Category Archives: Adult Fiction

The Perfect Mother – Aimee Molly

The Perfect Mother

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

  • Source: Library copy

A group of new mothers plan a fun night out, only to end the night with their worst nightmare come to life. On a 4th of July meant to be about freedom from motherhood, freedom to have fun, Winnie receives a call that her newborn daughter has been abducted.

This book is really more of a look at new motherhood than it is about the missing baby. Although the mystery and conspiracy around the missing baby does drive the story, the characters reveal so much more about the stereotypes and pressures put upon new parents in virtually every aspect of their lives from the personal at home to the not-so-personal in the workplace. I switched back and forth between the book and the audiobook. Both were highly enjoyable and gripping reads. The ending was fairly formulaic and the big reveal felt so cluttered with action and rushed. Otherwise, I liked this book a lot.

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Secrets of a Charmed Life – Susan Meissner

Secrets of a Charmed Life

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

  • Source: Library – Friend’s of the Library Bookstore
  • Genre: Fiction – Historical, WW2, England,

Growing up in the East End of London during the start of WW2, Emmy Downtree took more responsibilities than a typical 15-year-old. Acting as a mother to her half-sister Julia all the while dreaming of becoming a wedding dress designer. Emmy had just taken on a part-time job at the local wedding dress store when events were speeding up in the war. Children were being evacuated from their homes and being transported to the countryside to live with foster families as the war raged on in London. After receiving a letter from her former employer, Emmy returns to London with Julia in tow. Not knowing that their return would be the day of the infamous blitz. Divided and alone, Emmy must take her own future into her own hands. But who will she be? Emmy Downtree or Isabel Crofton?

* * * * * * * * * * *

I could not put down this book. It was written so beautifully. The rage, resentment and anger Emmy felt towards her mother influenced so many of her decisions. Her love-hate relationship with being Julia’s guardian. Loving and taking her of her much younger sister, all the while wanting to spread her own wings and fly away from the life their mother had provided for them in the East End. During her journey, Emmy learned so much about her own history through accidental meetings and occurrences. The characters felt so real. We never learned in school that children where separated from their families all throughout the war. Children sent to England from other countries, children sent from London the countryside, all hoping to find safer land and shelter from the war above their heads. This is a book about the war, but moreso about one family’s experiences, losses and discoveries as a result of the war.

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

The Music ShopThe Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

  • Source: Library – Overdrive Audiobook
  • Genre: Fiction – Music; Love Stories

Rachel Joyce is one of my favorite authors, but this book hit a flat note with me (har har). It started off really well, with a diverse and eccentric community living on Unity Street. Most of the story takes place in The Music Shop on the street, run by Frank. Set during the late 1980’s, Frank only seels vinyl. Not CDs, only vinyl.  His love for music and its stories are contagious and endearing. He has a knack for selecting the right music for each person’s needs. He’s a bit socially awkward, particularly around one Ilse Brauchmann, a woman who visits his shop and who he falls for, despite his efforts to the contrary. One day, Ilsa faints outside his shop. In all of the hoopla of getting her help, she leaves behind her purse at the shop. From that fateful day, Frank and Ilsa form an interesting relationship, hinting at their adoration for each other, without being able to say the words. Frank is unable to handle the feelings of love that bubble up for him. Ilsa is engaged to another man.

The tug of war of “will they or won’t they” is endless in the novel. Frank is just unable to let love into his world, particularly after the death of Peg, his eccentric mother who planted the seed that grew into his love and knowledge of music history. This book is ultimately an ode to music than a romance or love story. Its quirky, its contemporary, despite being set in the 1980s. The characters are diverse and have their own nuances and eccentricities. Despite all of this, somewhere towards the last third of the story, I started losing interest. Maybe I just picked up this book at the wrong time. The narrator didn’t appeal to me all that much either. He was very gruff, the way I would expect Frank to sound like, but I still didn’t feel a big urge to return to the book after a break.

PS. If you like this book, try: High Fidelity

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Book review: Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope (Austen Project #1)

Sense & sensibility

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope (Austen Project #1)

Source: Publisher

Publisher/ISBN: HarperCollins 2013, 9780062200464

Find this book at your local library

In this contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood women are upgraded to the modern era, with Facebook, Twitter, cell phones and modern-day analogies of their 19th century dilemmas.

After the death of Henry Dashwood, his house at Norland Park is given to his son, the next male in line. This is because he and Belle Dashwood never actually got married. After John and Fanny move into Norland Park with their young tot Harry, Fanny promptly kicks out the Dashwood family, sending them to Devon to live at Barton College. What happens next is a series of romantic flings and romantic flops as the women try to sort out their lives now that everything they know is in disarray.

I’ve read so many review of this book, and so many of them are so negative. Although I agree with a considerable sum of the complaints, I still liked the book. I thought it was a very well retelling of a story. Much of Jane Austen’s work is social satire, highlighting the restraints in freedom of women in 19th Century England. Of course those restraints don’t translate into this century. Women are free to work, the passing of property doesn’t automatically go to the next male heir (unless its written in a will) and women aren’t forced to marry for money to maintain their living standards. They can, and most do, make do on their own two feet. The retelling definitely stunted the Dashwood women, but trying to maintain a semblance to those social standards of yore. Belle Dashwood was frustrating in her ignorance and lack of maturity. Elinor took over the reigns to get the family back on its feet. Marianne was flighty, devoutly falling in love with John Willoughby (Wills!), even though why and how they fell in love so quickly was never addressed. That made that entire storyline awkward and forced. The youngest sister was here and there, never really a presence. The way Belle and Marianne were so cavalier about money and not giving it a thought after they had been effectively made homeless by Fanny was ridiculous by today’s standards.

OK, so maybe it sounds like I didn’t like the book. I did like it. I swear. I was still very much interested in the lives of the Dashwood, particularly seeing how Trollope was able to come up with modernized elements of the novel. I think she did the best with what she was given. Although I wish she left the teen slang at bay. I cringed every time I came across the word “totes.” All in all, I thought it was wonderful. Trollope is a well-regarded novelist in the UK, although this is my first experience with her works. I am interested in reading her novels though. Her language and style is very fluid and illustrative, like Jane Austen. She has a way with descriptions that pull you right into the narrative.

This is book one of the Jane Austen Project. For those who don’t know, the Austen Project is a retelling of all of Jane Austen’s books by contemporary authors, pulling the stories and characters into the modern era. This is the first retelling. Northanger Abbey, Emma and Pride and Prejudice have also been published. Look at what beautiful covers the books have too!

 

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

 

Book Review: High-Rise by JG Ballard

High-Rise

High Rise by J.G. Ballard
Published 1978
Setting: London, England

In a city block sized high-rise, residents of 40 floors have access to everything they would need in this mini-city within walls. A bank, a grocery store, a junior school and a restaurant. Although the residents tolerate each other, tensions build as mechanical breakdowns start the eventual downfall of the hierarchical society and mass chaos ensues as tenants form packs and their primal instincts kick in for self-preservation.

This book is an eerie look at society falling apart & turning on each other, like packs of wild animals. Apart from being isolated in a high-rise building, it was never very clear why the society in the building decayed beyond technical malfunctions of the elevators. Of course, there was clear jealousy between the haves & have-nots with literal ties to the poor on the bottom & the rich on top. However, the actual cause was murky which bugged me for the entire duration of the book.

The women are passive and victimized in horrifying amounts and are portrayed as neglectful of their husbands and children. The men are aggressive, full of sexual frustration with urges to pee on everything to mark their territory

Did I like this book? No. Did I like how Ballard was able to dehumanize society? Yes, actually. The changes that take place over one character in particular, Wilder, were a fascinating character study to me. This transition from mild social climber to ferocious beast was gradual, frightening and seemed to mirror the entire mood of the high-rise. Most of the other lead characters (all men) where dull in compassion. Laing & Royal in particular offered very little to the book.

The book was recently adapted for the big screen. I’m curious to see what the movie will be like. There is quite a bit of violence (both physical & sexual) throughout the book as people attempt to assert their dominance & status.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Book review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z : a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Two Roads, 2013
Find this book at your local library

This book was a totally engrossing & captivating story of Scott. & Zelda Fitzgerald’s roller coaster marriage. Fowler’s work reads with the same pacing and flow as Melanie Benjamin’s books (of which I am a huge fan). This novel follows the relationship of the Fitzgeralds through the various stages of Scott’s literary career, covering all of his published works. A majority of their nomadic marriage was spent overseas in France, drunk.

As much as I love The Great Gatsby, I have to admit that my knowledge of the Fitzgeralds is negligible. All I knew was that Scott was best friends with Hemingway and that he was drunk most of the time. I knew absolutely nothing about Zelda before this book. It was an eye-opening look at life nearly 100 years ago, and how far the woman’s independence movement has come since. I doubt Zelda would have felt the same constraints on her ambitions now as she must have felt back then.

My only complaints with the book are that ending felt rushed & choppy. The entire story was well paced, with just enough time devoted to the various stages of their lives. But then, we get to the end and Zelda’s institutional period and everything is quickly rushed through. Maybe its because these experiences were a blur for her? I don’t know, but I wished that those areas had been fleshed out a little more. Although Fowler had been making subtle statements about the latent sexism of the time throughout the novel, I felt that she really battered the reader with it during the last few chapters about Zelda’s institutional experiences and the ridiculously sexist opinions of the psychiatrists (however accurate they may have been). As an end result, I now feel extra inspired to read the rest of Scott’s work, but also to find and read Zelda’s work too. I want to know more about their lives. Fowler tried to stay neutral between the team-Zelda and team-Scott fans. Although I think there is a slight bias towards team-Zelda. I for, one, am anti-Hemingway, and at the very least, this book solidified my opinion of him as a pompous, inflated ego.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.

A Year in the Merde (Stephen Clarke) – Review

A year in the merdeA Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library copy
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2004
ISBN: 1582345910 / 276 pages

Find this book at your local library 

Paul West is sent to work in France for a one year assignment, helping develop a series of British tea rooms & cafes throughout Paris. Along the way, he encounters more  than he expecting. He finds himself dealing an apathetic group at work, an untrustworthy boss, a sea of flirtatious yet unavailable women, piles of literal and figurative merde in general throughout the city and its residents.

Although fictional, this book could quite possible pass as an actual memoir. Paul is a wonderful narrator, taking us through his frustrations, his accomplishments and failures as he tries to get through a year in Paris. This is also one of the funniest books I’ve read regarding the subject of a foreigner trying to become a local.

I thought all of the characters were well-developed and well-balanced. From the cranky administrative staff, to the negligent severs at cafes, almost everything described in this book matched every memoir I’ve read set in France. As a bachelor, much of the book is focused on Paul’s sexual exploits (of which there are a many). The rest of the book is focused on Paul’s experiences at work dealing with a staff that could care less about the project. 

Although he’s witty, Paul isn’t really a likable character, no one is actually. He’s very self-centered at times and his primary goal seems to be getting laid. His sense of humor, though, is hilarious and his exploits (sexual and the mundane) are equally entertaining as his bumbling nature keeps getting the better of him. Granted, as a fictional account, much of this book did have some exaggerated elements purely for the sake of humor. A lot of the humor and characters reminded me of Peter Mayle’s experiences in A Year in Provance. A Year in the Merde is meant to be a ribald and sarcastic take on French culture (the food, the constant strikes & protests, the relaxed work habits, etc.) and one British man’s continual attempts to get through one year of paid employment.

Adverbs (Daniel Handler) – Review

AdverbsAdverbs by Daniel Handler
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2006
ISBN: 9780060724429 / 272 pages

Find this book at your local library

This book is nearly impossible to summarize, but I’m going to try:

A bunch of people talk about love and birds, specifically magpies, and act like real selfish idiots trying to figure out what love really is.

Well…its not a perfect summary, but its the best that I can do. I was really disappointed with this collection by Daniel Handler. I love The Series of Unfortunate Events and The Basic Eight, but this book just seemed to lack the je ne se quoi  of the previous works. This is definitely not a cohesive novel. There is no intro, conflict, climax, resolution. Its more like a collection of vignettes with overlapping characters and themes.  Although I never grew attached or liked any of the characters so I didn’t recognize them when they popped up 3 stories down the line.

Quirks:

  • Handler doesn’t actually use many adverbs in the book except for the chapter titles & for one character towards the end.
  • 36 mentions of Magpies + 67 mentions of birds + 13 mentions of misc birds =  136 mentions of aviary creatures in 17 chapters. I should have kept a count of how many times love and the volcano beneath San Francisco were also mentioned because those were the four frequent concepts in all of the stories.

Handler’s writing is somewhat disjointed. It’s very “hip” and somewhat pretentious. I think I actually reacted to this book the same way I reacted to Franny and Zooey (which was not a good reaction). The writing felt smug, it didn’t feel forced, but it didn’t feel natural either. There was just something off about this novel. Its like there was a volcano underneath this novel causing a sense of urgency where there shouldn’t be one.

I did grow to enjoy the book towards the middle. Some of the chapters I really enjoyed were: Immediately, Frigidly, and Naturally. When I finished, I felt unsatisfied. I feel like this book deserves a re-read in the hopes that I may like it more not expecting a typical story progression.

Death by Cashmere (Sally Goldenbaum) – Review

Death by cashmere : a seaside knitters mysteryDeath by Cashmere (A Seaside Knitters Mystery) by Sally Goldenbaum
Age: Adult
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Obsidian, 2008
ISBN: 9780451224712
297 pages
Source – Library
Find this book at your local library  

Izzy, a young woman who owns the knitting shop in the New England coastal town of Sea Harbor is shaken by the death of Angie, the young woman renting the upstairs apartment. Izzy and her close friends, the knitting circle, put their heads together to figure out who killed Angie and why.  They get more than they bargained for as the story progresses.

As far cosy/themed mysteries go, this one was pretty decent. I love Goldenbaum’s descriptions of the town, I could almost smell the ocean air. Also, the author’s love for knitting and needles crafts is evident as it was weaved throughout the novel. 

The story itself was interesting. Somewhere in the middle it just stalled,  like when the battery of your car dies and you can’t start the car. Scenes, descriptions and the people felt repetitive and the purple prose was a little on the heavy side. There wasn’t much character development, and most of the characters fell into the typical character stereotypes: The dashing young man; the dashing young man with anger management issues; the feisty older women; the feisty young women; the conservative ball-busting women climbing to the top of the political ladder; and the town cuckoo.

There were plenty of plot twists, and all my predictions of who the murderer was were wrong. All the clues were there in the book to piece it together though. It was a little awkward in how the sleuthing worked in this book. There wasn’t a single designated character who tried to solve the mystery. I think that helped create more of a “who did it” atmosphere, especially towards the end.

This book isn’t as formulaic as the typical cosy mysteries, and I might eventually read the other books in the Seaside Knitters Mysteries. If anything, it did make me wish I had my own weekly knitting group, and all the paragraphs on yarn did finally get me to start knitting again this winter.

November Recap

November has been a busy month for me. Lots of random selections too I might add. 10 books completed in total. I’ve been busy reading a slew of children’s books for my blog @ Librarians Crossing (shameless plug, I know). Sometimes a person just needs a good picture book as a reminder for why reading is fun.

At least this month I am not behind or ahead on my reviews. What I’ve read is basically what you’ve seen, minus 1 title. Go me!

Books read and reviewed

 Adult

The most beautiful woman in town & other stories The kitchen counter cooking school : how a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks Aftertaste : a novel in five courses

The final solution : a story of detection Nine Stories All you need to be impossibly French : a witty investigation into the lives, lusts, and little secrets of French women

Falling together

  1. The Most Beautiful Woman in Town by Charles Bukowski
  2. Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
  3. Aftertaste by Meredith Mileti
  4. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
  5. Nine Stories by JD Salinger
  6. All You Need to be Impossibly French by Helena Frith Powell
  7. Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

Audio Books

Fragile things : short fictions and wonders

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

Kids

The apothecary

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy 

Finished in November but not reviewed

Why we buy : the science of shopping

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill