Tuesday, July 28, 2009

This Charming Man by Marian Keyes

5 Star

Four very different women. One awfully charming man. And the dark secret that binds them all ... 

Lydia - 5 Star
Marian Keyes delivers another fantastic chick lit novel in This Charming Man that is laugh out loud funny while at the same time is gritty and moving. I absolutely loved this book and had a really hard time putting it down. Regardless of the heavier subject matter, there was just enough humor to make the grittier details tolerable. I loved Lola’s character who made me laugh out loud and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next with her and as much as the details were difficult to read, I found Marnie’s character eye opening and I was suddenly in the mind of a character whose motivations I was unable to relate to, but through Keyes’ prose, I cared enough to have compassion for.

I’m not sure I loved the ending, but it might just have been disappointment that I was coming to the close of the book. Although I enjoyed how it all came together in the end, I’m not sure it was enough, which I’m afraid is all I can say without ruining the ending!

Lola’s character written as diary short form didn’t bother me in the least, although I have read some reviews that found it unsettling. Kathryn started the book after I read it and she too commented on this, finding it distracting and a little annoying, but I’m sure she’ll have plenty to say about this in her review. I liked how the different voices and typeface separated the characters.

I have to rate this as a 5 star based on how much I thought about this book when I wasn’t reading it, how much I HAD to keep reading to find out how it would end, and how it made me laugh, cry and think about issues I normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to ponder while reading chick lit.

Thank you Marian Keyes for delivering another fantastic read with This Charming Man.

Kathryn - 5 Star

I loved This Charming Man. Having just finished it and writing my thoughts down immediately, I have to say that I’m a little overwhelmed. It might help to know that it took me 7 days to read the first 600 pages and one day to read the last 300!

Although the story of the women falling for a man is typical, the details are not. Do not be fooled by the breezy diary style of the first section! Marian Keyes lets you believe that you are reading the classic girl chasing boy story but the reality is not so gentle. (It’s interesting that one is in diary format but the other two are not. This is perhaps why it took me a bit of time to get stuck in as I found the diary part a bit hard to read- funny that it turned out to be the one that made me laugh the most though!)

I’m sorry, but I just don’t want to give anything away about the story so you’ll just have to take my gushing and read it for yourselves! I’ve loved every book I’ve read by Marian Keyes and This Charming Man is truly one of her best. This one delves into two tough topics and I felt it was gutsy and new.

There are only positive things to say about the author, the story and the readability of this novel. Read it and be prepared to not want to put it down.

5 stars!

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

4.5 Star

At her Great Aunt Sadie's funeral, Lara Lington has a shock. At first she tries to ignore it, figuring it's just her overactive imagination, but the voice and vision become impossible to ignore. When Lara realizes it's Great Aunt Sadie's ghost harassing her, becoming more insistent with each appearance, Lara eventually listens and strives to search for the necklace Sadie demands she find, uncovering a mystery, falling in love and learning something about life from Sadie along the way. 

Lydia - 5 Star

Twenties Girl is everything great chick-lit should be including a unique storyline, laugh out loud on the bus by accident kind of humour, a fantastic message without being too uppity about it, and it was a breeze to read.

Sadie’s character is not one you’ll soon forget as soon as this book is over and she reminded of my grandmother whose feisty personality was similar in many respects and whom I adored, so it is not surprising that I loved Sadie’s character. She’s quite memorable and her antics made me laugh out loud as well as Lara’s responses to them.

My only complaint was that it ended too quickly and that the hardcover edition got heavy to hold for the long periods of time that I was reading. I also think Kinsella’s main characters are becoming similar and I could see Rebecca Bloomwood in this role as well, which is probably really my only criticism and one I think would have bothered me much more had Sadie not been such a strong character that balanced Lara’s character out.

If you enjoyed the ‘Shopaholic’ series, you’ll love Twenties Girl too, maybe even more. I did! This is my favourite chick lit novel this year. Great fun and it’s definitely 5 Star.

Kathryn - 4 Star

Generally single girl lit does not have an annoying great aunt spirit tagging along, getting in the way, issuing demands and making life exceedingly complicated. Also one generally doesn’t expect a 105 year old lady to yell as much as this ghost does. There is a lot of yelling coming from the ghost of Sadie and she pouts and whines and is a pain in the behind.

I liked this book eventually because I really started to feel for Lara and Sadie and started to understand where their relationship was going. At first I found Lara wishy-washy and Sadie irritating, but they do become a lot more endearing towards the middle and you begin to see that they are going to become very close.

Sophie Kinsella, as always, writes in a way that you have to keep turning those pages. I just wish that I had laughed out loud as much as I was hoping to. I suppose that when you’re expecting Becky Bloomwood it’s a bit difficult for any other character to measure up. Although I enjoyed Twenties Girl by the time I hit about a third of the way through I think I was expecting to be giggling the entire way through like I do with every Shopaholic book and it just wasn’t the case here.

All in all though Twenties Girl was a great concept with characters I will probably not forget so I can’t say it didn’t enjoy it!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Second Chance by Jane Green

1.5 Star

When an old friend is killed in a terrorist attack, four estranged school friends reunite at his memorial service and begin on a journey reevaluating their lives. Holly, a mother of two, married to a workaholic. A director at an animal shelter, Olivia suffers from loneliness. Paul is a writer whose marriage is suffering from the inability to conceive and Saffron is an alcoholic actress having an affair with a mega star. 

 Lydia - 1 Star

I usually love all of Jane Green’s work, but Second Chance one falls way short for me. It falls so short I had to give it a 1 Star rating and I hate being so negative because I know it’s not easy to write a novel or edit one I’m sure and this seemed to be lacking both.

My biggest complaint with Second Chance is the narration jumped and skipped all over the place so I couldn't keep track of whose voice I was listening too. I’m pretty sure I’ve never had to backtrack as much with any other book because of this. A chapter towards the end of the book started with Olivia’s voice and two paragraphs later switched to Holly’s voice and continued with her. I wasn’t sure why Olivia’s voice was even necessary in that spot and had to reread it several times to see if I missed something. I didn’t. I’m also not sure why some of the voices were needed, like Will’s mother who piped in for a few thoughts and then disappeared.

There were no characters I could relate to, or even like and there was absolutely no humor whatsoever in this novel. Not once did I laugh or crack a smile and had a hard time picking up the book to continue. Jane Green writes chick lit, and if this is her attempt to change it up, in my opinion it was not a success. The emotion didn’t seem genuine and jumped from grief to giddiness in seconds and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole premise including the terrorist angle. Why not just kill Tom off in an accident? It seemed that it should have come back to that, but never did – where was the outrage and anger that he was killed in this manner?

I’m a big plot girl, and although it seemed overall like a lot happened, nothing really did. There was too much description of events and feelings told by the characters viewpoints, especially in the beginning of the book and no action. The only major plot movement was in the latter part of the book and then at the end where there was suddenly a huge jump forward in time and all their lives had moved on. Unfortunately we missed seeing how they came to make the decisions they did, which I think would have been much more important, not to mention more interesting, than the repetitive description and narration in the beginning of the book.

I really hate to do this, but I have to rate Second Chance as a 1 Star. I can’t see any other way around it and can only say to skip this one and read some of her others, specifically Jemima J, which is a classic and one of my favourites, Bookends and Swapping Lives.

Kathryn - 2 Star

I am happy to say that this offering of marriage lit didn’t lose me as completely as Green’s The Beach House.

I was completely taken in by the storyline at the beginning of the novel and felt the emotions of the characters at the loss of their friend. Tom was the person that had been holding their past together and that each one of them needed that common past to be able to create their new futures. When Tom is killed in a terrorist attack they are reunited and work out their next steps.

I think I related to this story particularly as I lived in a few places when I was growing up and left some amazing friends in other countries, so it pulled a bit at my own emotions of leaving someone behind (although I have never had to endure the pain of a friend actually dying). Some of these friends are the only ones who know about these little pieces of me, especially me at 15! These parts of my life are central to the person that I am today and it made me dig up some of my past and I laughed about things they did in their pasts.

I did find the actual reading of Second Chance a bit laboured in parts. The voices do come in and out a lot and I had to try to pin them down to understand what I was reading. I also found that towards the middle it became more difficult to read but I’m not sure I can put a finger on why that was. Perhaps I just became bored with the main character?
When I got to the last chapter I was very surprised to find it all neatly tied up and done. It was far too wrapped up for me, if Green wanted to end with an epilogue perhaps it could have been titled as such? Or at least we could have been given a hint that we’d moved into the future?

Generally I think I liked the read as it took me down memory lane but wouldn’t read it again.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

5 Star

When Alice Howland, a Harvard professor in her fifties, starts noticing how forgetful she's becoming she ignores it until more confusing episodes occur. When forced to recognize something might be wrong, she receives a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's disease. We follow Alice, the novel told from her perspective, as she struggles to maintain her independence and lifestyle while her husband and children try to protect her, dealing with her illness and watching the mother and wife they knew slip away. 

Lydia - 5 Star

I simply could not put Still Alice down even though at times I found it tough to read mostly due to the subject matter. It was also difficult following the narration as her thoughts were jumbled at times, no doubt the intention of the author whose writing was exceptional in this and I truly felt I was becoming unraveled right along with Alice.

A haunting and heartbreaking portrayal, but one so desperately needed to shed light and understanding on this devastating disease. I laughed, I cried out and held my breath through parts of this book, not to mention cried quite profusely at the end and yelled at my husband for interrupting me by calling during my last several pages, ruining the ending (it was a succession of three calls all in the last three pages!).

Despite my ‘ruined’ ending, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend Still Alice to anyone looking for a fascinating, real, thought provoking read. 5 Star!

Kathryn - 5 Star

Still Alice is a must read kind of book- written in a way that is engaging on a topic that is absolutely heartbreaking, this is a novel that everyone should read. Alzheimer’s disease is almost impossible to understand if you are not experiencing it yourself and it’s not something that seems to be discussed in novels with a huge amount of detail so to tackle this journey is impressive.

The fact that the author chose to have Alice be diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s is even more eye-opening as we can see how someone still working while being a parent and wife is trying to cope with things becoming more and more difficult, hiding it from her co-workers and family. In fact, the whole story is told by Alice, so we are mostly given her perspective on her memory lapses and her family’s reactions to her. Because we are taken through the moments of lucidity and the moments of confusion, as if we were the patient ourselves, there’s nothing to hide behind. I felt every range of emotion with her from frustration to anger to helplessness.

At the end I was praying that I would not ever have to face this myself. The details that the author gave us were excellent too- from the fact that she was careful to explain some of the possible things that could be done to stem the disease to Alice forgetting her daughters’ names and referring to them by “the mother” and “the actress”.

Frankly I’m astonished by Lisa Genova’s ability and feeling in writing Still Alice and I would recommend everyone read it.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff

3 Star

When Phoebe Swift quits her job to start her own vintage clothing shop in London, she adores searching for the dresses and loves even more when they're bought and loved by someone new. As she gets her business off the ground, she finds herself dealing with her increasingly demanding mother, being pursued by two different men and still haunted by her past. When she meets Thérèse Bell, an elderly woman selling her vintage clothing collection, they become friends and eventually Phoebe finds out the story of the little blue dress the woman covets and reveals her own dark past, learning to move forward along the way.

Lydia - 3 Star

I thought A Vintage Affair was a cute and enjoyable read. I loved reading about the vintage clothing, and found the details interesting which I didn’t think I would, so the author did a great job at mixing in the details with the storyline for us without vintage experience. I also liked Mrs. Bell’s story and Phoebe’s parent’s storyline. I liked Phoebe, but wasn’t particularly drawn to her and definitely did not get emotionally attached. I stayed detached, but maybe that’s because her character largely was too.

I was not blown away by anything in this novel, yet I don’t have anything negative to say. I have a terrible feeling that this book might eventually become unmemorable, but maybe not as I’ll likely remember Mrs. Bell’s story. It’s not usually one you usually find in chick lit.

A Vintage Affair made me smile in spots, but didn’t laugh out loud too often, nor did I shed any tears. I did find it a little sappy and predictable in parts, especially those that bought the ‘cupcake’ dresses. Overall, I’m rating this as a 3 star because, although I enjoyed it, I’m not sure I would recommend it over other books.

Kathryn - 3 Star

Vintage Affair is the name of the vintage clothing shop that the protagonist, Phoebe, opens at the beginning of this single girl lit. I liked Phoebe a lot and really loved all the details about the clothing throughout the novel. I’m not a vintage clothing girl but loved the descriptions and could picture them on the mannequins, waiting to be bought. I also really believed in Phoebe’s passion for the whole business of vintage clothing, from buying to repairs to displaying to selling. She was entirely convincing in that respect.

I did, however, have a harder time believing the rest of her character. She seemed so strong a person in business that I would have expected her to be stronger with her relationships. Her love interest, Miles, although sweet, seems to be far too much of a pushover with his daughter to be interesting to Phoebe, and yet she keeps trying for most of the novel. That was irritating.

However (again), I really loved the friendship with Mrs. Bell and was desperate for that storyline to get some joy out of the deep sadness. I was really interested in her shop assistant, the shop customers and her friend Dan which did make up for the Miles bits.

I enjoyed this but I think I would have liked it more if her love interest had been better or just gone altogether!

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

5 Star

Kidnapped near her village in West Africa when only eleven years old, Aminata Diallo is sold into slavery and transported to America on a death ship, witnessing every possible horror as she survives the treacherous voyage. Put to work on a plantation in South Carolina, she survives through her strength and midwifery skills. She eventually has the opportunity to sign her name in 'The Book of Negroes', a historic military ledger that allowed the passage of 3,000 Black Loyalists on ships traveling from Manhattan to Nova Scotia.

Lydia - 5 Star

I absolutely loved this book and it might just make it on my Top 10 List. I got so absorbed in The Book of Negroes that I read it in three days even after slowing down my usual speed reading so as not to miss anything.

I loved Aminata who captured me from the very beginning of this harrowing tale and at times I had to remind myself that this was not an autobiography but a work of fiction. I was amazed at how well Lawrence Hill wrote from a woman’s perspective, and marveled at the attention to detail and wondered more than once during my reading about the research that went into this work. Because of this, I really appreciated the ‘word about history’ regarding the research and the acknowledgments found at the end of the novel.

The Book of Negroes was a joy to read even with the tough subject matter and was full of rich historical description, but I never became bored because of this as I do with some other novels. I was fascinated by so much of it including the midwifery and all the herbal remedies used along with many of the other historical details.

I would recommend The Book of Negroes to anyone and everyone and it probably should be read by all. This book definitely gets 5 stars! It maybe even deserves more of them!

Kathryn - 5 Star

I read every word of this work of fiction. From the dedication to the acknowledgements, I read everything.

The Book of Negroes is the personal account of the life of Aminata Diallo, a young girl of 11 who is taken from her village in Africa and sold into slavery. Her path crosses oceans and we follow her every step- from her village of Bayo near Segu to her final home in London, England. Her life, from the moment she is taken, pulls you into her pain completely.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Senegal and Mali with my mother and sister and have seen Segu and Timbuktu in present day Mali. We also visited the Island of Gorée (off Dakar, Senegal) where many many slaves were kept in tiny, cramped rooms only a few feet tall. Many slave ships were launched from this island and the experience was overwhelming for us. Reading Aminata’s story brought me back to that feeling of despair.

I think I loved this because the author really created someone I believed in from the very first chapter. A work of fiction where the protagonist is someone you really think is real is very special. I wanted to protect her and defend her and was very angry and very sad reading parts of the story. Creating this physical a reaction from the written word means a very talented author.

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