A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman

A perfect book to fall into my hands on summer vacation! Set in 1899, plenty of historical detail about society, London Seasons, gentleman’s clubs, calling cards, chaperones, rides in the park, servants, etc.  What was so enjoyable about this was that our heroine is a young widow (her husband was a philanderer) who has plenty of spunk and stands up for herself after the required year of mourning by purchasing her own home in London. Much to the dismay of her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, both of whom rely on her large purse to keep the family estate going. Conveniently, Frances is independently wealthy. And American. That’s right-she’s an American heiress who married a titled British man! Juicy. (If you haven’t read The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, go do so.) This is actually a mystery-poor Frances is being set up all over the place, plus there are some robberies happening at the society homes. She takes on meddling and solving herself, along with the handsome next door neighbor.

I enjoyed this immensely and am THRILLED there is already a sequel available at my library and I love the direction this series is going in.

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Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

You know what? This was delightful. Can you imagine sharing an apartment with someone that’s a 1 bedroom and the agreement is you get the evening and overnight hours and he has the daytime (due to work schedules this is possible.) ? Sharing apartments isn’t weird, but the whole setup that they’ll never meet and they are sleeping in the same bed.  Of course you know they’ll end up meeting and falling for each other, but that’s ok. I was glad that happened sooner rather than later and it turned out to have a weightier plot than you might expect, centering on her stalkerish ex-boyfriend.
I also enjoyed the guy’s subplot of helping out the seniors in the assisted living where he worked.

Solid and enjoyable.

Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

I really like Faith Erin Hicks’s graphic novels so I was pretty excited to read this–even though it has not one single comic in it! and is about comics! I thought this was terrific and I hope she continues to write both graphic novels and traditional novels because she’s clearly talented at both.

This is set in a small town in Novia Scotia and apparently it is a rural small town. When they talk about leaving to go to Toronto it’s a really big deal, which was very interesting to me.
The set up is that the girl comes from a loving quirky family with an artistic mother. Her maternal grandfather helped create superheroes  that became huge and popular. Basically her grandpa was the Jack Kirby to Stan Lee. What was really neat about this book was how she inserted this fictional empire into our current actual society. For example, talking about a film being made out of the superheroes and basically it’s like the Avengers franchise, but I wouldn’t say it’s a “thinly veiled Avengers” because they actually mention Marvel and the Avengers.

Of course the cool LA boy who is sent to her town for the summer  and with whom she has a connection turns out to be the grandson of the other person who created the superheroes. Except his family retained the rights and made a fortune and are rich and famous, while hers scrapes by because her grandpa wasn’t fairly treated.

I very much enjoyed the talk about comics, the realistic coming of age stuff, and the budding romance.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

This was a delightful and satisfying decade long love story. On a dreary winter day close to Christmas Laurie looks out the bus window and sees a man at the bus stop. It’s a lightning fast love at first sight for both—but the bus pulls away.  After a year of hoping to find her mystery man (I guess they don’t have “Missed Connections”) it’s not a surprise to the reader that her very best friend’s new boyfriend is none other than “bus boy.”  The story continues for the next decade-checking in with the main characters every few months and alternating points of view between Jack and Laurie. There’s not just a love triangle because Laurie also has other romantic entanglements. This book felt a bit like a collection of all the things I like in British romances and movies and deliberate references to Love Actually and Bridget Jones’s Diary feel like a nice acknowledgment from the author that she’s aware of that. There’s a cheerful loud Aussie, drunk roommates, Christmas parties and whatnot, a woman eager to work in the magazine industry, and missed declarations of love. But you know what? I like all those things and so it was very nice to read a new book that had them all and I thought this was a good one.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

blueAlthough I’m a big L.M. Montgomery fan (Anne of Green Gables meant so much to me and yes, I’ve even traveled to P.E.I. to see her sights), I had never read this book before. A friend gave it to me for Christmas and I was even more interested to read it after I read in Colleen McCullough’s obituary that she had received criticism for similarities between her book, The Ladies of Misssalonghi, and this.[I had read Ladies of Missalonghi many years ago and really liked it, though I could only remember a few details and not the actual plot.  I’m afraid after reading The Blue Castle I still don’t remember the plot of Missalonghi, so I’m looking forward to re-reading it.]

Anyway, The Blue Castle.  Valancy Stirling-such a name! is 29 years old and has lived a miserable life.  It won’t take many pages before you can perfectly imagine her dreary existence and feel damp and cold within your own bones. She has a large family that rules her, never lets her forget that she is an ugly old maid, and does not allow for any gaiety.  They are preposterously terrible and Valancy lives with it.  Then one day she gets a terrible diagnosis that prompts her to cast her family aside and live life to its fullest, which includes taking up with people that everyone looks down on. And oh! how Valancy prospers! It’s all very magical and romantical (as Anne might say) and she is living life like a woodland nymph.  There are secrets and surprises that are not too surprising and all works out as it should.

I enjoyed this tremendously, though I can acknowledge that the whole thing reads as if it were written by Anne Shirley herself, perhaps at age 13.  Heady dreams about what a romantic carefree life would be like, romantic dreams that show a certain naivete (the limits of physical contact are an arm around the waist, a whisper in the ear), declarations of love that include calling one a “jolly chum”, and flowery, flowery prose. It’s a little bit mockable. But I love that kind of stuff and it was fun to read, very quick, and I loved seeing Valancy blossom (as usual in these sorts of things she has a “queer beauty”, and people routinely say that she is not pretty, but those who appreciate her see that she has an unusual beauty that makes her unique and striking and possibly not quite human) into someone who had love in her life.

The Wedding Bees: A Novel of Honey, Love, and Manners by Sarah-Kate Lynch

After a pretty depressing book I needed something sweet fun and this was just the ticket. I came across it as a Goodreads recommendation if I liked Sarah Addison Allen, and indeed it had a similar tone and flavor. (and btw, there were a million recommendations in this vein, so apparently I could read magical sweet books from here until the end of the year.)
Sugar moves every spring to a new place in the U.S. and starts anew. The one constant is her bees, including a queen that is descended from her grandfather’s original queen.  Her sweet and friendly way and strict adherence to Southern charm and manners have made it easy for her to make new friends every place she goes.  She’s practically like a Mary Poppins what with how she touches people’s lives and changes them.  You can tell that this time it will be the same.  She moves into an apartment building in the Alphabet City part of NYC and promptly meets the other tenants, also known as the colorful secondary characters.  Two grouchy old people, a shy chef, an anorexic, and a crass single mom.  You know Sugar’s unrelenting cheerfulness and honey will somehow fix up all these people. Sugar’s bees have a special connection to her that is, if not magical, definitely special (and anthropomorphic). But what about Sugar herself? What happened in her past that has made her never return home? Why is she so reluctant to give her heart to Theo, whom she meets her first day in NYC and immediately feels an electric connection to him?

Charming and sweet as golden honey itself.

Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by Maureen Johnson, John Green, & Lauren Myracle

snowMost years I like to treat myself to buying a holiday romance collection. Somehow I missed this when it originally came out and was thrilled to discover it on a table at BJ’s this season.  Unfortunately, despite the promise of three superstar YA authors combined with holiday romance, this was nowhere near as good as this year’s current YA holiday collection, My True Love Gave to Me.

The first story, by Maureen Johnson, I liked the best. It sets up the premise for the interconnected stories (which, by the way I didn’t realize were interconnected because when I bought the book I literally didn’t even bother to read the back description! )It’s Christmas Eve and through a hilarious and bizarre circumstance Jubilee has to get on a train to go to her grandmother’s. A big snowstorm stalls the train on the track stranding everyone in a small town. Other characters on the train-a cheerleading team, a handsome boy-aren’t prominent in the story, but are in the other two stories.  Story #2 by John Green is mostly about two boys and a girl, all best pals, on a quest to go meet those cheerleaders by making their way through the snow to the shining oasis of the Waffle House. Story #3, well, I don’t even know how to describe. It seemed to involve a teacup pig and regret over cheating on a boy. Honestly, I was skimming by that point. I did like how it wrapped up with all the characters from the different stories coming together.

Overall, this was a bit disappointing.