All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Bel Canto – Ann Patchett

The South American country that Bel Canto takes place in is never named, but it seems to be Peru, based on the description of the mist (garua) that descends in one part of the novel. Also, it seems not-so- loosely based on a Peruvian hostage situation that took place in 1997 when a group of rebels took hundreds of diplomats, government officials, military personnel and businessmen hostage. The rebel group freed many hostages but kept a remaining group for 126 days. If you don’t want to know the end of Bel Canto then I suggest you don’t research that situation.

A world renowned opera singer is singing at the birthday of visiting Japanese guest Mr Hosokawa. The President and government of the host country are hoping they can persuade Mr Hosokawa to build a factory for his electronics company in their country to create jobs. Mr Hosokawa has no intentions of building the factory and at first refuses the invitation to his birthday dinner until they announce that Roxane Coss will sing. An unabashed opera fan, Mr Hosokawa cannot resist the urge to see her in such an intimate environment. As the lights go off for the final song (before the encore), they stay off as a band of terrorists enter through the airconditioning ducts, taking the entire group hostage.

Unfortunately for the rebels, the one man they actually wanted to take hostage, the President of the country is not in attendance, having pulled out at the very last minute in order to stay at home and watch his soap opera (wtf?). The rebels cannot believe it and although they mistake several men for the President, it soon becomes clear to them that he is in fact, not there. They’ve done all this for nothing and so they must try and turn the situation around to their advantage. The following morning they release all the women and children (except Roxane Coss, who may be of some value, being world renown as she is) and several men who are elderly or ill. To further get the hostages down to a more reasonable number for them to manage, they release anyone who is not considered to be rich or important enough.

The bunch left include the Vice President of the country (in whose house this event takes place), Mr Hosokawa and his personal translator Gen, Roxane Coss, a local priest who stayed voluntarily and a mish-mash of German, French, Russian and local businessmen. Luckily Gen speaks about 733 languages and proves himself to be very handy ensuring that the rebels can communicate with the hostages and with the Swiss Red Cross agent sent in as a liason, and that the hostages who don’t speak the same languages can communicate with each other.

Although terrified at first and unsettled by an accidental death in the first 48 hours, the hostages soon learn that the rebels have no intentions of actually killing anyone and as the days go by, a sort of routine is settled into. The rebels make outrageous demands of the government who in turn make their own demands and no one moves an inch and the whole thing just marches on. The Swiss Red Cross agent, Joachim Messner, continues to visit, tries to get the rebels to surrender but continues to bring them food and the things they require, like soap and detergent. Whole months go by.

As that time goes by, the author starts to flesh out the rebels and you learn about them, to distinguish them. Most of them are little more than children, teenagers, who have been sold into the service of the rebel group, or signed up because they had little else. The Generals of the rebel group are tougher, coarser and a bit more aloof but even they seem to provide no real threat or fear to the hostages and after a while, one of the Generals and Mr Hosokawa meet for regular chess games. Mr Hosokawa speaks not a word of the local language and the General speaks not a word of Japanese but they do not need words for their game and work out a method of declaring check and another for declaring checkmate, playing in comfortable, companionable silence.

While all this is going on, two very unlikely couples are falling in love and learning their way through their new feelings and the complications of their relationships.

This seems to be a common complaint of mine recently, but I adored this book right up until the ending. After about 300 pages detailing the hostage situation, the developing relationships between the rebels and the hostages in varying degrees, and the hostages with each other, the end is abrupt and stilted. Although to be quite honest, I didn’t entirely expect what happened (I didn’t google Peru hostage situation until after I finished the novel) I really wasn’t able to be utterly blown away and shocked by it because it was written in such a swift and must-wrap-up-now! sort of way. And the epilogue at the end is the biggest load of what the fuck? I’ve ever seen. I had no idea why that is even there and it should’ve been left out because not only does it really make no sense, but it detracts from the entire novel and two of the relationships in particular. The pages wasted on that should’ve been devoted to the actual end of the novel, fleshing it out more and devoting the time to it that it deserved. The whole ending felt rushed, like she had a 320 page deadline set in stone and she got to page 317 and then thought ‘oh shit! I have to end this in 3 pages! How the heck can I do that? Oh, I know!’ and away she went.

Which is a shame, because the rest of the novel is fantastic. Although I didn’t quite understand how everyone in the entire novel just about fell in love with Roxane Coss, I suppose it’s not entirely implausible as people fall in ‘love’ with famous people every day without even seeing them or meeting them. So being in the same room as her, and hearing her sing, and feeling her presence and charisma (which apparently, she has loads of) maybe it could happen. Her magnetic presence aside, I did love 99% of this book and really enjoyed the writing. Maybe I’m just hard to please regarding endings? It seems like I’m always complaining about them, but I shouldn’t let this one detract too much from my enjoyment of the novel. The further you get into it, the more you realise that the chances of sunshine and rainbows at the end are slim as the hostage situation continues without any progress for months. I think the interaction was well written, because as there was no real violence shown from the rebels to the hostages, other than on the first day, and only once, the hostages settle into a comfortable sort of existance that isn’t a Stockholm Syndrome, but more like a sympathetic agreeableness and you find yourself wishing they could all just stay there, living together, forever.

This book was the winner of the 2002 Orange Prize for fiction

7/10

This book is #50 for the year, completing the 50 Book Challenge for 2010 that I set myself back at the beginning of January! At the time I didn’t want to aim too high, so I thought that reading roughly one new novel a week for the year would be a good way to work through my new books and encourage me to read books we own that I haven’t gotten around to yet. I’m happy to have achieved my goal in 2/3 of the time I set myself. My challenge is the whole reason I ended up creating this blog back in May, almost three months ago! Since then I have reviewed 27 novels, found some amazing other book challenge blogs to read and made some new friends!

I’m upgrading my personal challenge for 2010 to 75 previously-never-read-before-by-me novels!

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Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man In The World – Abigail Reynolds

This is probably the third P&P adaptation/variation/continuation that I have read and I think it would be my least favourite of the bunch. I thought the idea was extremely interesting – that Elizabeth is forced by circumstances, to accept Darcy’s first proposal and how that alters the course of events in the novel.

This variation however, falls flat to me. What could’ve been lively and spiritied and made the best of Elizabeth’s famed nature is instead weak and insipid. The proposal occurs in different circumstances than in the original novel, and Elizabeth is compelled to accept when Darcy, in over-enthusiastic exuberance, kisses her and they are seen. That alone doesn’t sound like Darcy, as even at his most fervent and lovesick, he never forgets himself and also doesn’t assume Elizabeth’s total reciprosity, like this novel suggests. After the marriage (which is not described in this book) and the subsequent decamping to Pemberley, Elizabeth is depressed and shows none of her wit and vivaciousness. Darcy is attentive and considerate but totally lacks…whatever it is that makes him Darcy. Elizabeth feels the best way to make the best of this unwanted marriage is not to anger Darcy and she is compliant and agreeable to the point of imbecility. Like myself, Darcy doesn’t seem to much enjoy this ‘new’ Elizabeth either and seems to yearn for the girl who was impudent and spirited (don’t we all?).

I know that the ‘misunderstanding’ is a great delaying/complicating matters tactic used in romance novels but in this novel, that tactic is taken to a whole new level. It seems that after Elizabeth realises that she doesn’t dislike Darcy quite as much as she previously thought, she starts trying to show him her regard. Unfortunately, the lack of her previous regard gets spilled to Darcy during a quarrel and having realised he forced her (although inadvertently) into a marriage she wasn’t an interested party in, he withdraws into himself and seeks to avoid her and treats her with cold civility. There are so many misunderstandings that occur in this novel that it would be impossible to cover them all. First he is offended, then she is miserable, then he is injured and deluded, then she is spurned, then he feels like she pities him and it goes on and on. The whole novel, told from Elizabeth’s point of view, is just one big oscillation from spurned humiliation to outrageous consternation to giddy happiness as an understanding is reached and then the whole cycle starts all over again.

If the characters in this novel hadn’t been named Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet I might’ve actually quite enjoyed it. But because I’ve read P&P many times, and studied it before, I could not get used to this Darcy dancing attendance and Elizabeth and her quiet agreeableness. Every now and then she shows a hint of spark, with a mental note that Darcy seems to enjoy her spiritedness but it lasts for one or two remarks and then falls by the wayside. She does it only because she seems to feel that it is what Darcy wishes, not because it’s what she wants to say, or how she feels. And I don’t think Lizzy would ever have forced herself!

4/10

(Book #49 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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Insatiable – Meg Cabot

This is the first Meg Cabot book I’ve ever read and I read it based on the strength of a very good review for it at a book review blog. So I reserved it immediately at my local library as although I quite like a lot of vampire novels, the craze is almost out of control and I thought a tongue-in-cheek look at the phenomenon would be funny. The blurb sounded good, the quote on the back (which I mentioned before, in my Library post) had me laughing.

Pity it would be pretty much the only time I actually laughed.

This book was all shades of disappointing. For a start, it took forever for the main character Meena to even meet the love interest that turns out to be a vampire, the Prince of Darkness, Lucien Antonescu. In fact the only reason I think that I even finished this book is because my fiance’s daughter was here on the weekend and subjected me to what felt like a 123hr marathon of The Hills and The City and this book was only marginally a better alternative. It’s page 70 before Lucien and Meena actually cross paths but for some reason, it feels more like page 700. Maybe because absolutely nothing happens in the 69 pages leading up to that. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Meena Harper is a not-so-ordinary girl living in NYC working as a writer on a television show named Insatiable. They’re getting killed in the ratings by fellow soapie Lust who have introduced a vampire character to their line up as you can’t get enough of vampires these days. The powers that be at Insatiable have decided to do the same thing, much to Meena’s chagrin. They’ve also promoted the intolerable Shoshanna, neice of the executive producer’s and co-creators of the show. Meena has a huge disdain for the vampire trend and voices it to no avail. Insatiable are going vampire and there’s nothing she can do about it.

Meena has an unusal talent of knowing when everyone she comes into contact with is going to die and how. This led to her being nicknamed the You’re Gonna Die Girl in high school as she sought to warn people of their grisly endings and possibly, trying to avoid them. So of course when she meets Lucien she can’t tell at all when he’s doing to die, because, you know he’s already dead. Except she doesn’t know this yet.

The Prince of Darkness is in town to investigate the dead bodies of several young females that have been bitten and drained of all their blood. Lucien may be a vampire, but he’s civilised! No killing while he’s the Prince, or the vamps in question face his wrath. Drinking from blood banks and willing donors only! Someone has been killing so he’s flown in to see who has been brave enough to disobey him.

Usually I love a dark and brooding hero (vampire or no vampire, I’m not picky) but to be honest, I couldn’t care two hoots about Lucien, probably because I wasn’t given the chance to. Oh, he’s a tortured vampire, turned against his will and has had several tragedies in his lifetime. Yawn, haven’t we all? Except for the whole being unwilling vampires bit. But I just didn’t feel invested in him at all. Normally I’m not bothered when heroines jump into bed with the hero in like, 2.3 seconds but this time I was actually pretty skeeved out by it. Thankfully we’re spared the details in a fade-to-black type manouvre.

Adding to the confusion/storyline is Alaric Wulf. He’s a sort of vampire slayer. Without being as funny as Buffy or as scary as the lessers in the Black Dagger Brotherhood books. He’s tortured too and has never been loved in his life. Of course when he meets Meena (trying to extort from her where the PoD is) he’s immediately taken with her elfishness. Her resemblance to Joan of Arc, except cuter. And cue: Love Triangle.

Sooo we have Lucien, PoD hunting rogue killing vampires. We have Alaric (who works for the Pope, btw and they know all about vampires and stuff existing) hunting the PoD and every other vamp he finds along the way. We have Meena trying to stop Alaric hunting the PoD coz it’ll get several persons killed, which she has seen with her visions. And also, she loves Lucien and she doesn’t want him dead. Well, even more dead than he is, anyway. Even though she’s only known him about 3 minutes, and he bit her without her even knowing about it. That’s just rude! Bad vampire etiquette Lucien, you should know better especially as you’re the Prince. You had permission to bite her (during the sexing it up as it occurred before she knew that Lucien was of the undead lover variety) but not to drink her blood. I think a distinction needs to be made here. Being a willing recipient of a love bite does not mean here, feed on me!

Also, when Meena finds out that Lucien is a vampire, she takes it extremely well. Well she gets a bit dizzy and queasy but it’s nothing a soda doesn’t fix. Coke ya’all, it’s the cure for finding out that your soul mate is a creature you thought only existed in books and on tv. And also, the lovely upstairs neighbours that pretty much introduced her to Lucien? They’re vamps too, and she’s also cool about this. I don’t know about anyone else but I’m pretty sure I’d be freaking my shit out if that ever happened to me and I’d probably revert to a catatonic mess. Hence, I am clearly no good to be a Gamine Heroine in a vampire novel. Meena it seems, is very qualified as she comes good and decides What She Must Do.

Fast forward a bit, there’s a vampire war and some stuff happens and some vampires die and then some more vampires die and then random people turn out to be vampires and it’s kind of like what the? and there’s a few fires and a dragon and then it’s kinda the end of the book. Meena chooses now to freak out and take to the convent in a windowless room to avoid seeing Lucien, except then she goes back to her apartment and there he is anyway. So that was a waste of time. He asks her to be his vampire bride (I’m sorry, I cannot type that phrase without thinking of Franklin in True Blood S3. I do not care much for AB’s interpretation a lot of the time, but the guy who plays Franklin with such abandoned insanity is made of win) and go live in like, Thailand or somewhere. Although I think a nation so near the equator would be a bad choice, but that’s just me.

Without giving away the ending, there kind of isn’t one, which I do not like. I don’t know if this is supposed to be a series, if we’re supposed to see Alaric, Lucien and Meena do this all again sometime in the future (and if it starts to go by way of the Anita Blake books, I’m backing the heck away right now) but I don’t care enough to google it.

Lucien = much < Eric Northman but perhaps > Edward Cullen and Bill Compton.

Meena = much < Sookie Stackhouse but perhaps > Bella Swan

I am much < satisfied and perhaps > disappointed.

3/10

(Book #48 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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Remember Me? – Sophie Kinsella

I said in my Library post that this book sounded very similar to What Alice Forgot. What I didn’t realise was just how similar until I started reading. The comparisons are ginormous, but thankfully there are enough differences to stop this read from being unenjoyable. Lexi Smart wakes up in hospital from a week unconscious and is stunned to learn that it’s no longer 2004 and she’s not 25 anymore. It’s 2007 and she’s now old, she’s 28 (her words! I’m 28 myself, so I winced a little upon reading every proclamation that she was now old!).

Not only is Lexi 3 years older than she remembers being, she’s not the person that she remembers being. Gone are her crooked teeth, gone is the frizzy hair. She’s slim, toned, expensively done nails, white shiny teeth and sleek, shining chestnut hair. Her personal effects contain a Louis Vuitton bag and a tangle of very expensive gold jewellery. She’s also now the manager of her dept when before she was just lowly sales.

Lexi’s new life comes complete with a gorgeous husband and Kensington apartment with 10,000 quid sofas and a lighting design that covers everything from Mood: Seduction 1 to Disco Strobe! Her old besties, Debs, Caro and Fi are no where to be seen, despite the repeated messages she’s left them. Instead it seems her past time is yoga and time at the gym or shopping with Rosalie, groomed wife of an associate of her husbands. Despite the fact that Lexi cannot even remember learning to drive (it occurred during the 3yrs of her life that she cannot remember) she blithely hops back into the brand new Mercedes Eric (husband) orders for her to replace the one she had her accident in. Thinking it will all ‘come back to her’ she nearly plows into a wall, saved by an attractive man in jeans and a jacket who it turns out, will drop a bombshell on Lexi that knocks all the rest of the bombshells for six.

In both this book and What Alice Forgot the characters awoke from a coma to find they were slimmer, toned, more groomed, more glamorous than they remembered being. In Lexi’s case, she also awoke to having gone through a rapid promotion at her work and seemed to have acquired an attitude to match, being known as the Bitch-Boss-From-Hell. In Alice’s case it was 10years, 3 kids and a divorce she didn’t remember, in Lexi’s it was 3years and a marriage. I think because this one lacked children, and because she didn’t remember Eric because she met him during the missing 3 years, this one had a great deal more humour. It’s hard to make light of not remembering your own children, but in this case, it’s quite amusing when Lexi cannot remember anything about her marriage and her uptight, organised husband writes her a manual on their marriage cross referenced and in alphabetical order! Including F: Foreplay. Frequency etc. There were plenty of laughs in this book and I was sharing the story along with a friend of mine who was spending the weekend with me. She doesn’t like reading at all but she had to know what I was giggling about and kept asking me after that what was happening.

Once again Kinsella has managed to create a likable, amusing main character and spun a light hearted and fluffy story. I think I probably would’ve liked this book a bit more if I hadn’t read it so close to What Alice Forgot because there were so many similarities, but I still enjoyed it a lot. I like that in this novel, I felt much more invested in who I wanted Lexi to end up with in terms of romance whereas in What Alice Forgot I didn’t feel like we were given enough insight or knowledge of the Nick character (or the Dominic character actually) to really care if she ended up with one of them or none of them.

I actually think this book would make a great Rom-Com by the same people who made Four Weddings and a Funeral or something like that, keeping as strictly to the book as possible. There are a lot of moments in here that I think would transfer quite well to a big screen and I think characters like Lexi’s husband Eric, her mother, and her sister could be easily exploited for comedic relief.

That said, the ending did let me down. I feel certain aspects were wrapped up far too easily and swiftly without the reader knowing quite how the end result was achieved. There was also a poor resolution in the issue of her lost memory, and the love triangle of the novel. I’m trying not to spoiler anything, but it felt like there was no real reasoning behind several decisions Lexi makes in the novel and the grand decision at the end takes up about a page. I like a little bit more fleshing out of my romantic partnerships in novels, I want to feel the way they do. Not skim a couple paragrphs and think to myself ‘oh what? Are they together now?’

Funny, enjoyable but a bit of a rushed ending for me.

6/10

(Book #47 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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The O’Hara Affair – Kate Thompson

I stumbled across this quite randomly in Kmart one day, which pleased me. Kate Thompson is an Irish author who has written quite a few ‘chick lit’ books, a lot of which involve primarily, and then secondarily, one of my favourite couples, Deidre O’Dare and Rory McDonagh. Starting with It Means Mischief and kind of concluding with Love Lies Bleeding, Deirdre and Rory have been tortured enough I suppose, as they haven’t appeared in her last 2 books, which have contained new-and-connected characters: The Kinsella Sisters and now The O’Hara Affair.

The O’Hara Affair takes us back to the village of Lissamore from The Kinsella Sisters where a Hollywood movie about Scarlett O’Hara’s father Gerald is being filmed. A lot of the village is involved, be they cast as extras, catering to the massive movie set, involved in production, set design, etc. It’s a big boost to the village in a time of global financial crisis. The crisis is a recurring theme throughout the novel, as everyone is feeling the pinch.

The book primarily concentrates on 3 main female characters: Fleur O’Farrell, who we heard of briefly in The Kinsella Sisters, a French ex-pat who followed her ex-husband to Ireland and stayed. She runs a boutique in Lissamore, stocking beautiful, fashionable, expensive clothing and accessories. She’s also conducting an affair with a (quoting the book) Mr-Big type: rich, dynamic, sexually charged businessman who has sunk mega bucks into the movie.

Second is Dervla Vaughn, nee Kinsella who was a major part of The Kinsella Sisters, being one of the titular characters. She’s now married to wine expert Christian and they’ve bought their dream house which they are quickly running out of money to renovate. No one is buying expensive wine (global financial crisis and all) and Dervla is trying to finish a book she’s been commissioned to write on selling your house. Adding to their problems is Christian’s mother – 85 and in the grips of dementia, she requires constant care. When her carer has two weeks holiday, Christian and Dervla cannot afford to put her into a nursing home, nor does Christian want to, even for the two weeks so Dervla agrees to do the job herself. And boy does she not know what she’s gotten herelf in for.

Thirdly is Bethany O’Brien. Eighteen, shy, lacking in self-confidence but dreaming of being an actress. Used to being ridiculed, particularly for her dreams, Bethany is too timid to do anything about them. She needs a gentle push in the right direction – luckily for her, there’s a fairy godmother about to come into her life.

This book makes use of the world of social networking in a way I haven’t seen outside of a gaggle of teenage girls. Everyone is on facebook and everyone is talking about being on facebook constantly. Bethany joins SecondLife where she  gains more confidence, meeting the wonderful avatar Hero. But is Hero really what he seems? It’s hard to tell in a virtual world. Everyone is fiddling on their blackberries, texting on their latest Nokia’s, snapping pictures with their iPhones. Facebook is used as a tool to gather information on people when Fleur agrees to tell people’s fortunes at the annual Lissamore Village Festival which allows her to “accurately” state things about them.

I take my hat off to Dervla. Although she at first decides to care for her mother-in-law because she thinks it’ll be simple, and allow her to get some work done while Christian is in France and the normal carer is on holidays, she soon finds out that she’s very, very wrong. Daphne, her mother in law, requires constant care with everything. Dervla grits her teeth and gets through it, even though she feels like she’s slowly going insane. It would be an extremely hard job and when she goes to look at prices for care, she’s gobsmacked. 5000 euros a month, which is a lot in anyone’s language. She’s even more depressed by what she sees in the nursing homes – all the residents look as though they’ve one foot in the grave already. Even though Daphne suffers from dementia, she still enjoys life. Dervla is determined that there is a better way. She just has to think about what it is and how to go about it.

This book had really likable parts. The main characters were warm and interesting although I think more time could’ve been spent in Bethany’s voice as most of the time when we were with her, she was hanging around SecondLife waiting for Hero. I would’ve liked a bit more time spent fleshing out her Real Life persona, especially as she gained work on the set of The O’Hara Affair as an extra. Fleur was funny and sensual, although I found it hard to believe that after 20 years in Ireland, she didn’t know what several English phrases are, including ‘a penny for your thoughts’. She must’ve heard that one many many times over the past 20 years, as it’s a very common phrase. That’s a mistake that’s sometimes made with foreign characters, where they either fumble for the correct word in English and use their native one instead (usually with a ‘how do you say?’ thrown in there) or they don’t understand little phrases like that one. That one is really quite self-explanatory. If the author wanted to have her be confused, she could’ve picked a more obscure one.  Dervla was admirable in the way she dealt with a situation she knew nothing about going into, and the patience she acquired in doing it. She may’ve slowly been going insane but the way she was with her mother in law was wonderful. I’m not sure I could’ve showed that in her position. I know several people that worked in aged care and their stories both horrify and sadden me. I freely admit it’s not something I could ever do as a career choice.

Unfortunately there was one event in this book that I really didn’t agree with, personally. And it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as I regarded it as a betrayal of several characters. It’s a personal moral issue with me, and I felt that my respect for that character diminished after that event. It did detract from my overall liking of the book, but just a little. I thought that it could’ve been better handled, or occurred in a different part of the book and it would’ve been more acceptable.

7/10

We’ve not seen the last of these characters it seems. A character introduced in the last few pages spins off into a main character in the extract from Thompson’s next novel, That Gallagher Girl, due out next year.

(Book #46 of my 50 Book Challenge of 2010)

This book fits in with my Irish Reading Challenge 2010 as it’s both fully set in Ireland and written by an Irish author. This makes book #3 for the year.

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Shopaholic Ties The Knot – Sophie Kinsella

Yesterday, although clear and sunny, came with a chilly biting August wind that the south-eastern part of Australia is known for. I have in my new house, a designated ‘reading room’ which is a little family room off the kitchen/dining room that has big windows. It has no TV access point so we put our second couch in there, along the windows and I made it my quiet room. The sun pours in there in the afternoon and it’s perfect for curling up and enjoying a book.

I finished this book in one afternoon, they’re just that easy to read. As I said in my Library post, this is the first time I’ve read one of these novels as previously I’ve listened to the audiobooks and the woman who reads it is very good. I was happy to discover that my like for them transferred over just as much and I really enjoyed this book. So much so that my fiance, upon wandering into the room totally unnoticed by me, commented several times on the fact that I was laying on the couch giggling to myself.

I do love Becky Bloomwood. This novel picks up with Becky and Luke still living in Manhattan, Becky is still working as a personal shopper at Barney’s, although that hasn’t stemmed her passion in shopping for herself. Luke spends some time wondering how their household account keeps getting overdrawn and where their joint statement is – Becky has hidden it, and then in a last ditch attempt to prevent Luke from finding out she’s been buying shoes and clothes from their household account- spills white out onto it.

This could be portrayed as an unhealthy relationship, in that Becky hides her purchases from Luke and attempts to deceive him about the statement, but this book addresses more than once Luke’s tolerance and even his joyful amusement in Becky and it’s pretty obvious he has every idea what she’s doing. Luke, up until this book, is a workaholic – driven and dedicated to his company, Brandon Communications and it’s clear in this book that he regards Becky as his antithesis and someone who keeps him from taking life too seriously. She reminds him to have fun, and he finds her take on life refreshing and funny.

Becky’s former flatmate Suze is marrying her cousin Tarquin (in something I found a fraction icky, but apparently legal) and Becky is the bridesmaid. A misunderstanding leads to her proclaiming that she never wants to get married, well not at at least for 10 years! She’s lying of course, which is just as well, as Luke is quite obviously planning to propose. Becky joyfully accepts and Becky’s mother starts planning the ultimate wedding in Becky’s hometown.

The problems begin when they go back to New York and meet with Luke’s mother, the repressed and icy Elinor and hear of her plans. She intends to give them a huge, extravagant wedding, booking the Plaza Hotel and hiring a wedding planner with no expense spared. Becky of course, is totally seduced by the idea of a big and lavish wedding with four hundred guests, a thousand dollar cake, the Philharmonic orchestra, a stunning designer dress instead of her mother’s wedding dress and she finds herself agreeing to both weddings, one on each side of the world which are due to be held on the same day in less than five months. She’s soon in so deep that she can’t bear to back out of the Plaza wedding and risk not only Elinor’s wrath but also being sued, nor can she break her mothers heart. Her mother has been working diligently on the other side of the Atlantic, and when Becky visits home, she finds that the whole house is being done up for the wedding, which just makes her guilt and misery even worse.

Luke undergoes an interesting character growth this book. In the first book he’s kind of distant and amused by Becky and although it’s obvious he’s attracted to her, he’s always exactly the same: in control, composed, capable, dynamic. In this book, his drive to impress Elinor, the mother who left him, desert’s him when he realises that she didn’t leave him by force, but by choice. This coupled by a friend of his who has a medical issue, leads to him completely falling apart, questioning life, what it means, why he bothers to work so hard. He is going through a semi mid-life crisis: he stops shaving, stops going to work and starts giving away his money and shoes to random people on the street. This only adds to Becky’s stress level, as not only does she have to figure out how to cancel one of the weddings without being sued or destroying her parents, she also has to ‘fix’ Luke and get him out of this slump that he’s in.

Although the book is a tad over the top, as someone who is planning a wedding (albeit a very relaxed and casual one), it’s easy to see how things can just completely snowball. Everyone wants to take over a wedding, and sometimes it’s very hard to get your voice heard on what you want. Becky is bullied into the Plaza and the wedding at home because she never once sits down (with or without Luke) to think about what she wants her wedding to be and she ends up being swayed on everything because she’s just indecisive and eager to please everyone. Elinor is very concerned about public image and the lavish wedding she’s throwing isn’t so much about Luke and Becky’s wants or happiness, but more about the publicity for her charity.

This book was a lovely 2hrs or so of escapism. I really need to own them all as I enjoy them so much. I do love Becky’s voice. Even though she’s completely frivolous and obsessed by shopping, she’s warm and so easily likable. I think I’d love to have a friend just like her.

8/10

(Book #45 of my 50 Book Challenge of 2010)

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The Borgia Bride – Jeanne Kalogridis

The Borgia Bride got me out of my slump of not being able to complete a novel. It tells the tale of Sancha of Aragon, illegitimate but acknowledged daughter of Alfonso II of Naples. At 15, Sancha is betrothed for the first time but that engagement is broken in favour of another one, with Jofre Borgia, illegitimate but acknowledged son of Rodrigo Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI. Jofre is barely 12, which I found a bit disturbing. I know it was the done thing back in those days, but given their wedding night is witnessed by both Sancha’s cruel and cold father and another, it was a bit uncomfortable!

{{This review will contain some SPOILERS}}

Sancha and her new husband are given the principality of Squillace and head off there to live, devastating Sancha as she must leave behind her beloved brother Alfonso. There her and Jofre live in a sort of civilized harmony for a while before having to deal with an issue that arises in Naples. Sancha’s father, now King, has not been able to handle the invasion of the French and has absconded with the contents of the royal coffers, to Sicily. Sancha aids her family in that issue, then after it is resolved, chooses to stay in her home of Naples, and not return to Squillace. But before she can get too comfortable, word of Sancha’s legendary beauty reaches Pope Alexander VI and he calls his son and his new wife back to Rome. A notorious lech, Pope Alexander VI is the first Pope to have acknowledged children and has a reputation for ‘destroying marriages’ by famously seducing married woman. Sancha is apprehensive, certain that her husbands father plans to make her his next conquest. They cannot deny the request to go to Rome however, and take up residence with the Pope.

It is there that things get rather complicated. Pope Alexander VI wastes no time attempting to lure Sancha to his bed but Sancha has laid eyes on the Pope’s eldest son, Cesare. The Cardinal of Valencia, Cesare has been ‘given to the Church’ by Pope Alexander VI, who sees him as the next Pope. Cesare and Sancha fall into love (or maybe more accurately, lust) at first sight are are soon embarking on a clandestine affair. Cesare rebuffs the Pope’s attentions towards Sancha with an ease that readers should take note of. He talks of leaving the church, getting Sancha’s marriage to Jofre annulled and marrying her himself, providing her with a hoarde of children.  Matters for Sancha are further complicated by her new sister in law, Lucrezia Borgia, who is at first, very jealous of Sancha and sees her as a rival for Pope Alexander VI’s affection. And make of  that what you will!

There’s a lot more going on in this book, with plenty of politics and people backstabbing each other, plotting against others, murdering, raping, stealing from and sleeping around abounds. It seems that everyone in this book comes served with a massive side of evil and it’s hard to like anybody. They’re either ambitious, ruthless and perhaps slightly insane (Cesare, King Ferrante (Sancha’s grandfather) or pathetic and weak (Lucrezia, King Alfonso II of Naples, Jofre). In glaring contrast, Sancha’s beloved brother Alfonso, who becomes Lucrezia’s second husband, is portrayed as perfection itself.

Cesare at some stage, revokes his Cardinal-ness and becomes the Pope’s Captain-General, or head of his army, presumably after murdering the previous one Juan, the middle brother. He begs Sancha once again to leave Jofre and marry him, but Sancha, sickened now by things she knows Cesare has done, refuses to hurt and humiliate Jofre. I think this is supposed to be noble of her, but really it just comes across as stupid, because Jofre spends most of his time drinking wine and hanging with courtesans and although he repeatedly swears to do better by Sancha, never does. She may’ve not approved of Cesare’s actions but she should’ve realised he’d be a very dangerous man to cross and she’d probably have secured her position, and that of her brother, if she left Jofre and married Cesare, whether she wanted to or not. But she remained stubborn, angering Cesare and had him swearing revenge on her by hurting the thing dearest to her – her brother Alfonso.

I -think- I enjoyed this book, even if all the characters weren’t to my liking. It certainly kept me turning pages, and I have to admit, I was floored when Cesare turned out to be a psychopath. I know nothing about the Borgia’s, so I went in blind, and the way he was portrayed (although I am well aware that this is through Sancha’s eyes) made him very likeable and I hoped they would end up together. Then when his first act of betrayal is revealed, I was actually gobsmacked. I did enjoy being so sucked in and then spat out by one character, I thought that was well done.

6/10

(Book #44 of my 50 Book Challenge of 2010)

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Road To Paradise – Paullina Simons

It took me longer than usual to finish this particular book because I started it before we moved house and then put it aside to pack and move. It ended up in a random box and I only found it yesterday.

Oh yes, and there was the fact that I hated it.

I’ve read a couple of Paullina Simons books before and I’ve enjoyed them a lot, so I thought this would be quite an engrossing read. The blurb on the back of the book sounded interesting, especially as I’m a bit of a road trip fan and what the two girls were undertaking sounded like fun. Basically the story starts out with Shelby Sloane, who was raised by a woman not her mother. When Emma, that woman, gives her a car for her birthday, she decides to undertake a road trip across America from New York to California, to find her mother, who abandoned her at a young age. Her former good friend Gina hears about the trip and decides to convince Shelby that she should come along to get to Bakersfield, California in order to hook up with her former/sort of boyfriend Eddie who looks like developing a wandering eye if she doesn’t get there soon. Shelby isn’t really interested in Gina coming along but she is a practical girl who sees that a second person to share the driving and expenses would be very helpful.

What Shelby doesn’t realise until the trip is underway, is that not only does Gina not have her license, but she’s promised to ‘stop in’ to visit several relatives along the way, delivering things to them. Each relative is not on their way, not on the planned route that Shelby has oh-so-carefully mapped out. I’m sure these interludes are supposed to be humorous diversions, full of too-crazy relatives and dogs. Lots of dogs. But mostly they’re just annoying and show Shelby early on as a girl who has absolutely no backbone. This information is going to be very.very.important later on.

{{contains **SPOILERS**}}

Cue later on and they stop to pick up a hitchhiker. Having seen her once and ignored her, they see her again, an oh-so-impossible distance for her to have covered later, and this time, they stop to pick her up, despite their previously agreed No Hitchhikers policy. The girl, Candy is young but ‘worldly’. How worldly Shelby and Gina have no idea until they realise that every trucker on the interstate is tracking them and reporting back to someone who is looking for Candy. Candy claims that there is no doubt that if the person who is looking for her, finds her than she’s dead – they’re probably all dead.

Did I mention that Shelby is driving apparently, the only yellow 1966 Shelby Mustang? Soooo inconspicuous, no? What basically follows is a LOT of driving to random parts of America that Candy decides she needs to go to, and lots of bitchy bickering between three teenage girls. They need to stay off all the interstates because of the truckers reporting their every move, so they take back roads and scenic routes through Nowheresville, America in what feels like 739 states. They take Candy here, they take Candy there, all along the same argument over and over, “let’s just ditch her” and “no, we can’t do that, what’ll happen to her?” Imagine that for about 300 pages and that’s the latter half of this book. And although Candy’s story is seriously screwed up and does inspire some sympathy she is so GODDAMN UN-BLOODY-LIKABLE that my sympathy lasted mere minutes. She doesn’t CARE that she has endangered the lives of these other two girls, she doesn’t CARE that she is the reason later on in the book that all their money gets stolen. She doesn’t CARE that Shelby is the only one who can actually drive and therefore must do all of the driving and is exhausted. She doesn’t CARE that they have to take 2, 3, 4, 10x longer to get to places because they can’t use the interstates.

And her answer to getting money? They should all go out and hook, because that’s what she’s been doing when they’ve needed cash! What, Shelby doesn’t want to? How bloody inconsiderate of her, after all Candy has done for them to get money! Ahh but Candy, you’re the reason they have NO money! And her reaction to that is oh well, now I’m going out to work so we can have some money. So be grateful girls! Ugh! I seriously just could NOT tolerate her. I don’t care how messed up her life was, it’s not an excuse to treat other people like shit, especially people that are trying to stop you getting killed and forgetting their own missions to drive you all around bloody America, which let’s face it, is not exactly small is it?

There’s also quite a bit of religious arguing in this book as Candy’s father is a trappist monk who raised her for the first 11 years of her life before she had to go and live with her mother (when all her life went to hell). They go visit the monk father in… I want to say Iowa, but to be honest, all the towns and states and roads all blurred into one for me after a while, and I’m not American so I don’t know them well enough for them to stick. It really could’ve been anywhere and I am not interested enough to thumb back through the book and find out where it is. Gina can’t understand how Candy can be religious after all the things she has done and Candy just seems to like to argue merely to frustrate Gina and the arguments go around and around and it seems the person who ends up the most frustrated, is me, the reader.

The ending also bothered me majorly. I really loathe books that blah-blah-blah for 300+ pages and then BAM! Action! Last several pages! But The Big Thing happened Offscreen/Offpage so it’s kind of like Shelby goes somewhere, to do something, for Candy (again!) and then she comes back and then it’s kind of a ‘while she was gone, this happened and we’re really going to tell you nothing about it except that it happened’. I feel like I was incredibly let down. What I got was 300 pages of bickering girls when really, what might’ve been more interesting is what happened to Candy after Shelby actually left. Did Candy {{even more **SPOILERS** here}} deliberately send Shelby away so she could steal her car, hock it and disappear with all their remaining cash because she had no use for Shelby now? Or did she try to draw the person chasing her away from Shelby? I find it hard to believe it could be the latter, because if so, why did she not just do it earlier?

All through this book, I just wanted to slap all of them, and I really hate disliking protagonists like that. I don’t want to read about people I think are borderline stupid in every freaking decision they make. I want to like the main characters, to cheer for them, to want them to triumph. A bit of adversity is welcome, even embraced, but all the roadblocks put up on this journey just got too much. Every single person Candy went to see who was supposed to help her, screwed her over. Every time they went somewhere else at Candy’s request it just led to more delays, more wasting of time, more arguments, more frustration. It’s not often I want to throw books at the wall, but with this one, I was sorely tempted more than once. I started off not liking Gina, for her lack of consideration at the beginning of the trip but by halfway through the book I was severely cheering for  her every time she suggested they leave Candy by the side of the road to fend for herself. She was clearly more than able – far more able than Gina and Shelby, middle class girls who’d never left their comfortable lives before, were. That being said, why did they pick her up in the first place? Because she was young, and they saw her twice and Shelby felt guilty. Why? She was nothing to do with them and she made it from the first place she saw them, to the second, faster than they did.

I think Candy was severely overdone. Just too much all round. Shelby was one of the most pathetically weak characters I’ve ever come across, the way she was so easily manipulated by Candy and ends up ridiculously attached to her in some kind of unbelieveable crazy almost Stockholm Syndrome.

I finished it because I wanted to see if who was chasing Candy actually caught them. But I got ripped off there too, as it all happened while Shelby was on some fools errand and we were with her narrative the whole time. So all in all, it was a very disappointing read from an author whose books I have really liked in the past. Massive let down.

2/10

(Book #43 of my 2010 50 Book Challenge)

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The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson

I read a review for this book somewhere on the Internetz and thought it sounded interesting so I added it to The List. The List is kept in a notebook which lives with me while I’m surfing around and I jot down books I’d like to read or check out further. So I added The Gargoyle and then stumbled across it during Booktopia’s latest sale so I snapped it up.

Every now and then, one of those novels comes along. Something that’s different from anything else you’ve ever read before. It might not be the most brand new, unique idea in the world, but it’s new to you. That is what The Gargoyle was like for me. I loved it, from the very first page. It is not really the sort of book I could see myself loving (for reasons I shall explain) but it proved me wrong upon pretty much every level.

Our narrator is never named, so I’ll just refer to him from now on as The Narrator. The book opens with a reflection upon his accident. He’s driving in a car, bottle of bourbon between his legs, when suddenly, he sees (or more importantly, thinks he sees) a hail of flaming arrows coming at him. He swerves, stuff happens, he goes down an embankment/cliff type thing and whoosh! up goes the car in flames. The bottle of bourbon provides a lovely accelerant and The Narrator turns into a crispy critter. Only the car tipping into a nearby creek saves his life. But he suffers absolutely horrific burns (some classified as ‘fourth degree’) to most of his body and if you’re of faint heart, you may want to skip the next few pages. It is rather graphic in its description of his injuries and the treatment and I have to admit, my stomach flipped a couple of times, especially during the description of using some sort of razor to slough away dead flesh and the agony that inflicted but anyways. That bit is really just filler.

The Narrator was beautiful before the accident, something he is preoccupied with, as he is a mess of charred and scarred flesh now. He’s now a monster, grotesque. His physical perfection is nothing but a bitter memory. He is missing fingers, toes and more importantly, his penis. Given that he was an actor in pornographic films, he is of the opinion that his life is over now and his days are spent constructing elaborate fantasies of the perfect suicide, which he will put into practice upon his release from hospital. His friends from the porn industry fall away, he has no family, no significant other. There’s no one he is close to. His life really does seem quite hopeless and pathetic, when one day, in hospital, he has a visitor.

Marianne Engel is a little different, from the beginning. She’s dressed in a hospital gown, her hair is wild, she talks like she knows him. She tells him “this is the 3rd time you have been burned” and that she (and him, really) are both 700 years old. She’s dressed in a gown, but not the ones the visitors wear in the burn units – she’s a patient and her wrist bracelet ID’s her as a psychiatric patient.

From the appearance of Marianne, the story changes and the book centres around her visits to the burn ward. She comes often, even after she is released from the psych ward, and when she’s not working ‘freeing the gargoyles’ – sculpting little creatures from blocks of solid stone. She tells him stories, love stories, from Viking Iceland, Victorian England, Japan and of course, ‘their’ own back story – how they met in 14th century Germany after he was burned ‘the first time’  and while she was being raised in the famous monastery Engelthal, and all that followed after that.

The way this novel unfolds is second to none. The story telling (the actual novel itself and Marianne’s stories within the story) is superb. I was sucked in from the first page. I’m not much of a mystic – I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, I don’t believe in re-incarnation, or God’s work, or anything like that. If I’d known more about this book than I did, I probably would never have read it. I tend to avoid novels that deal with God or mysticism, or faith, in any capacity. And yes, I know I probably miss some wonderful novels that way, and indeed, would’ve missed this one. But I didn’t know enough to avoid it and I’m all the richer for that!  This novel deals with God and faith in that Marianne talks a lot of the time she (supposedly/apparently) spent in the monastery and the faith she had at that time, and faith indeed is a long running theme. Faith in love, faith in trust, faith in what will be, will be. And even though religion was a major theme in this book, and in the stories Marianne tells, I didn’t find that detracted at all from anything. The stories Marianne tells The Narrator are incredible – compelling and touching and wonderful. And so is the overall story wrapped around the tales.

Is Marianne insane? Is all of this an elaborate fantasy of hers, lived out in her mind? Is she drawn to The Narrator because of his burns and how ingrained burns are in this fantasy? Or is she for real –  were they tragic lovers so long ago? I think the book gives you plenty to decide for yourself, whether you choose to believe in the impossible, or revel in the fact that it’s the fantasy of a paranoid, deranged, mentally ill woman. Although her diagnosis remains fluid The Narrator reads up as much as he can on both schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder to better try understand this woman he becomes so intimately entwined with. We only have his narrative to go on and he makes no secret of the heavy amounts of morphine he’s using at the time, and that he’s not entirely in his own right mind. I found the way The Narrator’s depression was written was awesome – although the end was a little too heavy handed for my tastes.

A really wonderfully written piece of literature. This is why I read books – to escape in the full, whole hearted way into other worlds that I did whilst reading this novel. If you like your novels a little off kilter, a little different and your imagination allows you to suspend some disbelief (and you’re not easily nauseated), read this book. Read it now!

8/10

(Book #42 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty

My recent impulse buy, based on the blurb on the back cover. I picked it up on Saturday and was done on Sunday. It was a really engrossing read. The book opens with Alice coming to after taking a fall in her gym and knocking herself out. She’s confused, thinking of cream cheese (she’s not sure why) and whether or not she should be eating it while she’s pregnant. When she opens her eyes, she’s surprised to find the face of her friend standing over her, looking older than she remembers. She’s also skinny – far skinnier than she remembers.

Alice is taken to hospital where she discovers that it’s not 1998, like she thinks it is. It’s actually 2008 and she’s not pregnant anymore. She’s the mother of three children, none of which she remembers anything about at all. She’s also separated from her husband Nick and going through a very ugly divorce and custody battle. Also, it seems that she’s no longer close to her sister Elisabeth.

She can’t understand why her and Nick would’ve split up. Ten years ago, in the real 1998, there was nothing they couldn’t have worked through. She is baffled by her 2008 gym-junkie self, her designer clothes, her make up, her groomed looks. She discovers she’s one of those mothers that helps out at the school, runs charity events and co-ordinates Kindergarten Cocktail Nights. And just who is this mysterious ‘Gina’ that everyone refuses to talk about, all sidelong glances with each other and changing the subject.

It’s hard to review this book without giving stuff away. What I liked about it was the exploration of change – how Alice woke up thinking she was still one person, to find out that she was entirely another. How she remembered her loving husband, only to be faced with a barrage of abuse delivered in an icy tone down the phone. How she remembers her mother as a woman who was so introverted she could barely step outside, who now teaches salsa dancing. No one is as she remembers them – especially herself. It’s a journey of finding out what happened during those 10 missing years, of remembering the moments that shaped the person she has become. She wants to try again with Nick, as she remembers only loving him, and none of the bitterness that is becoming evident of the norm in 2008. Nick, it seems, is skeptical, claiming that once she remembers, she’ll regret wanting to reconcile. But he agrees and at that moment, it seems like he has never really wanted the separation. Their reunion is complicated slightly by the fact that 2008 Alice has a boyfriend, the principal of her children’s school, Dominic.

Only one thing really detracted from my enjoyment of the book and that was the ending. I’m not a fan of a book that ends when X happens and then skips forward 10 or so years into the future and goes so here’s what happened in the 10 years we skipped, in less than a paragraph, but also, explaining nothing. I’m nosy, so I don’t like having a decade, or whatever the skipped number of years was, wrapped up so vaguely and with nothing really explained. That was my only real complaint about the book.

Other than that I found the characters enjoyable and likable. One of the things I found most amusing was Alice’s complete lack of idea of how to mother her children, who were school age. Having only remembered being pregnant, she has no idea what she allows them to do, what their routines are, what type of mother she has become. It made me think of how I would cope if I suddenly woke up and lost 10 years of my life and thought I was 18 again. How would I go about day-to-day life with my toddler with no knowledge of his routine? To not remember having given birth to him, brought him home, seen his first smile, his first attempt at crawling, his first steps. That was a disturbing feeling.

A pretty enjoyable read overall, just wish the ending was a bit more neatly and tightly done.

7/10

(Book #41 of my 50 Book Challenge)

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