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review 2018-08-16 07:45
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

Philip Ashley's older cousin Ambrose, who raised the orphaned Philip as his own son, has died in Rome. Philip, the heir to Ambrose's beautiful English estate, is crushed that the man he loved died far from home. He is also suspicious. While in Italy, Ambrose fell in love with Rachel, a beautiful English and Italian woman. But the final, brief letters Ambrose wrote hint that his love had turned to paranoia and fear. Now Rachel has arrived at Philip's newly inherited estate. Could this exquisite woman, who seems to genuinely share Philip's grief at Ambrose's death, really be as cruel as Philip imagined? Or is she the kind, passionate woman with whom Ambrose fell in love? Philip struggles to answer this question, knowing Ambrose's estate, and his own future, will be destroyed if his answer is wrong.

Amazon.com

 

 

Orphaned at a mere 18 months of age, Phillip Ashley is taken in and raised by his much older cousin, Ambrose. Over the years, Ambrose grooms young Phillip to one day take over as heir to Ambrose's Cornish estate. Then the time come when Ambrose embarks on one of his frequent trips to Florence (where he spends the winters so as not to aggravate his health problems). This year though, Ambrose writes to Phillip to say he has become quite enamored by a woman by the name of Rachel, a distant cousin. The letters continue to come, illustrating the rapid development of the relationship. Before long Ambrose sends word that he and Rachel have married.

 

Ambrose extends his stay in Florence, renting a home there. Ten months away from England, his letters turn from that of a blissed out newlywed to being saturated in melancholy.  The letters get alarmingly more frantic, showing a mental breakdown. A year and a half passes and Ambrose's letters begin arriving in near illegible script and a distinctly paranoid tone. Then one last cryptic letter comes urging Phillip to come quick to Italy, writing "she watches me... Rachel, my torment."  Unfortunately, Ambrose dies before Phillip's arrival, so explanations regarding Ambrose's state of mind at the end remain elusive. 

 

Phillip returns to England to take up his position as the new heir to Ambrose's estate. Shortly after settling into this new role, he gets word that Ambrose's widow is due to arrive any minute and wishes to spend some time on the land that meant so much to her husband. 

 

The novel is narrated by Phillip. Through him, we get a first hand account of his initial impressions of Rachel, even how he imagined her from Ambrose's letters. He gives her a pretty hilarious ripping (describing what he imagines pre-introduction) but in person he finds her quite beautiful and beguiling. Still, he can't entirely shake suspicions that she may have had something to do with Ambrose's unexpected passing. They have a bit of a rocky start, but later Phillip chocks it up (at least in part) to Rachel having difficulty with his physical likeness to Ambrose. 

 

 

Also in the mix is Phillip's longtime friend, Louise --- honestly, my favorite character in the whole story. Her quietly slipped in snark! When Rachel first arrives, Louise later remarks, "Mourning certainly does not appear drab on her." Reading that brought to my mind the scene in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind when Scarlett goes to that first dance / social event after being widowed. But it irked me how annoying and almost bratty Phillip was around Louise. His poor behavior left me feeling like he certainly didn't deserve a friend of Louise's caliber. 

 

A historical note in the edition I read from mentioned that du Maurier may have based Cousin Rachel off of Ellen Doubleday (wife of Nelson Doubleday of Doubleday Publishing), whom it was speculated Daphne had "confused" (as the historical note worded it) feelings for. Going into a du Maurier novel, it's often a given to expect a certain level of mystery to the plot. With this one, there were bits of mystery / intrigue here and there, but overall I didn't find as much suspense as I would normally expect from her work. Rachel was painted a bit like a Borgia in the beginning, but the element of suspense fizzed out a bit as the story progresses. While Rachel is undoubtedly an intriguing character, du Maurier doesn't quite land the full punch in terms of the character's level of sly dastardly-ness.

 

 

 

 

 

But true to her reputation, even here du Maurier does leave questions for the reader to work out. Was there a deeper motive behind the birthday plan? I was perplexed by Phillip's decision!

 

Even so, I appreciated the subtle wit sprinkled throughout passages of dialogue. It's what held my interest during the bits where not much else was going on! 

 

So how does the recent film adaptation hold up? Honestly, I preferred the film! One of the troubles I had with the book is the feeling that sense that du Maurier was not sufficiently answering all the questions or conflicts she posed in the book. But the film expands on what du Maurier offers and gives readers some nice closure on some of those topics, particularly with the film's ending. Some scenes in the film were so beautifully shot they reminded me of Impressionist paintings... it was hard not to be instantly captivated! 

 

 

 

Some changes that caught my attention though:

 

* The whole scene Rachel has in front of the Arno River seems to be cut from the film. The thoughts she had in that book scene, in the film she speaks them to Rinaildi.

 

* Rachel Weisz, cast as Cousin Rachel, plays the conversation regarding Italian lessons in a rather weepy tone, which threw me. The way the scene is laid out in the book, I imagined the lines delivered with much more of a dark humor with a side of steely glint in the eye vibe.... but the 2nd fight later on was shot just about how I pictured it!

 

* The candles! So many candles SO close to canopy bed drapes! Made me wonder about fires on set lol

 

* It might just be me on this one, but I felt like some scenes had some odd close-ups, strange angle choices, and sometimes even just straight up out of focus. 

 

Overall, the film adaptation is pretty faithful to the book. A good chunk of the dialogue in the film is actually pulled verbatim from the book text. Not surprisingly though, the film does blaze through a number of plot points in the interest of time. One of the major reveals near the novel's end actually shows up smack in the middle of the film!

 

I would definitely recommend reading the book first to experience all these little nuances yourself, but either way there's a pretty good story to be had here... the film brings out what the book dropped off! But as Roger Michell, the film's director, put it: "Of course, the best version of all, perfectly cast, impeccably lit and designed, with the greatest soundscape, most dizzying score, infinite budget and cast of thousands, will always be the one projected into the keen reader's imagination as she or he turns the pages that follow."

 

 

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review 2018-08-13 03:24
Disclaimer by Renee Knight
Disclaimer: A Novel - Renée Knight

Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day she became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew—and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day . . . even if the shocking truth might destroy her.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

A woman finds a mysterious book on her nightstand, nobody knows where it came from. When she starts to read, she discovers the book is about her and one of the most painful days of her life. She thought only one other person knew about that day and he's been dead for years. As she digs into investigating who is now after her, she finds her family torn apart and her life gradually & systematically destroyed bit by bit. Her son is also targeted.

 

The chapters alternate between the perspectives of documentary filmmaker Catherine (book recipient) and Stephen, an elderly widower whose voice gets mysteriously more and more angry and vengeful as the story progresses. What is he so upset about?

Pretty cool premise right? Well, I started this thing 2-3 times because it was having a bit of a slow start for me, ended up having a pretty good middle bit, but then Knight did something weird with one of the key players that basically changed their whole characterization for me in a nonsensical way. I don't think she wrote that character with enough depth to do that kind of 180 where it would make sense. Instead, it made me feel like she had a story idea, didn't know how to end it, so just rolled out the craziest curve balls she could think of, reasonable or not, and said be done with it...

 

The first twelve chapters read a little slow to me but Chapter 13 offers a few reveals that give the impression that the suspense is going somewhere. The story seemed to drag on a little longer than necessary, I thought... and then that damn character flip. 

 

SUPER disappointed with the ending chapters.

 

 

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review 2018-06-14 07:58
The Inflatable Woman (Graphic Novel) by Rachael Ball
The Inflatable Woman - Rachael Ball

Iris (or balletgirl_42 as she's known on the Internet dating circuit) is a zookeeper looking for love when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Overnight, her life becomes populated by a carnival of daunting hospital characters. Despite the attempts of her friends--Maud, Grandma Suggs, Larry the Monkey, and a group of singing penguins--to comfort her, her fears begin to encircle her, and she clings to the attention of a lighthouse keeper called sailor_buoy_39. The Inflatable Woman combines magical realism with the grit of everyday life to create a poignant and surreal journey inside the human psyche.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Zookeeper Iris is an active member on a number of online dating sites. While on the hunt for Mr. Right, she is sidelined with a breast cancer diagnosis. Though she is surrounded by support from friends and family, Iris becomes consumed with fear and anxiety when she ponders her mortality. Under the online handle balletgirl_42, Iris meets a lighthouse keeper who goes by the handle sailorbuoy_39.

 

The two quickly develop a bond via email conversations, but Iris fears losing her lighthouse keeper should he learn the truth about her. Though she poses as a prima ballerina, in reality Iris is a heavyset woman. Would her sailor accept her as is if she comes clean?

 

So yes, it's a story that somewhat touches upon the topic of online catfishing, but there's actually so much more here. Inspired by her own cancer story, author / illustrator Rachael Ball crafts a tale that touches upon all the tough emotions women are tempted to swallow down and not face. Fear of acceptance, fear of mortality, anger at your body turning against you, struggles with self-esteem within a female body, the most basic need for being accepted as we are.. yes, these are universal themes regardless of gender, but this story addresses them directly from the POV of being a woman. Powerful symbolism is incorporated, such as illustration of train = giving up while emergency stop pull = will to live.

 

 

The artwork is done almost entirely in black and white except for a few pages where bits of reddish pink are intentionally & impactfully added in. Note: because struggles with depression play a part in Iris' story, there are some pages that feature somewhat dark, disturbing artwork depicting the fight within her mind. But there are also moments of levity to lighten the heavy, such as penguins dressed as nuns! (It'll make sense when you read the book yourself... maybe...).

 

 

If you've been curious to get into the graphic novel genre but don't think anime or superhero arc stories are your thing, let me recommend this one. Though the overall themes are geared towards women, there are plenty of universal feelings within Iris' story that virtually anyone can appreciate. 

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review 2018-05-10 12:51
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English - Natasha Solomons

1937: Jack and Sadie Rosenblum and their one year old daughter, Elizabeth, are just one family in a crowd of Jewish refugees who emigrate to England. Jack wants to embrace British culture but runs into some roadblocks, one being that over the course of 15 years in England he never quite loses his accent. Jack ponders changing his surname to something more English, but Sadie, proud of their Jewish roots, is against the idea.

 

Being denied access to all the country clubs he applies to, Jack gets the idea to start his own. He becomes obsessed with perfecting all the details of the club and golf course. Meanwhile, wife Sadie suffers social ridicule as the family is deemed "crazy".

 

Jack also finds British humor lost on him. He tries to read Wodenhouse's Jeeves & Wooster series but it turns him off from trying any more English Lit. A strain grows between Jack and Sadie as she continues to mourn the death of her brother and the loss of her old life in Germany. She tries to cope with hobbies like gardening and baking, but it's pretty much just an emotional Band-Aid.

 

There were blips of interest for me within the plot, moments of humor or a powerful line here and there but largely it struck me as a lot more dry and "meh" than I was expecting. That said though, something about this story made me think that with the right director and screenwriter, this could be translated into a fun little film.

 

* Funny Edit: Just saw on the author's Amazon profile that her author blurb says she's a screenwriter LOL

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review 2018-04-11 07:04
Touchy Subjects by Emma Donoghue
Touchy Subjects - Emma Donoghue

How do you make conversation with a sperm donor? How do you say someone's novel is drivel? Would you give a screaming baby brandy? In what words would you tell your girlfriend to pluck a hair on her chin? Touchy Subjects is about things that make people wince: taboos, controversies, secrets and lies. Some of the events that characters crash into are grand, tragic ones: miscarriage, overdose, missing persons, a mother who deserts her children. Other topics, like religion and money, are not inherently taboo, but they can cause acute discomfort because people disagree so vehemently. Many of these stories are about the spectrum of constrained, convoluted feeling that runs from awkwardness through embarrassment to shame.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

In this odd little short story collection, Emma Donoghue breaks up her tales into five categories of general life: Babies, Domesticity, Strangers, Desire and Death. A rundown of of the stories:

 

BABIES

 

"Touchy Subjects" (title story) -- a man agrees to be the sperm donor to his wife's best friend. Story gets into general discussion of fertility struggles of women

 

"Expecting" -- a woman lies about being pregnant, the lie gets out of hand

 

"The Man Who Wrote On Beaches" -- a man turns 43 and finds religion, which causes upset in his relationship with his agnostic girlfriend (there is a baby discussion here, if you're wondering)

 

"OOPS" -- James helps friend Neasa through a pregnancy he assumes is unplanned and unwanted, sets himself up as surrogate "uncle" to the child, helping with child rearing over the years

 

"Through The Night" -- Pre-motherhood Una was known for being quite the stoic. Now after giving birth, she finds herself deep in the throws of sleep deprivation and postpartum depression, uneasy with the dark places her mind is drifting. 

 

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" -- A childless couple has embraced their life as dog parents and all is well until the holidays come and they're asked to leave the dogs at home while they attend a family gathering.

 

DOMESTICITY

 

"Lavender's Blue" -- A couple goes near-mad trying to agree on the perfect shade of slate blue to paint the exterior of their house

 

"The Cost of Things" -- An emotional rift develops between a lesbian couple over the medical expenses for their sick cat

 

"Pluck" -- A husband becomes fixated on a single dark hair on his wife's chin

 

STRANGERS

 

"Good Deed" -- A wealthy Canadian man struggles to decide on a course of action over a homeless man he finds laying in the street, bleeding from the mouth 

 

"The Sanctuary of Hands" -- In Toulouse, France, a woman decides to take a tour of underground caverns, but is unsettled by a group of special needs adults joining her tour group. 

 

"WritOr" -- A once successful writer, now struggling with mounting debt, grudgingly agrees to accept a "Writer In Residence" position at a small college, giving writing advice to aspiring authors. 

 

DESIRE

 

"Team Men" -- Teenager Jonathan plays on a football team, with his dad as the coach. His dad is pretty hard on him, when it comes to critiquing Jonathan's athletic ability. When new guy Davy joins the team, Davy quickly becomes the star player. Jonathan feels a little threatened by him at first, but before long they become good friends who progess into secret lovers. Though they think they've been successful keeping their relationship under wraps, Jonathan's father turns mysteriously, progressively angry towards the both of them. 

 

"Speaking In Tongues" -- Ladies Lee and Sylvia fall for each other after meeting at a conference

 

"The Welcome" -- Luce sees one 5-line ad for womens' housing, finds herself triggered by the spelling errors and the political correctness seeping through the choice of wording 

 

DEATH

 

"The Dormition of the Virgin" -- George is vacationing in Italy. The last day of his stay he comes upon a dead body.

 

"Enchantment" -- Pitre and Bunch are two longtime friends living in Louisiana who get competitive with running swamp tours... until Pitre falls gravely ill

 

"Baggage" -- Niniane is in Hollywood .... partly on holiday, partly to find out information regarding her estranged brother

 

"Necessary Noise" -- Two sisters pick up their brother from a nightclub, immediately have to rush him to a hospital when he appears to be extremely ill and under the influence of serious drugs. 

 

 

 

Overall Impressions:

 

I closed the book with a strong feeling of MEH. In a number of these stories, there are definitely intriguing ideas that Donoghue experiments with.. they just didn't really go anywhere. Most of these stories didn't close on strong, impactful moments, instead just kinda .. dropped off... which is one of my big peeves with short story collections in general. I will say though, I enjoyed the second half of the book much more than the first. I was close to DNF-ing after the first few stories but something was telling me to hang in there.

 

I'm glad I did, largely for "WritOr", which ended up being my favorite story in the whole book. After a number of bland bits in the earlier portion of this collection, I was pleasantly surprised to find such humor in "WritOr". Granted, it might be the "you had to be there" brand of humor. Being a writer myself, who worked as a writing tutor in college, a lot of what Donoghue illustrates in this particular story brought back vivid memories of my own experiences in that environment. Perhaps for that story alone, maybe a couple others that made me smile or think for a moment, I'll likely end up keeping this one on my shelves, at least for the time being. But if you haven't tried any of Donoghue's work before, I would NOT recommend starting here. 

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