review: It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell

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Andie’s story was, at its core, all too familiar to me. Not the unhappiness of her childhood or her obsession with sweets – but at the heart, her comforting herself with food? Her untreated depression? Her discomfort in her own body? I felt those intensely.

For me, it’s not sweets… it’s cheese, sour cream, chips. Basically, a plate of nachos. It’s my kryptonite and has been ever since I first tasted “7 layer dip” as a kid. Through high school, I comforted myself with food – bags of chips dipped into containers of sour cream was the fave.

To read about Andie’s frustration with herself was intense for me – and I believe it would be for anyone who suffers/suffered from an eating disorder. And her journey toward better health – both mental and physical – was lovely and felt true. It was a bit glossed over (I started walking and lost 135 pounds…) and I definitely don’t think that eating everything in moderation is possible for everyone – or even most people. But it worked for Andie.

Not to mention, she met Leonardo DiCaprio. As someone who went to Titanic six times in the theatre, heavily related. If I touched his back, I think I’d faint. Congrats, Andie. Get it girl.

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review: The Lost City of Z by David Grann

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This review does contain mild spoilers. It’s difficult to discuss this book without them. Read at your own risk, you guys.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – David Grann should write ALL THE BOOKS ALL THE TIME.

Grann is the ultimate in detectives, tracing the path of one Percy Harrison Fawcett (PHF to friends and family), who, along with his son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh, disappeared into Amazonia while searching for the fabled city of El Dorado (or as Fawcett called it, simply, “Z”). Fawcett and his team vanished in 1925, so it’s unlikely that any traces of them will ever be found, but what about Z? Grann sets out on a quest to follow Fawcett’s footsteps, and that’s where our journey begins.

Fawcett was, by all accounts, a fascinating, complicated and driven individual, with a singular ability to survive in the Amazon rainforest, as well as to communicate with the Indian tribes that so threatened exploration at the time. One of Fawcett’s many flaws was his inability to understand that others may not have his stamina (he called one member of his team who drowned in a river a “rotter, typical waster” and was appalled that another wanted to stop because their body was infected by maggots… the nerve!) but the end result normally worked in his favour. His explorations came in under time and under budget, and he was a hero of the Royal Geographic Society.

Grann speaks with Fawcett’s existing relatives, reads through his journals and other documents, and manages to find out what others hadn’t. but wait, there’s more…

review: Diana: Portrait of a Princess by Jayne Fincher

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This is an exquisite book about Lady Diana Spencer – who was oft-called “the most photographed woman in the world”.

Jayne Fincher actually seems to care about Diana and knew her – something I think that is lacking in most books that were written hastily in the wake of Diana’s untimely death. She even dedicates the book to the memory of Diana, something I think is important – most of the so-called “tribute” books were written by either publications that used to benefit from the paparazzi’s stalking of the princess, or by people who didn’t know her personally at all.

I was 14 when Diana died, and was devastated by it – she was a personal hero, and I grew up fascinated by her life, her emotions that always seemed so close to the surface and her troubled relationships, be it with her family or her ex-husband. I adored how much she adored her children, how she protected them and raised them to be the men they now are (I often think how proud she would be of William and Harry).

Fincher’s book is more than just a collection of gorgeous photographs (and they are gorgeous – Diana certainly was!) – it’s also a loving remembrance of a woman, a mother and a philanthropist. I think it’s a tribute Diana would have appreciated, given it was written with grace, gentleness and above all, compassion.

review: Affinity by Sarah Waters

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Lyrical, gripping, melancholy, heartrending and sensual – Affinity is one of Sarah Waters’ best novels, and also one of her most depressing. I believe even Waters herself admitted to being eager to escape from the dank, grey walls of Millbank Prison.

Affinity is the story of Margaret Prior:

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Margaret is “lady visitor” recovering from a suicide attempt due to the death of her father and the death of her romantic hopes. She is counseling female prisoners who have found themselves heading toward a dark path.

While at Millbank, Margaret meets a young “medium” named Selina Dawes, and her beauty, stillness and mystery intrigues Margaret, bringing her back to the prison day after day to visit with her.

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Desperate and filled with longing, Margaret is convinced by Selina to help her escape from Millbank, and in true Waters fashion, nothing is as it seems. Margaret’s final thoughts are truly heartbreaking, because you know she had finally imagined herself free, in love, unconstrained by “false boundaries” — and yet the dream was never quite what Margaret believed.

‘It is a world that is made of love. Did you think there is only the kind of love your sister knows for her husband? Did you think there must be here, a man with whiskers, and over here, a lady in a gown? Haven’t I said, there are no whiskers and gowns where spirits are? And what will your sister do if her husband should die, and she should take another? Who will she fly to then, when she has crossed the spheres? For she will fly to someone, we will all fly to someone, we will all return to that piece of shining matter from which our souls were torn with another, two halves of the same. It may be that the husband your sister has now has that other soul, that has the affinity with her soul—I hope it is. But it may be the next man she takes, or it may be neither. It may be someone she would never think to look to on the earth, someone kept from her by some false boundary…’ – Selina Dawes

review: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

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One major reason I love Sarah Waters’ books is that she paints such a rich history for women. I love how she features lesbians and lesbian life throughout history. There is much written about men and gay men (natch, why shouldn’t men take over literature too?) and yet, not a lot of quality, compelling, raw, devastating and accurate prose written about women, women who loved other women. It’s so important that we have Sarah Waters.

The Night Watch is my favourite Waters novel. It’s perfect. Everything about the way she constructed the book, everything about the editing of it, the descriptions of World War II and its aftermath (gah, I can’t get over how well she writes period dramas, without delving into cliched tropes), the characters, the relationships. It’s perfection, beginning to end.

And oh, how I adored the people we met.

Gentle, vicious, frustrating, frustrated, impulsive, silly Helen.

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Noble, complicated, intelligent, miserable Kay.

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Gorgeous, devastating, intimidating, wealthy Julia.

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Irrepressible, disappointed, beautiful, melancholy Viv.

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Interestingly, Waters chose to begin this novel at the end, and go back in time to find out how our characters came to be where and who they are. It’s a frustrating tactic (because in a way, we’ll know all we know by the first act) but an effective one, as Waters peels the onion slowly and lyrically.

She brings wartime London alive with precision and grace, and her characters stumble through their lives, never quite making the right decisions, never quite realizing where they will end up. The relationships are so skillfully woven here, and the vividness of certain scenes and images still stick in my mind.

By the end, you might feel a little cheated – I did when I first read it- but I now choose to marvel at how Waters unraveled their stories and how she showed what was truly vital for us to know – after all, hindsight is 20/20, and these characters never knew and might never have dreamt, where they’d be after the war.

Were they would be after those rash decisions, when it seemed as though the world would end – but then, it didn’t.

review: Beneath the Skin by Nicci French

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This review contains mild spoilers, though I tried to allude rather than reveal.

What made (makes) this book so beautiful to me is twofold.

1. The casual elegance of the writing. Nicci French (for the purpose of just plain not feeling like typing out two names, I will ignore that this is a pseudonym and just pretend it’s one author) is brilliant at sketching characters that feel like real people and for using spare, simple and yet beautiful prose. I really love her style and always have. It’s especially evident in her earlier works and now in the Frieda Klein series.

2. The relationship between the three women, invisible, like a thread – but so strong that not even death shakes it. I thought this was a haunting river through the novel.

Beneath the Skin is not my favourite of French’s novels (that award goes to Land of the Living, but it is one of her best, in my opinion.

Zoe, Jenny and Nadia are three women with a horrible connection. but wait, there’s more…

review: Murder in Paradise by Francine Pascal {Sweet Valley High Super Thriller #6}

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This is an awesomely cracked-out volume in SVH history.

Elizabeth, Jessica, Mrs. Wakefield, Enid, Lila and Mrs. Fowler all head to a spa for a “retreat”. While there, they notice that absolutely everyone on staff is stunningly beautiful. All but the actual owner of the spa, a Dr. Mueller, who is thoroughly creepy, looks vaguely like a frog, calls Jess and Liz her “beauties” and fawns over Alice Wakefield like a lesbian who hasn’t gotten any in about a dozen years.

Dr. Mueller ends up taking Enid beneath her wing, because boo hoo End isn’t as pretty as her friends and her Mom couldn’t make the trip because GASP she had to WORK (the nerve!) and Elizabeth is about as sympathetic about this as you’d imagine.

“Oh Enid, shut up, you’re adequate enough and you have a cute body… I guess. Sorry though, no time to chat, I have to go cheat on Todd with this guy I just met!” Liz trills, flipping her perfectly silky blond hair over one tanned, sculpted shoulder.

Yes, the twins are as insufferable as ever and Lila isn’t much better, interrupting what seems like a gorgeously relaxing mud bath to chase after some asshole she thinks is a celebrity… or something. It’s a sub-plot not worthy of Lila’s usual devilish glee over other people’s misfortune. She should be cackling about Enid’s ugliness, not passing up the chance to be wrapped in hot towels with her lover, I mean best friend, Jessica. (I can’t be the only person who thought Lila and Jessica were secret power lesbians, can I?)

Eventually, the truth is revealed! Tatiana Mueller is bat-shit crazy and she wants to steal Alice’s face so she can be beautiful at last! MUAH HA HA HA HA…

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Seriously satisfying romp, with enough of Liz being a total dick to please any Wakefield hater.

review: Lord and Master by Kait Jagger

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This is such a lovely book – smart, sexy, atmospheric, detailed and with a heroine who actually has *bottle*, imagine that. When he tells her what to do, she throws it right back at him. Without simpering or tripping over her own feet or lamenting at having a rich, sexy-as-fuck guy after her. All the tired tropes of these kinds of books are beneath Kait Jagger, and for that I’m thrilled.

I especially love Jagger’s sense of place, which is especially evident when the main characters spend a short sojourn in Florida. Everything from the mangrove trees, to the swampy water, the crystalline sand, cheap n’ tacky restaurants and the club scene – it’s so accurate. She’s as much at home there as she is in the chilly remains of the British upperclass. It’s a specific talent, and she uses it so well – I felt like I was present with Luna at every twist of the tale.

Everything was well developed, from the anterior characters to the slow burning love story between Luna and Stefan. Highly recommended, and I can’t wait for the sequel.

review: On Dublin Street by Samantha Young

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So here’s the thing.

This is the thing.

On Dublin Street gets four stars because the sex was crazy hot. The hero was also crazy hot.

BUT.

Let’s do a list, shall we?

The Good

1. The sex. Again, it was just molten. I don’t normally get at all excited by sex scenes in books because well, I spent my teen years reading Harlequins and after one penis-in-vagina moment, they’re all pretty much the same. But I could spend a few days reading about Braden dirty talking and not get bored. My only quibble was Joss’ ability to orgasm purely from penetration, which I think is a myth perpetuated by New Adult books and I just hope young girls don’t feel odd when they need a little hand or oral action during sex. It’s NOT ODD, ladies. It’s NORMAL. Yes, some lucky souls can come purely from intercourse, but they’re honestly not the norm and we can only envy them and move on.

2. Braden, in a way. He was slightly alpha (and the scene in the break room was right up my alley, rawr…) and I also enjoyed how he pretty much made fun of Joss constantly. I understood his initial interest in her, because she was a challenge, but after that… not so much. The guy is hot, rich, smart and owns half of Edinburgh. Not to mention he was actually pretty… nice? In other words, he’s a catch. He’s not going to put up with constant mind games, drama and (excuse this phrase, but it’s apt when it comes to Joss) cock teasing, without peacing out. He just isn’t.

The Not-so-good

1. Braden’s girlfriends. It’s always interesting to me in books when we’re supposed to still like a hero even though he dates vapid Barbies who are cruel to his sister and friends. What does it say about Braden that he dates these girls for months? What do they talk about? It’s just the kind of plot black hole that I loathe.

2. Joss. Straight-up, she’s pretty much a foul bitch to everyone she meets (including Ellie – and although Ellie is a Mary-Sue at heart, I still thought she seemed like a nice person and she had ACTUAL problems going on right that second, and yet Joss STILL couldn’t be there for her) and yet we’re expected to believe she has tons of friends and people love her and Braden just can’t stay away from her? It doesn’t compute.

I GET that Joss has issues – who wouldn’t with what happened to her. BUT it just doesn’t give her a free pass to be heinous to everyone.

Not to mention, she’s got piles of money but she pretends she doesn’t spend it (oh please, are you enjoying your $5,000 a month apartment and your designer dresses?), she works at a bar because she ‘wants to’ (suuuure, everyone loves menial service jobs), she can’t “love” Braden because… oh no, wait, she didn’t really have a reason beyond manufactured drama… ehhh, she’s just a pill. When she FINALLY gets a little self-awareness toward the end, it’s nice, but too little too late. She even manages to make Ellie’s crisis about her… how did she do that?

The only thing I really liked was how Samantha Young had Joss at the gym pretty much every day, because if there’s anything I hate more than slut-shaming in books, it’s a girl who eats like a truck driver but tee hee doesn’t work out. It’s unrealistic, it’s insulting, it makes girls feel like shit, and it’s beneath female authors to write about. Joss having to work for her body was refreshing.

3. Again, Joss and Braden’s relationship. The sex – yes. The relationship. I just don’t know. I didn’t believe he would stick around long enough to actually fall in love with her. She was way too hot and cold, way too mind gamey and way too bitchy. I feel like anyone would get tired of that eventually – girl or guy. And when she basically abandons her supposed best friend – his sister – when she’s found out life altering news? Yeah. Goooooodbye.

It sounds like all I did was complain about this book and yet I gave it four stars. It’s interesting – I really couldn’t put it down, and Braden was exactly the kind of hero I like… kept picturing Logan from Gilmore Girls for some reason…

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No idea why since he’s blond… I guess it’s that smirky rich boy thing.

Anyway, I’m not knocking On Dublin Street – it’s sexy hot, Braden’s smokin’ and it’s immensely readable. I guess it says it all that I ran to buy Down London Road doesn’t it?

review: Bought With His Name by Penny Jordan

boughtwithhisname {Source: GoodReads.com}

What a horrid romance… and I mean, in the best possible way. This is plain crack.

The heroine is a dumb bunny, and although in the beginning shows a bit of likable spark, by the end she’s a dizzy idiot, unable to even walk upright without falling over or feeling queasy(sort of like Bella from Twilight!). Every one of her issues could be cleared up by just explaining a misunderstanding, but she refuses to tell anyone the truth about anything.

The “hero” is a total asshole. And should be arrested. Not only does he threaten to rape the heroine numerous times, but he goes so far as to say he’s going to treat her like a prostitute (maybe someone should look into unsolved murders of prostitutes around where he lives… just a tip) and that if she continues to look at him the wrong way, he’s going to make their wedding night as horrific as possible. Real charmer. Of course the heroine falls in love with him for absolutely no reason and in the end, it turns out he loved her all along! That’s why he’s so tortured and manly and anguished!

Right.