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review 2018-10-31 12:36
A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel about what it means to be whole
House of Glass - Susan Fletcher

Thanks to NetGalley and to Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book. I was later contacted by Kimberley Nyamhondera suggesting I take part in the blog tour for the launch of the book, and as I knew the author I immediately agreed.

I had read and reviewed another one of Susan Fletcher’s books (Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew, you can read my review here) a couple of years ago and loved it. When I checked my review, to remind myself what I had thought about it in more detail, I realised I could use almost word by word the same title for my review, although the subject of the novel is quite different. “A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel.” Yes, this definitely applies to House of Glass as well. This time the story is set in the UK right before the breaking of the First World War, and in fact, there are rumours spreading about its likelihood already when the novel starts. It is a fascinating time, and the life of the protagonist, Clara Waterfield, is deeply affected by the historical period she has to live in, from her birth in very late Victorian times, to what would be a very changed world after the Great War, with the social upheaval, the rapid spread of industrialization, the changing role of women, and the all-too-brief peace.

Clara, who tells the story in the first person, is a great creation, who becomes dearer and dearer to us as we read the book. This is not a novel about a protagonist who is fully-formed, recognisable and unchanging, and runs across the pages from one action scene to the next hardly pausing to take a breather. Clara reflects upon her past (although she is very young, she has suffered greatly, but not lived much), her condition (she suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, brittle bones, and that meant that she was kept indoors and not exposed to the risks and dangers of the outside world, the London streets in her case throughout her childhood), her family, and life experiences or her lack of them. No matter what she looks like, her short stature, her difficulty walking, her limitations in physical activity, this is a determined woman, make no mistake. She has learned most of what she knows through books (non-fiction mostly, although she enjoyed the Indian tales her mother used to read her), she has experienced not only pain, but other kinds of loses, and there are secrets and mysteries surrounding her, but despite all that, she is all practical and logical when we meet her. Her lack of exposure to the real world makes her a fascinating narrator, one who looks at everything with the eyes of a new-born or an alien suddenly landed in our society, who might have theoretical knowledge but knows nothing of how things truly work, while her personality, determined and stubborn, and her enquiring nature make her perfect to probe into the mystery at the heart of Shadowbrook.

Readers might not find Clara particularly warm and engaging to begin with (despite the sympathy they might feel for her suffering, something she would hate), as she dispenses with the niceties of the period, is headstrong and can be seen as rude and unsympathetic. At some point, I wondered if there might have been more to her peculiar personality than the way she was brought up (she can be obsessive with the things she likes, as proven by her continuous visits to Kew Gardens once she discovers them, and her lack of understanding of social mores and her difficulty in reading people’s motivations and feelings seemed extreme), but she quickly adapts to the new environment, she thrives on change and challenges, she shows a great, if somewhat twisted, sense of humour at times, and she evolves and grows into her own self during the novel, so please, readers, stick with the book even if you don’t connect with her straightaway or find her weird and annoying at times.  It will be worth your while.

Her point of view might be peculiar, but Clara is a great observer of people and of the natural world. She loves her work and she is careful and meticulous, feeling an affinity for the exotic plants of the glass house, that, like her until recently, also have to live enclosed in an artificial environment for their own safety. That is partly what enhances their beauty and their rarity in our eyes. By contrast, Clara knows that she is seen as weird, lacking, less-able, and hates it. She is a deep thinker and reflects upon what she sees, other people’s behaviours, she imagines what others might be talking about, and dreams of her dead mother and soon also of the mystery behind the strange happenings at the house.

The novel has been described as gothic, and that is a very apt description, even though it is not always dark and claustrophobic. There are plenty of scenes that take place in the garden, in the fields, and in the open air, but we do have the required strange happenings, creaks and noises, scratches on doors, objects and flowers behaving in unpredictable fashion, previous owners of the house with a troublesome and tragic past, a mysterious current owner who hides something, violence, murder, and plenty of rumours. We have a priest who is conflicted by something, a loyal gardener who knows more than he says, a neighbouring farmer who has plenty of skeletons in his closet, and a housekeeper who can’t sleep and is terrified. But there is much more to the novel than the usual tropes we have come to expect and love in the genre. There is social commentary; there are issues of diversity and physical disability, discussions about religious belief and spirituality, and also about mental health, women’s rights, and the destructive nature of rumours and gossip, and some others that I won’t go into to avoid spoilers.

I don’t want to give anything away, and although the story moves at a steady and contemplative pace, this in no way makes it less gripping. If anything, the beauty of the language and the slow build up work in its favour, giving us a chance to get fully immersed in the mood and the atmosphere of the place.

I marked a lot of passages, and I don’t think any of them make it full justice, but I’ve decided to share some, nonetheless:

She’d also said that there was no human perfection; that if the flaw could not be seen physically, then the person carried it inside them, which made it far worse, and I’d believed this part, at least.

For my mother had never spoken well of the Church. Patrick had said nothing at all of it. And my own understanding had been that imperfect bodies were forms of godly punishment; that imperfect meant I was worth less somehow. I’d disliked this notion intensely. Also, I was not a spare rib.

I could not taste fruit from studying a sketch of it, cut in half. What use was only reading of acts and not doing them? Knowing the route of the Ganges was not the same as standing in it.

 

The ending… We find the solution to the mystery, (which I enjoyed, and at the time I wondered why the book did not finish at that point) but the novel does not end there, and we get to hear what happened in the aftermath of the story. And yes, although at first, I wasn’t sure that part was necessary, by the end of the book proper I was crying and felt as if I was leaving a close friend in Clara, one that I was convinced would go on to lead a happy life.

Another fantastic novel by Susan Fletcher, one I recommend to fans of gothic novels, of Daphne du  Maurier’s Rebecca and her other novels, of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, and of inspiringly gorgeous writing. I do not recommend it to readers who prefer an action-laden plot with little space for thought or reflexion, although why not check a sample of the book and see for yourselves? I must catch up on the rest of the author’s novels and I hope there will be many more to come.

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url 2018-10-24 15:57
"Indelible" by Alexandra Erin

[It's fiction. And American politics. Note the content warnings at the beginning of the story.]

 

"This is a story about a man who likes beer. 

 

And, I mean, who doesn't like beer? Who doesn't have a beer or two from time to time? There's nothing wrong with that. But this man, he really likes beer. He likes beer maybe a bit too much. There are a lot of people in this world who like beer, and maybe this story will make you think of one in particular, someone you know or have heard of.

 

But the man in this story, the thing you have to know about him is, he drinks to the point of blackout drunk. Not all the time, but enough times. Maybe too many times.

 

If the man you're thinking of is a man has never drunk to the point of blacking out, then the man you are thinking of cannot be the man in this story. 

 

It's very important that you know that going in. "

 

I'm not normally a fan of real-person fic, but this one is...nice.

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review 2018-10-23 20:15
Exquisite Trouble by Ann Mayburn
Exquisite Trouble - Ann Mayburn

WTH? This book is only the first part of the story? How could I miss it while reading the introduction and the reviews of the book. 

The main character Swan has autistic traits - she can't stand people touching her skin, can't read people's expressions very well, and has several weird habits. She works as a waitress in a strip club, has two university degrees (in maths and accountancy) and watches porn in her free time. She also has a twin sister Sarah, whom she doesn't communicate very much. But then her birth mother steals from very bad people and leaves her daughters in very dangerous situation. Sarah goes after her mother trying to protect her fiance and Swan. She disappears and Swan gets kidnapped. Fortunately Iron Horse MC has Swan under surveillance and they manage to save the girl. That's how Swan finds out that the sexy client from the strip club is actually a member of the Iron Horse MC. Smoke has been keeping an eye on Swan form weeks now. He likes everything about the young woman and wants her for himself. He is also a sexual dominant and decides to take his time to ease Swan into the lifestyle. Sarah's fiance is the leader of the Iron Horse MC and asks Swan to find her sister. So, Smoke and Swan leave the town to find Sarah and girls' treacherous mother.

The story was a bit too kinky for my taste.
There were also some contradictions - Swan always stressed how people couldn't touch her skin without her feeling bugs crawling all over her. The only people who could touch her, were the people she really trusted. And then during a few days she meets three men, who all can touch her without any problems. Oh, and don't forget, all three are smoking hot. Why am I not surprised. 
Swan also seemed to be addicted to Smoke. She didn't need more than seeing him and immediately her panties were wet. I'm quite sure, it's not healthy to walk around wearing wet underwear all the time.


Exquisite Trouble had a lot of potential and I enjoyed parts of it. Swan's family was amazing and snippets about her childhood were really interesting. I also liked how Smoke didn't rush with having sex. They did quite a lot of kinky stuff, but he always made sure that Swan was comfortable with those acts. 
It annoys me a lot that Swan and Smoke's story continues in a second book. I really wanted to find out who the villains were. 
I would say it was a little bit more than OK read.
2.5 stars

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review 2018-09-07 15:17
This is Me: A Self-Help Memoir
This Is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today - Chrissy Metz

As Goodreads reviewer Katrina wrote, "I can see this getting mixed reviews because it [toes] the line between memoir and self-help. The result is that it does neither very well."  I agree.  This book ends up being a self-help memoir, and I think it would have been better to choose one lane, namely the "memoir" lane.  I can appreciate the desire to help others with the tools and insights Chrissy Metz has found for herself--but perhaps she could have framed them as "here are techniques that work for me."

 

Metz had a difficult childhood, with an abusive stepfather, an absent father, and a mother struggling to raise five kids and keep things together.  She found an inner strength and forged a path to make her dreams come true.  And she is eager to help others overcome their own struggles, and that's awesome.

 

Some misgivings I have:  Metz seems to be an adherent of "The Secret"/"Laws of Attraction."  I have issues with this, as expressed in my review of The Girl Code.  I can appreciate the spirit behind that perspective, but I feel it has some unfortunate implications.  I can also appreciate reflecting on a difficult situation/experience and considering "What can I learn from this?"  But I have much more trouble with the idea that the universe conspired to create the situation/experience in order to issue a lesson.  Just no.

 

Related to that, Metz's stepfather was horrible to her.  He was both physically and emotionally abusive.  She maintains a relationship with him, having accepted a clumsy apology from him, and notes in the book that his abuse made her feel that nothing can break her.   I have some serious misgivings about this.  Although it is obviously not her intent, I have seen this type of statement used as a justification for abuse.  This reasoning has been used by abusers and has also been a reason for victims of abuse to perpetuate the cycle of abuse on their own children/wards.  "This is how I was treated, and it made me tough, so I will do the same thing to my own kids!"  Again, I am not suggesting that Metz in any way endorses this reaction, but I can't help thinking her words might be misused that way.

 

I really appreciated the story that Metz shared, as well as her conversational, sit-with-me-and-I'll-share-my-story tone.  Metz has great insights into human behavior and shares some excellent strategies for navigating conflict and prioritizing one's personal dreams.  I recommend the book for those aspects, with the caveats noted above.

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review 2018-07-21 19:50
I Almost Forgot About You ★★★☆☆
I Almost Forgot About You - Terry McMillan

I appreciate a romance that is acerbically funny rather than cloying and this one gets bonus points for a main character and her romantic interests who are middle aged and dealing with all the life issues that go with it. The characters, their relationships, and the events felt real and not too improbable and the dialogue was snappy. I enjoyed it so much that it mostly overcame the usual fatal flaw of having been written in first person, present tense. Normally, I’ll DNF those immediately, but I was actually able to forget the style and fall into the story for the most part.

 

Audiobook, borrowed from my public library. Audiobooks read by the author tend to be pretty hit/miss, but MacMillan did a terrific reading, especially with the dialogue.

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