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review 2018-12-13 18:32
Women’s fiction with a touch of the paranormal. A beautifully written feel-good story.
The Last Thing She Said - Rachel Walkley

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I recently read and reviewed Rachel Walkley’s first novel The Women of Heachley Hall and enjoyed it so much that I had to check her second novel as soon as it became available. And I thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

This is the story of three sisters, twins Rebecca and Leia, as different as two sisters can be (or perhaps not), and younger sister Naomi. Their parents move to the US when the youngest sister is in her late teens and she refuses to go with them. Rebecca becomes her ersatz mother (Nancy, their mother, does not seem particularly close to any of them, although perhaps that is the sisters’ impression) and eventually Leia also moves to the US to work on her medical research.

The three sisters are gifted, although they all have trouble dealing with their gifts, which are very different. Rebecca gives up her career as a lawyer to take refuge at home, bringing up her children and looking after her husband and the house; Naomi, a talented flute player, loves to perform but does not feel confident and dedicates most of her life to teaching music to children; Leia has a big brain and dedicates her efforts to useful research, but hates the limelight and would prefer all the credit to go to her team. Their grandmother, the member of the family that managed to get them all together with her traditional birthday celebration, also had a gift, but most people dismissed her birthday predictions as an eccentricity. When Rebecca starts investigating her grandmother’s past pronouncements —for very personal reasons—, she gets a big surprise.

The story is told in the third person from different points of view, mostly those of the sisters, although we get some glimpses into other characters’ minds as well, and in chronological order for the most part. There are some short chapters that go back to show us past events (there are no lengthy explanations or “telling” in the novel), and these flow logically from the narrative. For example, if Naomi is thinking about the relationship with her parents, her memory might go back to how she had felt when her parents decided to leave the country. It is a great way of layering the background story of the characters without disrupting the action for too long, and it also helps us understand where the characters are coming from, and their reasons for being the people they are. Each chapter and fragment is clearly labelled with the character’s name and the date, and it is not an effort to follow the story, as it flows naturally, at a sometimes wandering but engaging pace.

There are some descriptions of places and locations, but these are limited to what is necessary to tell the story and to allow readers to see it. The story is more interested in the psychological makeup of these characters, and the author does a great work of making us understand them in their own terms. We see each protagonist from her sisters’ point of view first, but on later seeing things from their perspective, we get a completely different picture of them. By the end of the story I was attached to all of the characters, even the ones that at first I was not sure about. And although not all the characters are sympathetic, the novel is not judgmental about any of them, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I particularly enjoyed the character of Rose, the grandmother, the passages about Naomi’s playing and her thoughts about it (if you read the author’s note at the end you’ll understand why these scenes appear so vivid), and grew very fond of Leia and Howard. That is not to say I don’t like Rebecca and the rest of the chapters from Naomi’s perspective, but perhaps because they are the ones we get to know first, we are on their side from the beginning, and the rest of the characters came as a revelation much later on. There are secrets and lies, but none are Earth-shattering or beyond most reader’s expectations and experiences, and they do not require a huge amount of suspension of disbelief, even the paranormal elements. There is mystery, but the strongest element of the story is the relationship between the three sisters and how they all become more their individual selves by working together and protecting each other.

The novel is both easy to read and beautifully written, and the ending… No, I won’t give you details, but let’s say I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did. Definitely a feel-good story.

A book I recommend to anybody who enjoys contemporary women’s fiction, optimistic stories about family relationships with a touch of the paranormal, and who are eager to discover a new and talented writer.   

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-12-06 19:29
It Was the Worst of Times...
The Empty House - Rosamunde Pilcher

It didn't occur to me this would fit for any tasks until I recalled that the Russian Mother's Day book tasks said read a book if it involves a mother. Luckily for me, the main character in this one is a mother of two.

 

Wow. I just cannot. This book was published in 1971 so I tried to make allowances for the main character Virginia. I just gave up that at the point that she literally decides to move her two children, who just lost their father, to live in a place with a man that she talked to only twice in her life, more than 10 years ago. 


I usually don't like to do spoiler reviews, but so great is my rage at this book, that I am going to do it.

 

So..."The Empty House" follows Virginia Keile. Virginia is visiting with an old friend of her mother's in Cornwall and essentially recovering from being made a widow at 27. Virginia has two young kids (a boy and girl) who are currently staying with her mother in law. It never seems to occur to Virginia that maybe she should be with her children by the way until the love interest pops up (I digress). This book really just goes into the backstory of Virigina and her love interest Eustace.

 

I hated almost every character in this one except for the kids and the poor mother in law. Virginia spends the book obsessing over Eustace. Though Virginia has been married for almost 10 years, she still wishes that Eustace had called her like he promised he would when she was visiting the family friends. She goes back and forth over everything and how even though she was 17 when she met his 28 year old self she fell for him. Their conversation was beyond boring and nothing of substance was even said. Sorry, the whole plot about her falling for him and he for her with the age differences just squicked me out. I would still argue how much did he fall for her though since the dialogue we get in this book is beyond boring. They just had two separate conversations. 

 

Virginia's mother is made to be the villain of the piece since she wanted her daughter to marry well, and probably had qualms about a 28 year old farmer romancing her daughter. I also didn't like Eustace since he was rude to everyone in this one, but hey, I guess he had ethics or something. I don't know.

 

“Hallo,” said Eustace, meeting her eye with an unblinking blue gaze.

Her hand was half-way out to shake his, but Eustace either didn’t see this or chose to ignore it.

Mrs. Parsons’s hand dropped back to her side.

Her manner became, subtly, a fraction more cool.

Yeah, if I meet someone for the first time that is trying to romance my daughter and they pulled this, I would totally be cool to them too.

 

Eustace is just nasty to Virginia from what I can see. He calls her a terrible mother for not being with her children and having them come and stay with her. He acts like the kids father as soon as they meet (it was disconcerting). And then pretty much within like a freaking day Virginia is all we will stay here and live with you forever. Let's go tell the children.

 

“I don’t think you can give a damn for your children. You don’t want to be bothered with them. Someone else has always done the washing and the ironing and you’re not going to start now. You’re too bloody idle to take them for picnics and read them books and put them to bed. It’s really nothing to do with Bosithick. Whatever house you found, you’d be sure to find something wrong with it. Any excuse would do provided you never have to admit to yourself that you can’t be bloody bothered to take care of your own children.”

 

Literally hasn't seen her for 10 years and this comes up.

 

“Well, what am I going to eat?” Eustace caught the tail end of this conversation as he came, dripping, up the beach. “What’s this?” He stopped to pick up a towel. “I’m very hungry and Mummy hasn’t brought anything to eat.” “Too bad,” said Eustace unsympathetically.

 

I guess screw kids being hungry and actually wanting food. I just cannot.

 

The book tries to paint Virginia as a victim to her mother and dead husband, but I had zero sympathy for her. She signed up for everything she got and didn't really care about her husband. She wanted something that she thought she glimpsed when she was in Eustace's home for maybe an hour 10 years ago. It felt childish to me. She put out zero effort with other people and just continued to allow things to happen to her. I assume if there was ever a sequel that Virginia would find herself fully under Eustace's thumb. That is 100 percent not love. 


The writing wasn't great. It just read as repetitive after a while. The dialogue between characters was stilted. The great reveal in the end about how Virginia was kept apart from her first love was beyond dumb. How she couldn't see that baffled me. Also who cares at this point?!

 

The flow was not good. I loved Piclher's other books so much and this one was just a dud. It was a chore to keep going since we had Virginia going back and forth about things and just generally acting like a victim the whole time.


The ending was ludicrous. She and her two kids are leaving Scotland forever to live with Eustace in Cornwall. I assume if there was an epilogue we would have heard how the mother in law tried to fight for custody or something. 

 

Russian Mother's Day

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review 2018-11-28 21:14
My Least Favorite Binchy
Heart and Soul - Maeve Binchy

It's weird. I started off reading this book years and years ago. It was published back in 2008 and I just didn't like how it ended much. Binchy ended up changing up the ending, but I don't have that version in my Kindle version (grrrr) so I do know that she had a new ending that worked a lot better. That is the main reason why I gave this one 3 stars. We end up leaving a lot of characters in the lurch I thought. I also thought the whole thing with Clara and Hilary needing to "get" their two kids together was ridiculous. Additionally, the amount of jobs that the character Ania was working didn't even make sense since it sounded like at best she would only be getting about 2-3 hours of sleep. I know it was to show the contrast between Clara's one daughter, but it was a bit much.

 

Heart & Soul follows characters that many Binchy fans have been reading about for years. We have Aiden and Signora popping up (Evening Class (96) and Quentins (2002), Brenda (from Evening Class and Quentins), Grania and Tony (Evening Class), Fiona, Barbara, David, Vonni (Nights of Rain and Stars 2004), Maud, Simon, Cathy Feather (Scarlett Feather 2000) and Father Flynn (Whitehorn Woods 2006) and probably a whole host of other people I have forgotten. 


We also have some new ones like Clara Casey, the new director of a heart clinic and Ania, a young Polish immigrant living in Dublin. 

 

Though Binchy doesn't call out characters by chapter heading in this one, we do go back and forth to characters within chapters sometimes. So if we start off with Clara, we may also include another character like her daughter, her ex-husband, etc. I didn't mind it at all in this one, but I think I miss that we could just stick with a character through one sitting instead of bouncing around a lot with them. I found all of the characters to be good, but I was really happy with the follow up to Fiona and Barbara. I had really liked Fiona in Nights of Rain and Stars and we see that she  has totally changes from who she was after the events from her last relationship that was depicted in that book. 

 

As I said above though. I had a bit of an issue with Clara in parts of this book. We find out that she has been long separated from a cheating spouse who wants to divorce and marry his partner of several years. I know it wasn't great, but her reaction to it wasn't great either. I liked that she realized that her friends and family were tired of her hanging on to the guy and she needed to move on from him. She starts a new relationship in this one, that left me feeling meh, and it was good to see her realize that too. Her fighting with her daughter Linda though made me scratch my head. Her thinking that she needed to get married and settled with Hilary's son made me want to go huh. This was written in 2008, not 1988, so I didn't get why she thought her 21 year old daughter needed to settle down. 

 

Ania's story was sad at first. We meet her and she's barely hanging on doing odd jobs in Dublin to obtain money to send back to her mother. We don't know what happened to her in Poland, but hints are it wasn't great. When Binchy reveals her tale, it was okay and all, but not Earth shattering. I just thought it was a bit much that Ania works at the heart clinic, at the laundromat, at a restaurant, helps with landscaping, etc. At one point I felt myself getting panicky at her jobs that she was doing. And her acting as if everything was super expensive (like some lace for sleeves on a dress) was making me go okay after a while. Ania is set up as some perfect person, but I was left a bit cold towards to her while reading.

 

We follow a new doctor named Declan in this one and we get to see his romance with someone that readers are familiar with (no spoilers). I liked Declan okay, but liked to see him push back on things later on in the book. He seemed a bit too perfect to me at first.

Hilary's story I found sad. I don't know if Binchy was going for clueless with her, but I definitely felt she was. We find out that she married a perfectly charming and handsome man who never worked. Her poor mother went and got more jobs to support them all (Hilary and her son Nick too) and Hilary works more to help. Things don't go well in Hilary's life I thought when we see that her mother is having some medical issues. 

 

Father Flynn who popped up in Whitehorn Woods shows up here and his whole storyline was weird I thought. Leaving that one alone.

 

The book going back to Vonni in Greece and Aiden and Signora caused it to drag for me a lot too. 

The writing was okay, but I am realizing that the flow wasn't great. Binchy jumping from character to character within a chapter didn't work as well for me in this one. I was looking forward to the ending which isn't like me usually. 

 

The setting of the book revolves around the heart clinic doctors, patients, and friends of patients or doctors working there. Maybe if we stayed focused on the staff it would have worked more. It would still be nice to read about characters that were introduced in prior books still, but we could have focused on new characters more.


The book ends with a wedding and just kind of ends. I liked the new ending ( I happened to read it in a new paperback release one day at the bookstore) that showed some characters after the wedding and what something new is going on with all of them. 

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review 2018-11-28 20:37
Binchy Takes A Look at Students Attending an Evening Class
Evening Class - Maeve Binchy

So I apologize in advance for not reviewing these books in the order of publication. I tend to go back again and again to my tried and true Binchy novels. I decided this year I will aim to at least post reviews for all of the books that I have read. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I enjoyed re-reading this book, Heart & Soul, and This Year it Will Be Different. There is something so homey with these books. At this time I have been reading about the same characters for more than a dozen years. I likened her a bit to Rosamunde Pilcher who returns to the same characters or references them in her other books. It's like a very nice present you get each book. That said, I thought that some of the character stories in this one were pretty adult. You have Binchy tackling marital rape (still rape), adultery, and theft. There are still some good heartwarming stories here and there though.

 

Evening Class starts out with Aiden Dunne realizing that his dream of becoming principal of Mountainview College is never going to happen. A new teacher, Tony O'Brien is who the administrators want as principal. Aiden doesn't know what he is going to do now and how he will be able to spin this to his family. Tony pushes him (for his own reasons) to do a potential evening class that Aiden recommends in order to bring in people to the school. 

 

Once again Binchy does a good job of setting up the stories of the people who will end up attending this evening class. We know that at least 30 people sign up, but we ultimately only follow Aiden, Signora (real name is Nora), Bill, Kathy, Lou, Connie, Laddy, and Fiona. 

 

Per usual I think my favorite sections to read about were Aiden, Signora, and Connie.

 

I felt for Aiden since he is realizing that his wife (Nell) and two daughters (Grania and Brigid) have grown apart through the years. His wife is barely home, his two daughters don't really talk to him, and he is starting to realize that he is middle-aged with the possibility of this being his life until the day he passes. Him organizing and taking the evening class which will ultimately teach its participants Italian allows him to think about his life in a totally different way. His burgeoning friendship with the teacher, Signora, always allows Aiden to dream about something new. I did get frustrated with Aiden a bit, because I felt like he was just way too clueless about a lot of things going on. He was a bit passive, except a few times in the story. I was ultimately happy with how Binchy concludes his story in this book. 

 

Signora was interesting. Usually I would despise this type of character. At the age of 20 something, Signora met an Italian boy named Mario and proceeded to defy her family and follow him to Sicily. While there, Signora finds out that Mario is to be married. She still decides to stay and be Mario's other woman for more than 20 years. When Mario dies in an accident, she is asked to leave by his wife and children and Signora finally returns home. Ireland has moved on while she was away so Signora has trouble finding a place to live and work. When she ends up teaching Italian at Mountainview College it seems her prayers are answered. I felt a bit for Signora's family. They don't sound great, but I can see why her family was a bit put out with her. She ended up reconnecting with her best friend from years ago, Brenda, who runs the ever popular Quentins, so that was good. I did read Quentins years ago, but will do a re-read to post a review. 

 

Connie's story was something else though. A young girl who had it all until her father died leaving her family penniless. Being forced to give up her dream of being a lawyer, she goes to a secretarial school where she ends up avoiding men. She eventually meets someone that she thinks will be a perfect husband and father, Harry Kane. Connie thinks that her life will be perfect, but there a ton of wrenches thrown in the way. I liked how Connie pushed through them though I did wish that the character had went to therapy. There definitely seemed to be something going on with her. I did love how Binchy wrapped up one part of her story. I didn't really like the whole thing that went down with her when the group gets to Italy though. 

 

The other characters are interesting, I just didn't like them as much as the others. I just felt like Bill was being a pushover, and a jerk at times (his realization of him having to be his younger sister's caregiver after his parents are gone just made me dislike him a bit). Kathy's story was okay, just not that engaging. I though Lou was a jerk honestly when we find out what he was getting up to. And Laddy's story was just sad to me. Honestly it should have been called Rose's story (Laddy's sister) since the story focused on her and what she had to deal with as a married woman. 

 

The writing was really good. Binchy has a way with words that just draws you in. I always love reading her works in the fall/winter because that always seems to be the time of year to me that is best to read her works. The flow was a bit up and down though between character chapters. That and me not being as engaged with the different characters stories is why I gave this one 4 stars. 

 

The setting is Ireland in the late 90s I imagine. Evening Class was first published in 1996, but I got this book back in April 2009. Some parts of the book felt a bit dated to me then with discussions of one of Aiden's daughters working in a travel agency. I honestly don't know if there are travel agencies anymore. 

 

The ending leaves things with a newfound hope and joy for two of the characters. And some of them are definitely in a new stage of their lives like Fiona and Lou. 

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review 2018-10-17 05:44
The Last Anniversary Book Quote
The Last Anniversary - Liane Moriarty

Great quote from Liane Moriarty's The Last Anniversary.

 

Delightful. Liane Moriarty’s novel The Last Anniversary is a wonderful blend of chick lit, drama and cozy mystery. Moriarty’s protagonist Sophie Honeywell projects the image of an independent, sophisticated 39-year-old career woman who knows and gets what she wants, but deep down she yearns for something more. Continue reading >>

Source: bookloverbookreviews.com/2010/05/book-review-last-anniversary-by-liane.html
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