Reading List by Jennie for September and October
Also read and reviewed Life after Life and read Never Desire a Duke and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (reviews to come).
Because We Belong by Beth Kery
I can’t remember how or why I picked this up but it did not work for me. It read like another 50 Shades of Grey ripoff, with a dominant, super-virile, super-rich, improbably young hero and a bland, innocent, sweet and beautiful heroine. It actually turned out to be the third book in a series but I don’t think that mattered – the backstory was pretty well explained. The book opens with h/h having hot D/s sex; immediately afterwards he finds out a devastating truth about his parentage and disappears, leaving the heroine in charge of his multi-million-dollar business empire (of course he would; she’s an artist barely out of college!). Stuff happens. They end up back together and have more hot sex when he’s not rambling around some creepy chateau in France, dealing with the truth about his ultra-creepy origins. There’s a villain who tries to destroy them; it’s all obvious and lame. My grade was a D.
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon
I picked this up as a fan of the PBS series; it’s about Almina, the Countess of Carnarvon, who in the first decades of the 20th century was mistress of the actual house where parts of Downton Abbey are filmed (as wife of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon). Some of the details of Almina’s life were mirrorred in the series; for instance, she turned her home into a convalescent home for injured soldiers during World War I. Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild; though her husband married her for her money (and she him for his title), it was a happy union. The book also deals with the Earl’s financing of excavations in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, culminating in the biggest find of the 20th century: the discovery of the intact tomb of King Tut. This was a pretty absorbing book. It’s a little slow and a bit too respectful of its subjects (the author is married to the current earl, Almina’s great-grandson), but ultimately an interesting look at a bygone era. I gave it a B.
Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot
I think I picked this up as one of the Daily Deals; the blurb caught my attention. I’d heard of the title but didn’t know anything about the book (I’d assumed from the title it was chick-lit). It’s actually a mystery with chick-litish elements (it’s the first in a series) with a heroine who was a minor pop star as a teenager (think Tiffany or Debbie Gibson, for those of us from a different era). Heather Wells’ life took several unfortunate turns when her label dropped her, her mother ran away with her money, her pop-star boyfriend dumped her, and she was forced to get a “real” job. She ends up working at a residence hall at a fictional university in New York City, one where girls start dying at an alarming rate (supposedly “elevator surfing” ). I haven’t read Cabot before (I don’t *think*; I know she has several different pen names), and I’m not sure her voice really works for me. I would’ve liked the heroine to be more confident; one would think an ex-pop star would have some glamour or charisma, but Heather is more of the bumbling and insecure type. This book definitely falls under the “humorous mystery” subgenre, but the humor didn’t do much for me. I’m undecided on continuing the series; I’m mildly interested in the resolution of the heroine’s romantic interest (she’s infatuated with her ex-boyfriend’s brother, a private eye whom she shares living space with). But I’m not sure I want to wade through several more books just to find out how that turns out. I graded this a C+.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
I’m agnostic, but I’ve long had a mild interest in C.S. Lewis; I think it dates back to seeing Shadowlands on A&E 20 years ago. I liked the Anthony Hopkins version of C.S. Lewis a whole lot. I’m not sure I like the C.S. Lewis version of C.S. Lewis, at least not based on this book. It’s a series of essays based on radio speeches he gave during World War II, espousing his view of Christianity and faith. Unfortunately, I find Lewis’ prose style irritating (in a kind of priggish British way; other readers probably have more patience for Britishisms than I do). Furthermore, his arguments, coming from ostensibly a noted thinker, are flimsy and lacking in rigorous logic. I was willing to be convinced (to a point); I just don’t think Lewis was that good at convincing. Also, the book is kind of sexist and at one point homophobic (he refers to “the perverted desire of a man for a man”). Now, I know this was written more than 70 years ago, but still; there existed people – writers and Christians included – who weren’t homophobic and sexist, and so it’s hard for me to give Lewis much of a pass. Also, for someone who is preoccupied (to a fault, in my mind) with humility and self-abnegation, Lewis is awfully sure of what God thinks on just about everything. I gave this a D.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I remember that I saw this book everywhere when it first came out, but I dismissed it due to the title, which I thought excessively twee. Still, somewhere along the line, I managed to acquire a copy, and now, several years later, I’ve finally picked it up. It’s actually quite good (I’m only about half-way through) – it’s an epistolary novel set in England after World War II. The majority of the correspondence is between a London writer, Juliet Ashton, and the residents of Guernsey who made up the titular group. The society formed during the war almost by accident – as a way to avoid punishment by the Germans for being caught out after curfew. (Guernsey was occupied by the Germans during the war, a fact I was unaware of. But then, pretty much all I know about Guernsey is that it has cows.) Novels told through letters can be a hard sell – the device is often distancing, and the way information is conveyed can feel awkward or improbable. This book mostly avoids those flaws, at least so far, and I’m finding the characters really interesting.