Review: “The Austen Escape” by Katherine Reay

Review: “The Austen Escape” by Katherine Reay

With each novel, Katherine Reay proves her craft and place on my all time favorite authors shelf. Her stories explore so much depth within the relationships of her main character(s), more than just a story of romance, friendship, or family alone. They portray real people with struggles and insecurities and, most importantly, a season of growth. Her main character is ALWAYS greatly changed between chapter 1 and “the end”, and I’ve often found the same is true of myself, the reader, as I’m subtly changed, encouraged, and influenced by Katherine’s story.

Of course, reading this story along with some #bookbesties and chatting on Twitter via #TAERAL was super FUN, too!!!! (Click on the hashtag to see our gushing thoughts, quotes, and general observations as we read.) Thanks to everyone who joined! More Katherine Reay/Austen-fun is coming on the blog soon.

About the Book

the-austen-escapeAfter years of following her best friend’s lead, Mary Davies finds a whimsical trip back to Austen’s Regency England paves the way towards a new future.

Mary Davies lives and works in Austin, Texas, as an industrial engineer. She has an orderly and productive life, a job and colleagues that she enjoys—particularly a certain adorable, intelligent, and hilarious consultant. But something is missing for Mary. When her estranged and emotionally fragile childhood friend Isabel Dwyer offers Mary a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in Bath, Mary reluctantly agrees to come along, in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes that she lives in Regency England. Mary becomes dependent on a household of strangers to take care of Isabel until she wakes up.

With Mary in charge and surrounded by new friends, Isabel rests and enjoys the leisure of a Regency lady. But life gets even more complicated when Mary makes the discovery that her life and Isabel’s have intersected in more ways that she knew, and she finds herself caught between who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who stands between them. Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this triangle works out their lives and hearts among a company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.

Goodreads | AmazonReview

Like Katherine Reay’s previous stories, The Austen Escape is full of literary references and general Jane Austen fun (like traveling to Bath and dressing in period-appropriate clothes!). It is not a retelling but candidly acknowledges the similarities between the characters and Austen’s own, like Mary’s friend Isabel sharing qualities with Isabella of Northanger Abbey, comparing Mary to Catherine of the same, and nods to all of Austen’s other works, too. Because of all the references, I think The Austen Escape would be best enjoyed by someone familiar with Austen’s works or main characters (if only through movie adaptation form).

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I could talk about so many elements of this story and why I connected with it, but I will simply state that it is a story of the intricacies of life: how friendship, work, dreams, relationship, family, and even hobbies are interconnected and form the identity of a person. These little things make up the big picture and determine how a person responds when faced with challenges. For Mary, she experiences a season of growth because of challenges to her comfort zone and what she believes to be true about the people around her. A few eye-opening events (and timely encouraging relationships — I’m talking about Nathan and his swoony Austen nerdiness here) spur her to recognize the beauty and opportunity right in front of her.

Jane Austen wrote about people and their need to connect on some level – from friendship to family camaraderie to romantic relationships. Katherine Reay captures the same drive in her characters, using the same timeless lens of connection, to show a heart-level story of individuality and friendship.

More little things I loved about The Austen Escape:

  • Nathan <3, a fitting hero
  • The juxtaposition of modern and old elements: Mary’s work vs the frill and formality of Austen’ s world
  • How neither Jane Austen, HER characters, nor Mary quite “fit in” with the expectations of their environments
  • Red velvet cupcakes, sticky toffee pudding, bubble gum
  • Nicknames and what they reveal
  • Absolutely ENDEARING secondary characters like Gertrude, Moira, Grant, and Clara
  • Little wire animals and skittle contraptions
  • All the love for books and music
  • All the Jane Austen talk — especially when Persuasion is hinted

Thank you to the author and publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

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You’re invited…. Join us for “The Austen Escape” Read-Along starting Nov. 7!

The Austen Escape Read Along

the-austen-escapeIt’s that time of year again….. time to read author Katherine Reay’s new literature-infused novel from Thomas Nelson publishers!

YOU’RE INVITED!

WHAT?

A read-along of The Austen Escape with fellow bloggers and #bookbesties.

Find The Austen Escape on

Goodreads | Amazon

WHERE?

Discussions via Twitter with the hashtag #TAERAL!

WHEN?

Starting on book release day, November 7th, we’ll be gushing/chatting as we go.

And, as we read, I’ll be collecting any questions you have for author Katherine Reay! She has graciously agreed to choose some to answer when we are all done. (My current plan is for a wrap-up blog post.) Just tag me/DM them to me or specify “Q for Katherine” in some way.

 

If you still need a copy of the book, check out the amazing preorder goodies deal happening now!

Review + Blog Tour: Unraveling by Sara Ella

Welcome to the:

Thomas Nelson’s Young Adult Summer
of 2017 Feature

It’s a blog post today all about the stunning contemporary YA/Fantasy sophomore novel from Sara Ella: Unraveling. Read on for my review, a book excerpt, and GIVEAWAY info! Or, you could just take my word for it and preorder this book now. It’s not one to be missed!

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About the Book
Title:  Unraveling
Series: Unblemished, Book 2
Author:  Sarah Ella

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date:  July 11, 2017

Genre: Young Adult Fiction / Fantasy

In the second installment of the Unblemished Trilogy, YA author Sara Ella asks, “What happens when happily ever after starts to unravel?”

Eliyana Ember doesn’t believe in true love. Not anymore. After capturing the Void and saving the Second Reflection, El only trusts what’s right in front of her. The tangible. The real. Not some unexplained Kiss of Infinity she once shared with the ghost of a boy she’s trying to forget. She has more important things to worry about—like becoming queen of the Second Reflection, a role she is so not prepared to fill.

With the Verity intertwined with her soul and Joshua finally by her side, El is ready to learn more about her mysterious birth land, the land she now rules. So why does she feel like something—or someone—is missing?

When the thresholds begin to drain and the Callings, those powerful magical gifts, begin to fail, El wonders if her connection with Ky Rhyen may have something to do with it. For light and darkness cannot coexist. She needs answers before the Callings disappear altogether. Can El find a way to sever her connection to Ky and save the Reflections—and keep herself from falling for him in the process?

Find it on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

Review

Where do I even begin?! This book is such an adventure from page 1, with multiple twists I didn’t see coming (especially the one at about the 30% mark). Continuing with themes of sacrifice, self-confidence, and even the power of true love, Unraveling delves deeper into the story world and deeper into the characters as they face unforeseen challenges to their world. The world-building alone is fascinating as we learn even more about these parallel worlds with Eliyana.

Side note: I think this book could be read out of sequence, but it would be best to start with book 1, Unblemished.

The hold-on-to-your-seat adventure contained in this story is amped up by the constant, elusive battle between good and evil and the soul-deep ties Eliyana has to the people surrounding her. Contrasting the serious themes, though, are pop culture references aplenty. They are included in a manner which makes the contemporary setting of the story shine brightly against the castle and pirate ship locations(!!!). The Disney references make me happy inside — from straight-up mentions to clever plays on words, chapter titles, or similar themes. And, the MUSIC and movie references are a bonus. (The Count of Monte Cristo or Shania Twain, anyone?)

This book progresses the romantic storyline just enough, building on the (very-plausible-because-fantasy-reasons) love triangle established in book one. It still serves as a usable plot device because it contrasts the battle between good and evil in oneself, and the way opinion is influenced by individuals. I appreciate that Eliyana is not a back-and-forth, I-love-both person, yet a genuine individual who knows her choices have an impact on many people, including her choice of a confidant and romantic interest. By story’s end, I think the direction this situation will take is firmly in place, and I’m totally happy with it. But Sara IS known to throw surprises at us readers! The waiting will be agony (insert Into the Woods musical number here).

Like with the first book, I am intrigued by the symbolism showcasing the battle of good vs. evil, or the Verity and Void, as it’s termed in this series. When this story is examined closely, an observant reader will see detailed Biblical parallels with elements of faith, the power of light to overcome darkness, and even a mirror of the creation story and Eden. I think this book raises important questions about choices and human nature — how much of our life is defined by our own choices or free will? How much because of other people’s influence? Will you choose to embrace the Source of light and truth or “feed” an evil nature?

From dimension-travel to pirate ships and deserts, Unraveling covers the bases of adventure and the young adult genre while still maintaining an overarching plot with elements of faith. I haven’t even mentioned the fun and mysterious secondary characters OR the fairies! And the troll. This is one stunning, well-developed story that should appeal to fans of YA, fantasy, adventure, Disney fairytales, or even contemporary YA romance. I seriously can’t WAIT to find out what happens in the conclusion of the series come book 3!

Thank you to the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the review copy of this book for the purpose of this tour. This is my honest review. 
Excerpt
Taken from “Unraveling” by Sara Ella Copyright © 2017 by Sara E. Larson. Used by permission of http://www.thomasnelson.com/.

Prelude

I’m not ready for this.My shoulder is going to rip from its socket. My bicep is a torch, igniting my forearm. His fingers are sliding from mine, and I can’t hold on any longer. All I see is the gorge below, the beads of sweat dewing his temples.

He shouts, “Hold on!”

But the cliff crumbles with each passing blink. If we remain this way, we’ll both be swallowed by the chasm below.

I loosen my grip, my clammy palm slipping.

His eyes plead. Beg. Implore. “Don’t!” His cry echoes.

The river crashes and curls. Waiting to swallow. Devour. Obliterate anything entering its territory. But it isn’t the river I’m afraid of. It’s the black hole beyond it. The beginning of the end.

I know if we disconnect he might be lost forever. “I love you” is what I want to say. Instead I ask him, “Find me?”

His expression corkscrews, a mask of raw emotion. “Always.” His voice is weak, his energy drained. He’s not strong enough. Because of me.

So my fingers splay.

I let go.

About the Author

Sara Ella is the author of Unblemished, book one of the Unblemished Trilogy. Once upon a time, Sara dreamed she would marry a prince and live in a castle, and she did work for Disney! Now she spends her days throwing living room dance parties for her two princesses and conquering realms of her own imaginings. She believes “Happily Ever After is Never Far Away.”

 
CONNECT WITH SARA:  website ⎸facebook ⎸twitter ⎸pinterest ⎸instagram ⎸youtube
 
 
Giveaway

(3) Winners will each win a finished hard copy of Unraveling by Sara Ella, courtesy of the publisher, Thomas Nelson Publishers. Giveaway ends June 2, 2017 at 11:59 PM EST.

Tour Schedule

5/22 – Melony Teague (Author Interview)

5/23 – Thorn & Vine (review) & Between the Pages of This Bookish Life (Spotlight)

5/24 – A Baker’s Perspective (review), Singing Librarian Books (Spotlight) & YA Book Divas (Spotlight & Excerpt)

5/25 – My So Called Chaos (review) & Thinking Thoughts (Spotlight)

5/26 – Reading is My SuperPower (review)

5/27 – The Green Mockingbird (review)

5/28 – Bookworm Mama (Spotlight)

5/29 – Just Commonly (review)

Review: “Because You’re Mine” by Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble has always delivered interesting and thrilling romantic suspense stories both in contemporary and historical contexts. Her latest release, Because You’re Mine, was one I was instantly drawn to because of the striking cover. (Sometimes you just have to judge a book by its cover/author). Read on for my thoughts on this one!

About the Book

because-youre-mine

Alanna has been plagued by tragedy. So it should come as no surprise that in the beauty that surrounds Charleston, all is not as it seems.

When her husband is killed by a car bomb while their band is on tour in Charleston, Alanna doesn’t know where to turn. Her father-in-law is threatening to take custody of the baby she carries, but the one thing she knows for sure is that she can’t lose the last piece of Liam she has left.

Their manager offers her a marriage of convenience to gain her U.S. citizenship and allow her to escape her father-in-law’s control. It seems like the perfect solution . . . but her doubts begin almost as soon as she arrives at Barry’s family home, a decaying mansion surrounded by swamp.

To make matters worse, Liam’s best friend survived the car bomb. She’s never really liked Jesse and now she can’t seem to get away from him. When he takes Liam’s place in their band, it’s almost more than she can bear.

But then things start happening. Things that could easily cost Alanna her life—or the life of her unborn child. Are they merely coincidences? Or is there something much more sinister at work?

Review

Because You’re Mine is a decent story with a very unique premise, but it’s not my favorite story from Colleen. I think it has even more potential than what I saw fleshed out on the page. Colleen’s writing style is her typical easy-to-read, flowing style. My qualms had more to do with some of the situations the characters put themselves in. Part of it was not as believable due to one particular person’s blindness towards some of the obvious red flags. However, I did enjoy the bit of Irish culture and folklore explored juxtaposed to the southern Charleston setting.

Interestingly, a prominent plot twist is made known to the observant reader far in advance of the characters in the story. This worked well to build a little anticipation and momentum, but (again!) I think it would have been more surprising if the secret were delayed a little longer. Even though I think this story could have been improved a little more, I still enjoyed the “journey” and was happy with the ending that answered most questions I had along the way.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers for the complimentary ebook review copy. This review is my honest opinion.

Review: “Unblemished” by Sara Ella

I would consider myself an occasional YA (or young adult) reader, enjoying the lighter side this genre can present or a rare “popular” series (in the dystopian sub-genre). I’m also a fan of fairytale-esque stories, whether they be retellings or stories with underlying themes similar to happily-ever-after adventures. When I read raving reviews for Booktuber and author Sara Ella’s debut, Unblemished, and heard it was a combination of a fantasy-fairytale adventure with a modern twist, I was eager to experience this story world for myself. Especially when a review opportunity presented itself. What I discovered surpassed my expectations, sweeping me away in Eliyana’s journey of discovery and her newfound world of mystery.

About the Book

Eliyana has always recoiled from her own reflection in the mirror. But what if that were only one Reflection—one world? What if another world existed where her blemish could become her strength?

Unblemished.jpgEliyana is used to the shadows. With a hideous birthmark covering half her face, she just hopes to graduate high school unscathed. That is, until Joshua hops a fence and changes her perspective. No one, aside from her mother, has ever treated her as normal. Maybe even beautiful. Because of Joshua, Eliyana finally begins to believe she could be loved.

But one night her mother doesn’t come home, and that’s when everything gets weird.

Now Joshua is her new, and rather reluctant, legal Guardian. Add a hooded stalker and a Central Park battle to the mix and you’ve gone from weird to otherworldly.

Eliyana soon finds herself in a world much larger and more complicated than she’s ever known. A world enslaved by a powerful and vile man. And Eliyana holds the answer to defeating him. How can an ordinary girl, a blemished girl, become a savior when she can’t even save herself?

Review

My first thought when I finished this book was WOW. I’m still stunned by the genius of this story and all its complexity. One of the many things that stood out to me was the way the setting was established throughout. At first, it is an authentic and real feeling New York City. As the story picks up pace, the “reflection world” is a place of clever design, utilizing urban elements of NYC and an enchanted-forest-world, if you will, to create a vast backdrop for all the scenes.

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I wish you all could see the hard copy of this book! It has a beautiful, pearl-like paper finish that just makes the purple “pop”.

Another thing I really loved was the symbolism of sacrifice and a good vs evil, dark vs light element. As the secrets of the power figures in the reflection world are revealed –and then, PLOT TWIST! — revealed a little more, a battle for every heart’s allegiance is clearly at the center. Though completely a fantasy story, it mirrors a spiritual battle and a grand design that allows for free will and the sacrifice of a savior figure. I noticed and appreciated subtle threads of Biblical truths (though not expressly said) which would make this story a great conversation starter and topic of God’s divine plan of redemption.

This story employs a bit of a love triangle, not usually my favorite device. BUT, it works very well because it builds more complexity into the story. Forces outside of El and the two leading love interest figures influence and manipulate the situation, too. The story wouldn’t be as cleverly complicated without the triangle because it raises deep questions of purpose and destiny. And, it left me with plenty of lingering questions and theories concerning the next book in the series! (If you’ve read the book, I’m #TeamKy. Let me know your choice in the comments!)

Unblemished is a story of beauty and brave actions, emphasizing that life is not about the surface, but the heart. Add to this message a plethora of pop culture and music references, a bit of sarcasm on Eliyana’s part, two opposite and fascinating possible love interests, controlling figures and mystery surrounding this new world, plus a few surprises and major plot twists, and you have a great start to promising series.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson Fiction Guild for the complimentary review copy. This review is my honest opinion.

To learn more about author Sara Ella, visit her WEBSITE.

What is your favorite YA novel? Or favorite fantasy? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations! (And, if you’ve read this book, I’m ready to discuss!)

Mini Review: “Just A Kiss” by Denise Hunter

This little mini review features the end of a series from author Denise Hunter: Just A Kiss (Summer Harbor #3). Over several books I’ve personally read, Denise has proven to deliver a realistic story and complex character development. This latest release further establishes her as a go-to author in the contemporary romance genre.

About the Book


Riley Callahan’s plans to reveal his secret feelings for his best friend are derailed when his life is drastically altered in Afghanistan.

just-a-kissWatching the love of his life fall for his brother was enough to send Riley straight to boot camp. But over a year later, he’s officially a marine, and Beau and Paige are no longer an item. When Riley’s tour in Afghanistan is up, he intends to confess his feelings to Paige and win his best friend’s heart once and for all.

But all that changes when an IED takes the life of a comrade and leaves Riley an amputee. Now he’s heading home, injured and troubled. His plans to win Paige are a distant dream. She deserves so much more than the man that’s left. All he can do now is put some healthy distance between them. But upon his return he discovers his family has arranged for him to stay with Paige.

Paige is a nurturer at heart and happy to take care of her best buddy. By all appearances Riley is adjusting miraculously well to his disability. But as the days pass, Paige begins to see that the smiles and laughter are just a mask for the pain he’s hiding. To make matters worse, her job is in serious jeopardy. The animal shelter that she’s poured her heart into has lost its funding, and she has three months to come up with the money needed to save it.

As the weeks wear on, Paige’s feelings for Riley begin to shift into uncharted territory. Why is she suddenly noticing his arm muscles and the way his lips curl at the corners? Will she be able to deny her feelings for another Callahan brother? And will Riley let his heart heal so he can let Paige in?

Review

We finally, FINALLY get Paige and Riley’s story in another fantastic contemporary romance and drama from Denise! She knows how to combine plenty of romantic tension against a backdrop of family. Also, real issues like doubt, self-worth, and grace are explored through a sweet story of friendship-turned-true-love.  Readers who have enjoyed the previous two books in the series, Falling Like Snowflakes and The Goodbye Bridehave anticipated this pairing for a while. It was good to finally see it on the page, AND to experience the story each of their perspectives. For Paige, that meant a sweet story of realizing her best friend is also the love of her life. And for Riley, realizing his hoped-for dream of Paige returning his long-secreted romantic feelings.

Thank you to Netgalley and the Nelson/Zondervan Fiction Guild for a complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “A Portrait of Emily Price” by Katherine Reay

a-portrait-of-emily-price

Once again, author Katherine Reay has penned a contemporary novel with a complexity of skill not many in the genre can achieve with her newest release, A Portrait of Emily Price. And what a picture its pages holds! I would describe this as a family drama with a whirlwind (though always realistic) romance and a story of finding oneself in the middle of life’s chaos and joy. With a hint of whimsy, the story always stays realistic in a humidity-and-wavy-hairdo, too-much-espresso sort of way. And, in true Reay style, included literary references and nods to classic literature throughout (making this #booknerd very happy!)

About the Book

Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . .

a-portrait-of-emily-priceEmily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

Review

I was fortunate to read this one along with some awesome blogger friends and discuss it on Twitter along the way. You can find our discussions and major fangirling by viewing the hashtag #PofEPRAL

Reay’s style is romantic in many ways, from Emily’s observations, place descriptions, to the overall feel of the story. Not rosy and idealistic, by any means, but sweet in its outlook — the storytelling is cleverly as much about what happens “between the lines” as what’s directly told. Like the family history, the nostalgia, the courtship between Emily and Ben, and the food!

The characters are strong in the sense that their personalities are so established you can almost sense their reactions as much as read them. When Ben and Emily finally make it to Italy, you can feel the tension and belonging of home in how the scenes play out. And the supporting characters!!!!!! I loved them all, the brother, sister, parents, friends, aunts and uncles. It was fun to put the big picture together as the story progressed of how they are each integral, whether in a small or big way, to Ben and Emily’s lives. Connected, if you will, to their story, to influence, encourage, and sometimes pass on valuable wisdom.

Another way the characters are firmly established is through setting and culture. For instance, the “accents” of Ben and his family are expressed specifically, conveying notes on inflection so well it made me feel like I was listening to them. And, the descriptions of all of the different places, from the little Italian restaurant in Atlanta to the sunflower fields and Lucio’s library in Italy and everything in between practically, made me feel immersed in the culture. This book is a true example of the power of written words on a page!

The relationship between Emily and Ben is shown just enough – it’s not overly focused on the romance aspect (though there are plenty of those moments that show just how romantic Ben can be <3) but instead tells just enough you see their closeness and camaraderie. I think it’s safe to say the reader falls in love with Ben, too, from the first chapter’s description (as Rissi quotes here):

Random side note: interestingly, eyes go on to play an important means of communication and meaning in the story.

I could go on further about the intricacies of this story and how it pushes you to think deeply about the impact your choices have on those around you; or even its gentle reminder to seize the moment and find happiness in the little moments of everyday life. But I’ll leave you with the important stuff it showcases: truth, joy, and love (of all kinds…. romance, friendship, family/sibling/parent, even love of your work). With a style only Reay can achieve, this story is polished and engrossing with vivid, heartful characters.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson and Booklook for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.