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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 (Because You Are Mine Series #3) by Beth KeryBecause 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.

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Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona CarnarvonLady 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.

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Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg CabotSize 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+.

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Mere Christianity by C.S. LewisMere 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.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie BarrowsThe 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.

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

17 Comments

  1. Jamie Beck
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 13:08:09

    My mother-in-law gave me the Guernsey book soon after it was released. The title put me off too, but once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. It’s really quite wonderful. I hope you enjoy the rest of the story as well as you’re enjoying the beginning. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who never tried it.

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  2. LeeF
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 13:57:42

    I read The GLPPPS based on a newspaper review when it came out and was delighted with it. Thanks for reminding me to check it out again.

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  3. mari
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 15:44:09

    I strongly urge anyone interested in”Mere Christianity” to seek out better, more thoughful, less glib reviews. They are all over the place, written from atheist and devout Christian POV’S. This isn’t a Christian book site, so I don’t really expect nuance or depth here when here it comes to religion, but this facile summary of a book that has become a classic of twentieth century is….extroidinary. I will leave it at that.

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  4. Jayne
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 16:02:55

    @Jamie Beck: I’ve always been put off by the title too. Maybe I should start thinking about thinking about one day reading it.

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  5. Jennie
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 16:21:47

    @Jayne: I really think you’d like it.

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  6. Jennie
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 16:30:33

    @mari: Well, it’s also just that the “What I’m Reading” pieces are meant to be mini-reviews; certainly if I had done a full length review I would hope it would’ve been less superficial. But I doubt it would’ve made fans of the book any happier.

    I was surprised that I didn’t like it. I expected Lewis’ voice to be different, because I had this sort of mental image of him as a kindly and avuncular old professor, and he didn’t come off like that at all in the book. Of course, he wasn’t actually that old at the time, but I guess that’s neither here nor there. He was just much more traditional and conservative than I expected him to be; the kind of Christianity I best connect with is the sort of hippie-social justice-Catholic kind. Lewis’ “God is judging you and you are not worthy” vibe does nothing for me. Clearly, YMMV – over 900 of the 1160 Amazon reviews are 5-star.

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  7. Susan
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 17:47:32

    I glommed all of the Heather Wells books about a month ago. I enjoyed them more than I thought I would going in.

    The Guernsey book has been in my TBR pile for what seems like forever. Guess I need to move it closer to the top.

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  8. 2014 SEPTEMBER TYPHOON PHILIPPINES
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 19:47:48

    […] reading listing by means of Jennie for September and October – pricey writer […]

  9. Jamie Beck
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 20:00:39

    @Jayne: I had no idea what to expect, and it really drew me in almost immediately. Maybe the weird title was a blessing in disguise. My husband and I joke that it is always best to go into anything with low expectations, that way you are usually pleasantly surprised! LOL

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  10. hapax
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 20:52:38

    I’m a big C S Lewis fan, but I wouldn’t consider MERE CHRISTIANITY anything like his best book (I’d plump for A GRIEF OBSERVED among the non-fiction, and TILL WE HAVE FACES among the fiction). MERE CHRISTIANITY suffers from its format — it is pretty much the transcript of a series of radio addresses, the not-so-subtle subtext of which is to bolster their wartime morale and their resolution in the virtue of being British as much as to persuade anyone of any particular religious viewpoint.

    Lewis certainly was a sexist (although he moderated his views on women later in life, he never did abandon them) but I think that particular quotation about homosexuality is very uncharacteristic of his views. He spoke sympathetically about the same-sex romances that were common in British boarding schools and was quite adamant against condemning anyone for any sin which he wasn’t personally tempted to commit.

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  11. Sirius
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 22:01:09

    I just wanted to thank you for “Life after life” recommendation. Your review sealed the deal for me and I enjoyed it overall, even if the ending left me confused and wondering , I still liked the character study.

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  12. Janine
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 22:45:19

    Count me as another who owns The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (I used to have it in paperback, then got rid of it when I moved, then purchased it again when it was on a kindle deal) and has not yet read it because of the title. Still, quite a few people have read it, so someone must like that title.

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  13. DeeCee
    Nov 20, 2013 @ 22:51:25

    I’ve tried several of Beth Kery’s books and none have worked for me. The book Release remains the only book I’ve ever taken back to a bookstore for being so unreadable IMO. I tried Addicted to You and it wasn’t a very strong romance.

    I agree with you about Mere Christianity. It wasn’t my thing either. Lewis is not my author but I do agree with hapax about A Grief Observed. That one got me through a tough time and is the only book of his that I will keep.

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  14. Jennie
    Nov 22, 2013 @ 18:46:00

    @hapax: I think I bought “A Grief Observed” a long time ago, but never got far into it, and I have no idea where my copy is.

    Interesting to hear that Lewis was known to be somewhat sexist. I wasn’t sure how much of his attitude to consign to the times, but as I said even that realization doesn’t make it all that palatable for me. I understand that these were radio addresses, but the assumption seems to have been that the listeners were solely male (and probably straight and white, though those assumptions at least seem slightly more reasonable).

    Women are always the “other” in these essays. There was an awkward bit of “othering” towards the end too when Lewis makes an analogy involving teeth whitener and references the presumably whiter teeth of “the Negro.” That made me cringe a bit.

    I’m willing to give Lewis another try, at some point.

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  15. Jennie
    Nov 22, 2013 @ 18:50:53

    @Sirius: Oh, good.

    I feel like you’re not the only one who found the ending confusing and I get why, but at the same time I think I get why it was somewhat open-ended and subject to interpretation. Actually, the one bit I found weird was the sequence when the cousin drowned instead of Ursula. I just did not see the point of that at all.

    (Though I think I was trying to figure out if it was tied to Ursula’s brother living, but that would’ve made more sense if he *hadn’t* been shot down. The way I figured, the cousin, if raised in Germany, could’ve been the one to shoot the brother down, but if he came to England and died there, the brother wouldn’t get shot down. But that’s not quite the way it happened. Though I may be forgetting some details; it’s been about two months since I read it.)

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  16. Sirius
    Nov 28, 2013 @ 12:07:51

    I guess I was wondering more along the lines of what was the bigger reason for her getting all of those makeover chances for her lives, you know? I mean I agree that ending was open to interpretation but was that supposed to be defining moment and the reason why whatever higher powers gave her that? Just wondering.

    Anyway , I now came to thank you for “Guernsey” I really liked this book – as you said when I am reading epistolary novel, I always feel that it distances me from the characters – I was so pleased it did not happen in this book. Thanks.

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  17. Jennie
    Nov 28, 2013 @ 23:51:03

    @Sirius: Oh, I’m glad you liked it!

    ReplyReply

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