Sophy Winter spent her formative years living in her family's stately home, Winter's End, until she was one day whisked away by her hippie mother without a backward glance. Her life then took on an itinerant feel, never really settling down until she got married and got pregnant. The pregnancy scared the husband off and she made do as a single mother working in great estates like the one she grew up in. Her daughter is now all grown up and teaching in Japan and Sophy is at loose ends, having lost her job and her home in a matter of minutes. That's when the miracle happens; she inherits Winter's End. A cousin she never knew about, Jack, has come to tell her of her good fortune and to offer to buy the house from her. He explains that Winter's End isn't in the best of shape, her grandfather funneled all the money into the restoration of the gardens at the expense of the house. Therefore Jack's solution would solve Sophy's money problems and sooth the wounds inflicted on Jack when he found out he only inherited the title. It's win win. But when Sophy arrives home she realizes she could never sell Winter's End, even to family. She doesn't care how desperately she needs to find money for it's upkeep or how upset Jack will be or how cantankerous the gardener Seth is, she only knows that she will find a way to do what is in the best interest of the house. Her home.
Several people over the years have recommended A Winter's Tale to me knowing of my love of grand English estates and chick lit. So the book had made it's way onto my shelves and languished, until this past December when it sounded like just the right read for a cold Christmas day. The thing is, there's not much Christmas in it... yes, Christmas is there, but it's almost an afterthought, the book actually getting it's title from Shakespeare not from being all yule. Yet for my love of country estates this was perfect. It's not so much a fairy tale as other books I've read go, though it would be a dream come true to inherit such a house, it's more a realistic fairy tale if that makes sense. We are given insight into the nuts and bolts of the day to day struggles to keep a grand house running. Basically the more down and dirty reality of owning Downton Abbey. Keeping the staff happy, keeping the house repaired, finding money to keep the restoration of the garden underway. Finding a happy balance between wants and needs. Prioritizing that which must get done. And cleaning. Seriously, the amount of cleaning a place like this takes, well, if you hadn't thought about it before in your fantasies about becoming on heiress, you will now. And not that that's a bad thing. In fact reading all about this minutiae, it gives you a stronger connection to this way of life than if you were to the manor born.
The minutiae is where this book lives. In the purchase of special beeswax for banisters and brushes for paintings. There's a languid feel that makes this book the perfect bedtime read. You slip into bed and you sink into the story that lulls you into a safe world of hard work with wonderful rewards. The pacing for most of the book continues on in this vein. Hundreds of pages of day by day tasks to have it abruptly changed. As Christmas nears the pace is picked up, soon we aren't spending languid days seeing the house brought back to life slowly, we're zooming along until it's later the next year at the happily ever after is thrust upon us. This is where the book kind of lost me. It's weird when the pace is abandoned in favor of some new narrative style. The book lost some of it's charm by changing tempo. I didn't feel as connected to these characters I had spent so much time forging a bond with. I felt like the bond was severed and I was left on the outside looking in as everything came together, but without me. Yes, if Trisha Ashley had continued the narrative style throughout A Winter's Tale might have been a doorstop of a book, but as I've said before and I'll say again, I don't care how long or how short a book is, it should be exactly as long as it takes to tell the story and do it justice. This book needs a little of the justice that came Jack's way.
Speaking of Jack. He is the major thorn in my side in this book. He is sleazy and scheming yet everyone thinks he's God's gift and why not let Jack have the house? He couldn't possibly do something underhanded, insert ominous music here. I give credit to Sophy that she stays the course, but there is too much of her waffling. Too many times she questions herself and doesn't stand up to Jack. So while Jack is the villain of the piece, with his dirty deals and his desperate ways, the main problem I have is that he illuminates the flaws of our heroine. Sophy is so strong of will and motivated by hard work I find it hard to believe that she'd buy any line coming out of Jack's mouth, no matter how seductive and silken. I mean, how can she be so naive? She just lost her job and her home because of a scheming relative of her employer and here she is in a similar situation and yet she's all, oh Jack, you're so pretty, you could never love frumpy me with my frizzy hair. Gaw. Just no. I know it's a staple of chick lit to have the to go to be true bad boy and the brooding good boy with the befuddled heroine in the middle not knowing what to do, but seriously? Sophy is so much stronger than the average Bridget Jones that I am baffled that she didn't call shenanigans sooner.
What sets this book apart from the run of the mill chick lit or Downtonesque book is the olde thyme stuff, IE Shakespeare! I admit about a few pages in I should have gotten that the title was from Shakespeare, given all the references in the text, but sometimes I'm not quite on the ball and as I mentioned before I seriously thought this was a Christmas book. This Shakespearean element also elevates the book to a kind of historical fiction chick lit fusion that is fun for fans of both genres. But the downside is that I think you'd have to be somewhat to fairly knowledgeable about Shakespeare and his life to get the personal references peppered throughout the story. The extracts from Alys Blezzard's journal are purposefully very cryptic and written for those with knowledge of the Bard. Therefore this book can be read on two levels, the plain old chick lit HEA, and the fusion level. Personally, if I was only reading it on the chick lit level without my knowledge of Shakespeare, I'm not sure I would have been as drawn into the book. It's the mystery woven throughout about Alys being dark of complexion, that connects with Shakespeare's sonnets to "The Dark Lady." The Shakespeare angle adds so much that without it I just don't know if it would work.
Yet that "Dark Lady" Alys is still a questionable addition to the book in my mind. Not her connection with Shakespeare, nothing like that. It's her "other" qualities. IE, the magic of it all. By bringing in a paranormal aspect I think it might be stretching the narrative's credulity to it's breaking point. The Shakespeare secret, the history of the family and the house, that's all well and good, but the magic? I could see it if there were just ghosts and Alys having been condemned as a witch, because well, any smart woman was a witch back then, but that magic... That tangible real magic that gives Sophy insight and visions. It's just a step too far. It's almost like this book so wanted to be everything that it threw in everything and the kitchen sink and sometimes enough is enough. Sometimes being descended from Shakespeare is a big enough twist. Sometimes getting your HEA is enough. And sometimes just saving your family estate is enough. There doesn't need to be "real" magic too. Because isn't everything else magical enough? Apparently not according to Trisha Ashley. But then again, some people just don't know where to draw the line, like Sophy with her "relationship" with Jack. ...more
Kate Clegg dreams of no longer being trapped in a job whose prospects are ever dwindling in her small hometown of Slackmucklethwaite. The local newspaper she works for, The Mercury, has been nicknamed "The Mockery" since it was bought out by a dubious businessman and now concentrates it's energies on advertising and flattering puff pieces. But Kate's horrid new boss has a sexy son, Nat, who is to work alongside her and before long she's lying between the sheets with Nat and spilling her dreams of being a world class journalist covering the Cannes Film Festival while also writing racy romances on the side. Nat claims that he can get his dad to agree to Cannes if she will only pay for the two of them to go, he of course in first class and she in cattle class. Wiping out her savings they head to Cannes where she looses Nat and realizes that he didn't arrange anything and it was all a ruse for her to cough up the money for the plane ticket. Without a job to go back to or any savings or even hope, Kate finds that she's relying on the new people she's met in the small town of Ste. Jeanne, from the displaced wife of a tabloid columnist, to the taciturn staff at her hotel, to the elegant octogenarian Odile, to the dipsomaniac reporter Crichton, to the talented and sexy artist Fabien, she might have more then she thought she had.
I remember back when I first started picking up Chick Lit books at Barnes and Noble that Wendy Holden's books seemed to saturate the shelves with her mildly witty titles like Farm Fatale and Azure Like It. Looking at the shelves nowadays she is noticeably absent and after reading Azur Like It after it languished on my shelves for almost ten years I can say I am not in the least surprised that this and many of her other books are out of print, that's if this one is anything to go by. It wasn't just that the book goes for the cheap laugh or that I had no way to connect to any of the characters, it's mainly that Wendy Holden doesn't grasp that a book needs to be definable not such a mish mash of genres that you want to shake it to see if it can somehow be knocked into shape. But predominately the lead was so unlikable that I wouldn't have minded if she had had an accident on those lovely hairpin turns that litter the south of France.
Let me start with Kate's stupid and hateful nature. There's stupid and then there's stupid. Kate just might actually be so stupid that she is beyond this scale and in her own "special" category. How can someone be so naive and dumb, she's a gorram idiot! Firstly, the fact that she is in bed with her boss's unlikable son within five minutes of meeting him and then, despite the fact that he's supposedly rich, is gladly giving him money for him to head to Cannes... how, just how!?! Angry, rage, building in me. If she was someone I knew I'd drown her out of the goodness of my heart. How does she not see through Nat. No seriously, how!?! He says he can't call her because his father took his phone and then he's always texting in front of her? Say what? That lie right there should have triggered all her warning bells, which she obviously doesn't have. Then there's the whole, she lost her job because of him, because she blindly trusted someone for no reason other then he's hot. WTF! Then there's her dream of wanting to go to the Cannes Film Festival but once there her complete ignorance of anything to do with the festival. Seriously, what was the author thinking?
At first I might have felt a little, tiny, gnat sized iota of sympathy for Kate, because attraction and sex make us do stupid things, but then I realized she's just a hateful person. She blindly trusted Nat and I don't know if this made her hate everyone or if Nat was some aberration, but she is downright cruel to nice people. She thinks Odile is crazy and deluded and could never have been a beauty, whereas Odile has had a stroke so therefore her appearance has changed. The there's Ken, she treats him like garbage despite his always being nice and taking care of her friend. Also the cruel nicknames she gives people make me want to punch her. Kate is a hateful little bitch who just distrusts and dislikes everyone and I just want her to die. I'm not sure I've actually wanted to harm someone so much who is the heroine of a book in all my years of reading. Needless to say this book is quickly being sold, it would be burned in a ceremonial pyre, but I don't believe in book burning.
Then there's the genre issue. Yes, books can mix and mash genres. Genres aren't a hard and fast rule, but when you start throwing in so many that it makes the book bloated and convoluted, well, you have a problem. The genres that I was able to pick out where: romance, expose, celebrity parody, roman à clef, thriller, Gothic horror, and espionage... in fact, Chick Lit seems to not even be in there. It tries to be everything and ends up being nothing. But the straw that broke the camels back was when it decided to go into Gothic horror. When Kate is in bed and sees a hooded monk with a skull head she seriously just hides under the covers? Firstly, this isn't scary or funny, secondly, why did she never connect the skull to the skull in pretty boy's studio upstairs? Well, that's just her stupidity again and I just realized she's pissing me off so much I'm making exasperated hand gestures while writing this review. And why wouldn't you tell anyone about seeing a scary skull monk? It doesn't fit with anything before or after and is just a stupid plot device, like everything else in this book.
In summarizing this book that is not surprisingly out of print I have to just touch on the plethora of stupidity that fills it's pages. Kate is obsessed with condoms. Any person in this day and age who doesn't practice safe sex is an idiot but the fact that the safe sex is laboriously pointed out... um, no, and ew, in fact ew to all the sex in this book. Next, Celia, she says she deserved being beaten by her husband? WHAT!?! Ok, there is a victim's mentality, but no one should ever say they deserved this, especially in a book I picked up to be a fun and light read, just dropping in the fact that domestic abuse is ok, well, that's par for the stupidity of this book. The Bond jokes, including the title of the book are just groan worthy. And finally the painting! Fabien had painted a portrait of Kate years before he met her. Say what? Did he see her somewhere, have a vision quest, have an old picture of Kate's grandmother from during the war? Anything would have been better then no explanation and it just emphasizes the laziness of the writing in this book. Just one more thing to chalk up against this book which I shall now stop talking or writing about because it's making me cranky. Where's my old person stick to wave a whippersnappers?...more
Sophie Apperly is the odd one out in her family. They are all academic and artistic, whereas she's more of a homebody who likes to upscale thrift store finds into interesting creations. Therefore as far as her family are concerned she's a bit dumb and a bit of a dogsbody. To that end they volunteer her to take care of their Uncle Eric in the hope that this little gesture will make the horrid old man remember them in his will. Of course things don't go to plan in that Sophie and Eric get on like a house on fire and she finds out about a lost family trust to do with an oil well. Sophie decides to try to help her ever skint family by investigating this trust and to that end she gets a short term job in New York and goes to visit one of her two best friends. It's Sophie's dream come true, she's always wanted to go to New York, so when the job falls through, well, it's sad, but then there's more time to play the tourist on her very restricted budget.
At a gallery opening the helpful Sophie comes to the aid of the elderly Matilda. They instantly hit it off and soon Sophie is going to Connecticut to spend Thanksgiving with Matilda, who's grandson, Luke, looks on Sophie as a gold digger. Matilda and Luke himself are both rather wealthy. Yet Sophie has a heart of gold and, though she may be almost flat broke, she would never take advantage of this situation fate has landed her in. A situation that might help both her and Matilda, as Matilda sends Sophie back to England with a request, to find the house Matilda spent her holidays in as a youth. This might seem like a wild goose chase, but it's quite fun, and with Luke coming along for the ride, maybe something more then an old house will be found?
Three years ago I picked up my first Katie Fforde book and it was instant dislike. Love Letters struck all the wrong chords in me and made me swear off Katie Fforde. Of course I am a fickle person and I felt bad for having sworn off an author with only reading one of their books. I mean, shouldn't I at least give that author a second chance? Therefore I could look back without regrets having given said author the benefit of the doubt. As it so happens A Perfect Proposal had electronic galleys through Net Galley and I thought, if they approve my request, here is the perfect opportunity as it where to see if my first impressions were wrong. I thank the stars, and the e-galley gods, that I gave Katie Fforde a second chance. A Perfect Proposal was just the book I needed to brighten my days during a bleak time. This book is funny and witty with characters I connected to. I am hoping that Love Letters was the aberration in Fforde's writing career and not A Perfect Proposal so that I have tons of new books to look forward to. It's just such a wonderful surprise to find an author that you feel you can embrace.
You know how in some books they just drop everything in your lap from page one, here is everything and everyone, wham, girl, guy, situation, lots of complications till they are together, the end, or till they go at it, whichever comes first. A Perfect Proposal though does the exact opposite. We meet Sophie and are given the time to connect to her. We learn about her quirky dreams about customizing vintage and thrift clothing. How she's always loved the ocean. We feel for her because her family takes her for granted and think her a little daft, and who amongst us can't relate to that? There was a wonderful luxury in getting to know someone before they were thrust into this romantic situation. Not only that, but how often is it that someone so fundamentally good is the heroine? She has flaws, but she has such a big heart, she helps people who need it, is willing to give back without taking, has morals and is virtuous, but not in a goody two-shoes way. This lent the whole book a Jane Austen vibe in my opinion. There was the good poor girl who we've come to love and then her helpfulness puts her in the path of the aloof rich boy whose heart she will eventually melt by her sweetness. A modern Lizzy and Darcy if Lady Catherine decided to play matchmaker instead of heartbreaker. Sigh. I kind of wish the book hadn't ended so I was still in this world.
But no book is 100% perfect, there is always the things the niggle me, even in my most favorite of novels. The first is I didn't feel like the author had ever actually been to the United States. First that people from Maine were picking Sophie up in New York... um... I've driven that distance... it's like ten hours, not a short little jaunt. For Sophie not to know this it's excusable, but for the people she works for not having her fly there, that's weird. Sophie never using the internet, that's just odd. But New York being all wrong really got to me. Firstly, not knowing how big New York state is, forgivable, messing up distances within New York City, no way! She did a full days walk in weird opposite directions in hours, and then there's The Frick. I have been to The Frick many a time, and well, it's small, so easy to see everything in a short amount of time, an hour would do you easy, but Matilda makes it sound like it's the size of the MET! Also, the timezones are all off, England is five hours ahead of New York, no more, no less. Just little things an editor should have picked up on... which looking at my review of Love Letters, that was my main complaint, a lack of an editor...
Yet what I really want to know is what is up with this trope of Chick Lit and holidays? So I did inadvertently do Chick Lit month around Easter, chicks, see, it's funny right? But so many Chick Lit books throw in holidays. Bridget Jones's Diary is all about the holidays, bonfire night, Christmas... same with Confessions of a Shopaholic, oh, and Going Home which I just read too was all about Christmas. And that's not even taking into account girly movies like The Holiday and Love Actually, which I actually really hate. Is there an unwritten rule that makes holidays a must for declarations of love and hookups? Personally I think it's a little tacky, but that's just me....more
One Fifth Avenue is a residence unlike any other. The people who live there love the building more then they do their spouses, children, or lovers. The older residents represent a golden bohemian age of New York with famous writers, gossip columnists, actresses, and old socialites. When the building's oldest resident dies her three story penthouse becomes a focal point for all the residents. Mindy Gooch, the head of the building's board and denizen of the worst apartment in the building dreams of dividing up the unit and claiming the top floor ballroom as her own. But seeing as Mindy doesn't have the money she will thwart the plans of others who want to break up the apartment, notably the author Philip Oakland's Aunt Enid, who wants one of the floors for him to expand his apartment. Mindy therefore strong arms a young couple with new money obtained dubiously through hedge funds to buy the apartment and what ensues could easily be considered war. Paul Rice views that if he paid $20 million for an apartment, well, everyone in the building should do as he says. They should let him have the one parking space and unsightly air conditioners. They should bow down to his every wish. At least his wife is likable. But the Rice's arrival signals a time of trials for One Fifth which they will all hopefully survive, Enid at least has newly lowered expectations and hopes to get the twenty two year old Lola out of her nephew's bed and Philip back with the lovely age appropriate actress Schiffer Diamond. But the hearts and "heads" of men might be harder to control then the fate of a beloved building.
No one can doubt the place Sex and the City has carved out for itself in our cultural zeitgeist. It has reshaped New York City for young women in such a way that I actually know someone whose ambition in life was to be a Sex and the City tour guide. This for her was the ultimate dream, the highest aspiration of her life. I was never on this bandwagon. Yes I knew about the show because I had watched one or two episodes back in 1998 with my mom to see what it was all about, but we both agreed rather quickly that this just wasn't our type of show, we're more into someone being murdered with a shoe versus a discussion of the shoe being Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik. Even Candace Bushnell has jumped on her own bandwagon being self-referential and meta with the character of Lola being obsessed with Sex and the City. Therefore when looking through my shelves to see how to round out my Chick Lit reading for the month I thought perhaps I should include an American author to try to get some kind of balance to this British dominated genre. So that's how I finally picked up a Candace Bushnell book thinking that I'd get some American Chick Lit... boy was I wrong. One Fifth Avenue is not Chick Lit, it's like a New York version of Maupin's Tales of the City where all the characters are unlikable with oddly graphic sex interspersed throughout the text. In other words, not what I was expecting. But I was willing to give the book the benefit of the doubt only to have it repeatedly dig itself into a deeper and deeper hole.
Firstly I want to address the issue of Lola. Lola is the wet dream of all middle aged men. She's perfect in body, with lipo and breast augmentation. Her libido is insatiable and she's willing to do most anything to get her way, sexual favors for cash is fine by her. And while she might not have Daddy issues she likes her men older so they can be her sugar daddies. I have issues with this trend. There's a part of me that knows this does happen, there is truth in this situation that Bushnell is writing about. Also Lola isn't the most likable character so I do wonder, is Bushnell taking the piss a little, but it's not enough. The problem I have is she is perpetuating this "manchild" dream that come midlife crisis there's a hot bodied twentysomething for every man out there. I get why the male dominated media wants to continue this trend, when they reach middle age they want this dream for themselves. I see it again and again in movies and television shows and books, but these are written, produced, and directed by men! Candace Bushnell is a woman. How about some women's lib? How about breaking free of the sexual fantasies of older males and writing something different, something new? There can be no change in this trend if even female writers are willing to accept the status quo.
Yet Lola is just one of a plethora of unlikable characters. There is not one character who you can latch onto as good or appealing. I've said it what seems like a thousand times before and what I bet will be a thousand times more; you need at least a likable character, someone to give you an entre into this book world. If you're going to play the antihero card, which you can do, look to Thackery and Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, at least have a plot with interest, instead of having me read hundreds of pages about vapid lives of people who think they are entitled. There's a part of me that really thinks that this book would not fly off the shelves in 2014 as it did in 2008. Back in 2008 there was more hope in the world, we, as a society, might have found a glimpse into this elite world as titillating and interesting. Since then things have kind of gone to hell and the 1% that is represented by all the characters in this book, they have not fared well among us lower classes. Such wealth and excess isn't escapist for us, it's aggravating. I couldn't find any humor in a man spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on fish. There wasn't any wry chuckling and me thinking "oh those crazy rich bastards, what will they do next?" There was me going, can a burn this building to the ground with all these indulgent whiners trapped inside? You'd think that the "poorer" people in the book would be sympathetic, but no, they are even more annoying then the already affluent because of their money grubbing tendencies. I just want to wash my brain out after reading this book.
If, as the blurbs say, Bushnell is the modern day Wharton with a little of F. Scott Fitzgerald thrown in, chronicling New York and it's never changing passions and desires, well I weep for our modern age. She is no Wharton, she is no James, she is no Fitzgerald. Bushnell is a vapid and shallow storyteller that gives us no insight, no depth. This book aggravated, annoyed, and insulted me on almost every page. There was a romance and a vibrancy in Wharton's Gilded Age and even Fitzgerald's Jazz Age, a world you wanted to go to. When I first visited Washington Square Park these thoughts crossed my mind, I was walking in the steps of greatness. I'm going back to New York this summer and I will once again be walking in that park, I can only hope that by then I will have removed this book fully from my memory because as I walk through the arc up fifth avenue I don't want to being thinking about the people at One Fifth, I want to be thinking about the world as it was in bygone days, not this world of Bushnell's, never this world of hers. But perhaps I should look on Bushnell with pity. This book might be a cry to be a part of this world. Perhaps my friend who said Candace Bushnell had one good idea was right. She captured something with Sex and the City and she will never be able to get that kind of buzz again. She's scrabbling to stay a part of this world. Why else would she be now writing prequels except to cash in on her own previous success? Maybe Philip is Bushnell? Never able to recapture what she once had. That actually makes me a little bit smug and gleeful....more
Nicky Hobbs loves her job teaching school, even if she often dwells on the fact that her life at thirty is far different from the life she dreamed she'd have when she was twenty three. Well, only her ex Rob knows she wanted to be married by now with three kids... too bad she's working with him, and soon closer then ever. Rob and Nicky are appointed deputy heads of the school which it turns out is a way to test their suitability to see who would be the ideal headmaster or mistress when the current Head, Miss James, retires. Rob really wants the job and is willing to manipulate Nicky into rethinking her life and into feeling the tick of her biological clock. Nicky doesn't realize the extent to which Rob is willing to go to get this job and thinks that maybe he has turned over a new leaf, much like the new employee at the school, Mark Samuels. Mark Samuels is the father of Nicky's favorite student, Oscar. Mark Samuels is the absentee parent from hell who Nicky decides to throw the gauntlet at. Mark picks it up and by the time they are working together he is a new man... could he even be Nicky's new man? But Nicky is so confused that by the end of the school year she won't even know which end is up or what her future might hold.
Melissa Nathan ranks right up there in my mind as the pinnacle of Chick Lit. She was one of, if not the first Chick Lit author that I fell hard for. I remember being in Barnes and Noble and picking up Pride, Prejudice and Jamsin Field off one of their featured tables down the middle of the store. Besides the premise of a theatrical production of Pride and Prejudice, I had more then a little cover lust because it totally looked like Caroline Bingley (aka Anna Chancellor) with one of her hats from Four Weddings and a Funeral and yes, I really am that easily sold on a book. Because she was a British author with only one book released stateside (sometimes American publishers baffle me), Amazon UK became my drug dealer, getting me all her new releases as soon as they came out until her untimely death of Breast Cancer right around the publication of The Learning Curve.
It was a sad sad day for Chick Lit when Melissa passed. Based on the quality of her work what might she have gone on to do? And now I've turned my review into a total buzzkill. Hey, at least I didn't reprint her forward to the book which had me in floods of tears. With only five books to her name I was extra hesitant to read the final unread book I had on my shelf, The Learning Curve. Once I finished this book, well, there would be no more. I kind of wish that I hadn't read it. The happy anticipation that there would always be another Melissa Nathan book out there for me to read has been replaced with the sad reality of how awful this book was. Sometimes looking forward to something is so much more satisfying then the reality, and the reality of this book is painful.
Before ripping apart The Learning Curve for it's themes, I have to tackle something that just drove me round the bend. This book was riddled with inconsistencies, not to mention an unwieldy cast of characters you have to memorize in the first two pages. Now, I don't know if this was because Melissa was pushing through to get this book done that they didn't bother with any kind of continuity editing, but it is a disservice if this is the case. Seriously, edit this book and get it back to me without the days of the week being helter skelter, with Friday occasionally being followed by Monday, and there once in awhile being a few extra days between Monday and Thursday. Seeing as we all live by the calendar, the least this book could do is follow said calendar.
But the temporal issues are nothing compared to clothes magically changing from leaving for school till arriving at school. Shoes being high heels then flats. But worst of all, in the beginning of the book Oscar's camera phone is a big plot point and then when he's spying on teachers during the school trip he has to use a crappy disposable camera? Um, us the freakin' phone! OK, I've got to stop being nitpicky about this, and other little things like how plodding the pace is, how I dislike every character, how sometimes it all just goes a little creepy with blackmail and inappropriate student teacher relationships, how is Nicky at thirty even qualified to be a headmistress, and how crap Johnny English is so stop using it as the only movie mentioned, and move onto other things. Ok, I think I got the rant out. All these problems could have been fixable but the truth is it wouldn't have fixed the book.
Through the entire book there are strained relationships between the males and females. I wouldn't even say strained covers it, it has such an antagonistic dynamic that when it even turns a little violent in the last few chapters I can't say I was surprised. There was anger and tears and recrimination behind this battle of the sexes. It all boils down to the age old question of men being the ones with the jobs and women being the ones rearing the children. With Nicky we get almost 600 pages of her griping about children/career/children/career/children/career/children/career. There is no progress with this internal and external dialogue, there is just the dialogue. Nicky is baby crazy but can't justify giving up her career to have kids and therefore bemoans this for hundreds and hundreds of pages. I think she really needs some psychological help.
Of course it doesn't help that her supposed best friend who happens to be her ex is playing on these doubts. But seriously, there was never any furthering of the dialogue or a change to it, just a broken record going over and over and over the same bloody tune till I hated this book and the read rage fully embraced my soul. Just writing this review I want to take this book and hurl it out a window. You can usually tell how much I care for a book by the treatment I give it. Those I love and cherish don't have creased spines or loose pages... this one looks like it was run over by a truck, which then backed over it again and again... besides breaking the spine I think I loosened the pages enough that if I were ever to try to read it again in some masochistic torture, well, they'd all fall out. Right now I'm wondering if book burning is a good idea... I'm a little cold and this book is quite thick... stop it brain, just stop it. Constructive criticism. Legitimate reasons for the hate, don't rant, critique.
But the heart of this book I think is the sad truth that Melissa Nathan knew she was dying. Look at the story, not Nicky's, but Mark's. Mark is a single workaholic father who lost his wife when his son Oscar was four. Melissa's husband Andrew lost her when their son Sam was three. So there's a part of me that doesn't want to criticize this book. There's a part of me that thinks perhaps this book was cathartic, that Melissa needed to write it. She was writing a story to tell her husband that he could move on as long as what he did was doing what was best for their son Sam. That it's not about being trapped in the past but knowing that life goes on. This then becomes such a personal book it's almost too sad to bear. Maybe she should have just gifted it to her husband and not put it out there in the world. It's a jumbled mess of unlikable characters and mixed messages and in the end, a dying woman's message to her husband of hope and love. This sad yet kind of creepy revelation makes me feel like a peeping tom that has just written a scathing review of someones innermost thoughts. Perhaps it's for the best that she can never see this review. ...more
Samantha Sweeting is on track to be the newest and youngest partner at the law firm of Carter Spink. She's given everything since she was twelve to keep on track with this path for her life and she's about to succeed. On the day of the big partnership announcement in the clutter of her desk she finds something that could ruin everything. Instead of doing the right thing she just walks away. She ends up on a train and gets off in the middle of the country not even knowing where she is. Drunk, tired, and delusional, she stumbles into the house of Trish and Eddie Geiger where they are holding interviews for a new domestic. At first Samantha doesn't realize what is going on and just goes alone with their assumption, but when she realizes that this is a job interview, one that isn't going well, well her need to succeed rears it's ugly head and she ends up getting the job as the Geiger's housekeeper.
Samantha, a girl who doesn't clean, doesn't know how to cook, can't even find out how to turn on her own oven, has just taken a job where she knows nothing and where in a week she is not even making her hourly rate at Carter Spink. If it wasn't for the gorgeous gardener Nathaniel and his mother helping Samantaha out she doesn't know what she would do. But Samantha is smart, some might say a genius, and it doesn't take her long to conquer this new world she's run away to. When her old world comes knocking will she want to stay in this new happy and peaceful life she's stumbled into or go back to the career track that has been her lifelong goal. She knows which one her mother and colleagues want her to choose.
While being a fan of the chick lit genre there was a part of me that never really bothered to seek out new authors. I preferred to have new books and authors to come to me as if by osmosis. Some sort of magical power whereby they caught my eye and bam, instant attraction... now that I think of this, there's some disturbing parallels to my love life... so now's the perfect time to mention Hugh Dancy. I have been in love with Hugh Dancy for over a decade now ever since Daniel Deronda. Because of this love I have seen a plethora of bad movies, the top three being Ella Enchanted, Arthur, and Elizabeth I, with Elizabeth I taking the crown for horridness. My love for him meant that I was intrigued by this movie he was going to be in called Confessions of a Shopaholic. Upon seeing that it was based on a book, away to Barnes and Noble I went, picking up the tie-in edition, which sadly didn't have Hugh on the cover... seriously, know your audience publishers!
I enjoyed Confessions of a Shopaholic enough to pick up the next few books in the series and a few of Kinsella's other books published under her real name, Madeleine Wickham, as well as her Kinsella pen name. I was never really blown away by her writing and as the Shopaholic series continued I became more and more angry with Becky Bloomwood and her never changing consumption habits. You'd think after six books she'd mature a little, but no. Every big revelation at the end of one of the books is followed by a quick slid into old habits by the start of the next. This lead to me not picking up any of the other Kinsella books I had lying around the house. One of the reasons I decided to do a Chick Lit themed month on my blog was so that I would finally pick up books I had bought that were creating a large backlog to my "to be read" pile. So I finally pick up The Undomestic Goddess. I should have never judged Kinsella on Becky Bloomwood! She created such a wonderful, relateable, fresh, and funny heroine in Samantha Sweeting, that I forgive that other alliterative heroine of hers for her flaws. Kinsella has been wrongly judged by me and I admit that perhaps Kinsella just doesn't excel in series and that stand-alones is where she shines. This book shone and made a bleak weekend fun.
I connected to Samantha on so many levels, but what really got me was her work ethic. Samantha's work ethic is 100% 24/7. There is no give, there is no outside life, there is the job, and only the job. Samantha is lucky in that until the events that unfold in the book she has never had a crash or come down. We live in a culture where to succeed means that you work too hard, you are literally willing to kill yourself to make it to the top. There is quite literally no off switch, no balance, no break. This is so me it's kind of scary. I'm the person who believes that doing anything less then the best you can do is unacceptable. There is nothing below first place, which will preferably leave those in second and third in the dust. In downtime between classes while in school I'd compare anti anxiety meds and stress induced ticks with fellow sufferers. If I was working on a job I'd work 24/7 until it was done. What is 9-5, that is absurd, there are so many hours in the day that are being unutilised with this way of thinking. But as Samantha comes to learn, this isn't a life.
I've had a harder time teaching myself this as well. It wasn't a mistake that flipped my switch off but my own body betrayed me. First there were some rashes, hive like bug bites, then I had a "lovely" nervous tick in my eye, seriously, don't discount how annoying these are till you have one. If I pushed myself too far on a project my body took to giving me a lovely cold after I was done because my body was so wrung out, and in one memorable case pneumonia. I have forced myself to change. I refuse to work on the weekends, where previously I didn't believe they even existed, just call me the Dowager Countess of Grantham. I try to spend more time with friends and have a book club. I have changed. Yes, I do backslide a little, but I have not backslide in Becky Bloomwood style. And from now on, Samanatha Sweeting is my role model for finding that balance in my life. As much as I hate the phrase, she found her bliss.
One of the things I kept thinking about as I was reading this book was how would this look from a women's lib standpoint. A high profile career woman basically goes back to the kitchen. Even if at first she doesn't know what to do in that kitchen, the fact that she's basically going from breadwinner to homemaker is a big change and could be construed as a step backwards. I like that when Samantha's secret comes out that the newspaper reporters who are hounding her bring up this exact argument, making me glad Sophie Kinsella was obviously aware of this statement she was making or, as I like to think, subverting. Yes, you could say this is all retro thinking, but think of the genre we are in. Chick Lit is a genre that is a touchstone for today's women. This genre gives us a mirror to our lives while also incorporating an element of wish fulfillment. Who wouldn't want to leave the stress behind and find themselves a nice gardener? But there's an empowering message in Chick Lit as well, it shows women working out the problems of their lives, it shows women, flaws and all. So I look at Samantha and don't see a women stepping into the role her female ancestors would have accepted as their lot in life, I see Samantha choosing the life that's right for her. Women can be whatever they want to be, a partner in a law firm, a housekeeper, a mother, the possibilities are endless, and Samantha has made her choice and I hope I've chosen as wisely as her....more
Lizzy has had a rough year of it, but little does she know that things are about to get a whole lot worse. Going back home for Christmas to her family's rambling home, Keeper House, she has to deflect questions about why she and David broke up. Lizzy doesn't want to get into the details with her family, but when he turned out to be a cheating bastard, well, you usually don't stay together. Thankfully the eventful arrival of her Uncle Mike with a new American bride draws the attention away from her and David... the David who just showed up. Luckily the Christmas traditions of the family serve to create a kind of normality when everyone is acting against type. Then everything goes into free fall when Lizzy's father tells them all that Keeper House has to be sold and there will be no discussion about why. The fact must be accepted, that is all.
Back in London, Lizzy's life has no anchor without Keeper House. She has done what her family has asked and posed no questions. Like most crises in her life she just ignores them and moves on. Her job with Monumental Films is going surprisingly well. She has a new boyfriend who happens to be a screenwriter for the company and her life has developed a new routine, one that avoids all thoughts of Keeper House. When an opportunity to transfer to the LA branch of the company arises Lizzy seriously thinks it over. Her life in England has been changed forever with Keeper House being taken away, so perhaps it's time for her to get a new one... unless a miracle happens.
Over the holidays I was looking for something Christmasy to read. I was in desperate need of some holiday cheer. For me I have a very odd sense of what I view as Christmas fare, I mean, seriously, I view LA Confidential as a Christmas movie. In fairness, it did come out around Christmas and the beginning does take place at Christmas... it's just not so much your Rosemary Clooney singing about snow and more noir and death. So I wanted some more traditional Christmas cheer. Seeing as I plan way way ahead of time I knew that April was going to be focusing on Chick Lit on my blog and when doing a goodreads search for Christmas books this came up I knew I had to read it... at least I can say that it got the Christmas vibe right... other than that, well... there was a lot that I felt was wrong.
The fact that Lizzy's life outside of Keeper House reminded me overtly of another book I didn't like, The Bronte Project, probably wasn't the best of starts. Not to mention that all the characters seem like stock characters, just cardboard cut outs of real people, it left me not caring about any of them. And as for Lizzy's cousin Tom... well, when you're going to just take a character straight out of someone else's book, maybe it's best to choose another genre then ripping him of from the queen of Chick Lit, Helen Fielding. Yes, Tom from Bridget Jones's Diary is oddly one of the main characters in this book.
But it's these stock character's flaws that just made me want to crawl into the pages and smack them upside the head. What I'm talking about is the fact that every single person loves to bury their head in the sand and live in ignorance. In my mind there's a clear division of knowing what is going on and avoiding it because you don't want to deal with it and not wanting to know anything at all. Lizzy is perfectly content to live in ignorance. We live in a world where ignorance, to me, is not acceptable. Her willfully refusing to even pose a question made me hate her to the very fibres of my being. She was like a two year old sticking her fingers in her ears and yelling at everyone that she wasn't listening. This is no way to live. Yes I know Chick Lit is supposed to be fun and funny and we relate and laugh at the foibles of the heroine, the misunderstandings that arise... but when that heroine is a willfully ignorant one, well, I'm going to hate her.
This ignorance on the part of Lizzy is coupled with the obviousness of the plot. I mean within ten pages I knew how everything was going to play out and that does not a fun read make. Though I'm not sure as to why the plot was so obvious, it could have been purposeful or not. The question all comes down to did the character flaws force Harriet Evans to have to write a more obvious plot so that we as readers wouldn't toss the book out the window because we were forced into the same dark ignorance as the characters, or was it just a narrative flaw on her part and had nothing to do with a willful choice... it's hard to tell. One makes me just hate the story, the other makes me hate the author. At least having read one of her later books first I know that she gets better than this first endeavour... because if I didn't have this foreknowledge, I might never pick her up again... like I am with Katie Fforde, she is dead to me because of Love Letters. Dead to me....more
Bridget Jones's life might just be getting a little better. Things have been hard since her husband Mark Darcy died. Being left a single parent was something she never thought she'd be faced with. Her kids have no father and she has lost the love of her life. Yet after a few years of just trying to do her best she realizes that perhaps her friends are right, perhaps she needs to get back out in the dating world. Thanks to modern technology, aka Twitter, she soon as a young boy toy, Roxster, who is just about to turn thirty and loves Bridget's "experience." She's back in the game and the envy of her friends. But can someone so much younger then her be willing to be with her as she gets older? Or is the delectable Mr. Wallaker, her son's PE teacher, a better option? Whatever happens, it could only happen to Bridget.
When the initial reviews started pouring in I was more then my fair share of nervous. Bridget had been off the scene for years, and while Helen Fielding may have started this subgenre, she has some stiff competition these days. Thankfully all my doubts were cast aside and Helen Fielding threw down the gauntlet and showed me that not only has she still got it, but there's a reason all other authors want to emulate and be her. She is the queen of Chick Lit, long may she reign! She has obviously grown and matured as an author, her dialogue is wittier, if sometimes a bit crasser, but priceless when the children speak, her situations more humorous, I now rate everything in my life by the standard of, if I haven't eaten a page of grated cheese for a meal, my life is good, and she made a book that switched up Bridget's life but evolved her while still being the same girl we loved. Though I won't forgive Helen Fielding for all the head lice in this book, my scalp is still itching!
Now to tackle the elephant in the room. The spoiler that broke and had fangirls weeping and angrily taking to twitter. Mark Darcy is dead. When I heard this I was willing to hold my comments till I had actually read the book. I remember years back when the second Bridget Jones movie came out, yes, the atrocious one that makes me cringe to even think about it, and they asked Colin Firth about the possibility of a third movie. His comment was perhaps the germ that planted Darcy's death in Helen Fielding's mind. He said that "really puncturing the fairy tale completely might be a way to take it." Not having things work out, not having a happily ever after per se for Bridget and Mark is how Colin saw success for the franchise, and you know what? He was right. Bridget and Mark as a couple would have been a book that wasn't true to Bridget. He was her rock, her center, her everything. Bridget was a different person with Mark. But take Mark away... and we have the Bridget we've always known and loved. A little sadder, a little older, but still Bridget. This could not have been possible without Mark's death. Darcy had to die.
Though the death of Darcy has led to one issue I do have with the book. Everyone in Bridget's life feels so bad for her because of Mark's death that they've kind of let her slide as a parent. Bridget really is an atrocious mother. Me judging her is, I know, a bit hypocritical, because a) I don't have kids and b) all parents are just making it up as they go along, like everyone with their own life, only parents have more lives to manage. Oddly enough the humor factor and the joy I got out of this took the sting out of her bad parenting, I'm just glad that she isn't my mother or like any of my friends who are mothers.
I think that is why the ultimate love interest works, because Mr. Wallaker constructively helps and knows, because of his own suffering, that Bridget can get through this. As for the happily ever after, while I still find it a little odd that the HEA was pulled off at the last minute, much like the first book, and they haven't spent much time together, much like the first book, and they are in love out of nowhere and it's Christmas and it's the end, much like the first book... it all works out. I really hope that this is Bridget Jones's final happily ever after. It ended well, it ended right, and I don't really want to see Bridget Jones the geriatric years... though if this book has taught me anything it's not to doubt Helen Fielding. Though if they do make this into a movie, don't cast Daniel Craig as Mr. Wallaker... that just seemed like too much wishful thinking that was placed in the book specifically for when it hits the big screen... because obviously Bond can replace Darcy... not in my book. Get someone like Philip Glenister, that would make my day. Sigh....more
Bridget Jones might finally have the man of her dreams, but Bridget is still Bridget and a happily ever after ending is hard to achieve when you are very good at self sabotage. Quickly loosing Mark Darcy and one again becoming a love pariah is exactly what you'd expect Bridget to do, and she does it with style. But luckily while her love life might be taking a hit... was that the evil Rebecca with Mark? Bridget's job prospects might be on the rise with a potential interview with none other then the "real" Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth! In Italy of all places! Well... he does live in Italy, but still, it seems so romantic and surely once he's met Bridget he will see that he has found his soul mate... now if Bridget could just get his shirt moistened. Though a vacation that turns into an international scandal might be just what's needed to get Bridget and Mark back together again.
Back to that fateful weekend when I started to devour the Bridget Jones oeuvre (read previous review for the background). I remember driving to Borders to pick up the book and having a run in with the manager. I had had the shit kicked out of me by Samuel Beckett and the manager there, well, he was a pompus jackass if ever their was one and I wasn't going to take his shit. The only joy I get out of Borders going out of business is seeing him sometimes around town in menial positions far below his "highness" at Borders and smiling... yes, sometimes right at him. The fight was a fight I had been having with him for awhile. It's corporate policy and city policy that non-service dogs can't be in stores that sell food, like Borders does with it's cafe. I should note that I have nothing against dogs, aside from severe allergies, but when you're in a bookstore and want to get that copy of Edge of Reason and there's a guy with his dog with a bag of dog poop in one hand and a book in the other... well, you complain. And then you storm out without getting the book... and yeah, things escalate quickly. So besides having the shit repeatedly kicked out of me, getting a copy of this book was an adventure in itself. There were tears.
Bridget herself had an ill advised adventure in Edge of Reason too. That first time I read this book the whole Bridget being arrested for drug possession in Thailand and then becoming queen of the prison overshadowed everything. Well, that and the fact that in the book it says that MI-5 helped Mark... well, MI-5 is for domestic not international disputes, so, this error really really annoyed me. In fact, this scene, which upon re-reading is so short and brief, I can't come to terms as to why it bothered me so much. Maybe it's just the quintessential Britishness of Bridget and her being in Thailand seemed out of place. Or over the years the mildly related second movie has so eclipsed the book in it's badness that upon picking up the book again I realized how fresh and funny it was, unlike the movie which just might be the worst film ever made. It also helps if you are trying to avoid reading the worst Doctor Who book ever written, just saying...
Taking it's plot from Jane Austen's Persuasion, the misunderstandings and the reconciliations hang off this basic spine, but it's the little things I love. The battle with the construction worker, and who hasn't had a worker show up and destroy your house and then disappear into the aether? That Colin Firth interview, seriously, that would be me interviewing Colin Firth! Also, the movie he's promoting isn't actually that bad, a little weird and it was renamed My Life So Far if you want to check it out, you'll learn a lot about curling and sphagnum moss. But it's Bridget's just, well, not obtuseness, but, she's a romantic, so she lives in hope but it is in fact her hopelessness that makes this book such a fun read. Also the whole taking self help books as spiritualism... it really is quite clever and it is a new religion. Long live Bridget Jones, the girl able to turn her problems into a system of belief. ...more
Bridget Jones lives the typical life of a singleton. She drinks too much, eats too much, smokes too much, worries about dying alone, worries about notBridget Jones lives the typical life of a singleton. She drinks too much, eats too much, smokes too much, worries about dying alone, worries about not having a boyfriend, has smug married friends who are no help at all in the self esteem department, and parents that are forever causing issues. If she could just get her act together and find a nice sensible boyfriend. Though that hardly looks to be the case for this year as she has just started seeing her boss, Daniel Cleaver, who is the exact person she meant to stop fantasizing about this year... then there's Mark Darcy, the man her parents wish she would start dating. A man she finds quite odd and off putting, at least at first. With emotional ups and downs like her yo-yoing weight, Bridget has her year cut out for her.
Back in 2001 things for me were rough. They were going to get far worse that summer, but at the time I didn't know that. I really needed an escape and Colin Firth was about to show me the way. The movie Bridget Jones's Diary might not have ever registered on my radar if not for Mr. Darcy. Knowing that it was based on a book, and you all being familiar with my tendencies, I just had to read it and picked up the tie-in. The book sat languishing for a little while. I was in the middle of a theatre production of Endgame that was about to end very dramatically with the Beckett estate shutting it down and confiscating the playbills, photographs, scripts... you see, Beckett has some very sticky rules that you have to abide by his vision, so no cross gender casting, no "interpretations," it's as he wrote it or you'll find yourself never getting to see your name in a playbill as "properties master" for the first time. The weekend that was to be our big opening instead became a bit of a wake and I needed something, anything, to distract me. I picked up Bridget Jones's Diary.
I powered through the first book, ran to Borders, powered through the second book and then took to the internet to learn more about this new genre I had just stumbled on, Chick Lit. It was kind of an avalanche after that, with me ordering Helen Fielding's other books, looking at the Amazon recommendations, finding other authors, you get the picture. Helen Fielding, besides being deemed the progenitor of this literary subgenre by others, was quite literally the starting point for me as well. If you don't view Helen Fielding as the doyenne of Chick Lit, we might just as well stop talking right now. With the newest installment of Bridget's adventures about to hit shelves this past fall I knew that it was time to reacquaint myself with Miss Jones. What's interesting is that, well, I didn't love it as much as I did. Perhaps it's just that others have taken off from where she started and done bigger and better since, so therefore this was a bit flat. Also, is it just me or is Daniel Cleaver a real dick? I wonder if somehow over time Hugh Grant and his ability to be a letch with also still being cute has worked it's way so far into my mind that I forgot the truth of the book. Daniel Cleaver is a dick.
I think in fact that the movie is the more successful of the two incarnations of this story, which is the exact opposite for the second. The movie hammered out issues and some of the unrealistic situations. That is what strikes me most as annoying in the book, things that are unrealistic, but not funnily so. Bridget's mum and her men. Bridget and her unrealistic weight issues. Now here I want to be clear, it's not the struggle with her weight I object to, nor her horrific eating habits, but the fact that using a BMI index, Bridget would have to be shorter then 5'4" (which is oddly how tall Renee Zellweger is) to be fat for the weight listed... do I think she's that short? No. I think that Helen Fielding needed to do her research here a little better. That or she totally has some sort of eating disorder herself and has bizarre expectations, which I think is best summed up when Tom asks Bridget that doesn't she need 2,000 calories a day to live?
Also, the deus ex machina of Bridget and Mark. They barely have contact or talk in the book and at the end he swoops in, fixes everything and they whisk off to a hotel and declare their love for each other. Excuse me? I know this whisking of to a hotel and happily ever after is kind of a trope of the genre, it even happens in the first Shopaholic book by Sophie Kinsella... but there needs to be some development to get to that point. Sure we KNOW they are destined to be together, that doesn't mean that you just put them together at the end because it's the end... sigh. I think I'm going to go watch the movie again instead of thinking about this anymore.
Actually, one more thing... the graphic designer in me CAN NOT be silenced. I bought this lovely Penguin edition, because, I mean, seriously, this is a lovely cover, even if Bridget is a little too svelte in my mind. But there's a big problem with how the front flap's illustration looks when you're reading. A picture is worth a thousand words... so here's a picture...
Here's the cute illustration, love the banner of "No Emotional Fuckwittage."
Now here's what you see when you're reading... yes, it does look like a boob is starring at you. It's very off putting. Now I have nothing wrong with boobs, I have two of them. But do I want one starring at me while I'm trying to read? No thank you. Also, now my mom won't stop laughing after I showed her this as the definition of bad illustration placement......more
Clemmie's life has been turned on it's head. Everything she took as a given is slowly being taken away from her. Her Grandmother Addie and her GrandmoClemmie's life has been turned on it's head. Everything she took as a given is slowly being taken away from her. Her Grandmother Addie and her Grandmother's apartment on the Upper East Side have always been a safe haven for Clemmie. Yet Addie hasn't been doing well. Clemmie though has been so busy wrapped up in her own world at her law firm that she doesn't realize time is passing by. Soon it might be too late and there is so much Clemmie hasn't asked or forgot to ask her Grandmother. When the family descend for Addie's birthday party Clemmie's Aunt starts dropping weird hints about a deep dark family secret. A secret that spans Addie's childhood and adolescence in England and then her time in Kenya. Could this secret change Clemmie's entire life?
Booked as Out of Africa meets Downton, I can see the marketing ploy... but The Ashford Affair didn't feel like this to me. For those epics there is a distancing between you and the characters. You feel like an outsider looking in. No matter how much you love and care for Denys Finch Hatton or Lady Mary, you are never part of their story. That's where Lauren shines. She has created characters you connect with in a different way. You become part of their story. Reminiscent of the writing style of Nancy Mitford, as you where sitting in the Hons cupboard listening to Linda recount the love of her life, there you are sitting with Addie as she braves the cold outdoor nightclub as she sees herself losing the love of her life.
While I'm sure there are others out there who would disagree with me, and say the marketing is apt, the thing is I'm an Out of Africa hater, so it's a good thing I didn't see The Ashford Affair as such. Also, as to the Downton angle, yeah, ok, but a lot of people are in "Downton Rage" as I'm calling it because of the Matthew debacle, and Downton doesn't have the constant witty banter and humor that Lauren has brought to The Ashford Affair. Downton is an epic soap opera, even if you are one of those people who didn't realize it as such at first, but how else to categorize a show where the heir goes down in the Titanic in the first episode? I mean, come on people! Downton has a lot going for it, but there's a disconnect between that show and this book. Therefore I am rechristening it Alconleigh to Kenya or possibly, Mitfords meet Clueless... still deciding on that one. Either way, Lauren has created characters who you could see spending time with and having a laugh with (PELT!) and enjoying life, verses the epic heart wrenching day to day life at Downton. Not saying that there aren't times when Lauren is ripping out your heart, she just won't leave you dead in a ditch.
I don't think my "Mitford" interpretation is that far off either. Let's look at the evidence, a Bolter, check, either if based on Idina Sackville, or the fictional Mitford Bolter... which may have been based on Sackville or even on Nancy Mitford's sister Diana, the Bolter is key. The elder sister Dodo, a horse and hounds girl, could that be Debo Mitford, the Duchess of Devonshire who likes to write books about her chickens? Then there's Addie... a cousin and an outsider who comes to live in a glorious estate with rather odd relatives while her own parents were in disrepute with the rest of the family, can anyone say Fanny Logan, the narrator of Nancy Mitford's famous trilogy? Lauren herself has said that Nancy's book Wigs on the Green was an inspiration, which was notorious for Nancy's lampooning of her own family and was therefore out of print for many years. Also just the humor fits in more with the Mitfords/Radletts. The scene that brings this out more then any other is when Addie's mouse is set loose by Bea at Dodo's coming out ball. Lauren was able to perfectly recapture a time that, in my mind, was exemplified my Nancy Mitford's writing. Lauren brought that world to life again, and that's a hard feat.
Speaking of time, time is an interesting thing. Though the twenties are a very specific time and place within the last century, it has still developed a timelessness to it. The sepia coloring of passing generations has made it an era we are nostalgic for and romanticize, even though we weren't alive. Maybe that's why we are nostalgic for it, because we didn't live through it. Unlike the late 90s. Having the modern day section set not in the "now" but in the 90s kept drawing me out of the book. Modern references niggled at me and then I was thinking of the weirdest things, like, was their really Lord of the Rings parties in the 90s? I mean, you'd have to be a hard core book nerd to be having the parties, because the first of the movies didn't come out until 2001. In fact, the film had only been filming for two months when the action of this book takes place.
I know this is nit picky, but this is where my mind goes. This is why, while I enjoyed the whole book, the modern sections I was almost skimming. I didn't really care about Clemmie's job travails (another thing, hating the name Clemmie, sounds like the demon Clem from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or phlegm whereas I love the full name Clementine, so just call her by that). Clemmie's job was just a hurtle that kept her from her family, and while it was annoying for her, it was more annoying to me. I know Lauren connects to Clemmie's life of lawyering, I just personally didn't connect. But perhaps I just didn't want to go back to the modern sections of the book because I was reveling in the past. I would have loved it longer and more in depth because I didn't want to leave the past. Not one bit.
One thing can be certain, this book has allayed many worries of mine and I'm sure fears of others. With the inevitable end of Lauren's Pink Carnation series (le sigh) she has proven with The Ashford Affair that she is capable of writing books that I will keep buying. She kept me awake until the wee hours (is that dawn I see?) as I tried to puzzle out the mystery, which I thought I was certain of until, wham. Lauren has definitely got me for the entire span of her literary career, which I wager will be long and fruitful....more
The economic downturn has everyone in England in an uproar. Everyone except Becky Brandon, who instead of looking at it as a problem that is effectingThe economic downturn has everyone in England in an uproar. Everyone except Becky Brandon, who instead of looking at it as a problem that is effecting her family, views it as a way to introduce a new buying scheme at her work. The Look, unbeknownst to the higher ups, and on Becky's say, starts having their really expensive products sent to their customers houses in inoffensive packaging, such as computer paper boxes, so their husbands won't be in an uproar that they are spending when they should be saving. This kind of deceit against ones husband is second nature to Becky, she's been doing it for years. The economic downswing isn't the only problem though. In the past year the Brandons have been unable to find a home and have taken over Becky's parents house, their dinning room table is now her makeup area. Luke's step-mother, who was always more of a mother to him has passed away, and his real mother is now estranged to him. But let's not forget Minnie. Luke and Becky's daughter is a terror, or so everyone thinks. They even get a consulte from TVs super nanny. So instead of dealing with anything that might actually be productive Becky decides to spend all her time and tons of money she doesn't have planning a birthday party for Luke which almost doesn't happen and almost gets people fired, she herself gets put on leave. Becky being Becky, she will somehow pull it all off and be loved by all despite being a truly vile person.
Yes, Becky is a vile person. She lies to her husband, has serious issues that each book sets up as being resolved but then never is. She actually ditches therapy at the end of this book because she is moving to LA, aka, the inevitable next book wherein she will have all of Beverly Hills and Rodeo at her disposal. She takes over her parents house, never thinking that it's an inconvenience. Sure they can't eat dinner at the table, but what's that to Becky's beauty regime? She makes her co-workers and clients complicit in her lies, as well as Luke's employees, almost getting his assistant fired and not realizing that she is crossing the bounds of acceptable behaviour. I am no better than Becky... ok, yes I am, but the problem is I keep picking up these books. WHY!?! I have some sort of compulsion... I don't know if it's like watching a train wreck and I'm just hoping that one of these days everyone will gang up and kill Becky instead of having a big group hug and a spectacular party. Also, how callus does it look to have all the people partying while the banks are collapsing? Becky would still be shopping if London was burning, she couldn't resist a fire sale....more
There's only so many times you can throw yourself at someones feet till you start to fall for the owner ofsaid feet. Augustus has been throwing himselThere's only so many times you can throw yourself at someones feet till you start to fall for the owner of said feet. Augustus has been throwing himself at the feet of the Pink Carnation for some time now. Working with her as an undercover agent in Paris and using his horrible poetry to foil the French has made him invaluable to the British, but really, he only wants to be invaluable to one person; Jane, the Pink Carnation. Despite his flowery poetry that goes beyond the ridiculous, his sentiments of love are becoming more and more true. Jane though does not share these sentiments. She would gladly play matchmaker though.
Emma Delagardie is an American living in Paris. She spent most of her life in France, going to school with Napoleon's stepdaughter, then marrying a man whom she didn't quite get. Widowed young, she flung herself back into life, even making a few mistakes along the way in the form of Georges Marston. Yet her new favorite pastime is heckling Augustus. She is ever by the side of Jane and Augustus is ever by Jane's feet... he makes a very logical target. Jane thinks though that perhaps Emma's taunting is a deflection of her true feelings for Augustus. Throwing the two of them together to write a masque for Napoleon's house party seems the perfect way to see if these two crazy kids might not find a way to work things out and hopefully foil whatever that wacky emperor is doing next... because declaring himself emperor seems a pretty big step onto the crazy train.
Augustus is perhaps the most beloved character we have been waiting to get his happily ever after. That is after Turnip. I'm sorry Augustus lovers, but Turnip will always be my man, on the plus side, Turnip got his happily ever after so now it's time to spread the love. Ever since this absurd poet flung himself at the feet of the Pink Carnation speculation has been running wild as to whether this would be the man to win the heart of the elusive spy. As is the case in fiction as reality, the course of love never runs smooth. While busy admiring "The Princess of the Pulchritudinous Toes", the Princess's short little American companion heckling him has never left a good impression. She's American, for a start, a little too gaudy, a little too sultry, and a little too much "the Grand Inquisitor for Poetical Excellence, Greater Paris Branch." Emma Delagardie is the perfect foil for Augustus.
Until this book I have always pictured Augustus as one of those over the top, Byronic poets, like Shelley, Byron and Coleridge, but as depicted in Blackadder, laying about prostate in Mrs. Miggins' Coffee Shop half dead of consumption, but with a very puffy shirt on. Never discount the puffy shirt! Aka, a stereotypical poet, which for Augustus is the perfect disguise. Lauren does a wonderful job though of showing what playing this stereotype for so long might do to ones mind. Like all deep undercover agents, sometimes it can be too much, and sometimes you just can't get away from the bad rhymes, even in your head. I felt an empathy towards August and his muddled mind. Are his feelings for Jane even real, or has the job just fully taken over control of his senses. He is far more tragic and dark than one might expect... a true romantic poet, not just some parody.
The bubbly Emma as Augustus' counterpoint was perfect. She too has inside turmoil, but there's an exuberance about her that is undeniable. I kept trying to think of petite blond Americans who could due her justice, seeing as I always cast books in my head for my dream miniseries. I thought Kristen Bell would be good, but for some reason that wouldn't stick. The initial spark in my mind was Bernadette from The Big Bang Theory, and you know what, I think Melissa Rauch is Emma. The way she has that bubbly way of speaking, but then her happy smile can freeze and all of a sudden there is menace and you are very afraid. I think she is Emma. The facade and the interior, the whole shebang if you will. I got a "Bang" joke in, yeah!
The only flaw this book has, which can be said of all the books in this series, is once the couples are paired off, they rarely make a return performance. They are forever relegated to supporting or cameo roles. I think perhaps a sequel or two might one day be in order... the love I have for these characters just can't be contained to one book and then a shout out. Even when the wicked Georges Marston makes a come back, having been MIA since book once, it gives me a thrill. Ah Lauren, you have created a world I love to visit, and a new book once a year is never enough....more
Charlotte Kinder is still wondering how it went wrong. She dedicated her life to her family. Now she's single again and her husband James will soon beCharlotte Kinder is still wondering how it went wrong. She dedicated her life to her family. Now she's single again and her husband James will soon be married the a woman named Justice. How is that just? To be single again at her age is something she never thought would or could happen. Thankfully due to her brains, and her Internet start-up company, she's not exactly hurting for money. But what does that matter. She doesn't know who she is without James. Finding an old bucket list from when she was a teenager she realizes how many dreams she had that where abandoned by an early marriage and pregnancy. The list is unrealistic, Kilimanjaro, really? But what about the part about reading all Jane Austen's books? That was something that she didn't even have to leave the house to do.
Reading the works of Jane Austen is the first time she has truly felt anything in a long time. Realizing that she has the money and the time to take a vacation, Charlotte thinks she would like to go to England and walk in the steps of this great author to hopefully recapture some of those feelings Austen has reawakened. Then she hears about Pembrook Park... an immersive Austen experience. She wouldn't be walking in Jane's footsteps, she would be living in her world! Arriving at the park she meets a motley crew, from the strict proprietress, Mrs. Wattlesbrook, to the Englsih songstress Alisha, ill and in disguise as Miss Gardenside, with her ever present nurse, Mrs. Hatchett, as well as the guest in permanent residence, Miss Charming. But what about the men? There's the exuberant Colonel Andrews, the Rochester like Mr. Mallery, and the actor who is to play her brother, Eddie. Because Charlotte has left her life behind and is now Mrs. Cordial, the widowed bell of Regency England. Even if Charlotte just learned what Regency means...
A relaxing stay doesn't seem in the cards. The drunken and decidedly modern dressed husband of Mrs. Wattlesbrook makes an appearance. But an interruption into the verisimilitude isn't so troubling as the ghost stories and mysteries that start to weave through the house. Dead nuns and ghosts and secret rooms and fire. Charlotte stumbles on a corpse, but was it really there, was it Bloody Murder? Could Charlotte be next?
For those familiar with Pembrook Park from Hale's previous jaunt into Austenland, you are in for a complete 180. Instead of the romance and comedy of manners, much like Austen's Pride and Prejudice, her we have the Austen of Northanger Abbey. The laundry list that might be a plaintive cry for help. The tone is set quite early by Charlotte, who, upon first seeing Pembrook Park, thinks "this is the sort of house were murders happen." She isn't far off. With a far more Bronte-esque man set aside for her, this isn't going to be all longing gazes and secret rendezvous. Instead Charlotte will be sizing everyone up in the drawing room and making lists of suspects.
Quite a suspect list it is, with some familiar faces returning, in fact, after her last stay, Miss Charming has never left, instead moving into the park full time. Also, Mrs. Wattlesbrook's husband, who was booted out of the house because of an incident in Austenland, shows he's even more of a villain than previously thought. Also, the new characters are interesting, though I think with Miss Gardenside is badly timed. She is very much of the Amy Winehouse/Lily Allen persuasion... and, well... things didn't really turn out well there. Not that Hale was to know writing this book way in advance of Winehouse's death.
While I found the change of tone and the recurrence of characters fun, feeling at times like my favorite movie, Clue, there was one problem I had. A problem that often happens in murder mysteries. Why does the heroine always have to be in danger? Not just once, but repeatedly. The same scenario played out over and over and over. The inner monologue trying to justify what was really going on and always second guessing herself. I did like how the red herrings Hale laid out did lead me down a few dead ends, but once it was all solved... there was not enough rapidity in the conclusion. A drawn out ending can be the killer of a book and this ending did bring it down a full star rating. If I where Charlotte I wouldn't have second guessed, I would have called the police immediately and had done with it. Why do people have to figure things out for themselves before calling the proper authorities... I mean, I'm sure I might make the same mistake, but I'm hoping that after all the horror films and mysteries I've been exposed to I wouldn't be so dumb....more
Review to come... but while I enjoyed it, I think it was more just diversion, because what the charaters do in this installment make them not only annReview to come... but while I enjoyed it, I think it was more just diversion, because what the charaters do in this installment make them not only annoying, but kind of reprehensible.
Becky Brandon is pregnant and now has two to shop for. But being pregnant means not just having the right clothes, the right house and the right stroller, it means having the right doctor. By some miracle, Becky is able to finagle the stars to align to leave the doctor who delivered Luke into the world to get Venetia Carter. The hottest obstetrician. Delivering the babies of Bond girls and throwing to-die-for parties for the "yummiest mummies." She happens to be Luke's ex. She happens to want him back, or so Becky is convinced. So besides dealing with her raging hormones and trying to get the house of her dreams, get herself into Vogue's "Yummiest Mummies-to-be" article and a husband who is working on a very iffy merger she now has a Doctor she can't trust. The distrust leads Becky to not only hid more than just her receipts and credit card bills from Luke, but to also hire a PI to tail him. By the time Becky's water breaks will she be able to miraculously pull her life back together and fix everything before she cocks it all up in the next installment? Most likely she will in the most far fetched unlikely manner possible, because logic, reality and restraint are not words in Becky's vocabulary.
Why I found this book entertaining is beyond me. Becky is at her lowest most despicable and reprehensible. Yes, she is despicable. Setting a PI on your husband should end any marriage. It shows a lack of trust that is fundamental to that partnership that whether or not cheating happened, shows that the two of you should not be together. You shouldn't end up being thanked by your husband because of some lame deus-ex-machina! The profligate spending is not abated, the lessons learned at the end of each of the previous four books have been thrown away. How can someone be so dim and dumb. Why are Becky and Luke together? Really? I know it's chick lit so I shouldn't take it seriously, but COME ON! There is no chemistry, Luke is as dull as a pile of rocks and Becky is as dumb as them... oh wait, I think I might have stumbled onto something. They are rock kin! Too dense and to dull to get anyone better. By the next book she'll be too stupid to stop spending and he'll be too stupid to view it as a problem. But it's a book to pass a few hours by and to be thankful that this isn't your life. ...more
Laura Horsley (yes, the heroine's name is the least romantic most equine name there could be) is being made redundant at the bookstore she loves. NotLaura Horsley (yes, the heroine's name is the least romantic most equine name there could be) is being made redundant at the bookstore she loves. Not because the bookstore is logically closing due to the harsh realities of publishing, just because the store's owner Henry wants to retire. This book loving introvert starts throwing caution to the wind and saying things she'd never have said if her life wasn't being uprooted. She's not rude, she just speaks her mind, which brings her to the attention of a literary agent at the store, Eleanora. Eleanora likes to scheme. And she has just the scheme for this little bookworm. How would Laura like to run a literary festival? She'd just have to convince the most recluse author on the planet, Dermot Flynn, to leave his secluded village in the west of Ireland and come to England. Sure, no problem, seeing as he won't even do an event 5 miles from his house... With her new bff Monica, lead singer of a swing and nostalgia band in tow, off they go to Ireland. After much alcohol, Laura decides that it's a great idea to loose her virginity to the author she has worshiped since college in order to secure his appearing at her festival. Problem is, the next day she doesn't remember what happened. This shy little girl now has to get up the courage to ask this literary lion if they slept together.
Even if they didn't, Laura still wishes to, because she realizes, after now meeting the man, she's in love. She tries to deny her feelings by throwing herself into her work on the festival and subsequently her work in a writing course she's helping Dermot with, but all her work having the ring of Dermot doesn't help to distract her much. But while she may be ignoring her feelings for a certain man, she is embracing her dream of becoming an editor. Laura has finally broken into the rarefied book world and she has a bright future ahead, despite how gloomy her parents are about it. Now if she can just ignore Dermot forevermore and mend her broken heart, then life could be peachy.
Part of me wants to know if this was all some big joke. A book about a character aspiring to be an editor should have logically had an editor itself. The grammatical errors, typos and sentences that just plain didn't make sense, ran rampant through this book. Several times I thought, I should put this down, and then didn't. It really doesn't matter that I finished, it feels like a book I've read a hundred times before, only less original. It's riddled with cliches of the genre and peopled by unlikable characters in stupid situations. There's the wallflower, who obviously is virginal, her bff, the extrovert rocker chick and her other bff, the gay boy. Then add in the dollop of Darcy sex appeal with Dermot and wait to get them together. Once together, break them up for a stupid reason and in the climax get them back together with all problems surmounted. Ug. And ironically, I was in the mood for some really good chick lit. This my friends, is not good chick lit. Laura becomes an extrovert through the heavy and liberal application of alcohol. So girls, remember, to get the guy, start drinking whisky by the tumbler full! The two writers Veronica and Anne who show up to the literary festival are the only reason this is two stars. They are star one and star two, the rest of the book is a zero. Plus, I was once more lured in by a cover. There is NOTHING in the book that that cover relates too! Skip it, that's my advice of the day, seeing as it's going straight into my sell pile. I can only be grateful I picked this up used... and now I know why such a new release was at Half Price Books... ...more
Becky might have changed her name from Bloomwood to Brandon, but other than that things seem eerily similar. She miraculously pulled off not one, butBecky might have changed her name from Bloomwood to Brandon, but other than that things seem eerily similar. She miraculously pulled off not one, but two, dream weddings, and is now basking in the glow of an ill earned year long honeymoon traveling the globe with her husband Luke. Of course, Becky being Becky, she's secretly buying "mementos" everywhere they go... even if Luke said he didn't want the giant giraffes, he'll surely regret it once they're settled back in London. A christening announcement from Suze makes Becky realize just how much she has missed in her time abroad and Luke and her decide to cut their sojourn short. With a stop off in Milan, Becky maxes out her credit card on "the" fashion accessory of the moment, an Angel Bag, and makes a promise she might not be able to keep to a thuggish, yet oddly fashion conscious man, Nathan Temple, who aids her in the bags procurement. Once home Becky feels out of joint. Her parents are not thrilled to see her, Suze has a new best friend to go with her two new babies, and Luke is back at work and has reverted to the workaholic he was before. Plus, what is she to do with the lorries full of honeymoon mementos... she really didn't think she bought that much?!? With a little help from eBay, she's able to declutter, but then there's all those vintage coats that could be bought with her succesful sales, instead of paying off her bills... But once her parents drop the bombshell that she has a sister, everything else seems insignificant. Of course a sister with whom she has nothing in common, who despises shopping and who doesn't want Becky in her life could be a bit of an obstacle. But when things hit their lowest, it's to her new sister, Jess, that she seeks help. If Jess is willing that is...
I started reading this series last year due to the hype of the coming film coupled with the desire for some good chick lit. The books are light, fluffy and totally lacking in substance, in other words, what you expect from chick lit and a worthy successor to Bridget Jones. But I think, perhaps, I've had enough of Becky Brandon, nee Bloomwood. The first two books were fun and amusing watching Becky and her addictive personality successfully claw her way out of the pits of compulsive buying. But by the third book, she's not just hurting herself, but manipulating others... how she pulled off the two weddings seemed contrived and also not fair, she really didn't deserve a happy ending. At this point the books turned in a new direction, a tad more unbelievable and mean spirited. Plus, is anyone surprised that she's back to her old ways? Each book has an epiphany moment followed by her vowing to change. But by the next book she's back to her old ways. Becky is a cycler... she will never change!
It's this lack of growth that pisses me off, you'd think she'd learn something? But this time around things seem even worse and her marriage seems in jeopardy because of her old tendencies coming back to the front. Becky and Luke are the mismatched lovers that we're supposed to root for. But Luke is a workaholic who is abrasive and not very nice in this installment, looking down on Becky, the woman whom he supposedly loves but won't take advice from, while Becky is the same, self deluded Becky. These ill matched, mistaken fools, who don't seem to respect or understand each other, really grated on my nerves. Neither changes yet they expect the other to. I'm really curious as to what makes them likable? I finished reading them because they are diverting, but diverting like a train wreck. Eventually you reach the end of the line, and I think they have with me. Bye Becky and Luke... have fun with that baby you've got in the oven, it's sure to be messed up by the two of you! ...more
Again, another fast read, still a bit too Bridget Jones in parts, but this one had an overall plot and was certainly better than the first, though I sAgain, another fast read, still a bit too Bridget Jones in parts, but this one had an overall plot and was certainly better than the first, though I still want to smack the characters occasionally and go duh!...more