Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Reading List by Jennie for March, April and May

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackaryvanity fair

I’m toying with reviewing this. I didn’t know that much about this classic 19th century novel before starting it; I vaguely remember watching part of a British adaptation of it years ago, on A&E, I think. All I knew was that Becky Sharp was sort of an anti-heroine and that the novel took place at least partly around Waterloo (I remembered the scene set at the ball the night before the battle, a ball that has been depicted in countless romances over the years). Anyway, I’m not quite done with the book yet, but I’ve enjoyed it thus far. The focus is not on Becky alone and her machinations, but on the family she marries into and her erstwhile friend Amelia (who is honestly a drip personified, but whatever) who is loved from afar by the hapless Dobbin. I prefer the Becky bits though her story turns kind of dark towards the end. I shouldn’t grade a book I haven’t finished but so far it’s a solid B.

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Improper Relations by Juliana RossImproper Relations by Juliana Ross

I got this free through the Daily Deals; the novella pairs a plain, even mousy widow who is dependent on relatives with a bad boy (of course) hero who happens to be her late husband’s cousin. She witnesses him seducing a maid in the family library, and subsequently he offers to tutor in the carnal arts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this unlikely, porno-esque scenario over the years; I pretty much roll my eyes automatically the minute it’s presented in a romance. That said, even though I don’t remember much about the rest of the story (though I only read it a month or so ago), I did give it a B, so I guess that the trite set-up aside, it wasn’t a bad story.

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Shield-of-WinterShield of Winter by Nalini Singh

Joint review with Janine here.

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hunger strikeHunger Strike: Margaret Thatcher’s Battle with the IRA, 1980-1981 by Thomas Hennessey

I vividly remember the H Block hunger strikes of 1981. I think it’s a combination of being at an age for which I have especially strong memories – between 11 and 12 – and the fact that my mother was a supporter (albeit from America) of Sinn Fein and, to a degree, the IRA. I have much more ambivalent feelings today, especially about the latter organization, but that era in Northern Ireland is still very much of interest to me. Anyway, this book didn’t end up working for me, in small part because it’s strongly slanted in favor of the British government and against the prisoners. I may not be pro-IRA, but I’m definitely not pro-Thatcher, and Hennessey is, rather unabashedly. The larger problem was that I was hoping for a more human, personal story and this was a very dry, academic work, focused on recently released government reports rather than on-the-ground first person accounts from the time. I gave it a D.

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He's Come Undone by Theresa WeirHe’s Come Undone by Theresa Weir

Also got from the Daily Deals, I think? I would say I should stay away from those but actually I’ve had decent success with the books I’ve snagged there. This book was a little uneven but still very compelling. There were things I didn’t like about the h/h characterizations – the depiction of his mental illness felt superficial, as did the treatment of her past as a child star and betrayal by her mother. But they came alive as characters nonetheless, and that counts for a lot with me. He’s Come Undone was reviewed by Jayne here – my grade was an A-.

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Fool Me Twice by Meredith DuranFool Me Twice by Meredith Duran

Reviewed.

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devil_Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Ann Long

Also reviewed.

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unbrokenUnbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I was out of non-fiction to read (at least any non-fiction I wanted to read, since an 800-page biography of William Randolph Hearst that was actually in hardcover form rather than electronic wasn’t exactly calling my name). I hadn’t read this author’s previous celebrated book, Seabiscuit, but this one sounded interesting and the reviews were great. It’s a true story (more on that in a moment) about Louis Zamperini, who grew up in Southern California, became an Olympic runner almost out of nowhere, went to World War II, was shot down and marooned on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for over a month, and then spent years in a Japanese prison camp, enduring almost unimaginable torture. It’s very compellingly written – I was drawn into the story immediately. But after a while I started to question the veracity of some of the details. The larger facts are indisputable – Zamperini WAS an Olympian, was shot down in the Pacific, did endure brutal treatment as a POW. All of these facts are remarkable enough. But the little details pile up and begin to feel outlandish – just about everything, every moment of Zamperini’s life was apparently remarkable. It just became too much for me and affected my enjoyment of the book. It didn’t help that the middle third was pretty unpleasant to read, dealing as it did with pretty much unending suffering and degradation in the prison camp in Japan. I’m not sure how to grade this because I did find it really readable and involving in parts; I’d probably give it a C+.

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Three Weeks With Lady X by Eloisa JamesThree Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James

Also Reviewed

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silver liningsThe Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

I saw and really liked the movie when it came out, even though I had some reservations about the portrayal of the protagonist’s mental illness, which seemed a little superficial (weird that this is the second book in this roundup that I had that specific problem with). It’s even clearer in the book that Pat is pretty profoundly mentally ill – for one thing, he’s been in a mental hospital for four years (a detail I don’t recall being addressed in the movie), and is apparently unaware of that fact. When asked how long he thinks it’s been since he’s seen his estranged wife, he guesses a few months, when in fact he apparently hasn’t seen her in all the years he’s been away at what he calls “the bad place.” The way that Pat’s mind seems to work is strangely childlike (in addition to calling the the psychiatric hospital “the bad place” he refers to his estrangement from his wife as “apart time” and believes that it is temporary and sure to end soon). All of it adds up to a story and a romance that are kind of unsettling. Again, I felt this was all hinted at in the movie – Pat is delusional and given to bouts of rage and at times refuses to take his medication, but he’s somehow healed (at least enough for a happy ending) by love, dancing and Jennifer Lawrence. Since I kind of adore Jennifer Lawrence and like Bradley Cooper and the rest of the cast as well, it worked for me in spite of my hesitancy. It’s a lot harder to make it an HEA in the book. I still have about a 1/3 to go and I’m not sure how closely the book will follow the movie – the stories are largely the same but the emphasis is different. Different events happen at different times and we’re just now getting to the part where Tiffany makes the deal with Pat to do the dance competition. I can’t say I’m loving it but I’m keeping an open mind; if it weren’t for the fact that I’d seen the movie I think I’d be a lot more concerned about how the story might end (I mean, it might end differently from the movie but I doubt it will be horribly depressing or negative; I hope not, at least).

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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.

10 Comments

  1. Karen D
    Jun 19, 2014 @ 11:34:37

    Thank you for saying you found The Silver Linings Playbook unsettling. I found the movie deeply disturbing, but everyone raved about it and loved it to pieces, so I kept my opinion to myself. My problem with the movie might also stem from the fact that I’m one of the few women on the planet who doesn’t find Bradley Cooper all that attractive (I think a large part of that is his personality, not his looks). Anyhow, I’m glad you had a good run of books this time, and sale books at that!

  2. Sandra Schwab
    Jun 19, 2014 @ 12:09:41

    I love, love, love Thackeray (not the least because he worked for the British magazine PUNCH), and I adore his sly humour. (The beginning of The Newcomes always makes me giggle.) I’ve always read Amelia as his criticism of the Victorian ideal of femininity, given that she is so over the top passive and helpless and prone to dissolve into tears.

    Does your edition include the initial letters and the illustrations? They are fantastic and they enrichen the text considerably.

  3. Janine
    Jun 19, 2014 @ 12:43:39

    I hope you do review Vanity Fair. We always have interesting discussions here when you review classics of literature.

    Also, good to know you liked He’s Come Undone so much! I have it in the TBR pile.

  4. Lil
    Jun 19, 2014 @ 12:49:52

    I first encountered Becky Sharpe in high school and have loved her ever since.

    I read someplace that Thackery was worried that women would resent his portrayal of Becky Sharpe and never understood that what women resented was being expected to admire Amelia Sedley.

  5. Marianne McA
    Jun 19, 2014 @ 16:19:55

    I enjoyed Unbroken: recommended it to my book club (we’re reading it with The Railway Man) – but they are both difficult reads.

    I’d recommend David McKittrick’s writing on the Troubles: not that I’ve read any of his books, but I followed him as a journalist, and he always seemed spot-on to me. (I was a student in Belfast during the hunger strikes.)
    For personal stories, he was one of the authors of a book called ‘Lost Lives’ which told the story of every person who died through the troubles – it was a bit of a landmark book when it was published, but I don’t know if it would be easy to get in the US.

  6. Jennie
    Jun 19, 2014 @ 18:11:47

    @Karen D: Yeah, I finished The Silver Linings Playbook and it’s just kind of a weird story. It seems strange that they made a movie out of it, though the movie version really is considerably lightened up and made more conventional. It feels a lot darker in the book and the HEA especially feels sad – honestly, like these two are together because no one else will deal with people as messed up as they are. Bradley Cooper’s delusions in the movie bugged me (I find irrational people really hard to deal with or even watch on screen), but he came off way more mentally together than Pat does in the book.

  7. Jennie
    Jun 19, 2014 @ 18:20:37

    @Sandra Schwab: No, mine was a freebie from Project Gutenberg (or Amazon?) for my Kindle, so no illustrations. It took a while for me to see that Thackeray really didn’t like Amelia (or even Dobbin) that much – about the only virtuous character that escapes his bite is Jane Crawley, Pitt the younger’s wife.

    Janine, I did write review of Vanity Fair (though it’s not quite done; I just finished the book today).

    Lil, I think I only resented the portrayal of Becky when she became too villainous, which she did in spots late in the book. I generally really like Thackeray’s take on her, to the point where I disliked it when she seemed to be being punished for her sins, because all along he seems to be saying that she’s not really any worse than the rest of them; they are all hypocrites and users in their own ways.

  8. Jennie
    Jun 19, 2014 @ 18:30:49

    @Marianne McA: Thanks so much for the rec; Lost Lives looks very interesting. It’s available from Amazon as a hardcover, but it’s $50 (!). I will check out McKittrick’s writing.

  9. Elinor Aspen
    Jun 21, 2014 @ 09:50:06

    I did not read Silver Linings Playbook, but I found the movie rather disturbing, partly because it glossed over or lightened up some very disturbing behavior on the part of both main characters. I have relatives with bipolar disorder, and it is difficult to trust their word or decision-making ability. To present deliberate lies as somehow admirable in pursuit of a relationship (as the movie does) is really despicable, in my opinion.

  10. Jayne
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 06:59:30

    I think I saw the A&E “Vanity Fair” production you’re talking about. I remember having to tape it to watch later on and rushing home to catch up on the next installment.

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