Friday, October 24, 2014

A Visit to Jane Austen's House

Jane Austen's House Musuem - Chawton, England
When I recently traveled to England with my husband's work and found out that the hotel we were staying at was in Hampshire, the countryside, I immediately started to plan our day trip to the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton.  I'm so glad visited and wanted to re-cap a few highlights with you guys.

Chawton village
Jane lived in this beautiful country home for the last eight years of her life. The quaint town of Chawton is absolutely adorable. I could have spent a whole afternoon just wandering the town. 

While living at Chawton, Jane edited Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey as well as Pride and Prejudice while living there. She wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion while living there.  

The museum houses many Austen artifacts, such as her writing table, her much talked about turquoise ring, various pieces of Austen furniture, her books, and you can even view pieces written in Jane's own handwriting.  Also, on display was The Watsons, a manuscript, which was never finished. It was incredible to see Jane's writing and her editing with my own eyes.

Various displays at the Jane Austen House Museum - Chawton, England
I also really enjoyed seeing the original bakehouse, the Austen donkey carriage, as well as what Jane's bedroom would have looked like. She apparently she shared it with her beloved sister Cassandra; I had no idea they were so close.  Also on display were various costumes from Austen films, such as Mansfield Park.

Jane Austen's Writing Table - Chawton, England
What really struck me the most after visiting was the size of Jane's writing table. I, for one, would have definitely needed more space, but obviously this worked for Jane. I was very impressed. Could you guys function on a table that small?

I had a great time touring Jane Austen's House Museum. The Chawton "cottage" was beautiful and I loved seeing artifacts as well as personal items that were once Jane's.  The gift shop was a Jane Austen fan's heaven and straight up out of Austenland. I had to refrain from buying all the "I love Mr. Darcy" souvenirs which were affixed with Colin Firth's picture. Not sure I've seen that in the US! 

Me visiting the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, England
If you are a Janeite and ever find yourself in the English countryside, I recommend visiting this interesting house.  Let me know what you guys think of my trip to Jane Austen's House Museum and let me know what's your favorite Austen novel? (Mine is Pride and Prejudice, naturally, with Persuasion being my second favorite!)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: Compulsion by Martina Boone

Pages: 448
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pub. Date: October 28, 2014
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "All her life, Barrie Watson has been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lives with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt’s South Carolina plantation instead--a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions. Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family's twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn’t what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead."
Barrie Watson has hit a rock bottom. Her mother has died and her caretaker, Mark, is now dying from cancer. Mark sends her off to her mother's sister, Aunt Pru, to ensure she has a stable family home.  Her Aunt Pru lives on a Southern plantation in South Carolina, which is very different than the life she is used to in San Francisco.  Barrie is interested in her family's past though and she is hoping her aunt can answer some questions about the fire that took her fathers life and led to her mother's disfiguring facial scars.  But getting answers is tougher than she thought and there are many secrets on South Carolina's Watsons Island, especially when it comes to the founding families, the Watsons, the Beauforts, and the Colesworth. The three founding family's history is entwined along with a very old curse.  Due to this curse, Barrie has the ability to find lost items and this "gift" has become even stronger now that she has moved to Watson's Island.  To add to the drama, she met family friend, Eight Beaufort, who simultaneously drives her nuts and charms her.  Barrie is also dying to meet her cousin, Cassie Colesworth, even if her aunt and Eight say not to trust her.  Martina Boone's debut, Compulsion, is the kind of Southern Gothic I love. There's a beautiful setting, family feuds, a slow burning romance, curses and a touch of paranormal. Highly recommended for fans of romance, Southern gothic, and the paranormal genre.

How could I not instantly feel for Barrie in Compulsion? Her mother has died and her mother's best friend and godfather is in hospice. So, now she finds herself living on a historic plantation with an aunt she has never met. To make matters worse, her mother never really told her about her life at Watson Island, so she has no clue what to expect.  

Thankfully, Barrie has Eight Beaufort to clue her in on things, but getting him to answer a question completely and honestly is going to be harder than she thought.  Eight is the kind of boy I love in a young adult novel. He's a genuinely good guy and their romance is a slow burn, which really worked in Compulsion.  Plus, Eight has his own "special power" due to the family curse, which I thought was a nice touch. All in all, I am definitely a fan of Barrie and Eight.

The setting was to-die-for in Compulsion. Seriously. Can I live there? I absolutely loved Watson Island and Boone did a wonderful job bringing a southern summer to life. I was completely enthralled with the huge plantation Barrie lived on filled with dusty rooms, locked drawers, hidden tunnels, and sprawling balconies. Plus, there's the eerie Fire Carrier who visits the plantation every night and the yunwi (spirits) who watch over the plantation.  It was so atmospheric and creepy! I can't say enough about the lush plantation, the decaying mansions, and the spirits that lurk every corner…it was right up my alley.

As I mentioned before, there are many paranormal elements in Compulsion and while I found a few things to be a little over the top (some of the scenes with the Fire Carrier); overall, it was done very well.  I liked how Barrie had a special power of finding lost items and it reminded me a bit of The Body Finder in that sense. Ultimately, Barrie has to figure out her family secrets and I loved how the spirits were trying to communicate the truth to her.  It definitely kept me in suspense.

Simply put, I am a fan of Compulsion and can't wait to continue with the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy.  I love all things Southern Gothic and Boone didn't disappoint.  In fact, this book will find its way on my "Best of 2014 list" for sure.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Sophomore Year is Greek to Me

This is a weekly meme hosted by Jill from Breaking the Spine.  "Waiting on Wednesday" spotlights upcoming releases that I'm eagerly anticipating.

Sophomore Year is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin
Pub. Date: April 21, 2015

Goodreads says, "High school sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they’re moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she's devastated— he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona's mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she’s supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks... but no thanks.  In the vein of Anna and the French Kiss, Zona navigates a series of hilarious escapades, eye-opening revelations, and unexpected reunions in a foreign country—all while documenting the trip through one-of-a-kind commentary."
Doesn't this sound like a fantastic read for next spring? I love a fish-out-of-water story and if it is in the same vein as Anna and the French Kiss, then it's the perfect read for me!  What do you guys think?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Giveaway: Messenger of Fear by Michael Grant

Halloween is almost upon us and what is better than a spooky read this time of year?  Today I am giving away a hardback copy of Messenger of Fear by Michael Grant. Doesn't it seem like the perfect read for this month? I think it may be just a little too spooky for me, so I am passing it along to one lucky reader.

Goodreads says, "I remembered my name – Mara. But, standing in that ghostly place, faced with the solemn young man in the black coat with silver skulls for buttons, I could recall nothing else about myself. And then the games began. The Messenger sees the darkness in young hearts, and the damage it inflicts upon the world. If they go unpunished, he offers the wicked a game. Win, and they can go free. Lose, and they will live out their greatest fear.  But what does any of this have to do with Mara? She is about to find out . . "

This giveaway is open to US readers only and the deadline is October 28th.  Please refer to my giveaway rules.  Good luck!

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review: Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

Pages: 368
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: October 14, 2014
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "When Julia Buchanan enrolls at St. Anne’s at the beginning of junior year, Charlotte Ryder already knows all about the former senator’s daughter. Most people do... or think they do. Charlotte certainly never expects she’ll be Julia’s friend. But almost immediately, she is drawn into the larger than-life-new girl’s world—a world of midnight rendezvous, dazzling parties, palatial vacation homes, and fizzy champagne cocktails. And then Charlotte meets, and begins falling for, Julia’s handsome older brother, Sebastian. But behind her self-assured smiles and toasts to the future, Charlotte soon realizes that Julia is still suffering from a tragedy. A tragedy that the Buchanan family has kept hidden … until now."
St. Anne's boarding school is filled with teenagers from wealthy and prominent American families, unless you are a scholarship student. And that is the case for Charlotte Ryder, an aspiring artist and sort of social wallflower.  Everything changes for Charlotte one night when she helps out intoxicated Julia Buchanan, a popular and wealthy girl at school.  Julia appreciates Charlotte's help and takes her under her wing, even renaming her Charlie.  Julia bringing her into her fast-pace world of money, parities, and mansions   The two become attached at the hip and Charlotte even spends time with the Buchanan family at their summer home.  Except there are many layers to the Buchanan family that Charlie must peel back slowly in order to figure out the truth as their family history has been paved in secrets and tragedy.  Plus, Charlie is starting to have feelings for Julia's brother, Sabastian, and finds herself intertwined into their family even more than before.  Chelsey Philpot's debut, Even in Paradise, is a sad sort of novel and one that reminded me of The Great Gatsby meets Gossip Girl.  Readers who like stories about privileged families and secrets will enjoy this deep novel.

Once Charlotte met Julia her world changed immensely in Even in Paradise. She started sneaking out of her dorm, going by the name Charlie and living a bit more dangerously. She would even visit the Buchanans at their summer house on Nantucket, which is very much different than the world she is accustomed to as a scholarship student.  She learns that the Buchanan family has some secrets, especially surrounding the untimely death of Julia's sister.  Julia and Charlie's relationship becomes a little too close to the point where I felt it was unhealthy. She was too immersed into the family, even dating Sebastian, Julia's brother.  I sort of knew where this was going.

Julia had that Jay Gatsby vibe in Even in Paradise. She was charismatic, rich, and sometimes unreliable. She threw caution to the wind on many occasions, drank too much and harbors many secrets. Ultimately, she wasn't over the death of her sister, Gus, and there was definitely a cloud of sadness that followed her.  I could definitely pick up on the Gatsby vibe regarding the character of Julia.  But the problem with Even in Paradise is I didn't care enough about the characters; I was merely along for the ride.  

I liked the whole aspect of a Kennedy-esque family taking in a working class girl and Charlie sort of becoming one of them, but I could see where this was headed in Even in Paradise.  Even though the twist was a tad predictable, I found the writing and the overall story to be somewhat compelling.  It didn't "wow" me and wasn't my favorite debut, but I could appreciate this quiet story focusing on families, power, love, and secrets.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Stacking the Shelves and Giveaway Winner (58)

This Shattered World (Broken Stars #2) by Amie Kaufmann and Meagan Spooner - Thanks to Disney and Netgalley
A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray - Thanks to Harper Teen
The Look of Love by Sarah Jio - Thanks to Plume and Netgalley

Penguin Christmas Classics - including A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann, A Merry Christmas by Louisa May Alcott, Christmas at Thompson Hall by Anthony Trollope and The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol

The winner of The Darkest Minds series and the book light is …..Gabriela A.   Congrats! I hope you enjoy all the books and your book light!

So what do you guys think? Have you read any of these books? Let me know! This meme is hosted by Tynga at Tynga's Reviews.

Friday, October 17, 2014

That Time I Drank Champagne at Downton Abbey

My husband told me nonchalantly that we would be having cocktail hour and a private tour at Highclere Castle (a.k.a. the film location for Downton Abbey) one night on during our trip to England. He knew that this would be the highlight of the trip for me. To say that I am a fan of Downton Abbey is a huge understatement.  I LOVE, love this show and own all of the seasons.  So, here's my recap of the evening.

We pull up to Highclere Castle and it was seriously right out of the TV show. You could easily have cued the music and the opening credits, because I felt like I was on the TV show. It was surreal. I half expected Carson to open the front door for me.  After I took pictures of the outside and fell over in disbelief, I entered the first room, The Saloon, and was overwhelmed with its vaulted ceilings and gorgeousness. It looked exactly like the Downton Abbey. Pinch me.  I even pointed out a familiar lamp that is always on the TV show. Even my husband recognized it!

There were butlers passing around appetizers and glasses of champagne.  My first thought: this is super fancy. I had no idea what to expect. I normally spend the day changing diapers.  I immediately convinced my husband to follow me to the library.  It was set up exactly like the TV show, except that it had family pictures throughout and certain pieces of furniture were roped off.  I wandered around the library (still in shock) and admired all.the.books. Seriously. SO many books and they all looked like valuable antiques. As a book lover, I was in awe. In the corner there were musicians playing various instruments and photographers wandering around taking photos.  I'm pretty sure I was the girl in the room with her jaw hanging to the floor.

We were able to tour some of the other rooms on the first floor (The Drawing Room, The Saloon, and The Smoking Room) and many of the rooms on the second floor. The staircase in itself is a sight to behold. What was so great about this private tour was the fact you could meander through the hallways and rooms at your own pace. There was no official tour guide, but instead workers placed throughout and you could ask them questions if you had any. It was incredible, especially to see the red room and Sybil's room. 

The tour continued in the cellar and we were able to check out all the Egyptian artifacts. In case you don't know the 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered King Tut's tomb with Howard Carter in 1922. I seriously did not expect Highclere to house that many artifacts. It was really atmospheric in the basement and a nice surprise addition to the tour.

After a stop at the gift shop (I refrained from buying all the things), we headed back upstairs for more drinks and appetizers.  Then in walks Lady Fiona Carnarvon.   I am not sure many people recognized her, but since I have watched the PBS Downtown Abbey special many times and have read her book, Lady Catherine, the Earl and the Real Downton Abbey, I nearly fell over. She was dressed casually and seemed so approachable. Also, George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon, entered the room as well and started conversation with his guests. I listened to Lady Carnarvon speak a little bit about things and her favorite sights in London, but once people realized who she was, she had a permanent audience hanging following her every move.  

I went back into the library, naturally, and saw people were sitting on certain pieces of furniture. I eyed the red sofa. You know, the one that The Countess of Grantham sits on all.the.time.  Just as I had hoped, people got up from the red sofa and I made a beeline for it. I sat down and looked around for Lady Mary. But no seriously, it was incredible. My husband walks in and asks me what I am up to. I reply, "Oh, you know….just hanging out in Highclere Castle's library sipping champagne and listening to music. The usual."  Umm. No. Never in a million years would I have expected to visit Highclere. It exceeded my expectations. I will be watching season five of Downton Abbey differently this year and that night will go down as one of the most memorable nights of my life, although I am still in shock that it actually happened. 

Later that night when we got back to our hotel room, there was a copy of Lady Catherine, the Earl and the Real Downton Abbey signed by the author sitting on the bed.  I squealed. The perfect ending to the perfect night.

So, are you guys Downton Abbey fans? Are you looking forward to season five? If you ever have the chance to tour Highclere Castle, I highly recommend it. Let me know what you think of my night at Highclere. 

P.S. I would have taken photos of the interior of Highclere, but photography was strictly prohibited unless you were the hired photographer. People didn't necessarily follow this rule, but I am a rule follower by nature and respected the family's wishes.  

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