How to Make a French Family: A Memoir of Love, Food and Faux Pas

How to Make a French Family: A Memoir of Love, Food, and Faux PasHow to Make a French Family: A Memoir of Love, Food, and Faux Pas by Samantha Verant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This memoir is a charming story of American Samantha Verant falling in love with Jean-Luc, whom she met twenty years previously in Paris and whom she then tracked down thanks to the miracle of the internet to send him the link to a series of blog posts that she had written and a long overdue letter, with love ultimately developing between the two.
Half memoir, half cook book, Verant weaves a take of her first contacts with Jean-Luc, to their marriage and her relocating to south western France. Charmingly open and honest about all her experiences, both the good and the confusing, this story follows her life over the course of several years.
Taking its cue from the many books that have come before it, there is really very little innovative in this story. It is a stock standard book in which Francophiles can get swept away with wishing and dreaming for their own French prince and the perfect French fairy tale. Verant manages to make the people of France seem welcoming and open to her despite the many trip ups over pronunciation of the language which are often hilarious. She isn’t afraid to share her culture shock at moving to a culture so very different from her own and her rebellious spirit that dared to bring American culture to her staunchly French family.
Its impossible not to identify strongly with Verant as she shares both the joy of love and the heartbreak of infertility. She also gives a ringside seat to watching cross cultural step parenting up close and personal. She reveals the isolation an immigrant can feel in a new culture, as well as the excitement.
And is it possible that France doesn’t have bacon the way we do in North America? Her discussion of this reality makes me want to send a care package to France as soon as possible.

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See What I Have Done

See What I Have DoneSee What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a work of fiction about a real life event. It is about the brutal murders of Andrew and Abby Borden in Fall River, Massachusetts. Taking her cues from the actual crime timeline, Schmidt weaves a story creating a possible scenario about the events in 1892.
We are told the story from four points of view. Lizzie, whose memories are scattered, jagged and unreliable. Her older sister Emma who seems to surrender to her sister on anything of importance, Bridget, the servant who gives shaky testimony because she is so afraid and a stranger to the whole event, Benjamin, who drifts into the Borden sisters lives at the time of the murder and then years later.
This book is a strange mix of truth and creativity. Sometimes the writing is a confusing mix of madness, but that might just be the writing style used to convey the confusion of the story itself. It is like looking through a keyhole to a mystery and imagining all the possibilities. Going back and forth in time can make it difficult to keep track of everything at times.
Schmidt has written a book that swirls with vividness and assaults the senses. Language twists and turns, creating a storm, making it easy to lose your equilibrium. But in the end there was something so off kilter it threw the whole novel off balance. Some of the possibilities created by Schmidt left me disagreeing vehemently. For someone who knows nothing about this event in history, it wont leave you any clearer about the events that took place and parts of the events were covered in a perfunctory manner and others were overly laboured.
This is sure to be a hit because of the actual topic but it remains to be seen if it has longevity.

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Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Under Rose-Tainted SkiesUnder Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There have been several books in the last little while that have focused on girls with illness’. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon, (although it doesn’t deal with mental illness) and that book by Sophie Kinsella, Finding Audrey. All books have a young teen protagonist who, through one reason or another are dealing with illness that makes them virtual prisoners of their homes. All girls fall in love with the boy next door and find a kind of healing by the end of the book because of the boy. But here is why this book is the best of the bunch – in this one the girl saves herself. Sure, Norah is falling in love with Luke throughout the book, but its Norah who fights her demons and leaves the safe confines of her house for help. Its Norah deciding that medication was the right step to aide in her recovery that helps make the break through. Luke is just the carrot dangling in front of her. Its going to take therapy and taking medication before she can control her illness. The cute boy isn’t the cure, he is simply part of the story.
Under Rose-Tainted Skies is a book that gives a detailed look at mental illness that isn’t half hearted or done prettily with little flowers dotting the tops of the i’s. It shows the all encompassing nature of mental illness and the struggle to not let it overtake your life. This book has a love story, but its not an ‘insta-love’, its a friendship that grows with care and understanding. There are no quick fixes, no ‘insta-cures’. Its smart and its strong, very much like the main character herself. It has a hopeful ending without being unrealistic. Its entertaining without being sanctimonious.
Its a great read.

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Gone Girl

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What hasn’t been said about this book already?
In it we have two thoroughly unlikeable characters playing a game of cat and mouse with each other until the bitter end. There are twists and turns aplenty in this book and they just keep on a-coming. It begins to get really twisted when you start to feel sympathy for the characters who really don’t deserve it. Marketed as a mystery, there is a strong dash of psychological thriller in the mix.
Amy and Nick are the ‘perfect’ married couple, but as with any relationship, after five years a certain level of complacency had settled in. He had grown to take her for granted and she no longer wished to play the part of ‘the cool girl’. With over a year of suppressed rage from her and year of infidelity from him begins the unwinding of revenge that truly defies belief. At the base of this hostility are two people who feel misunderstood and neglected.
Broken into three main sections we see the story unfolding from Nick’s point of view, and then from Amy’s point of view and the final section is then taken from both of their points of view. The ultimate question is to wonder the journey from happily married to basically a hostage situation.
I understand why so many books are judged against this one – a truly terrific read.

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History Is All You Left Me

History Is All You Left MeHistory Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is engaging and emotional for the first three quarters but somehow loses its vitality and depth in the final quarter for me. Perhaps it was because I read the book in two sittings? Maybe I should have powered on through the night to read it in one?
Griffin is not coping with the tragic death of his ex-boyfriend Theo. Although if we are perfectly honest, Griffin hasn’t been coping with life in a fully functional way for the last couple of years. Griffin is still talking to Theo in his head even after the funeral. He has a list of oddities and rituals that he needs to complete to keep himself calm. Griffin feels that the only other person who can fully understand what he is going through is the boy that stole Theo away, Jackson. An unlikely friendship of sorts develops, leading to a whole mess of emotions and situations.
This book was gripping until it wasn’t. The relationships felt real until they felt forced. The friendships were viable until they became predictable. Silvera writes a delightful love story between Griffin and Theo told in flashbacks and then reveals the dark side of revenge and regret. We explore the raw grief and the aftermath of pain. The weather is the perfect foil to the whole book. The guilt that some many people feel about the death of Theo makes you understand the universal structure of guilt.
Theo is dead from the outset of this book, but feels a very real presence in the narrative. Jackson, the ‘other’ man is a little two dimensional for me and Wade, the third wheel in the initial group of Theo, Griffin and Wade plays a minor role until the end when he becomes little more that an obvious rebound man in Griffins life.
Mostly strong until the ending lets this book down.

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One Leg Over

One Leg OverOne Leg Over by Robin Dalton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One cannot help but think that afternoon tea with Robin Dalton would be a jaw dropping experience, what with the name dropping and titbits of information that she could introduce to the conversation. Dalton has lived an extraordinary life if this book is anything to go by, and some of the really interesting parts of her life were touched upon in only a paragraph or two, as if they were merely trivial parts to the story.
Originally from Sydney, Australia, Dalton moves to the UK in 1946, fitting in with high society and aristocratic types. The first two thirds of the book are give to the sharing of many varried tales of the people she shared life experiences with, both lovers and acquaintances. Although now, as with all memoirs, the significance of whom she interacted with is lost on the more modern readers. Her sense of adventure, her lack of comprehension of the value of money and her taste for living the good life all blend in together to make an interesting book.
The last third follows a more orderly path of her life and gives us an insight to a woman as tough and capable as she was daring and adventurous. Dalton is not afraid to use the female card to get what she wants and would probably bristle at the label or idea of being a feminist, of which she has no time for. She revels in her list of male conquests, with a list of lovers and marriage proposals as long as her arm.
This book speaks of a different life in a different time when the modern day rules we are hamstrung by didn’t exist and what rules and regulations there were were not so restrictive. Not shying away from heart break, Dalton leaves the impression that she knew how to make the most of life and took every opportunity to seize life and live it to the full.
I eagerly await my invitation to afternoon tea.

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The Hopefuls

The HopefulsThe Hopefuls by Jennifer Close

Beth and Matt are young Democrats who have just moved to Washington DC at the start of the Obama administration. Beth writes for a DC based gossip website and Matt is working in the government. Matt has aspirations of running for Congress one day and every decision he makes is with an eye to the end game. They become close friends with Jimmy and Ashleigh, who appear to be rising stars in the party and eventually they help manage Jimmy’s campaign to be on the Railroad Commission in Texas, his home state and a world away from what Beth and Matt have ever experienced. For close to a year we follow the two couples as they compete in a tough campaign which will exact a price on each of the foursome, taking marriages to breaking point.
This novel reminds me strongly of Primary Colours by Anonymous, which was a thinly disguised story of Bill Clinton’s run for the White House that came out in 1996. Without a doubt The Hopefuls has at its basis real people from whom inspiration has been drawn from. It is a very political book that pokes fun at the importance of politics and the industry that it spawns.
The characters are well drawn and the emotional meltdowns in the campaign are vivid. It isn’t hard to imagine that these circumstances have been real life for someone. The ending hints at the eternal journey that is politics.
Having had real life experience with political parties in two countries, it is not al all an unrealistic view of the life and the wanting, apparently, to make a difference in the world.
Insightful, entertaining and occasionally funny, this is a great novel.

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