November 15, 2017

Review: The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

Usually I devour stories that I love this much, but there’s just something about Katherine Reay’s writing that makes me want to pause and deliciously savor every. single. word. This story was so good I think I might have changed my mind about which of her books is my favorite! But I suppose it’s to be expected considering how big a fan of Jane Austen I am, huh? ;) This story is DELIGHTFUL. And glorious! Well worth your time, my friends.

At its heart is a friendship. I am always blown away by how Ms. Reay seems to have such a clear understanding of how to write relationships between characters which depict the real, messy, and complicated emotions that we human beings deal with. Our relationships with the people around us aren't always easy, and so, likewise, Mary and Isabel's friendship is struggling mightily when we first meet them. The problems between them are barely understood by either, yet as they are forced into constant proximity, Mary begins to realize there is so much more to the story than just what she's seeing and experiencing. Thus by getting a change in perspective, it allows her eyes to truly be opened to her own abilities and flaws. And the growth that begins to transpire as the story builds to the climax is so beautifully written!

From the very first page, I instantly liked Mary. I understood so many of her emotions and inability to fully express them properly. I related to the fact that she feels so very much! But Isabel, on the other hand? She isn't nearly so likeable. Yet that did not deter me from wishing to see these two friends restored, somehow, because, of the many things Ms. Reay excels at, taking seemingly unlikeable characters and infusing them with humanity and heart (even if hidden deep) is certainly one such! Isabel seems to have the setup of a villain in the story, yet we understand that she isn't one. Don't get me wrong, she really does make some awful choices and acts pretty terrible several times, yet there was just something intriguing about her that made me want to change my mind. Consequently, I spent so much of her time on the page simultaneously wishing she'd go away, yet wanting to understand her better! :D

Then there's Nathan. Ah, my heart! I was so pleased whenever he'd show up. Watching he and Mary tiptoe around each other is super adorable! Especially when they stop tiptoeing and finally begin being honest. Let's just say there was many a swoonworthy moment! ;) Yet for all the cute he brings, he is also a catalyst for change. He brings abrupt change to Mary and Isabel's relationship, as well as causing Mary to begin to understand herself better. In fact, they both challenge each other in all the best (and sometimes uncomfortable) ways! I can truly root for a couple who inspire each other to growth within themselves. Their relationship balances so well between the adorable and the complicated and messy.

One of the most fascinating things about Ms. Reay's writing is her innate understanding of people. I always seem to relate to her characters, even when we have completely different tastes and opinions! Somehow I always see bits of myself in them, or even of real people I know. She interprets real life so well that we instantly connect and relate! Plus I had several instances where I had to reread certain passages numerous times, just to allow the beautiful words time to really sink into my heart. Whenever that starts happening, I know the book is truly something special!

I read and reread so many paragraphs, I was thoroughly swept up into Mary's life and dearly wishing such an Austen-themed experience actually existed! I fell in love with the sweetness of the romance, and not to mention the side characters...! Oh, how could I forget how much I adored Benson and Moira and Gertrude! Especially Gertrude. I loved how one true conversation with her created this instant connection that was a refuge for Mary during some distressing moments. So true of real life, how some people we just feel a kinship with immediately.

All this to say that I clearly have FEELINGS for this wonderful story! I can say nothing else but that you should read it immediately! Don't wait, don't hesitate, just read it. I can't imagine you being disappointed. :)

**I received a complimentary copy from Thomas Nelson via Netgalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

"When I called Dad to report, we spent fifteen minutes pondering what we could measure in skittles and how many each project might take."

"...I love books. The weight. The smell. The bigger the better. It’s a shame Encyclopedia Britannica doesn’t print all those encyclopedias anymore. Weren’t those the best?"

"...I knew I was probably still missing nuances and subtleties and most of her [Jane Austen] brilliance, but what I caught was captivating."

"This deep quiet felt as if it had been growing and solidifying for years rather than moments or hours....I felt myself expand, breathe deep. I felt myself listening."

"And I was diminishing--as one should before the size and unending grandeur of the universe. It wasn't that I was smaller or less significant; it simply felt like I didn't need to fight for a place within it or for my own protection. I simply was, and that was enough."

"Music is math, and once you understand that...How can anyone not be in awe? It's the audible expression behind the laws of the universe. It feels like the only thing, apart from God, that lives outside time. Once released, it lives on and it can make you laugh and cry, rip you apart and heal you, all within a few discrete notes strung together. And while it follows rules, express is limitless."

"It was about music, fear, voice, running away and tucking close. It was about family and swirling emotions I couldn’t name, but I felt in my heart as it pounded with each step."

November 7, 2017

Happy Release Day, The Austen Escape! {Also, you're invited...}

Happy release day to The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay! 

34460584Did y'all know that I LOVE Katherine's stories? I have been known to gush in my reviews, I believe, so you probably do, right? ;) Anyhoo! Today is publishing day for her latest release The Austen Escape, and you can imagine that combining two of my favorite authors, Jane Austen and Ms. Reay herself, means that I am definitely reading this one! :D

I've actually had my copy for a couple weeks, but life prevented me from starting. Which is not all bad! Because I'm going to be reading it simultaneously with my #bookbesties starting today. Yay! (Which also means I'm planning to go straight home after writing this post and immediately beginning chapter one. Double yay!)

Which leads me to the main reason for this post. If you care to join, we're doing a little read-along. Mainly we'll be discussing on Twitter, using the hashtag #TAERAL. Even if you don't join in, but want to check out our convos, I guarantee there'll be LOTS of gushing and pure awesome going on. (Just sayin')

Also! Courtney says she's collecting questions to ask Ms. Reay, which she'll then post about once we're finished reading. So head over to her post for the details!

Meanwhile, please promise me that you'll check out her books? Believe me when I say that she's a fabulous writer!! :)

October 24, 2017

Review: Hometown Girl by Courtney Walsh

Oh friends, where on earth am I supposed to begin talking about this delightful little story?! There is so much to love about it and I'm afraid all I'm going to be able to do is gush. Which, I know, isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I'm sure you'd like to hear more than just "It's amazing, go read it!". But for the official record, it is amazing and you should go read it. :)

Can I just start with how much I loved the quietness of the story? There's no huge emotional bursts that lend themselves to full on angst and drama, which is my favorite way for a story to go. Oh there's certainly emotion, with a little drama/mystery mixed in, but it's not all that one experiences. The biggest emotional bursts that occur feel like precisely what needs to come after certain plot shenanigans. The build up of tension leading to those moments make the emotions of the character natural and perhaps even necessary. Because we human beings, when dealing with hard things that have caused us immense grief and pain, don't usually just simply let go, it's more of a process for us.

Hence what captivated me most about Beth and Drew; the quiet, introverted nature of both of them, yet the real emotion that hovered beneath their surfaces, causing them to draw into themselves. And the way they could each sense that about the other, see it in the little things that most other people overlooked, and, while it took stepping out of their comfort zones in order to do so, sought to find ways to help. They simply couldn't ignore each other, no matter how hard they tried! I think this may be the first story I've read where there is very little actual conversation between the two main characters initially, but goodness the build up of chemistry is high-powered and electric! I was on pins and needles every time one of them approached the other, even if no words were spoken between them!

I especially loved that Drew was this quiet, taciturn type of hero. His inability to express his thoughts would make him seem like not a very romantic sort, but oh let me tell you!! He knows how to make a girl swoon! And poor Beth never even stood a chance. ;) Yet more than just the swooniness of their romance charmed me, it was the way they innately understood each other and how they became such safe places for the other. I absolutely LOVED that all the parts of themselves that they struggled to accept and love were so very easily accepted, loved, and make perfectly imperfect in the other. They complement each other so beautifully! So how could I do anything but love the two of them like crazy in response?

I loved the Whitaker family as a whole as well. Watching the siblings circle each other, yet love each other so fiercely was wonderful! They felt like a real family with all the different quirks and ways they understood each other like no one else could. And those townspeople? So many awesome characters who I could stand to know more about! Seriously, Ms. Walsh. Can you pretty please write more stories based on these characters? I loved them all and want more time with them! :) Overall, this was a glorious immersion into life with Beth and Drew. I closed the final chapter unable to stop thinking about them and all the ways I truly wish they were real. Highly, highly recommend this one, friends!

**I received a complimentary copy from the author via Netgalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Birdie raised an eyebrow. "This farm was built slowly and with a whole lot of love. Do you even take time to enjoy any of it?"
"Sure I do."
"I don't think so. You try to force those plants and flowers to grow, and it's never going to happen. Just water them. Give them light. Eventually they'll shoot up out of that soil like the gladiators they are. They do it because it's what they were made to do."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying if you do what you were made to do, then you'll find the peace you've been looking for. You can't work for it, you know. You just have to rest in it."

October 23, 2017

Bite-Sized Reviews :: Edition Thirty

Hello, my lovelies! Guess what I finally clued in to? That I've posted very few reviews around these parts for the last several months! Of course, part of that is simply because I haven't done much reading. Which is perfectly terrible! But I've just had some minor health issues over the summer and early fall, notably especially the last few weeks. So take that and add to it a major reading funk I've been in and there you have it. I surely wish these things didn't happen, but what can you do? However, I did read several books in early summer I never reviewed, so here I am finally!

I recently reread First & Then and it was just as cute the second time around. So maybe instead of trying to read all new books, I should try rereading a few old favorites! We shall see. Hope all is well on your end of the internet! :)

First & Then by Emma Mills
This is not a perfect story, but it was overall cute and sweet enough that I could overlook the imperfect parts. Mainly due to Foster! Because I absolutely fell in love with his character. :) He's a quiet and smaller part of Devon's story, but there was just something about him that I loved. His way of looking at the world is much simpler than most people's, but that only makes him more endearing. And the way that Devon revolves around him is sweet.

She, herself, is a huge mixture of emotions and teenage angst and trying to find herself. At times, she truly frustrated me, but then she'd do something incredibly sweet for Foster and I'd totally forgive her, much like Foster does. She has such a loving heart, for all her occasional surliness and sarcasm tries to hide it. Her romance with Ezra is quiet and slow-building, which is perfect! It basically sneaks up her until her heart is committed without her realizing. But the truly shining moments in this story is every single interaction between Devon and Foster. Foster is well worth getting to know, friends. I highly recommend "meeting" him. :)

Switching Gears by Chantele Sedgwick
I picked this one up based on a blogging friend's high recommendation and was so happy I did! Even though I hadn't read the first book, Love, Lucas, this one is more of a companion novel than an outright sequel, so it stands very well all on its own. Emmy is the reason I loved this story. Still coping with the grief of losing the boy she loved, I connected with her struggles to handle those complicated emotions. Add to that the fact that her mother has a huge health crisis and I completely understood the way that Emmy was barely hanging on most days. That's a lot for anyone to handle! Having experienced very similar emotions, I was with her every step, wanting so badly to hug her!

It's a slow journey, but with good friends around who refuse to give up on her, she ends her story in a much better place. Speaking of, I loved her relationship with Cole! It's not an easy one, mainly because she has no idea how to manage all the emotions he causes and therefore doesn't always treat him the nicest. But he stays the course and watching as she slowly warms up to him is fun. :) Overall, it's not just a simple story. Emmy's journey is quite difficult at times, but so worth discovering!

Then There Was You by Kara Isaac
Kara Isaac never fails to deliver a swoony romance and this one is just as excellent as her first two! This is so much more than just an entertaining romance though, both Paige and Josh have a journey to go on before they're completely ready to give in to their attraction. They each have a lot of learning to do about who they are and what they truly want in life. Meeting each other and being forced to confront these issues isn't easy for them, but what fun it makes for the reader!

I laughed so many times, mentally cringed when either made a mistake (especially the one at the end! Oh my stars...) due to secondhand embarrassment, and just overall absolutely LOVED this story. I was easily swept up into the magic of life in Australia, which just made me want to actually visit the country some day even more. :) This story has definitely solidified Ms. Isaac as a favorite author and I shall now go and reread all my favorite parts again. And again and again! It's worth the reread, trust me. :)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Wow. I've heard lots of great things about this book and they are certainly deserving! The slower plot and evocative descriptions were right up my alley. While I can see where some may not enjoy those very bits overmuch, I was thoroughly swept up in this world and anxiously waiting to find out what would happen. Plus Jim Dale was an excellent narrator! (I listened to the audiobook.)

I loved each of the details described so lovingly and found myself completely immersed in this world. And what a world it is! It's a feast for the imagination! The reader can see all the sights, hear all the noise of the circus, and smell the wondrous foods to be found there. I've never envisioned everything so incredibly clear before. Ms. Morgenstern certainly has a gift for descriptive writing!

I will say that the myriad of POVs was slightly confusing at first. I couldn't figure out how they were all going to intersect, though I had no doubt that they would eventually. Also the jumps around in time didn't always make a lot of sense, but they did up my anticipation for when everything came together. I had no idea where on earth Ms. Morgenstern was going to take me, but I did love the journey! I think that's the beauty to be found in this story. It's not the ending that's so enticing (although it is at the same time?), but the journey to get to that ending. So enjoy the adventure, friends! It's quite a wonderful ride. :)

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh
So I sat down with this book one Saturday morning planning only on skimming through the beginning a little and...well....a few hours later I looked up having finished it! Totally forgot to eat lunch and everything! I related to so much of Lane's insecurities, fears, and doubts. Although I don't react to them by becoming quite as uptight as she or with as many walls built, yet even so I empathized with her constant mix of emotions. It was like Ms. Walsh had gotten inside my head and written my very thoughts. Thus I was anxious to see how Lane would overcome them and find herself anew. It was a beautiful, and hard, journey for her! When your instinct is to protect yourself, it's difficult to open up and let others in.

That's where Ryan Brooks comes in. I loved how he refused to give up on Lane! He is certainly not without flaws, but the way he could reach inside her walls and connect to her heart, even while she tried to deny it, was wonderful to watch. He is so good for her and watching the two of them slowly come together is swoony and delightful! But it's not just Lane learning from him, he has much to learn from her as well. They help each other grow in so many ways.

Reading this story was like finding dear old friends who filled me with warm fuzzies! Just trying to describe all the happy it gave me makes me really want to immediately go and reread it again. :)


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