Chick-Lit, Reviews, Romance

Review: I Owe You One

I Owe You OneI Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Sophie Kinsella’s latest novel, I Owe You One, – which I want to thank NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review – is the story of Fixie, a young woman who would do anything for her family and the house good store she, her mother, and two siblings inherited when her father died. She lives by her beloved father’s motto of family first and her family takes advantage of her devotion sometimes to the point of cruelty.
I Owe You One holds a great message about balancing the needs and demands of those you love with your own happiness, and about standing up for what you value while valuing others. It is also a sweet romantic comedy. Fixie’s dedication to being the family doormat wears thin quickly as does her naivete when it comes to her longtime crush, Ryan. I was often angry while reading I Owe You One because of the way Fixie is treated by her siblings, Ryan, her uncle, and even, to an extent, her mother. This only meant that I cared about Fixie, no matter how annoying I sometimes found her. I also recognized myself in her as I’m certain many readers, especially women, will.
The romance storyline is lovely but the message is the reason I would recommend I Owe You One, which is not Kinsella’s best but still enjoyable.

If you enjoy Kinsella’s style of Chick-Lit with a dash of romance, I recommend her My Not so Perfect Life, which has a similar message as I Owe You One but with a more entertaining story.

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Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: Once Upon a River

Once Upon a RiverOnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

My rating: 2.75 of 5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River. This historical mystery tale begins when a wounded stranger enters The Swan pub carrying what appears to be a waxen doll and is told like a fairytale. The mystery begins when the doll turns out to be a little girl who seems dead only to come to life setting tongues wagging in the village and villages up and down the Thames. Who is the little girl? Two families seem to claim her but there is a cruel plot afoot. With elements of the supernatural balanced by the scientific logic of a Rita, the local nurse and Henry Daunt, a skilled photographer and the girl’s rescuer, some mysteries are solved and some endings are happy.
The first third of Once Upon a River moves a bit slowly as the reader is acquainted with the characters and the local lore but after Part One the story moves along while not quickly, more steadily with as many twists and unexpected connections as the river itself. It was these twists that kept me reading, eager to learn exactly where the girl had come from. Personally, as the daughter of a photographer, I was most fascinated by the Victorian era photography methods and Taunt’s character.

If you enjoy the Victorian era feel of the Once Upon a River but wished there was more fantasy in it, I highly recommend the superior Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.  It is quite a tome so it is a bit of a commitment to read it but it is so worth it.

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Chick-Lit, Reviews, Romance, World Literature

Review: Unmarriageable


UnmarriageableUnmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What would happen if you moved Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to 21st century Pakistan? You would get Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable, which I got the opportunity to read thanks to NetGalley.

Reading Unmarriageable is not about the story. If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you already know the story – a man and a woman from different classes meet and thanks to their ingrained prejudices, take an instant dislike to each other, a dislike she maintains as he falls grudgingly in love with her.  That story will always be great, it is the execution that often fails.  Unmarriageable is not a particularly great adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – Alys is no Elizabeth Bennett, Mrs. Binat is even more annoying than Mrs. Bennett, some of the dialogue is just awkward, and the writing tends to be repetitive.  Instead, for me, the joy of reading Kamal’s interpretation was in learning about Pakistani culture about which I’ll admit I was totally ignorant.

Chick-Lit, which is what this novel and its Austen ancestor is, often gets a bad wrap but, while it is important to learn about the history and the hardships around the world, I think it is equally important to learn about the ordinary, everyday lives that show us not only the cultural differences but how we are alike and Chick-Lit whether it is set in the US, the UK or Pakistan, does that.

If like me, you enjoy a good Pride and Prejudice update, Shannon Hale’s Austenland and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible are two of my favorites.  Austenland is a fun romp through a vacation experience that places the Austen-obsessed protagonist into Austen’s world with the promise of a happy ending straight out of one of Jane’s novels while Eligible, part of The Austen Project is truly a modernization of Pride and Prejudice.

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Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: Transcription

TranscriptionTranscription by Kate Atkinson

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

On, a two-star rating means “it was OK” and, for me, that’s what Kate Atkinson’s Transcription was – just OK.  Transcription is the story of a young British woman recruited in what I would call domestic espionage during World War II. In the months leading up to the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, she is employed as a transcriber, listening to the recorded conversations between an MI5 agent posting as Gestapo and several (who knew there were so many!) Nazi sympathizers and supporters of appeasement.
The book tells of how the subterfuge and ambiguity of her job and that of those around her messes with Juliet’s mind and how her experiences during the war shape her post-war life. The narrative, which mainly moves between 1940 and 1950, is purposely vague at times, making it feel like one of Juliet’s transcriptions – missing sometimes vital information and often unclear about who is who. The subject matter of Transcription is truly interesting but the execution left me lacking any connection to the characters and often lost in the muddle of names – real names, code names, undiscernable characters. I also found that the storyline of the 1950s tended to drag at moments, which I suppose was the point – to demonstrate how mundane life could be for those who found excitement, albeit horrific, during the war. So, in short, Transcription is well-written as a look at how everything yet nothing changes during war and peace, but it really just wasn’t my thing.

This is where I would normally make a recommendation based on the book I’ve just reviewed but having gone back through seven years of my reading, I can’t think of anything I’ve read that is like Transcription.  However, as I read the novel, a few other books did come to mind.  Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper, in large part, about the terror and confusion life during the Blitz, is an excellent read with a thrilling twist.  Some of the bleakness and lack of trust to be found Juliet’s world brought to mind George Orwell’s seminal Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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Reviews, Romance

Review: The Distance

The DistanceThe Distance by Zoe Folbigg

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read Zoe Folbigg’s The Distance. The story of two people on opposite ends of the world who meet in a chat room and slowly fall in love is a sweet, wise exploration of how miles and life can come between people even in today’s shrinking technological world. At times the story moves slowly for its relatively short length and the flashbacks over the five years from their first meeting to the end of the story can get confusing. I kept having to look back up at the chapter title to understand the stage of their relationship was being related. Also, I’m not quite sure if the character of Kate and her story was really necessary but she did add an extra twist toward the end. I especially enjoyed learning a bit about the cultures of Hector’s Mexico and Cecilie’s arctic Norway.

Romantic fiction is full of characters getting in their own way of happiness but if you like the sweet tenderness mixed with the harsh realities of life found in The Distance, you might also enjoy Veronica Henry’s How to Find Love in a Bookshop or Louise Miller’s The Late Bloomer’s Club.

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