Genre: Women's Lit

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

Stella Bain by Anita ShreveStella Bain by Anita Shreve
Format: eBook
Pages: 272 pages
Genres: Women's Lit
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Evelynne's rating: three-half-stars

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve is a historical novel that tells the story of Stella Bain, a young American woman serving as a volunteer in WWI France who wakes up in hospital one day with no memory of her identity or her past. It follows her struggle to discover who she is and then to reclaim her life.

What I liked

Engaging characters.  I really enjoyed reading about the character of Stella and those who help and hinder her.  She was well written and I felt absorbed in her story.  The actions and reactions of the characters seemed authentic and consistent.  I am not familiar with shellshock, but I can easily imagine its playing out as it did in Stella Bain.

Beautifully drawn setting.  The setting changes from a WWI field hospital to post war London and America, and each of them was wonderfully detailed and described. Each was very different, but well written.

Nicely executed concept.  Sometimes amnesia story lines can be very cheesy – think Teri Bauer in 24 – but it was well grounded and developed in Stella Bain. I’m not personally familiar with the psychology behind shellshock, but I felt the author had done her homework and it seemed believable and more realistic than other amnesia stories I’ve read.

What I didn’t like

The writing style.  Stella Bain is written in the third person present tense (Stella does this, she sees so and so) which is not a common choice for an author.  Writing in the present tense can give a sense of immediacy to a story, but it’s more often seen in the first person.  Presumably, in Stella Bain this is meant to convey that only the present has any meaning for Stella given that she has no memory of her past and her future is uncertain.  For me, however, it didn’t really work.  I found myself becoming involved in the story in spite of this choice rather than because of it.

The love triangle.  I wasn’t very happy with the way the love triangle played out.  I disliked that the first seeds of the romance were sown while one of the parties was still married to a sympathetic woman he claimed to adore.  While it may be realistic, I prefer that a kind and gentle character doesn’t have to be killed off so that the  lovebirds can come together. 

I wasn’t certain how many stars to give Stella Bain.  It’s not quite four stars, but better than three and a half.  So three and three quarters?

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three-half-stars

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna TrollopeSense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope
Series: The Austen Project #1
Also in this series: Northanger Abbey, Eligible
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Kate Reading
Length: 10 hrs and 10 mins
Genres: Classics, Women's Lit
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Evelynne's rating: three-stars

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope is the first in The Austen Project series of books in which contemporary writers rework Austen’s classics to bring them into the modern day.

In a world without the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Emma Approved and Clueless, Trollope’s updating of Sense and Sensibility might appear fresh and fun.  In comparison to these other modernisations, however, it comes across as unimaginative and safe.  Too often it appears Trollope has simply transposed the characters and situations from Regency England to the modern day without using more up to date equivalents.  A few references to Facebook and Twitter don’t make a modern adaption.  In all fairness, perhaps Trollope was given a tight brief by HarperCollins to keep it close to the original.  

What I liked 

Faithful to Austen’s characters. Trollope stayed true to Austen’s characters.  Elinor is still the level head of the family, Marianne is still a hopeless romantic, Willoughby is still a cad.  The relationships between them remained true to the original – the interactions between the characters still follow the same themes.  The characters follow the same development arcs.  It’s clear Trollope understands the motivations of her characters and the main themes of the original.  

Timeless story and themes.  The conflict of head vs.heart is universal and is beautifully described by Austen.  Trollope brought this across to the modernisation very well.

The narration.  Kate Reading was the narrator for this, which is one reason I bought it also from Audible.  Kate is one of my favourite narrators, and she didn’t disappoint here.  With Kate you get a sense of the character just from the voices she uses.  Here’s a sample

What I didn’t like

Characters transposed not reimagined.  While it’s true that the characters are true to their Austen versions, they should have been updated more to reflect the world in which they were living.  In our 21st century, women of Elinor’s and Marianne’s ages cannot and should not expect to have a man support them – a major focus at their age should be how they are going to support themselves and pay their bills in future.  I didn’t feel that was adequately reflected in this modernisation.  I mean, what the heck does Marianne DO all day other than moon around over Willoughby?

Out of date settings. Trollope retained the grand estates – Norland Park,  Delaford,  Allenham – and even some servants.  I felt this made the book somewhat harder for a modern readership to relate to. Other modern Austen adaptations have successfully updated the grand estates to large corporations with no ill effects to the themes of the books.

Modern references for references’ sake.  There are several references to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, mobile phones etc scattered throughout the book, yet none of them are used to progress the story in any way.  That feels rather unrealistic in our always-online modern world.  For example, it would have been far fresher – and would not have harmed the theme in any way – for Elinor to have learned about Lucy Steele’s marriage from her Facebook profile or a tweet. 

All in all, Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility was an OK read, but lacking in creativity and imagination.  I gave it three stars out of five.

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three-stars

Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding – Review – SPOILERS

Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding – Review – SPOILERSMad About the Boy by Helen Fielding
Series: Bridget Jones #3
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Samantha Bond
Length: 11 hrs and 23 mins
Genres: Women's Lit
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Evelynne's rating: three-stars

Mad About the Boy is Helen Fielding’s return to her heroine Bridget Jones after a break of 15 years.  It is very difficult, if not impossible, to review Mad About the Boy without including spoilers, so if you have not read the book and do not want to be spoiled, please go away, read the book and come back later.  We’ll be waiting.

(more…)

three-stars

Longbourn by Jo Baker – Review

longbourn
Longbourn by Jo Baker – ReviewLongbourn by Jo Baker
Format: ARC
Pages: 352
Genres: Women's Lit
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Evelynne's rating: three-half-stars

Longbourn by Jo Baker is the retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the Longbourn servants.  I received a copy free to review via Netgalley.  I should start by saying straight off that this retelling doesn’t have Austen’s sharp insight and witty dialogue, but that would be a lot to ask of any writer.  That is not to say it’s not an enjoyable read nevertheless.

 What I liked

Meeting old friends again.  I’ve always loved Pride and Prejudice and Austen’s characters and enjoyed meeting them again from a fresh perspective.  Baker has done well in maintaining the essence of the characters.  Jane is still as sweet and lovely, Lydia is still immature and naive, Darcy is still aloof, Wickham is still a slimy piece of work.  What I did enjoy about this interpretation was the added depth we got to some of the more minor characters.  Yes, Mrs. Bennet is still a drama queen, but we get more of a sense of the unhappiness beneath her need for attention.  Likewise, Mr. Collins; although he remains smarmy, we see more of the young man struggling to cope with an elevated position without the necessary experience or social skills.  Two characters who didn’t come across as well in the new adaptation were Mr. Bennet and surprisingly our beloved Lizzie. It was clear from Pride and Prejudice that Mr. Bennet is a weak man,  but Longbourn takes this to new depths.  I really began to dislike this character after reading Longbourn.  I was disappointed just how little regard Lizzie seemed to actually show for the servants.  Certainly, she is kind and respectful, but 

… and new ones.  I enjoyed reading about Sarah and her life at Longbourn and about James.  They were both engaging characters and nicely written.  I was interested to see which way their story would go.  I did find the whole “who is James and what’s his secret” dragged out far too long, however, especially as the answer was telegraphed pretty clearly early on.  Mrs. Hill’s story was very sad and touching and I enjoyed reading about her.  Her relationship with Mr. Hill is certainly not something I can imagine Austen describing.

Matching the Pride and Prejudice story beats.  I enjoyed the fact that Baker included events in Pride and Prejudice as seen from the servants’ point of view.  For example when the Bennets go to the Netherfield ball, we see James having to drive them and Sarah wait up for their return.  Events such as the Bingleys’ departure for London while dramatic for the Bennet sisters, has less impact downstairs which I enjoyed.

What I didn’t like

The description of James’ whole backstory.  Yes, I understand that his past as a soldier is important both in terms of story and character development, but too much time was spent in descriptions of battles and battlefields.  I chose Longbourn because I wanted to read about life in the great houses of England, not about traipsing through mud and rain as a soldier.

All in all though, I did enjoy reading Longbourn, even if Jane Austen it is not.  I gave Longbourn three and a half stars out of five.

 pre-order from Amazon, Audible

three-half-stars

Finding Colin Firth by Mia March – Review

Finding Colin Firth by Mia March – ReviewFinding Colin Firth by Mia March
Format: ARC
Pages: 337
Genres: Women's Lit
Evelynne's rating: four-stars

I received a free copy of Finding Colin Firth by Mia March to review from Netgalley. It is set in the same town as her previous work The Meryl Streep Movie Club, on which I cannot comment as I have not yet had the chance to read it.

Finding Colin Firth is  a sweet story of three women drawn together in a Maine town connected by a theme of unplanned pregnancy and its impact on their lives.  The theme of giving up a child is also explored through other characters in the novel.  There are frequent references to characters being adopted, looking to adopt or working with young pregnant teens.

It is most fully explored, however, through the three main characters.  Bea and Veronica are connected through the fact that Veronica gave birth to Bea as a young woman and gave her up for adoption.  The novel explores their tentatively establishing a connection with each other.  Gemma, on the other hand, is struggling to deal with the realisation that she is expecting a child, and is uncertain how to deal with it despite being happily married.The subject is dealt with compassionately, and the characters are very likeable.

What I liked

Colin Firth.  Like most of the characters – and I imagine many red blooded heterosexual females – I have a soft spot for the Oscar winning English actor (don’t tell my husband!)  This provided an immediate connection to the story.

The title. I couldn’t pass up on a book entitled Finding Colin Firth.  Mr Firth is a dominant presence in this novel, both literally and figuratively.  He is a literal presence in that the actor is supposedly coming to the town to shoot some scenes for his latest film, but is proving elusive to the crowd of fans.  The more figurative aspect is that he is held up to represent the ideal partner; strong, sexy, passionate, kind and warm hearted.  So when the women set out to find Colin Firth, they are also looking for a romantic partner who will sweep them off their feet the way that Firth as Darcy swept Elizabeth Bennet off of hers.

Engaging characters. All three of the main characters are immediately likeable and relatable. They are from different generations, so clearly the author is trying to have a character to appeal to everyone in her audience

The slow, gentle pacing.  Bea and Veronica develop their relationship slowly and carefully.

What I didn’t like

Skimming the surface.  Adoption is a very emotional topic and this is not an in depth analysis of the topic.

Finding Colin Firth is a sweet, engaging read, although it’s not going to set your mind thinking.  It’s a perfect read to take along to the beach or on holiday.

I gave Finding Colin Firth four stars out of five

buy from Amazon, Kobo, iBookstore

buy from Amazon, Kobo, iBookstore, Audible (listen to a sample)

four-stars

As Sweet as Honey – Review

As Sweet as Honey – ReviewAs Sweet as Honey by Indira Ganesan
Format: ARC
Pages: 289
Genres: Women's Lit
Evelynne's rating: four-stars

This is not the usual kind of book I read, but Random House was kind enough to give me a free review copy.

I found it to be a very well written, gentle read and did enjoy it. I personally wasn’t very familiar with the culture of South Asia, but I felt the author did an excellent job of making it comprehensible to an outsider without over explaining. It was easy to become drawn into Meterling’s world on Pi and understand the expectations that were on her as well as to understand the consequences her decisions might have. As I am not from that culture, the importance placed on, for example, compatible horoscopes in marriage partners is foreign to me, but due to the excellent writing, I could easily understand its impact within Meterling’s family.

This is also a book of well-drawn contrasts and conflicts. I found it interesting to compare and contrast the viewpoint of the children to Meterling’s situation to Meterling’s own thoughts. A nice contrast is also set up between the colour, warmth and friendliness of Pi and the cold, greyness of London. This ties in well to Meterling’s emotional state at the time as she attempts to deal with the aftermath of the decisions she’s made.

The theme of adhering to traditions and society’s expectations vs following your heart is nicely explored through several of the characters and was, for me, one of the strongest aspects of the novel. It is turned around at the end as well in a neat twist.

Personally, I didn’t enjoy the Archer ghost storyline and this was for me the weakest part of the book. However, I could understand its significance and impact on Meterling.

All in all, I found this a gentle, easy read and enjoyed it. I gave As Sweet as Honey four stars out of five.

four-stars
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