The Light Between Oceans // by M.L. Stedman

//published 2012//

Sometimes, I life gets busy and I don’t have a lot of time for book blogging.  When that happens, I can usually manage to work in some reviewing UNLESS it occurs at the same time that I have a book that I consider to be a block – a book that gave me a lot of feelings and that I really do want to review well, but I just can’t seem to get my thoughts into coherent order.  So September has had a busy start, and the next book on the review pile – The Light Between Oceans – has been one that I’ve been struggling to review.  Hence, no reviews for this month, and a HUGE pile of books awaiting attention!  So it’s time to at least attempt to get some thoughts down on this one.

It can sometimes be a bit awkward when someone loans you a book.  I’m always scared that I’m not going to love it like this person does!  And while I didn’t dislike The Light Between Oceans, it wasn’t really a book I probably would have picked up on my own, being a bit too ‘A Novel’ like for my tastes.  Still, it was a decent read with an engaging premise and an excellent setting.  The writing was beautifully evocative and I was genuinely drawn into the story.  Although I have to say that Stedman does employ that irritating trick of randomly inserting present-tense paragraphs in the midst of a past-tense narrative.  This drives me crazy and consistently felt jarring and odd.  I think it’s supposed to ‘pull us into the moment’ or some such nonsense, but it really just felt like the editor missed a lot of chunks of the book that needed to be switched to past tense.

The book was loaned to me by my boss – I work for a small orchard, and the couple that own it are quite fantastic.  The wife said that she made the mistake of cutting through the book section of our grocery store, and read a huge chunk of this book while she was standing in the aisle… and then went back the next day and bought it!  I admired her self restraint, as I don’t think there is any way that I could have waited until the next day…

The setting is Australia, just after World War I.  Tom is the main protagonist, a quiet man who just wants to put the war behind him and go on with his life.  He ends up with a job as a lighthouse keeper on an isolated island off the southwest coast, an excellent job for a reliable, steadfast, not-particularly-sociable man.  Eventually, Tom marries Isabelle and brings her to the island, and they are very happy together.  The only dark spot in their lives is Isabelle’s inability to carry a baby to term.  After multiple miscarriages and a stillbirth, Isabelle is grieving for the family she cannot have.  Only a week or so after her stillbirth, the ocean brings a small boat to the shore of the island.  Inside of it is a dead man and a live baby.

What follows is a story of what happens when people try to build their lives on a lie.  And while I could always see how this was all going to come crashing down sometime, Stedman makes the whole situation very plausible – I completely could understand Isabelle’s justifications, and could see how she could convince herself that they were true.  The isolation of the island, the way the supply boat only comes twice a year and they only make it to the mainland every couple of years, makes the whole story possible.  Watching Isabelle and Tom grow to love the baby that isn’t theirs is heartbreaking.

The big takeaway I really had from this book was how all of their troubles started when Isabelle convinced Tom to go against his conscience.  Tom knew what was right and wanted to do it, but Isabelle forced him into a position where he had to choose between his convictions and his wife, something that no spouse should ever do to their beloved.  It was SO heartrending to watch Tom continue to struggle with their choice and the lies they were telling, and while Isabelle was always a very sympathetic character, I just found her to be incredibly selfish.  It was especially ironic because she married him for his integrity and reliability, and then basically emotionally blackmailed him into betraying himself.

On the other hand, it was easy to see the terrible toll that Isabelle’s miscarriages had had on her, and I found it very easy to believe that her mental health was struggling with grief and hormonal imbalances, so that the lies that she told became, at some level, truth for her.  Sometimes our minds prefer to accept easy lies rather than difficult truths.

Of course, part of the trouble is that my husband’s name is Tom, and book-Tom reminded me a great deal of husband-Tom, so Isabelle’s lies and insistence on Tom’s lies somehow felt very personal!

I think the hard part about this book for me is that there wasn’t really a way to end it happily.  There was going to be a lot of grief and sadness for someone somewhere (and there was), and I’m more of a happy-ending kind of girl.  So while it was a decent ending, it was still sad, and I felt like Stedman made it even a little sadder than it had to be.

Overall, I wouldn’t personally reread this book, but I can see it having a great deal of appeal to many readers.  It was an emotional and intense read with intriguing characters and a gripping story.  While it was a bit too melancholy for my personal tastes, it never felt so in that pretentious way that many novels do – it was honest, not wallowing.  The setting was perfection and the writing very beautiful.  A 3.5/5 for me, but a book I would recommend to people who don’t mind books where not everyone gets a happy ending.

Advertisements

The Silent Sister // by Diane Chamberlain

//published 2014//

I had some mixed feelings about this book.  It kept me thoroughly engaged while I was reading it, but a few different things made me uncomfortable during the story, and I found the ending to be unsatisfactory.  In the end, I think it has to go as a 3/5.  I don’t particularly recommend it, and it’s the sort of book that made me feel that while I wouldn’t avoid Chamberlain’s books in the future, I’m not anxious to seek them out, either.

The story mostly centers around Riley, aged 25, whose father has just passed away.  Riley has returned home to go through his house (her mother passed away just after her senior year of high school) and get it ready to sell.  Riley loved her father and had a good relationship with him, so she’s quite devastated by his sudden death, and that’s amplified by the way that she feels that she is all alone in the world – her older sister committed suicide when Riley was only two, and Riley’s older brother, Danny, suffers from severe PSTD that leaves him unreliable and unpredictable.  He also harbors deep resentment towards their parents (which Riley doesn’t understand) and is completely disinterested in cleaning out the house or reliving memories of any kind.

As the tale unwinds, Riley begins to discover that her dad was actually keeping quite a few secrets, including a major one about her sister.  At this point, the story also begins to give us Lisa’s story from twenty years earlier.

This is a well-written and engaging narrative.  Riley uses the first person for her sections, past tense.  She is likable and kind and very lonely.  Lisa’s section are in third person, but that doesn’t prevent her from being a very relatable character.  I was really hooked into this story from the very beginning.

However, there were several things that gave me unease.  One of the biggest is when Lisa meets Celia.  After spending the evening together, Celia stays the night (romantically) – despite the fact that they had only met that day AND until she met Celia, Lisa didn’t realize she was gay.  It seemed kind of ridiculous and unhealthy for Lisa to immediately get in bed with someone on such short acquaintance, especially when she hasn’t actually sorted through her sexual orientation??  Of course it all works out and they stay together forever because that’s what always happens when you hop in bed with someone you’ve only known about eight hours.  This situation became even more disturbing when more details about Lisa’s childhood were revealed.

I was also a smidge offended by the fact that, of course, the traditional, conservative church was the home of a bunch of hypocritical self-centered people who “push away” people going through a crisis; while the church that is “open and affirming” to gay people are the ones who are so supportive and loving to everyone, no matter what!  I’m sorry, but believing that homosexuality isn’t Scriptural doesn’t automatically mean that I hate gay people or that I’m unwilling to help out people who are going through a dark time in their life.  This wasn’t a huge part of this book by any means, but it was a completely unnecessary dig.

It also seemed really weird to me that part of Riley’s back story was that she had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years – because he had never divorced his wife?!?!?  That seemed unnecessarily wrong, and it honestly changed my perspective of who Riley was as a person.  Like wow, she’s just been an adulterer for two years??  That seems… disturbing?

The rest of my angst I’ll put below the cut as they involve spoilers.  This wasn’t a terrible book by any means.  I really was very engaged with the story and anxious to find out how it ended.  But I felt like justice was not served by the conclusion and it left me feeling rather angry, this concept that this person “deserves” a good life, rather than deserving what they earned through their actions.  So yes, a 3/5.  And for a more positive review, be sure to check out Carol’s thoughts, which first led me to this book!

Also – #14 for #20BooksofSummer!

Continue reading

April Minireviews

Usually this space is reserved for books I felt kind of “meh” about, but this time around it’s just a way of trying to catch up on some of the backlog.  I’m ready for summer break!!!

Paper Towns by John Green

//published 2008//

I really was going to write a whole long review complaining about this book, but who has time for that?  I read this book because I felt like I needed to actually read one of Green’s books before dismissing him as a pretentious and condescending guy who just says whatever young adults want to hear so he’ll stay popular.  (These days, they call that “being relevant.”)  Now I can be quite smug about not liking him, because, after all, I have tried his books!

Paper Towns was about what I expected.  The main character was completely unrealistic, a high school senior who cared about grades, grammar, and making his parents proud.  And it wasn’t really those things that made him unrealistic, it was just his entire manner and way of speaking.  He spends most of this book running around trying to solve a mystery, following clues he believes his neighbor/crush has left for him.  I’ve heard Green get a lot of flack for perpetrating the “manic pixie dream girl” method of creating a story, but I’m not sure I buy that.  Like half the point was Quentin realizing that he saw Margo as a manic pixie dream girl (although he doesn’t use those words), and understanding that he’s only ever seen her as a very one-dimensional character instead of an actual person.  Yes, Margo is weird and quirky; and yes, she helps Quentin appreciate his life more fully; and yes, we don’t really get to know her from her own perspective – but I still felt like Quentin’s realizations of her were above the MPDG level.  A little.

Overall, the story was just dumb and kind of pointless.  It was a book that desperately was trying to be poignant and deep, but really just came through as cliched and boring.  I compare that to something like The Scent of Waterwhich doesn’t at all try to be poignant and deep and yet manages just that, and can’t believe that people hail someone like John Green as a genius and brilliant writer.  OVERRATED is the main word that comes to my mind, as this book was desperately boring, the characters were flat, and the entire book read like one long cliche.  2/5.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

//published 1817//

Somehow, I had never gotten around to reading this particular classic, and I’m quite sorry that I waited this long.  While this book didn’t have the character studies of some of Austen’s other works, I found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions.  Austen’s wry sense ofhumor was at the forefront of this rather frivolous tale, and I loved the way that she poked fun at all sorts of things, but all in such a gentle and kindhearted way.

I purchased the perfect copy of this book, a wonderfully-sized paperback that I love.  My only problem was the “introduction,” in which I was treated to a ten-page synopsis of the story (complete with all the spoilers) and not a word of actual insight or thought!  I’m really heartily tired of introductions that are actually a CliffNotes version of the book.  Just because it’s a classic doesn’t mean that everyone who picks it up has already read it!  I mean really.  If the foreword isn’t going to actually give information, what’s the point?!

But the story itself is adorable and fun, and although this may have been my first reading of it, I don’t anticipate it being the last.  5/5.

Wild Palomino: Stallion of the Prairies by Stephen Holt

//published 1946//

This is another book in the Famous Horse Stories series, and one that I’ve had on a shelf for years and never actually read.  I wasn’t really missing all that much, as Wild Palomino was a wildly impractical tale from page one through the finish.  At the time that I actually read it I kept thinking, Wow, I should make sure to point out that crazy plot twist when I review this book!  But I honestly don’t remember many of specifics as this was an easily-forgotten story.  It’s perfectly fine, and the younger audience for whom it was written would probably enjoy all the drama and excitement, but it was just too implausible for me to really get into.  2/5.

The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1912//

So I mean, sure, some people complain about Wodehouse’s books being a little samey.  I’ve never found that to be an issue for myself personally, because each one has its own unique charm, despite following more or less a set of guidelines.  But I found myself getting major deja vu when I was reading this book, mainly because it wasn’t my imagination – Wodehouse actually used part of one of his other stories!

The part I haven’t been able to figure out completely is whether or not this book or Psmith, Journalist came first, mainly because of the whole thing where Wodehouse wrote lots of his books as serials before printing them as a book, and also tended to have some of his books published first in the U.K. and then in the U.S.  or vice versa.  Either way, this whole book felt weird because of the inclusion of virtually the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist, including a character named Smith!

The Prince and Betty starts as its own story, with Betty’s rich stepfather (or possibly actually father or possibly uncle, I’m not sure which as it has been a while) deciding that his next big scheme is going to be opening a casino on a small European island country.  Complicated hijinks begin, including the rich guy’s attempt to  make Betty marry the prince of said small country.  Of course, Betty and the prince already knew each other from before (except she didn’t know he was a prince… and neither did he!), but Betty thinks that the prince is just trying to appease her father (or stepfather or uncle), so she gets angry and runs away.  So far, so good.

Except next the story takes a strange turn.  Betty lands a job as a secretary for a small newspaper and – well, insert the entire plot of Psmith, Journalist here!  It’s a shame because I actually love Psmith, Journalist  – like, a LOT – but it didn’t feel like it fit into this book at all.  I’m not sure if it’s because I had already read Psmith, or if it really did read like two different books mashed together.  So yes, both halves were good reads, but they didn’t go well together, but that could have just been me…

March Minireviews – Part 1

Usually, I only post a group of minireviews for books that have just been sort of meh for me, leaving me with not a whole lot to say about the story.  But this month I’ve been super busy with work and other projects and just simply haven’t had time for reviews.  I really struggled through a reading slump the end of February and into March, but over the last couple of weeks have been back in the groove, which means I actually have quite the little pile of books waiting to be reviewed.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to really unpack all the ins and outs, so I’m going to try to just give each read a few paragraphs… hopefully I don’t get too carried away…

Dead End Close by Dominic Utton

//published 2017//

I actually started a whole long review of this book but then got really carried away.  I disliked this book so much that the whole review was turning into a rather incoherent rant, so maybe I can just summarize a briefer, coherent rant here.  I actually rather enjoyed Utton’s first book, Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Timeand I think that added to the disappointment that I felt about Dead End Close.  This book focuses on several households all on the same dead-end street in Oxford.  There’s a bit of mystery/thriller aspect, but at the end of the day this book was just overwhelmingly depressing.  No one has a happy life, no one has a happy ending.  All of my notes on this book end with “???” because I just didn’t get this book at all.  There’s this weird guy meandering through the story (and sometimes narrating it) with a clipboard, and we are given the impression that he’s a supernatural/angelic being of some kind (???), but apparently there for observation purposes only has he does diddly-squat to prevent anything from happening.  Throughout the story, all the lives that started pretty bad to begin with only get worse.

But the biggest reason that this book gets 0/5 stars for me is that a huge part of the plot centers around a trio of Oxford boys who are trying to get into a club, and the initiation process requires them to rape a girl, video it, and then get the video to go viral.  This whole part of the book literally made me ill to read, it was so disturbing and dark and gross.  And maybe I could have gotten around this if this book had had some kind of point, but it didn’t.  The whole story was just completely pointless.  It went no where, there was no character development, terrible things happened to everyone, people get raped and killed, and a heavy sense of hopelessness lingers on every page.

I think I was especially irked when I got to the end and Utton attempted to whitewash his entire story by acting like, somehow, there was a message of hope.  Like, “Oh wow, sometimes bad things happen, but there’s always hope!”  Yeah, that doesn’t really fly with me when the only “hope” part of your story is in the next-to-last paragraph of the entire book.

Dead End Close was given to me free of charge from the publishers, and this is my obviously very honest review.  I hated every word of this book and wouldn’t even recommend it to someone I didn’t like.  Weirdly, I would still read another of Utton’s books, though, because I enjoyed Harbottle, but this one was flat dreadful.

The Wreckage by Michael Robotham

//published 2011//

They say that a book can impact your mood.  I think this is true, but I also think that sometimes my mood impacts the book.  I picked up The Wreckage (the fifth in the Joseph O’Laughlin series) during the height of my reading slump and could not get into it.  And even though I eventually finished the book, it never really gripped me.  I can’t say for sure if that was the book’s fault or mine, but I definitely felt very meh towards this story the whole way through.

I think a large part of this was because it didn’t feel nearly as personal as the other books in this series.  The other books have dealt with tight, domestic-type crimes (kidnapping, murder, robbery, etc.), but this one was more political, following a storyline in Iraq, where a reporter believes that several bank robberies are connected; and London, where our old friend Vincent Ruiz finds himself entangled in a complicated web of disappearances, robberies, and embezzlement.

The story was done well, and the present-tense that Robotham insists on using made more sense as a third person narrative.  But my personal disinterest meant that I didn’t read this book very closely, and consequently it felt disjointed to me.  It left me with a 3/5 rating, but I think that it will be better when I read through this series again.

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

//published 2017//

This was another ARC, but one that I thankfully enjoyed a great deal more than Dead End Close.  This story drifts back and forth in time, following the lives of three German women before, during, and after World War II.  While this wasn’t exactly a cheerful read, it was a very engaging one.  Shattuck handles the shifts in time perfectly, giving information about the lives of these women at just the right time.  It is not a mystery, but each of the women has her own secrets that are only gradually revealed.

It was quite fascinating to read a story about “everyday” Germans.  Marianne, passionate about the resistance; Benita, rather naive and sometimes willfully blind; Ania, caught up in the dream of a better life and failing to see how the promises were built on shifting sand.  The language is lovely and the characters are well-drawn, although I wish that we saw more of Marianne’s thoughts and actions.  She is weirdly both the center of the story and yet in the background of it.

While I don’t see myself returning to this book time and again, I would definitely read another of Shattuck’s books, and recommend this one to anyone who enjoys history from the perspective of ordinary people struggling to see what is right.  4/5.

The Fourth Wish by Lindsay Ribar

//published 2014//

This book is the sequel to a lighthearted YA novel that I read in February, The Art of Wishing.  While Wishing didn’t really blow my mind with its awesomeness, it was still an entertaining and pleasant read, and I was expecting more of the same from The Fourth Wish.  Unfortunately, it was overall pretty terrible.  In this book, Margo is struggling to adjust to her new life as a genie.  For some reason, Ribar decided that the overwhelming majority of people who get a hold of a genie would use their wishes to find some kind of sexual fulfillment.  Color me crazy, but if I had three wishes for anything, I really don’t think any of them would involve sex…???  Plus, we also have to spend a lot of time nattering on about how genies can be either male or female (I mean the same genie can be either), and how this doesn’t change who they are on the inside, and they can still love each other no matter their outward apperance, aw how romantic except why so boring and consequently not actually romantic at all.

I skimmed large portions of this book hoping to actually find a story, but there wasn’t one.  Margo was a total whiner in this book, spending most of  her time being a jealous girlfriend.  I don’t really have high hopes for her relationship with Oliver, especially since they are not both timeless, eternal beings.  Like I don’t think this relationship is going to last five months, much less five centuries.

In the end, 2/5 and nothing that inspired me to find out if Ribar has written anything else.

The Joy Luck Club // by Amy Tan

 

thejoyluckclub

//published 1989//

When I picked up The Joy Luck Club, I was hoping to read a book that would emphasize the mystery of the culture within a culture – the difficulty of balancing the culture from the past with the culture of a new place and time.  In this story, Tan blends old and new culture beautifully, telling the story of four women and their daughters in a way that wonderfully expresses the yearning every parent has to see life be better for their children than it was for themselves, and the inability for any child to truly appreciate the sacrifices that have been made for them.  And she does this while emphasizing the impact that the Chinese culture has had on each of the characters.  Throughout the story, Tan’s ability to express various aspects of this culture and its influence on Tan’s characters gave layers of depth and interest to the tale.

It is an odd story in many ways, being more of a collection of vignettes surrounding a group of individuals than a linear story.  There are four sections in the book, and within each section is a chapter told by either one of the mothers or one of the daughters.  For me, this was the only part of the book that was a tad confusing – because there were long gaps between characters’ chapters, and because the next chapter about a character would not directly pick up where the last chapter had ended, I found myself having to flip back through the book at the beginning of each chapter to remind myself what had happened in this family before.  I think this mild confusion was emphasized because every chapter is told in first person, so rather than reading a chapter wherein an individual’s name is repeated throughout, thus helping me to remember that Lindo Jong was the person who was pledged to marry a neighbor’s son, the personal pronouns in every chapter meant that I had to flip back to that chapter to remind myself whether Lindo Jong was the person pledged to marry the neighbor’s son, or the one who told the Moon Lady her secret wish.

However, the first person narratives did, in this instance, make the stories feel much more personal and real, and also gave the narrators opportunities to emphasize not just the action of what occurred, but how they felt about the event and how they believed it influenced them in the future.

The nature of these stories means that we jump back and forth in time.  The mothers were all born, in China, around 1915, so when they tell a tale from their childhood, it usually takes place sometime in the 1920’s.  Most of the immigrated to America in the 1940’s, and their daughters were born in the early 1950’s, so many of the stories take place in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Finally, the present-day story, where the book begins and ends, takes place in the late 1980’s, when the daughters are approaching middle age, and the mothers are elderly.  Despite this, I never felt lost or confused as to what was happening when.  Tan easily inserts dates when necessary, and they flow naturally into the story, giving context and place to each chapter.  This is a book where date and location are important, as the story ranges through the good part of a century wherein the world goes through many advances in technology and changes in societal mores.

While Tan doesn’t claim this book to be autobiographical, she was born in 1952 of parents who had immigrated from China just a few years before.  This is definitely a story that is rooted in what the author knows.

This wasn’t exactly a happy book, yet despite the many tragedies and misunderstandings throughout, Tan somehow manages to leave us with a sense of hope, that each of these mothers will be able to reach her daughter and share what it is that has shaped her.

I’m not sure that The Joy Luck Club is a book that I will return to again and again, but it was a thoughtful read, beautifully written and brilliantly executed.  I look forward to seeing what else Tan has written since this 1989 debut.

This book was initially brought to my attention by a lovely review by The Literary Sisters, who do a much better job than me at outlining the story!

Bitter Greens // by Kate Forsyth

19286545

//published 2012//

So this is my first official 2017 read – my other reviews this week have been of books I actually read the last week of December.  It was quite the book to start things with – almost 500 pages of me not being completely convinced that I liked the book.  In the end, a pretty solid 3/5 read for me, although this book had an extremely satisfying ending, so that boosted it up to a 3.5.

Bitter Greens is several stories in one.  The first story is that of Charlotte-Rose, in late 1600’s France.  She tells her story in first person, and at the beginning of the book, she has been exiled from court and sent to a poor convent, where things are pretty miserable.  There, she meets one of the nuns, Soeur Seraphina.  This sister begins to tell Charlotte-Rose a story about a young girl a hundred years earlier who lived in Italy, who was kidnapped  by a witch and imprisoned in a tower.  And then, part way through that story, we start also getting the perspective of the witch as well.

Despite the multiple layers, each story was so distinct that I didn’t have any trouble telling them apart.  And Forsyth would usually spend a few chapters with one character before switching to another, so we got each of the different stories in large chunks.  Charlotte-Rose was telling her own story in first person, both what was currently happening to her in the convent, and about different episodes in her past that led to her being exiled there.  Seraphina’s Rapunzel tale was told in third person, which made sense, but I was confused because the witch’s story was being told in first person.  The Rapunzel story felt natural because we knew where it was coming from – Charlotte-Rose is hearing it from Seraphina – but where was the witch’s perspective coming from?  It added a good layer to the overall story, but felt a little awkward.

This was another story that just sort of assumed that magic and witches and whatnot are real things that happen.  And, just like when I read The Shapeshifters, I found myself completely accepting Forsyth’s version of history – that a spell and bathing in blood could make a woman stay young; that a curse and some hair and a bat’s wing could force a man to desire you; that you could torment a man with a curse and make him die from the terror of his own dreams.

There were a lot of things about this book that I liked.  The setting is done very well.  The terror and uncertainty of all three of the time periods really came across, especially in France when only Catholicism is legal and everyone must join the church or die.

Charlotte-Rose and the Rapunzel character (Margherita in this story) were likable and tangible.  I also appreciated how Forsyth even managed to make the witch into not exactly a sympathetic character, but one whose perspective you could at least understand.  Charlotte-Rose is based on a real person as well, and Forsyth gives us some extra information – just enough – at the beginning and end of the book.

However, the problem was that this book was basically about sex, the repression of women, and the way that those repressed women can use sex to control the  men around them.  All the sex got very old very quickly, and there was a lot of it.  I found myself flipping pages frequently looking for the next actual bit of the story.  Everyone was a whore, or related to a whore, or acted like a whore (by their standards, not mine).  And like I get the fact that at these various time periods there weren’t really any options for women except for marriage, a convent, or prostitution, but still.  It felt like I was being beat over the head with this fact on every page as the women bemoaned their lack of choices, and then went on to continue manipulating the men in their lives by giving or withholding sex.  I just was totally over all the descriptions of sex.  I really feel like I can walk into a room without being overcome with lust for someone in said room, but that didn’t seem like something that ever happened to one of Forsyth’s characters.

I’ve also realized that I just have an issue with the actual story of Rapunzel.  In the story, Rapunzel is locked in the tower, immured from society and social knowledge.  When the prince starts hanging out with her, he has sex with her despite the fact that she doesn’t really know anything about it or what it means or that it leads to babies, and that’s just really creepy to me.  This book was the same, and I don’t blame the book – it’s the original story that’s creepy!  Actually, I felt like Forsyth handled it a little better than some, except for the fact for no reason that I could understand we also had to have this bit with Margherita having her first period and I’m not going to go into details here but I just never really want to hear about menstrual blood or people touching menstrual blood and I don’t understand why novels act like they have to get into the nitty gritty detail to  prove that they’re serious about writing about women.  I mean, please.  So that was super weird.

But the ending!  I dragged a bit through this book.  It’s a bit of a chunk of a book and since I was terribly excited about it, I mostly left it sitting at my spot at the counter where we eat our meals, and would read it whenever I was eating.  So it took me a few days to get through it and I was feeling fairly ambivalent towards everyone, assuming that Forsyth was going to do the traditional Novel thing and kill everyone off and/or leave them in hopeless misery for the rest of their lives.  Instead, while they didn’t all necessarily get happy endings, they at least got logical and satisfying ones.  I really liked the way that things came together in the end.  I felt like all of the women in the story had changed and grown.  And despite hundreds of pages of sex and sex being the only thing women can do, in the end it actually seemed like each of the main characters had grown past that, to find their true selves.

So as I said, a 3.5/5.  This was pretty good historical fiction with intriguing characters, and if there had been about 80% less sex, I think this book would have received a 4/5, especially with the satisfactory ending.  I heard about this book from both Sophie and Lady Fancifull, and I definitely recommend checking out their reviews as well.

Terms & Conditions // by Robert Glancy

terms-conditions

//published 2014//

I don’t know exactly what I expected from Terms & Conditions, but I think it delivered.  This story had an innovative format that I found completely addictive.  I actually ended up liking the main character, and while bits of the story were rather depressing, the ending was solid and at least somewhat optimistic, which I appreciate.

I don’t even really know exactly how to describe this book.  The main character, Frank (or possibly Franklyn), has been in a terrible car accident and is suffering from amnesia.  Frank has spent his life working in the family law firm, and his job is to write all the terms and conditions – the small print at the bottom of the contracts – the stuff that no one reads.

The book is divided into very short chapters that mostly start with “Terms and Conditions of __________”.  Then there are a few pages (or just one) of Frank talking about the subject (e.g., life, me, senses, coffee, and my wife are the first five sections).  However, the entirety of each chapter is riddled with footnotes – and if you dared to skip them, you would miss the whole story.  Which, in a way, is the point.

I can see how the format would be extremely aggravating to some people.  However, I felt that Glancy pulled it off.  The footnotes are always situated in a position in the sentence or paragraph that makes it easy to glance down and read the addition without breaking the rhythm of what is happening.  I personally ended up loving the format. I loved the short, snappy sections.  I liked the way that they had a heading, then a summary sentence, and then Frank’s thoughts on the topic.

Terms & Conditions of Coffee:  Its taste never lives up to the promise of its aroma.

Terms & Conditions of the Spleen:  You can live without it but it makes life just a little bit harder.

Terms & Conditions of Meetings:  They’re never about work.

Terms & Conditions of Warnings: They usually come without warning.

Terms & Conditions of a Prenuptial Agreement:  It’s just a postnuptial disagreement waiting to happen.

Really, my only problem with this format came down to font size.  Because so much of the story is fine print, it’s literally in fine print – and I could legit only read this book in strong light because my eyes aren’t that fantastic and some of the font was quite tiny.

In some ways, this book reminded me a lot of Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time.  Both books have an unusual format and short, snappy chapters.  And both of them are about individuals slowly realizing that the constant grind of doing something that they kind of hate is kind of killing them inside.  At one point in Terms & Conditions Frank reflects –

I don’t want to change society – I’m not that ambitious – but I would prefer it if my every working hour was not devoted to making this world a slightly worse place to live.

I feel you, Frank.  That’s kind of what inspired me to throw in the towel at my law office job last winter and instead become a seasonal farm worker of sorts.  (So not changing society, but somehow I hope that selling people flowers and apples is making the world a slightly happier place than doing debt collection on their hospital bills.)

At any rate, the problem with these types of books is that they frequently end in a sort of depressing manner.  But (and hopefully this isn’t too much of a spoiler here), I felt like Glancy handled this story very deftly.  Parts of it definitely were sad and frustrating, but it was ultimately a story that ended on a hopeful note.

Sometimes I feel like a lot of people act as though getting up and going to work every day, having a house, being married, raising a family and some vegetables – like all of that stuff is what makes your life terrible and sucks out your soul.  But I think that the problem isn’t with a steady routine and regular work, but rather that we all too often allow ourselves to be shuttled into careers that we didn’t really choose – families pressure us into pursuing specific jobs that don’t really appeal to us, finances mean that we can’t get an education learning the thing we’re interested in, or we didn’t even realize there was another option until we’re twenty years deep into the thing we kinda hate.  It isn’t always practical to break away from a soul-sucking job, but maybe more of us could if we were willing to really look at our options and change the way we live.

At any rate, I really enjoyed Terms & Conditions, and found myself wishing Frank all the best.  4/5 for an engaging story with an unusual layout.  Recommended.

PS This book was originally brought to my attention way back in 2014 by Carol over at Reading, Writing & Riesling, so be sure to check out her review!