The Last Chance Christmas Ball (Anthology)

If Christmas seems far away, think again! It’s that time of year when Christmas romance stories start getting released. And anyone who reads romance probably knows of the Word Wenchesa group of romance authors who all blog together. This group of ladies (listed below) have written a very interesting anthology of separate Christmas stories that are all interconnected, which I’m sure was no easy feat. Some take place at the “Last Chance Christmas Ball,” so-called because a lot confirmed singles are in the mix. Some stories take place on the way to the ball, and some shortly after.

Last Chance Christmas Ball Front Cover (Kensington)

Last Chance Christmas Ball Front Cover (Kensington)

THE PLOTS (by story):

“My True Love Hath My Heart” by Joanna Bourne: A jeweler from Antwerp is masquerading as a maid to find a stolen jewel, with the unexpected help of her former lover…a nobleman who works for the foreign office.

“A Scottish Carol” by Susan King: A doctor finds out his prize pupil is his old flame in disguise, and they reconnect while snowed-in over the holiday.

“Christmas Larks” by Patricia Rice: An ill nobleman is cared for by his childhood friend, whom he doesn’t know has inherited his house. She doesn’t know how to tell him that his home will soon be an orphanage.

“In the Bleak Midwinter” by Mary Jo Putney: An injured soldier’s childhood sweetheart makes a last attempt to pull him out of seclusion.

“Old Flames Dance” by Cara Elliott: A couple previously kept apart by their families get a second chance at their romance when the widowed lady returns from India.

“A Season for Marriage” by Nicola Cornick: A couple who married after being caught in a “compromising” position (he was comforting her) attempt to put their marriage on the right track despite misunderstandings.

“Miss Finch and the Angel” by Jo Beverly: A flirtatious nobleman takes an interest in their hostess’s mousey companion, who has a checkered past.

“Mistletoe Kisses” by Anne Gracie: A young lady preparing to leave her home to its new owner enjoys one last Christmas before becoming a teacher at a girl’s seminary. She is joined by a brother and sister whose carriage is wrecked on the way to the ball.

MY TWO CENTS: These short romances are believable because most of the characters already knew each other pre-story. While the majority of the couples are becoming reacquainted, there are only a few “love at first sight” that proceed without too much relationship development. The stories are also pretty clean, with either no sex or very little description.

I’m familiar with a few of these authors, and a couple are even on my auto-buy list. I would not say these stories are my favorite of their work, but there is a certain joyfulness about them. Most of the characters feel that they’ve missed their chances at love with a particular person, or a happy family life, or a home. It’s nice to see wishes come true in a Christmasy way.

For most anthologies, I’d recommend reading the stories very gradually. In this book, however, the stories are all connected, so you’re better off reading them all together at one time. For example, the ball is thrown by the good-hearted Lady Holly, who is celebrating her 50th ball. She links all the characters together. The characters are mentioned in one another’s stories, and sometimes play a more major part. (For instance, three of the stories focus on three siblings as the main characters.)

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re in the mood for short Christmas romances, this is your book. If anthologies aren’t your thing and you like more relationship development than what you find in a short story, skip it.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half to four out of five teacups. Some stories are more enjoyable than others, but all are fairly uplifting in the Christmas theme.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

I’ve read most of Gregory Maguire’s books; Lost is my favorite. This rework of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is mostly commentary on the social climate of the 1860s in England, but also touches on the approaching American Civil War.

After Alice Front Cover (William Morrow)

After Alice Front Cover (William Morrow/ HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: Alice’s friend Ada falls down the rabbit hole after her. She meets the same cast of characters we know from Alice, complete with puns and riddles that are worthy of the original. But these chapters alternate with chapters in which Alice’s older sister, Lydia, searches for the missing girls with the help of Ada’s governess; helps her father entertain Charles Darwin; and flirts with an American who is visiting with a former slave child. Lydia wants to be flighty and brainless, but she also is mourning the death of her mother and trying to figure out what is expected of her as a woman in this society.

MY TWO CENTS: I found the “real world” chapters narrated by Lydia to be a big slowdown in the reading. I understand their purpose, and they’re not a difficult read, but they’re obviously not as fun as the Ada/Wonderland chapters.

With the exception of Lydia, none of the characters are really explored or three-dimensional. They exist more as symbolism, and nothing is symbolized more in this book than freedom/captivity. When Ada trips into wonderland, she loses her back brace (which sounds like a hideous contraption of the times) and gains freedom to move. Escaping her governess, Miss Armstrong, also contributes to that freedom. Siam is no longer a slave, yet he’s a captive to racism, society’s fascination with him as an oddity, and his name which isn’t really even his name. He too escapes to Wonderland. It’s hard to tell if Lydia or Miss Armstrong are the most captive. Lydia is trying to move through the expected feminine roles of the time, but without a mother to guide her. She may want more, but she’s not willing to really buck Victorian mores to do it. Miss Armstrong seems to hate Ada, hate her job, hate the new baby, and hate her employer’s wife; she longs to mistress of her own house (and life). Neither she nor Lydia can “find wonderland” (or Alice or Ada), but Miss Armstrong is much more frantic about looking. She’s likely to be trapped forever in her position, just as Lydia will be trapped in hers.

BOTTOM LINE: If you enjoy Maguire, you will probably like this book. If you disliked other Maguire books but enjoy Alice stories, you might want to give this a try. If you’re looking for straight storytelling with a narrative that flows and has no social messages, this isn’t the book for you.

TEACUP RATING: Three and a half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available on October 27, 2015, in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on ARCs provided by the publisher via Edelweiss and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review. Cross-posted to Amazon.

Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata by Colin Odell & Michelle Le Blanc

The first Studio Ghibli movie I ever saw was Spirited Away. At first I wasn’t sure what all the hullabaloo was about (yes, I DID just use the word “hullabaloo!”) Studio Ghibli films are not like animated films Americans are used to. They may not have a linear plot. You may only meet a character once and then never again. Or, a minor character may come back at the very end and suddenly be significant. Probably the closest counterpart in American culture is Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. But the art is usually breathtakingly beautiful, and the stories are unusual.

The first edition of this book published in 2009. This updated second edition examines not only the films under the Studio Ghibli brand, but also the work that led to the formation of Studio Ghibli. I’m much more familiar with Miyazaki’s work than Takahata’s.

Studio Ghibly Front Cover (Oldcastle Books)

Studio Ghibli Front Cover (Oldcastle Books)

 THE COVERAGE: The book begins with an introduction, including some background on Miyazaki and Takahata. Next is “The Pre-Ghibli Works of Takahata Isao and Miyazaki Hayao.” These include some Nippon animated shows I’m going to have to look up, like “Anne of Green Gables” and Heidi.” Also included are feature films done before the formation of Studio Ghibli. Each has background information, summary, and discussion. These include:

  • Horusu: Prince of the Sun/The Little Norse Prince
  • Panda Kopanda
  • Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro
  • Downtown Story
  • Goshu the Cellist
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Then come The Studio Ghibli feature films. (Please note: the authors use the names and spellings from the UK releases; I am using those from the US.)

  • Castle in the Sky
  • The Story of the Yanagawa Canals
  • Grave of the Fireflies
  • My Neighbor Totoro
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service
  • Only Yesterday
  • Porco Rosso
  • Ocean Waves
  • Pom Poko
  • Whisper of the Heart
  • Princess Mononoke
  • My Neighbors the Yamadas
  • Spirited Away
  • The Cat Returns
  • Howl’s Moving Castle
  • Tales from Earthsea
  • Ponyo
  • The Secret World of Arietty
  • From Up on Poppy Hill
  • The Wind Rises
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya
  • When Marnie Was There

Then come a brief section on other projects, such as shorts.

MY TWO CENTS: This is a fairly short book and a quick read. I’ve seen most of the feature films discussed, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I was captivated enough by the background and descriptions to want to see a few more that I haven’t. (The exception is Grave of the Fireflies; I just really don’t need to see that one. I don’t care if it’s “beautiful.”) I learned quite a bit.

BOTTOM LINE: If you’re a Studio Ghibli fan, this book is a must-have. (If you’re not a fan, give something like Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle a try. You might be surprisingly captivated.)

TEACUP RATING: I give the book 4 out of 5 teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata will be on sale in paperback and ebook formats on October 1, 2015.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lauren Kate “Waterfall” Covers

Hi all…today, instead of a review, I have a piece of information.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m crazy about books, and what I love most in the world is a matched set of a series. I’m just bizarre that way; blame Nancy Drew. Anyway, a while back I received an ARC for Lauren Kate’s Teardrop, a book about a girl whose tears can raise Atlantis. But that’s not important. The important part was that this book had the most gorgeous cover ever:

Teardrop Original Cover (Delacorte Press)

Teardrop Original Cover (Delacorte Press)

LOVE this cover. LOVE. Seriously, her dress is made of water. And the colors!

So, fast forward to the release of the sequel, Waterfall. The cover image originally released was this:

waterfall 1

I was pleased. It matches, it’s pretty, good deal.

Then, DISASTER struck!

It was announced that the US paperback release of Teardrop would have a totally different cover:

teardrop 2

And therefore, the hardcover Waterfall would have this cover:

waterfall 2

UGH. I HATED it. It didn’t match. It was totally lame. I didn’t want it. Then I read someone’s review, and she had THE COVER. An actual book with the RIGHT cover! The blog was “My Life in Books,” and the blogger lives in New Zealand. Ah HA! So an edition with the cover DID actually exist; it was just a matter of finding an online book store in New Zealand and taking a chance. (And thank you so much for posting that picture of the REAL book; otherwise, I would have thought the cover just never made it to print.)

I found Mighty Ape and ordered the book that showed that cover. Some kind soul had written a review confirming that it was the “golden” cover, so I ordered it. Link for the specific edition I ordered is here.

Today I received, and lo and behold…THE MATCHING COVER. I’m stupidly excited, because as I mentioned, I’m weird like that. So here’s my helpful tip. If you want the cover that matches the original Teardrop, look for these ISBNs:

Hardcover: 978 0 857 53230 5

Paperback: 978 0 857 53231 2

I can’t confirm that the hardcover will be the right cover, but it’s the ISBN shown for it in my correct paperback, and we know a hardcover existed. The paperback I can confirm because it’s in front of me right now. 🙂  And with the ISBNs, you might be able to shop someplace like Alibris and avoid international shipping charges.

I hope this crazy post can help someone who really wanted a matching set. Good luck!

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