Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2018)

Image result for little fires everywhere book

Review 2.3

 

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

This novel is proving difficult to review because it’s about so many things. The relationship between mothers and daughters. The close-mindedness of so-called progressives. The risks that are taken when one chooses the road less traveled; and the risks that are taken when one chooses the road well paved. Little Fires Everywhere is multi-faceted and nuanced. It takes the time to set up its characters so that their actions feel rooted in real world consequences. There is no outright antagonist in this novel, each of the characters follows their own course with a series of small actions, each of which lights a small spark that eventually build into an inferno with the power to change lives.

How much time has to pass before a time period can be considered historical fiction? This novel, which is set in the mid 1990’s, often felt like a time capsule. The whole world sat perched on the edge of a technological whirlwind which was about to change how we communicate, travel, work, and live. The setting does not play a major role in the proceedings except perhaps to show how much the attitudes of middle class white families have changed over the past twenty years, but the occasional references to President Clinton and outdated technology were kind of fun.

Little Fires Everywhere‘s plot does not move at a breakneck pace; instead it settles in for the long haul and prefers a story well told. Celeste Ng is an author who cares very deeply for her characters, and this love and attention to detail comes through in her writing. I felt a strong emotional bond with Izzy, who is struggling so hard against the regulations of her parents. I also identified with Pearl; I was often the new girl at school and it’s never easy. I admired her easy self-confidence as much as I understood her desperate need to be part of a group of friends.

I really enjoyed this novel. It was surprisingly funny and occasionally heart-warming. I think that it could have many interpretations based on where a person is in their life.

My rating: 4.5/5

You can find Little Fires Everywhere here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

The Ten Most Disappointing Books I Read in 2018

Here we are again! The stockings are hung. The hot chocolate has been poured. Christmas movies are playing on the T.V. and I am definitely in the mood for a long winter’s nap.  As the year draws to a close, it’s time for us to take a look back and remember all the many fond and perhaps not-so-fond memories we’ve made this year. Here at oneyearonehundredbooks, this means it’s time for our 2nd annual best and worst lists! This year we are starting with the “worst”. It is important to clarify that I do not mean that any of these books are terribly written or that the author shouldn’t take pride in what they have achieved. This list is more for those books that just didn’t quite live up to the hype or the ones that simply weren’t my cup of tea. So without further ado, I present to you the ten most disappointing books that I read in 2018, beginning with the honorable mentions.

Honorable Mention: Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

Image result for penpal dathan auerbach     Reddit contributor turned published author Dathan Auerbach has some delightfully creepy moments in this short horror novel. Some of the chapters were better than others though, and overall this book was disjointed and uneven.

Honorable Mention: The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin

Image result for the invasion book     This is one of those novels that was not bad at all, just disappointing. It failed to live up to the example set by the first installment in the series, and lacked any major character development.

10) The Troop by Nick Cutter

Image result for the troop nick cutter     I’m a huge fan of the horror genre, and was really excited to read this book while I was on a camping trip this summer. Sadly, The Troop lacks any kind of exposition and never takes the time to flesh out its characters, relying instead on graphic and gruesome descriptions of bones and bodies.

9) See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Image result for see what i have done book     The story of Lizzie Borden is known all around the world, and this historical fiction novel set out to tell her story as well as her sisters. None of the characters are terribly interesting, however; and this novel ended up a yawn instead of a scream.

8) A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Image result for a thousand acres book     I often find that I am not terribly impressed by Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning novel. Similar to the Academy Awards, I think the judging is very biased towards only specific types of stories. A Thousand Acres was yet another example of a Pulitzer-winning novel that offered nothing particularly new or imaginative.

7) Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Image result for who fears death by nnedi okorafor     Set in post-apocalyptic Africa, this novel never adequately explains the world it inhabits. I often felt confused as characters seemed to gain new abilities at random, and there was more than one instance of deus ex machina. This is a book in need of a prequel.

6) The Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown

Image result for gods of howl mountain     The Appalachian Mountains are shrouded in mist and mystery, as are the people who live up in the hills. This historical fiction novel about a war amputee turned bootlegger should have been more exciting than it was. As it stands, I can barely remember the plot.

5) Friend Request by Laura Marshall

Image result for friend request book     The book that caused me to temporarily back away from the thriller genre, I think Friend Request suffered from a cascade effect. I had read several disappointing and forgettable thrillers lately, and this novel, about a women who is contacted on Facebook by a deceased schoolmate, was just the cherry on the sundae.

4) The Traitors Wife by Allison Pataki

Image result for traitors wife book

Way back at the beginning of the year, The Traitor’s Wife was the first book that really just failed to impress. The main character is a selfish, spoiled bitch with absolutely no character arc, and the supporting cast is either entirely moronic or simply unnecessary to the plot.

3) Gone by Michael Grant

Image result for gone by michael grant book    This book earned its spot high on this list because it made me look bad in front of my book club. I chose this YA science fiction novel, about a town where all the adults suddenly vanish, as my very first “pick” and, needless to say, it was not well received. Potentially because it was written by someone who had only the most passing knowledge of teenagers and how they behave.

2) A Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

Image result for one thous    I remember writing the review for this novel, and thinking that it was good on paper. The novel dealt with the sensitive issue of Native Americans and the United States government with delicacy and tact. However, the cringe-inducing dialects and italics used in the dialogue of the different woman ruined this novel for me entirely. I have never worst-listed a book based solely on formatting, so this was a first.

1) The Devil’s Banker by Christopher Reich

Image result for devils banker book     Another book club pick (not mine), The Devil’s Banker is what happens when American white nationalism gains sentience and writes a novel. It is a collection of loosely gathered racial biases held together with the glue of fear-mongering and lacquered over with a shiny coat of ignorance.

 

And there you have it! I am so interested to see what you all think. Are there any books that deserve a second chance? Do you have any of your own suggestions for most disappointing book of the year?

Coming up soon: My Favorite Books of 2018

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

 

Image result for best day ever book

Review #1.108

Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he’s the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That’s why he’s planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he’s promised today will be the best day ever.

But as Paul and Mia drive out of the city and toward the countryside, a spike of tension begins to wedge itself between them and doubts start to arise. How much do they trust each other? And how perfect is their marriage, or any marriage, really?

This novel initially reminded me of You by Caroline Kepnes, which is high praise considering that book was one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a long time. Paul Strom, the narrator from Best Day Ever is just as manipulative and misogynistic as Joe Goldberg, perhaps even more since he is blanketed in a thick layer of smugness. There is also an echo of Patrick Batemen in Paul’s pretentious focus on luxury and etiquette. Basically, he’s a slimy narcissistic bastard living in a fantasy world where everyone respects and obeys his every whim. Kind of like if Walter Mitty had been a sociopath.

Unlike Beck, the focus of Joe’s fixation in You, the Mia Strom is not an immature, vain, twenty-something but a grown woman trying to assert her independence after years under her husband’s thumb. We only see Mia through the eyes of Paul, who has a rather unevolved perspective on a woman’s place in a marriage. He is utterly blind to the inner machinations of his wife, and is therefore unable to see the distinct warning signs in her suddenly pointed questions.

In my review for You, I mentioned that the plot, while gripping and page-turning, followed pretty much the expected course from beginning to end. We all knew what was going to happen to Beck, and watching it unfold was a highly enjoyable journey. One thing that I appreciated about Best Day Ever was that it felt unpredictable without relying on the “surprise twist” that has become overly common in recent days. I never knew quite where author Kaira Rouda was taking me, but I had a lot of fun getting there.

My rating: 4/5

You can find Best Day Ever here on Amazon or here on Book Depository. Please ignore the horrid cover art for the copy available on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

I Made it – OneYearOneHundredBooks is One Year Old!

Last month I completed my goal of reading and reviewing one hundred new books over the course of a year! The feeling of setting and reaching a goal has been incredible satisfaction mixed with mild exhaustion.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed creating and writing this website for the past year. I have tried blogging many times in the past, and it’s never stuck until now. Setting a goal and working hard to achieve it has helped me through some rough patches in the past twelve months, and I’m surprised by how much I learned about myself. In no specific order, here are a few observations from my first year of blogging.

1. ) Looking back, it is startlingly obvious that I was not in a good state of mind last year. My immigration process was taking forever, I had no friends in the city, and I spent the majority of my time binge-watching television shows. In the twelve months since, it’s as if nothing has changed but everything has changed. I am much happier and healthier both mentally and physically than I was last year. I’ve spent hours scavenging the city looking to books to complete my Goosebumps collection (only five to go!). I joined a book club, which has forced me to confront my social anxiety and join in on group conversations. I began volunteering for an amazing charity which allows me to spend time with rescue cats. And my permanent residency was finally approved! Now I am entering the terrifyingly exciting world of job hunting and trying to launch a new career in writing. Reading some of my earlier posts, it’s as if at some point over the past year I emerged from a darkness that I hadn’t even realized I was drowning in. There are still struggles of course, and there are times when I feel like I’m spinning out of control, but overall the general feeling is one of hopefulness.

2. ) Running this website helped me a lot this year. I’ve never been able to truly commit to writing a blog, mainly because I’ve never felt that my thoughts and ideas were terribly interesting or important. I have tried to stay away from tracking hits and likes, but it has still given me a boost of confidence to know that people visit my site and enjoy the things I’ve written. I don’t get crazy traffic, but it’s rare for me to go a day without at least one visitor. I am so proud and so grateful to all of the people who have journeyed with me through this year and more than one hundred books.

3.) I started this blog out of boredom, but it’s become surprisingly useful. As I said, last year was not the best time for me. I remember how homesick I was at the prospect of yet another holiday season away from my family. When I came up with the idea to start writing book reviews, I knew I needed to set myself a challenge. I never really expected anyone to actually read the reviews I was writing, but I was desperate for something, anything to occupy my attention. Fast forward a year later, and I am attempting to begin a career based around writing. I’ve applied for jobs for content writers, proofreaders, copy writers, and other related fields. One thing that I noticed was many of these companies ask for writing samples to be included with a resume and cover letter. So this website has had the unexpected benefit of doubling as a portfolio!

4.) I fully intend to challenge myself to read another hundred books next year, and I want to expand oneyearonehundredbooks as well. Starting next year, I will be welcoming guest bloggers to post their own reviews on this site. I am hoping to bring more variety and opinions to the table, and I’m always looking for contributors! If you’d like to write a book review or a book vs film comparison, please leave a comment or email me at oneyearonehundredbooks@gmail.com.

Keep an eye out in the next few days; I’ll be publishing lists for the best and worst reads of the year! Until then, check out 2017’s My Ten Favorite Books of 2017 and Ten Most Disappointing Books I Read in 2017

Happy reading everyone!

-Ashley

Book Review: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer (2016)

Image result for the midnight watch book

Review #106

As the Titanic and her passengers sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, a nearby ship looked on. Second Officer Herbert Stone, in charge of the midnight watch on the SS Californian sitting idly a few miles north, saw the distress rockets that the Titanic fired. He alerted the captain, Stanley Lord, who was sleeping in the chartroom below, but Lord did not come to the bridge. Eight rockets were fired during the dark hours of the midnight watch, and eight rockets were ignored. The next morning, the Titanic was at the bottom of the sea and more than 1,500 people were dead.

I was ten years old when James Cameron’s Titanic was released, and like millions of young girls in 1997, was completely obsessed with the film and the boyishly handsome, adorably baby-faced Leonardo DeCaprio. Twenty years later, my love for Leo has never faded, and neither has my interest in the story of Titanic and its place in history.

The Midnight Watch has the odd challenge of trying to sustain a narrative using characters that were only indirectly involved in the events of April 14, 1912. The story of the Californian, which was the nearest ship to the Titanic on the night of its sinking and could potentially have saved the lives of the 1500 people who died that night, is more of a footnote in the larger context of the Titanic story. The failure of the Californian to respond to the Titanic’s distress signals is one of the countless bits of misfortune that all came together to cause one of the most famous maritime disasters in history. Even James Cameron, whose insistence on historical accuracy during filming bordered on obsessive, did not include the Californian in his film. stating that switching perspectives to another ship took away from the feeling of isolation that the passengers on the Titanic must have experienced that night. In a way this book reminded me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, another instance of “background” characters being given the full spotlight.

Author David Dyer needed to present a cast of characters strong enough to make us forget that our old favorites such as Captain Smith, Thomas Andrews, Bruce Ismay, and Molly Brown are conspicuously absent. He splits his narrative between Second Mate Herbert Stone, the watchman who first saw the white distress rockets sent up by the sinking ship, and Steadman, a bulldog journalist on the hunt for the truth about the Californian. Stone is plagued by guilt and indecision when he wakes up the morning after his midnight shift and learns the fate of the Titanic. His story is sympathetic, but pales in significance when viewed next to the deaths of over a thousand people on the Titanic. Steadman is the archetypal hard-jawed bourbon-soaked workaholic newspaperman from the turn of the century. His only defining characteristic is that he somehow manages to chase down leads and secure interviews with various higher-ups all while being soddenly drunk.

I did enjoy Dyer’s meticulous attention to detail, particularly when describing the Californian and its crew. Dyer worked for years as a ships officer, and he is clearly writing from a place of experience. I don’t know much about naval terminology besides port and starboard, so I enjoyed learning a little bit more about steamer ships. Also, it’s refreshing to read a completely different perspective on a well-known event. One of the things I love most about historical fiction is its ability to help me think of an issue from a variety of angles. The Midnight Watch offers a unique and creative approach to the enduring legend of the Titanic.

My rating: 3.5/5

You can find The Midnight Watch here on Amazon or here on Book Depository!

Happy reading everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Witch Elm by Tana French (2018)

Image result for witch elm tana french

Review #105

 

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

This is author Tana French’s seventh novel, and marks her first departure from her fantastic Dublin Murder Squad series. For The Witch Elm, French doesn’t stray too far from her distinctive style, and it’s clear that she feels the most comfortable when writing detective-style novels. Which is fine by me, since she’s amazing at it.

I’ve had a rather bad run of luck this year with thriller novels, but have always enjoyed French’s work. Her use of foreshadowing feels organically woven into the narrative, as opposed to awkwardly shoehorned in. By slowly building a sense of tension using small clues and a few shortly but intensely written passages, French ensures that when the plot reaches its climax, it feels like a genuine reveal as opposed to a cheat. I also have to give props to French for avoiding the horribly cliche “flackback” plot device that has been become nearly ubiquitous in modern thrillers. There is a reason I have never been disappointed by her novels, and her mature and richly descriptive writing style has a lot to do with that.

The main difference between The Witch Elm and French’s previous works is that the main narrative is written from a civilian’s viewpoint, rather than a detective. I did find myself missing the police perspective. Toby, as the main character, just wasn’t terribly sympathetic. He is privileged, entitled, and oblivious to the struggles of those around him. His love for his girlfriend Melissa was a saving point, but their relationship always seemed a little too good to be true. Hugo, Leo, and Susanna as the supporting characters were more interesting than Toby, and I would have liked to know more about their lives.

I won’t give away too much of the main plot, only that I kept expecting French to take a turn for the supernatural. Ivy House somehow gives off a misty, Gothic feel from the outer suburbs of Dublin. The creepy atmosphere of The Witch Elm reminded me of the forest passages from In The Woods, which literally gave me goosebumps when I was reading them. I would love to see Tana French venture into the world of horror. It would definitely be a combination of two of my favorite elements.

My rating: 4/5

You can find The Witch Elm here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)

Image result for the hate u give book

 

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

This novel by debut author Angie Thomas packs an emotional punch. The American epidemic of unarmed black men being shot by law enforcement is an incredible divisive issue, and Thomas embraces the many factions and facets of the situation. She asks her readers to privately consult their own inner bias and determine for themselves the best possible outcome when there is little chance for a happy ending.

Starr Carter is not your average girl from the “ghetto”. The first thing that sets her apart is her strong family bonds. Starr is lucky enough to have a male role model in her life; her father is a proud black man who firmly believes that the only way to save his community from gangs and drugs is if people stick around and work together. Thomas does not play down the fact that Starr lives in a dangerous neighborhood; she lost her best friend in a drive-by shooting at age nine. Now sixteen, she is tired of hearing gun shots every night. But there is also a life and a spirit to Starr’s community, people help one another and give what they can to those who are less fortunate. This isn’t some Mad Max style wasteland ruled by constant warfare. The people of Garden Heights have known a lot of hard times, but they stick together and try to make the best with what they have. Too often the ghetto is depicted as a gray and crumbling area where everyone has ties to criminal activity. Thomas instead shows a more human side to the wrong side of the tracks.

“I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve Tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.
Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”

Another thing that makes Starr unique among her peers is that her parents send her to an expensive private school where she is one of the only students of color. Some of the most interesting aspects of The Hate U Give is when Starr describes her own split personalities. There is “Ghetto Starr” who uses slang and knows how to survive on the tough streets of Garden Heights. Then there is “Williamson Starr”, a girl who makes sure never to use slang, has a white boyfriend and all white friends, and listens to Taylor Swift. Starr is walking a constant tight-rope trying to be black enough for her black friends but not too black for her white friends.

The Hate U Give takes a lot of the important points of the police brutality issue and runs at them headlong. This novel has the potential to make a lot of people uncomfortable, but it is the kind of discomfort that leads to personal growth. And while it did get a little overtly preachy towards the end, I would definitely recommend this book. Perhaps it would help in opening up a dialogue between the opposing forces on this tragic issue.

My rating; 4.5/5

You can find The Hate U Give here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: Kingdom of Ash (ToG #7) by Sarah J. Maas (2018)

Image result for kingdom of ash

Review #103

The long-awaited conclusion to Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, Kingdom of Ash sees Aelin and her friends risking everything they have to fight against the dark armies of Morath and the vicious Queen Maeve. Effort was made to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but some key plot points may be revealed.

Aelin has risked everything to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. Aware that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, though her resolve begins to unravel with each passing day.

For her final installment, bestselling fantasy author Sarah J. Maas wants to make sure that she harnesses every available drop of tension and substance from the world she has worked so long to build. I commented in an earlier post that the first installment of ToG felt rather flat and one-dimensional, with the heroine boasting about her prowess a hell of a lot more than demonstrating it. In the six books following Throne of Glass, the world of Erilea has taken on sharp definition and an emotional weight that builds satisfyingly to a final conclusion.

As always, Maas gets major props for having a diverse cast of kick-ass female heroines at the forefront of her novel. Aelin’s journey comes full circle here, and the readers have been with her for so long as she struggled towards her destiny that to see her reaching her potential was a wonderful moment. Maas has a tendency to use very dramatic writing when narrating Aelin’s point of view. It gives the proceedings a very operatic feeling, but occasionally goes too far to where it begins to feel like self-parody. The character arcs of other important female figures such as Elide and Manon Blackbeak are also brought to a satisfying conclusion.

As strong as all these characters are, Maas certainly does make sure that they are all happily settled in their committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationships by the end of the novel. I wasn’t necessarily bothered by the very traditional “happily ever afters”, but I definitely did notice that the plot would not allow for such-and-such characters to end up apart from one another. It ended up giving the final climactic scenes a predictable feel, since I knew that any of these matched-up characters would not be permitted to die.

At nearly one thousand pages, the rising action of this novel encompasses nearly two-thirds of the book’s length. There are periods when Kingdom of Ash spins its wheels a bit, and feels the need to check it with various characters even when there is no new information to report. It takes nearly seven hundred pages for all of the main characters to finally get together, which gives the middle section a bloated feel, like some of the slower episodes of Game of Thrones.

Overall, I have fully enjoyed my time in Erilea. These novels aren’t perfect but they’re a lot of fun and creative addition to the YA fantasy genre. I continue looking forward to reading more from Sarah J. Maas.

Full disclosure: I skipped Tower of Dawn, the sixth installment in the ToG series. I didn’t want to spent six hundred pages with Chaol, who I always thought was completely boring. I did not regret my decision, and was able to follow the plot of Kingdom of Ash without difficulty.

My rating: 4/5

You can find Kingdom of Ash as well as the rest of the Throne of Glass novels here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book vs Film: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Image result for guernsey literary and potato peel pie                                      Image result for guernsey literary book

 

Earlier this year, I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (GLPPPS) and fell in love with its lively, romantic spirit and quirky characters. When I heard that they were making this novel into a film starring Jessica Findlay Brown, I was eager to see how they translated a plot consisting only of letters into a cohesive narrative. A few days ago I finally got the catch to see director Mike Newell’s 2018 interpretation of GLPPPS. In no particular order, here are my thoughts on the film versus the novel. I will try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible but my give away certain plot points.

1. This film is a Downton Abbey reunion.  Part of the reason I was so excited to see this movie was that at least four of the main characters were involved with Downton Abbey, my favorite drama about rich British people chatting. Lily James, who plays bright-young-thing Rose on Downton appears here as Juliet Ashton, the writer and book lover who is first drawn to the story of the book club on Guernsey. Jessica Findlay Brown is Elizabeth McKenna, the popular but mysteriously absent creator of the club. Penelope Wilton (also from Doctor Who) is a grief-stricken widow and Matthew Goode is Juliet’s friend and publisher. The sight of all these comfortingly familiar faces helps to ground GLPPPS in its historical time period.

2. Lily James is strangely flat in her role. One of the most engaging parts of the novel is Juliet Ashton’s sincere love of books and literature. She is fully capable of defending her opinion on the relevant styles and thoughts of the day, but does so with such cheerfulness that she never comes across as schoolmarmish. Lily James, who was so bubbly and joyful in Downton Abbey and Disney’s 2015 live-action Cinderella, never comes across as a great lover of reading. Juliet Ashton’s infectious curiosity is also missing, and her eventual spontaneous journal to Guernsey happens almost as a lark rather as a deliberate decision to learn more about the lives of the people there. James seems unable to commit to the more dramatic elements of the plot as well, almost as if she is afraid of looking less than pretty.

3. Jessica Findlay Brown is tragically underused. I understand that Brown’s character doesn’t appear in person during the events of GLPPPS. She is a memory, a reference, a figure in a funny or sad story. Despite that, in the book she always felt so full of life, a bright spot in a dark world that everyone remembers with a mixture of joy and pain. This story belongs to Elizabeth McKenna as much as it does to Juliet Ashton. In the film, she is just demoted to just one of many quirky characters that inhabit flashbacks and whispered stories. Her daughter is supposed to be a turning point in the plot, but is instead relegated to a side note in the film. For an actress as beautiful and talented as Brown, I thought director Mike Newell would find a way to make her shine.

4. The film looks absolutely stunning. Though it was shot in parts of Devon, Bristol, and London instead of Guernsey, the harsh rocky landscape of coastal Britain is always breathtaking to look at. The time period is also accurately portrayed, and the attention to detail on the costumes and props is of the impeccable quality usually found in British historical dramas.

5. The beginning of the film attempts to pay homage to the letter-writing style of the book, but doesn’t quite pull it off. During the first twenty minutes or so of the movie, Lily James’ Juliet Ashton is exchanging letters with Dawsey Adams, a farmer on Guernsey played by Michael Huisman. The movie accomplishes this through use of narrative voice-over and long shots of James curled up in various armchairs, reading letters while drinking tea. Although I appreciated that Newell wanted to include a nod to the letter exchanges of the novel, but it came across as a bit too obvious. Especially when it ends abruptly during the first act and is never revisited.

Overall, I thought the film did a good job of capturing the main plot points and historical details of GLPPPS, but a little bit of the novel’s heart was lost in translation. Given it’s almost complete lack of publicity or marketing, I wonder if the studio didn’t see that as well.

Happy reading everyone!

 

Book Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (2018)

Image result for the clockmakers daughter

Review #100

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Kate Morton has been on my shortlist of favorite authors since I first discovered The Forgotten Garden way back in 2011. All of her novels merge historical fiction with mystery, often spanning decades and generations. Morton stays true to form with her latest novel, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, and manages to throw in a few surprises along the way.

Morton loves writing about crumbling English manor homes and her settings often serve as characters unto themselves. The majority of The Clockmaker’s Daughter takes place in isolated and empty Birchwood Manor, but far from the gloomy, neglected halls that characterized Morton’s The Distant Hours, Birchwood is haunted by a ghost of a different sort. The presence which roams the halls of Birchwood Manor is filled with curiosity and kindness for the occasional visitors that come to her home, which has been turned into a museum and historical site. When a new visitor by the name of Elodie Winslow turns up looking for answers that lead back to a long ago summer when a group of artists descended upon the manor, the spirit of Birchwood Manor realizes that secrets are about to be uncovered that have been buried for centuries.

The wonderful thing about Kate Morton’s writing is that it flows so smoothly from time period to time period. The bulk of the narrative follows a group of young artists who venture into the country for a summer of nature and inspiration. The technological and social changes that embody Victorian England are present here; it was interesting to read about the introduction of photography, which would bring about major changes to the art world as the popularity of portraiture faded.

The rest of the novel is set in the present day. It is partly narrated by Elodie, a young archivist who stumbles upon a sketchbook that has been hidden away for decades. The spirit of Birchwood Manor has its own voice as well, detailing the events that have occurred in the house in the long years since its arrival. This is the first novel by Morton to contain a solid supernatural element. There were whispers of fairies and magic in some of her previous works, but the ghost in The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a defined presence with real wishes and desires.

If I had a critique of this novel, it would be the title. While one of the main characters is the daughter of a clockmaker, that fact has no real bearing on the overall storyline. Too many novels are “The _____’s Daughter” or “The _____’s Wife”. It is often is used in fiction to give a different perspective on historical events; however, it is unnecessary in this case. Instead it serves to undermine a strong female character by forcing her to be named only under the title of a male who is not even terribly relevant to the plot. It just felt lazy.

Overall, this was another highly enjoyable novel by a woman who remains at the top of my list for favorite authors. My only disappointment is that I have to settle in for a long wait until her next novel.

My Rating: 4.5/5

You can find The Clockmaker’s Daughter here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!