Monday, August 30, 2010

Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska by Miranda Weiss — 288 pgs

Book CoverIn this memoir of a first season spent living in Alaska, Miranda Weiss takes her readers through both the harshness and the beauty of one of the most beautiful places in America. When Miranda decides to leave Oregon and relocate to Alaska, she is unsure of many aspects of her future. Though she quickly becomes enamored of both the people and the land, she finds herself struggling in her personal relationship with John, the man she has traveled to Alaska with. Miranda is constantly and studiously trying to learn about herself and her surroundings in order to be prepared for every eventuality and to really know herself and this land she now calls home. As Miranda relates her stories of struggle and joy, she intersperses a wealth of little known information about Alaska, from its land to its people to the creatures that inhabit it. From the brazen and discordant sea that surrounds her, to the unspoiled yet littered lands that she lives on, Miranda shares her reflections on the many subjects that make Alaska simultaneously foreign and familiar. Though she is no doubt freer here in this wild place, Miranda is also beset by shifts both in her emotions and in her thoughts about the way of life she now leads. She speaks of the amazing and the everyday with equal respect and awe, and relates how this underdeveloped and under-examined piece of land can be both startling in its raw beauty and brutally dangerous in its complications. In this unflinching look at a life lived in Alaska, Miranda Weiss shares her unique perspective as both a resident and an outsider in a world that has not been completely tamed.

I am very much an armchair traveler, and when I get the chance to read a book about a place that I have never visited, I find that my interest in that place is heightened to the point of considering travel plans. The best memoirs of places unknown always inspire such a wanderlust in me and this book was certainly no exception. While reading this story, a little piece of my mind was trying to figure out a way to leave all my possessions behind and move out to what can only be described as a hauntingly beautiful landscape complete with local flavor, scenic views and a wonderful array of flora and fauna.

Despite the fact that I have a relative living in Alaska, I know very little about the area. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Weiss' solid and no-nonsense memoir was densely packed with information, relating both to her stay and to the land. Some of the facts revealed here laid out a very different picture than the one I had been expecting. For example, did you know that the Alaskan government actually pays its residents oil dividends each year? In essence, each resident gets a check every year, just for being part of the community. Also, in Alaska, there is a certain period when residents are allowed to wade into the bay during salmon spawning season and catch as many fish as they can entice into their nets. As Weiss explains, this is a very easy way for the inhabitants to catch enough fish to put away for the long cold winter. Such things seemed like novelties to me, but for Weiss and her fellow Alaskans, it was all a part of the way of life. Much mention was made about conservation of natural resources and it was interesting to me to find out that the parts of Alaska that were not being exploited for oil and other resources were primarily wild and uninhabited spaces. Weiss also speaks of the changes that have occurred in the recent years to fishing in Alaska. It seems that when one resource is exhausted, like shrimp and crab for example, another resource is tapped for the benefit of fisheries that ship all over the world.

One of the things I liked about this book was the way Weiss describes her life and stay in Alaska. I found her personal dramas to be some of the most compelling sections of the book, but I often felt that these were not explored in enough depth. It was curious that just when she would start to open up about her concerns over her relationship and way of life, she would quickly return to factual information about the land she has made her home. I came to feel that she was hiding within her narrative and I would have liked to see more of her heart and read more about her thought processes. Over all the layers of hurt and confusion, there seemed to be a patina of facts that, while they enabled me to get to know more about the land, kept me further and further away from the feelings of the actual woman who was penning this story.

Part of Weiss' conundrums over living in Alaska had to do with the qualities of the land itself. She explains that while it's a beautiful place, much of it has been spoiled by the constant pollution of its people. She relates how some stretches of land are littered with broken down and rusted vehicles, crab pots and other refuse. She comes to conclude that parts of the land are literally overrun by litter, which causes the landscape to look more dilapidated than it should. She also speaks about the environmental damage caused by fisheries and oil drilling. I was shocked to find out that oil was allowed to be drilled from private property over the objections of the owners. I think this has to do with unfettered access to the land that was sold to other countries. In all, Weiss paints a picture of a society and way of life that seems in danger of collapsing, which is really sad when you stop to think about it.

Not surprisingly, the relationships that Weiss forms with her neighbors and with others in her community seem to be a large part of survival in this hostile place. Time and time again, Weiss relates the ways in which one neighbor or friend helps another and the ways that these strings of acquaintances shape and affect the way that one can live successfully on the land. I find this to be really fascinating, for in most parts of this country, people have very little to do with their neighbors and community and it seems this is another foreign aspect to living in such a place. Alaskans, as Weiss notes, don't make judgments about the way that other people live, and whether it's in a trailer, tent or yurt, people seem to accept all ways and permutations of living their lives.

I really enjoyed the time I spent reading this book, and although I wish it there had been a little more of a personal bent to this story, I was excited to get the chance to learn so much about a place that was unknown to me. I think those readers who enjoy a comprehensive study of areas that might be unfamiliar to them would probably enjoy this book, but if you are looking for a memoir that deals with the more personal subjects of a life lived in Alaska, you might not find it here. Overall, this was a book that inspired me to want to travel, if not permanently, than at least for the short term!

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vanishing and Other Stories by Deborah Willis — 320 pgs

Book CoverA young girl deals with the mysterious disappearance of her quiet and secretive father, learning along the way that he was not what he seemed. A woman speculates on her husband's affair, going so far as to try to confront the wrong woman. A trio of friends living together go through a strange metamorphosis of relationship when one suddenly leaves. An adult daughter returns home to a father who can't recognize her. These are just a few of the fourteen stories that make up the eclectic and thoughtful collection Vanishing by Deborah Willis. Sparse yet satisfying, these stories render their subjects lives in miniature and peddle between the past and the present to deftly intertwine the sudden joys of life and the unexpected sadness that can so change the way life is lived.

I haven't read many short story collections in the past few years, though that has not stopped me from collecting them! I sometimes find it hard to really get into a book of short stories because there just isn't room in them for the kind of character growth and reflection that I so appreciate in the novels I read. I like to see characters change and I like to see the situations they are living amongst and decipher how these situations affect their behavior. This is something that you don't usually get to experience in short stories. To me, short stories are more like a snapshot of a static moment in a character's life: not moving forward or looking backward, only a picture of this very moment. This is not the case here, and as I became more and more enmeshed in the collection, I grew to appreciate it more and more.

First off, Willis does something that I haven't seen before in short stories: she vacillates between the past and the present. In most of her stories, the story shifts between the action taking place today and what has happened in the past that makes the story so resonant. I really liked this technique and felt it gave the stories a lot of fullness and relevance. I liked that these stories were imbued with two types of texture, both the framework of the past and the more fluid present sections. I felt that writing them this way also had the effect of making the stories seem more robust, as though they encompassed more material and time. I think the best example of this technique came in the story Remember, Relive, a story that explores both the unique relationships among a family and what they have morphed into over time.

Another thing that makes this collection unique is that Willis is able to tell full-bodied stories in her short fiction. Nothing is static here. There is dramatic action and character growth, as well as climaxes and denouements. I think she is able to achieve this due to her ability to tell a story rather sparsely, yet fit in all the hallmarks of a good tale. Her language is not flashy and she doesn't spend a lot of time on pointless description and internal thought processes. Instead, she sets her stage and puts her characters through their paces, letting them encounter life and each other with wonderful results. These stories all have a beginning, middle and end, and because of that they feel more weighty than their page space should allow.

I should also mention that these stories are narrated by characters with varying sexes, ages and circumstances, and each voice is genuine and believable. Whether she is writing as an aging cowboy, a confused teenage girl or a woman being betrayed, Willis' voice never falters. I think it's a pretty amazing thing to make so many characters sound so convincing, especially considering the fact that their time onstage is so brief. I actually think the male characters were my favorite to read about because Willis managed to make her males seem sensitive yet tough and they seemed like the type of people that I could or should know. I also think she did very well with her teenage characters. They were at once rebellious yet vulnerable and insecure. Another thing that I admired was the fact that she consistently matched each character to their ideal setting and plot. Seeing these characters in the right places really made these stories shine.

This is a collection that deals with the more quiet and somber emotions, and there is a great gravity to all of these stories that I really enjoyed. Though I haven't kept up with short stories for the last few years, I greatly enjoyed this book and think that Willis is a very interesting talent. I think this collection would be great for those who are voracious readers of short story collections and those that are new to the genre. It would also be perfect for those that are a bit rusty. If I had to describe these stories in just a couple of words, I would say they were unexpectedly satisfying and they are short enough that a reader can dip in and out of the book with ease. A very unique collection, recommended.

About The Author

Deborah Willis’s work has appeared in the Bridport Prize Anthology, Event, and Grain, and she was a winner of PRISM International‘s annual fiction prize. Short-listed for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, Vanishing and Other Stories is her first book of fiction.

Visit Deborah at her website.

TLC Book Tours I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour and want to extend a warm thanks to them for sending me the book to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these sites:

Tuesday, August 17th:Booksie’s Blog
Wednesday, August 18th:Eleanor’s Trousers
Tuesday, August 24th:The Lost Entwife
Thursday, August 26th:Raging Bibliomania
Monday, August 30th:All About {n}
Wednesday, September 1st:In the Next Room
Tuesday, September 7th:she reads and reads
Wednesday, September 8th:Cozy Little House
Monday, September 13th:Rundpinne
Tuesday, September 14th:Confessions of a Bookaholic
Wednesday, September 15th:Life in the Thumb
Tuesday, September 21st:Library Queue

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross — 352 pgs

Book CoverIn this psychological puzzle of a novel, we meet three men with three very different marriages, though oddly, they share many similarities. David Pepin is a video game designer who is married to Alice, a morbidly obese woman whose weight and moods fluctuate wildly. When Alice commits suicide by stuffing herself with peanuts, leading to extreme anaphylactic shock, the investigators working the case believe that David may actually have murdered her. Though grief stricken, David also suffers from strange emotions after his wife's death due to the fact that he had been writing a novel about killing Alice. In a complex way, David loved his wife while also hating her; longing to be married to her while at the same time longing to be free. When the two lead detectives, Hastroll and Sheppard, begin to delve into the Pepin case, the secrets of their marriages also come into focus. It seems that Hastroll also has problems with his wife. For some strange reason, she hasn't left her bed in five months, a situation that frustrates and confuses her husband. When Hastroll begins going to extraordinary lengths to get her out of bed, their relationship takes a turn for the worse. Sheppard also has a turbulent history with marriage. Many years ago, after a party, his wife was found murdered in their home. Though the police could never prove his guilt, neither could they confirm his innocence, and Sheppard spent a decade in jail. Now free, he is partnered with Hastroll in their efforts to find the truth about Alice's death. Winding together the stories of three very bizarre marriages, Mr. Peanut deftly exposes and tackles the fundamental aspects of singularity and coupledom, desire and detestability, and blurs the lines between reality and fantasy.

This book was a wild ride from start to finish. Having heard how twisting and strange the story was definitely was an enticement to read the book, but the execution and sheer inventiveness is the reason I stayed so happily stuck within its pages. It was a clever maze of a read where nothing is what it seems and though it could be a tad confusing at times, there was a quality of the story bending backwards and constantly morphing on itself that didn't fail to put me through my paces as a reader.

One of the things I think it's important to mention about this story is that it's not all gimmick. Though there were times that the book read more like a puzzle, there were also times it became a very literary read, full of recurring symbolism and deep themes and issues, and adept language. Ross didn't have a hard time incorporating all of these aspects into the plot and I think that's one of the things that stood out to me most. Even the genre was fluid in this book, being mostly a dramatic noir read but also with elements of mystery, a trio of love stories and a novel of dark comedy. The book was not afraid to tackle inflammatory issues as well, and in a very articulate manner manages to speak clearly and coherently about the social and personal ramifications of obesity, infidelity, infertility and most especially mental illness. Though all these things were discussed at great length, this never became a preachy "message" book but instead deftly integrated all these aspects into its complex labyrinth of a plot.

There are really three parts to this book. Three portrayals of marriage, each focusing on different areas and issues. Though I felt that some stories were more interesting and engaging, I did end up getting caught up in all of them. As I was reading, I came across some similar themes among the three relationships. Mainly, all three men felt strangely dominated by their wives' emotions and attempted to find ways to escape. In each case the escape was different, and in some cases this escape was only dreamed of and never put into action. Even more strangely, all three main characters admit to themselves alone that their lives might be better if their wives were no longer alive. The thought that their freedom could only come by the death of their wives was horrifying, yet I think Ross does a great deal to explain his characters motives and desires. These men could be repugnant at times, overly selfish and thoughtless, but in fact, they were all very human. Ross explores some very dark themes in this book, and in addition to being interesting, it also makes you think. It made me wonder just how permeable the boundaries were between subconscious desire and the full realization of desperate acts.

I think one of the most interesting things about this book was its characters. I couldn't help but hate these men with their insecurity and selfishness, but I also couldn't help but be enthralled with them as well. They were almost like children at times, throwing temper tantrums when life felt unfair and the next minute crying in their perceived abandonment. I was exasperated with them but also curious about where they would end up. I think I felt the most affinity and repugnance for David Pepin. As more and more about his life and internal thought process was revealed, I became more drawn to him. He was a really frightening man, overcome by need and desire, and petty and jealous. He put on a facade of loving and supporting his wife, but in reality, loving her was an act of self preservation and at times pity. Yet there was something so hang-dog about him. He was grossly unappreciated by his wife, but I began to ask myself, did David really deserve any appreciation, what with all that ugliness hiding in his heart? I think this book forced me to ask some tough questions about marriage and partnership, and the answers that presented themselves weren't always pretty.

There is a crazy amount of detail and cohesion in this book, which is one of the things that made it such a satisfying read for me. Though the middle of the book dragged a little at times, I think the mix of the three plots mostly went off without a hitch, and when the end was finally revealed I was at once awed, satisfied, and I admit, a little confused. I think that there are a lot of loose ends in this story and it was very cool to see the way Ross tied them all up in knots and bows. I couldn't help but feel both disgusted and impressed with this story, and for all the implausibility in it, there was also a lot of realism. All through this book, I kept asking myself just what kind of relationship Ross has with his wife. Not a very literary question, but one that was on my mind nonetheless!

Overall I thought this was an excellent read. Engaging from the start, it pulls you along through all its crazy twists and deposits you blinking and shocked on the other side. This is a more meaty read and it does require a bit of patience and perseverance, but in the end, the reader is so richly rewarded that it seems like a small price to pay. I will definitely be paying attention to Ross in the future. He has some interesting ideas and a very complex way of stringing together a story. A very clever and enticing read. Highly recommended.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Lovers by Vendela Vida — 240 pgs

Book Cover When Yvonne, a recently widowed teacher, returns to Turkey to recapture the magic of her honeymoon trip twenty-six years earlier, she finds both herself and the familiar landscape much changed. Both unobtrusive yet obvious, Yvonne begins by renting a beach house from a wealthy Turkish gentleman sight unseen via the Internet. Finding herself alone at last, Yvonne reaches back into her mind to unravel both the comfortable and uncomfortable bits of her marriage and children's lives. Trying to escape the loneliness that she unexpectedly feels, Yvonne begins to reach out to the local community in the form of her lessor's estranged wife and a young boy who makes his living selling seashells. As Yvonne becomes emotionally steeped in the place she is visiting, she finds things are not what they seem and becomes uncomfortable both with the assumptions she has made and with the realities beneath them. After a series of bizarre incidents shake her confidence, Yvonne becomes more and more reliant on the young boy she has befriended. When an accident robs her of her peace of mind and affects the boy, Yvonne comes to realize that the pieces of herself that she has carried to Turkey are far more fragile than she ever imagined. Both sparse yet somehow ominous, The Lovers seeks to encapsulate both the fear and foreignness of the unknown as seen through the eyes of a woman on her own.

As much as I am a newcomer to women's fiction, for some strange reason, this book didn't really strike me as an example of the genre. Approaching it with only modest information and plot summaries, I had expected to find something a lot darker and more malevolent, and for the most part, I think the author was on the right track. Where I think this book failed for me was its penchant to drive more towards the themes of isolation and separation instead of the darker themes of desolation and aloneness. For me, it felt as if the author was afraid to take a risk and invest bleakness into this tale, and because this was exactly what I was craving from this book, it fell flat for me.

First of all, Yvonne seemed to be a very naive person. She travels to a foreign country alone and expects to stay in a house that she has never seen belonging to a man to whom she has incautiously wired one thousand dollars. When the story opens, Yvonne is waiting at the airport for one of the gentleman's drivers to meet her and she thinks she has been tricked because no one is there waiting for her. This all get sorted out rather quickly and things go on from there. This, I think, was my first clue that the book was not going to progress in the way I had previously thought. It would have injected so much more mystery and denseness into the plot had things not gone right with Yvonne's plans. Instead, she is relieved and feels that things are going along as scheduled. It was almost a cheap trick to dangle something sinister in the reader's face and then decide to smooth it out and play nice almost right away. This was a recurring habit that the book fell into. Yvonne would get herself into some spot of trouble and there would be a hint that things could go very, very wrong; suddenly, the trouble would pass and things would look almost rosy again. I never got the impression that Yvonne was fully aware of any of the things she was doing and her thoughtless actions seemed to be predicated on the fact that she was preoccupied with memories of her husband and children. I so would have loved to see a firm and grounded Yvonne who had been steeped in unfamiliar situations and danger having to rely on her resourcefulness and creativity to keep her afloat. What I got instead was a woman bumbling her way through a vacation filled with unpredictabilities.

I also felt that there was something missing in Yvonne's recollections of her family and the time they shared. Though she claims to others, and even believes herself, that her relationship with her husband was almost perfect, it was clear to me that there was a huge gulf between them. A lot of the story in this book draws from the idea that Yvonne is working through the death of her husband and trying to become whole after a tragic loss. It didn't really make sense to me because there were far too many passages about how difficult her relationship was and not enough about the good things they shared together. I felt the same about her relationship with her daughter. One of the plot points centers around her daughter's repeated forays into addiction, but instead of seeming weary and heartbroken, it almost seemed as if Yvonne was judging her and pitting her problems against their relationship. As a mother, this didn't ring true. No matter what your children do, it's hard not to see them as part of you and I just felt that Yvonne's mentions of emotionally cutting her off and her relief with her daughter's absence was somehow cold. I didn't buy that she was a woman given over to grieving and lamenting her relationships because it all felt too cut and dried for me. When life is messy and the people you love disappoint you, you don't just close yourself off from them, you fight the battles with them and share in their joys and sorrows.

As Yvonne continues on with her stay in Turkey, she finds herself in several different dramas and confusions. This all would have been fine and even intriguing if these pickles she kept getting herself into would have gone anywhere. As it was, it became an odd and sort of mish-mashed set of incidents that I had to shake my head at and wonder over. It just felt weird. Why have your main character doing strange things, saying strange things and acting out of character, when it would ultimately lead to nothing? When drama finally did appear in the story, it took me too long to finally realize that this was the crux that Vida had been building towards. Even thinking about it now, the drama of the final sections of the book felt contrived and almost hyper-conceptualized. Why take all of these other strange and portentous plot events and have them fizzle out, and then pick this one to focus on so strongly? I just didn't get it. Not only didn't I get the point of this plot element, I didn't get why Yvonne acted so irrational and out of character when faced by this unexpected event. It felt like the author was traveling several different roads and the only one that had a destination was not the one I wanted to be on.

I also didn't get the final sections of the book, and although it might have made sense in the abstract, it really didn't make sense in reality. It was an artsy ending, designed to make the rest of the book seem deeper, but I felt it came off as a bit ridiculous and improbable. I actually had to go back and reread the last chapter or two to try to figure out how this had happened, to no avail, might I add. I couldn't help but feel cheated and played by this improbable ending. It almost felt as if the author didn't know how to end a story that had gotten out of her hands and resorted to a cop-out. The end of the book was maddening. Where I had hoped for some conclusion that would tie this story all together, I ended up closing the book feeling puzzled and angry.

Though I had a lot of problems with the execution and plot of this book, I still think the author has a great ability to create atmosphere and tension in her writing. The problem was not that she failed at creating a credible drama, but that, time and time again, it fizzled out before its time had come. I do think that I would be interested in reading more from this author because I can't help but feel that the limitations in this story might be a fluke, or that she might be able to rework her writing into something very promising. This book never really took off for me but that's not to say that it wasn't an interesting story. I guess what I am trying to get at is that I think that the story had a lot of potential, it just got never really matured into something great.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Houthouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire — Review and Giveaway

Houthouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin — 304 pages

Book CoverLila Nova has just gotten divorced from her husband and moved into a sterile and boxy New York apartment. One day as she is perusing the outdoor market, she comes across a plant stall run by the outdoorsy and rugged David Exley. When Exley convinces Lila to purchase an expensive tropical plant, she quickly becomes enamored both of her new bird of paradise and the handsome man who brought it into her life. Though things with Exley don't go as planned, Lila soon discovers a strange and charismatic man named Armand who runs a laundromat overrun by tropical plants and discovers the potent myth of the nine plants of desire. When Exley uses Lila to gain access to Armand and the nine plants, Lila is left responsible to replace the powerful and magical nine. Soon she is traveling to the jungles of the Yucatan with Armand, steeped in danger both from the people who protect the plants and the jungle and wildlife surrounding it. It is in this exotic locale that Lila not only finds the secrets she is searching for, but also finds a chance at a once in a lifetime love. In this clever and visceral novel, Berwin brings to life the magic and myth of the nine plants of desire and the powerful struggle that Lila must face to regain them all and bring them home.

About a year ago I made the great discovery of an independent bookstore in the downtown area of my city. When I went in to check it out, I discovered this book, just released in hardcover, on one of the front tables. The gentleman behind the counter told me it was a wonderful book and I quickly took it to a comfy chair and began checking it out. Though I didn't leave with it that day, I added it to my ever-growing wish list and told myself that it would definitely be a purchase sometime soon. So, when I saw that TLC was doing a book tour of this title, I quickly asked Trish if I could join in. I was really excited to get the chance to read this book, and despite some mild setbacks, I found that it truly didn't disappoint.

When the story first opens, Lila is wandering around the confines of her life and it is obvious that she is searching for something. Though she has a great job and interesting friends, there seems to be a hunger in her to connect more fully with the world around her. It is about this time that she discovers Exley and his plants and really begins to get embroiled in the events that will change her life. I felt I could really sympathize with Lila. For one, she was a smart cookie who felt an inexpressible longing to break out of her boundaries. Though at times she could be a little myopic, she seemed to have good intentions and was ever struggling to make more of herself and to encounter new situations. I felt a little anxious for her as she realized that Exley had used and duped her, and also felt that although her new friendship with Armand was a positive thing, there was something a little fishy about him. Armand saw a very different side of Lila and it wasn't exactly flattering. At first I was confused about his perceptions of her, but later on in the book, Lila seemed to shed the nice girl attitude and become a more fully realized and complex character who was at times manipulative and conniving. This was harder to get used to because I felt like I was sure I knew Lila and this new attitude didn't really fit with my experiences of her. Once Lila had begun to morph though, the wild ride of her adventure was set to begin.

As Armand and Lila head off into the Yucatan, the story starts to flower, so to speak. Lila's task is to locate the nine plants of desire. Once the plants are collected, the magic combination promises to bring untold rewards to the owners of the plants. I really began to sit up and pay attention once these adventures began. For the most part, the rain forest and jungles that Lila explored became a character in itself. It was full of life, both the quiet and peaceful kind and the violent and destructive kind. Reading about the oppressive heat and insects made me feel like I was right there alongside Lila, cutting my way through the vegetation and slapping the bugs away. Though I enjoyed the adventurous trek through the jungle, other parts of Lila's quest were a little harder to handle. There is a small part of this book that deals with the unfortunate fates of the dogs that are used in harvesting one of the nine plants. Coming across this section and its bizarreness and violence actually made me very angry and made me want to abandon the book. I didn't feel like there was a reason for this plot device other than to provoke and inflame the reader, and as it stood, this one piece of the the book did end up tempering my enjoyment of the whole.

There was a lot of raw sexuality and carnality in this book, which although I didn't expect, actually heightened my enjoyment of it. I thought it was very cleverly done and not at all inappropriate or gratuitous, when it could easily have been both. As it was, it gave the narrative a sexy and provocative vibe and did a lot to demonstrate the chemistry and passion between two of the main characters. This didn't feel like any cheesy old romance; instead it felt more like a natural progression of the attraction that the last half of the book focused on. It was a great culmination of all that had come before and these aspects felt very organic and well written. Additionally, the sexuality of the book was not confined to the humans in the plot. In what I can only describe as an amazing feat of creativity, the personalities and aspects of certain plants also spoke of desire, attraction and sexuality. This specific function and behavior of some of the plants was intensely interesting and thought-provoking to read about and did a lot to take the story to the next level.

There was also a lot of action and adventure in this story and these sections kept me involved and wondering just where this story was heading. I will say this for Berwin's writing, it is not in the least predictable and it has an originality that often pleased and awed me. Most of the action was set in the jungle/rain forest sections, making these sections doubly interesting and pleasing for me to read. I often found the action riveting and it captured my interest not only for its quirkiness but for its ability to transform my prior expectations and its power to get me to suspend my sense of disbelief. It was a great book to get lost in and an entertaining read all around, and as Lila hunted her way through the Yucatan, the plants and animals that came out of the woodwork to challenge her brought a feeling of exoticism and novelty to the book.

While I was less than happy with once aspect of the plot, the majority of the book managed to enthrall and excite me. I think this is a book that straddles many genres, including romance, adventure and women's fiction, and I am happy to say this made a great summer read. I think many different types of readers would enjoy this book, and for those who are looking for a story that excites and will keep you guessing, this would make a wonderful read. Perfect in its inventiveness and its action, Houthouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire is a entertainingly stellar read.

Good news! The wonderful people over at Vintage Contemporaries is generously providing me with one copy of Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire to give away to my readers! If you would like a chance to win a copy of this fabulous read, please leave me a comment on this post that includes your email address. You must leave a valid email address to be entered in this drawing. The winner will be determined with the help of on September 1st, 2010. Good Luck to all entrants!

About the Author

Margot Berwin won a merit scholarship for creative writing from the New School and earned her MFA in 2005. Her stories have appeared on,, The New York Press and in the Anthology The Future of Misbehavior. She lives in New York City.

You can contact Margot:

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Wednesday, August 11th:Chocolate & Croissants
Thursday, August 12th:The Road to Here
Friday, August 13th:Chick Lit Reviews
Monday, August 16th:Raging Bibliomania
Monday, August 17th at 10:00am ET:Creative Living With Jamie
Tuesday, August 17th:MrBrownThumb
Thursday, August 19th:A Nourishing Glimpse
Tuesday, August 24th:garden bliss
Thursday, August 26th:A Homesteading Neophyte
Monday, August 30th:The Gods Are Bored
Tuesday, August 31st:Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Wednesday, September 1st:Adventurous Kate
Thursday, September 2nd:Bloomingwriter
Tuesday, September 7th:Free Range Living
Wednesday, September 8th:Colloquium
Thursday, September 9th:Book Addiction
Monday, September 13th:K-Town Homestead
Tuesday, September 14th:Really Rose
Thursday, September 16th:Life in the Thumb
Monday, September 20th:Tales of a Capricious Reader
Tuesday, September 21st:Aunt Debbi’s Garden
Wednesday, September 22nd:Layers of Thought
Friday, September 24th:Garden Faerie’s Musings
Tuesday, September 28th:The Indoor Garden(er)
Thursday, September 30th:Plants are the Strangest People
Tuesday, October 5th:A Gardener in Progress
Thursday, October 7th:Candice Does the World
Monday, October 11th:My Reading Room
Tuesday, October
Thursday, October 14th:Get Busy Gardening!
Tuesday, October 19th:Chiot’s Run
Wednesday, October 20th:Evolution of a Garden
Thursday, October 21st:Kaleidoscopic Wandering
Monday, October 25th:Evenstar Art
Thursday, October 28th:Farmgirl Fare

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Random Blogginess and a Winner!!

Meeting Bloggers, an Awesome Giveaway, and a Winner!!

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of meeting two fantastic bloggers who also live in Orlando. I met the lovely Sandy of You've GOTTA Read This! and Marianne of Diagnosing Mary at the Enzian Theatre for the release of The Girl Who Played with Fire. Both Sandy and Marianne were wonderful! Just very friendly and well-read ladies who I am so glad I got the chance to meet! If you haven't checked out their blogs yet, what are you waiting for? Hop on over now! The movie was very intense and well done, but since I have only read the first book in the series, Sandy and Marianne warned me that there was a lot left out. That's okay because as soon as I got home I ordered my copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire and now I am itching to get my hot little hands on it. We had fun talking books, drinking a little wine and watching Lisbeth Salander kick ass, and I am glad that I was able to share such a wonderful evening with some new friends!

On another note, have any of you ever heard of CSN Stores? They have a few different websites and feature a bevvy of products including children's toys, exercise equipment, cookware and even bathroom sinks! The reason I mention them is because I will soon be hosting a giveaway for a $60 shopping spree at CSN. So please stay tuned for the great giveaway that is coming up shortly!

Also, the winner of the giveaway for a copy of Life Without Summer and Sea Escape is Melissa M from the great blog Shhh I'm Reading. Congratulations, Melissa! I hope that you really enjoy the books!

Lastly, I wanted to give a shout out to Amy from Amy Reads and thank her for passing on the Oh My Blog award to me! If you haven't checked out Amy's site, I highly recommend that you do. She has a really erudite way of talking books that I am sure many of you would love!

That's it for now, but do remember to stay tuned for news of the shopping spree giveaway! I wish you all lots of happy reading!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives – A Conversation with Aarti

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin — 288 pgs

Book CoverBaba Segi lives in modern day Nigeria with his four wives and their children, but has recently become very bothered by the fact that his fourth wife Bolanle has not yet conceived. Bolanle, a shy and unassuming young woman, has her own reasons for marrying Baba Segi, reasons that overshadow her life but are not shared with anyone. When Baba Segi begins to take this matter of non-conception into his own hands, a startling picture of the family's home life is revealed. It seems that Baba Segi's other wives are not happy with their husband's choice of Bolanle. To start with, she is far more educated than any of the others and where the other women are cruel and calculating, Bolanle is even tempered and mild. When the first and third wives begin to plot unfortunate accidents for Bolanle, a war begins to rage silently in their home. Though Bolanle knows she is despised and victimized, she chooses to remain with her husband and the other wives, no matter what it will cost her. Soon Baba Segi is furiously searching for answers to his wife's barrenness, but in doing this, he will uncover a secret that will threaten to disrupt his home in ways he can scarcely imagine. Written with a sense of directness and combustion, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives uncovers the life of a fiercely dysfunctional family living in the throes of polygamy.

When I found out that I would be reviewing this book for Library Thing's Early Reviewers Program, I was pretty excited. But when I also found out that my good friend Aarti who runs the great blog BookLust would also be reviewing the book for them, I was thrilled! We talked about it and decided that we would read this book together and post our thoughts on it. This review is more of a conversation than a straight review or a Q and A format and I really appreciated being able to read and discuss this with Aarti. As usual, her perceptive and thoughtful approach to this book really heightened my experience of it and I found that we had much the same opinion of the story as a whole. So please sit back and share our discussion with us! The first half is posted here, and the second half can be found over at BookLust.

Aarti: I found the book pretty disappointing. I don't know if it was my mood or my listlessness or what, but I did not feel engaged with it at all. I didn't like any of the wives, I didn't like Baba Segi and everyone in the book just seemed so selfish. I felt so bad for Baba Segi at the end, but I didn't like him before, so I wasn't THAT empathetic. Also, it took me a while to figure out the nomenclature- I just decided that Baba Segi must be the husband Iya Segi was talking about in her first section, even though he had a different name (or no name at all?) in that whole part of the book. I only later realized (because I think it was told to us) that all the characters were referred to by the name of their first child, except Bolanle, who didn't have any.

Heather: I have to agree with you that the book was not all that great. First off, I kind of felt that certain things were described and portrayed a little crassly at times. I didn't really need to hear so much about bodily functions and how greatly Baba Segi was endowed. I sometimes felt that these things really cheapened the writing and I wasn't sure why they were there at all. I don't think all this stuff was really necessary in the story. I thought it was mostly a little tasteless and I think the book would have been just fine without it. I was thinking while I was reading that maybe the author was trying to be earthy , but to me it was just kind of crude.

Aarti: You're absolutely right! I don't know why bodily functions showed up so much, either. I think your comment on it "cheapening" the book is very accurate. I am not sure if that is just the author's style or something else that maybe I just didn't catch onto, but it reminded me a bit of a somewhat vulgar movie, like Scary Movie. Not that I don't like vulgar humor, but this situation wasn't particularly funny, and so I thought it was a little off.

Heather: I also didn't really like any of the characters, and for the most part, I couldn't stand Baba Segi himself. He was a total misogynist and the way he treated Bolanle was just too much. I did feel sorry for him by the end of the book as well, but it was hard to feel too much for him since he spent most of the book being disrespectful, opinionated and rude. It was hard not to feel like he got what he deserved in some ways. I think his views on women and relationships were very simplistic and not all that admirable.

Aarti: Agreed. He was not in the least a character I could empathize with. He had no real personality until the very end. He was just a massive caricature.

Heather: You know, most of the characters in this book seemed like caricatures, which is seems to be pretty prevalent in books that deal with polygamy. Even some of the characters in The Lonely Polygamist fell into this trap. I'd love to see a book that deals with polygamy that doesn't employ this strategy sometime. I guess it's hard for me to say, because although I do know quite a few polyamorous people, I don't know any polygamists, so I can't say if these exaggerations are somewhat based in reality or not. I think sometimes it's easier for an author to create caricatures in writing about situations that are so foreign to them instead of creating a real life and toned down version that more fully represents the truth. I also thought that all the men in this story were jerks. They all treated women as if they were chattel and only wanted to use them sexually and then throw them away when they were done. It was almost like all the men in this story were just facets of the same man, a pompous and self serving pig who is constantly taking from the women of the story. I do wonder if the author is trying to subtly man-bash in this book, but seeing that her female characters are not really any better, I can't say for sure. I can say that the people who populated this book were all extremely unlikable, and not in a way that was particularly interesting or complex. They each embodied horrible characteristics and they were pretty much all hateful people. The women were really no better than the men and I couldn't get over all the horrible things they did to one another.

Aarti: That's something I wondered a lot about while reading this book, maybe because I just asked the question on my blog about the importance of theme in reading a novel. I have NO IDEA what the theme of this book was. I really thought it was talking about the importance of women taking care of themselves, but then at the end, there wasn't much reason to believe that at all. I have this vague idea that maybe the book was allegorical in some way, but I don't know what vices each character stands for...

Heather: I also couldn't pick out a theme in this story. Which leads me to believe either I read this book too superficially or the author wrote this book with no theme in mind. I think the plot of this book was basically hinged on a giant secret that the reader isn't privy to until the closing sections, and for me it just did not work. I had figured out the secret pretty early on and felt like the author didn't really do enough to disguise it in her narrative or to creatively keep it obscure to the reader. I felt like it was pretty shoddily executed overall and it kept me from really being able to experience the cohesion of the story.

Aarti: Yes, I thought it was very clumsily done, too. I just didn't get why the first and third wives hated Bolanle SO MUCH, compared to the other wives. It didn't make any sense to me at all. Just because she was college-educated? Does that mean that she would go around telling all their secrets to other people? I didn't make that leap.

Thanks for sharing this conversation with us! Now, please hop on over to BookLust to read some of the other thoughts we had on this book, including the mysteries of its main character and the strange implications this book draws on polygamy.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle — 464 pgs

Book CoverWhen Cami Anderson, a successful veterinarian, discovers that her husband is leaving her, her carefully balanced world begins to fall apart. Though her husband has been moody and distant for a long while, his abandonment has come as a complete surprise to her. Between the layers of disappointment and sadness, Cami has other things to deal with. Her brother and his life partner are mired in an attempt to adopt a baby of their own, her sister-in-law is planning her long anticipated and elaborate wedding, and her teenage daughter is having romance troubles that seem to stem from her parents' separation. As Cami navigates all of these difficult situations, she begins to ask herself some fundamental questions about marriage and relationships, a situation that is further confused and complicated by the three men who are newly vying for her attention. Meanwhile, Cami ministers to the animals who need her help and comes to rely on the peace and comfort that they bring her, knowing that they are helping her just as much as she is helping them. Both thought provoking and compulsively readable, The Blessings of the Animals is a wonderful work of women's fiction that will not only entertain, but one that will make you think about the relationships in your life as well.

I am fast becoming a lover of women's fiction. Though I have only sampled a few offerings, I am really surprised and pleased to discover how much I enjoy it. Maybe it's just the point of life I'm at, but I find it really interesting to read about women who are at some of the same stages I am, and have found out that if the story is written engagingly enough, I find lots to admire about these types of books. I don't think I'd like a steady diet of them, but they kind of fill the space in my life left by chick-lit, which I was much enamored of in my twenties. When I need something a little distracting and personal, I head towards these types of reads. They also make really nice beach or poolside reads, and while you can't really call them high literature, they do have an attraction all their own.

One of the things I think I liked best about this book was the split focus between Cami's situation and her treatment of the animals. The animal sections weren't just a plot highlight. Instead they provided a lot of drama and pathos in their own right and seemed to balance out the more personal of Cami's dramas very nicely. Part of the book deals with Cami's volunteer work with the humane society. She would sometimes go out to investigate claims of animal abuse or overpopulation, and invariably, after doing her work, another animal would follow her home to the huge farm she lives on. The animals surrounding Cami were not only therapeutic to her, they all had personalities in their own right. Some of the animal rescues were very sad and I think in this portrayal, Kittle was doing her own work of educating a bit about some of the terrible things that people could do to animals. Most of these stories had a happy ending but I think it was very clever for Kittle to highlight the little talked about issues of abused animals.

This book was paced very tightly and I noticed this story was not overly detailed in its discussion of things that were not integral to the plot. This made everything seem like it moved along at a pretty exciting speed and kept me flipping pages quickly. I think this story could have really been bogged down had it been written a little differently but Kittle has a great command of both her subject and her characters, and because of that I became invested in rather quickly. Certain chapters are narrated by other characters in the book, and while this certainly doesn't work in most cases, in this book I felt it kept things fresh and was well done. There was a great mix of comedy in this story as well, which was very unexpected but welcome. It's not often that a book dealing with such serious issues can make you laugh, but this one did. I really identified with Cami's perspective and that was one of the things that enabled me to really get close to her. Both the quality of her characters and the life in the writing of this book made it irresistible to me.

The main theme I saw running through this book were some of the questions that most women ask themselves at some point. Is marriage ever really necessary? Is it better to be alone and not have to compromise your life, or to have a sub-par marriage in order to meet the status quo? These are questions that pepper the narrative and are taken on by almost all of the characters in these pages. They are all living different lives and in very different relationships, but these issues are things that pertain to all of them. When is it okay to give up a dream that's not working? What level of compromise is acceptable in a relationship between partners? I think Kittle does a wonderful job making these questions relevant both to her readers and in her characters' lives. There are many examples of relationships and marriage in this book, both of the healthy and not so healthy variety, and I think it's interesting to think about which relationship would speak to each individual reader. I liked that there wasn't a lot of judgement in this book. Kittle seems to be saying that people are different and what works for one wouldn't necessarily work for another. It was a really mature viewpoint to champion and one that made a lot of sense.

I also liked that things didn't feel predictable in this book. It wasn't a book where you could spot the plot points coming a mile away, which I think can be a pitfall in this genre. Things were always unexpected and it all felt original. Even the ending wasn't tied up in a nice pretty package, leaving me to speculate on just what happened to the characters once this story was over. I think giving the reader all the information is sometimes a simple solution. It's far more complex to leave things just so and force your reader to think and make their own conclusions, which Kittle does beautifully.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and finished it rather quickly. I think it's one of the better examples of the genre and that it would be a winner for lots of different types of readers. If you enjoy women's fiction, I would definitely steer you towards this book. I also think if books about animals appeal to you, you'd love it. It would make a great summer read as well. I am really anxious to read another of Kittle's books, and I have heard the The Kindness of Strangers is a great place to move on to next. It was a really fun book to spend some time with, recommended!

Great news! Katrina Kittle is going to be on Blog Talk Radio with Book Club Girl (actually, with Book Club Girl's co-worker, Erica) on August 26th at 7pm ET! Be sure to listen in to hear what she has to share with her readers!

About the Author

Katrina was born in Illinois but has lived in the Dayton area since first grade. She attended Ohio University and was Outstanding Graduating Senior for both the English and Education departments. She taught high school English and theatre at Centerville High School for five years, and she taught middle school English and theatre at the Miami Valley School for six. She has also worked as a house cleaner, a veterinary assistant, a children’s theatre director, a costumer, and as case management support for the AIDS Resource Center (formerly AIDS Foundation Miami Valley).

Katrina is the author of Traveling Light, Two Truths and a Lie and The Kindness of Strangers. The Kindness of Strangers was a BookSense pick and the winner of the 2006 Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction. Early chapters from that novel earned her grants from both the Ohio Arts Council and Culture Works.

She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University in Louisville.

When not writing, Katrina enjoys gardening, cooking, traveling, acting, and time spent in the presence of animals (especially horses). She is the proud aunt of Amy and Nathan, and lives in the Dayton area with her cat and a kickass garden.

Connect with Katrina:

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, August 3rd:Reviews From the Heart
Wednesday, August 4th:Rundpinne
Thursday, August 5th:Chick With Books
Tuesday, August 10th:Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, August 12th:Book Club Classics!
Monday, August 16th:CafĂ© of Dreams
Wednesday, August 18th:Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, August 19th:Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, August 24th:The Little Reader
Wednesday, August 25th:Take Me Away
Thursday, August 26th:Books and Things

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Vera Wright Trilogy: My Father's Moon / Cabin Fever / The Georges' Wife by Elizabeth Jolley — 568 pgs

Book CoverIn this haunting autobiographical trilogy of novels, the life and times of a young English woman living in the 1930s are examined with a startling clarity and a richness of emotion. We first meet Vera growing up in England to a pair of gentle German speaking parents,. Vera soon moves to a live in girls' boarding school, where she discovers the intricacies and disappointments of living within a clique of girls. Constantly comparing herself to the others who surround her, Vera's boarding school days are filled with memories of small cruelties and alienation that seem to leave her when she decides to flee from the school to become a wartime nurse. But life as a nurse is only boarding school on a larger scale, and soon Vera has found herself in the thrall of a married doctor who leaves her pregnant and alone. Balancing amongst the swirl of rumors at the hospital and still longing for her married lover, Vera one day makes a hasty escape from the hospital in order to hide her shame. She checks herself into a birthing home, where she can safely deliver her child. Though she delivers a healthy baby, Vera doesn't wish to move on and makes a place and job for herself at the women's home, raising her daughter amongst the residents. When concerns for the welfare of her child begin to surface, Vera flees again and finds herself amongst a strange group of individuals, becoming a matron at an alternative education center. Once there, Vera begins to see how truly bizarre the place and it's inhabitants really are, and once again escapes her fate. After a few close calls, Vera ends up on the doorstep of the Georges, a pair of elderly siblings who have been looking for a maid. It is here that Vera truly begins to find herself, and it is here, beside the patient Georges, that Vera will enter into an unlikely relationship and arrangement with them. As Vera looks back to place all these memories into the story of herself, she reveals herself to be a woman both wise and naive, kind and cruel, and lonely and cherished.

When I received this book for review, I had no idea what to make of it. I had never heard of the author before, but in glancing at the book I came to see that she was very successful in Australia and Europe. I also saw that this volume was unique in the fact that it was the first time all three books had been published in one volume, and the first time that the last book, The Georges' Wife, had ever been published at all. I was really very excited to get started with this book, and though there was a little bit of fumbling for me, I grew quickly compelled with the story of Vera and all of its strange twists and permutations.

First let me say that this book was a little odd stylistically. Certain passages were repeated throughout all three narratives and at times the story was not exactly linear. This made for a bit of confusion when I was initially settling in with the book, but after awhile, I grew to expect these oddities and to understand that if I was patient and observant with my reading I would have all these things explained to me at some point. There are sections in these books that seem, at times, to be very stream of consciousness and sometimes things were inserted into the story that didn't seem to have very much meaning at all. This was true until I started to get to the end of the books and everything began falling into place. Jolley also has a habit of repeating the particular instances of a scene several times, and at first I had wondered why this seemed to keep happening. Ultimately I was given to understand that these stories are only her recollections, and due to the way that her mind remembers the events in question, she at times is a bit repetitive and chronologically confused. What I thought was interesting was the way these repeated memories changed and enhanced themselves within the passages they were inserted into. The first time I heard an anecdote, I might not have realized it's significance or symbolism in the way I did the third time or even the fifth time I heard it due to the story that was being written around it. This style of writing made everything seem very complex and multi-faceted. In a way, it did remind me of the way that memories can sometimes compress themselves in our minds, only to pop out at unexpected moments to lounge over the things in front of us and to change them.

Vera's story, though interspersed with bits of comedy, was ultimately one of sadness and peculiar longing. She seemed to be so different from everyone around her and I think her difference came from her unrequited longing for things that she felt could never be hers. It is ironic that she spent her whole life looking for someone to love her and to shelter her emotionally, yet when she found these things, she never recognized them for what they were and continually threw them away. She was very desirous of close friendships and partnerships, both platonic and not, yet when the very people she wished for had come, she chose to look over their heads to others who she could not have. Instead of maintaining and building relationships with those who were willing to build with her, she was constantly chasing things and people that were for some reason or the other unavailable. This gave her a waifish and needy personality and many times Vera was drawn into very dangerous and morally gray situations due to her neediness. The people she wanted to be involved with used her mercilessly, and many times she knew it. She was so used to this that she accepted it and seemed to search out the most damaging people to befriend and place her hopes into. Hers was a life filled with substitution and also of an aching loneliness that she could never overcome. It was sad to see her do this time and time again, and I grew to be very afraid for her, but I can see the humanness in this and see that she was much like many people of the world are today: forever chasing what they cannot have, and mindlessly discarding what they do.

Vera's neediness played into her sexuality as well. Often, when she had put herself out there emotionally towards someone that she wanted to befriend, they used her willingness to prey on her sexually. This was true of both women and men, and it seemed to be a constant theme in her life. Even those who I didn't consider to be cruel to her fell into this trap, and these situations were remarkably modern in their feel. I imagine that this must and does happen a lot with young girls with uncertain self-esteem, and for Vera, it was a trap that she fell into over and over again. From her boarding school days and well into her middle age, Vera was continuously a target for those who wished to use her sexually. There was no mention of sex and love in its tenderest forms, no sweet whispered endearments or close affection, only the raw and sometimes vague mention of what was done to her by these people. What I think is most sad is that Vera interpreted these actions as love and grew to think of herself as somewhat loved, or at the very least, needed, when it was clear to me that she was nothing of the sort. This was all relayed in what I can only call a naive way, with Vera's projections coming clear across the page, and it almost had the effect of whitewashing these sections. It was as if Vera's beliefs and viewpoints could be my own, if only told convincingly enough. Vera didn't see these people as predators, and by necessity, she grew to love and depend on them, as they were the only people left in her path. She describes herself in later parts of the book as needy of approval and affection, and I totally agree. It's as if she can't stand on her own and will take any ill advised shelter that she can.

Other sections of the book dealt with her troubled relationship with her mother and her adoration of her father. I think part of the reason that Vera went on to have the life she had was her desire to escape the confining and judgemental attitude of her mother. It is clear that Vera was a disappointment to her, and although Vera's words and actions are contrary, I think in some part of her, she admired and even loved her mother. I think her fleeing to all of these emotional and physical destinations was her way of trying to escape the disapproval she felt from her family. Vera was clearly a very troubled person, yet it was impossible not to side with her and to somewhat understand her and her vulnerabilities. She grew to become so familiar that I worried and ached for her. I felt a curious tenderness for all her bruised parts and wished that she could have found the happiness she so craved. This is not to say that at times she couldn't be cruel, for she was. There were certain instances when I felt a repulsion for her and her actions and felt that she showed a very mean spirit towards others that she thought beneath her. But in the curious complexity of her personality, she could also be very loving and protective and it was in these variables that her humanity came shining through.

This book, though unusual, was a very complex and emotional read for me. Within the framework of Vera and her life, Jolley has opened the door to her psyche and created a tale that I think would resonate with many readers. Although this is a story of a time gone by, it has a remarkably modern and immediate feel to it, and part of this is due to the uncompromising attitude of confession that Vera takes. It's more of a cerebral and serious read than I had been expecting but also one that has left a deep impression on me and the way I think. I would certainly recommend this book to readers who are intrigued by the premise and who feel that they might learn something from Vera's journey. Highly recommended.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.
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