Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Olivia Newport


Growing up on Chicago's exclusive Prairie Avenue during the planning of the 1893 World's Fair has given Lucy Banning opportunities that young women of less means could only dream of. But her life is also something of a gilded cage. Raised with the expectation that she will marry Daniel Jules, a rising young star in the banking world (and the son of the Bannings' dearest friends), Lucy, while fond of Daniel, knows his ideas for her do not mesh with the sort of life she desires.
To avoid the wrath of both families, she procrastinates through her engagement and manages to avoid setting a wedding date. Lucy knows that marrying Daniel will mean she will be forced to give up her volunteer work with a local orphanage as well as the longed-for college degree she has only just begun working toward in secret. Daniel sees no need for a woman of means to receive a university education. And as for her charity work: When will she have time for the little wretches amidst the greater social obligations of being Mrs. Daniel Jules?
And then Lucy meets Will Edwards, a fresh transplant to Chicago and friend to her brother, Leo. Immediately drawn to the talented young architect with the cobalt blue eyes, Lucy begins to dream of escaping the Banning and Jules cages for good. And the better she gets to know Will, whose humble roots are not likely to win the favor of her society parents, the more determined she is to follow her heart.
Meanwhile, Lucy secretly befriends Charlotte, the newly hired maid (who has a few secrets of her own). As their friendship grows, so does the danger of discovery for both of them. But Lucy is willing to risk all to stand for what she believes in … she just doesn't comprehend how very dangerous that risk could become.
Hits & misses: 
It's fairly clear from the beginning that Lucy "likes" Daniel -- but also that her "liking" has no romantic feeling attached to it. The introduction of attractive, humble and forward-thinking Will Edwards, coming only six pages into the tale, further cements the realization that Lucy's fiancé is probably not going to be a happy camper much longer.
And therein lies my only complaint with the story. As Daniel moves, rather swiftly, from distracted-but-courteous fiancĂ© into the role of the "villain," the point-of-view shift was a bit jarring. A little more foreshadowing into Daniel's emotional issues would have served the story well; and, although there was a late-placed hint that "all wasn't right" before Lucy broke the engagement, I wasn't entirely convinced that it was strong enough to support his rapid decline after. I will say, however, that I found it refreshing, if not entirely believable, to see the compassion with which the author and her characters handled the issue of mental illness – especially considering the times.
Newport has a way with dialogue that really allows the reader to "see" the person speaking. That magic sparks them to life, giving credence and believability even to those few spots of plotting that might otherwise put the brakes on the reader's suspension of disbelief. One character that really stood out, especially considering how little page time he had, was Lucy's brother, Leo. Leo's few lines were filled with energy and personality, yet not so much that he stole the spotlight from the stars of the show. I really liked Leo and … I have a sneaking suspicion he might warrant his own story someday.
When I first received the book I thought the title was very old-fashioned. But after reading the novel I simply adore that its title has a double – no,triple – meaning. The Pursuit of Lucy Banning really captures the essence of the whole story. Lucy Banning is pursuing the desires of her heart (charity, education, love) – while being pursued by those who desire her: one man out of love and one for more selfish reasons. It's a fun play on words, and the author certainly deserves a wink and some kudos for that one!
To read … or not? 
With attention to historical detail and an artful sense of place, Olivia Newport gives readers a fascinating glimpse into the way the wealthy interpreted the 1893 World's Fair – and the roles of women in the world. The Pursuit of Lucy Banning is a compassionate coming-of-age romance with a spunky, determined heroine and a Happy Ever After that's satisfyingly sweet.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Serena's Rating:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review: THE IRISH HEALER by Nancy Herriman


Reviled by her Irish community after being accused in the death of a child, Rachel Dunne flees to London, abandoning her gifts and calling as a healer. Thankfully, her English cousin Claire has secured her a temporary position in the home of James Edmunds, a widowed physician who has decided to leave his medical practice to become a gentleman farmer. Dr. Edmunds has no knowledge of Rachel's past and, hired to catalog the books in his library, Rachel vows to never pass herself off as a healer again.
Every time James loses a patient he is reminded of his biggest failure — the loss of his wife. Even when he knows he has done everything within his power to save a patient, the feeling cuts a deeper wound into his soul. A compassionate and gifted physician, James has lost heart in the practice of medicine, but his heart is strangely drawn to the young Irishwoman cataloging books in his library.
Rachel knows her position is temporary, but if she can manage to keep her past hidden long enough to secure a position as a teacher she'll be able to make a way for her family to join her in England, away from the scandal that weighs them down in Rachel's name. Of all the possible positions Claire could have found for her, being employed by a physician seems to be just another cruel joke God has played on her — especially when that physician is a handsome, compassionate gentleman for whom she has no business harboring romantic feelings.
When a spiteful member of the household staff discovers a letter with sketchy details about Rachel's trial in Ireland, both Rachel's job and the feelings growing between her and Dr. Edmunds are at risk. Can she keep the truth hidden? Or will her necessary deceptions cause everything around her to unravel?
As the threat of cholera begins to spread panic through London, both Rachel and James must decide if they can trust God enough with their secrets and their gifts to allow a deeper healing to take place within their hearts … and afford them a chance at love.
Hits & misses: 
The story moves along at a fairly gentle pace among rather gentle people who don't get all that worked up about anything too quickly. Add in a spare few servants who seem to get worked up abouteverything, and you find that class distinction and bigotry are very clearly portrayed through the actions and dialogue of the characters. ReadingThe Irish Healer is rather a bit like watching Masterpiece Theatre or British-period cinema, in that the minor characters, mainly servants, seem to have a much wider range of emotion than the leads (whose inner struggles are kept staidly and appropriately hidden). I wouldn't be all that surprised if a Laura Linney sound-a-like voiced the book trailer.
Nancy Herriman does a fine job involving all senses in helping the reader to visualize each locale the characters visit. There are a few necessary patient-tending scenes that, while brief, are vivid enough in an olfactory way that they may not appeal to the more weak-stomached reader. Likewise, her characters are clearly drawn and their temperaments and dispositions remain constant throughout the story, even though their moments of spiritual revelation and resolution feel a tad contrived.
To read … or not? 
Herriman's award-winning novel gives a vivid picture of 1830s England. The restraint with which Herriman writes only adds to the atmosphere, creating a lovely period tale of personal transformation and abiding love.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Serena's rating:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review & Giveaway! FINALLY & FOREVER by Robin Jones Gunn


First introduced as a minor character in Robin Jones Gunn's A Whisper and a Wish, Katie Weldon eventually earned her own series.Finally & Forever, which released last month, is the fourth book in the series that bears Katie's name.
After a spontaneous decision the night before, California girl and recent college graduate Katie Weldon finds herself on a Nairobi-bound plane. When she wakes from a doze, reality crashes in and Katie realizes that she is not only sitting next to Eli Lorenzo, her ex-boyfriend's former roommate, but she's headed to Africa with no plans to return home anytime soon. Overwhelmed by what that decision might mean for her future and for her blossoming relationship with Eli, she heads to the bathroom, where a mini panic attack ensues.
Can you blame her?
Once back in her seat, she's calmed by Eli's steady presence and, after the warm welcome she receives from his family and the wonders she glimpses in this ancient land, Katie begins to realize that perhaps Africa, Eli and the Lorenzo family are just what she needs to help discover what God wants her to do with her life.
Absolutely lovable and relatable as a protagonist, Katie Weldon is just the sort of girl you would want your daughter to hang out with — which could be why she was such a hit as Christy Miller's best friend in the original Christy Miller series. Now grown, Katie is the sort of heroine you root for, even when you are as confused as she is as to what exactly it is that you're rooting for her to accomplish.
Katie is all sorts of fun and has no trouble laughing at herself. She's spontaneous and quick with humor even though her jokes sometimes fall flat with those around her; but she's also the kind of girl who quickly bounces back from uncomfortable situations in which her words might get her into a little bit of trouble.
Eli is fairly serious but has a dry sense of humor that makes him more believable than a lot of "career missionary" characters in fiction. The conflicts that arise between he and his missionary parents are quite believably written and universal to the parent-child experience, even if the landscape is a little more exotic than most of us are used to. He is romantic but also a total guy. Sometimes he doesn't grab the opportunities he should to clarify the details he assumes Katie will naturally understand.
Clearly, he's husband material.
Gunn weaves the romantic thread of the story through some surprising events, and Katie and Eli must deal with communication issues and process the "what if" scenarios attached to the different paths their futures could take in Africa, whether they wind up together or apart. As would be expected by the title, Katie does get a nudge toward her HEA in every area of her life, and I must say that Robin Jones Gunn has penned one of the most touching and lovely proposal scenes that I've read in a long time. Actually, I'm sighing just thinking about it — and maybe wishing, just a little bit, that my hubby and I could get a do-over ... in Kenya … with hundreds of candles … and some picturesque tea fields in the background.
Even readers who've never thought of visiting Africa might long for a Kenyan stamp on their passport after seeing the beauty of this country through Katie's eyes. In fact, Kenya itself almost becomes a character within the story. The descriptions of the landscape, the cuisine, the culture and the people are so vivid — and Katie is so filled with wonder at it all — that the reader experiences falling in love with Africa along with Katie Weldon.
The Katie Weldon series is a spin-off of Gunn's hugely popular multiseries Christy Miller saga. Adult readers may remember meeting Katie at a Christy Miller slumber party back when book two of the original series was released in 1989, but I'm sure this book will appeal just as well to Gunn's established readers as it will for those who haven't read any of her previous YA titles.
Katie Weldon and her cohorts have aged with enviable slowness since the book in which she first appeared. (I had skyscraper bangs, shoulder pads and a thing for big-haired drummers in 1989. Now I have crow's feet, a teenage daughter and a standing appointment with my colorist!) But Robin Jones Gunn has done a fabulous job of not dating her books by keeping her characters familiar to original readers while adjusting subtle details to make their vocabularies and settings contemporary for today's teens. It was fun to see Katie Weldon, a character so many girls have grown up with, as a young woman; and it was a treat to go along with her on an adventure to Africa with the guy who could, finally and forever, be The One.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)
Serena's Rating:





GIVEAWAY!
The proposal scene in Finally & Forever has inspired me to give you all a chance to dream up your perfect marriage proposal. In a few lines or a short paragraph, describe your idea of the ideal, romantic marriage proposal. Maybe it's even the one one you got! Or, maybe it's the one you dream of or the proposal you hope for your own daughter. In any case, leave your thoughts on the "perfect" romantic proposal in the comments below. One winner will be chosen at random (thanks, random.org!) to receive my copy of Robin Jones Gunn's Finally & Forever (thanks to Robin Gunn and Candice at DJC Communications for the copy!) Contest runs though 7/24/12 -- don't forget to leave me your spam-free email address(jane dot doe at jmail dot com) Good luck!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Stalking Robin Jones Gunn

This week we are pleased to stalk prolific author Robin Jones Gunn. Robin recently released Finally & Forever, the fourth book in her Katie Weldon series, and just this month she also released a women's fiction title, Cottage by the Sea. I caught up with Robin outside the window of her home in Hawaii and, although I wish I could say it was in person, sadly, it was via email. Still... here's the nitty gritty on what you might observe if you, like me, were caught stalking Robin Jones Gunn.

Serena:  If I was lurking outside your living room window and happened to catch you dancing, what artist or song would be playing on the stereo?

Robin: This week my iTunes file has been set on “shuffle” so you’d hear everything from Rodrigo y Gabriela (soul-stirring flamenco guitar music) to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (Hawaiian ukulele) with some Hillsong and Andrea Bocelli in the mix with a dash of Rich Mullins.

Serena:  But if, instead, you were sitting at your desk, hammering away at your latest work-in-progress, would I hear music? If so, what?

Robin:  Lots of Hawaiian slack key guitar or airy instrumental music without words. I go for the calming, mellow background music while I write because when I write to music with words I end up typing the words to the song.

Serena:  I know what you mean! It's a totally drag when I'm frantically typing away, trying to craft a dramatic death scene and all of a sudden everybody cuts footloose. So beyond instrumental  music, what else inspires you? Is there a window in your writing nest?

Robin:  My little nest has three windows. I look out at palm trees, deep azure sky, a thriving gardenia bush and an ailing red ginger plant that I’ve been trying to baby along back to health. In between the neighboring houses I can catch a tiny slice of blue Pacific Ocean and if I lean over just right I can see the tip of the island of Kaho’olawe.

Serena:  How long have you lived in Hawaii? And what precipitated your move from the mainland?

Robin Jones Gunn
(Hey, if you're gonna stalk someone,
why not pick someone
who lives in Hawaii, right?)
Robin: We lived here twenty years ago and always wanted to move back. My in-laws had a place here so we’d visit every chance we could. Two years ago we got serious about moving here since our two kids were grown and married. We put our house up for sale and expected it to take two years to sell, which was the norm for our neighborhood. The house sold in three weeks and we knew it was time to take the leap. One of the great things about being a writer is that you can write anywhere. My husband is a counselor and he’s been able to set up a new practice here. Hawai’i has been the home of our heart since we first came on our honeymoon 35 years ago. Being settled here now feels natural. We are very much at home.

Serena:  If you had to pick only three items to have in your purse (besides regular & plastic money, of course!) what would they be?

Robin:  My driver’s license. I travel a lot so I’d need that current ID. Plus, a Hawaiian driver’s license entitles residents to discounts at local restaurants and stores. That’s very helpful since it’s so expensive to live here. I’d also take my reading glasses and my keys. If I could take four items the fourth would be a pair of sunglasses. It’s misery to leave the house without sunglasses here and I’m forever losing mine.

Serena:  Onto the important summer subject of... ice cream. Dish or cone?

Robin: Dish. Especially if its gelato and it comes with one of those tiny spoons so that it makes you slow down and savor the taste. If it’s frozen yogurt at a self-serve place I’d definitely go for the dish because it allows room for toppings. My favorite frozen yogurt combo here is half taro and half haupia with a few raspberries on top.

Serena:  Chocolate:  dark, white, or milk?

Robin:  Dark. Always. The darker the better.

Serena:  Ahh, a chocolate lover after my own heart! What’s worse… spiders or snakes?

Robin:  Centipedes!  We don’t have any snakes in Hawaii. They aren’t indigenous and there are strict fines to bringing any into the state.  I killed my first centipede in the backyard when we’d lived here about two months. Freaked me out! The vile creature was six inches long and moved fast. After I’d wacked it in half both halves kept squirming. Gives me the shivers to think about it! All those flailing legs . . . ewww!  I’ve seen the painful, swelling effects of a centipede’s bite and heard lots of stories from locals. I hope I never have my own personal story to add. Can we go on to the next question? I’m starting to feel queasy.

Serena:  That. Sounds. Nasty! New topic! Stat! What’s the best novel you’ve read so far this year?

Robin:  I’m reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin right now. It’s slow going but powerful. Harriet Beecher Stowe is my woman of substance. Her novel changed the course of history. Her life story is fascinating and her faith in God inspires me deeply.

Serena:  If you could pick any one of your many books to be made into a movie, which novel would it be… and who would you cast as the leading lady (or leading man)?

Robin:  I’ve thought about this question a lot over the years. I can easily imagine a number of my novels as movies but if I had to pick one to go into production right away it would be the Christy Miller series. Teen girls have been begging to see Todd and Christy on film for many years. We’ve had lots of conversations with lots of significant people in the television and film industry but so far all the right doors haven’t yet opened at the same time. I’m still praying!

Serena:  Pick one object, one quote, or one “something else” that, to you, is a good depiction of what “romance” should be.

Robin:  I’ve always seen God as the Relentless Lover. We are His first love and He never stops pursuing us because He wants us back. He made us. He wants to be in relationship with us. He pursues us continually but it is up to us to respond.  I see every romance, every love story as being an echo of the great love initiated by God. We were created with a deep longing for love and acceptance and an ongoing intimate relationship. I believe the source of true love comes from God.

Serena:  What’s your favorite movie (or TV show)? Why?

Robin:  Babette’s Feast. I love the way this story shows a humble woman giving her all, extravagantly, to those who don’t know how to appreciate her loving gift. And yet the richness of her gift prompts a heartfelt response from the very soul of every person who was invited to her table. To me this is such a picture of God’s love for us. He gives and gives out of love and we don’t know how to appreciate such a sacrifice. Yet something deep within us cries out in an echoed response.  I love this movie.

Serena:  If you had a regular weekday with nothing on your schedule, but you were NOT allowed to read or write, what would you do?

Robin:  I’d go to the beach. You probably guessed I might say that, right?  It’s surprising how difficult it is to stop normal life and get down to the water even though the beach is within walking distance of where I live. I’d take my beach chair, a big glass of plantation tea (iced tea with a pineapple wedge) and I’d stare out at the ever-changing ocean until it got too warm to be in the sun. Then I’d walk right into the water until the waves covered me and I’d come up, glistening with salt water drops on my eyelashes and grinning all the way from my soul out.


Thanks, Robin, for letting us peek through your windows and into your world!
Find out more about Robin by visiting her website!
GIVEAWAY ALERT: 
Tomorrow I'll be hosting a giveaway in which one lucky reader will win Robin Jones Gunn's YA(ish) romance, Finally and Forever. Come back and visit us tomorrow for my review and all the fun deets on this contest! And don't forget about our multi-author, multi-winner giveaway, still going on through July 31, 2012!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Protecting Paper Books... CONTEST!

This post is not at all about what you probably think it might be about, so let's get this out of the way right off the bat:  I love e-books. I love my Kindle. This post is not some diatribe against the evolving world of book publishing or an essay of angst on the dying beauty of holding a physical book in your hands. I am a certifiable e-book convert, so this is a plea, on behalf of my burgeoning bookshelves, to save the lives of the paperback tomes that litter the floor around them.

You see, I receive 1-4 books weekly (yes, WEEKLY!) from enthusiastic authors, publishers, and publicists looking to build internet momentum and sales. It's awesome really. I mean, FREE BOOKS?! I smile every time I approach my mailbox or see the UPS man or FedEx lady at my door. I can't tell you how much I love my job!
ALBUS 
age 11-1/2 weeks

But... I have a puppy.

And he loves to devour literature, too.  Just a bit more literally than I.

Let me introduce you.

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian, the Second, came to live with us one cold Saturday in April when he was 11-1/2 weeks old. Albus is an F1B Goldendoodle (at least I think that is the right combo of letters and numbers) which means, in short, his mama was a Goldendoodle (1/2 Golden Retriever & 1/2 Standard Poodle) and his daddy was a Standard Poodle. It also means that he doesn't shed. At all. I mean, seriously, you can run a wet hand over his fluffy white coat and it will come away clean. The most frequent comment we get from guests (following the gasp) is, "He looks like a teddy bear! He doesn't even look real!" So, aside from the obvious benefits of having a dog with whom even the allergic dog lovers in my house can snuggle with utter abandon, he is undeniably adorable.
It's a rough life,
devouring all that literature.
Big surprise (not) to you Harry Potter fans out there, Albus was named after the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Professor Albus Dumbledore. Yes, we're fans. And it fits him... sort of. I mean, just look at that face. Doesn't he look just a little bit like a wise old man? Ah, yes. But looks can be deceiving, can't they? If only my Albus had a bit of the calm reserve of his venerable, yet playful namesake. My Albus, however, has not yet mastered the virtue of self-control. Instead, anything within my Albus's ever-expanding reach, especially if it's made of paper, is the most delightful substance to tear, chew, and, apparently, try to digest.
ALBUS:
his halo, also,
is often a little askew

Alas, I'm reminded (sometimes hourly) that even Albus the First went through a period of wildness in his youth (with even more drastic consequences) before he became the beloved Headmaster whose desire to protect the good outweighed his greed nature (for more on that, read  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But don't bother if you haven't read the other 6 books yet. Seriously. You'll be lost.)**Yes, I would love to post a picture of the original Professor Dumbledore to compare next to my version, but since you know who -- no, not that You Know Who! -- owns all rights to all things HP, I must decline.**

For now, however, Albus the Second is a greedy little (well, big now!) puppy who destroys a lot of stuff. I've lost books, notebooks, entire boxes of Kleenexes, a bath mat, and at least three pair of shoes to Albus's destructive glee. Therefore, I've devised a contest to help me keep some of these books, at least, out of his reach; and to give you, dear reader, some new reading material, in paper form. I am proud to announce the:

Protect Paper Books From My Puppy Contest!!!
For those of you who kept reading this post even after my dog-naming, fan-love endorsement of Potter, I have A BRAND NEW giveaway of EPIC proportions. I have many books that need a new home, from every conceivable sub-category of Inspirational Romance. I have Suspense, YA, Historical, Contemporary, Chick-lit, Rom-com, Amish, speculative fiction... you name it, I probably have it. But I'm out of room and Albus has a sensitive stomach. (Gee, I wonder why!) Some of these novels are titles I've reviewed here (or over at USA Today's Happy Ever After. Or both), some I've declined, and some I just didn't have time to read and they've passed their expiration dates for review. I'll freely admit that one or two might have bite marks on the covers... or tape putting the cover back together after having been ripped of by McFluffy (one of Albus's nicknames) but they are still quite readable. Most are still in like-new or nearly-new condition, just forced to live in fear on the floor space around my bookshelves!!
Your participation can help ensure their survival.
Heh, heh. That sounded dramatic, didn't it???
Read the directions below and ENTER TO WIN! I will keep your preferences in mind and, if you are a winner, I will include in your box at least one book that comes from from a sub-cat you adore... if not more.

But you can't have my puppy. I mean, he's snuggletacular, right?
ALBUS: just shy of 5 months old
(7/13/12)
HERE'S HOW YOU ENTER!
Leave a comment below stating the following 4, (well, 5 really--so read directions carefully!) things:

1. A non-review topic you'd like to see me address on this blog (it can be anything,  but if relates to reading, writing, blogging, or the like it would be more relevant for me to pursue!)

2. Your top two (in order) fave sub-categories of Inspy romance (feel free to use the numbers from the list above if your fingers are tired from typing or something. I'm all about looking out for your health, you know.)

3. The fictional hero or heroine whose name YOU might consider using for a pet someday AND what sort of pet you would grace with that name. For example, (true story!) I once had a cat named Mr. Knightley (in honor of the hero from Jane Austen's Emma.)

4. Your email addy in spam-free terminology. For example:  jane dot doe at jmail dot com. This is important.

HERE'S WHAT YOU WIN
I will send the winner(s) no less than 2 , but up to 4 paperback books (yes, 4!) that fit within their preferred reading parameters. Woot, right? 
The contest is open until July 31, 2012 which happens to be not only my eldest daughter's birthday, but a birthday she shares not only with her grandmother, but with Harry Potter and author, J.K. Rowling, who inspired my destructive puppy's name. Entries will be chosen using the generator at random.org and winner(s) will be contacted via email. Happy reading!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Review: GLAMOROUS ILLUSIONS by Lisa T. Bergren



It's 1913 and Cora Diehl, a teacher-in-training, has just arrived home for summer break. When no one comes to pick her up from the train station she knows something is amiss. She finally arrives home, thanks to a ride from a neighbor, only to find her mother crying over the collapsed form of her father.
It's not long before Cora's father suffers another stroke, this one far more serious. Shortly thereafter, Montana copper magnate Wallace Kensington arrives at the farm and makes an outrageous claim: that he, not Alan Diehl, is Cora's father. Mrs. Diehl quietly corroborates that when she was young she worked as a maid in Mr. and Mrs. Kensington's grand home. Shamefully, she admits to having engaged in an affair with Wallace Kensington and that Cora was a product of that affair. Cora is stunned to learn that Alan Diehl, who has loved her as his own her entire life, married her mother knowing she was pregnant with Kensington's child.
It's a lot to take in, to be sure, but Cora is even more shocked when her mother encourages her to take Mr. Kensington up on his generous offer of claiming the privileges of bearing his name. If she agrees, Alan Diehl could receive the medical help he needs — and Cora could be sure of funds to return to school in the fall. But accepting his offer also means the she would have to join Wallace Kensington's three legitimate children on a grand tour of Europe that will last the entire summer.
Life on their hardscrabble Montana farm has never been easy, but another drought and her father's ailing health can bode only ill for Cora's hoped-for return to school in the fall. Faced with an impossible choice, Cora accepts Wallace Kensington's offer and is swept away into a world of privilege and snobbery that she'd never imagined. As she struggles for a hint of acceptance from her half-siblings, she finds herself drawn to William McCabe, the assistant guide on their grand tour. But there are rules about romance on the tour and, although Will is as drawn to Cora as she is to him, allowing anyone to note his attraction to her could be disastrous. He knows funding his own return to university depends upon the success of this tour and that he must abide by all the rules, both express and implied, or risk delaying his hopes for the future indefinitely. It is an exquisite sort of torture, watching Cora blossom into the new role life has handed her and it is difficult for Will to keep his distance.
As she travels through continents, parlors and ballrooms, Cora Diehl Kensington maneuvers in and out of her party's graces, but finds herself firmly ensconced in the affections of a powerful French nobleman. But until she is able to accept who she is and where she's come from, Cora can't hope to find a measure of peace or be able to decide which of the two men she's drawn to will be the one who will hold her heart.
Glamorous Illusions is the first book of Lisa T. Bergren's new series, The Grand Tour. Setting the glamour of new American wealth against the backdrop of old-world European decadence, Bergren has outdone herself in evoking the romance of life among the pre-WWI privileged classes. As Cora moves from farm to mansion to ship to palace, the reader is gifted with a vivid sense of place, with each setting held to the next by the wonder of Cora's experience and Will's corresponding (and slightly jaded) knowledge of the same. Whether the characters indulge in the muted, sunshiny sweetness of the outdoors or the enchanted richness of a drawing room soiree, Bergren's deft prose brings to mind scenes from period films such as Somewhere in TimeTitanic and Tuck Everlasting.
Although Cora is drawn to Will, the subsequent tepidity of his affection opens her up to acknowledge attention from others. When wealthy Lord Richelieu singles her out, Cora is both vulnerable and curious enough to enjoy his favor. Although Bergren's description of this handsome (and surprisingly thoughtful) French nobleman is certainly alluring, his formal name couldn't help but bring to mind a certain nefarious cardinal made famous by Alexandre Dumas and, due to that unavoidable reference, I much preferred when Cora referred to him by his given name, Pierre. There are two more books in the series and, while I doubt Lord Richelieu will ever completely go over to the dark side, I do so love a good love triangle, and I look forward to Pierre being the biggest obstacle (after Will himself) to Will finding his place within Cora's heart and the Kensingtons' world.
Set just one year after the Titanic disaster, Glamorous Illusions is a lovely beginning to a series that transports readers to another time where they, along with Cora, can ponder the intricacies of family identity, the mystery of romance and the beauty of all the world has to offer on The Grand Tour.
(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Serena's Rating:

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Networking for Fun and Profit (**Sarcasm Alert!)

**Disclaimer: The following post may contain sarcasm, snarkiness, self-deprecating humor, and leading comments that may or may not be the actual opinion of the author who may or may not have composed them while under the influence of hormonal fluctuations. Now fully recovered, (at least for a couple of weeks) she hopes to entertain you for a bit of a moment. Read at your own risk. You have been warned.**
Glossy lip service... or a sincere endorsement?
How can a reader know?
So I was hopping around the other day over at my favorite place to drop large sums of money in small, downloadable doses (think of a jungle area known for its large warrior women) and found myself reading book reviews. Honestly. Sometimes I wonder about the reviews and author endorsements I see out there in book land. (Not yours, of course. Your reviews are both insightful and witty.) I have often become victim to a glowing recommendation found on the cover of a book and, I must say, the more I read the more I am caused to wonder if the quotes on the jacket of a book are entirely sincere. Especially when that book disappoints me. (And no, I'm not talking about your book. I simply adored your book!)

It's not that I doubt the words written. I mean, no self-respecting author or reviewer would LIE. I just wonder if there is a little missing disclaimer between the lines that otherwise seem positive, but are not necessarily radiating enthusiasm. (And BTW, I'm making these up. So if you've written similar lines, as I have from time to time, please don't feel that I'm picking on you, your review, or your book. I'm not. At least not anymore than I'm picking on ME or my reviews or my books which, by the way, none of you have yet read and, therefore, can neither endorse nor reject. So there.)

Let's say you ran across a book with this endorsement on its cover, 
written by an author or reviewer you trust:

"...an engrossing tale of love, loss, and triumph by someone who is sure to become a favorite new author." ~Awesome W. Riter, author of Don't You Just Love Me?

So you bought it, you read it, and you found the book to be... less than remarkable. In truth, you found it barely tolerable. (Thank you, Mr. Darcy.)

What could the problem be? Is it you? Is it the book? Is it (gasp!) a strange tropical fever to which only book reviewers are susceptible?
Diagnosis: Reviewer's Pinocchioitis

Perhaps the reviewer was honest. Mostly. She just left out a little disclaimer when she gave her endorsement.

Maybe it went a little something like this:
"Sure, I was a little bored, but I stayed up until 2 a.m. just to (finally) finish this torture. Um, I mean book, because the author was super nice to me at a conference. Oh, and the plot did include some love, loss, and triumph. It was a bit difficult to find, of course, amid the extraneous adverbs and sloppy dialogue, but it was there and I almost enjoyed it. Anywho, taste is subjective, right? I'm sure someone out there will find this particular style of writing awesome and will consider her to be among their favorite new authors."

or there's the "my civic duty" disclaimer:
"When I signed up for this organization/crit group/membership it was with the understanding that if any of us got published the rest of us were "unofficially" required to promote the book by any means we can. I'm just (groan)doing my (sigh) duty."

Or its ugly cousin:
"I mean, really! This author and I are in the same writers' organization/crit group/zipcode, and since the continuation of our organization/crit group/community depends on dues, and dues depend on writers being able to afford them, and writers being able to afford them depends on their books selling, why, sure I endorsed this book! If it sells a lot, she'll have to endorse MY next book. It's reciprocal!"
"Go... team?"

Yes, I know, this may sound a bit skeptical, a bit jaded, but... seriously. Have you ever bought a book because of an endorsement by an author (or a reviewer you trust) and then been bored out of your flippin' mind? I know I have. I know I've thought, "Really? I thought you had better taste than that." It makes me wonder. Just sayin'.

So I pose to you this very jaded-sounding question:  Has novel networking turned into some mindless pep rally where, if you're a member of the right clique your book will undoubtedly make the homecoming court of the social media semi-finals?

Maybe.

Or maybe I just need a Midol and some fudge.

In any case, I'm going to do my best to avoid that here. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings by refusing to review or endorse their work, but I also fear what damage might occur if we allow ourselves to be pressured into endorsements -- into putting "our good name" on something simply because we fear of offending this or that "clique" within the genre. If we are a team, we need to have try-outs, right? Not every book is going to automatically make first team on the varsity squad.

Just my thoughts, for whatever they're worth (which is about as much as you paid to read this.) Now go read a book or something. For a few honest suggestions, see below!

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