Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: a Novel.

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I’ve just read the oddest book, and I adored it. It’s been such a long time since I last truly loved the voice and feel of a novel (admittedly though, I have only been binging romance novels – which, while necessary and very enjoyable, are rather anemic when it comes to solid plot and characterization).

Eleanor Oliphant is narrated by Eleanor herself, and according to the blurb it’s about ‘when Eleanor and a stranger save an old man’s life, and they rescue each other’. But it’s so much more than that. From the get go, Eleanor establishes herself as one of the oddest voices I’ve read in narrative fiction, both incredibly grown-up and reflective, but naive and emotionally neglected. I’d say it’s a little like if an alien had to navigate the real world, but that would be undermining her incredibleness. It’s just such a pleasure as she grows and develops through her interactions with the world – indeed, her navigation of the beauty and fashion industry is a particular joy. One of my favorite bits was when she visits a Bobbi Brown store multiple times and seems very confused as to where Bobbi is.

The plot of the book follows Eleanor as a series of chance meetings inspire her to shake up her existence and venture out into the ‘real world’, although I’m sure she’d take umbrage at my words (isn’t all the world ‘real?’).  Watching her manage the changes to her set schedule (hour for lunch, crossword, repeat) doesn’t ever feel tedious or boring. Instead, the reader is left with a sense of natural development and her journey towards loving herself is so well written, there’s never any sense of dragging.

The revelations of her past – and her attempts to deal with it – are also very well handled, and it never feels like emotional trauma porn for the sake of it. Yes, you do ache for Eleanor, but it never feels like the author wants you to wallow in it. Indeed, it’s one of the more refreshing and (although this may not be the right term) healthy takes on trauma and moving on with your life.

All in all, this was one of the most charming books I’ve read in a while. It was delightful getting to immerse myself in the voice of Eleanor, and figuring out exactly what happened to her was legit anxiety inducing, in the best way. It also featured one of the nicest developments of friendship I’ve seen in a while. There’s no character that really stands out as amazing, and it’s honestly part of the charm. Every person who exists within Eleanor’s world feels like a real person. Which, while not always fun to read (one needs some romance novel men after all), it’s certainly one of the most refreshing books I’ve read.

I’m so glad I picked it up on a whim. It’s the first book in what I’m hoping is going to be a long spell of reading for pleasure again. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an unusual, well-written character piece.

Xx

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we can’t all be elizabeth…

Last year I took a class where we analyzed romance novels on film, and my professor said ‘We all want to be Elizabeth, don’t we?’. We were in the middle of watching the 2005 version, with Keira Knightley’s beautiful hair pearls and the ridiculous white shirt and every girl in the class agreed: ‘yes, we want to be Elizabeth’.

When I was twelve or thirteen, I was given a dvd of Northanger Abbey. I don’t remember who gave me it, although I suspect it was my theater teacher in an effort to help me with my english accent. All I know is that I put off watching it until I fell ill with some cold or another, and decided on a whim to watch the weird stuffy film. And then I fell in love with it. I watched it over and over. It was the BBC’s production, starring Felicity Jones (pre-star wars) and JJ Field, who kicked off a long list of middle-aged British actors I find incredibly attractive. It was probably Field’s turn as Henry Tilney that set me up for my impossible goals in a man (he knows muslin? swoon).

So when I said that I wanted to be Elizabeth, I wasn’t lying. Who wouldn’t want to be smart, kick-ass Lizzie who wins the man? I’m not a Lizzie though, I’m a Catherine.

Around two years later I ran across the actual book version, read it and discarded it. Sure, it was great because it was Austen, but it didn’t live up to my beloved film. Apparently, Austen wrote it as a direct criticism of the gothic novels that were known for  being ridiculous. ‘Not every castle has a dark secret’ is the lesson Catherine learns over the course of the book. There’s other junk too, about putting aside childish things and marrying Henry and having a million babies.

In a lot of ways, I think we are drawn to the characters we see ourselves in, for better of worse. While I’m no Felicity Jones, I am a Catherine. Silly, prone to overblown dramatics, romantic to a fault, often unable to read social situations, and constantly, constantly day-dreaming. There’s a scene where Catherine imagines her friend (played by Carey Mulligan, because there are only eighteen actors in England) being kidnapped by a rake and she stumbles upon them. It’s a ridiculous fantasy based on nothing but a quick aside from her aunt. That’s me. It’s embarrassing, but there you go. There’s always some weird narrative happening in my head.

It’s been ten years since this movie came out. I still love this movie, it’s soft and quiet and a small, simple love story. But I always disliked that Catherine had to put away her books at the end of it. I haven’t had my realistic moment yet – although I’ve had plenty of moments that could have been my social-embarressment-nearly-accuse-Henry’s-dad-of-killing-his-wife moments. I’m still Catherine at the beginning of the movie, lying in a field holding a book to herself and imagining all the ways her life is going to unfold. Except it’s a kindle and a dorm room and trying to believe that internships aren’t the end-all-be-all of getting a job. I daydream and read young adult novels still and spend an embarrassing amount of time pretending I’m an powerful superhero whose husband has been kidnapped (it’s the only way I can motivate myself to run).

Sure, I wish I could say I was an Elizabeth. Or a Jane, or a Elinor. Sure, I’m a little brave and a little kind and a lot sensible, but I know who I am at heart. After all – I still can’t help but wonder if there’s a ghost when I go down to the laundry room. And if I ever spent a night in a castle? You bet there’d be a dark secret or two. It’s what I do.

Anna and the French Kiss

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It’s funny how things work out. Almost immediately after I posted about Just One Day, i received the fabulous and amazing news that I will actually be traveling to Europe this summer!! It’s crazy to think that I’m going to be able to explore Edinburgh and Dublin. I’m literally so excited. And speaking of excited – let’s get the review started!

Blurb:

Anna can’t wait for her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a good job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she’s not too thrilled when her father unexpectedly ships her off to boarding school in Paris – until she meets Etienne St. Clair, the perfect boy. The only problem? He’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her crush back home. Will a year of romantic near-misses end in the French kiss Anna awaits?

Goodreads score: 4.17/5

Review:

If you’ve ever had the desire to run off to Paris and live your life, then this is the book for you, although I doubt you and Anna would get along. Anna and the French Kiss is a charming young adult novel about falling in love and exploring the city of love. Yes, the plot may be a little contrived (and there are times when the main characters deserves a good smack on the head) but its just such a fun look at falling in love as a teenager. Only in Paris.

French Kiss covers the entirety of Anna’s senior year in high school, beginning with her first day, where she is absolutely dreading moving to Paris (which. What?) through to her graduation. It also encompasses the story of her friendship with St. Clair, the handsome boy she meets and falls in love with. (Side note: I think the name Etienne is gorgeous) The interactions between the two characters are what really sold the novel for me. Perkin’s manages to imbue their conversations with sparkling wit, all while balancing that awkward line between friends and … not-friends. St. Clair and Anna’s tentative foray into romance is just such a sweet story, if rife with ups and downs and some hypocrisy on both their parts. They are just such believable teenagers, and reading French Kiss made me laugh out loud, groan, go squirmy and finally cry.

I’m not going to say this book is perfect – Anna’s definitely got some character flaws, one of which is her unbelievable stupidity about Paris. I nearly put the book down at the beginning, because I was so irritated by the fact that she seemed to know literally nothing about France. Yes, there is a sticky situation concerning infidelity that isn’t handled so gracefully and yes, sometimes the problems that Anna faces just seem so contrived. But the thing is, this book managed to hit me where a lot of other young adult romances haven’t. French Kiss is a book about being stupid and young and falling in love in one of the best cities in the world.

I think that there is a lot to say for a book that you can pick up and feel happy reading again. Stephanie Perkins has actually become one of my favorite Young Adult writers – Anna and the French Kiss is just the first part of trilogy. Each of her books manages to create a deeply flawed – but extremely human and likable – main character. The thing about reading her books is that I know an Anna, or Isla, or Lola. Maybe sometimes I am one. The point is that people aren’t perfect – but that doesn’t mean that their stories aren’t lovely to read.

XX

Just One Day

Just One Day – Gayle Forman

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You never know what you are going to find in the recesses of your computer files. A couple of days ago I was sorting through everything – deleting old documents, trying to figure out if I seriously needed to hold onto that one photo of a cat in a teacup (answer – yes) – and I found this review that I did before starting college. You can find my opinion below – I haven’t actually read the book since, but my review definitely brought back memories.

BLURB:

 From the New York Times bestselling author of If I Stay
Allyson Healey’s life is exactly like her suitcase—packed, planned, ordered. Then on the last day of her three-week post-graduation European tour, she meets Willem. A free-spirited, roving actor, Willem is everything she’s not, and when he invites her to abandon her plans and come to Paris with him, Allyson says yes. This uncharacteristic decision leads to a day of risk and romance, liberation and intimacy: 24 hours that will transform Allyson’s life.

A book about love, heartbreak, travel, identity, and the “accidents” of fate, Just One Day shows us how sometimes in order to get found, you first have to get lost. . . and how often the people we are seeking are much closer than we know.

REVIEW:

You know how there are some books that stay with you? This is absolutely one of them. Written by Gayle Forman (the author of the If I Stay series, which are also fantastic) Just One Day is a coming of age, a slow burn growth and exploration of youth and how events can change people’s lives. After meeting Willem on a train, Allyson makes the impulsive decision to spend the day with him in Paris. What happens next leads to an entire year of waiting and introspection.

This was definitely a hard book for me to review – even though it is one of my favourites. What exactly made me love it so much however? It follows a pretty standard plot device. However when I read it I was instantly sucked into Allyson’s world. Her confusion, her heartache, her hope. Maybe it’s because she’s so relatable – everyone can remember that feeling of helplessness before college and during. When you don’t know where you are going or why. It’s such a moving thing to watch Allyson grow into herself and accept the events of the day that changes her.

An interesting thing about this book is that I found the second part of the book much more emotional than the first. While the beginning is arguably more action packed (Day in Paris, etc) I thought that Allyson’s emotional story was far more relatable and touching. It was just so realistic – her struggle to become who she wants to be. And of course, by the end, I was on the metaphorical edge of my seat watching her track Willem down. But the great thing about this book is the open ending – we as readers follow Allyson’s story. We really don’t know Willem at all, which means that we can fill in his character and the end of their story.

While I would have loved to have had a more satisfying sequel (which is from Willem’s perspective and is so lackluster to me that it doesn’t merit a review) there is no doubt that Just One Day holds a special place in my heart. It’s a classic tale of growing up and falling in and out of love. I’m not arguing that this book is perfect however – Allyson has a tendency to look down on nearly every female character in the book, and it really irritated me in the beginning when she kept whining that the cities she was travelling around (London! Rome! Paris!) didn’t look like the movies. I was sitting there thinking: Um, OK, get over it. Apart from that however, I really truly love this book.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

Y’know, reading this review, I was reminded of how nervous I was beginning school. The parts about reading her life in college really stuck with me apparently. Now that I’m nearly done with freshman year, i can completely identity with Allyson’s feelings of isolation and depression. I think college is such a time of downs and ups that her feelings are completely valid, and I know that I have definitely felt the same way at times. It’s such a reward when Allyson decides to go after what she wants, and I think Just One Day is more than the romance it’s advertised as. It’s a very powerful story of a young girl trying to  figure out what she wants and going for it – who amongst us doesn’t want the same? I’m wondering what I’ll think the next time I pick up the book – I’ll be in the same place as she was (and how exciting is that!)

XX

Life After Life

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Blurb:

What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Ursula’s world is in turmoil, facing the unspeakable evil of the two greatest wars in history. What power and force can one woman exert over the fate of civilization — if only she has the chance?

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.

Goodreads Score:3.74/5

Review:

I was somewhat disappointed by this book, to be honest. After hearing raving reviews from friends, and intrigued by the plot (time travel? WW2? Y’all know that’s my jam) I decided to pick up Atkinson’s latest work and give it a go.

It was…long. I don’t remember really enjoying anything about the book. I just remember thinking that I had to work my way through it, because there had to be a reason that everyone loved it so much. Now – don’t get me wrong. Atkinson is extremely gifted with the written word, and her lyrical prose is probably what kept me trying to read on. There are several chapters that were like honey to my eyes (which is a weird sentence) and I liked the recurring theme of the snowy night, but overall her book was lacking for me, plot wise. The end just had nothing to it, which was frustrating after such an impactful beginning. I felt like I had literally clawed my way through this (frequently depressing and confusing) story only to wind up even more frustrated. Because I am not ashamed to admit it. I just didn’t get the ending.

I thought that the biggest hang up for this book was the time travel element. The characters were all so fragmented (even the sister, who is ostensibly a main character) and I couldn’t get a feel for the main character. Likewise, some of Ursula’s lives were far too long, whilst others were too short. I felt like half the time I was reading something that could have been edited out and I would not have missed it. All in all, not a great thing for me to think while I’m reading a book.

Life After Life is simply an interesting idea that was poorly executed. While Atkinson’s lyrical prose definitely save this book, the dead characters and meandering chapters don’t help the floundering plot line.

Code Name Verity

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Blurb:

Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

A Michael L. Printz Award Honor book that was called “a fiendishly-plotted mind game of a novel” in The New York TimesCode Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other.

Review:

This book. This book was so good y’all. At first I was a little apprehensive to read it, because I will be honest with you – I am a complete pansy when it comes to reading books where the outcome isn’t assured. It takes me a while to psych myself up for books with plot twists, but I am so so glad that I read Verity.

The book opens with the chilling announcement that Queenie (a civilian ambassador) has sold her country’s secrets for the return of her clothes. From there it turns into a harrowing account of life under her German interrogators and how Queenie struggles to adapt to her new surroundings. I don’t really want to give away much (which makes this review so hard to write, because this book is filled with twists and turns, keeping you on the edge of your seat every minute you read) but I’ll just say this; a new and compelling view into the minds of those who actually suffered under torture during WW2. It flips between Queenie’s life under the germans and her recollections of her best friend Maddie.

The relationship between Queenie and Maddie is one of the greatest parts of this book, and it was so refreshing to read a female driven action and suspense story. I also loved that their relationship was the core of book, as strong female relationships are incredibly important. The memories that Queenie has of her best friend makes the book equal parts melancholy and up-lifting. The descriptions that Queenie gives us are uncompromising and at times extremely uncomfortable, which adds to the impact of the story. I would sincerely recommend this book to anyone looking for a suspenseful and riveting read. You might want to keep some tissues nearby though.

XX

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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WOO! I just finished my spring break, and was lucky enough to do a TON of reading over the last couple of days. I’m back at college now, so you can expect a full post on what I did over break and a few more book reviews. This is one of my new favorites – alone with Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. 100% give both of these lovely books a try.

Blurb: January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

Review:

You know how there are books that you just fall in love with? That you can read over and over again? This book is one of them. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of my favorites, and whenever someone asks me for book recommendations I immediately point to this one. It’s just such a charming story.

The book is told through the correspondence between Juliet and the citizens of Guernsey. It’s set immediately after WW2, which I found particularly interesting (as many books are set during) and it was an insight into the rebuilding of London and the lives of people immediately after the tragedy. The story follows what happened to the citizens of Guernsey during the German occupation – as the only British territory to fall under Hitler’s hands. Every person that Juliet writes too manages to inject humor and warmth into the suffering that every person experienced. They don’t shirk away from anything, but their humane approach and love of life help make Juliet and the reader fall in love with them.

At it’s core, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a story about loving books and reading and the hope it can inspire. Juliet and Dawsey first begin their correspondence after he receives an old book of her. From there, the story unwinds. I’m an absolute sucker for quiet happy stories, and found families are ALWAYS my jam. Therefore, it’s not surprising that I loved this book.

The one sticking point that I have with this novel is its relative inaccuracy of 1940’s letter writing. Some of the language choices rings far more modern, but since I wasn’t unduly concerned with it, I don’t let it bother me. The characters are all fantastic and its just such a lovely read. A guaranteed feel good with just enough punch to keep it from getting overly saccharine.

XX

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)

Review: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson.

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Blurb:

When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame-spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.

In the irreverent Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s long-suffering husband and sweet daughter help her uncover the surprising discovery that the most terribly human moments—the ones we want to pretend never happened—are the very same moments that make us the people we are today. For every intellectual misfit who thought they were the only ones to think the things that Lawson dares to say out loud, this is a poignant and hysterical look at the dark, disturbing, yet wonderful moments of our lives.

Goodreads Score: 3.92/5

Amyliabedelia score : 4/5

Review:

Okay, Jenny Lawson is one seriously funny lady. If you are looking for a book to escape the stress of college then this is a good one. There were moments reading this book when I was full on ugly laughing – doubled over and snorting and everything. Chronicling the events of her life (beginning with her childhood in Wall, Texas) all through her marriage and children, Lawson manages to treat everything in her life with a degree of irreverent humor and general attitude of ‘Whattaya gonna do?’. Sure, there were moments when I was reading this that I went ‘Okay, that is…messed up, to say the least’ but it didn’t matter, because I was far too busy giggling over the absurdity of what had happened to care. Fun fact: trying to stay quiet because it’s 2 AM and your roommates are sleeping is not as easy as it sounds.

Obviously the book isn’t perfect. There are moments where the stream of consciousness style Lawson invokes gets tiresome and babbly. There’s also a weird chapter where Lawson writes imaginary post it notes to her husband, which I found boring and unnecessary.  Despite this however, Lawson manages to deliver an account of her life that is hilarious. While I wish she had spent more time on her childhood, which was probably the funniest part of the book for me, Lawson also manages to tactfully acknowledge her social anxiety, depression and rheumatoid arthritis in a way that managed to add some punch to the book. I wish that she had taken a step back with the jokes during those moments though. Yes, laughter is a good way to ease the pain – and Lawson is certainly good at invoking the giggles – but there were times when levity wasn’t required.

That being said, this book is a definite read again for me. I spent most of the days after reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened remembering stories from Lawson’s life and attracting weird looks because I was giggling to myself. If you’re looking for a book to cheer you up, then this is definitely a good one to go to. Just make sure that you don’t drink a lot of water beforehand.