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review 2018-07-16 18:54
A light, feel-good read, for those who enjoy choral books full of larger-than-life characters.
The Not So Perfect Plan to Save Friendship House - Michelle Gorman

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber (check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

Sometimes it seems as if all the books and movies on offer are centred on young protagonists, and I’m not only talking about Young Adult books. However, recently there has been a move towards including older protagonists and subjects. I enjoyed the two Dutch books about Hendrik Groen, a man in his eighties living in a nursing home, and have watched a few movies, usually choral, about older protagonists (like The Exotic Marigold Hotel). The setting of this novel, in a residential home, and the promise of a comedy made it sound like the perfect choice for me.

The first-person narrator of the story is Phoebe, a chef who had a very successful career in a bistro before disaster struck. She loves her job at the residential home (The Jane Austen Home for Ladies, and, as we discover, the name is meaningful in several ways), but has always felt frustrated because her parents (and her mother, in particular) do not seem to value her job and are dismissive of her career. To make matters worse, her mother (a larger-than-life character) dies suddenly at the beginning of the book, but her internalised voice keeps gnawing on her confidence.  Her best friend, June, is the manager of the home, and she fancies Nick, who is the official physiotherapist but also takes on any odd jobs going on (art therapy, gardening, handyman…). I know some readers don’t like first-person narratives, although Phoebe is unassuming, witty and an excellent friend. (On the minus side, her lack of self-confidence can make her sound paranoid and bitchy, and she keeps mulling over things, unable to decide what to do, trying hard to feel comfortable in her own skin and accept the credit for her achievements). We learn some surprising things about her family life together and by the end of the book, although I don’t have much in common with her character, I felt connected to her and appreciated her role as a narrator. Her friendship with June is convincing and their relationship is one of the strongest points of the book.

I also loved the residents of the home, and in many ways (not only due to my age, I hope), I felt closer to them than to the protagonist. We get to know some of them more than others (Maggie is fabulous and I loved Dot, Laney, Sophie, and yes, even Terence). They all feel real, with their foibles and their endearing traits, and make the book memorable. We follow the intrigues that have to do with the home and the changes that take place there (from a women’s only place to a mixed one) and learn about its inhabitants, their secrets, and their past lives. We are both observers and participants in much of the action, and we feel invested in their fates. We learn the importance of accepting people for who they are and moving beyond appearances and prejudices.

There are several romances with happy, or at least hopeful, endings (for the young and the older generations), broken hearts and disappointments, secrets and lies, and there is also the connection (pointed out through references to the book club and their discussions) to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I would not call the novel a variation on Pride and Prejudice but if we think of Austen’s text as we read it we can discover nuances that might be easily missed otherwise.

Although there are many amusing lines in the novel (and some pretty touching ones as well. As we know, humour can be an excellent defence mechanism against hurt), I thought I’d share a few (remember that I got an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final version of the novel):

We’ve never let something as trifling as the spectre of death stand in the way of a good snipe.

My mother didn’t get ulcers, she gave them.

He’s a perv-whisperer.

She wouldn’t like my ponytail, though. I did try taking it down, but having it up in a hair tie the entire weekend meant my hair had a ridge along the back that gave it a very White Cliffs of Dover effect.

I’m surprised he doesn’t need an oxygen tank with all the social climbing he’s been doing.

The writing flows well and fits in perfectly with the voice of the narrator, who can spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about her beau but is also attuned to the feelings of the residents and her friend. There are plenty of amusing events taking place throughout the novel that keep the action moving, but the characters are much stronger than the plot and by the end of the book (that I enjoyed) they have all become good friends (or most of them have).

The author defines her books as light reads, as beach novels, and says her readers describe them as “feel-good.” All that is true, although behind all the funny goings-on the book illustrates the importance of keeping expectations and prejudices under control, and it reminds parents that they should encourage their children to find fulfilment in their own terms rather than expect them to make their parent’s dreams come true.  If you are looking for a light read, full of memorable characters, plenty of humour, and a big deal of heart, I’d recommend this novel. And, if it existed in real life, I wouldn’t mind working at the home (and in time even living there) either.

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review 2018-07-11 18:45
THE MOORE HOUSE by Tony Tremblay
The Moore House - Tony Tremblay

 

When I read Tony Tremblay's THE SEEDS OF NIGHTMARES, I knew that I had discovered a very special author. THE MOORE HOUSE only serves to prove that I was right!

 

In Goffstown, New Hampshire there stands a house-a house with a history. After a particularly gruesome occurrence there, Father MacLeod and his team of 3 excommunicated nuns, (specialists in identifying demonic possessions), are called in to evaluate the home. They came, did their thing, and it looked like the house was fine. But after Father MacLeod left, the door of the Moore House opened on its own and soon? What the house really is becomes clear to them all. Will they escape the machinations of the house? Will they survive at all? You'll have to read this to find out!

 

This story has a distinct New England feel to it that I recognized instantly. I don't know how to explain it unless you live here. It's the perfect setting for stories like this and Mr. Tremblay takes full advantage of the location. (The fact that many character names used are actually those of New England dark fiction writers also contributed to that feel.)

 

The characters here are all very real. You might think because 3 of the main characters are nuns, (albeit excommunicated nuns), they would all be boring or perfect. That is not the case. Each and every character here, priest included, are altogether human-with all the faults and foibles that go along with that. This fact lent the story a credible feel, which made all of the demonic things even more easy to believe. Not every author can pull this off, but Mr. Tremblay does- and he does it with style.

 

The only problem I had with this tale, and it's a slight one, was the overuse of the phrase "pawnshop owner", or some variation thereof. That's it!

 

The story surprised me in the fact that it's not your typical haunted house tale. It's a story of demonic possession, more than one in fact, which I thought was unique. The level of tension fairly hummed throughout and I had a hard time putting it down. With short chapters and lots of action, this book flew by and I was sorry when it was over.

 

THE MOORE HOUSE is definitely worth your time. To recap: we have demons, we have layered characters that are realistic, we have a cool house with a history and we have the age old fight against evil. What more can you ask for from an excellent dark fiction writer? Nothing!

 

Highly recommended for fans of haunted house tales and/or demonic possession stories! Available for pre-order here: THE MOORE HOUSE

 

*I was sent an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. This is it. Further, I consider Tony Tremblay to be a friend in real life, but this did not affect the honesty or content of my review.*

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review 2018-07-11 10:54
"Full Dark House - Bryant & May #1" by Christopher Fowler - DNF - reluctantly abandoned at 37%
Full Dark House - Christopher Fowler

The premise behind this book was intriguing: a Peculiar Crimes Unit, set up during the Blitz quietly to handle crimes that might undermine civilian morale, leaving lots of room for Mulder-meets-British-stiff-upper-lip humour.

 

The Unit is led by Bryant: an eccentric, ostentatiously intuitive, tactless, scarf-wearing, driven twenty-two-year-old who is more comfortable with exotic books than with ordinary people. His newly-hired first-day-on-the-job side-kick is the enthusiastic, scientifically-minded, charming, good-looking nineteen-year-old May, brought in as a detective despite his lack of experience because all the experienced people have left to fight the Germans.

 

The overall effect was that of a frenetic young "Dr Who" meeting "Endeavour".

I liked the spirit of it. It would make great television. It didn't hold my attention as a book.

 

The opening, in London in the 1990s when Bryant and May are still serving officers although they are both beyond the normal retirement age, didn't quite work for me. It asked me to care too much about characters I'd barely met. I had no context and so didn't get the emotional impact of the devastating fire-bomb.

 

Once the story flipped to London during the Blitz it hit its stride. The writing was strong on visuals, a little predictable on dialogue and way out there on the weirdness of plot.

 

The problem I had was that this retrospective visit to London felt a little too cosy and too nostalgic, a feeling that was amplified by the "Mystique of the Theatre" riff. The murder was surprisingly gruesome but carried little emotional impact.

 

I abandoned the book when my irritation with the changing points of view, sliding timelines and self-consciously look-how-clever-but-quaint-we-were-back-then technology innovations overwhelmed my interest in who had what to whom and why.

 

I'm sure many people will enjoy this. Maybe I'd have ridden with it more easily if there was an all-cast audio version but the text by itself didn't hold me.

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review 2018-07-10 04:45
The Vivien Greene Dolls' House Collection by Vivien Greene
The Vivien Greene Dolls' House Collection - Vivien Greene,Margaret Towner

This book, apparently, cannot be called comprehensive, but it clues the reader into the long history of dolls' houses as works of art and later as children's toys. Greene began her collection before WWII, hunting out and rescuing many early examples of houses, dolls, and furniture. Outside of the V&A Childhood Museum and a few other institutions, few entities could offer the timeline that this book does. Of course, like with most everything before Victorian factories mastered mass-production, everything was handmade and unique.

Dolls are not my collection, per se, but I've always loved miniatures as works of art and as playthings. Everything was reproduced in miniature, examples of naive mantel painting in a dollhouse here may be the only surviving example of its type. The same goes for many mundane items scattered through the kitchens and parlors of the houses here. The things that were reproduced in this period, especially the Victorian when these were playthings not curiosities, are remarkable.

I also enjoyed Greene's flights of fancy, which she indulged in when she was a young collector and didn't know any better, or when the house in question was already stripped of its original features, such as with her Bed & Breakfast for Cats. Charming. I can see how if one had the room and the resources a collection of these cabinet houses would be delightful and rewarding.

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review 2018-07-10 03:59
Intimate Grandeur: Vermont's State House by Nancy Price Graff
Intimate Grandeur: Vermont's State House - Nancy Price Graff,David Schutz II

As advertised. 'Intimate Grandeur' is a coffee-table book history of Vermont's State House. While I'm sure that every state house building is noteworthy simply because of its place at the center of politics, Vermont's is a beautifully restored gem of 19th century public architecture.

I was lucky enough to have a guided tour 'after hours' of the building this past winter and was awestruck at the massive yet delicate plasterwork, the mostly-original custom lighting fixtures and furniture, all restored and converted from gas to electricty. Every detail down to the carpets were brought back after decades of neglect.

'Intimate Grandeur' is a history of the building itself, and its two predecessors, but also a history of civic responsibility and preservation. Even when fashions changed and inconvenient 'decadent' chandeliers were banished from chambers they were carefully stowed away, waiting to be rediscovered.

I picked this book up as a memento of the tour. Beautifully done.

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