Posts Tagged ‘british lit’

Book Review: Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

August 24, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: Beside Myself by Ann MorganSummary:
When Helen agrees to swap places with her identical twin sister Ellie at the age of six, she thinks it’ll be a short fun game. But then Ellie refuses to swap back.  Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioral problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered?

This book is an amazing depiction of gaslighting. Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse where the abuser insists to the abused that reality is not in fact reality, and the abused is crazy. (For more about gaslighting, see this great information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline). This book makes gaslighting completely real and understandable for anyone, whether they’ve gone through it themselves or not. It’s easy to see immediately how poor Helen gets slowly tortured and driven mad by everyone denying to her that she is who she says she is. The author takes care not to demonize Ellie though, since it’s abundantly clear part of why Ellie doesn’t want to switch back is because their mother has pre-decided which twin will be the good twin and which the bad, and she consequently treats Helen far better than she treats Ellie. Why wouldn’t she not want to switch back?

How this childhood trauma has wounded Helen becomes more clear over the course of the book. But it’s not just a plain recounting of they switched places then Helen went crazy. The book opens with Helen trying to rebuild her life from addiction and Ellie being in a coma from a car accident. Ellie’s husband reaches out to Helen in the hopes that hearing from her twin will bring her out of it, and slowly long-held secrets reveal themselves.

I thought the whole way through the book that it was slowly building to a certain ending. Then something else came at me out of left field and I was left breathless and aching for Helen. That’s not to say it’s a tragic ending, but it is a shocking one. One that left me with a very different “bad guy” than I thought I had the whole book.

It’s a stellar read, and one of those books that I wish I was able to read for the first time again. It’s that good. Recommended to lovers of psychological thrillers and/or twin swap afficionados.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella

July 11, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie KinsellaSummary:
Workaholic attorney Samantha Sweeting has just done the unthinkable. She’s made a mistake so huge, it’ll wreck any chance of a partnership.

Going into utter meltdown, she walks out of her London office, gets on a train, and ends up in the middle of nowhere. Asking for directions at a big, beautiful house, she’s mistaken for an interviewee and finds herself being offered a job as housekeeper. Her employers have no idea they’ve hired a lawyer–and Samantha has no idea how to work the oven. She can’t sew on a button, bake a potato, or get the #@%# ironing board to open. How she takes a deep breath and begins to cope–and finds love–is a story as delicious as the bread she learns to bake.

But will her old life ever catch up with her? And if it does…will she want it back?

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I’m a Sophie Kinsella fan, so it should come as no surprise that I liked this book. But let me say I love love loved this book. It’s my favorite Kinsella book I’ve read so far. It was funny but also a beautiful love story and also great commentary on life and priorities. It gave me the warm fuzzies, you guys.

I think one of the things I like best about Kinsella books is how they present all of women’s life options as totally valid ones, even if the heroine herself doesn’t realize that at first. What matters most is the heroine doing what makes her happy, and often the drama comes from the heroine forcing herself to be something she’s not or align herself with life values she doesn’t have. In any case, this book walks a great line of neither demonizing career women nor women who stay at home. It also doesn’t present doing a high-powered, high-education track as better than doing a traditionally blue collar job like housekeeping or cooking. Yes, at first Samantha thinks one of them is better and looks down on the other, but ultimately she realizes the pluses and minuses of both types of jobs, and I really like seeing that in chick lit. A lot.  I also really enjoyed seeing the struggle Samantha has between part of herself wanting the high-powered career and part wanting the quiet life at home. I think that’s a feeling many modern women can relate to.

The romance is also quite sweet. The early on playing between Samantha and her man and how that progresses made me feel like I was cozied up in a just the right temperature bath. But I also really liked that the book shows that compromise in a relationship is necessary. Both of them have to adjust their perceptions to fit the new reality of each other and both are willing to make compromises and meet in the middle.

Of course it’s also funny. What’s not funny about a lawyer trying to keep house when she doesn’t know anything about cleaning or cooking? At some point though the humor transitions into scenes that I can only describe as warm and glowing. That focus in on what really matters in life.

I was entertained. My life goals and ambitions were strengthened and validated. And I (maybe) (ok, definitely) cried happy-ever-after tears at the end of the book. I suppose if you’re a reader who doesn’t understand people who want to work a job they at least moderately enjoy and live life at a reasonable pace with lots of time with those they love then you might not enjoy this book. But I’d also say you need to read it and take a hard look at Samantha’s life before and after her lessons.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Watership Down by Douglas Adams

Book Review: Watership Down by Douglas AdamsSummary:
When a rabbit low on the totem pole has a bad premonition, he and some friends run from their warren just before man intrudes wreaking havoc on their once-home. What follows is an adventure of evading predators and foes and looking for a new home.

Let me preface my review by saying that I know a lot of people either: A) love this book or B) find this book to be very traumatic. My experience was neither of these. The fact that this was not my experience does not negate yours. But neither does your love or traumatizing by this book mean that I felt the same way about it.

One of the risks of reading a book that is widely-known and loved (or remembered as traumatic) is that you have a pre-existing notion of just what that experience might mean for you. I came at this book with some trepidation and excitement because I absolutely love bunnies and I also love semi-realistic depictions of wild animals. Those that are accurate about scientific information but also personify them somewhat. I wound up being greatly disappointed because it gave me neither a world of bunnies to get lost in nor an experience of great trauma and drama. What I wanted was a highly emotional experience, and instead I got a bit of boredom and my main emotion being disappointment.

Let me start with what I think was well done. Adams clearly paid a lot of attention to the real science of how wild bunnies live and function, and I appreciated that. I also like the allusions to mythology. But there’s lots of reviews that talk about why they love this book, so let’s get down to why I didn’t.

1) I found it to be way too wordy.
I want cuteness and bunnies and plot not overly long descriptions of fields. This is a really thick book (my copy was 479 pages) and just…not that much actually happens. I don’t like to feel like a book is wasting my time, and I felt that a lot with this one. You could argue that it just felt long because I didn’t emotionally connect to it, but I think part of my lack of emotional connection was because of the lengthy descriptive passages.

2) I was expecting a great mythos of a story, and what I got was WWII with bunnies.
I love WWII. Do not get me wrong. I did an entire course for my History BA in just WWII. But I don’t think bunnies particularly pair well with WWII. A large overarching mythos? Sure. Basically the Battle of the Bulge with rabbits? Not so much. I don’t want my bunnies acting like British colonels and their optimistic soldiers, and I certainly don’t want an evil bunny who is basically Hitler coming into the story. (I mean…who makes the enemy another bunny who is basically Hitler? ? What? Why??)

3)It just isn’t all that tragic (sorry guys).
*spoiler warning*
I thought that basically the bunnies fight to survive all book and then all die at the end. Of the core group of rabbits, only ONE dies. There are many epic battles but just no true peril except for the warren that the rabbits leave at the beginning of the book. They are, true, pretty brutally killed by the farmer, but the problem is we never had a chance to get to know them, and we hear the story of the killing from someone who saw it. We don’t see it first-hand. It’s all very distanced and just not that tragic. This would obviously bother me less if I wasn’t expecting a tragedy from everyone saying how sad Watership Down is. But honestly to this day I don’t get why everyone is so sad. The rabbits get a new warren. They successfully find female bunnies and make more bunnies. One main character dies. That is it. I just. What. Why does this traumatize you people?
*end spoilers*

So, if you are a person who doesn’t mind WWII told through rabbits, quite long passages of description, and will welcome a tale lacking in great tragedies, you might have a better experience with the book than I did. Lord knows many people the world-over have loved it. But for those who come to it expecting to find a great tragedy or a fast-moving tale or warm and cuddly rabbits be warned that it’s not what you’ve heard about it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge

Book Review: Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

August 25, 2015 4 comments

Book Review: Remember Me? by Sophie KinsellaSummary:
The last thing Lexi remembers she’s a 24 year old in the year 2004 with bad teeth, a bad boyfriend, and at the bottom of the totem pole in a new job where she hasn’t been working long enough to be able to get the annual bonus.  When she wakes up in hospital, though, she’s told that the year is 2007, she’s 28, the boss of her department, and married to a millionaire!  She’s told she was in a car accident that gave her amnesia, and now she has to piece together just how she got to this place in her life, especially when not everything is as rosy as it seems at first.  Her millionaire husband is controlling, her once best friends give her the cold shoulder, and everyone at work seems to think that she’s a bitch.

True story. I spotted this sitting on top of a neighbor’s recycling bin and snatched it up as soon as I recognized the author’s name.  I was a big fan of Sophie Kinsella’s in high school, and I just couldn’t bear to see a perfectly nice condition hardcover of one of her books get recycled.  I wondered if I would enjoy her contemporary romance as much now as a late 20-something as I did as a teen.  I’m happy to say I certainly enjoyed this one just as much, although in a slightly different way than I used to.

I wonder how much I would have appreciated this book a few years ago.  As a late-20 something myself, I laughed out loud at how the 24 year old version of me would react if she was plunked into my current life.  A lot really does change in 4 years in your 20s, especially with regards to your career and your love life.  The plot kind of reminded me a bit of the plot of one of my favorite romcoms 13 Going On 30.  Someone who is (or perceives of themselves as) much younger and less experienced than the person whose life they are now living.  How that affects them and how they react to it is really interesting.  Both stories show how important actually going through the growing pains really are.  You can’t just suddenly handle a more adult life; you have to grow into it.

I also appreciated that, although Lexi’s husband is drop-dead gorgeous, both she and he believe she should not sleep with him until she is comfortable with him again.  She may be married to him, but she doesn’t remember who he is, and she shouldn’t do anything until she’s ready.  If she ever is.  Her husband is definitely controlling of her when it comes to how their household is run and how they spend money, but he is very respectful of her sexually.  He doesn’t touch her unless invited to, and he stops when she says to.  I was really happy to see this focus on positive, enthusiastic consent portrayed in the book.

The exploration of Lexi’s career path from lower level to high-powered boss is fascinating.  Lexi is torn up that now that she’s a boss those under her think she’s a bitch.  There’s a nuanced exploration of how women in power are often perceived of as bitches, even if they’re just being assertive.  However, there’s also a nice exploration of how to still be true to yourself when in power.  You don’t necessarily have to lead in the traditional “masculine” way if you don’t want to.  This combined with the exploration of aging gave a depth to the romance that kicked it up a notch for me.

It says a lot for how much the book made me like Lexi that I was able to get past one plot point that usually spoils romances for me.  However, that plot point did knock the book down from 5 to 4 stars for me.

It turns out that 28 year old Lexi is cheating on her husband.  24 year old Lexi is just as horrified by this as I always am by cheating.  The exploration of how she wound up cheating on him didn’t make it ok to me, but I did appreciate that 24 year old Lexi took agency and addressed the situation, rather than lingering in married but cheating land.  I appreciated that Lexi was able to acknowledge her mistakes, forgive herself for them, and grow and change.
*end spoilers*

Overall, fans of contemporary romance will enjoy this fun take on the amnesia plot.  The plot doesn’t just cover a romance, it also covers the growing pains of being in your 20s, the challenges women face when they become the boss, and how to learn from your mistakes.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Rescued from a recycling bin

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Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge

Book Review: Mulliner Nights by P.G. Wodehouse (Series, #3) (Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge)

Cat with red cheeks and a spilled whiskey bottle in the foreground.  Man with folded arms in the back.Summary:
Mr. Mulliner has a wide variety of eclectic relatives, and he’s more than happy to tell snippets of their life stories over a pint at the local pub.  From a freewheeling artist brought into line by a judgmental cat to a timid fellow who accidentally subscribes to a correspondence course on how to get a backbone to a private detective with such a disturbing smile that criminals readily confess their hijinks keep the patrons of Angler’s Rest in stitches.

This made it onto my tbr pile thanks to a visit to Harvard Books’ used books and remainders cellar.  This was in the remainders pile, and three things drew me to it.  1) It was under $5, 2) The cover has a cat drunk on whiskey on it, 3) I had just read Love Among the Chickens (review) by Wodehouse, which was my first encounter with him, and found him hilarious.  Given this trifecta, I couldn’t resist.  I’m glad I didn’t, as this short story collection didn’t disappoint.

Don’t worry about this being the third in a series.  The only connection among the short stories is the main characters are all a Mulliner (or married to one).  It was completely unnecessary to have read the first two books in the series to get into this collection, although I intend now to read all of the Mulliner books.  I really appreciated how Wodehouse sets up a structure to hold his short story collection together in one unit.  Although they are all self-contained tales, their being together in one collection actually makes sense.  They have more in common than just the author.  They are literally a family of stories.  This helped it hold my interest in a way that many short story collections can’t.

This collection consists of 9 short stories, most of which have some sort of love element.  One person wants to be with (or marry) another and must overcome some sort of obstacle (usually caused by British upper-class culture) in order to be with them.  Hilarity ensues.  My favorite of these was “The Story of Webster,” the cover’s drunk cat.  In this a freewheeling artist has his religious uncle drop his cat off with him while he goes on assignment to Africa.  The judgmental, sullen cat soon starts to reign in the young artist, much to his and his girlfriend’s chagrin.  Everything about this, from the early 20th century fashion and dialogue to the witty commentary on cats and culture works perfectly, particularly for this cat-lover.  The story that I thought worked least-well, and unfortunately wraps up the book, is “Gala Night.”  A pastor Mulliner accidentally helps a young couple who enjoys dancing to acquire the young woman’s parents’ approval of their union.  I didn’t like the religious Mulliner.  He just wasn’t funny to me.  Similarly the catalyst of a mysterious mood enhancing drink just lacked the creativity found in the other stories.  Fortunately, most of the stories fell much closer to the hilarity of the whiskey drinking cat.  However, a couple did fall a bit flat for me, which is why while I greatly enjoyed the book, I wouldn’t say I was totally in love with it.

Overall, this is a wonderfully witty collection of short stories held together by an elderly Mulliner who enjoys telling (possibly tall) tales about his family over a pint in the local pub.  If you enjoy a dry wit and slapstick humor to top off a cute love story, this collection is for you.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Books

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Previous Books in Series:
Meet Mr. Mulliner
Mr. Mulliner Speaking

Book Review: Above Ground by A. M. Harte (Series, #1)

November 28, 2012 4 comments

Yellowish moon seen through the trees.Summary:
Lilith Grey has spent her entire life living below ground–among the lucky descendants of the humans who escaped there before catching the virus that turned the rest of humanity into monsters from fairy tales.  But one day Lilith and her friend Emma get temporary vaccines and go above ground to a tourist theater to view these vampires and shapeshifters in person.  When everything goes horribly wrong, Lilith finds herself whisked away from the carnage on the back of a werewolf.  Can she ever get back below ground?

I was hesitant to accept a YA book for review, since the genre is not one I tend to enjoy.  But I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed a book by this indie author, so I decided to give it a go.  Her other work, Hungry For You, is a collection of zombie themed short stories that manages to put a fresh twist on that genre, so I was hoping for more of that unique glint in her YA work as well.  This, her first full-length novel, is more unique than what is currently saturating the market, but I did not feel that it lived up to the expectations I had based on her short story collection.

The basic concept is intriguing.  Many post-apocalyptic stories feature humans living in bomb shelters or other similar underground enclosures but not for the reasons put forth in this novel.  This unique twist is what I’ve come to expect from Harte’s writing, and it definitely was the part of the story that kept me reading.  Seeing how the mutated humans lived above ground versus how the non-mutated lived below ground was intriguing and interesting.  I wish more time had been spent building this world and less on the emotions of the main character (not to mention her friend, Emma, and the werewolf, Silver).  The scifi explanations for the fantastical creatures was also engaging, but again not enough time was spent on it.  Similarly, while the typical werewolves and vampires exist among the infected above ground, there are also the more unique such as the ewtes who mutated to live in the water but can walk on the ground with water tanks.  Actually, I could have easily spent an entire book among the ewtes.  They were far more interesting than our stereotypical main character Lilith.  The world and minor characters are what kept me reading….not the plot or main characters.

The initial plot set-up is painfully stereotypical.  Clueless teenage girls wind up in danger. Two men save them. One is an angst-ridden werewolf. The other is a mysterious, handsome intelligent fella.  The girls protest they can care for themselves but the reader can see they can’t really. The main teenage girl feels inexplicably pulled to the werewolf angst man. The werewolf angst man feels drawn to the teenage girl and angsts about it. And on we go.  The last few pages of plot, thankfully, didn’t take the typical turn, but honestly the pay-off was incredibly minor compared to the rest of the stereotypical YA plot.  Even just making it a teenage boy from below ground saved by a female werewolf would have been a change enough to make me more interested.  I also was disappointed to see no depth or examination of the human condition here, which I saw in Harte’s previous work.  I was excited to see what depth she could bring to YA but she didn’t even bring an empowered female main character to the genre.  Quite disappointing.

Ignoring my own quips with the plot and main characters, the book simply does not read like a solid first entry in a series.  It gives the reader mere tastes of what we want to know from a first book in a series, like who the DEI are and why everyone is afraid of them, while lingering on things like how the main character craves the werewolf.  That is fine if it was a paranormal romance, but it feels more like it is meant to be a post-apocalyptic/dystopian style novel.  A clearer world needs to be established and characters more fully fleshed-out if they are to hold up a whole series.   There has to be a clear world and a three-dimensional main character set up before the danger if the reader is to feel any connection or caring at all.  As it is, I mostly just wanted to wander off and follow the ewtes.

Overall, then, this is definitely a book for YA fans only.  It’s the basic plot from YA with a twist set in a unique future world that was fun to visit.  YA fans will have to try it out for themselves to determine how much they will enjoy that visit.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy received from author in exchange for my honest review

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Giveaway! The author is running a giveaway along with her month long blog tour.  Check out the rafflecopter for details!


Book Review: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Four sets of feet in a circle with the sky in the background.Summary:
On New Year’s Eve, four incredibly different strangers accidentally meet on Topper’s House a popular local spot for suicides.  Somehow running into each other leads to them taking the long way down that night instead of the quick one.  What happens after is a continuance of their life stories that no one could have predicted.

I distinctly remember that this book made it into my tbr pile because of the suicide theme.  What makes these four different people want to kill themselves, and what makes them not do it.  Clearly this is a book about depression and suicidality.  But it is not a depressing book. Not by far.

Without revealing too much, since the revelations are part of the fun of the read, I will just say that the four suicidal people span different generations, reasons, and nations of origin.  Different levels of conservatism and liberalism.  But what makes them come to understand each other is their universal depression and suicidal thoughts.  This fact that someone out there gets them….well oftentimes that can help get a profoundly depressed or mentally unwell person over the hump.  Feeling less alone.

Her past was in the past, but our past, I don’t know…Our past was still all over the place. We could see it every day when we woke up.  (page 253)

In spite of this being a book about depressed people bonding over their depression, it doesn’t read as such.  I was reading it on an airplane and found myself literally laughing out loud at sections.  Because these people are brilliant.  They have a great understanding of the world. Of art. Of relationships.  Even of themselves.

I had that terrible feeling you get when you realize that you’re stuck with who you are, and there’s nothing you can do about it. (page 208)

That is, after all, frequently what depression can be all about. A profoundly clear understanding of how royally fucked up you are or your life is.  What’s hard is seeing past that moment.  The book is kind of a snapshot of the process of them learning to do that.  And that’s what makes it so eloquent and poignant.  Nothing is done melodramatically. Things are just presented as they are.  Even down to the four being able to laugh together periodically (and make you laugh in the process).  Depression isn’t just oh everything sucks nonstop.  There are moments of laughter.  It’s just that those moments are outweighed by the weight of the depression.  Getting rid of that weight is a cleansing, uplifting process, and that’s how it feels to read this book.  You bond and you laugh and you maybe even cry (if you have more susceptible tear ducts than this reader).  And in the end you come to an understanding of that suicidal dark place without being abandoned in it.

Overall this book manages to eloquently present depression without being a depressing book.  It is compelling to any reader who has ever struggled with a depressed period of life.  Highly recommended to the depressed and the sympathetic.  Both will be left feeling lighter and less alone.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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