Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible: A modern re-telling of Pride and Prejudice is Curtis Sittenfeld's fifth novel; however, it is the first Sittenfeld novel that I've read.  Eligible is part of a series of modern re-tellings of Jane Austen's works; previously Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey have all been updated and re-told by such well known authors as Alexander McCall Smith and Val McDermid.  I haven't read any of the other modern re-tellings--but I may give them a try.  Of all the Jane Austen adaptations, Pride and Prejudice is the one I love best and with which I'm most familiar.  By now you all know of my fondness for Jane Austen adaptations and British period dramas.

For various reasons from the first chapter I was not sure whether I would finish this novel or not.  But at some point a switch flipped, and I was all in with the story.  It's a fast read due to short (sometimes very short) chapters.  The story has been transplanted from the English countryside to Cincinnati, OH, (you read that right), and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and Lydia are still insufferable.  Wick[ham] is still a cad, only he has managed to worm his way into Liz'z life and affections for the better part of a decade, stringing her along even as he dates and marries (and has a child with) other women (!!!).  I didn't really understand how Liz ended up in this 'friendship' with Wick in the first place as far as allowing him to string her along for long as he did.

Liz and Jane are in their late 30's, and after living in New York City for over a decade, have returned home to Cincinnati to care for their father following cardiac surgery precipitated by a cardiac episode.  The girls return to the family home where their three adult younger sisters have yet to leave the nest only to find the situation more dire than expected.

The family home is in a state of dilapidated disrepair, their mother's shopping addition has run unchecked for years, the family's in debt up to their eyeballs thanks to Mr. B's mismanagement of the family finances (which was his ONE freakin' job, okay), and now they have hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills because there was no health insurance to cover Mr. B's medical emergency (because the man let it and his life insurance policy lapse a while ago).  Meanwhile Mrs. B.'s only concerns are keeping up appearances, maintaining their excessive lifestyle, indulging the younger girls, marrying off her still single older daughters, and denying the family's financial crisis.  Mr. B. has no will to do anything to fix the mess he helped create so it falls to Liz to wrangle her parents' debts, mete out tough love to her younger sisters, and whip the family home into shape for a quick sale.  All of which she must do while dealing (variously) with a visiting (step) cousin who decides to hit on her, coming to terms with Wick's duplicity, and helping Jane through a broken heart and impending single motherhood.

And I haven't even touched on the reality show element and Liz's relationship with Darcy.  Ultimately I think both fans of Pride and Prejudice as well as readers not familiar with the story will enjoy this book.  While knowing the story of Pride and Prejudice adds an extra layer to the story, it's not necessarily required to enjoy reading it--there's enough family drama for that.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Evening Spider by Emily Arsenault

Last week I reviewed What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault.  This week I'm reviewing the same author's fifth novel, The Evening Spider.  I've read and reviewed all of the authors novels so far, and there's a sixth coming next year.  This novel has some supernatural overtones which is a departure from her previous novels.

Initially I was really on the fence with this one. Its depiction of a 'hysterical woman,' who is really a woman who doesn't conform to the contemporary social norms of her time, and as a result is committed to an asylum in the 1880's for the convenience of her husband, is a story that is disturbing and difficult for me to read.  This story line is coupled with the foreboding and foreshadowing in the present time story line that implies that the modern day woman may be headed the same way.  However, as it turns out the former woman is committed for far more sinister reasons than her non-conformity to social norms of the day.

In 1885 Frances has made an ill advised marriage to a much older man that produces a daughter whom she loves dearly.  However, Frances has difficulty adjusting to motherhood, and in the wake of the birth her sanity and her marriage go downhill fast.  At this point Frances has been in the asylum for several years, and she tells her own story of how she came to be committed post haste to the asylum in narration to her brother.  It's debatable as to whether or not Frances is actually mentally ill or merely a victim of a husband who wanted to be rid of her for whatever reason.  The mysterious murder of a local young woman some years previously also plays a role in Frances's story.

In the present time line Abby is in the middle of a sabbatical year taken to stay home with her infant daughter.  However, mysterious sounds in her daughter's room and mysterious bruises that appear on her daughter prompt Abby to dig into the history of the house in which they live.  In fact the same house was inhabited by Frances and her young family over a hundred years ago.  It's clear that the mysterious phenomena emanate from and center around Abby's daughter's room and may even have been triggered by her birth.  But what do they mean?  And how do they connect to Frances's story?

Abby delves into the history of the house and its previous occupant, Frances, and as she digs, the details of a mysterious tragedy shrouded by history emerges.  And it hints of a far more recent trauma buried in Abby's own past and that begins to surface in her memories.  How are Abby's difficulties connected to Frances's history and residual presence?  How are they related to Abby's buried trauma being stirred up by the stresses of new motherhood and the monotony of staying at home with her daughter?

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault

I'm catching up on some of my reading.  I caught up on Anna McPartlin's novels, and now I'm catching up on Emily Arsenault's novels.  What Strange Creatures is the fourth novel by Emily Arsenault, and I have reviewed her three previous novels on the blog here, here, and here.  I really enjoyed the tone and narrator character of this novel.  What Strange Creatures seems a little wittier and grittier than Arsenault's previous novels.  It was a quick read, and it was hard to put down.

When Theresa's brother Jeff's girlfriend Kim fails to return after a weekend away, Theresa begins a bumbling investigation, tracking down the woman's roommate, ex-boyfriend, and former professor to suss out leads regarding Kim's whereabouts.  Initially Theresa's primary motivation is find out when Kim will return because Theresa would 'like to be relieved of dog sitting duties' after agreeing to dog sit Kim's dog for the weekend.  Subsequently Theresa's primary motivation shifts to clearing her brother's name when he is arrested for the young woman's murder following the discovery of her body.

Theresa's preliminary digging uncovers a slew of secrets and lies that Kim hid from Jeff, such as her role as witness in the murder trial of a childhood friend and her current plans for a video/smear campaign against the current U.S. Senate Democratic candidate for Massachusetts.  The latter of which happened to be the prosecuting attorney in the murder trial as well as the purpose of her weekend away.  Theresa's investigation also hints that she does not know her brother as well as she thinks she does.

Let's be real here, people.  Neither Theresa nor Jeff are very bright bulbs or maybe they're just naive because neither finds it very urgent to report Kim's absence to the proper authorities even after the woman's been missing a week (!).  And Theresa, Jeff, and the Battle family in general maintain an oddly distant/disconnected dynamic.

Ultimately I sussed out the shady character rather early in the novel although the nature of the shadiness could have gone either way (murder or romance) with that one.  This is a page turning mystery that will suck you in right up until the heart pounding, terrifying conclusion.  I recommend you check out this book the next time you're at the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Somewhere Inside of Happy by Anna McPartlin

Somewhere Inside of Happy is the seventh novel by Anna McPartlin (I think).  And I've read and reviewed almost all of her novels on the blog.  While this novel was a page turner and an engrossing read, it was missing the spark that some of her others possess.  This one was more of a slow burn in part because we know from the blurb on the back of the book that the main character's son goes missing and that something 'dreadful' happens to him.  So we have that hanging over our heads even before the book starts.  And the first chapter/epilogue of the book reveals that the son is indeed dead (spoiler alert?).  The majority of the book takes place in the past as we flashback to the hours leading up the son's disappearance and then takes us through the days of his disappearance as we hurtle to the inevitably bleak conclusion.  I was really dreading finding out how the son dies, and while it is incredibly tragic, heart breaking, and sad, it was not as bad/terrible as I originally feared (but it was still bad).

Having extracted herself and her children from a horrifically abusive marriage several years previously, Maisie is just barely hanging on by her finger nails to support her two children, her dementia afflicted mother, and herself.  Maisie is both primary caregiver and breadwinner for her little family, and she works three jobs, manages her mother's ever deteriorating condition, and raises her children.  Then one New Year's day a second chance at love comes knocking while unbeknownst to her, Maisie's son, Jeremy, vanishes.  Jeremy's disappearance threatens to upset the delicate balance of the family, while simultaneously torpedoing Maisie's second chance at love and plunging them all into unspeakable tragedy the likes of which the family narrowly avoided right before Maisie finally left her husband.

Initially Valerie, Maisie's headstrong, attitude ridden, young daughter, deliberately hides information from the police and her mother, such as the fact that Jeremy never made it to school the day after New Year's and lying about his comings and goings the day of his disappearance.  All of which hampers Maisie firmly establishing the fact of his disappearance.  As the hours and days unspool following the disappearance of Jeremy and his friend, Rave, events and emotions spiral out of control and get far worse than anyone initially predicts.  Meanwhile, the police struggle to find clues that will lead to the boys' whereabouts and solve the mystery of where and why they disappeared.

Ultimately this story is framed as one of healing and personal growth.  There is a feeling of dread/foreboding throughout the book that starts from its first pages thanks to the early reveal of Jeremy's fate.  And sometimes that makes this book hard to read.  However, it is a good book--and if you've read McPartlin's other novels, you will definitely want to read this one.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins by James Runcie

This is the fourth installment in the Grantchester Mysteries series by James Runcie.  I've reviewed the previous three installments on the blog as well as the second season of the British TV series adaptation of the books.  In this installment the Chambers family deals with a move precipitated by a promotion for Sidney to archdeacon of Ely.

In these mysteries Sidney and Geordie must solve the disappearance of a concert cellist.  Sidney assists his dear friend Amanda in sussing out whether one of her aristocratic friends is the victim of domestic violence.  And when a piano (yes, a piano) drops on a friend's head, Hildegard intuits that the seemingly freak accident may not be an accident after all.  Sidney must assist Amanda again when the latter receives threatening letters as well as falls victim to other odd, unnerving incidents, all of which occurs as Amanda is finally approaching marriage.  As always Sidney's reputation for sussing out the truth in complicated situations precedes him when the headmaster of a local school enlists Sidney's help in finding the party responsible for blowing up the school's science wing.  And, most infuriating of all, on a family trip to Florence Sidney is accused of absconding with a priceless painting.

Some rants I have:

Why is Sidney always fretting about how his detecting duties take him away from his parish duties and from his family duties?  In. Every. Book. He. Whines.  It's getting old.  Sidney needs to get over it already, find a balance, or give up detecting.  And stop fretting.

It's ill advised for Amanda to go through with a marriage to a man she doesn't love.  And why is there all this talk about Amanda missing her chance with Sidney or vice versa?  The two would have been a poor match romantically, and Sidney clearly loves Hildegard yet he never sets Amanda straight about either of these points.

Sidney receives a promotion to archdeacon that necessitates a move from Grantchester for his family as well as the probability of the end of his detecting career---hahahahaha---who are we kidding?  Sidney will never stop detecting.  He's got a reputation now and gets enlisted regularly (always reluctantly on his part) to look into mysterious incidents.  And that's when he isn't inserting himself into other mysterious incidents to get at the truth.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie