Tag Archives: book review

The Last Summer: A Review

Note: I have tried to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, because I think quite a few of you will be interested in reading this book and I don’t want to give anything away!

A grand old English country estate.  A forbidden romance set against the backdrop of World War I.    The blurb for Judith Kinghorn’s The Last Summer intrigued me, and in all honesty, I was hoping to get a Downton Abbey fix.  But what I got was so much more.

Spanning roughly 16 years (1914-1930), The Last Summer is a beautifully written story about the young generation impacted by World War I.  Told through the eyes of Clarissa Granville, we see how the war crashes into her life and those around her, smashing every hope and dream in its path, causing inexplicable loss that sets all Clarissa thought she knew adrift.  But there is one thing that she always comes back to, one true thing that guides her: her love for Tom Cuthbert.

Clarissa meets Tom at her family’s country estate, Deyning.  Tom is the son of the housekeeper, and she is quickly drawn to his quiet intensity, despite their class difference.  The two make a connection that last summer before the First World War begins that cannot be broken, even with the many obstacles they face in the years to come.

I appreciated how the story didn’t stop with the war’s end, allowing the reader to see the long-lasting impact the conflict has on Clarissa and her generation.  Through her, we experience the pain, the loss, and the need to escape from it all.

Through the first-person narrative, the reader develops a very intimate relationship with Clarissa.  Every thought, every hope, every justification is laid out.  She hides nothing from us, but there is much she feels she must conceal from the other characters in the story.

We only see the other main characters through Clarissa’s eyes, but they are well-developed and all play a major role in Clarissa’s life and the decisions she makes.

As a writer, I have huge respect for what Judith Kinghorn was able to accomplish with this novel.  The story is well-crafted, the characters rich, the prose brilliant.  It will take up a permanent place on my bookshelf (yes, I still read real-life, feel-in-your-hands paper books).  If you have an interest in World War I and the period directly following it, societal change, or just a great love story, get thee to the bookstore and pick up a copy of The Last Summer.

Here’s a link to The Last Summer’s GoodReads page.

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Featured Writer Friday: Abby Cavenaugh

Even though I typically don’t read romance novels, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview fellow NC writer Abby Cavenaugh.  Before I get to my chat with Abby, here’s a quick look at her book Going Home Again (published by Swoon Romance).

Review: It’s not every day a girl gets a second chance with a high school crush.  But that day finally arrives for Alyssa Jones twenty years after she first set eyes on Michael Day, who went from popular guy in school to pop star sensation.  He’s returned to Wrightsville Beach, NC, and Alyssa is assigned to interview him for Wrightsville Magazine.  The old feelings bubble back to the surface when she lays eyes on Mike, and Alyssa is surprised to find she’s still carrying a torch for him after all these years.  But there’s one big obstacle standing in her way: Michael Day is married.

After an awkward meet-cute, the sparks begin to fly between Mike and Alyssa.  During his interview Mike admits he’s escaped to Wrightsville Beach to get some space from his marriage.  Alyssa learns that things aren’t always what they seem and finds out the truth behind Mike’s career and marriage to Tina.  The two bond over failed relationships (Alyssa is divorced), and while Alyssa tries to help Mike navigate his way through his crumbling marriage, she finds it impossible to keep her own feelings out of the equation.

The story is told from both Alyssa and Mike’s point of view, and takes place partly in Wrightsville Beach and in New York.  By telling both sides of the story, the reader is able to see exactly how Alyssa and Mike feel about each other, and how their decision to be together will impact their lives.

Interview with Abby:

Diana: What made you pick the setting of Wrightsville Beach for your novel?

Abby: I grew up about half an hour from Wilmington, which neighbors Wrightsville Beach, so when I went “out” as a teenager, I’d often go to Wilmington, and when I went to the beach, I’d go to Wrightsville sometimes. Plus, I worked at the newspaper and magazine in Wrightsville Beach from 2004-2007, and it was such a positive experience for me. I loved going to work at the beach! All of my stories are set in Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach. It’s just such a beautiful, interesting area.

Diana: What’s the story behind your story?

Abbby: I know it may sound kind of crazy, but in all honesty, my first encounter with my favorite New Kid, Jordan Knight, inspired the story. I am a huge New Kids on the Block fan, or Blockhead. In October 2008, there was an insane “mutual attack” between fans and Jordan Knight and Donnie Wahlberg after the concert in Charlotte. Somehow during the madness, I happened to get a quick hug from Jordan, and I remember how he looked me right in the eyes and said “Hey!” and I was just amazed because back in the day, I could never get his attention at concerts or anything. After that, I got to thinking how awesome it was that Jordan finally knew I was alive (at least for those few seconds) after 20 years of me crushing on him. I never even got close to meeting any of the New Kids back in the day. And then I thought wouldn’t it be amazing if that unattainable guy you crushed on in high school was suddenly attainable 20 years later? From there, the idea just grew.

Diana: Tell me a little about Going Home Again‘s journey from your imagination to publication.

Abby: Wow. It’s definitely been a journey! I’ve been working on this manuscript since late 2008. I finished the first draft late in 2011, and it was WAY too long. After more rejections than I’d like to admit, I decided it was best to cut a lot of the story. There’s an epilogue that readers will never see, and a lot more detail to Alyssa’s history of crushing on Michael, but I had to delete those things in order to make the story stronger. Several agents were interested, but ultimately passed on it. I was ready to give up, and I shelved Going Home Again for a few months while I wrote a new, completely different story– a YA paranormal. I happened to see on Twitter one day that Swoon Romance was taking pitches, so I thought, “What the hell? I’ll give it a shot.” I pitched this: “Reporter Alyssa always dreamed of pop star Michael Day. But is he worth her name in the headlines rather than the byline? #PitchSwoon” Swoon requested a partial and just a few hours later, asked for the full manuscript. After that, things went fairly quickly and I received an offer. Next thing I knew, Going Home Again was being published and my dream finally came true!!

Diana: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Abby: I think I was about 12 years old. I read a book by Dean Koontz, and I wanted to create characters as wonderful as his. Although, obviously, I ended up writing a completely different genre from the man who inspired me to become a writer!

Diana: What do you find to be the hardest part about writing?  The easiest?

Abby: The hardest thing for me is not to use adverbs and passive voice. I’m an adverb addict but it’s something I’m working on. 😉 For me, creating realistic characters and dialogue comes easily. It’s the story part that I sometimes struggle with.

Diana: Based on your experience, what advice would you give other writers?

Abby: Do not EVER give up. I often quote legendary N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who said, “Never, ever, ever give up!” Also, don’t compare yourself to others. Their success isn’t yours. Your success will be different; it just might not come as quickly as you’d like. Believe me, I know. I’m one of the most impatient people on the planet.

Diana: If you could spend the day with a fictional character, who would it be and why?  And what would you do?

Abby: I think it would be Michael Day in Going Home Again, because I created him and I know he’s awesome. 😀 I think I’d spend the day at his house on Wrightsville Beach!

Diana: Do you plan out your stories, or do you sit down at your computer and see where your story takes you? 

Abby: I am a total pantser!!! I wish sometimes I could be more of a planner, but I just can’t work that way. I sit in front of my laptop and figure it out from there. I may know what’s going to happen in the middle or the end, but I hardly ever know the in between until I write it.

Thanks so much for the interview, Abby!  You can learn more about Abby by following her on Twitter (@abswrites) and checking out her blog: http://abswritesalot.wordpress.com/

And if you want to get your own copy of Going Home Again, you can find it at the following places:

And be sure to check out what others are saying about it on Goodreads!  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18242120-going-home-again

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The American Heiress: A Review

Since Downton Abbey’s second season ended, I’ve been in search of another grand fictional English estate full of scheming and intrigue to get lost in.  Lulworth Castle, the main setting of The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, fit the bill splendidly.  Set in the last decade of the 19th century, the story focuses on Miss Cora Cash, daughter of one of the wealthiest families in America.  Since their wealth is a product of new money, Cora’s ambitious mother takes her daughter overseas in hopes of attracting a cash-poor but well-titled Englishman.  The practice was far from uncommon during this time period (in fact, Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jarome, is one such example).  Cora succeeds beyond her mother’s wildest imaginings when she lands the dark but alluring Duke of Wareham.

Thus Cora is uprooted from her glittering American society and transplanted into stuffy English customs hundreds of years old.  The servants laugh behind her back as she tries to learn proper English etiquette.  Her demanding mother-in-law raises an eyebrow as Cora tries to implement changes to the way Lulworth Castle is run.  Her husband supports some changes, is appalled by others, and baffled Cora never knows which reaction her initiatives will incite.  And throughout all this is the running undercurrent hinting to a past (and potentially present) relationship between the Duke and Lady Charlotte Beauchamp that everyone but Cora seems to notice.

The American Heiress had me hooked from start to finish.  It’s a great summer read and I highly recommend it.  Ms. Goodwin is a gifted storyteller, never giving away too much, just enough to keep you turning the pages in anticipation.  Dropping subtle hints, we are allowed to draw our own conclusions about the Duke of Wareham’s character, as we try to figure him out alongside Cora.  It’s an entertaining read, with enough plotting and scheming to assuage your need for more Downton Abbey, if only for a little while.

To learn more about author Daisy Goodwin, you can check out her website here.

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The World of Downton Abbey

As mentioned in the previous post, I am suffering from D.A.W. (Downton Abbey withdrawal).  In my search for a cure I procured the season 2 DVD set (see my thoughts on it here).  But there’s another great treatment option: The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes (the niece of series creator Julian Fellowes).  It’s the companion guide to the first two seasons of the show, but it’s more than just behind-the scenes information.  Fellowes provides us with colorful historical context so we can better understand the social system the characters of the show live in, and how that system went through tremendous changes during the early 20th century.

The book covers such topics as the Buccaneers, the wealthy American women who came overseas in order to marry cash-strapped Englishmen with titles.  This gave the husband the money he needed to maintain his estate, while catapulting the wife into the upper echelons of society.  Fellowes relates this arrangement to the situation with Robert and Cora.  So while she discusses factual events, she tells them from the perspective of the fictional characters.

There are interesting side stories throughout the book as well, including the real-life historical figures that inspired such characters as Lady Cora and Sir Richard Carlisle.  And of course there’s page after glossy page of beautiful photographs from the series.

The book’s chapters focus on topics such as style, family life, life in service, changes that took place at the beginning of the 20th century, and the impact of World War I.  There are plenty of behind-the-scenes tidbits scattered throughout, as well as an entire chapter devoted to the subject.  It’s a fantastic read, and it helps you appreciate the series’ attention to historical detail even more.

You can get a taste of what’s in the book on PBS’s website.

Jessica Fellowes will be doing a live chat interview on PBS’s Masterpiece website on Monday (Feb. 27) at 1:00 PM.  Click here to go to the page and find out more.

You can also listen to an interview with Fellowes about the book that was conducted earlier by NPR here.

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