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: “The Raven Boys” and “The Dream Thieves” by Maggie Stiefvater

Raven BoysFor years, I’ve seen students bring in Maggie Stiefvater’s books, from her Shiver series to The Scorpio Races, but I’ve never read any of her books. Since I’m teaching 9th grade next year instead of seniors, I thought that maybe I should catch up on my young adult book list, starting with Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys series.

After reading the first two in the series, I’m really looking forward to reading the last two. (Yeah, I’ve already read the last part of the last book. I had to know, you know? It’s a compulsion that does not affect my reading the entire series! I’m a spoiler girl!)

Any-whooo, let’s look at The Raven Boys first. Blue Sargent is a very practical teen, emanating partially from the fact that she is a non-psychic in a houseful of women psychics, including her mother, and partially from the fact that they have all told her one thing her whole life: “If Blue was to kiss her true love, he would die.”

So she’s very sensibly developed two rules regarding boys: “One, stay away from boys, because they were trouble. And two, stay away from Aglionby boys, because they were bastards.” You see, Blue lives in Henrietta, where Aglionby Academy, a boys’ prep school for the wealthy and elite, is located, and she thinks the boys who go there are arrogant and unworthy, obviously. Her vow to stay away from them has been unbreakable until St. Mark’s Night, a night where those who will die within the year walk a mystical energy line. On this night, she sees the ghost of an Aglionby boy, unusual in the fact that Blue never sees the ghosts of the dead, merely powers up psychics who can see them. (She’s like an electrical current for psychics and the supernatural.) His name? Ganey. Why can she see him? According to one of the psychics, it’s because he’s either “her true love” or she “kills him.” Ominous, huh?

And here’s the introduction to the raven boys, so dubbed by their school uniform, which displays a raven on their sweaters. Ganey, the leader of his little crew, is obsessed with the supernatural, looking for mystical energy lines in Henrietta to lead him to the ancient burial grounds of Glendower, a mystical being who if discovered, is said to grant one wish to the one who finds him. His friends help him with his search–the angry, resentful Ronan who has known Ganey for years, the problem solving Adam who is from Henrietta himself and goes to Aglionby on scholarship, and the mysterious Noah who tries to go unnoticed.

Blue’s introduction to these Aglionby boys does not go well, not surprisingly. Blue’s what you might call prickly in her demeanor, and Ganey, well, he’s rather used to his money and his charm working for him. Needless to say, the combination of money and charm really does not impress the somewhat cynical Blue. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t recognize Ganey as her ghost since the ghost’s features were indistinguishable. When the boys go to a reading at her house, she finds out his name and realizes that this is the boy who will be dead within the year. The one that will be her true love or the one she will kill.

This is not a comfort to her, especially since her mother forbids her to see these boys again. But she’s a typical teenager, and you know how that goes.

So, let me be clear. This is not one of those teen romances with the ostensible supernatural plot. This is really a story about friendship. These boys have a tight knit one, and Blue becomes one of them. Adam’s the one who brings her into the group, as she tries to avoid Ganey, for obvious reasons, and Ronan, who’s kind of an a-hole most of the time. Once she comes into the group, she and Noah also have a connection, as well. But it’s not about them dating or all of them constantly wondering who she will choose. (I hate those type of YA books, actually.) It’s about them merging Ganey’s quest with Blue’s attempt to prevent Ganey’s death from coming true. It’s about them being friends and about what they are willing to do for one another. (Quite a lot.) It’s also about the conflicts that all friendships have, whether it’s trying to change someone into the person you think he/she should be or someone trying to maintain his/her independence and identity within a close-knit group like this one. And it’s about how the characters define themselves by their experiences (most have some terrible events in their pasts) and who they’re trying to become.

This is told in third person, largely from Blue’s, Adam’s or Ganey’s perspective. Oh, and the bad guy, which was different and gives us insights into the history of the mystical in Henrietta. I don’t think you get very much from Ronan’s perspective in this one, probably because the next book, The Dream Thieves, is really his book, told mainly from his perspective, although there are some chapters in The Dream Thieves that show the conflicts that emerged in The Raven Boys between Adam, Ganey, and Blue.

So, now let’s talk about The Dream Thieves. This is really a background information book. (SPOILER: While Ganey has no supernatural abilities, his friends do.) Stiefvater focuses on Ronan’s mystical background, while incorporating Adam’s supernatural abilities as well. Not much is added to the whole Glendower plot or the whole Ganey’s eventual death plot, which I think makes this book less necessary than the first, but it’s interesting in finding out more about Ronan and Adam and their conflicts with Ganey’s sometimes overwhelming personality. I mean, how would you feel if you were friends with someone who could command the room in an instant? Ronan doesn’t seem to mind; he has other problems with Ganey. But Adam seems to constantly struggle with his desire to be his own person without Ganey overpowering his personality. While rage is definitely Ronan’s vice, envy is Adam’s , definitely, but he has had a more difficult life than Ganey or Ronan. Hopefully, Adam’s insecurities will be worked out and settled by the last book.

I don’t want to give too much away that will ruin the books for those who don’t like spoilers as much as I do. But I will say by the end of the second book, The Dream Thieves, I was definitely shipping two different couples (possibly three, if I count Blue’s mom’s love interest!) than I was in book one, The Raven Boys. Oh, yeah, I was! I loved the gradual way Stiefvater brings about the romance, while not focusing on it too much.

I will also say this: I enjoyed The Raven Boys way more than I did The Dream Thieves. I gave The Raven Boys four stars on Goodreads, but three stars for The Dream Thieves, for the reasons I stated earlier. Dream just doesn’t advance the Glendower or mystical energy plot, and it also doesn’t do much with the whole Ganey’s death thing, either. Plus, there were weirdish villains in Kavinsky and the Gray Man, a character whom I liked waaay better than Kavinsky. (Kavinisky sucked! And I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to like the Gray Man, despite his, ummm, professional proclivity.) But I liked getting the background about Ronan and more on Adam, to whom, really, I just want to give a big reassuring hug.

Raven KingSo, who’s my favorite character? Adam! I love Adam because his seems to be a magnet for struggles outside of his control, but he always seems to grasp onto what power in those situations he can and come out better for it, in my opinion, although he’s often conflicted afterward. He struggles to be his own person and tries to overcome his substantially terrible circumstances that would totally defeat other people. Love him! (People like Ronan more, I’ve found, but this is totally baffling to me!)

Anyway, I will definitely be finishing the rest of the series soon, which includes Blue Lily, Lily Blue, then The Raven King.

Until next time, hope you decide to enjoy the Aglionby boys, Blue, and the mystical town of Henrietta!

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? 🙂

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

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

Random Romance Review

The fact is this: I read way more than the books I review. So to make up for this, I’ve set up a system to review in brief those books that I simply didn’t have time to write a complete review for. Here’s the rating system:

  • Blech–What a waste of time! I couldn’t stomach this. I might have hated one or more of the main characters.
  • Hmmm…–I’m not totally sure I remember this, neither loved it nor hated it. Just read it.
  • Interesting…This plot had a lot of action or a lot of friend/family scene, sometimes at the expense of the love story. But I liked it, mostly. More importantly, I remember this.
  • Sweet–This was a good love story, and it had an entertaining plot. It might have lacked one of the following:
    • A character-driven, sometimes heartbreaking, tension between the two characters that I like.
    • Love interests who complement each other.
    • Believable character development.
    • Intense passion.
  • So close!–This had almost every aspect of the top category, but characters might have had unbelievable backgrounds/traits or lacked depth (just a smooch too formulaic). Also, the plot devices used might have been questionable or unbelievable.  But still, emotional connections and tensions rule this book and made me want another from the author because I could sense the potential despite the issues.
  • I-WANT-TO-MARRY-IT!–Yeah, this book had it all–interesting plot, multi-layered characters, emotional connections, intense passion, and believable tension between the love interest. This book made me root for the HEA and look up the author’s other books on Kindle immediately!

Okay, so here’s the most recent list of romance novels I’ve read with brief impressions of the novel.

  1. The Earl Takes All by Lorraine Heath. So close! Edward Alcott is pretending to be his twin brother, the Earl of Greyling, so that his brother’s pregnant widow won’t lose the baby she’s carrying. To complicate matters, he has loved Julia, his brother’s wife, for years. Julia realizes something’s amiss, but thinks it’s due to being apart and her husband losing his brother. There’s passion and love, and the animosity between Edward and Julia doesn’t last long after the big reveal is made. But there’s a ick factor in HER marrying HIM. The reason is there; I’m just not sure I liked it. But once I learned to overlook this issue, I really enjoyed this book, like I do with most of Heath’s works. 🙂

  2. To Pleasure a Prince by Sabrina Jeffries: So close! I actually really liked this book. The Dragon Viscount, Lord Marcus North, makes a deal with Lady Regina Tremaine to help protect his sister Louisa from Regina’s brother, the Duke of Foxmoor, who Regina believes is courting Louisa sincerely. But really, it’s all a ruse set up by Prinny, the heir to the throne of England, who is Marcus’s true father and thinks he is Louisa’s as well. Everyone in the book has their own agenda, but it doesn’t take too much away from the romance between Marcus and Regina. This is the second book in Jeffries’s The Royal Brotherhood series, all of which focus on the bastards of Prinny, King George IV. I would definitely recommend this book, and I plan on reading the others in the series soon. Plus, Louisa and Foxmoor have their own book, set seven years from this one.
  3. Ha’ven’s Song by SE Smith and Jaquin’s Love by SE Smith: Somewhere between Hmmm… and Interesting.  These were okay. Aliens with powers, like turning into dragons, find their mates on Earth and bring them back to their home planet. Reminds me of the Brides of the Kindred series by Evangeline Anderson, a little. I am not reading anymore of these. I thought they were okay, but not something I want to continue reading.
  4. Forevermore by Kristen Callihan:  Sweet. This is the seventh novel in Callihan’s Darkest London series. The main romance is between Layla Starling and St. John Evernight, both of whom are powerful in this supernatural world. But there’s a side romance between the angel Augustus and Layla’s mother Lena, which I actually thought was more interesting. I wanted more of them, honestly, but overall the book was decent.
  5. Claimed (The Outlaw series) by Elle Kennedy and Addicted (The Outlaw series) by Elle Kennedy:  So close! This new series by Elle Kennedy is erotica, set in an alternative rough-and-tumble world of outlaws, and includes multiple partners and voyeuristic sex scenes, so these books might not be for everyone. Honestly, I was a little uncomfortable with some of the scenes (I don’t usually read erotica.), but I overlooked it because the romances in both were passionate! I might write a review of the entire series once it’s done.
  6. Truth or Beard by Penny Reid: So close! Okay, this is the first book in Reid’s new series, The Winston Brothers. These brothers have names like Cletus, Duane, and Beau. What’s not to love? This first book focuses on Duane and Jessica. Jessica has a crush on Duane’s twin, Beau, but Duane has loved Jessica since high school. There’s a ton of passion and intensity in this book, although I liked Duane more than Jessica. He’s a sweetie pie! I will definitely read the rest in this series when they come out. The second one, Grin and Beard It, is out and in my queue waiting to be read, actually!
  7. Rescuing the Bad Boy by Jessica Lemmon:  I did not enjoy this one that much. The hero, Donovan Pate, was kind of an ass, even though we’re supposed to feel sorry for him because of his abuse-laden past. And the heroine, Sofie Martin, was ridiculous in her belief that one night with her would change his entire personality when they were younger, even though she knows he’s a player. When they meet again some years down the road, the attraction is still there, of course. I don’t know. Sofie just had very little self-respect. She is almost obsessed with him even though they only slept together once when they were younger and didn’t date.  Plus, he was super rude to her, and I mean SUPER RUDE, after they slept together, and she barely holds that against him. It would have been a better book it they had never had that night, merely the past attraction, then maybe I would have liked them both more.
  8. Clay’s Hope by Melissa Haag: Hmmm… I don’t know. This was a weird one. Includes shifters and humans interacting. Not sure I remember enough to comment, which says something, I think.
  9. Midnight Action by Elle Kennedy: Interesting… Jim Morgan, leader of a company of mercenaries, and Noelle Phillips, an assassin for hire, have a complicated past filled with betrayal and heartache. But when Jim is in danger, Noelle is there to help him, even under some duress. The animosity between the two is too much at times, honestly, but the cast of characters surrounding them made this a better book for a change. I might read some of the other books in this series, but not all.

  10. A Rake’s Guide to Seduction by Caroline LindenI-WANT-TO-MARRY-IT! I loved this story between Anthony Hamilton and Celia Reece. Anthony has loved Celia for years, even asking her father for her hand. But she had already been promised to another. After her husband’s death, Anthony works to kindle a relationship between them. I love unrequited love stories, so this is definitely going on my keeper shelf!
  11. The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries: Hmmm…. Part of her Sinful Suitors series, Jeffries pairs Edwin Barlow, the Earl of Blakeborough, and Lady Clarissa Lindsey. Again, I don’t know what to think about this one. Edwin’s prim and proper, and it makes sense to pair him with Clarissa because she’s a little bit more free spirited. But… I’m not sure I remember enough about this. I do remember that I didn’t like Clarissa that much. This is one of those times when I don’t like Jeffries books, which happens every once in a while. There was a lack of passion between the two characters.

That’s it. Until next time, enjoy one of the above selections!

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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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! 😉

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

Commentary: “Then He Kissed Me” by Laura Trentham

ThenSo, you know that I really liked the first in the Cottonbloom series by Laura Trentham, Kiss Me That Way. (Read my review of that one here.) And I enjoyed Then He Kissed Me, just in a different way.

Here’s the rundown: Nash Hawthorne is back in Cottonbloom, Mississippi, after getting a job at the local college. His childhood friend from the Louisiana side, Tallulah, sister of Cade from book one, has never left Cottonbloom and owns her own gym on the Louisiana side of Cottonbloom. She’s successful and pretty, but she has some pretty deep insecurities, probably from not having parental guidance after her parents die in a car crash when she’s ten, a few days after Nash loses his own mother to cancer. Before his mom died, Nash lived next door to Tally, but he moves to the ‘Sip side after her death and never sees Tally again until he moves back for the challenge of building up the history department at Cottonbloom College.

But the challenge of the work isn’t really what draws Nash back. It’s a feeling of home that he’s always had in Cottonbloom, the river, and, of course, Tally herself, even if he doesn’t realize she’s one of the reasons he’s back. (We totally know though!)

Once he’s back, he goes looking for her, showing up every night in a bar he hears she visits every so often and trying for a casual first encounter. Okay, that first encounter? Pretty funny. Nash is asthmatic, and the smoke really makes it flare up. But would you want to pull out your inhaler in front of the girl you dreamed about? Yeah, he doesn’t either and eventually has to hightail it outta there without a real explanation. Heee-larious!

Nash, of course, chases Tally, but she’s a mass of anxiety. She’s attracted to him but feels they have very little in common because he has a Ph.D, and she’s dyslexic, which no one knows except her brothers. She feels intimidated by the amount of books he has in his little cottage and feels like a relationship between them would burn out quickly. But that’s not her only problem. She, even more than her brother Cade, has a serious fear of putting herself out there, and she doesn’t want to take a leap to trust Nash, who is totally book boyfriend material, I tell ya! Her inability to trust stems from the fact that many people, teachers especially, implied she wasn’t as smart or good as her older brother Sawyer, who will be featured in book three of the series. Nash points out that she’s practically a genius with numbers, but this does not get her to believe in herself. Eventually, a couple of people tell her the same thing I want to tell her about halfway through the book: Grow up. But nicely, you know?

This book didn’t really have as many humorous scenes as Kiss Me That Way did, probably because Regan and Sawyer were largely absent. (Seriously, their love/hate relationship makes me chuckle every time I read a scene where they are conniving against each other. Can you tell I really want to read their book?) Plus, Trentham is dealing with a pretty serious subject of disabilities and how people can negatively view themselves based on others’ opinions.

Even though Kiss Me That Way touched on the subject of childhood abuse and abusive relationships, it still had many lighthearted moments that made me consider it a “beach read.” And Then He Kissed Me is a beach read, too, just in a less lighthearted way. Tally constantly questions her worth and struggles to overcome her belief that she’s not smart enough for Nash. Then He Kissed Me is poignant in highlighting the struggles Tally has faced since her parents’ deaths, how alone she really was since her support system always seemed to desert her, including her parents, Cade, and Nash, when she was younger.

Overall, I liked Then He Kissed Me and strongly recommend it to the romance reader! The somber tone surprised me since there were many funny scenes in the first one (Like I said, the humor in the first was really Regan and Sawyer-centric for those scenes.), and I guess I expected it in the second as well. But that didn’t make it worse, just different. The romance was sweet and sappy and lovely and all those things a summer romance should be!

Until next time, enjoy the Cottonbloom series by Laura Trentham. The final one, Till I Kissed You, is out August 2nd, and I can’t wait!

Ta-ta for now, my friends,

HMichaele

Commentary: “Unlawful Contact” by Pamela Clare

UnlawfulMy favorite type of romance? (All romance readers have one!) It’s bad boy and good girl meet when they are young, connect, but have to go their separate ways because, well, life. Then, of course, as this is the romance genre, they meet when they are adults and find out they were always perfect for each other.

Some examples of my favorites with this plot? The Unsung Hero by Suzanne Brockmann ($2.99 on Kindle right now!), When He Was Wicked  by Julia Quinn, One Reckless Summer by Toni Blake, Beast in Shining Armor by Cassandra Gannon, You Own Me by Shiloh Walker, Seduce Me at Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas, and She Tempts the Duke by Lorraine Heath, just to name a few that I remember off the top of my head.

I list these because I’m pretty sure I’m going to add Unlawful Contact by Pamela Clare to my favorites. It was that good.

Bad boy Hunt and good girl Sophie Alton have one special night as teens the night before he embarks on a military career. Sophie inspires hope in Hunt, whose family life is unstable. Cut to twelve years later, and Hunt, whose real name is Marc Hunter, has been in both the military and an agent for the DEA. But he’s hit hard times since he’s now in prison for the murder of a fellow DEA agent and drug possession.

Sophie is an investigative reporter who has been speaking to Megan Rawlings, who unbeknownst to Sophie is Marc’s sister. (Cue eye roll here!) When Megan goes missing, Hunt arranges to meet Sophie to gain her insights on Megan’s disappearance. Sophie does not recognize him at first (What a blow to his ego!), which is unfortunate because he holds her hostage to escape prison, scaring the crudola out of her in the process until she realizes who he is. From here, the book is a journey in their search for Megan and Sophie’s desire to look into Marc’s case, which seemingly has a link to Megan’s disappearance.

Look–this book is not believable, but as long as you can suspend your disbelief at all the crazy coincidences that are littered throughout the book, then you’re in for a wrenching romance that will have you wondering exactly how this relationship has any chance of a future at all. (But it’s a romance novel…so, you know. It usually does.)

And I love both Sophie and Marc, or Hunt, as Sophie knew him in her teens. They are really great together, and their romance is sweet and passionate. I will say if your not okay with some obsessive (borderline stalkerish) behavior from the hero, this story probably isn’t for you. I’m usually not into the whole I-love-you-so-much-that-I-can’t-be-separated-from-you-or-trust-you-by-yourself, but I accept the reasoning Marc has for why he’s watching Sophie, which is at first to make sure she gets him some information he needs about his sister and later to make sure she’s safe when the action gets a little hairy.

I should say that this book is part Clare’s I-Team series, which is a series about reporters who work in at a news agency. Clare allows previous characters to pop up throughout the novel, but the focus largely stays on the central characters of Sophie and Marc, which is better, in my opinion. The fact that I hadn’t read any of the others did not negatively affect my reading experience at all, and Unlawful Contact actually made me want to read the rest of the series.

So, yeah. I liked this book a lot, and it’s definitely going to be added to my KEEPER shelf, to be reread in times of romance slumps. 🙂

Until next time, enjoy the I-Team and their stories!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

Review and Commentary: “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton

ForgottenI recently suggested Kate Morton to a fellow reader at work because her mysteries are so interesting, and The Forgotten Garden is no different from her previous books. Literally. She always writes about a mystery from the past that someone from a today-ish time period is trying to solve.

But with The Forgotten Garden, Morton adds in someone in between the two time periods who is also trying to solve the mystery. Simple, right?

Here’s a rundown: After the death of her grandmother, Nell, in 2005, Cassandra finds she has inherited a house in Cornwall, a house she did not realize existed previously. She finds Nell’s journal from 1975 and discovers that Nell had been trying to solve the mystery of her origins.

You see, Nell was put on a ship in 1913 from London to Maryborough, Australia, where the portmaster, Hugh, finds her and takes her home to his childless wife. Nell becomes their beloved daughter, but on the eve of Nell’s 18th birthday, Hugh decides it’s time to tell Nell exactly how she came to live with them. This is a shock to her system, leading Nell to distance herself from the family she thought was hers. When Hugh dies, he sends her a suitcase filled with clues to her past. Nell jets off to Cornwall, trying to piece together why she was abandoned on that ship in 1913. She plans on moving to Cornwall as soon as she can wrap up her life in Australia, but then the unexpected happens: Nell’s daughter Leslie brings Cassandra to her and abandons her to Nell’s care. Nell decides to raise her granddaughter at the expense of discovering who she is.

Upon her death, Cassandra picks up Nell’s search, going to London and Cornwall with Nell’s journal to figure out who Nell was.

Morton flashes between several different time periods, piecing out information to the mysterious reason Nell was on that ship. Interspersed with fairy tales that speak to the theme of identity, this story circles over a hundred year time period, giving hints as the story progresses as to the reason for Nell’s kidnapping.

Morton plays with the mystical in all of her novels and the idea of hereditary memory. Cassandra and Nell both have flashbacks (not so many as it becomes unbelievable) that are not their own memories, helping them to gain insight into Nell’s origins. There’s always a feeling of knowing a place in Morton’s novels, and both Nell and Cassandra feel the familiarity of home in Cornwall, even though Cassandra has never been there and Nell barely remembers the place.

Overall, I liked The Forgotten Garden. Is it one of Morton’s best? No, that honor belongs to The Lake House, but it was an enthralling read. And Morton’s descriptions of places and events are truly the magical part of her writing. Plus, I love trying to see if I can figure out the mystery before the main character, in this case Cassandra, does.

If you like a mystery with beautiful descriptions and detailed plotting, then Kate Morton’s books are for you! I suggest them to all of the reader friends!

Until next time, enjoy your mystical-ancestral-memory reading! (That’s a mouthful!)

Ta-ta, my readers,

HMichaele