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Book Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

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First line: He was still bleeding.

This book is delicious.

It's also so bonkers. But delightfully so.

This debut novel explores the infamous Borden murders, opening with when the first body is found. The novel then shifts to two days before, and eventually, the days after the murder, and the story unfolds through Lizzie, her sister Emma, their maid Bridget, and Benjamin, an itinerant stranger.

Everyone in this book -- save for Bridget -- are awful. If one couldn't think of a reason for the murders, Schmidt offers a handful. The novel is creepy but not gory (just right for me), and there's a wonderfully claustrophobic feel to the narrative. It's a story, too, about frustrated ambitions and passions, petty jealousies and dysfunctional love. (I was reminded a bit of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which made me wonder if Jackson was inspired at all by the Borden murders and if Schmidt had been inspired by Jackson...)

My only complaint about this …

Book Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

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First line: A young man walks down by the banks of the Blackwater under the full cold moon.

I wanted to read this book the instant I heard about (shortlist for Baileys Women's Prize, I believe), and my hunger for it was justified because now, a week after finishing, I'm contemplating whether I can reread it before it's due (and if I can justify buying it).

Set in 1893, the novel follows Cora Seaborne, a new widow, who has a voraciously hungry intellect and a naturalist's passions. Freed from her cruel husband, she goes to Essex on a friend's suggestion, where she meets William Ransome, the parish vicar. Expecting him to be brutish or comfortably corpulent, she instead finds a mind like her's, hungry for knowledge -- but where she honors science, he honors faith.

The wild stories of the Essex serpent -- blamed for the deaths of livestock and children -- shape the landscape, the people, their experiences. Cora hopes to find it while Will believes it to be imagina…

The Essential Guide to Jane Austen

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Today is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death. I'm sipping coffee out of my ginormous coffee mug emblazoned with an L.M. Alcott quote, my new copy of Middlemarch by my elbow, and I plan on mainlining every Austen-inspired movie I own, so ... crushing it?

Penguin Random House/Signature Reads has made an Essential Guide to Jane Austen, a 29-page compilation with short pieces about Austen and her beloved works, and it's a fabulously fun way to get your Austen fix without having to call out of work because of an urgent need for an Austen reread.

If you end up paging through it, here are some of the things I want to discuss via comments or on social media:

Liz Kay's "6 Jane Austen Novels Ranked by Their Sexiness" (I 100% agree with her 'Peak Sexiness' ranking as it is my favorite Austen.)Charlie Lovett's "Pride and Prejudice on Film: The Best –and the Not-So-Great" (He dislikes the 1980 version that my wife so adores, which is fine by…

Book Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

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First line: Why did Mindi want an arranged marriage?

I pretty much started hungering for this book the moment I learned its title. How can you resist?

The premise of this book is equally fun: Nikki, a young Londoner from a Sikh family, is casting about for direction when she becomes a writing instructor at a Sikh community center. At odds with her family, Nikki's foray with the Sikh widows in her class ends up centering her within a serious tension in their community, even as their wild class liberates the women and reveals the deep passion many -- including widows -- hunger after.

This book was swimming with laugh out loud moments, especially early on, when the class discusses their thoughts on passion, seduction, and romance. Jaswal includes excerpts of the erotic stories the widows pen, and they're fun.

The feel of this book will be familiar to anyone who watches contemporary British comedies like Bend It Like Beckham or Calendar Girls ("charming" keeps coming to …

Weekend reads and weather moodiness...

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Boston has had full on weather mood swings: 90 degrees and steamy one day; 60s and chilly another. Today is a gray day, but it remains to be seen if it'll be cold or muggy.

This weekend, I hope to finish up the wonderfully funny  Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal, and I plan on starting Coming of Age: The Sexual Awakening of Margaret Mead by Deborah Beatriz Blum.

What are you reading this weekend?

Book Review & Giveaway: Lost Boy by Christina Henry

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First line: Once I was young, and young forever and always, until I wasn't.

This book ruined my life in the best way.

Christina Henry's novel imagines that James Cook wasn't originally a villain. Once, James was a boy named Jamie, and he was Peter Pan's first playmate. His most beloved one.

But after years and years and years of living with Peter, Jamie has aged in some ways -- not physically, but mentally. He sees the arbitrary, insane cruelty of Peter Pan -- someone who yearns only for fun, but whose idea of fun includes real bloodshed and death -- and Jamie eventually tires of it.

I haven't actually read any of Barrie's original work on Peter Pan, but am familiar with the story as portrayed by Disney and popular culture. Henry's take is so achingly good, because when you get down to it, there is something horrifically vicious in Peter's behavior and world. Jamie -- who wants nothing more than to just love Peter as he once did, and be loved in return …

Teaser Tuesday, July 11

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My Teaser Tuesday for this week is from the unbelievably good Lost Boy by Christina Henry, a novel that imagines Captain Hook's origins.

I read it in about a day and a half, and I'm still reeling.

My review (with a giveaway!) posts later this week. In the meantime, enjoy this juicy tidbit:

I felt the burn of envy deep in my chest, scorching hard enough to bring tears to my eyes. When had he learned such a thing? Why hadn't he shared it with us?

Why hadn't he shared it with me?

The warmth I'd felt when he smiled at me was gone. I didn't know Peter anymore, not the way I used to. (p105)
What do you think? Have any teasers of your own to share?

Winner!

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A little late, but here's the latest giveaway winner!

The winner of The Alice Network is ... Chris from Wildmoo Books!

Congrats! I've emailed the winner, who has until Wednesday to respond.

Be sure to visit my blog later this week as I have another giveaway coming up!

Wordless Wednesday, June 28

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Today's Wordless Wednesday is of a few of the birthday cards I received this week.

The top one is from Unabridged Toddler, who, when asked what message he wanted to put in my card, said: "I'm watching you."

Ominous much??

Have a Wordless Wednesday to share? Put the link in the comments!

Book Review & Giveaway: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

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First line: The first person I met in England was a hallucination.

Everyone, this book. This book!! Plot, characters, place, era, details, drama, villains, heroines, and wonderfully compelling storytelling -- everything was there that I wanted, unfolding in that delicious way that makes me just want to skip meals and read.

The novel follows Charlie St. Clair, a pregnant college student shipped to Europe to get an abortion, who yearns to find her beloved cousin who went missing during World War II. She meets Eve Gardiner, an pistol-wielding woman with a drinking problem, foul attitude, and destroyed, mangled hands. In alternating chapters, we learn Eve is recruited to work as a spy during World War I, part of the famous Alice Network, and her important but dangerous work changes her life.

Normally I'm not a dual narrative fan, but Quinn sucked me in with both stories/heroines and I really can't say which was my favorite. What I loved most about this book was its depiction of f…

Weekend reads, or summer, summer, summer!

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It's officially summer now, but Boston has been alternating between 80ish days and 40ish ones, so who knows. But I'm really looking forward to our summer plans: lots of day trips, some camping, catching up with friends, and lots of summer eats.

My weekend reads for this weekend is Christina Henry's Peter Pan retelling, Lost Boy. The cover is a leeeeeetle gory for my tastes, and I am using big stickies to keep Unabridged Toddler from seeing it, but otherwise, I'm very excited to dig in.

I've got a crazy book hangover from Kate Quinn's The Alice Network (review and giveaway next Mon!) so I'm glad I've got something else that should suck me in.

What are you reading this weekend?

Teaser Tuesday: The Alice Network

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My Teaser Tuesday for this week comes from Kate Quinn's marvelous The Alice Network. I'm only a fourth through but I am hardcore in love. There are a handful of badass women who dominate the book, and Quinn's trademark mix of rich detail and delightful one-liners. (Limiting myself to one teaser today was a challenge!)

This quote is from the start of the novel, when our World War I spy Eve gets her first job at a Lille-based restaurant..

Eve could see why the Germans came to dine here. It was a civilized place to relax after a long day of stamping on your conquered populace. (p103)

What are you reading right now? Any teasers to share?

Winner!

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A second whirlwind weekend, so my apologies for this late giveaway winner announcement!

The winner of my giveaway for Novel Destinations is ... Carrie of nomadreader!

Congrats, Carrie! I should have more giveaways coming up so don't despair -- be sure to keep reading!

Book Review: The Secret History of Jane Eyre by John Pfordresher

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First line: We begin with a mystery.

I grabbed this book because of the cover (gorgeous) and the fact that I'm not a huge Jane Eyre fan and I kind of want to be. (I mean, it seems like a book I should be all over.) I love books about books, stories that dive into the nitty-gritty and ineffable magic of writing a novel. And I'm always up to learn more about books and how, possibly, to read them.

But this one really disappointed me.

Pfordresher's argument -- his 'secret history' -- is that Brontë mined her own life for Jane Eyre. (No duh.) But he pushes a literal person-for-person sort of equivalency that really disappointed me; while arguing for Brontë's creative genius, I couldn't help but feel like he was minimizing it in this manner.

There are also some intense leaps that just seemed a stretch to me. For example, Rochester's agonizing sexual frustration reflects "...a sexual energy Charlotte Brontë knew, daily, at Haworth," (p82), from the a…

Book Review: Swing Time by Zadie Smith

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First line: It was the first day of my humiliation.

Unbelievably, this was my first Zadie Smith. How is that possible? I'm super embarrassed by this fact, but there it is.

The novel is narrated by a young biracial woman, recounting her childhood and early adulthood, and the things -- dance, music, education -- and people -- her mother, best friend, employer -- that shaped the direction of her life.

Passionate about dance, our narrator becomes friends with the only other biracial girl in her dance class, Tracey. Tracey is gifted at dance and her mother eagerly supports her while our narrator's mother is focused on educating herself and achieving personal happiness and success. Our narrator is shuttled to better schools and ends up becoming the assistant to a massive pop celebrity, an experience that changes her life in so many ways.

I liked this book, although I don't think its blurb does it justice -- I really expected a story about two friends -- the narrator and Tracey …