The Lettered Affair by Alice Ayden

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So this book was written as a 4 novella series. It actually read somewhat like a magazine or newspaper serial that you would read week after week. The books picked up directly after the first one ends as if there was no break. Additionally, the entire series was written in the form of letters between the characters. Most times that doesn’t work out as well as the author hopes, but in this case it worked brilliantly.

The story follows two sisters as they deal with the people in their lives in Victorian England. Cassandra is the elder sister who has married the  cousin to which her father’s house was entailed. It was not a love match, but they get along fine. She meets Lord Halithorpe, Henry, and falls in love. As she would never betray her husband, this puts a great strain on her when she finds out her love is returned. Cassie’s sister Juliana is the youngest sister and refuses to marry  without love. After Cassie is married, she goes to the home of a friend, where she meets Lord Kemnay, Retton, whom she works with regularly to help his sister. In the midst of all this is Henry’s brother, Nathaniel, and Juliana’s mother (Cassie’s stepmother) Patience make it their mission to destroy the two girls and their options for happily ever after.

I actually greatly enjoyed how well-developed and complex the characters were in this book. Through the letters being written back and forth between the characters (it’s not just between Cassie and Juliana, but between all the characters) you get a real sense of what they’re like. Some of the letters are written as scenes, but they are put in such a context that you get to see the scene and not forget you are reading a letter. You fall in love with the girls’ beloved. You are entertained and delighted with the grandmother of Henry and Nathaniel. You feel compassion for Retton and a building hatred and pity for Patience and Nathaniel.

Even though it is written through letters, the story is amazingly easy to follow, but still complex. There were twists and turns that I had not expected, but did a fantastic job of further developing the characters and keeping the story line from going stale. It is a clean romance as well, which was wonderful because you could focus on the myriad of emotions playing through all the letters.

I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who likes historical romances or clean romances. Also, anyone who enjoys fiction that focuses on the development of relationships and even mind-games. For anyone getting into historical, clean romance or fiction, this would be an interesting book to start with. I thought the story line was  fresh, the twists and turns kept it from being a standard or overused story line I’ve read before. Also, the format kept the information presented interesting because you would cleaning switch between characters. A definite read-again in the future.

 

My rating:

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This book has been on my to-read list for quite a while. I had downloaded the Kindle book a while ago and when I logged on to Audible, I found I could get the audiobook for free since I had purchased the corresponding Kindle book. I am quite glad that I read the book. I added it to my list of books to read before you die. It quite an uplifting story and would be great for anyone to read.

The story follows 10 year old Miss Mary. She grew up in India with her parents until cholera wiped out her household. When she was little, she was raised by her nurse and was given anything she wanted. Everyone had to listen to her and do what she said. So when everyone was gone, she didn’t really know what to do. She was sent to live with her uncle in England. Her uncle was very hands off and left her to her own devices. Between her maid, the housekeeper, and a gardener, she slowly transitions from a spoiled, bored, sickly child to a rather independent, lively child who enjoys gardening. She is encouraged by everyone to spend as much time outdoors to improve her health and strength. She meets Dicken, her maid’s brother who has a strong affinity for animals and talking to him helps her see the world differently. She finds her way into a garden that has been shut-up and hidden for a decade. Between her and Dicken they begin to bring the garden to life and the changes they make there begin to reflect themselves in the spirits and health of the young ones. Mysterious crying in the house leads to a new discovery the helps to bring the magic of the secret garden completely to life.

I think the story is a great message to everyone. It teaches about the importance of not being spoiled and lazy. It shows acceptance of disabilities and illustrates the power of thoughts. I found the story to be highly enjoyable and engaging. The writing was simple and fun to read. The language was not extremely difficult but it did provide vocabulary that most children now-a-days do not hear very often. It is also told from the child’s point of view so it will be very easy for children to relate to. Even as an adult, I was able to connect with the story. The simple lessons taught throughout that I mentioned before are relevant even to an adult’s life and it helps to see the world through their eyes. I highly recommend this book if you have never read it before.

My rating:

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The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

 

I was actually quite surprised by this book. It was written in language on the modern end of old English. The phrasing and some of the vocabulary are old and interesting, but for the most part the language and phrasing are very common, probably intended for the general public to be able to read and understand it.

The book is also written in a series of events, I guess you could call them. They are not short stories exactly, but each chapter is its own event. The combination of all the stories and the order they are in create the story of Robin Hood – it is not one stream-lined novel. For example, one chapter is about how Robin Hood meets Little John and another is how he meets Will Scarlet. There is also a chapter on the archery match that Robin Hood participates in for the Queen. The rest are simply stories of their life in the woods and how they robbed different people. The methods they used were different for each chapter and were interesting to read about. One particularly interesting chapter was when Robin Hood and Little John challenged each other to see which would be a better day – spending one as a beggar or one as a wandering friar. Little John’s chapter followed his day as a wandering friar and the next chapter followed Robin Hood’s day as a beggar. These are the kind of stories that fill the many chaptered novel of life in Sherwood Forest.

The thing that stood out the most to me was how much Hollywood has taken this original story of Robin Hood and changed it. There is no Maid Marion in the book at all. Robin Hood (SPOILER ALERT) actually dies at the end, which is pretty much unheard of. You also see him during three different rulers – King Harry, King Henry, and King John. There is actually very little between Robin Hood and Prince John, they only really become enemies at the very end when Robin decides to leave the King’s service. It does talk a little about how much he was favored by King Henry. There were a few stories where he interacted with King Harry. And there was an animosity between Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham, but it is not a key part of the story line. Also, Robin Hood and his band are very clearly thieves and con artists, nice ones and they donated to the poor, but definitely thieves.

I’d recommend this to anyone who likes adventures stories, stories about merry old England, or likes the history of Robin Hood. It is definitely not for everyone, but the book is appropriate for almost any age. The language will annoy some people and the pieced together story line will be hard for some people to understand and follow. However, the story moves along and can be put down and picked up again easily. I’d probably read it again if I was bored and looking for something to read, but that probably won’t be for a good while.

My rating:

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Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

 

The first thing that surprised me about this book was the time period it was set in. Usually “classics” are set in times before 1900/1910. This book actually takes place in the thirties, after the invention of cars, telephones, and general connection to electricity. It had a faint Gatsby type quality to it. The second thing that surprised me was that the narrator never gave her name. Throughout the book she is not addressed directly, except as “Mrs. de Winter” after she is married. It was quite interesting for some reason.

The narrator is a young woman you first me working as a companion to an American woman in Monte Carlo. There she meets Maximillian de Winter, a recent widower. The two have a very fast courtship and marry within the month. The return to Manderley, his well-known estate house. As the narrator settles in to married life (and during her courtship), she becomes aware that any reference to Maxim’s first wife Rebecca causing great tension within him. He doesn’t like to talk about her or hear her mentioned. At the house, she feels the anger of the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who resents her taking Rebecca’s place. The narrator feels a constant competition going on between herself and the deceased Rebecca. This causes much heartache, pain, and tension through the first half of the book. Everything comes to a head at the Fancy Dress Ball that is held in her honor. Afterwards, you learn a great deal more about the drama that unfolded at the house before her arrival and the previous Mrs. de Winter’s death. The twists and turns the story takes at this point are quite fascinating and you really get to know and like several characters.

As I read it, I could see how it was considered a classic. The story line was quite interesting, but took it a step further by adding twists and turns one never saw coming. It takes a while though to really get into it. I had a feeling like I was reading Wuthering Heights for a while, where you hate (actually feel rage and hate) toward many of the characters in the book. It gives the impression of a twisted love story for a while. After the Fancy Dress Ball there is a marked change in numerous characters that improves the story greatly for the better. You let out a sigh of relief when you discover the different truths scattered throughout Manderley and with the de Winter household. I have trouble deciding whether or not I like the book actually. I really despised the beginning, actually wanted to stop reading it, but my husband assured me it was well worth it to finish. He was quite right. I was glad I finished it, not exactly happy about the way it ended, sort of a cliff hanger, but it ended strong. I chose to go with 4 cheese bits instead of 3 for my rating because I would read it again if I was looking for an interesting, non-traditional story.

My rating:

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The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1) by Jasper Fforde

Let me start by saying this is a solid sci-fi novel and I am usually not a fan of sci-fi. That being said, I actually enjoyed the book. I picked it up because it kept showing up on my recommended reading list on multiple sites LOL. I found it used at a bookstore and thought, Why not?

The first half of the book is setup and it was hard for me to stay engaged. A lot of background, setting, and explanation of what the world is like, in addition to the set up for the story line. However, without it the rest of the book doesn’t make much sense. Once you got past the first part, it picked up from there and it was focused solely on the main story line.

The book is a little hard to describe, but the back cover/book description does a fairly decent job. It is set in an alternate 1980s England and follows the main character, Thursday Next. There are airships instead of planes, do-dos are pets, and everyone is OBSESSED with literature. There is a group of special operations divisions that carry out different tasks – SpecOps 5 is Search and Containment of criminals, SpecOps 12 is ChronoGuard that monitors time travel and the time line, SpecOps 17 is Werewolf and Vampire Disposal, and Thursday’s division of SpecOps 27 – Literatec that monitors stolen or forged literature and literary crime. There are a lot of others, but these ones you run into in the book. Her dad is a ChronoGuard fugitive who pops in and out of the story traveling through time. Her uncle is an inventor and her love interest is a writer.

The book opens with a Charles Dickens manuscript getting stolen by a man named Hades. There are issues during the recovery operation and Thursday transfers home to the smaller office in Swindon. Her uncle and one of his inventions is kidnapped. Shortly after, a character goes missing from the Dickens story. Before Thursday and her crew can get the manuscript back, Hades steals the Jane Eyre original manuscript and Jane gets pulled out of the book. This is about halfway into the book, and it really picks up at that point. I happen to love Jane Eyre and if you are familiar with the book, you notice some interesting changes throughout The Eyre Affair, but it all works out in the end.

Once I got past the background phase of the book, I really like it. I can see why people say you should read it at least once. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys sci-fi or interesting literature stories. I thought it was a lot of fun and a neat take on the world. Not sure if I will read more of the series because I mainly picked this one up because of my love for Jane Eyre but I’m glad I read it. You should check it out!

My rating:

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The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

I came across this book in my BookBub feed on sale a few weeks ago. I like ghost stories, and the premise sounded interesting so I bought it. I read it in a few days, so it was nice and long. It was also really easy to follow, which is sometimes hard with ghost stories.

The book is set in the early 1920s in England, right after the end of World War I. The story follows Sarah Piper as she is hired by Alistair Gellis to help her on a ghost hunting expedition. The ghost hated men and he therefore needed a female assistant to help him find evidence to support the existence of the spirit. She had no idea how her world would change. Through multiple encounters with the spirit of Maddy and interviews with her surrogate family, you learn the story of Maddy. A story about a traumatized teenage girl who takes her own life and finds herself still stuck in the world. As the book develops, you are drawn into wanting to help Sarah. Along the way, you meet Matthew, Alistair’s usual assistant, and many members of the nearby town. The details of Maddy’s arrival at the Clare house and her subsequent shuddered life begin to unravel and it is a race against time to find an answer to Maddy’s questions and demands.

I was blown away by this book. Usually, books with ghosts are a pretty standard story line and romance component, but this one stood head and shoulders above the others. I will definitely read it again. I loved the intricacies of the characters and the unwinding of the details of the story. There was a love story component in it, but it was not the focus of the story, which was nice since the book was not filled with sex scenes. The whole book fascinated me and kept me engaged in the story. I can’t wait to read another the author’s works. I hope they are just as good as this one was!

My rating:

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Mrs. Queen Take the Train by William Kuhn

This story begins with the Queen of England struggling with a bout of depression. It actually follows the stories of multiple people – the head butler, a stable hand at the Royal Mews, a local cheese store worker, a Lady in Waiting, the head ladies maid to the Queen, and one of the Queen’s assistants – and how their lives interact, connect, and effect each other. The Queen, in a brief moment when she has the ability to leave the palace without a chaperon, takes a chance and heads out. What follows is an interesting account of the different people she meets and how she reconnects with the public. It also follows her entourage at the palace and how they deal with her disappearance.

I had a couple problems with this book. One issue was the age group of the people who were the characters of the book. They were all older individuals, and myself being younger, I was a little distanced from the characters by the experience, knowledge, and empathy that comes with age. The other issue I had was organization. The first half of the book bounces between the present day story line and the back stories for the different characters. It was difficult to bounce back and forth to multiple time periods, places and people. The back stories did help, but I think they could have been integrated better.

Aside from these, I thought it was quite an interesting and inspired story. I liked the approach the author took, focusing on the deep emotions of the impressive monarch and her daily struggles that everyone can relate to in some way. It made her appear very human and very real, not just a figurehead. The desire to just be free for a few short minutes and be able to decide what you would like to do is a right we take for granted and it was highlighted beautifully in the book. It gives you a new appreciation for what the people of the monarchy deal with on a daily basis.

Furthermore, it gives you an amazing view of the importance of the monarchy in Britain. In the US, we have an importance placed on the President, but it is nothing like the love and respect the book portrays of the British people for the monarchy. You are also able to meet and learn about the people who work for the crown, what they do, what is expected of them, and what helps them live and appreciate the crazy schedule and lack of a social life.

I would recommend this book to anyone over forty or anyone interested in a cultural read. I was the latter. I liked the book, am glad I read it, but I will probably not pick it up again. However, it did spark interest in me to look more into the British monarchy and find similar books maybe set in different countries. It would be an excellent book club read as well.

My rating:

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