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review 2018-08-20 04:39
The Solitary Summer
The Solitary Summer - Elizabeth von Arnim

 

This was a buddy read with Themis Athena.

 

The Solitary Summer is a follow up to Elizabeth and Her German Gardenthey don't have to be read in any order, but Solitary Summer takes place in the same garden, about three years later.

 

I went into this book naively assuming that the "Solitary" in the title mean Elizabeth at home, alone, in her garden, for the entire summer.  While I made allowances for servants, I figured she'd sent Man of Wrath and her three children off somewhere for the summer, either together or separately. 

 

Shows what I know; the Solitary in the title means nothing of the sort.  It simply means Elizabeth and her husband agree that for one summer, May through August, there will be no guests descending on the house, expecting Elizabeth to perform hostess duties.  100 years ago, I suppose that would feel like a kind of solitude, but personally, if I were being subjected to the daily demands of husband and three daughters, I'd have long before whipped out my Sharpie pen and blacked out the entry for 'solitude' in all my dictionaries and been done with the concept.

 

Moving on from my luxurious pre-conceived notions, the book is ostensibly about Elizabeth spending the summer in her garden, free from hostessing duties, and therefore free to loll about in her garden all day, book in hand, alternately reading and soaking in the paradise surrounding anyone in a garden, wood, and field.  When she's not feeding her family, or handing out food to the servants, or entertaining her daughters.  The solitary moments do happen, in May and most of June, but after a spate of gales whip through, the tone of the book alters perceptibly; less garden, more musings on philosophy, reading, morality, class and village life.  

 

In my opinion, even though I picked this up in eager anticipation of the garden-geek-fest, it's the second half that should not be missed.  Elizabeth is a rare breed; she's able to stand apart from herself, to see herself and events around her with objectivity, brutal honesty, and wry wit.  She does not rationalise, she does not excuse or defend, she simply observes:  this is they way things/I should be, this is the way things/I are(am).  It's refreshing to hear this kind of voice, and if it doesn't make you think one way or the other, ... well, never mind.  But the issues she addresses in her musings are at least as relevant today as they were 100 years ago, with the exception of enforced quartering of troops and servant housing. 

 

From what little I know so far about Elizabeth von Arnim's background, her husband isn't what anyone today would call a gem; she calls him Man of Wrath for heaven's sake, and I doubt she's using the term ironically.  But there are moments of accord between the two, as well as many scenes of shared humour and witty banter that lead me to suspect their relationship was far more complex than history will likely remember it being, and I'm eager to find out more about them both to see if my suspicions stand up to available facts.

 

Either way, I like her.  I suspect, were we contemporaries and life brought us into each other's orbit, we'd be friends - or at least appreciate each other's love of nature, sarcasm, and our disdain for too many guests.

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review 2018-08-17 11:28
Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding (Her Royal Spyness, #12)
Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding - Rhys Bowen

This series is always enjoyable, even when the plots aren't as good as they could be.  Luckily, even though the title is really a stretch, the plot of this one isn't.  I can imagine how it might have happened back in the day of the aristocracy owning multiple estates they often didn't visit for long stretches of time.

 

The subplot of the book is the culmination of 11 previous books filled with the flirting and courting between Darcy and Georgie - the wedding.  I was struck with trepidation at the beginning of the book as Georgie spies a pretty woman standing next to Darcy and immediately falls into a pit of despair; I dislike characters that don't embrace their own self worth.  Happily, it was a fleeting scene, and the rest of the (minimal) wedding related story-line was full of delicious revenge as Georgie gets to watch her evil sister-in-law fume over Georgie's close relationship with the King and Queen.  The scene where she tells Fig who her bridesmaids are was one of the best.

 

Overall, an enjoyable read.

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review 2018-08-14 05:00
I Always Loved You
I Always Loved You - Robin Oliveira

I have mixed feelings about this book.  Upfront, it's pure fiction; other than the artists' names, their work, and the broad strokes of accomplishment, it's made up out of whole cloth. 

 

This is the part I had issues with, I guess.  I don't know enough about Degas, Cassatt, Morisot and Manet, with the result that I feel like this book has unfairly coloured my impressions of them as people.  I'm going to forever be guarding against mixing up this story with the reality of 4 of the most talented impressionist painters who've yet lived.

 

But if you're able to keep fact and fiction seperate, this is a heartfelt, well-written story about people who might have taken the wrong turn at the fork in the road of life.  It's slow-paced, but always interesting; I enjoyed it, but it wasn't a fast read.  The end also has a high probability of making readers misty eyed of not weeping outright.  Oliveira is very talented at creating a sympathetic anti-hero; one that you want to hug as much as you want to smack.

 

At some point though, I'm going to have to follow this up with more information about these artists and their real lives so I don't every accidentally try to pass off as fact the imaginations of Oliveira's mind.

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review 2018-08-13 01:15
A Million Junes
A Million Junes - Emily Henry

The O'Donnells and the Angerts have hated each other for generations. June O'Donnell was ready to keep that hatred going and avoid the Angerts, but that plan got wrecked when she literally ran into Saul Angert who had just returned to town. The two were drawn to one another despite June's best efforts to not be attracted to an Angert, and their time together caused June to begin to question everything she knew about their families' pasts. With a curse hanging over their heads, the two must work together to learn the truth before the curse strikes their families again.

 

I fell in love with June shortly into the book. She's very sarcastic and had me cracking up with her banter with her best friend, Hannah, and Saul. Hannah and Saul also had great lines and won me over quickly. The three of them were fun to follow and watch interact with one another. I loved June and Hannah's friendship. The two of them were very different from one another, but were so close and constantly caring and worrying about each other. June kept Hannah in the loop on the supernatural shenanigans that were happening to her. They felt like best friends.

 

And June and Saul hit it off right away with the banter too. June felt like she had to hate him because he was an Angert, but she couldn't help but be charmed by him from their very first meeting, so she covered her confused feelings with sarcasm and teasing which Saul was more than capable of matching. They were pretty adorable.

 

The supernatural elements started off low-key. June was revealed to be able to see a couple ghosts that haunt her lands right from the start with one of those ghosts being a sign of danger to come. A conversation between June and Saul revealed a few more magical elements of the O'Donnell's land like coywolves that take shoes, but don't touch the chickens. But after Saul and June meet, June got her first vision of the past when she returned home. The visions played out sporadically across the story, slowly revealing the mystery of what started the feud between the two families generations ago, but also forcing Saul and June to face the losses they've had in their lives.

 

More than anything, this was a story about grief and learning to move on from it. The use of a family feud spanning generations really helped to demonstrate how holding onto pain just continued the cycle for the families again and again. This theme really came through with the reveal of what started the feud and what was behind the curse of the families.

 

With compelling characters and plenty of humor, A Million Junes managed to charm me immediately. It wasn't all laughs since both June and Saul were coming to terms with loss in their family and the event of started the family feud was not a happy once, but the book balanced the pain and humor well so that the grief was never overwhelming. It was a beautiful read.

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review 2018-08-12 01:31
Monday's Not Coming
Monday's Not Coming - Tiffany D. Jackson

Claudia's best friend, Monday, is missing, but she can't get anyone to believe her. Monday's mother claims Monday is with her father, while Monday's sister says she's with her aunt. Monday hasn't shown up to school, but the school hasn't checked on her. And Claudia's parents don't want her worrying about it. Claudia knows something is wrong. But how can she get anyone else to believe her?

 

This book was frustrating to read at times simply because there were so many adults turning a blind eye to an obvious problem. Seeing Claudia try again and again to ask for help only to find none got painful. Especially since the book told you from the start how long it will take for Monday to be found, so you knew all of Claudia's early attempts were doomed to fail because it's too soon.

 

The biggest issue I had with the book was the timeline. The book had several different timelines that it jumped between. The timelines included the expected Before and After, but what made it confusing were the One Year Before the Before and Two Years Before the Before timelines. It was hard to keep them all straight early on. It all eventually made sense, but that didn't make easy before that point and that confusion detracted from the story.

 

What did shine through in the book were the emotions Claudia felt over Monday's disappearance. Claudia's pain was apparent throughout the entire novel, and the timelines set before Monday's disappearance established their relationship well. Monday meant a lot to Claudia and her disappearance caused big changes in Claudia's life beyond just not having her best friend that Claudia simultaneously was dealing with as she also tried to find her friend. Basically Claudia was a mess during the book for a number of reasons and that came across very well.

 

Monday's Not Coming was well-written and packed an emotional punch, but the structure with the multiple timelines took some of that punch away by adding confusion to a narrative that didn't benefit from it. Despite that, it was an overall enjoyable, although painful, read.

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