20 Jun 2011

Review: "Notting Hell"

Normally I don't read a lot of chick lit but since I have been spending a lot of time lying around eating pain killers and trying not to use my newly operated foot, I have had plenty of time to read but not having the energy to read anything too heavy. So I settled down with Rachel Johnson's "Notting Hell", a comedy about the self-obsessed, vain people living on a communal garden in Notting Hill. Rachel Johnson is the editor of the "Lady" magazine and from her bio on Wikipedia and articles in various media, she sounds like a lady who knows about the people that she is writing about in this novel.

The real main character in "Notting Hell" is actually the Notting Hill neighborhood. Now I've never lived here myself but according to this book, the neighborhood is defined by bankers and other professionals that leave early in the morning and return home to sleep and their high-maintenance wives who spend their days lunching (on something fat-free), exercising and shopping - and of course on raising their accomplished children. Sounds horrible doesn't it? Well, just wait till you read this book, I was so repulse by the people in it... especially the narrators of which there are two.

Meet Mimi. Mother of three, wife of Ralph (who btw. sounds pretty amazing) and dumber than a box-full-of-rocks. Living in Notting Hill defines her identity and justifies her entire life even though she and her sweet husband are living way beyond their means to stay in the attractive post code. Mimi is friends with Clare, her neighbor and the other narrator of this story. Clare is a neat-freak who loves gardening and who really wants a child but apparently cannot become pregnant. She is married to a successful ecotect (i.e. a fancy and expensive architect) and spends her days in the communal garden taking care of the flowers. Clare is a lot easier to like than Mimi even though she is a bit snobbish.

Mimi and Clare tell the story of life on a communal garden where everyone sleeps with everyone else's wife/husband and where a race to ensare the new millionaire in the garden means that the women all get their claws out. Charming. Or maybe not.

Now the people in this book are really not likeable. Mimi made me cringe and at times I wish she wasn't a narrator because it was impossible for me to like her. Clare is okay though and Mimi's husband is a sweetheart but most of the other characters range from slightly annoying to outright idiots. The plot and the descriptions of the neighborhood is hilarious though. It is the details that make it so funny, the try-hard attitude of minor characters and the constant greed that all of the characters represent. It is actually a really funny book and if you like chick lit where the characters are not very likeable, you will probably like this on.

Read it if: you subscribe to "Tatler", "Vanity Fair" or you enjoy reading the Times Rich List and imagining what goes on behind closed doors.

13 Jun 2011

Review: "The Passage"

I am not really sure what made me pick up "The Passage" by Justin Cronin - but to be honest I was probably giving in the to hype and thought I would give it a go just to see... And how here comes the review which is full of SPOILERS. I don't think I would be able to writing anything meaningful about this book if I didn't include SPOILERS so consider yourself warned.

What initially struck me about this book was two things: 1) It's size. It is really long. 2) The cover which I find absolutely beautiful.
Then I opened the book and started reading and those two initial impressions faded into the background.
The story opens a year or two from now and at first we follow several strands. The young mother who has to become a prostitute to be able to provide a meal and a roof for her little daughter Amy. The death row prisoner who gets an offer he can't refuse from an FBI agent who may have a hidden agenda. The FBI agent who is on a mission that he doesn't really understand but who is so emotionally messed up by losing his child that he doesn't care what the mission is about. Until the mission suddenly includes handing over Amy to an unknown fate and his paternal feelings come crashing over him.
This first part of the story, I really enjoyed. I loved the thrill of not knowing what is going on but having that ominous feeling that there is more to the story... The FBI agent Wolgast is a really good character with lots of depth and I really felt for him and looked forward to following his ride through the book - that was not to be however... Because really, this is all about Amy.

After about 200 pages the plot turns from a mystery thriller about taking responsibility for your actions to a whole different kettle of fish. From one page to the next - and this is where the SPOILER comes - the entire population of America (and possibly of the earth) has been wiped out by an attack of vampire zombies. I kid you not. Vampire zombies... As if the sparkling variety wasn't bad enough, now we have the superpowered, crazy zombie variety as well.
At this point I seriously considered closing the book and leaving it at that but I was in the garden at my parents place and still trying to get back on both feet after my operation so I had nothing else to do.
The story is impossible to really summarize from here but in a few words, this is what happens: A group of about 100 survivors has made a colony in the Californian mountains and there they have lived since the first epidemic. A hundred years have passed and a new world order is prevalent. The story follows a group of these people who set up to get a better understanding of what happen to the world of their forefathers and whether there are other humans out there who have managed to survive. All why they try and understand who the girl Amy is - a strange tween/teen who has suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

I don't know what to say. I am really really not into sci-fi, doomsday, end-of-the-world stories and suddenly I found myself reading one, rather unwillingly. Being honest, I would have put this book down if it wasn't because it is actually rather well-written. Great characters that you really empathize with and that come alive. Great descriptions of a world where all life as we know it has disappeared. Very Stephen King-ish. Will I read the next two books in what is planned to be a trilogy? Well, never say never but I really don't think so.

Read it if: You love Stephen King and think that "28 Days Later" is a great movie. Or if you would read anything featuring a vampire.

8 Jun 2011

Review: "Cousin Kate"

Georgette Heyer is where I go to look for comforting reads that allow me to escape into a regency world full of bustling gowns, silver snuff boxes and really delicious gentlemen... You know what I mean girls ;-)
So when I had to spend two weeks doing nothing due to an operation in my left leg (almost at the end of the two weeks now), I turned to Georgette Heyer for a bit of a regency romp. Usually I have very clear expectations of what I will get from a Heyer book and they always live up to my expectation. Always until this time that is... Because Georgette Heyer's "Cousin Kate" certainly did not.

The story line is this: young Kate is all alone in the world and has not a penny to her name. So she goes to stay with her old nanny Sarah who is now married to a tradesmen. Sarah contacts Kate's family and soon Kate is swept away to live in the imposing and impressive country home of her aunt Lady Minerva. It is by no means a homey place - more of a museum - and the family is as dysfuntional as they get. Kate spends her time with her cousin Torquil who is more than a little strange, and Phillip, who doesn't seem to like her at all. And all the time Lady Minerva is acting strangely.

This is actually more of a mystery than a romance which I didn't particularly appreciate. I prefer the London balls and Bath tangles to a country house who-did-it. Also what I so adore about Georgette Heyer is her strong heroines. They are normally really strong with lots of common sense and little romantic notions but Kate doesn't really have that. Yes she is practical and no-nonsense but she is also naive and not particularly bright and she annoyed me at times.

Read it if: You are on a quest to read everything Georgette Heyer ever wrote. If you are looking for a regency romance of great quality, go for Georgette Heyer's "Frederica".

7 Jun 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Superb Settings

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish and I love participating in it!!
This week's theme is favorite book settings - something that is not appreciate as much as it should be, if you ask me. So here we go:

10) Avalon - from "The Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Enchanting and full of magic

9) Italy - as portrayed in "Jamie Oliver's Italy". I know featuring a cook book is a bit different but the Italy Jamie Oliver's describes using words and pictures is so yummy that I had to :-)

8) Bon Temps and the rest of Sookie's Louisiana - from the True Blood series by Charlaine Harris. I have never been but it is on my list of places to see.

7) Brick Lane - from "Salaam Brick Lane" by Tarquin Hall. Brick Lane is one of the best streets in London. So full of life and adventures. And "Salaam Brick Lane" tells the story in a way that leaves you wanting more Brick Lane.

6) Avonlea - from "Anne of Green Gables" by L. M. Montgomery. When I was a kid I really wanted to go there on vacation and I still do actually. The descriptions from the books make it sounds like the most idyllic, beautiful little village, I so want to visit to Prince Edward Island.

5) Forks - from "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer. I have actually been to Forks and holidayed at La Push and let me tell you, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Not Forks - La Push is. The nature is so raw and strong. Also I think the setting is one of the redeeming features of the book.

4) The underbelly of London - from "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman. I love it that the area names are actually used. An earl lives in the Earl's Court etc. It is such an imaginative way of using geography.

3) Andalucia - from "Driving over Lemons" by Chris Stewart. I've read this book four times just to enjoy imagining the Andalucia described by the author.

2) Siena - from "Love Falls" by Esther Freud. Siena is such a beautiful place. I have been there and in the surrounding area on vacation and you have to see it if you go to Italy. It is amazing. Really amazing. And "Love Falls" is a great book by the way.

1) Hogwarts - magical!!! I wish that I had created the world of Hogwarts. It is the most astonishing, wonderful fictional setting ever.

5 Jun 2011

Review: "My Last Duchess"

Now I haven't watched the much raved about series Downton Abbey but according to several reviews "My Last Duchess" by Daisy Goodwin resembles the tone and topics of the series - and having just devoured the book, I have now ordered the tv series and am looking forward to feasting on upstairs and below-stairs drama. Just as in "My Last Duchess". If you enjoy books set in England back when it was still an empire and when a woman was a lady and a man was a gentleman then you really must read this one. It is a literary edition of a Georgette Heyer story, a romantic historical novel and very much reminded me of films like "Gosford Park" and "Easy Virtue".

Cora Cash (what an appropriate last name...) is one the richest heiresses in the United States and the daughter of what must be one of the most fiercely ambitious mothers in the world. Not content with being just a society lady, she has her eyes set on being the mother of a titled lady. Which means that she is ready to sell her daughter to the highest bidder in terms of social capital. So with this objective in mind, Cora and her mother travels to England in the hope of being able to buy there way into the choicest social circles. Preferably royal connections - or at least a duke. It is hard to say more without revealing too much and as I really do not like spoilers in my reviews.
Let me say though that Cora and her mother probably get more than they bargained for because the English society is by no means ready to be bought by what they perceive as vulgar, brassy americans... Cora, a spirited young woman, has to watch her every step and even then she sometimes stumble in the undergrowth of unsaid and unwritten rules. At the same time, the reader also follows the life of Cora's loyal and loving maid as she follows her mistress to a country very far away from the Southern state that she grew up in and where the rules below stairs are as difficult as the rules in the drawing and ball rooms.

I loved the fact that Cora is so spirited. Yes she is somewhat naive and yes she does let her mother push her around a bit but in general, she is a strong young woman. She is determined not to be bullied by what she perceives as antiquated English manners and opinions and she carries her American heritage with pride. Warming to her was easy for me - just I felt the same degree of loath for her mother (and mother-in-law) as I feel for Lady Catherine de Bourgh... if you know what I mean.

This is a lovely book, it is a great escape into a different time and as a romance it works really well without becoming too much.

Read it if: You like historical romances where the Old World meets the New World - where old families meet new money. Read if if you were enchanted by the fairy tale of Prince William and Kate Middleton, Downton Abbey, Gosford Park.

2 Jun 2011

I am Elizabeth Bennett!

I need to share!! :-) Just took the "Which Jane Austen Heroine Are You?" Quiz.
And I am Lizzy Bennett! Very happy with the results, was rather sure I would end up as one of the Dashwoods, though not sure why. And I really like both the Dashwood girls but I LOVE Lizzy. Made my evening.

I am Elizabeth Bennet!

Take the Quiz here!

1 Jun 2011

Willa wants to Read... The book behind the film

So I've seen the film (not knowing that there was a book behind it) and now I want to read the book because as we all know: usually the book is much better than the film :-)

Which books-made-into-films can you recommend?

"Whip It" by Shauna Cross
The film starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore (who is also the director) is full of great girlpower girls who rollerskates in derbys that are something of a rollerskating meets fight club thing. Full of cool clothes, great music and fun moments! I have already seen it twice and I absolutely have to read the book.
From amazon.com: Meet Bliss Cavendar, an indie-rock-loving misfit stuck in the tiny town of Bodeen, Texas. Her pageant-addicted mother expects her to compete for the coveted Miss Bluebonnet crown, but Bliss would rather feast on roaches than be subjected to such rhinestone tyranny. Bliss’s escape? Roller Derby. When she discovers a league in nearby Austin, Bliss embarks on an epic journey full of hilarious tattooed girls, delicious boys in bands, and a few not-so-awesome realities even the most hard-core derby chick has to learn.

"The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis
I know, I know... I really should have read this one before watching the movie. Sorry.
From amazon.com: Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are evacuated to a house during the war wherein lives a vague professor. Left much to their own devices, they find a way into another world - Narnia - and discover Aslan, the lion king in hiding.

"Thank You for Smoking" by Christopher Buckley
Great movie - heard the book is fun. From amazon.com: "Nick Naylor had been called most things since becoming chief spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, but until now no one had actually compared him to Satan." So begins the adventures of this protagonist, a shamelessly slimy yuppie and PR flack par excellence for the tobacco industry. The story, such as it is, consists of Naylor's attempts to prop up his failing corporate star by expanding his defense of the evil weed. Working the airwaves, he engineers successful, hysterical appearances on Oprah and Larry King , after which he's kidnapped by anti-tobacco terrorists who attempt to murder him by plastering his body with nicotine patches.