Fantasy, Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1)

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library, #1)The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This first book in Genevieve Cogman’s steampunk fantasy series, The Invisible Library, brings to mind both Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. Take a less confident and exciting Thursday and drop her in Carriger’s version of Victorian London and you have Irene, a Librarian on a mission.
Though it lacks the fun of Carriger’s novels and isn’t as well put together as Fforde’s, the concept of an all-encompassing library with agents recruited, trained, and sent out to alternate worlds to collect special, rare, or important books, has potential. The setting of Irene’s mission is wrought with dangers that include the Fae, Vampires, Werewolves, giant metal insects, and one fabled rogue Librarian. It is these dangers that give the story its thrills but I often found myself confused about the magic of Cogman’s creation. It seemed as though the rules of the Library (and the alternate) change to suit the story. I couldn’t get a hold of Irene’s character either – sometimes she’s modern while other times she’s old-fashioned like the setting of her mission; sometimes she’s a strict rule follower and sometimes she’s making things up as she goes. As for the other characters, I like Peregrin Vale very much because, like Irene, and a big Sherlock Holmes fan; I am looking forward to getting to the mysterious Kai better as I continue to read the series (because I will be continuing though I wasn’t sure I until the end of this book whether I would or not), but Bradamant I could have done without.

If you enjoy The Invisible Library because you are a bibliophile who dreams of living in a library or inside the books themselves, pick up Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next Series beginning with The Eyre Affair.  If it is the fantastical setting you like, and you wished this book had a bit of romance, I highly recommend Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, the first book of which is Soulless.

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Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: The Lager Queen of Minnesota

The Lager Queen of MinnesotaThe Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Confession time. I have never even tasted a beer – I just can’t get past the smell – so I didn’t always understand, or care about, the technical details of the brewing process or get the romance that the drinking and brewing of the stuff held for some of the characters in J. Ryan Stradal’s second novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, which is the story of two sisters, Edith and Helen, and the repercussions of one’s efforts to make her dream of becoming a brewer a reality.
My lack of understanding about beer, however, did not impede my enjoyment of the story. Nor did it stop me from caring deeply about the three women at the center of the story, which is less about beer than it is about family, finding one’s passion and following it, love, the strength of women, and forgiveness. The characters are richly drawn and their world so utterly real that it is impossible not to be drawn into their lives and to root for them – not just their professional success – even when I wanted to physically drag Helen out of her ivory tower of pride and fear.
J. Ryan Stradal showed his writing talent in his first novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest but his second novel is more cohesive while still illustrating both the small-ness and large-ness of the world with the close encounters and connections between the characters as their paths remain divided.  And I have to say ‘cheers’ to that!  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)

There is something reminiscent of Fannie Flagg in reading J. Ryan Stradal’s writing, especially in The Lager Queen of Minnesota – perhaps it is the middle-America setting or the strong, complex female characters – but with more rough edges.  Still, I haven’t yet read anything too much like his work.  I definitely recommend reading Kitchens of the Great Midwest even if I found that it read more like a series of short stories that come together at the end.  If it is the strong, complex women in a multi-generational story that you enjoy, Kathy Hepinstall’s The Book of Polly is a great read.

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Chick-Lit, For the Love of Books, Reviews, Romance

Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

In public Nina was a quiet, reserved person; in private she was an all-singing, all-dancing cavalcade of light and motion.

We are introduced to the heroine of Abbi Waxman’s latest novel in the bookstore where she works as a customer attempts to return a certain literary masterpiece after reading it, claiming that it was boring. Thus we are introduced to Nina Hill and the general feel of this novel. That literary classic was Pride and Prejudice and there is something about The Bookish Life of Nina Hill that feels like reading a Jane Austen work.
Like an Austen novel, this one centers around a lovable, complex heroine that many readers will recognize very well (I know that I did, sometimes thinking that Waxman somehow has seen inside my head) and will probably want to be friends with. Nina’s expanding world is filled with delightful characters with personalities that pop of the pages, making the reader feel even more connected with Nina herself as she struggles to take it all in. Those familiar with Waxman’s work will recognize a few of those characters from her previous novels, The Garden of Small Beginnings and Other People’s Houses as well as her trademark irreverent wit. Also like Miss Austen’s work, the romance storyline, while wonderful, is just icing on an already delicious cake.
Like Nina’s life, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is not a fast-paced, thrill a minute story. This is a comfortable read with plenty of laugh-out-loud humor and insightful wisdom. Being a story about a book lover who works in a bookstore there are also a few book recommendations to be found in its pages, which is always a nice bonus.

There are a lot of books out there about book lovers like Nina and you and me.  Try They Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms, How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry, or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell if what you’re looking for is a character with which you can identify.  Also, I don’t think I can state enough how much I love Abbi Waxman’s books so, if you haven’t already, check them out The Garden of Small Beginnings and Other People’s Houses.

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Reviews

Review: Nine Perfect Strangers

Nine Perfect StrangersNine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story of nine very different people attending a luxury health retreat that turns a bit sinister is often quite funny but the narrative isn’t as taut as the only other novel of Moriarty’s I’ve read so far – Big Little Lies. There was, for me, a lack of urgency in learning all of the secrets of all of the characters through at least the first half of the book. Instead, the time is spent introducing the characters – usually through the eyes of the other characters- and lulling the reader and Tranquillium’s guests into a false sense of security. Romance writer Frances Welty is the heart, soul, and wit of the book. It was Frances and her unique world view that kept the book entertaining enough to keep me reading when I didn’t particularly care about finding out what would come later. I often wished, especially early on in the novel, that the Frances chapters weren’t interrupted in favor of other points of view. By the end of Nine Perfect Strangers, though, I had come to care for at least most of the guests.

Nine Perfect Strangers can, at times, be a slow read, getting mired down in details but it is a fun read.  However, it doesn’t come close to being as well-written and thrilling as Big Little Lies so, if you haven’t already, I absolutely recommend reading that one.

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Chick-Lit, Reviews, Romance

Review: Well Met

Well MetWell Met by Jen DeLuca

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Thank you to Goodreads and Berkley Publishing for the opportunity to read this ARC of Jen DeLuca’s first (of what will hopefully be many!!) novel, Well Met. I loved this rom/com set around a small-town Renaissance Faire from the word go. Emily is a delightful heroine with an intelligent sense of humor and a wounded heart that just makes you recognize her and want to root for her. But it is Simon with his deep emotional scars and lost sense of self that combined with his swaggering, swashbuckling alter-ego makes for a not only swoon-worthy but relatable hero.
Emily and Simon’s early encounters – even before the start of the faire – crackle like a cross between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and Benedick and Beatrice. And if their dialogue crackles, then their love scenes absolutely sizzle.
Nerd that I am, though, I believe that it is all made better by the Ren Faire setting and the many allusions to Shakespeare. I only wish there had been more scenes from the fair in the last chapters because I enjoyed Emma and Captain Ian’s banter so much.

I’m a sucker for a well-written romantic comedy like Well Met with intelligent, relatable characters.  If you are too, I recommend the novels of Kelly Harms – I particularly enjoyed The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane – and Louise Miller whose The Late Bloomers’ Club was one of my favorite reads from last year.  If you enjoy the modern-day meets historical setting of the Renaissance Faire, I loved Shannon Hale’s Austenland.

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