubbly – they’re almost better than chocolate. Almost.
Sissy: Also, in the midst of one’s “oh crap it’s almost winter” moment, one might only have a small bit of time to read and these are short little delicious nuggets of around 200 pages that can be nibbled up in no time. You will still have time to haul out the warm clothes and snow boots and dig up the last of your garden and go to the children’s fall concert, etc., etc. I give them a magical 3.5 bubbles each.
Bubby: It’s kind of like Disney Princesses for grownups. Delightful. A collective 3.5 bubbles from me as well.
© Bubble Bath Books 2013
Click HERE to buy Snow by Tracy Lynn at Amazon.com
Click HERE to by Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguié at Amazon.com
After having her heart broken twice, Alicia Dayne has sworn off men, decided to concentrate on her career, and is delighted to win a lucrative contract to make a commercial for Highborn Mattresses. She could make the most awesome fairytale commercial ever, except for Jonas Highborn, who isn’t exactly thrilled with her Princess and the Pea ideas, and really doesn’t want a prince in tights representing his company. Though he’s trying to keep his grieving mother happy by letting her have charge of the commercial shoot, and though Alicia’s trying to keep in mind that this annoying guy is her boss for the moment, they can’t seem to keep from clashing. Throw in an overly-handsome prince, a matchmaking mama, and a stunning rose garden, and maybe, just maybe, Alicia can be convinced they have a chance at something real. Because while she might not be a real princess, sometimes an ordinary girl’s got to take a chance, even when it seems too good to be true. (Synopsis from Goodreads.Com)
Sissy: Sometimes after having a rousing good political discussion with my daughter or trying not to be worried about the state of things on Capital Hill, I just want to read something so happy and non-threatening that I turn to a fluffy bit of literary froth like The Princess Problem by Diane Darcy. This soothes the savage beast and takes me away from the tragic turnings of reality. A delightfully creative reworking of The Princess and The Pea.
Bubby: You know when it’s cold outside and not the good kind of cold but the nasty drizzly I-live-in-a-snowcone kind of cold? And you are grumpy and can’t get warm? And then someone (like Sissy) makes you a cup of cocoa and brings you a blankie? And then you feel all better? Yep. That’s how this book made me feel. All warm and snuggly and happy. I do have a major issue with this story, however. It’s too short! I needed just a bit more. It was like having only half a chocolate bar. I need the whole bar! The whole entire bar, people!
Sissy: I was just about to say that The Princess Problem was almost too fluffy for me and then I glanced down at my hands, which I just polished with my 8-year-old niece’s pink glitter polish, complete with sparkling flower jewel, and noticed the eight strand seed pearl bracelet wrapped around my wrist and I realized that if I were a stripper, my name would be Fluffy GlitterSparkles. The prospective mother-in-law Willa Highborn is my favorite character because she is glamorous and elegant but at the same time warm and mischievous in her matchmaking. She reminds me of myself, really.
Bubby: Seriously? Must every review include how a main character “reminds you of yourself”? Especially when you describe her as elegant – right after your stripper name. Heavens.
Sissy: Don’t be jealous of my great depth of character that is similar to –
Bubby: Great depths of sewage treatment ponds?
Sissy: Your rudeness is unbecoming the sister of someone who resembles literary giants, which is how I was going to end my previous sentence. Anyway, there was some tongue-in-cheek cleverness in Diane Darcy’s writing which I enjoyed, such as the last name Highborn.
Bubby: The cleverness of the writing is really what saves The Princess Problem from being a complete sugar overload. There is just enough snark and sass to balance out the sweetness. Alicia and Jonas have delightful chemistry and it was fun to watch the relationship develop. I also enjoyed the fact that no one was ridiculously stupid in this storyline. Too often a major character (usually the female lead, unfortunately) overdramatically and self-abasingly undervalues herself and overvalues the inappropriate guy with whom she has fallen desperately in love. “I know he is the spawn of Satan and turns into a werewolf on alternate Thursdays and only wants me for my blood plasma, but I LOVE him!!!” None of that here. Alicia has some issues with commitment, but resolves them quickly and moves on with life! And Jonas is a good guy. Not the spawn of Satan.
Sissy: I generally like retellings of fairy tales. I have read hundreds of them. However, I just finished reading a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin and it was the most stupid book of all time. Made me want to pull out my uvula.
Bubby: Oh, that’s uvula. That hangy-down thing in one’s throat. I thought for a moment you said ukulele. I was confused as to why you’d feel the need to pull out your ukulele . . .
Sissy: And what? You thought I’d pull out my ukulele and write a song about hideous fairytale retellings?
Bubby: Exactly. You see my confusion.
Sissy: Yes, I see it daily.
Bubby: Actually, it might be a good song. You know my little girls’ favorite lullaby is “Truck Squished”, written by none other than you, Sissy.
Sissy: Yes. The truth is out. Famous, elegant blogger + songwriter. Now to finish. This fairytale retelling is a good one. A relaxing, non-demanding read. I give in 3.75 bubbles.
Bubby: I agree, as always, with my famously elegantly creative sister. 3.5 iridescent and sparkly bubbles.
Click HERE to buy The Princess Problem at Amazon.com