Friday, April 29, 2016

Review: The Atomic Weight of Love

Title: The Atomic Weight of Love
Author: Elizabeth J. Church
Publisher: 3 May 2016 by Algonquin Books
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction
My Rating: 3.5 cups


In the spirit of The Aviator’s Wife and Loving Frank, this resonant debut spans the years from World War II through the Vietnam War to tell the story of a woman whose scientific ambition is caught up in her relationships with two very different men.

For Meridian Wallace--and many other smart, driven women of the 1940s--being ambitious meant being an outlier. Ever since she was a young girl, Meridian had been obsessed with birds, and she was determined to get her PhD, become an ornithologist, and make her mother’s sacrifices to send her to college pay off. But she didn’t expect to fall in love with her brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. When he’s recruited to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to take part in a mysterious wartime project, she reluctantly defers her own plans and joins him.

What began as an exciting intellectual partnership devolves into a “traditional” marriage. And while the life of a housewife quickly proves stifling, it’s not until years later, when Meridian meets a Vietnam veteran who opens her eyes to how the world is changing, that she realizes just how much she has given up. The repercussions of choosing a different path, though, may be too heavy a burden to bear.

Elizabeth Church’s stirring debut novel about ambition, identity, and sacrifice will ring true to every woman who has had to make the impossible choice between who she is and who circumstances demand her to be.  

My Thoughts

"By marrying them we tacitly agreed to a contract in which we would sublimate. They did not have to subjugate - we did that for them."

This is a deep and thoughtful reflection on the life of women from a different generation. Church's book is very well written and at times, quite unusual with its mixture of history, culture, science and art. At its heart, it investigates the role of women in the 50s and 60s and the sacrifices they made once married. Goals, dreams, talents were all forgotten as they followed where their husbands led. 

The book also delves into a range of other topics. It extends the whole marriage theme and evolves it into the pursuit of empowering women. Other topics that are richly considered include: science and the atomic bomb; Vietnam war and returned soldiers; hippy lifestyle; ornithology, namely the study of crows; and generational love. All in all, I found the writing to be superior:

"the first snowfall begin as a light, dry powder and morph into those luscious, fat, lazy flakes that sashay downward and accumulate into weighty drifts."

This is the story of a young Meri who falls in love with a professor. He marries her and takes her away Los Alamos where he will pursue his scientific career. His career and life are to take precedent, and so Meri finds she has to abandon her own dreams to become the dutiful housewife. This then takes the expected route - Meri is miserable, doesn't relate to any of the other wives, ends up finding love elsewhere, and ultimately in the end reinvents herself. 

A distracting issue is the big jumps that begin around the middle of the book - these were hard to follow and did not allow for substantial plot development. Too much time was passing too quickly and some things were glossed over rather rapidly instead of delving into the events that shaped these people's lives. It was also in parts extremely scientific:

"The experiment involved bringing a hollow hemisphere of beryllium around a mass of fissionable material."

Overall, however, the author provides prose that is poignant, as she attempts to correlate Meri's life with that of the crows she studies - how she struggles to find her wings, let go and take flight. Church provides the reader with many thought-provoking issues, at the heart of which is the examination of the sacrifices women make and the courage needed to take that solo flight.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Review: A Drop in the Ocean

Title: A Drop in the Ocean
Author: Jenni Ogden
Publisher:  3 May 2016 by She Writes Press
Pages: 300 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary, womens fiction
My Rating: 4 cups


On her 49th birthday, Anna Fergusson, Boston neuroscientist and dedicated introvert, arrives at an unwanted crossroads when the funding for her research lab is cut. With her confidence shattered and her future uncertain, on impulse she rents a cabin for a year on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. However Turtle Island, alive with sea birds and nesting Green turtles, is not the retreat she expected. Here she finds love for the eccentric islanders who become her family; for Tom, the laid-back turtle whisperer; and for the turtles whose ancient mothering instincts move her to tears. But Anna finds that even on her idyllic drop in the ocean there is pain, and as the months fly past her dream for a new life is threatened by a darkness that challenges everything she has come to believe about the power of love. Evocative and thought-provoking, A Drop in the Ocean is a story about second chances and hard lessons learned in the gentlest of ways."

My Thoughts

"I simply carried on in the same old way because that's all I know. I'm a fraud. I've always known it deep down, and now I've been sprung."

It was refreshing to read a book about an older woman and the issues she was facing. Anna is 49 years old, an introvert, research scientist who has just had her funding cut. Wondering what is next in life for her, she decides to journey to a remote island off the Australian coast for a year. Throughout the year Anna will meet new friends, fall in love, but more importantly, make a journey of self discovery. Immersing herself in island life, Anna helps with the turtle research and becomes involved with other islanders in their daily lives. 

One cannot help but appreciate the amount of research Ogden has gone into for this story. I enjoyed learning about the marine conservation efforts for turtle research and the very real issues surrounding Huntington's disease. 

It is written so well it reads like a biography, even autobiography. You will listen to Anna and the array of emotions that run through her over the course of the year. Life on the coral cay was idyllic and, even when Anna travelled to visit her mother in Scotland, I likewise enjoyed the Shetland island descriptions - two extremes in island living.  

The characters are real and the plot engaging, as you journey with her in learning that life at 50 can really only be just beginning. It was anything but:

"A pedestrian account of a dried up, middle-aged academic's broken dreams."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Review: Eligible

Title: Eligible 
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Publisher: 19 April 2016 by Random House Publishing Group
Pages: 512 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: contemporary, retelling, romance
My Rating: 4.5 cups

This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . . 

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, ELIGIBLE both honors and updates Austen’s beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.

My Thoughts

"Did you just make a joke? I hadn't realised you had a sense of humor."

I devoured this novel! What a hoot! It was so much fun. This truly was modern day satire at its best - the writing is sharp, with clever, dry humour. Sittenfeld is true enough to the original source in essence, but brings a fresh, modern cultural feel to it. I was always amazed by how events I knew would occur were presented in this refreshingly modern interpretation. Knowing Pride and Prejudice as well as I do, it was fun to see how Sittenfeld bought them into the 21st century. I was eager to see how various characters or scenarios would be transported and it was always cleverly done.

"Even if you hadn't screwed over Jasper and Jane, I'd never want you to be my boyfriend," Liz said. "And even if you hadn't just insulted my looks, my personality, and my family."

This is a contemporary retelling so be warned! I believe that purists will not like this interpretation. Even if you are a fan, I think it is imperative that you go in with an open mind and view it as the fun jaunt it is. It is revisiting old friends but in today's society. The story and wit is there, but it's definitely not for the squeamish. If references to "ST" (sexual tension), 'hate sex' and use of sex toys puts your head in a spin - beware the fainthearted!

"The dude had had a god complex since he was twenty years old. What a wanker."

Sittenfeld makes it her own. It's seemingly long page length (500+ pages) will simply fly by. The chapters are short (sometimes a paragraph!) and will entice you to read just that little bit more. Even if you know nothing about Austen's original tale, you will find this a standalone piece of literature readable and very enjoyable. 

My only criticism is that some of the events and behaviours were a trifle over the top and overt in their modernising. And the last chapter (chapter 181 if you don't mind!) - well, I have no idea why that was included? I found the mechanics of the 'behind the scenes' of the filming a bit too descriptive. Overall, however, I found that Sittenfeld took her superior writing skills and produced a fine piece of literature. 

"It was like she was being pelted with a magnificent hail, and she wished she could save the individual stones to examine later, but they'd exist with such potency only now, in this moment."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Review: Precious Things

Title: Precious Things
Author: Kelly Doust
Publisher: 1 April 2016 by Harper Collins AU
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 3.5 cups

In the tradition of gloriously absorbing, lush and moving women's fiction by authors such as Kate Morton, Lucinda Riley and Joanne Harris comes PRECIOUS THINGS.

Normandy, France, 1891: a young woman painstakingly sews an intricate beaded collar to her wedding dress, the night before her marriage to someone she barely knows. Yet Aimee longs for so much more ...

Shanghai, 1926: dancing sensation and wild child Zephyr spies what looks like a beaded headpiece lying carelessly discarded on a ballroom floor. She takes it with her to Malaya where she sets her sights on a prize so out of reach that, in striving for it, she will jeopardise everything she holds dear ...

PRECIOUS THINGS tells the story of a collar - a wonderful, glittering beaded piece - and its journey through the decades. It's also the story of Maggie, an auctioneer living in modern-day London, who comes across the crumpled, neglected collar in a box of old junk, and sets out on an unexpected mission to discover more about its secret and elusive past.

Maggie has a journey of her own too. Juggling a demanding job, a clingy young child and a rebellious stepdaughter, and with her once-solid marriage foundering under the pressure of a busy life, Maggie has to find out the hard way that you can't always get what you want... but sometimes, you're lucky enough to get precisely what you need.

This is a wonderful, absorbing and moving novel about desire, marriage and family, telling the story about how we so often reach out for the sparkly, shiny things (and people) we desire, only to realise - in the nick of time - that the most precious things are the ones we've had with us all along. 

My Thoughts

"Who would have worn it? she mused aloud. 'And what would it have seen?"

Precious Things is an involved an intricate story, revolving around a beaded piece of collar work. Although the story keeps returning to the story of Maggie in London, chapters charter the journey of the the collar from creation to destruction:

1891 - Aimee - France
1926 - Lexi a trapeze artist recreates the collar into a headpiece/coronet - Shanghai
1926 - Zephyr finds it in Malaya
1931 - Vera (twin sister to Zephyr) steals the coronet - London
1953 - Vera's stepson, Christian Hunt uses it - Rome
1957 - Isabella - Rome
1973 - sold to a gypsy - London
1974 - given to a model who wears it on photo shoots - Istanbul, New York
2015 - given up as part of a auction lot where it comes into Maggie's hands.

My! My! That is quite a list. Lots of places, characters, plots, dramas. Doust has some good ideas and intentions but, in my opinion, struggled to execute it in trying to cover everything listed. Without this list at the end of the novel, it is difficult to trace the links from person to person. Passages/chapters are left up in the air, links are often tenuous at best and far fetched at worst. I just think Doust bit off a little too much with the novel and, whilst it is good, the spotlight of the coronet is often lost amongst the plot of so many storylines.

The majority of the tale focuses on Maggie, her family and work life. Once the coronet comes into her possession, she embarks on a quest to find out the mystery surrounding it's history after being approached by Francesca who claims to have possessed the coronet sometime in her past. Now, that in itself was an interesting story to write.

Doust has tried to create a tale that is engaging on a number of levels. With more time being dedicated to Maggie – juggling motherhood, marriage and career - but nothing essentially to do with the coronet unless you subscribe to the theory of the coronet impacting upon the owner. There are some interesting tales which I would have loved to have seen fleshed out more, for example Lexi's story. At times, these lesser characters tale is too fleeting and I would love to learn more about their story. 

I picked this book up as the premise is so interesting and appealing - to trace the story behind particular old antiques/pieces - what have they witnessed? And although Doust has done a good job, I think by narrowing the field somewhat, it could have created more impact. 

"Wearing something with history gives us a connection to the life of the people who owned the piece before - it's a deep, almost tangible connections to the mystery of the object."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Review: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Title: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Author: Phaedra Patrick
Publisher: 7 April 2016 by Harlequin (UK) Limited Mira UK
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: general fiction adult, contemporary
My Rating: 5 cups


Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater-vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden. 
But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam's death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam's possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he's never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife's secret life before they met—a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places. 
Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters with big hearts and irresistible flaws, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a curiously charming debut and a joyous celebration of life's infinite possibilities.
My Thoughts

"You will find out the stories of the charms one by one, yes?"
"Oh, this isn't a search," Arthur stated. "I was just curious ...".

And so it begins. I personally requested this book of the publisher and I am so glad I did, I just had that feeling. Arthur Pepper (don't you just love the name) will steal your heart with his warmth and loveable attributes. He is just such a sweetie you can't help but love him and all the ventures he goes on in pursuit of uncovering his wife's past. This book is beautifully written with humour and feeling; it will stay with you after you have turned the final page. 

"Where once Miriam was their sun and he their moon, Dan and Lucy were now distant stars in their own galaxies."

Your heart goes out to Arthur as he goes through the motions of his daily routine until the discovery of the charm bracelet. Yes, he wishes to discover the missing pieces to his wife's story, but in truth, this is more about Arthur and the discoveries he makes are of himself and finding purpose and a reason to live once more.

"Move on? Like to bloody where? He was sixty-nine, not a teenager who could go to university or on a gap year. Move on. He sighed as he shuffled into the bedroom."

The shock Arthur felt upon discovering that his wife led a whole different life before they met is profound. His emotions, as he embarks upon discovering the story behind each her charms, is just beautiful and you slowly watch him grow and change with each new discovery. It's like two stories - one of his wife Miriam and seeing Arthur go from caterpillar to butterfly. 

"Except that everything wouldn't be normal again, because this search had stirred something inside of him. This was no longer just about Miriam. It was about himself too. He was experiencing emotions he didn't know existed ... he wasn't ready to rot away in his armchair mourning his wife."

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a winner, an absolutely delightful book. From the very first page Patrick drew you in, creating a story with depth and emotion. You will travel right alongside Arthur and will feel a real sense of accomplishment at all he did achieve. 

"I am learning more about myself too," he admitted. "With each person I encounter, with each story I hear, I feel as if I am changing and growing."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Review: Mercy Street

Title: Mercy Street
Author: Tess Evans
Publisher: 1 January 2016 by Harper Collins AU
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: general fiction, Australia, contemporary
My Rating: 3 cups

A tender, sweet and funny novel from bestselling novelist Tess Evans.

A delightful, sweet and funny novel from bestselling novelist Tess Evans, MERCY STREET tells the heartwarming story of curmudgeonly pensioner George, who, since his wife's death three years ago, is living a life that is no more than the sum of his 'worn-out, washed out days'. While his marriage to Pen was a happy one, they never had children, so his life has narrowed to trips to the shop, occasional visits from his bossy sister Shirl and afternoons in the pub with his old mate Redgum.

But one day, everything changes when Angie, a nineteen-year-old single mother, unexpectedly saves his life. George grudgingly acknowledges his debt to her, and later, when Angie asks for a favour, he has no choice but to agree. Gradually George's life begins to blossom, until Angie's fecklessness unexpectedly sets him on the wrong side of the law. It takes all of his love and courage, and friends both old and new, for George to deal with a very unexpected turn of events.

A novel about mistakes, accidental families, and the transformative power of love, from the bestselling author of BOOK OF LOST THREADS, Tess Evans.

My Thoughts

I have mixed thoughts on this book. On the one hand I very much enjoyed how Evans explored the concept of families and what that entails in todays world. On the surface it looks to be sweet and affirming of what can transform our thoughts and lives. On the other hand, I have some real issues with the resolution and its timing. It is a very Australian-Victorian (state in Australia) read and some references may get lost on some readers:

"They might have batted for Australia, played full-forward for the Blues" or "Choc Wedges"
(cricket, football, ice-creams)

Credit is to be given to Evans for touching on a range of pertinent and heartfelt topics: family and parental responsibilities, domestic violence, ageing, infertility, media influences, grief and loneliness, drug use - just to name a few. That alone is quite brave and although no one issue is dealt with in any detail, I think in fairness, Evans does a reasonable job considering the breadth of issues. Some are taken seriously, whilst others contain a hint of humour.

"Take people as you find them. That's what I always say.'
'Live and let live.'
'Too right.'
The two philosophers stare into their ale. If only everyone thought as they did. The world would be a better place, that's for sure."

I have issues, however, with how the conflict was resolved. I was not happy with the outcome yet that may very well just be my personal opinion. Without giving anything away (for I was rather shocked) I was saddened and thought it dealt with too quickly and too lightly, for what really were serious consequences. It was not trivial, yet given the short attention paid to it, I did not think it fair or right. I don't dispute that it was very 'Australian' - raw and brutal at times (this was no Hollywood ending), however for it to be credible, I believe more time needed to be given in exploring such a conclusion. However, like I said, that may just have been me and upon reflection others may have felt differently about characters dilemmas and the resulting choices that were made. 

"He doesn't want to become dependent. You never know what might happen if you give in to that sort of thing."

So Mercy Street is a novel that needs quiet consideration. It's easy to read but not easy reading at times. There will be conflicting opinions given the perspective that a person is coming from. Evans remains quite neutral in her role as narrator which is exemplary given the hot topics under discussion. It's a thought provoking and a poignant tale set in modern day Australian suburbia. 

"The thought comes unbidden and he pauses before continuing. 'It's all give and take,' he says,'In the end, that's what life is."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.