Tag Archives: women’s fiction

Book #72 – Attachments

8909152My third Rainbow Rowell book, this one is aimed more at adults, but is of similarly high quality to her YA offerings.
Rowell, it seems, can do no wrong – she won Best Fiction at the GoodReads choice awards this year for Landline (which is still on my to-read list) and is a generally beloved doyenne of YA realism – on tumblr I regularly see posts which say that Rowell just ‘gets’ what being a teenager is like.
I wasn’t worried, then, when reading Attachments, that I was going to get something trite or untrue to life. I maybe should’ve been, though.

Attachments – Rainbow Rowell

“Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you . . . ”

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now- reading other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say . . . ?

I am, generally, a huge fan of epistolary novels. I loved Jaclyn Moriarty’s Ashbury/Brookfield books with a passion (still do), and Where Rainbows End remains my favourite of Cecelia Aherne’s books (meaning that I’ll probably end up going to see Love, Rosie at some point soon). Attachments is a sort of semi-epistolary novel, with Jennifer and Beth’s emails interspersed with traditional prose narration, which made for an unusual (although still entertaining) reading experience. I’m sure there are other semi-epistolary novels out there, but none are coming to mind as I think right now, so I’m giving points for originality to Rowell there.

However, the premise of the novel, that Linc is reading Beth and Jennifer’s emails, and falling in love with Beth in the premise, is sadly the most original part of the book, with the rest of it being decidedly lacklustre.
It’s several months since I read this book, and honestly, I’m struggling with details. I recall Lincoln being desperately awkward, and a mildly amusing case of Beth’s emails about Lincoln being read by him, but it certainly wasn’t a book to set ablaze any burning passions for Rowell’s writing.

Nothing wrong with this book, not at all. I quite enjoyed reading it. However, there wasn’t anything really brilliant about it either – it remains one of many women’s lit novels I read this year, and doesn’t do anything to push itself ahead of the pack.

Three Stars
***

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Books #97 and #101-104 The Sisterhood Series

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Full Series The Sisterhood series is one of those series of books which both my sisters and I all ready – so much so, that I’m not actually sure which books belong to whom in the series. The first four sisterhood books were a complete arc, four books, four girls, four summers, and they resolved (or so I thought) the YA series which I was so fond of (although I always felt that Lena got shafted with the same storyline four times). So I was surprised when, last year, having discovered GoodReads, I realised that there was a fifth sisterhood book. It’s set ten years after the fourth one, and it promised some drastic changes…

In any case, I’m starting at the end, when I should start at the beginning!
The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
The Second Summer of the Sisterhood

Girls in Pants
Forever in Blue
Sisterhood Everlasting – all by Ann Brashares.

The Sisterhood series follows four very different girls, who are the best of friends since birth. Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget were all born within seventeen days of each other, their mothers meeting at an aerobics class. The summer they all turned sixteen, the first they would ever spend apart, they found a pair of magic pants, which fit all four of them – from Tibby’s short stature to Lena’s classic Greek beauty, Carmen’s Latina ass to Bridget’s athletic build – not just fit them, but made them all look beautiful. Clearly a sign, the pants were what would hold the four of them together over their summer, passed between the girls like a magic bonding, a tangible sign of their sisterhood.
Over the first four sisterhood books, all of which are classed as YA fiction, we see the girls grow up, fall in love, have sex, make friends, lose friends, lose family members, gain family members, start college, find their callings, and stick closely to their September sisters.
The fourth book was published in 2007, when I was sixteen (although I was probably seventeen by the time I read it), and I considered the series done, a happy reminder of something my sisters and I shared, sitting in Sinéad’s bookcase. I enjoyed them all, although I considered Forever in Blue the weakest of the four, and would happily recommend them to anyone. I even had the first film on DVD, although I never managed to watch the second.

So I was surprised when, last year, I realised that there’s a fifth Sisterhood book. Called Sisterhood Everlasting, it’s set ten years after the fourth book, and the Septembers have grown apart. Living different lives, they’re called back together by Tibby sending them tickets to a holiday on the Greek island of Santorini, which played such a big part in their sisterhood before. But on their trip, the girls don’t realise that their lives will change forever.

Because it had been so long since I’d read the first four books, and I was home anyway, I read books 1-4 while I was home in Ireland during August. Sisterhood Everlasting, then, I had on my Kindle, and read on the plane home.

I’m not gonna go too much into the story of it, because I’m not keen on spoilers. Looking back completely neutrally, as far as plot and character development go, I should probably have given it a lower rating than I did. A few of the girls seem stuck in the same ruts that they’ve been in for the last thirteen years (for the LOVE OF GOD, Lena and Kostos) and poor Carmen gets shafted once again when it comes to romance, plus Bridget seems to be the same kind of madcap girl she was when she was sixteen, prone to running away as soon as things get tough. But, that said, perhaps people don’t really change that much from when they’re teenagers to when they’re nearly thirty – I’m not nearly thirty yet, so I am no authority on the subject.

At the time, I really enjoyed Sisterhood Everlasting. Looking back now, I could certainly pick holes in it, and make criticisms, but as an experience, catching up again with the Septembers (although very shortly after the last time I had read the first four books), learning what they had been through in the ten-year interim (turns out, not much…) and going through a tumultuous time when they found their sisterhood again, I thoroughly enjoyed it (and cried buckets).
As a standalone novel, perhaps Sisterhood Everlasting wouldn’t have gained such a high rating from me, but it certainly was a lovely, poignant, and beautiful addendum to a series which I thoroughly enjoyed when I was younger, and did again when I read it last month. Overall, I would have no hesitation in recommending the Sisterhood to any of my friends, or my sisters (although they’ve obviously already read them).

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Girls in Pants
Four Stars
****

Forever in Blue
Three Stars
***

Sisterhood Everlasting
Four Stars
****

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Book #4 – The Husband’s Secret

secretReaching back all the way into the ether, to book #4 of this year, a Christmas present from a good friend of mine, we come to The Husband’s Secret.

Having seen it in bookshops in the leadup to Christmas, the evocative butterfly in the jar on the front, combined with the tantalizing tagline, led me to putting it on my ‘I Want’ list, and I was fortunate enough to receive. The first Liane Moriarty book that I had read, to the best of my knowledge, it certainly won’t be the last.

The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

From Goodreads:

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died…

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .
Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses—and, ultimately, ourselves

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. A little scandalous, a little unbelievable at times, certainly pushing the boundaries of coincidence, but throughout the day or two it took me to read it, I was certainly taken on a ride through the lives of three Australian women.
I read a lot of books of this flavour, the Picoults, the Chamberlains, the Susan Lewis – women’s fiction with a twist of the melodramatic, a huge, life-changing event and the moral dilemmas which follow.
This book was certainly not the best of that bent that I’ve ever read – certainly Picoult at her peak and Chamberlain at her best would blow Moriarty out of the water, but that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy this book. It was certainly more interesting than some of Picoult’s earlier offerings, which hadn’t quite developed the intense saturation of issues which keeps me so gripped.

The Husband’s Secret isn’t a book which would make it on to my favourites list, and maybe not even a book which I would read again, but I would happily recommend it to another, in that it was a solidly written book with a salacious twist of scandal and moral dilemma in it. I found the characters difficult to like at times, and felt that the ending was a little ~too~ unbelievable, particularly the nugget of information thrown in at the end, but still happily give this book a solid rating.

Three Stars
***

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Book #7 – The Flavours of Love

The-FLAVOURS-OF-LOVE-HB-654x1024Dorothy Koomson is probably one of my favourite authors. From the minute I read My Best Friend’s Girl, I was hooked on her eloquent prose, beautiful characterisation, and strong leading ladies. I categorise her books into two ‘flavours’ essentially, her earlier books being slightly more light-hearted than her later offerings, which deal with some heavy themes, but invariably with great skill and a delicate touch. So it’s no surprise that I was happy to receive her latest offering for Christmas (although it has taken me eight months to actually get around to reviewing it)

The Flavours of Love – Dorothy Koomson

‘I’m looking for that perfect blend of flavours; the taste that used to be you. If I find it, I know you’ll come back to me.’
It’s been 18 months since my husband was murdered and I’ve decided to finish writing The Flavours of Love, the cookbook he started before he died. Everyone thinks I’m coping so well without him – they have no idea what I’ve been hiding or what I do away from prying eyes. But now that my 14-year-old daughter has confessed something so devastating it could destroy our family all over again, and my husband’s killer has started to write to me claiming to be innocent, I know it’s only a matter of time before the truth about me and what I’ve done is revealed to the world.

My name is Saffron Mackleroy and this is my story.

I make no secret of loving Dorothy Koomson’s books. They’re just really good, really interesting, really good to read, and a gorgeous portrayal of human life. The Flavours of Love is no different.

Saffron, the main character in The Flavours of Love, is still dealing with the murder of her husband eight months previously when her daughter reveals that she’s pregnant, leading to a whole host of new questions regarding who the father of her baby is, what she’s going to do about the pregnancy, and how this happened.
Saffron not only has to help her teenage daughter through this difficult time, she also has to deal with the fact that the woman who killed her husband is now writing to her claiming her innocence – and that she loved Saffron’s husband more than Saffron herself did.

The Flavours of Love is a complex, dark, gripping and poignant story which weaves together multiple threads of life into a beautifully written and intriguing narrative in which the reader questions everything as the book hurtles towards its gripping and emotive conclusion.

I’m a huge fan of Koomson’s work, and The Flavours of Love is a strong addition to her portfolio, at times sweet and at times terrifying, but always gripping.

Four Stars
****

 

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Books #83 & 90 – After the Wedding/One Summer

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13553785I made a booboo with these books – I read them the wrong way around. One Summer takes place two years before After the Wedding, on the same small island of Roone, off the west coast of Ireland, and with largely the same cast of characters. That meant that I knew most of the major plot points of One Summer before I even picked the book up. Happily, though, that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it.

One Summer – Roisin Meaney
After the Wedding – Roisin Meaney

On Roone, an island off the west coast of Ireland, stands a stone cottage by the edge of the sea. The locals are convinced that it brings luck to those who live there and Nell, its current owner, is certain there’s something to it. After all, it drew her back to the island from Dublin and it brought her Tim, her fiancé, whom she’s set to marry in a few short months.
So when Nell decides to rent out the cottage during the summer to raise money for her wedding, deep down she hopes that it will work its magic and attract the right tenants to her home.
But as the summer unfolds and Nell’s carefully-laid plans for her wedding start to go awry, she begins to question her decision to let out her beloved cottage.
As the arrival of each of the tenants brings about unexpected change to the lives of the islanders, Nell is forced to face some home truths about herself and answer one increasingly burning question . . .
One thing’s for sure, it’s a summer on the island that nobody will ever forget.

I really enjoyed both these books. They were nice, fluffy, summery reads about a little community of Irish people living off the west coast of Ireland on an island with a little bit of magic in everything that happens there. Both books have a large cast of characters with a lot of overlap between the two.
There’s not much to complain about with Meaney’s writing – it’s nice and easy to read, her characterisation is good and fleshed out, if at times a little predictable. The motivations are believable, and the little touch of Roone magic adds a little something to everything she writes.
The first book, One Summer, is divided into time periods – at first, months, then when it comes to summer, into the two-week chunks of the lodgers. While it makes sense for the story progression, I found that it made the book a little hard to read at times, and it felt like it needed breaking up into smaller chunks.
I also don’t like Meaney’s constant POV-switching, where you can’t always tell who is talking to whom (although at times that’s deliberate). Two little jarring things which make two otherwise very pleasant and enjoyable books just that little bit less.

Still, though, decent marks for each.
One Summer – Three Stars ***
After the Wedding – Four Stars ****

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Book #46 – Sisterland

16099180Darren was kind enough to give me this book for my birthday, in April of this year, and I read it not long after – hence the number being in the earlier end of the list. It’s taken me until now to get around to actually reviewing it, though.
Sisterland – Curtis Sittenfeld

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

I was a little disappointed in this book, if I’m quite honest – I thought that it would just be more than it was. There was nothing wrong with this book, per se, it just wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. There wasn’t as much of a deconstruction of the sisterly relationship, there wasn’t very much about the senses that Vi and Kate share, there’s no real coming to terms with the truths about herself that the blurb promised for Kate.
I thought this would be a sweeping, entrancing book about the relationship between two sisters set against a backdrop of a terrible tragedy, but all it really ended up being was a seedy little story of an objectionable, selfish, and really quite disagreeable woman, who doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of her actions. I actively disliked Kate by the end of the book, really. She’s not a very nice character, and her motivations are really just… mean and small.
That’s not to say that it was a bad book, just not a very good one – that’s why I gave it a very middling score.

Three Stars
***

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Books #76 & 77 Before The Storm/Secrets She Left Behind

chamberlain-secrets-behind-synopsis chamberlain-storm-synopsisI like Diane Chamberlain – she’s like a slightly less good Jodi Picoult, but filled with the same flavour of human drama that makes Picoult’s books so compelling. I’ve reviewed one other Chamberlain book on this blog, although I’ve read several more. So when I spotted Before the Storm in a bargain bin at the local Co-op, I picked it up, then the followup book, Secrets She Left Behind, not long after. And now it’s time to review them!

Before the Storm

Secrets She Left Behind

Fifteen-year-old Andy Lockwood is special.

Others notice the way he blurts out anything that comes into his mind, how he cannot foresee consequences, that he’s more child than teenager. But his mother sees a boy with a heart as open and wide as the ocean.

Laurel Lockwood lost her son once through neglect. She’s spent the rest of her life determined to make up for her mistakes, and she’s succeeded in becoming a committed, protective parent – maybe even overprotective. Still, she loosens her grip just enough to let Andy attend a local church social – a decision that terrifies her when the church is consumed by fire. But Andy survives…and remarkably, saves other children from the flames. Laurel watches as Andy basks in the role of unlikely hero and the world finally sees her Andy, the sweet boy she knows as well as her own heart.

But when the suspicion of arson is cast upon Andy, Laurel must ask herself how well she really knows her son…and how far she’ll go to keep her promise to protect him forever.

 

This duology of books was thoroughly enjoyable. Knowing that it was a Chamberlain, I went in expecting a high dose of drama, a misguided decision made in the heat of youth, attempts to protect family members, to put right past wrongs, and a searching investigation of the human condition.

I got everything I was expecting. Angsty teens, first love, arson, familial protection, alcoholism, affairs, revelations about parenthood – it’s all going on. And I loved it! Before the Storm is a part mystery, wondering who set the fire at the church, part love story, and part history of Laurel, which is hugely compelling. Secrets She Left Behind picks up nearly two years after the end of Before the Storm, and focuses on different players in the first book, both going back to the history revealed in Before the Storm, going through the fire from Keith’s point of view, and then following up on what happens in the years following.

Chamberlain books for me would be a guilty pleasure, if I felt in any way guilty about them. The thing is, though, I don’t. They’re over-the-top and melodramatic, and filled with a myriad of issues, as if any one family could have that many secrets and scandals. I absolutely love them for their pure escapism and ridiculousness. These two books are Chamberlain at her best, just realistic enough to be believable, and thoroughly enjoyable. Also, someone was killed by a whale, okay! Magnificent.

Four Stars for both books!
****

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Book #5 – What Alice Forgot

91p5sUgpAQL._SL1500_ I actually read this book because I got ‘The Husband’s Secret (will be reviewed eventually… probably) for Christmas, and the first chapter of this was in the back of the book. Good sales technique, publishers… In any case.
What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty

Alice is 29, married to a wonderful man, and expecting her first child, with the support of her wonderful sister, who is also her best friend. Except she falls and hits her head, and when she wakes up, she’s 39, and in a gym. What’s up with that? She doesn’t even like gyms? She also seems to have morphed into a super-skinny stay-at-home competitive divorced mum with three children, and a sister who no longer likes to talk to her.

Somehow, Alice has to find out where the last decade of her life has gone, how she’s changed so drastically and, most importantly, whether she wants things to stay the way they were, or the way they are now.

This is a pretty light and fluffy novel – a pretty standard chick-lit. I whipped through it in a day or two, and enjoyed it. It wasn’t the most entrancing novel I’ve ever read, and Liane Moriarty, sadly, is not a patch on her sister Jaclyn Moriarty, who wrote the Brookfield/Ashbury novels (which I ADORE), but nonetheless, it’s an easy read.

This book reminded me a lot of Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me?, inasmuch as a kind of nice, average woman suddenly wakes up as a super-woman who’s toned and tanned and basically perfect in every way – except that she’s become a bitch and lost all her friends along the way. My essential issue with both of these books, though, is that the memory loss really removes any accountability on the part of the protagonist for becoming such a super-bitch. They’re stumbling around, bewildered, and wondering why their friends don’t like them, and it’s not their fault, when really, it is her fault. She just can’t remember.

Even so, it was fine – an enjoyable read, and light enough that it was perfect for tripping through on the train into work/uni.

Three Stars
***

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Book #1 – Lone Wolf

lone wolfI got this book for Christmas a few years ago. I would guess, since I was posting that I needed/wanted to read it in September 2012, that Sinéad gave it to me for Christmas 2011. Therefore, it’s shameful that I didn’t read it until early 2014, especially since I had specifically asked her for it.

In any case – I did read it. And now I’m getting around to reviewing it, too!

Lone Wolf – Jodi Picoult

The book centres around the dilemma faced by the family of Luke Warren, who has been in a terrible car crash, and may never wake up. His medical decisions cannot be made by his ex-wife, nor his 17-year-old daughter Cara, thus it falls to Edward, his estranged son, to come back from his life in Thailand, where he has been for the last five years, to decide whether his father would want to be kept alive through extraordinary means.

But this is no ordinary man – Luke spent two years living as a member of  a wolf pack, has survived incredible things before, and Cara cannot agree that he would not want a chance to fight back from this.

Picoult always writes incredibly melodramatic novels. This, Lone Wolf, is no departure from that. It’s also not really a departure from form that there’s a court case with family members or close friends on either side of the court – so much, so usual. But this particular book fell short of Picoult’s normal standards. While I admit that I read Picoult mostly for the melodrama and the investigations of the human condition, this one really wasn’t melodramatic enough for me, but more than that, I don’t think it really did a good job of investigating the motivations and relationships behind and between the characters. Edward, for example, made absolutely zero sense to me.

As usual, there are also secrets rampaging everywhere – it wasn’t hard to figure out why Edward flew to Thailand and never came back the day after he went to confess to his dad that he was gay, meaning that the twist in the tail which I have come to know and love in Picoult novels was really just a flat revelation which anyone with two brain cells to rub together had known for at least two hundred pages.

I generally really like Picoult novels, but for some reason this one fell short of her usual standards.

Two stars
**

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