Monday, January 05, 2015

Christmas reads catch-up Part I: Mist of Midnight, Me Before You, Dress Shop of Dreams, Unexpected Consequences of Love

I read a ton over Christmas Break  and I want to tell you guys about all the books because there were some great ones; but it is gonna take some time.
The last two Christmases, I was busy writing and writing and writing.  Two years of spending a lot of time getting a publishing career started.   Now that that is underway, I am back to my first love: READING ALL THE BOOKS


Lovely gothic setting complete with rumbling castle and military veteran turned brooding hero. It had the essence of Daphne DuMaurier with more than a sprinkle of Jane Eyre. Having long been enamoured with stories of the spices and mystery of the Orient, I appreciated the vivid tapestry of India interwoven with the British Colonial fervour.

As in her Tudor-set novels, Byrd is adept at interweaving taut verisimilitude with a crafty pen, a keen eye for detail and a favourable reading pace. Mist of Midnight starts at a slow trod but picks up to a fast gallop. You will speed, reader, through the final pages. Victorian gothic is a genre long close to my heart and while I did find that the Christian threads leaned toward being a little too overt ( especially in the case of italicized prayers), you can be darned certain I will seek out the next instalments in this promising series.

Feverishly romantic, stylish and sly, Mist of Midnight is an homage to yarns long past: where ladies were highly fashionable, witty and accomplished and the most desirable of men pitted familial honour with military service and just the right dash of mystery. The grandiose estates, the character depth and the secrets that keep our heroine's head turning hither and yon make this perfect catnip for lovers of BBC period pieces and all things Victorianesque.

(review copy provided by author)

This writer has been on my radar for quite some time now because everyone raves about this book. To add, there were months when you couldn't board a Toronto subway car without seeing the book's ads. The writing was great in a Marian Keyes meets Jane Green type of way; but I think that while the pace plotted and she did interesting things with the narrative, I was somewhat let down when it didn't live up to the high expectation I had.  Yes, the end packs an emotional punch; but you get used to the fist-in-the-gut because she plants it over and over again. Colourful kaleidoscope world of a castle-down and unique characters kept me turning pages.

Perfect Christmas confectionary: all bubble gum light with some surprising romantic threads.  I love a dollop of whipped-cream magic in my fiction and when Sarah Addison Allen mentioned this book on her facebook page, I knew I had to pick it up. I read it basically in one sitting while falling head-over-heels for a guy named Walt: who bakes cherry pies and reads with a luscious legato made for late night airways. Cora, Cora's grandmother Etta, a kindly priest name Sebastian, a sweet-hearted detective and his passionate Italian ex-wife, Milly- a saddened widow--- and Dylan a late-night radio producer---are a village of fictional friends.  I loved the Cambridge setting and the rambles up to Oxford where an age-long mystery will be exposed.  Etta has an enchanted dress-shop: each garment has the ability to make a woman see the best in herself.  Each garment has the propensity to make a woman take a step towards changing her life.  To add, Etta can sew a little heart into a garment and turn a tap on to love: receiving, seeking, finding.  With strange, wistful codes, familial revelations and a scoop of magic,  this homage to books, to the past, to romance and to mysterys had the right balance of superb readability and fantastical fiction to make it to the top of my TBR pile.  I subsequently bought van Praag's previous two books 

I underlined some favourite passages:
"Walt has loved her forever, for nearly as long as he's been alive. He was four years old the first tie he saw her. It's his earliest memory. A simple, ordinary day made special and extraordinary by first love and first words."

"But he loves the empty hours best of all, when he can walk along the aisles and bask in the warmth of the books, their glittering gold letters, their stories softly pulsing between pages just waiting to be opened and read and loved."

"When Cora slips into the book, she forgets herself entirely"

"He sits back behind the counter and opens the door to other worlds: bookshelves transmute into swamp trees, floors into muddy marshes, the ceiling into a purple sky cracked with lightning as he floats down the Mississippi with Huck Finn. When he meets Robinson Crusoe, the trees become heavy with coconuts, the floorboards a barren desert of sand dunes whipped by screeching winds..."

Not only does van Praag paint a majestical, mystical story, she knows very well how entice readers with caramel-coated understanding. She beguiles you in because she is you. She knows that you are flipping open the pages of her book with the high hopes and expectations she has when she reads a book and falls into its world.  The author/reader relationship...the sly glances... the knowing wit establishes immediate camaraderie.  Welcome to my tribe, she asserts, I understand you and here is a whipped creamed ornate spectacle of love and books and Jane Eyre, of soft voices and hope and possibility.   

Give me a Cornish coast... please! honestly, while sinking into the multi-coloured lore of Sophie and Josh and the characters who pepper their mishaps and triumphs, I thought of how perfectly rendered this would be on the big screen.  Mansell is a flamboyant romantic: it spills into each of her pages-- her setting, the winding way in which her characters stumble into love --- her descriptive palette.   I enjoyed the eccentricity of the locals against the central love story.  A great, bubbly, thick fire-side read.  Mansell has a knowing wink to her.  I can tell that she loves writing her books as much as her readers enjoy seeking them out. 

(review c/of Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest opinion)

1 comment:

Sandra Byrd said...

Thank you, Rachel. Now I've got to search out the others you've reviewed and add to the tottering TBR!