Review: Elizabeth Gilbert – City of Girls

City of Girls
Elizabeth Gilbert

Vivian Morris is writing a letter to a woman who’s father she spent time with following the war. This letter and novel tells the story of her life and how it all leads up to her sexual and business freedom.

I didn’t feel very strongly about this novel. It all pretty much boiled down to ‘it was all a dream’. Not exactly, but that was the feeling I had – in that everything that had happened before actually didn’t have any impact or was anything that mattered. I knew she would survive everything thrown her way, and that she’d end up being happy regardless of the challenges.

I get that for its time, the protagonist is a daring and unusual heroine who is a paragon of sexual freedom. But the novel isn’t set up for me to actually enjoy her story. Vivian (even the name suggests she enjoys life) doesn’t endear herself to me at all and I never connected with her little asides about how she didn’t know anything at the time, but oh, looking back she was amazed at her naivety.

This is billed as a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Unique, yes, thrilling and enthralling, no. 3 stars, and maybe a different audience would be more suitable to read this (someone keen on the 1940s and the war times?).

Bloomsbury | 4th June 2019 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Rebecca Serle – The Dinner List

The Dinner List
Rebecca Serle

Sabrina has invited one person to her 30th birthday dinner, yet when she arrives there are five people at the table. One is her best friend and another her college professor, but also three dead people. Over wine and conversation, Sabrina is invited to reflect on her life so far, and what she wants to do next.

I hated this novel. I finished it, but I completely skimmed the last half of it because I was impatient with the slow action and boring protagonist. Passing between the present dinner and past memories could have added some momentum, but instead just served to push me out of the narrative, and wonder why the dinner table format had been used if the novel was going to contain flashbacks anyway.

I get that this could have been a sort of thought experiment, but honestly why was Audrey Hepburn there? I could understand her ex being there, and her dead father, but ugh, the rest could have been the waiter talking for all I cared, interjecting with random suggestions of how to think about ideas.

How is that ending useful? I didn’t experience any closure, or any sense of why the ending was logical. I’ve tagged this novel under ‘romance’ because that’s what GoodReads advised me, but I don’t think it’s a romance. It’s a tragedy of a novel that had potential but failed to perform. 1 star from me.

Allen & Unwin | 29th August 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Victoria Schade – Life on the Leash

Life on the Leash
Victoria Schade

Cora is a successful dog trainer who thrives on organisation. Her rescue pit bull counts as the man of her life, and she’s content writing a blog about best-practice training techniques. However a run in with an incredibly sexy client who she just can’t seem to say no to, as well as a dog-in-need with a cute guy in tow means that Cora is starting to rethink her priorities.

This is a lighthearted romance with a spot of dog-loving thrown in! Cora’s a likable enough character who creates laughter with her descriptions of dogs-gone-wrong. There are sad parts to the novel too, but nothing particularly cry worthy. If you’re looking for a beach-side read, this novel could be it. This novel is decidedly chaste, so don’t go looking for sex scenes.

From the blurb, I expected that this novel would be all about how Cora copes with being a dog trainer on TV, but it’s not that at all. Most of the novel is taken up by her escapades with her clients and her friendship with the irrepressible Maggie. When I tried to explain the plot to my fiancee I found myself struggling for relevant details of the plot – because normally I wouldn’t go for a romance that doesn’t have a unique protagonist (eg. The Kiss Quotient).

Go into this novel expecting a light read that will take you around 2-3 hours. You might even get some dog training tricks out of it – the author is a well known dog health expert, so you can trust what is written here. I’m giving this 3 stars.

Allen & Unwin | 1st December 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Kate van Hooft – We See the Stars

We See the Stars
Kate van Hooft

Simon doesn’t say much. Anything, really. He’s quiet and has to count colours in order to keep the angries in. When his new teacher shows interest in him, and he makes friends with the peculiar Cassie he begins to speak. But will he choose the right things to say?

The blurb promises that Simon will have to hunt for his teacher, but the majority of the novel is really about getting to know Simon and understand his relationship with the world. I actually really enjoyed Simon’s unique perspective. It’s exactly how I would imagine thoughts to be of a mildly autistic child (in my limited, and purely academic knowledge that is). I liked each of the small parts that came together to understand his worldview, and how he saw other people and imagined his insides reacting to different situations.

What ended up frustrating me was that there were many unresolved questions and perhaps too many character relationships. I like that it is all through Simon’s perspective and therefore it wouldn’t be appropriate to expose everything, but I would have liked to know if his mother was even still alive!

I didn’t understand the ending. Up to that point, I had been able to take all of Simon’s quirks in stride and work out what was the ‘real world’ or just fantasy. But the last couple of (negative number) chapters confused me and left me feeling incomplete and unsatisfied with this novel.

The majority of this novel deserves 4 stars for its compelling and unique reading, but the ending takes down the novel as a whole to 3 stars. Please author, please consider writing me a better ending. I didn’t find solutions to all the problems I saw. A similar novel was The Sign which had an equally disappointing ending.

Allen & Unwin | 27th July 2018 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Lisa Ireland – The Shape of Us

The Shape of Us
Lisa Ireland

The WON forums are a haven of fat women all desperate to lose weight to improve something in their lives. What starts as impersonal interactions online quickly turns into a fast friendship between four women – but will life get in the way of their happiness? Will the group be able to lose weight?

The author has managed to make four very different women all equally interesting to read about. The mix between internet posts and insight within each woman’s head is done well and doesn’t detract from the storyline. The internet posts hold the different perspectives together. I felt like I got to know them all as people and this made it easier to sympathise with them even when they made choices that I myself didn’t agree with.

The dialogue, particularly Mezz’s, feels stilted and awkward at times. It doesn’t seem to read like a real person would say it. At other times I felt like I wasn’t convinced by their interactions and insight when they were together. Somehow, they are almost saintly when dealing with each other’s problems and forgiving rude posts! The only breakdown of this was the Jewels-Josie interaction which felt rushed and unnecessary amongst the rest of the drama.

The end comes up very rapidly. I felt irritated by the fact that we didn’t see a lot of the character development that must have occurred between the climax of the novel and the final chapter (I can’t say more without it being a spoiler). It’s sort of like the author was told that the old ending didn’t have enough drama, and that a catastrophe needed to occur to sell the novel.

I read this novel twice with a year gap in between! I hadn’t reviewed the novel right after I read it the first time, I think because I had read the mother’s promise and both novels came to similar conclusions. This is a light read, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t recommend a reread. There isn’t enough substance – this is more of a poolside read. It is fiction after all, so I would suggest A.J. or Shauna’s novel/books for a realistic weightloss book. For an actual how-to guide, try Do you really want to lose weight? or Diet and Weight Loss Lies.

I’m giving this novel 4 stars, with the caveat that there are some things you need to overlook before you can enjoy it fully.

 

Review: Amy E Reichert – The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake
Amy E Reichert

Chef Lou Johnson loves her restaurant, is relatively happy with her fiance and is lined up for a comfortable holding pattern for the rest of her life. When she bakes a Coconut Cake for her fiance but instead finds him naked with an intern. That night, a anonymous food writer comes to review her restaurant – where Lou is burning and destroying dishes left right and centre. His resulting review starts a breakup in Lou’s life – but the new man she’s met could be a catalyst for positive change.

This is the second novel in a row that I have read about food. Clearly I was feeling hungry when I went to the GoodWill to pick out some new holiday reading. The feel of this novel was quite different to the last one though, because here there are more secrets being hidden. Also the life of a small business owner chef is very different to that of a personal chef. When I go out to a meal, I want to order something I couldn’t make for myself – and the things described in these delectable pages were certainly of that nature.

I love the way that the secondary characters got some proper airtime and were fleshed out as characters. I could almost see the burly Harley in the kitchen delicately sculpting impeccable fragile desserts, and see John’s beard oer the writers’ cubicles! I could have had more airtime of them, and I wouldn’t even mind another novel focusing on John now that he is going to Paris. He’s a secondary character who deserves a life.

I appreciated the ending of this novel, and the nice little twist. I like it when things don’t work out neatly. It wasn’t too cloying, as long as you are ok with some fate and ending up with “the One” no matter what! I almost cried because I was so attached to the older couple in the novel.

3 stars from me. I have no strong urge to read it again, but it was an excellent escapism read that prompted me to keep reading it because of the suspense Devlin brought to the restaurant’s survival.

Review: Beth Harbison – When in Doubt, Add Butter

When in Doubt, Add Butter
Beth Harbinson

Gemma Craig (no relative of Jenny Craig) is a private chef to a different household each night of the week. She’s sick of romance and has been warned off getting married by a teacher fortune teller in her childhood. When her jobs suddenly start falling out from under her and a one-night-stand has unexpected complications, Gemma is going to have to grow up.

This was a lighthearted romance that didn’t even vaguely begin to address the deep-seated problems that Gemma professed not to have. But! If you are just looking for a casual read that will carry your tired brain through two spare hours this novel is going to tick boxes for you. It didn’t ask me to think and it didn’t teach me anything either – sometimes that’s just what you need.

What upset/irritated me about this novel was the inclusion of the fortune teller. Honestly I wasn’t sure why the element was there, and it didn’t add any depth to the novel. I have not read any of the other novels by this author and perhaps the use of a mystic is a common theme. For me though, I would have rather heard more about the ingredients going into cooking.

I did enjoy the way that Gemma talked about her cooking. Who knew that you could have a egg/bee/”moo”-free Parmesan substitute? I could have heard more about the steps and how it would take a whole afternoon to cook in Mr. Tuesday’s apartment. Also, I’d love to know what she was spending her profits on since she didn’t have any money in the bank but it seemed like she had no time to do anything outside her cooking!

This blurb wasn’t accurate! When the weekday members are introduced in the text of the novel, I kept flipping to the back cover to see which one was Willa. But none of them were – the blurb actually depicted the action half-way through the novel. Never mind. Pick up this novel for a lighthearted read that actually reminded me of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake or Caramel Hearts just for the title, not the actual storyline!

I picked up this cheeky cheapie from GoodWill while on vacation for the princely sum of 50c. It was well worth it, even if it’s not going to follow me home. 3 stars from me for giving me a pleasant way to pass time sitting in a lovely park outside. I will now release it on Book Crossing.

Review: Sarah Schmidt – See What I Have Done

See What I Have Done
Sarah Schmidt

A true mystery novel, Lizzie Borden took an ax and brutally murdered her father and step-mother. But is it true? This is what this fiction novel explores from the other people’s perspectives at the time.

The dust jacket is written as if a 32-year-old woman living at home is abnormal, but truly it isn’t especially for those days. She isn’t married. I also think her sister was a complete idiot. Ok, your mother has trusted you to look after your sister, but at some point you must get your own life. From what I learnt about the sisters in this novel, Lizzie should have been institutionalized.

I never connected with any of the characters, I got confused between all the time jumps and the ending was completely unsatisfactory. I get that its based on a true story, and so there is no resolution – but that’s what fiction is all about! Resolving storylines and helping the reader to understand what is going on. Instead I met a bunch of characters that I didn’t care about, including Lizzie’s parents, and thus I couldn’t care less that they had died, or had hope for someone to be punished for the crime.

I HATED this novel. I persevered to the end, but it wasn’t worth my time. It’s not worth your time either. I finished it, yes, but that is because I was hoping for deliverance at the end by the creepy guy in the shadows. So since I finished it, I should give it 2 stars, but I’m not. 1 star.

Hachette Australia | 1st April 2017 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Lauren Berry – Living the Dream

Living the Dream
Lauren Berry

Emma is a personal assistant to a slightly crazy boss, but would rather be a writer. She spends her days sending unsolicited written pieces to potential magazines and posting feminist blog rants. She spends her nights drinkin’ it up with her best mate Clem, because Clem has problems of her own. Instead of the film making life Clem envisaged from distant New York, Clem is drowning in debt and bartending for a living. Can they change their ways?

I read this novel for a bit of light hearted reading. Am I not a professional woman? Oh wait, I am, but I love my job(s)! Most of this novel is about not ‘Living the Dream’ and actually ‘Living the Grind’ until certain events take place to tip Emma over into doing something with her life!

Honestly, I’m not sure what Clem is complaining about. Yes, it’s hard to find a job with no experience, yes, I know you don’t want to work a boring job for your stepfather again, but seriously! Get a grip girl and get a job! Bartending and not drinking the profits might be a bright idea. Or perhaps not doing cocaine with your boss on the job…

Also, I have issues with the amount of money they waste on booze! Haven’t these millennials ever thought about planning ahead? You could easily quit your job and not rake in the money, and build a blog following to support your writing habit – if you actually saved money instead of spending it. Oh dear, that might have been my underlying problem with this novel that made me not love it, or even appreciate it much.

Honestly, I think that I’ll Eat When I’m Dead was a better novel than this, and I only gave that one 3 stars! Perhaps they are on par because I’m giving this one 3 stars as well. No no, it was the regulars that I liked more perhaps… Women’s Fiction is just not my thing – in my defense, I didn’t request this one (to my knowledge), but I DID make the decision to use some of my precious reading time on it.

Hachette Australia | 11th July 2017 | AU $29.99 | paperback

Reviews: Catherine Lacey – The Answers

The Answers
Catherine Lacey

Mary suffers from unexplained body pains. Left in pain with no money, no hope and no answers (haha), she’s willing to try anything. Her oldest friend in the world suggests a pricy wholistic treatment – and the first session seems to help. But Mary is going to need to finance it somehow – she’s going to be the Emotional Girlfriend.

I’m really frustrated by this book because it started off quite promisingly with a woman that is suffering from unexplained body pain, who then was able to recover by using this special psychic therapy. Which of course manipulates her emotions, and her practitioner’s emotions, lining her up perfectly to be the…

EMOTIONAL GIRLFRIEND for self-suffering, stuck up jerk of an actor who thinks that he can change the outlines of love. What starts out as an experiment as far as she knows sort of goes more weirdly the further along you get. I was reading along very happily because they hadn’t fallen in love yet (my partner pointed out this has two hearts on the cover, one of red and one of blue) and it didn’t seem to be another irritating straight romance. Since there were lots of girlfriends and the blurb said things about unexpected relationships developing, I got excited! Then clearly nothing happened: basically she didn’t fall for the guy which was AMAZING, but then it’s all the scientists’ fault they were manipulating them. I basically want to give away the whole story because otherwise, like me, you will read two thirds of it and then say “Wow I wasted a lot of time reading that, when nothing has actually happened!”

I didn’t actually feel a connection with any of the characters. I hated the main actor character which may have been because he was a man. But perhaps I was supposed to hate him… or maybe it was because I just never emotionally connected with any of the characters. This was due to a number of factors, including jumping around between perspectives; a bit of the main character’s perspective, then a bit of each side character acting. These characters weren’t even 2D, the other girlfriends weren’t important and they were just distractions. That space could have been used to resolve Mary’s whole complicated emotional background about being an orphan, but instead the read is left drifting along aimlessly.

I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t recommend it and all I can think of is that maybe this is written so that people who have read The Secret can say “Oh look, perfect, this book says it has The Answers”. Maybe if they were suckers enough to get into The Secret then they might be suckers enough to enjoy this novel. I didn’t. I finished it, but it was a struggle and I freely admit I speed read the last couple pages. I wish I hadn’t wasted my precious reading time on it. 1 begrudging star.

Allen & Unwin | 28th June 2017 | AU $27.99 | paperback