Commentary: “My (Not So) Perfect Life” by Sophie Kinsella

PerfectFull disclosure: I only sometimes like Sophie Kinsella’s books. I liked Confessions of a Shopaholic, but I loved Can You Keep a Secret?, which was uproariously funny and charming. Confessions, though, was less charming, mainly because of the main character Becky Bloomwood, who often works against her own self-interest, but entertaining, mainly because she rarely lies to herself; she knows what she’s doing is problematic and she recognizes her flaws while dodging her creditors. She lies to almost everyone else, but rarely to herself.

My (Not So) Perfect Life has another problematic character in Katie Brenner, a country girl who lives in London and has just started her career at the bottom at a marketing firm. She lies to everyone, too, courtesy of her fake life that she projects on Instagram. But she doesn’t merely project her lies through Instagram. She lies to everyone for various justifications that she gives ad nauseam: she lies to her friend Fiona because Fiona’s life seems perfect in New York, she lies to her father and her stepmother because she doesn’t want them to be hurt or indignant on her behalf, she lies to people at work about the places she’s been to impress them, but most of all, she lies to herself about who she really is.

Kinsella seems to want us to be more sympathetic to Katie because she’s obviously struggling with her identity. But it doesn’t work. Katie is just as petty and selfish and deluded than even the eventual villains within the story. Her character is not nice, although I think we’re supposed to think she is. Her constant state of envy of those with “perfect” lives becomes an obsession. She is even jealous of a girl who lives with her parents, albeit the girl lives in her fabulous parents’ mansion. But, seriously, the girl wheedles money from her parents instead of relying on herself. Like a CHILD. And Katie is still JEALOUS of the girl’s entitlement instead of PROUD that she doesn’t have to debase herself like that.

In fact, Katie is often embarrassed by all the things of which she should be proud, like supporting herself in a tough city, knowing her budgetary limits and not going overboard (like Becky), and being smart, although insecure. But she’s only 26. What 26-year-old isn’t insecure, especially about her job? Oh, and there’s the job. It’s a crappy research associate position, but she seems to think that after seven months there, she should have been moving up the corporate ladder already.

And there is the fact that she mentions over and over that she’s going to focus on the positive, but this too is a lie. She never does. She only focuses on her bitterness and jealousy, making her totally unlikeable and not the sweet country girl I get the impression Kinsella is trying to create. We’re also supposed to see her as clever and under-appreciated for her talent. But she’s not clever; she a little mean and revenge-y, executing the second meanest revenge plot in the book all because she jumps to the wrong conclusions and reads situations wrong ALL THE TIME. And we’re supposed to forgive her for it.

Full disclosure: (I’m using this phrase because Katie uses it in almost every chapter right after she’s told us a lie, forcing the reader to understand that she lies to us, too. I think Kinsella is trying to create a trust bond between Katie and the reader because Katie eventually tells us the truth after this phrase. So noble!) Her obsessions are RIDICULOUS. First, there’s her obsession with everyone who has anything better than she does (that’s everyone, btw). Then, there’s her obsession with Alex, one of her younger bosses on whom she fixates after one encounter. After four encounters, and none of these a date, I came to the conclusion that she was in love with him, even though she tells us and herself that she isn’t. I told you: she lies to herself and to us, too.

Kinsella tells us there is a reason for all of her lies; Katie had overheard former co-workers making fun of her country accent. Because they laugh at her, I think we are supposed to think she’s justified for lying constantly, but I think this is one of those times where we can pull in T.S. Eliot’s objective correlative—the reason or motivation just doesn’t match the actions that follow.

Even after all of this, though, I found myself unable to put Katie’s story down. I really wanted to know how her train wreck of various lies would end up. HINT and SPOILER: Repercussions are almost nonexistent for her MANY lies. I mean, this is a romantic comedy. You can see where it’s going from about chapter three or four, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see where it landed. So, despite the fact that Katie as a character is what I would call uneven, I finished the book and was entertained, even though mostly I was entertained by either laughing at the absurdities of Katie’s stupidity and eventual dumb luck or railing at Katie that she and real life needed an introduction.

So, would I suggest buying My (Not So) Perfect Life? No way, but if you like Kinsella’s stories in general, I would definitely suggest reserving it from the library. Personally, I got it for free for signing up with Audible, so Yay! that I didn’t waste the money.

That’s all for now, my lovelies. Sorry for the harshness. But full disclosure: It wasn’t a stellar read, but was entertaining on my drive to and from NOLA. So that’s something, I guess.

Ta-ta for now, my dears!

HMichaele

Literary Fiction: Summer Reading 2017

Hello, my lovelies! It feels like it has been forever since I last wrote, but now that I’m finished with grad school and teaching for a while, it’s time to get serious about reading for pleasure. This past year I’ve read A LOT of Shakespeare and composition theorists and not nearly enough romances, mysteries, literary fiction, or young adult novels. I know, GASP!, right?

So here are my choices for this summer’s selection. Will I get to all of these? Doubtful—highly doubtful. And, of course, I’ll add to the list as a book or books strike my fancy, as they inevitably do over the summer time. But for now, here are the main contenders.

Literary Fiction

handmaidI’m starting with literary fiction because I’ve already started The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book has been on everyone’s lips ever since Hulu came out with its adaptation, which I refuse to watch until I’ve read the book. I’m one of those, ya know? Anyway, so far, so good. I’m enjoying the unraveling of this story piece by piece. Oh, and if you’re interested in the audiobook, Book Riot just had a story on audiobooks, and apparently this book’s audiobook is read by Claire Danes, if you prefer audio.

Here’s a list of the other potential stars for 2017:

  1. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  4. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
  5. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler—A holdover from 2016, but it was so popular I couldn’t get it through the library until I was elbows deep in composition theorists for my thesis. ūüė¶
  6. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  7. My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophia Kinsella

Young Adult 

  1. Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  2. Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
  3. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugohillbilly

Nonfiction

1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Rollovers from last year (ahem, and the year before)

  1. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
  2. Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
  3. Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato
  4. Epitaph by Marie Doria Russell
  5. Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  6. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  7. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  8. Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
  9. Fever by Mary Beth Keane
  10. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
  11. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
  12. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
  13. The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer
  14. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

So, now that I’ve developed an impossible-to-meet list for the summer, I guess I’ll get started reading! Until next time, my dears, enjoy your summer books!

Ta-ta for now,

HMichaele

 

Review: “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

the_book_thief_by_markus_zusak_book_coverA little behind the eight-ball here, but I (finally) read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Being a middle school/high school teacher, coming this late to the party is a little bit of an embarrassment for me. EVERYONE I worked with had read this book.

Ha. I’m kidding. Many of them, like the students, mostly just saw the movie. ūüėČ (I haven’t seen it, but I’ll watch it now. You know, to compare and determine that the book is waaaay better, as inevitably happens!)

But I did have a STUDENT who had read it and told me what a great book it was, so I decided to read it over the holiday break.

So, first, I should tell you, at 540 pages, according to my Kindle, it took me a week to read. That’s a long time for me, BTW. Usually, I can read a 350 page book in an evening and night combo. And I had some downtime to read during the day, which never happens when school is in. (Not much mind you! I do have young children! ūüôā )

Anyway, I mention how long it took me to read because…it was a hard book for me to get into, I guess. Usually, if I’m not absorbed with the book within 50 pages, I generally toss it aside for another book. It took about 100 pages for The Book Thief to capture me, but once it did, I was well and truly caught.

“How many had actively persecuted others, high on the scent of Hitler’s gaze, repeating his sentences, his paragraphs, his opus? Was Rosa Hubermann responsible? The hider of a Jew? Or Hans? Did they all deserve to die? The children?

“The answer to each of these questions interests me very much, though I cannot allow them to seduce me. I only know that all of those people sensed me that night, excluding the youngest of the children. I was the suggestion. I was the advice, my imagined feet walking into the kitchen and down the corridor.” —The Book Thief, pages 375-376

In The Book Thief, Death is our narrator, describing his fascination with Liesel Meminger, a German girl during World War II. Now, this was interesting to me. I’ve read plenty of books set during WWII, but never from the perspective of poverty-stricken Germans. Or, rather, from the perspective of Death looking at poverty-stricken Germans. It shows how little control the people of a nation have in the face of a destructively evil government; I had never really thought about the German people before, who are shown here with little power over their own lives during this time. For this interesting perspective alone, I would suggest this book.

But there is more to recommend it. Turns out, that while Death is claiming an obsession with Liesel, he’s really fascinated with the cast of characters that are interwoven throughout her life from the years 1939-1943 in Nazi Germany. Given to a foster family, Liesel encounters characters who are complex and rich in their development—way more complex, in fact, than Liesel herself. She is rather, like Death becomes to us, the curator of these lives—including a man whose empathy defies the Nazis in little ways that he does not even understand, a woman whose outward ferocity and hardness conceals her true compassionate nature, a young Jewish boxer who is forced to hide away while fighting the Fuhrer in his dreams, and a boy whose spirit and vivacity cannot be destroyed by the dehumanizing poverty he (and, in fact, all of the characters) faces. Of them all, that boy, Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s best friend, is by far my, and I think Death’s, favorite.

And, of course, there are the books. Liesel steals them. They become symbols of the significant moments in her life. Not because of what they are about, but  because of the events that made her take them. The books become her memories, her photographs, of those moments, reminding her of those instances, allowing her not only to learn how to read but attach those memories and the people and events to her soul, creating a powerful definition of survival among the destruction that surrounds the poverty-ridden in Nazi Germany.

I will say this. I think this book is the definition of post-modernism. It is told from the perspective of Death, who is tormented by humans and the destruction of WWII. It was painful to read in parts because Death visits concentration camps and others beyond the characters of Himmel Street, Liesel’s home during this period. Plus, it is not told, necessarily, in sequential order. It cuts in here and there with observances from Death and his foretelling of the future of many of the characters.

I’m not going to lie. This book was difficult to read because of its subject matter, and I had to put it down many times to mull over the actions and reactions within the book. But it’s not a book I regret reading. It made me think; it made me cry and smile; it made me want, desperately, to have someone with whom to discuss the book. And, I think that is a hallmark of a piece of great literature, don’t you?

Until next time, my literature lovers,

HMichaele

Oh, and P.S.: There is an additional book thief by the end of the book. ūüėČ

Final Summer Reading List

GracelingSo, here it is. The night before I go back to school, so summer reading is officially over. ūüė¶

This day is always depressing, but inevitable. And you may be wondering: What’s the final tally on my (delusional) summer reading list?

Sooooo…it turns out I deviated. A lot. Here’s the final list of the books I read this summer and to whom I would recommend them.

  1. The Vacationers by Emma Straub. YES! You can read my full review, but everybody who enjoys a great beachy read should check this book out. Because of this book, I’ve been on the waiting list at my local library eBook checkout FOREVER for her newest, Modern Lovers. Only 11 more people ahead of me! Whoo-hoo. ūüėõ
  2. Rhymes with Love series by Elizabeth Boyle. Wasn’t my cup of tea, but read them if you enjoy romances with a lot of friends and family on the peripheral. And if you enjoy gentlemen-of-leisure heroes.
  3. The Romantic by Madeline Hunter. Even though this contained one of my favorite archetypal plots (the hero loves the heroine without her knowing), this just didn’t sit well with me. It was kind of “meh” for me, honestly. Check it out if you enjoy an unrequited love.
  4. Defiant¬†by Pamela Clare. Again, “meh” for me. Not great, but not bad either, really. If you like American historical romances.
  5. Marrying Winterborne. This one upset me, if you’ve read my review. Read it if you’re a fan of Kleypas and plan on reading the next one in the series which the hero will be the son of St. Vincent and Evie, one of romance novels true power couples. If you’ve read a lot of Kleypas (usually she’s AWESOME!), then you know who they are and probably love them.
  6. Kiss Me That Way, Then He Kissed Me, and Till I Kissed You (The Cottonbloom Series) by Laura Trentham. These books truly made my summer romance reading a wonderful experience. Read them if you enjoy Stars Hollow-esque towns with lots of passionate romances. Oh, and Trentham has said that there will be a Christmas novella out in October and more books in Cottonbloom out next year! YAY!
  7. Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh. I really liked the hero and heroine in this one, especially how they realized how much they needed each other. Check it out if you enjoy the hero in love with the heroine resisting.
  8. To Wed a Wild Lord by Sabrina Jeffries. Lots of family interaction in this one with the hero and heroine resisting because of their families’ history. Read it if you enjoy a light-hearted romance with tons of family interaction.
  9. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I like Morton, and this fell in line with her other ancestral mysteries. Read it if you enjoy a decades old mystery and individual self-realization.
  10. Unlawful Contact by Pamela Clare. A escaped convict and a reporter with a past. Yeah, I really liked this one! Read it if you enjoy a little history between the hero and the heroine.
  11. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. I LOVED this¬†Pride and Prejudice redo! I love how publishing houses are redoing oldies with a modern take…most of the time. This one was definitely a keeper for me! I’ve already recommended it to several of my bookish friends! Read it if you love Elizabeth and Darcy!
  12. I did a review of 10 different romances at one point, but the ones I remember are¬†Truth and Beard¬†by Penny Reid,¬†Elle Kennedy’s¬†The Outlaws series, including¬†Claimed¬†and¬†Addicted, and¬†A Rake’s Guide to Seduction by Caroline Linden. Loved them all for different reasons, but you should check them out if you enjoy good books where the characters (especially the heroes) long for the heroine.
  13. Orphan Train¬†by Christina Baker Kline. Great historical fiction piece about orphans who are forced onto a train and marketed as workers to potential families. It has a happyish ending for most of the characters, so that’s a plus to me!
  14. The Raven Boys and¬†The Dream Thieves¬†by Maggie Stiefvater. Pretty decent young adult novel with an interesting concept of magical lines running through the world. I would definitely recommend this series (there are two more that I haven’t read yet) to anyone who likes what young adult authors are doing nowadays! (They are breaking down barriers and creating conflicted characters who make realizations about life and love. And sometimes magic, too. ūüėČ )
  15. What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman. This just couldn’t compare to¬†Orphan Train, even though there are tons of similarities in the more modern characters.
  16. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Okay, I was upset with myself that I had this on my Kindle and hadn’t read it immediately, instead of waiting months. This book was AMAZINGLY descriptive and wonderfully romantic. Read it if you enjoy the whimsy and romance contained within a circus.
  17. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. This was a fantasy with a romance that I didn’t really get. It wasn’t bad, and I want to read the others in the series. But that’s mainly because I liked the side characters more than the main characters in this one. Read it if you like your fantasy with gods and goddesses and a little romance.
  18. Red Queen¬†by Victoria Aveyard. I think I’m a little tired of YA novels that are about a girl being the savior of a people. I think that with the books later in the series, from what I’ve read, the sole heroine savior in this one morphs into dual saviors (at least one of the princes needs to help her save her people), but I haven’t read them yet. (But I will. Eventually.) I did like Aveyard’s love triangle. She knows how to do one right (not like Maas, whom I have a book rant about), but I would have liked for¬†the heroine to have read both political and romantic situations better than she did. I might just need to take a break from fantasy YA. They all seem to go this route, and it’s boring me lately.

So, final tally: Around 13 books read from my (delusional) summer reading list, with around 15 or so that were added at my whim. Not bad, I say. But a little heavy on the romance and young adult genres. I need to branch out more. (I don’t know if this will happen.)

TorchIf you have time, let me know how your summer reading went! I’m reading another from my list right now,¬†Graceling by Kristin Cashore, but again, I think I’m a little burned out on the YA savior heroine books right now because it’s not blowing my mind at all. But¬†A Torch Against the Night¬† by Sabaa Tahir comes out August 30, so I’m hoping that will improve my mood about YA. (Having dual saviors helps, I think!)

Until next time, enjoy the last of your summer reading!

Ta-ta, my friends,

HMichaele

Commentary: “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

NightA stunningly lyrical and compelling novel, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of those novels where I asked myself: How did Morgenstern come up with this idea and execute it so beautifully? It’s one of those books that makes me wish I could write fiction. The book has deep themes, motifs, and deliciously delightful characters. Oh, and a sensual romance where the lovers court by creating dramatic and aesthetically heart-wrenching illusions for each other. Who wouldn’t want to read this novel?

In the late 1800s to early 1900s, Le Cirque des Reves¬†(The Circus of Dreams) arrives unexpectedly. Word of mouth announces its arrival, rather than promotions, and there’s a catch, too. This circus is only open at night. Once inside, everything related to the circus is in monochromatic colors, rather than the usual colorful array in a circus, and the acts are one-of-a-kind, from an illusionist to animal tamers to acrobats. All acts have separate tents, rather than one big top. Children and adults alike are swept by the magic of Le Cirque des Reves, but as suddenly it arrives, it vanishes, leaving disappointment in its wake.

The descriptions of the circus, the sensory details and imagery that Morgenstern uses, made me feel like I was there. I wanted to drink that spiced cider and could smell those candied apples. I wanted one of the “cinnamon whatnots” (19) that were “[l]ayers of pastry and cinnamon and sugar all rolled into a twist and covered in icing”(195). (Seriously, this book was hell on my diet!) The descriptions of the scents alone brought forth childhood flashbacks.

But really, the circus is just the platform for the real magic–the magical competition between Marco Alisdair and Celia Bowen. The competition was set up by Celia’s father, Hector, and his frenemy, Alexander. The rules are unclear to Marco and Celia, with very little information supplied by Hector or Alexander as to how they should play the game. The first part of the novel focuses on Celia’s and Marco’s varying lessons on magic. They both compliment each other, in terms of what they can do and what they can’t. As a venue for their competition, the circus provides them an arena where they can use whimsical imaginings to defeat each other. But with a lack of information on the parts of the mentors, the circus becomes a place where they use their magic to write “love letters” (346) to each other. This is one of the excerpts from a chapter entitled “The Lovers”:

“Standing on the platform in the midst of the crowed, high enough that they can be viewed clearly from all angles, are two figures, still as statues…They stand entwined but not touching, their heads tilted toward each other. Lips frozen in the moment before (or after) the kiss….. Many patrons only glance at them before moving on, but the longer you watch, the more you can detect the subtlest of motions. The change in the curve of a hand as it hovers near an arm. The shifting angle of a perfectly balanced leg. Each of them always gravitating toward the other. Yet they still do not touch.” (224-225)

FABULOUS! This statue’s delicate dance of courtship depicts the relationship of Celia and Marco, who have been forced into their competitor roles, but who unexpectedly want to change the rules of their mentors’ game.

And the descriptions of the clocks, one of the main motifs of the novel that fits well with the thematic concept of time, is well-wrought, such as this description:

“At the center, where a cuckoo bird would live in a a more traditional timepiece, is the juggler. Dressed in harlequin style with a grey mask, he juggles shiny silver balls that correspond to each hour. As the clock chimes, another ball joins the rest until at midnight he juggles twelve balls in a complex pattern” (123).

Like this clock made by Herr Thiessen, a clock maker who is enamored with the circus, many other of Thiessen’s elaborate circus clock creations show up repeatedly at significant moments, as do other implements of time.

So, my dear readers, I would definitely recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for lovers of romance and literary fiction.

Until next time, enjoy the magic that Celia, Marco, and truly wonderful secondary characters create in The Night Circus.

Ta-ta, my lovelies,

HMichaele

Review: “What She Left Behind” by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Left BehindOkay, here’s the deal. I really wanted to like What She Left Behind¬†by Ellen Marie Wiseman. A co-worker suggested it and said she thought it was wonderful. And I did like parts of the novel. Plot-wise it was (mostly) entertaining to the point I wanted to see how the train wreck ended. And you can definitely tell that Wiseman did research into mental institutions and the like. But…I don’t know. It lacked what I perceive to be a larger theme. It has lots of thematic concepts–bullying, women’s rights, mistreatment of those with mental disorders, identity, acceptance–but I think those were smallish themes that certain chapters stressed more than others, never quite encompassing the book as a whole.

The main problem, besides the lack of a well-rounded theme, is the lack of connections between the two main characters, Izzy, a 17-year-old in 1995, and Clara, an 18-year-old in 1929. The idea is good: Izzy, working with her foster parents in an old mental institution, finds the diary of Clara in her steamer trunk. She thinks that by reading this diary, she might be able to understand what makes people insane. Why does she want to know this? Well, she’s in foster care because her mother shot her father in the head with his rifle when she was seven. Awful, right? Her mother’s in jail for the crime, but Izzy has never understood WHY her mother did what she did, because all of her memories of her father are wonderful. Of course, it doesn’t help that Izzy never visits her mother in jail to ask this question, mainly because she fears her inheritance from her mother is going to be insanity.

Sooo, this didn’t work for me. I liked Izzy as a character (mostly). She has faced many struggles in her life and has seemed to come out on top of them. And she faces even more in her new school, where she is bullied mercilessly by the bitch drama queen, Shannon, whose boyfriend wants to be Izzy’s friend.

SIDEBAR: I also had an issue with Shannon. Why would a school let a child run roughshod over an entire school? I mean, I guess it happens, but Shannon even went over the heads of teachers, causing havoc and mayhem in class. In the nineties, this¬†girl would not have frequented school (because she would have been suspended A LOT) or would not have been as popular as she is described. At least, that’s my opinion. And her bullying. Damn. I mean, she was vicious and mentally unstable, and people followed her like puppies, even her boyfriend, Ethan, who becomes friends with Izzy. They all make excuses for Shannon’s behavior, which is absurd.

Anyway, back to Izzy. She was probably my favorite character, honestly. But I didn’t get how reading the journal of a mentally ill patient would help her figure out the cause of her mother’s temporary insanity in killing her father. Of course, she discovers that Clara wasn’t really insane; she was just sent there by vile parents when she disobeyed their edicts.

Then, there’s Clara. *Sigh.* I dislike it when I feel like lecturing a character for not being smart or logical. She really went to go pack a huge steamer trunk when she was running away. That she couldn’t carry. Also, I feel like she, more than she did, should have known her parents and how they would react to her lower-class boyfriend and her rebellion. Everything that happened to Bruno was because Clara couldn’t seem to grasp the concept of: Play the game the way the want you to play it until you have an actual PLAN! Planning was not Clara’s strong suit; rather she acted on instinct and teenage angst. Every time she opened her mouth, I wanted to scream, “Just say what they want you to say until you get out! Then, you can make an actual plan!”

But she didn’t. It was heartbreaking, really. She seemed smarter than her actions showed, and I think that’s what bothered me the most. She again and again made the same mistakes. Plus, would police really take a daughter of a well-respected banker away for disobeying the parents? (Wiseman establishes that Clara’s parents have some kind of vague control over the police because of their wealth.) Would a well-respected banker rather have his daughter in a state mental institution for an indeterminate amount of time? Wouldn’t this reflect badly? Also, where the hell are all of Clara’s friends? Why do they not try to help her? Also, this was 1929. Great depression hits, and there is the perfect excuse from taking Clara from the nice institution she’s in to the hellish one the state runs. Seemed convenient and far-fetched. Oh, and the length of time she’s there? I don’t know if I believe that, either.

And then there was the ending, and a lot of things were tied up in a nice little bow with very little character change. Maybe that’s the problem. These characters don’t seem to CHANGE at all or learn from their mistakes, which is problematic. Don’t we want dynamic characters? I mean, I like characters with flaws, and I understand the irony in making a character so delusional as they never reflect on where they’ve been and what they’ve done, going on with their same mistakes because of indifference or a lack of intelligence or a lack of understanding of the nuances in complex situations. But Wiseman isn’t doing this. I think she’s trying to make both Clara and Izzy reflective, but she never really succeeds.

But maybe I’m looking at this through the lens of Orphan Train¬†by Christina Bake Kline, which was thoroughly researched with believable, dynamic characters, and because of that, I’m judging this one to harshly. Maybe if I hadn’t just read Orphan Train¬†I would really have liked this one.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Should you read it? I do think the historical aspect of the mental institutions is interesting and made me want to look at the conditions of mental patients, then and now, but I don’t know if that will hold everyone’s interest, especially with such frustrating character development.

I guess that’s all for now, my dears. Until next time, I hope you enjoy your reading. And if you pick up or have read What She Left Behind, let me know what you think!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

Commentary: “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline

OrpahnI always forget how much I enjoy historical fiction until I read an exemplary researched work, and it reminds me. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is one of those astonishing works that make me realize exactly how much research and work can go into a novel.

In Orphan Train, Kline introduces us to our two protagonists, Molly, a teenager in the foster care system in 2011, and Niamh, a orphaned Irish nine year old who gets put on the “orphan train” in 1929 so that she can become part of a new family after a tragic fire kills hers.

These orphan trains sound awful, let me tell you. The Children’s Aid Society, a Christian-based society that “helps” orphans, piling orphans from NYC, in Niamh’s case, onto train, making stops at Midwestern or Western train stations. At these stations, the children are offered up to the masses for “free.” To promote the fostering of these children, the social workers say things like they are “‘strong, healthy, good for farm work and helping around the house.'” If we can’t pick up from this announcement what these children are to society in 1929, Molly is conveniently being taught in her history class about indenture servitude. The fact is that while some end up with good homes and adoption, most end up abused and mistreated in their new “family.”

Molly meets Niamh, who has become Vivian Daly, when Molly is sentenced to community service for trying to steal Jane Eyre from the library. Molly works to help Vivian clean out her attic for her community service, going through boxes from Vivian’s 91 years of life. As they work, Molly and Vivian talk about the items, and Molly decides to ask Vivian to become the focus of a research project at school, giving her the opportunity to hear more about Vivian’s experiences, including mistreatment by families similar to Molly’s own experiences in the foster care system.

Kline portrays Molly as a kid who is really smart, but her lot in life has made her cynical and bitter. She encourages everyone’s suspicions of her as the typical “bad girl” persona that she acquires through her Goth look. Molly acknowledges this has become a character for her to play and not really who she is. But she uses it to keep people back after she is bounced from foster home to foster home since the death of her father. This character she has created is on the verge of becoming who she really is until she meets Vivian. As Vivian shares her experience on the orphan train and beyond with Molly, a connection is made between the two orphans.

I really enjoyed this novel because Kline made me care about both Molly and Vivian. I wanted to know what happened to Vivian, how she came to be successful and independent, and I wanted to believe that this success would translate to Molly, who is sensitive despite trying to portray herself as a badass. Of course, this is a commentary about how the foster care system hasn’t changed all that much since the time of orphan trains, since Molly is bounced back and forth between foster families, not all of whom are stellar.

It made me think about many students whom I have taught who have been in the foster system; all of a sudden I realized that I had no idea what fears and disappointments they must have gone through in their lives, things with which I can empathize but not really know. I felt proud of those whom I know have succeeded and agony for those whom I know did not. I hope that going into the next school year, I will remember this book and remember to have compassion for teenagers who seem to have a tough outer shells but are really just babies on the inside.

So, I would definitely suggest this book, my friends. It made me cry, but in a good way because I cared, ya know? ūüôā

Until next time, my dears, enjoy this wonderfully thorough piece of historical fiction!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

Addendum: Review of “Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld

eligibleOkay, so I have an addendum to my review of Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.

I went to Goodreads to update my reading profile, and I discovered that Eligible is listed as Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice (The Austen Project, #4). 

I thought: What the hell is “The Austen Project,” and what are the other three books in the project?

Turns out HarperCollins has a assigned Austen’s books to contemporary authors. There are three others, besides Eligible, in the project out already. They are as follows:

There has not been an announcement about authors for the retellings of the other two books in Austen’s collection, Mansfield Park¬†and Persuasion.

But there is a Facebook page dedicated to the project, as well as blog articles about the project and reviews of previous retellings¬†or about¬†the project’s¬†lack of success, as some of the opinions may be. There’s also a whole blog on Austen called “The Austen Project” that reviews Eligible and includes blog posts on varying aspects of Austen’s works in general. Pretty interesting.

I don’t know if I’ll read these other books, but I wanted to give you a chance to look up the others in case you wanted to. Just thought it was interesting to share this discovery because I had no idea about this project when I picked up Eligible!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

Review: “Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld

eligibleLiz Bennet. Darcy. ¬†Bingley and Jane. Kitty and Lydia. Mary. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Nope, I’m not listing the characters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. …Well, actually, I am, but I’m also listing the cast of characters from Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book¬†Eligible, “a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice.”

Here’s the thing: I’ve read MANY retellings and reworkings and revisions of P&P; it’s kind of a requirement for the modern romance reader, ya know? I mean, Pride and Prejudice¬†is the plot from which many of today’s romance novels take their formula for love. Also, go to Listopia on¬†Goodreads, and type in best love stories. Guess what’s always at or near the top of list? That’s right! P&P, baby!¬†Jane Austen rules the modern romance reader!

Anyway, I only say this because I want you to know this: I know P&P, and I love it and all things related to it. And I want you to know that out of all of the MANY P&P¬†tributes I’ve read, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible is officially the most memorable and the best written one I’ve read so far.

Yeah. That’s right. I said it. THE BEST.

In Sittenfeld’s world of Eligible, Liz Bennet is a writer-at-large in NYC for the magazine Mascara, where she writes feature stories and a column on notable women. But she’s home in Cincinnati with her sister Jane, who also lives in NYC as a yoga instructor, due to a health scare that Mr. Bennet has had. They are 38 and 39, respectively, and Mrs. Bennet bemoans not her husband’s health but her two eldest daughters’ unmarried states (of course!) and the fact that they will not be able to have children in their advanced ages.

Did I mention that the other three–Mary, 30, Kitty, 26, and Lydia, 23–still live at home? Of course, they do, even though they all have college degrees! (Mary’s actually working on her third degree!) Liz is the only Bennet who is completely self-sufficient and not relying on her father’s dwindling inheritance.

Enter Chip Bingley, doctor and former reality star from the TV show Eligible (think The Bachelor), where he asked no one to marry him with a major influx of tears. On his part, natch. Well, Mrs. Bennet, who you have to know is drooling over the idea of one of her daughters hitching her wagon to the handsome doctor, arranges for her daughters to meet Chip at the Lucases Fourth of July BBQ. And, you know, Jane and Bingley ensue, but in a contemporary way.

But the BBQ also allows us to meet Fitzwilliam Darcy, handsome doctor extraordinaire with a seemingly prideful demeanor that Liz finds equally humorous and antagonistic. As with P&P, Darcy insults Liz (in her opinion) with the most demeaning insults of her hometown, which she left (Hello, many ironic moments!), and her looks (not her specifically but those of Cincinnatian women, in general). Confrontation ensues between the two, and she proceeds to tell everyone about his insults. This Liz has a predilection for gossip and an interest in people that fits with the modern times and her job as a writer.

Well, anyone who has read P&P¬†knows how this will turn out, but here are a few things that are specific to this novel. Ill-timed pregnancy. Transgender relationships. Financial hardships, including massive debts and no income. Crossfit. A reality TV program filming a confrontation between Liz and Caroline Bingley. ūüôā

And satire, but that’s in the original, too. But modern readers who have never been able to get through Jane Austen’s version will enjoy the modern updates and Sittenfeld’s satirizing of characters in today’s society and their values, as much as Austen’s contemporaries must have enjoyed her satirizing the original characters and the views on marriage and women during her time. (Seriously, there were parts that I felt like I was reading The Onion.)

SIDEBAR:¬†There’s a Charades scene where Kitty and Lydia star as the ridiculous Millennials in a roomful of Generation Xers. Some view them with resigned tolerance, and some don’t. You can probably guess which ones.

Plus, it’s a funny book. Liz is funny, even though Darcy is right when he claims she’s “not nearly as funny as” she thinks she is. She’s a lot like her family in this regard. While the rest of the Bennets are almost always eye-rolling funny without meaning to be, Liz is sometimes funny without meaning to be, too, a description that truly would burn her britches, as she thinks she’s a little above the absurdity that is her family, but is an accurate description, nevertheless. Her penchant for gossip and for viewing others through her sometimes narrow lens is fodder for the problems of defining people on just one instance, rather than the whole of the interactions. And I’m not just talking about the lens through which she views Darcy, either. She has a married lover, Jasper, whose reality is much worse than her perception, a piece of dramatic irony that we, as readers, can see, while Liz is in the dark for a loooooong time.

For those of you who have read Pride and Prejudice¬†(or watched Keira Knightley’s version of the movie), you know that some misunderstandings and regrets are in store for our heroine, Liz, but though it all, her good humor and focus on the positive gets her and us through these issues. In fact, Sittenfeld deftly maneuvers us through Liz’s disappointments, which Sittenfeld could have easily turned into a dour look on life and love, but instead, ends up showing how gracefully, humorously, and maturely a character can face these reality-based bumps in the road.

I would, and have, recommended this book to all of my reader friends, and I hope that you, my readers, will also pick up Sittenfeld’s Eligible!

Until next time, enjoy Liz and the Bennets!

Ta-ta for now,

HMicheale

Update: My (Delusional) Summer Reading List

I’ve decided to update My (Delusional) Summer Reading List…obvs. Here’s what I’ve read so far from that list and links to any reviews. No surprise that I’ve read all the romance novels except the one that hasn’t come out yet. ūüôā

Romance Genre 

  1. Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas:  Missing something that would make it a great read; review here.
  2. Cottonbloom series by Laura Trentham: Read the first two, and they were awesome! Love small town drama and romance! Read my review of Kiss Me Like That and Then He Kissed Me. Looking forward to the release of the third of this series, Till I Kissed You on August 2nd.
  3. Rhymes with Love¬†series by Elizabeth Boyle:¬†Couldn’t finish; review here.

Young Adult: As of right now, I have read none of these. Boo, me!

Literary Fiction:¬†I read and reviewed¬†The Vacationers¬†by Emma Straub–LOVED IT! And that’s it. I did start Summer¬†House with Swimming Pool¬†by Herman Koch but sadly didn’t finish it. (I have a 50 page rule. If it doesn’t grab my interest by then, I close it and regulate it to the pile of the unread.)

I also read a Kate Morton novel, The Forgotten Garden, and while I didn’t love it as much as The Lake House, I always enjoy her intricate plotting. (See that review here.)

eligibleI’ve also added Eligilble¬†by Curtis Sittenfeld to this list…because who doesn’t enjoy a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice¬†by Jane Austen with heavy satire on today’s societal values? ¬†(I’ve already started it! Can you tell?) I’ve read A LOT of retellings of P&P, and I’ll tell you this one has already made me laugh out loud and contemplate our modern world.

I also bought Orphan Train¬†by Christina Baker Kline, so I’m hoping to get to that one soon.

On my library eBook loan status, I’m, like, 11th in line for Jane Steele,¬†7th for What She Left Behind, and 3rd for The Good Girl. These are pretty popular at the library! Oh, and The Nest. 15th in line. Don’t know if I’ll get to any of these before the end of summer. Fingers crossed, though!

Historical Fiction:¬†I’ve downloaded the audiobook for Wolf Hall¬†by Hilary Mantel. I’ll listen to that in the car, but that’s all I’ve gotten around to on this list.

ClashAs for my Science Fiction/Fantasy list? Nada. But I have decided, after that TUSHIE KICKING season finale of Game of Thrones¬†that I’m definitely reading the rest of the series. (I’ve already read the first one. Twice.) But ASOIAF is a series that I actually need a copy of the book, not a downloaded version, so I’m off to the bookstore today to pick the second of the series. There are just some books I want to hold, rather than read on my Kindle…although I love my Kindle, too. Anyone else like this?

SIDEBAR: The fact that I’m buying A Clash of Kings while still reading Eligible¬†prompted my husband to ask, “Do you really need to buy that now since your reading something else?” Silly man, of course I need to buy it! Buying books is a compulsion that I no longer fight, though I do love library eBooks for the ones I can read on Kindle. It’s like he doesn’t know me at all! ūüėČ

So, as you can see, I’m doing pretty poorly on My (Delusional) Summer Reading List…but I have plans, I tell ya! Plans!

Ta-ta for now, my readers,

HMichaele