Tag Archives: romance

Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell – 9/10

I am writing this review 10 months after reading the book, so bear with me if some of it is a big vague!
“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”
E&P
Eleanor knows what it’s like to be the outsider. Big red hair is just the first of her problems. When Park shows her a moment of kindness on the school bus, she finds a soulmate. This is the story of two misfits just trying to get by in the world.
It’s no secret that I loved Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, and I also read Fangirl this year. Part of what I love about Rowell’s writing is the effortless humour – it’s real, unaffected. I found the main characters a little unrelateable to be honest – they were such misfits that it was quite tricky to identify with them. That said, they are very sympathetic and pleasant characters to spend time with, and certainly vivid creations of Rowell’s. The relationship between them is built up very gently and slowly, which really suited them – they are both a bit quiet and not wanting to upset any kind of status quo.
The side characters are in a sense more one-dimensional which is all they needed to be – Eleanor’s mother is a victim, her stepfather is abusive, Park’s father is a bit distant and doesn’t really understand his son… all of them provide the necessary conflict for our main characters. I found Eleanor’s mother quite frustrating in her inability to perceive the abuse going on around her, but perhaps (my knowledge of domestic abuse is thankfully non-existent!) this is actually an accurate portrayal of a typical abuse victim.
Rowell manages to touch on a lot of topics in her books – this one includes not only the travails of being a teenager, and a misfit one at that, but also domestic abuse, gender identification, poverty, family conflict, comics and music (particularly of the 80s). This was actually pretty dark (or certainly darker than I was expecting) and doesn’t have the fairytale ending you sort of expect of YA books these days. I think it was really interesting that Rowell chose to set the story before the internet and mobile phones. Whether that enables her to draw on her teenage years more easily, or whether it facilitates a certain set of conditions she wants to explore, I’m not sure.
The setting is unremarkable – it’s not crucial to the story, it’s just a town in the middle of somewhere. All school buses and classrooms are equally cruel.
Personally I thought Attachments was better in some ways, and definitely more approachable for an office-resident adult, but this is a bigger, wider-ranging, more serious work – and I’ve failed to convey just how good it is in this review!
Other reviews: Semicolon, Book’d Out
Additional information
Copy borrowed from Mini-Me, who read it the same week. 
Publisher: Orion Books, 336 pages (paperback)
Order Eleanor & Park from Amazon*,Waterstones or Foyles
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Old mini-reviews

Some of my reviews have been outstanding since 2012, to the point where I can’t remember very much about the books any more. So it’s time to jot down some thoughts and move on.

Also – 3 of these were NetGalley copies i.e. on the Kindle – which is how they got forgotten about for so long (and the other one I had in paperback but lent it to a friend and haven’t got it back… though I don’t really want it back). So the moral of the story is here, my friends, out of sight, out of the review chain.

little night

Little Night – Luanne Rice – 5/10

I don’t remember very much about this one at all except that it centred on domestic violence. Now that I’ve read the internet a bit to remind myself, it was more complex than that. It’s a web of family dysfunction – very pronounced characters struggling to play nicely together. It’s very New York, but apart from that nothing really stands out. Next.

last apache girl

The Last Apache Girl – Jim Fergus – 5/10

An amateur photographer signs onto the “Great Apache Expedition”, one of dozens of men hoping to free the son of a wealthy Mexican rancher kidnapped by a violent band of Apaches. A wild Apache girl is being held as counter-argument, and Ned slowly builds a relationship with her, but their relationship is doomed from the start.

Somewhat like Dances with Wolves. I don’t remember struggling to get through it, but if you’re going to read something like this, I’d stick with Dances with Wolves.

house of serenades

The House of Serenades – Lina Simoni – 6/10

Historical romance/social study set in 1910 Genoa. Romeo & Juliet after a fashion – rich girl meets poor boy, falls in love, daddy says no. Has some interesting things to say about treatment of women in that age – particularly women who we would expect to be financially independent. Don’t remember a lot about it but I did zoom through it pretty quickly – that’s always a good sign.

world without you

The World Without You – Joshua Henkin – 8/10

I actually remember really enjoying this one – it’s sentimental and tear-jerking, but in a good way. It’s the story of the family left behind when a US journalist dies in Middle Eastern conflict; how his wife struggles to interact appropriately with his grieving parents – she wants to be part of this family and give them access to their grandson, but also wants to move on. The parents are struggling in marriage and in grief. The three siblings are each fighting their own demons – including one who has embraced Orthodox Judaism and feels excluded from her family as a result. Would definitely recommend (but keep the Kleenex handy).

The Divorce Papers – Susan Rieger – 8/10

the divorce papers

“Divorcing clients harbour murderous thoughts, they just have better impulse control than your regular clients.”

When Mia Mather Meiklejohn is served divorce papers in a humiliating scene at her favourite restaurant, she quickly turns to her father’s preferred lawyers to represent her. The day she wants to meet, the firm’s divorce lawyers are all out of the office and Anne Sophie Diehl, a top criminal associate lawyer, takes the deposition, having been promised she’ll have to do nothing more. Mia likes Sophie and insists she stays on the case. Can Sophie get to grips with civil law fast enough to get Mia a good settlement – and before office politics drive her totally crazy?

I love an epistolatory novel. 84 Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen are some of my favourite books. Letters and depositions/meeting notes permit lots of dialogue to shine through, while characters who might (like me) prefer the written form are permitted to flourish through their own writing.

Rieger has written a set of solid, interesting characters here. Sophie is great – I recognise a certain amount of that young professional striving to impress while occasionally being pushed well outside of her comfort zone. Trying to keep her personal life on an even keel, with the help of a best friend in a totally unrelated job, while she puts in crazy hours at the office. I love her stream of consciousness memos. Mia is a great wronged wife – amusingly angry, witty, badly behaved in a highly entertaining way. Sophie’s family and friends provide a non-legal support cast who through her life into relief, as does her mentor David. Of the bit-part characters, I particularly liked Jane, the eleven-year-old “minor issue” of the dissolving marriage, and Bruce, her inordinately rich doting grandfather. Both are delicately written while funny and honest.

New Salem might as well be Rich Everyville. I don’t know where it is (outside New York, apparently), but it just seems to have a lot of rich people and their lawyers. Fine. Rieger gets away without bothering much with setting, as everything is documented rather than described. In terms of plot development it feels a bit slow – Rieger could have edited 50-100 pages out of this but I don’t mind. This is the kind of light reading you don’t really want to end. If it had been 800 pages with more turns, that would have been fine. As it is, there’s a bit of development just often enough to keep you interested, and the private life intercessions help to keep the sense of time progressing.

It’s not the Next Great American novel, but I loved this. The test for me of whether I’m into a book is whether I read it when I’m not on public transport – and this one I even thought about taking to bed to read. It’s easy to read (some of the extracts of the Narragansett Legal Code are not so legible) and funny. You care about the characters just enough to be engrossed but able to leave them behind.

Definitely recommended as a light and easy read any time there’s a Tube strike on.

Additional information:

Copy kindly provided by the publisher in return for an honest review. Publisher: Crown Publishing USA, 461 hardback pages
Order The Divorce Papersfrom Amazon*
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Of Love and Other Wars – Sophie Hardach – 6/10

“I hope I would have the faith and strength of mind to peacefully resist and dissuade him.”

of love and other wars-1

Quaker brothers Charlie and Paul Lamb are caught up in the pacifist movement, then called to account for their actions when they register as conscientious objectors. For Paul’s girlfriend Miriam Morningstar, his actions are less palatable – and Miriam’s mother has plenty of her own demons to face.

This *really* picked up towards the end. I posted a few weeks ago that I wasn’t very enthused about this? Well, by the end it still didn’t make my list of favourites but I broke through and finished it. (the fact that I had to break through to finish it is perhaps not the biggest compliment towards the book…) But suddenly it all got much more interesting – the strands started to come together, the end of the war was in sight.

Paul Lamb was by far the more sympathetic brother – Charlie is rambunctious and impetuous and a little too clever for his own good, convinced of his actions to run his life however he likes with little thought for others. Paul is much more gentle, more secure in his faith but less able to articulate it intelligently. Miriam is confident and likeable and impassioned – a pleasant blend of the two brothers. In the alternative timeline, I felt I should like Esther (as a fellow young female physicist from a specific minority religion – or at least I used to match all those adjectives), but she comes across as so hard and with so little love for her husband, so little rationality behind some of her personal interactions, that I found it very hard to support her perspective. I think I’d have enjoyed this a lot more if I had identified with one or more of the characters, but I found them all rather remote.

Obviously I didn’t live through WWII London but this felt pretty credibly set – the geography seemed to flow (although they are areas of London that I don’t know that well) and the time was vivid – particularly Miriam’s experiences in wartime London and Charlie’s life on the farm.

This is the first novel I’ve come across addressing life from either a Quaker or pacifist perspective, and I was quite surprised to find it was written by a German who had little experience of either in her personal life – it’s a very unusual perspective to take.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Additional information:
Copy kindly supplied by the publisher in return for an honest review. 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 376 paperback pages
Order Of Love and Other Warsfrom Amazon*
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The People in the Photo – Hélène Gestern – 9/10

“Our families’ silence is a poison that infects everything it touches: our dreams, our fears, our entire adult lives. And it leaves us with nothing but questions to fall back on, thirty or forty years down the line.”

people in the photo

From the blurb, because it’s very accurate: Parisian archivist Hélène takes out a newspaper advert seeking information about her mother, who died when she was three, and the two men pictured with her in a photograph taken at a tennis tournament at Interlaken in 1971. Stéphane, a Swiss biologist living in Kent, responds: his father is one of the people in the photo. More letters and more photos pass between them as they embark on a journey to uncover the truth their parents kept from them. But will the images and documents from the past fill the silences left by the players?

The author has given the protagonist her own first name – when that happens, I do have to wonder if it is partly autobiographical (although Hélène is a very pretty name!). Hélène is well captured – gentle, curious, reflective, desperate to unearth her truth but loath to upset others. Obviously a sad childhood. I struggled a little more with Stéphane and actually preferred him when he cracked a bit every now and again. The epistolary style, in a sense, permits very limited development of any other characters, but then the whole book is about piecing together people from several decades ago and Nataliya is revealed little by little. Jean Pamiat, the side-lined friend, is actually my favourite character in the whole book, I think. He’s deliciously omnipresent, and thankfully still alive in the modern time for our detectives to at least visit.

I’ve said it before – I love the epistolary novel. It permits gentle development of the story (and the sub-story – just the right way to deliver that) without being slow. Had it been told another way I might well have thrown the book aside in frustration with the romance and the clunky delivery of the decades-old mystery – but this method was natural and elegant.

For me, the aspect I walk away with is the incredible sadness of the ending. The climax is correctly paced and the puzzle is appropriately concluded, including various characters’ odd behaviour, but this tale of love lost, found and lost again is really very sad in the end. Our characters put a brave face on it but… I would not be so sanguine.

It made me want to learn Russian! And mourn the lost art of the letter. I greatly enjoyed the adventures of Bourbaki the cat as told by Hélène – and the sub-story, which I cannot reveal for spoiler-avoidance reasons, is sweetly developed in the letters.

Additional information:
Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Publisher: Gallic Books, 265 paperback pages
Order The People in the Photofrom Amazon*
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I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith – 9/10

(NB it’s at least 18 months since I read this book, so… this review might be a bit flaky)

“‘What did you want a lion for?’ I asked. ‘Oh, they were kind of cute,’ he said vaguely. Then the kettle boiled and we took the tea in.”

I capture the castle

This book has one of the most famous opening lines in literature: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” Thus we’re introduced to the zaniness that is Cassandra Mortmain’s life – a creative soul dying to see the grandeur of London, to be able to spend the money their accommodation boasts of, and to escape her equally desperate older sister, “fadingly glorious stepmother Topaz” (I can’t say it better than the blurb) and her depressed, stifled father. When the American heirs to the castle in which they live (the aforementioned expansive accommodation) turn up to claim their property, Cassandra’s life is turned upside-down – and not just because she’s head over heels in love.

The characters are what make this novel. Dimming beauty Topaz, slightly crazy but somehow holding the family together and keeping a roof overhead. Rose, desperate to escape the idyllic country exile, rushes into the first opportunity that presents itself, and is left plenty of time to repent. She’s an unusual first child (I have a certain sympathy for the birth-order psychology which appears popular these days) but certainly is headstrong and independent. I can’t figure out the Father character, but maybe that’s not necessary – it’s enough that he’s eccentric and creatively stifled and depressed and manic all at once. The conflict underpinning the plot is brought about by his inability to generate income as a writer – one of the saddest passages in the book is when Cassandra notes that she has seen him simply re-reading detective novels after a very short period of time, because the librarian knows he isn’t working and won’t give him more than one or two a week.

The writing: well, Dodie Smith writes children’s literature beautifully, we know that, and it’s just as unblemished here.

“And the feel of the park itself was most strange and interesting – what I noticed most was its separateness; it seemed to be smiling and amiable, but somehow aloof from the miles and miles of London all around. At first I thought this was because it belonged to an older London – Victorian, eighteenth century, earlier than that. And then, as I watched the sheep peacefully nibbling the grass, it came to me that Hyde Park has never belonged to any London – that it has always been, in spirit, a stretch of the countryside; and that it thus links the Londons of all periods together most magically – by remaining for ever unchanged at the heart of the ever-changing town.”

The romance is of course all tangled up and full of misunderstandings, as any book with a teenage protagonist should be. I still think that it should have turned out differently (without spoilers, but if you’ve read it you know what I’m thinking should have happened), but all in all perfectly satisfactory at the end.

A wonderfully beautiful book. Should be mandatory reading. It is testament to the book’s depth that Mini-Me, The Book Accumulator, The No Longer At All Resident Cousin and I have all absolutely adored it. I must re-read it.

Additional information:

Origin unknown. It was just on the shelf.
Publisher: Vintage Classics, 408 paperback pages 
Order I Capture The Castle (Vintage Classics)from Amazon*
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The River of No Return – Bee Ridgway – 5/10

“Julia sat beside her gradfather’s bed, holding his hand. The fifth Earl of Darchester was dying.”

river of no return

To call this plot convoluted is an understatement. Lord Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Blackdown, cheats death on a battlefield in Spain in 1812 by jumping nearly two hundred years into the future. He accustoms himself to life as a New York socialite and cheese farm patron, until the Guild demands their pound of flesh and sends him to confront his 19th century past. Meanwhile, when the ancient Earl of Darchester dies leaving his teenage granddaughter estate-less, and the evil cousin turns up to take over things, well… it gets messier.

It’s been a while since I read this, and the difficulty I am having in remembering anything about it belies the enjoyment of reading it. Or perhaps that’s exactly it – it’s frothier than The Time Traveller’s Wife, with a less random mechanism of time travel, and a much larger world construct which makes considerably less sense. In essence it is a love story with one protagonist struggling across the centuries and an epoch-old conflict to find the other. There is an abundance of amusing note-taking on current and past cultures, particularly class and gender structures.

But in the end, nothing is resolved, and the characters are boilerplate romance standards – she is beautiful and independent but hamstrung by the conventions of the time, he is handsome and dashing and sensitive etc.

It was only as I googled for a picture of the cover to insert into this review that I discovered that the title of the book is the name of a Western film starring Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe. I assume that the allusion is intentional, but I cannot figure out why.

Borrow, read on a plane, leave on the plane.

Copy kindly provided by LoveReading.co.uk and the publisher in return for an honest review, so long ago that I have given up ever reviewing it for LoveReading.
Publisher: Penguin, 546 pages (hardback).
Order The River of No Returnfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
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