We Were Liars

09/11/2015 at 4:57 AM (Books) (, , , , , , , )

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Source: Goodreads

Although the book fails to explain the origin of the title, E. Lockhart does manage to deliver an interesting twist in the tale with We Were Liars. It’s a shame that I saw it coming from a mile away but for those who have managed to remain oblivious, I will do my best to give the gist of the plot with no spoilers. The main character is this privileged girl called Cadence who appears to have fairly inconsequential problems. She is romantically interested in Gat, an Indian-American boy, who does not fit into the world inhabited by Cadence. Her family is so wealthy that they own a private island where she spends her summers with her cousins and outsider Gat. We Were Liars in spite of seeming like light hearted YA touches on themes of avarice, influence and materialism with a grim warning in its core. You expect a fun beach read but end up with a heavy-hitting fable.

The writing style is fragmented and chaotic all at once reminiscent of poetry. I know there are people who would hate this book because they would not be able to tolerate the artistic liberties taken by E. Lockhart in crafting her imagery and compelling narrative so creatively but surprisingly it didn’t bother me. What stood out most were the enthralling mini fairy tale retellings about the King’s daughters that mimicked the main storyline and paid homage to King Lear. Since the prose is executed so differently, it is something that requires an acquired taste. There are no shades of grey: you’ll either love it or hate it.

It seems that even Cadence is not privy to the secret the author is foreshadowing and unreliable as she has amnesia following a possible breakdown. The family surrounding her are full of deceit and that makes it hard to trust them to tell the truth about the upcoming big reveal. By the time we become aware of the big secret in We Were Liars, we can only be shocked by the plan that tragically backfired. Apparently this book has caught enough attention that there is a possibility of an upcoming film adaptation.

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The Year I Met You

09/08/2015 at 8:00 AM (Books) (, , , , , )

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Usually books by Cecelia Ahern bewitch me but The Year I Met You didn’t live up to the magic of PS I Love You or Thanks for the Memories. Perhaps it was the fact the main character, Jasmine, wasn’t very charming unlike her previous heroines and it deals with serious topics.

Jasmine has been put on gardening leave. Technically she has been fired from her job but in order to stop competitors from snapping her up, she has to wait out one year before she can start a new job. Luckily she is still paid while she waits out the year. This was the first time I came across the phrase and what it referred to. Who says fiction doesn’t impart knowledge? Because so far her job has been her life, Jasmine is clueless as to what to do with all her spare time.

Apart from her job, there’s one person she has vowed to protect all her life: her younger sister who has Down Syndrome. As a result when she realises her neighbour across the road is a shock-jock who once belittled people with her sister’s condition, he becomes an unwitting antagonist subject to the prejudices of her blind judgement. As the days go by and the social barrier she put up against her neighbours begins to crumble, Jasmine realises she may have not known the full story about Matt, who has himself has been put on gardening leave after his controversial chat show went too far on-air.

Jasmine has to contend with a returning adopted cousin whose memories of their childhood do not mirror her own and is also approached for a job by a handsome headhunter with whom she develops a budding but promising romance. If anything, The Year I Met You is about judgement and how appearances can often be deceiving.

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I Capture the Castle

09/07/2015 at 8:00 AM (Books) (, , , , , )

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Source: Goodreads

I took I Capture the Castle with me to Sri Lanka to while away the hours when it became too dark to spend time outdoors and bloodthirsty mosquitoes roamed around my grandmother’s garden. Dodie Smith was an author I had never heard of until one of the casual staff at work brought her to my attention. I was hooked from the first page but because I didn’t like the thought of it ending, I tried to spend as long as I could savouring it.

The main character of this story is a sixteen-year-old girl called Cassandra Mortmain who writes in her journal about her life in the castle that is her home with her somewhat unconventional and penniless family. Her father is a writer who was once hailed as a genius but he is suffering from writer’s block, her stepmother is a nudist who likes to commune with nature, her beautiful but scheming sister is waiting for a rich and eligible bachelor to sweep her off her feet, her younger brother is someone who we hear little about and the handsome servant boy appears to harbour an affection for Cassandra and works for the family for free. The interesting part begins when the owners of a mansion nearby come to live in it and happen to be two single brothers who end up bumping into Cassandra inadvertently while she is dying her clothes. However the two girls pursue the wrong brother cultivating sisterly rivalry and some misplaced suspicions along the way.

The word I would probably most associate with this book is whimsy. What I really enjoyed about I Capture the Castle were the journal entries reflective of Cassandra’s coming of age experience and was full of interesting pearls of wisdom giving voice to her thoughts on religion, reading and imagination. While the story reads like a Jane Austen tale with the two penniless sisters finding handsome suitors, I find much more charm in Dodie Smith’s writing.

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The Paying Guests

08/29/2015 at 8:39 AM (Books) (, , , , , , )

Set in post-war London, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters paints a bleak picture of how returning soldiers came back to no employment and most women were in mourning for lost sons or husbands. The pious Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter Frances, having once being members of the genteel class, are forced to take in lodgers, a young couple of the “clerk class” to maintain their stately home in South London. The arrival of up-and-coming and fashionable married couple Lilian and Leonard Barber transforms the path in life Frances resigned herself to of being her mother’s carer as their tenancy ends up with her becoming part of a love triangle and as a result also being entangled in a complicated murder case. Frances has always been good at keeping secrets but she cannot but help battling with her conscience when an innocent life is at stake.

The Paying Guests

Source: Goodreads

This is the first Sarah Waters novel I have read so Frances revelation about her sexual history surprised me given the attitudes of the time period the book was set in. I am not sure if The Paying Guests should be categorised as historical fiction or romance or suspense because it features all those themes. Strangely enough, this book just like The Last Dance is also about adultery but of the more emotional rather than physical sort although the latter isn’t ignored. The protagonist of this book, Frances, didn’t charm me being the hard-edged soul that she was. The whimsical Lillian Barber was a bit of an enigma to me especially her actions in the last part of the novel; were those motivated by love or selfishness or revenge? The character of odd Leonard Barber was the easiest to read. Mrs Wray seems far too close-minded and very judgmental when it comes to women behaving in ways contrary to her expectations. In more minute roles, other characters also feature: Lillian’s extended family, Leonard’s confidante and business associate, Charlie Wismuth, the immediate family of Leonard, Mrs Wray’s companion, Mrs Playfair and so on.

The Paying Guests starts quite slowly so I was expecting this to be a gruelling read until the affair was discovered. However after a new and unexpected friendship blossoms between Lillian and Frances, the plot starts to move faster due to developing frustrations and mounting passions. That being said there was a lot of dwelling and reflecting on unnecessary points making me feel The Paying Guests would be a better reading experience if reduced in amount of mundane detail.

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The Last Dance

08/26/2015 at 9:46 AM (Books) (, , , , , , )

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Source: Goodreads

So it turns out during my December vacation this year, I will be heading off to the exotic destinations of Spain, Portugal and Morocco with my cousins. This reminded me of The Last Dance, a present my sister’s boyfriend gave me for my birthday, because some of the most climactic action in the book takes place in the bustling alleys and bazaars of Morocco. So i’m pretty excited I have the chance to see this North African country in person.

The initial impression I had of The Last Dance was it was a spy thriller but as it progresses the romance takes precedence. The two main characters first meet at a ballroom dance where Stella has resorted to selling herself as a dance partner to earn an income. The mysterious Montgomery, who is charmed by Stella, organises a position for her as a governess at Harp’s End, home of the well-off Ainsworth family. I was wondering at this point if this was some kind of tribute to  Jane Eyre but I was wrong on that score.

Stella is responsible for tutoring Grace, the daughter of Douglas Ainsworth. Coming from an impoverished background and given her position, she struggles to fit in with the grand household or the servants as her employer insists dinners are taken with the family but she is still hired help. When Stella finally comes to face her married employer, she realises the family has a lot of secrets but the forbidden love that sparks between them becomes the hardest to conceal because this story is really about an affair. The palpable tension in the house after an accidental slip of the tongue by Grace almost drives Stella away but she somehow finds enough courage to accompany the family on a cruise to Morocco. As the setting is pre World War II, the trip turns out to be fraught with peril and conspiracy as her employer is not quite who she knew at Harp’s End. It turns out it was for the best Stella went on the cruise as she is able to enjoy a brief romance and witness events of significant importance before her world gets shot to pieces. While the sacrifice that is made is bittersweet, Fiona McIntosh gives birth to hope because of the way she reconciles the end.

The last impression I have of The Last Dance is that in spite of the not so savoury motivations of many of the characters, it was still entertaining.

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The French Lieutenant’s Woman

09/29/2014 at 10:26 AM (Books) (, , , , , , , )

Source: myvictorianbooks.blogspot.com

Source: myvictorianbooks.blogspot.com

I first encountered the The French Lieutenant’s Woman after finishing The Collector by John Fowles but had to return it to the library before I had the chance to finish. I gave it another go and was able to make it to the end of the book before it was time for overdue notices!

Sarah Woodruff is a governess who is looked upon with contempt by the  English community of Lyme Regis due to falling for a French naval officer who left her behind after he allegedly ‘ruined‘ her.  In spite of her pious employer’s warnings, she walks by the cliffs pining for her lost love.  Meanwhile Charles Smithson is a Victorian gentleman engaged to Ernestina , the daughter of a wealthy tradesman who is residing with her aunt Tranter  in Lyme Regis. After Charles accidentally stumbles across Sarah, he becomes fascinated by her history and tries to convince her  to go to London where her tale of scandal is less likely to be outrageous. But Sarah is not amenable to that particular course of action and asks Charles to compromise himself by meeting her in secret in order to give her emotional support while pretending she lacks the will to alter her life. During the course of these meetings, Charles begins to find himself falling for her despite warnings from her doctor that Sarah’s mind is not in the best state and may drag others down with her. 

You could be forgiven for thinking this is a tragic melodrama but now the story starts to veer off in a different track as the narrator begins to intervene in the novel and supplies three possible endings. Each offers a possible ending for Charles’s pursuit of Sarah: the first ends with Charles married to Ernestina without him explaining the details of his meetings with Sarah, the second with a recreation of a relationship with Sarah which hints of a future reconciliation, and the third with Charles ending partnerless deprived of both Ernestina and Sarah. The narrator explains the fairest way to end The French Lieutenant’s Woman is to present all the ways in which it could possibly end.

I think The French Lieutenant’s Woman is really clever and ingenious with all the interpretations given to the reader to finally conclude. But I feel it also shows the limitations of plot devices and how much authors are constricted by the rules governing writing. There are few authors who pushed through that boundary and Fowles was one of the early ones.

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The Rosie Project

08/21/2014 at 9:37 AM (Books) (, , , , , , )

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is my newly assigned book club read. Love finds you is the defining message in this marvellous tale full of hilarity which is narrated by the character of Don Tillman.

Don Tillman is an awkward and socially incompetent genetics university professor who decides to get married. Unfortunately he is extremely fussy and designs a sixteen-page questionnaire to eliminate undesirable candidates from the get go. This way he can ensure his potential wife is not a barmaid, a smoker or drinker and is always punctual.

Rosie Jarman is asked out by Don Tillman and she accepts. He finds out to his chagrin she fits all his undesirable criteria. To gently let her down, he offers to assist Rosie in finding out who is  her biological father. After all, he does have genetics lab facilities at his disposal.

While he spends time with Rosie, Don starts to find out the nuances of social cues and how to fit in properly. He starts to see how accepting Rosie has been while he has been discriminating. He even manages to get a second date for the first time in his life and avoid ice-cream taste issues. Perhaps Rosie Jarman fills the Wife Project candidate criteria after all?

We also are given insight into the life of Don’s best friend, Gene. His project is to sleep with one woman from every country in the world. Don’s understanding of social constructs or lack of it hinders him from understanding Gene is a jerk. Exposure to Rosie changes the way he observes the world and reacts to it.

In the Rosie Project, Don Tillman ultimately learns love is a master that you can’t fight with objectivity because it can deprive one of reason when it chooses to find you.

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The Wild Girl

08/14/2014 at 11:33 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Romance) (, , , , , )

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Kate Forsyth intrigued me once with her spellbinding retelling of Rapunzel in Bitter Greens. When I saw she authored The Wild Girl, I did not hesitate. This time, she explores the story of Dortchen Wild who is credited as having told many of the fairy tales belonging to the collection of the Brothers Grimm.

Set against the backdrop of the German kingdom of Hessen-Kassel in the early nineteenth century, we learn about boy next door Dortchen fell in love with the first time she saw him, her best friend’s brother, the poor but handsome scholar Wilhelm Grimm, who has returned from Marburg. War interferes in their newly budding romance because Napoleon’s army conquers their kingdom, takes over the palace of the Kurfürst and begins an oppressive regime setting French decrees. So the Grimm brothers embark on a mission to preserve the folk tales of their heritage and publish them in a book.

Dortchen, having grown up in the care of Old Marie, knows several beautiful old stories. These include Hansel and Gretel, The Frog King, All Kinds of Fur and Six Swans. She has to tell them to Wilhelm in secret as her tyrannical father opposes her plans to get married to Wilhelm and as the story progresses we learn it is for the darkest of reasons. Although their ardour deepens, Dortchen has to guard a dark secret but Wilhelm remains mostly oblivious even when she tells him the truth in the guise of a story. For Dortchen, as time passes and all of her sisters find husbands, marriage to Wilhelm seems an unlikely outcome.

Does this teller of fairy tales who has her heart trampled and spirit wounded get her happy ending? You’ll have to read The Wild Girl to find out. This may be a darker forbidden love story but both the protagonists have better fates than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

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A Room with a View

06/13/2014 at 1:40 PM (Books, Classics, Movies, Romance, Romance, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

It has been so long since I posted here. I feel like I’ve renewed a friendship with someone who had drifted away. Now the cold winter months are approaching and the sky is pitch dark by 6 PM, blogging seems like less of a geeky, couch potato activity to do on a Friday night. It also distracts me from food in the fridge because while many are increasing their waistline in winter by eating carb-piled comfort food, I’m doing the opposite by depriving myself.

In terms of reading exploits, my latest read was A Room with a View by author E. M. Forster, who also wrote A Passage to India. While the book is meant to be a comedy of manners with its cast of medieval and renaissance characters and employment of witty, humorous dialogue, I didn’t find it as entertaining as expected.

It narrates the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a free-spirited but sheltered young middle-class lady, who has her rigid, ordered life thrown off balance after visiting Florence with her chaperone and older uptight cousin Charlotte leads to a meeting with the Emersons. Other unconventional characters residing in the Pension Bertolini opens Lucy’s eyes to differences between ingrained archaic, repressed Edwardian morals and emerging liberal social values through the author’s cleverly contrasting England’s staidness with Italy’s vitality. She ultimately learns propriety can mask the truth and beauty can be found by not conforming to etiquette. This new knowledge affects Lucy’s structured plans as she has discovered that social boundaries are arbitrary. In the end with a fitting dramatic conclusion, Lucy decides to follow her own heart in regards to love and chooses her own destiny and defies convention. The most interesting thing is that while we are allowed into the minds of all the characters, save the two Emersons who remain an enigma.

I have not watched the movie adaptation of A Room with a View starring Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch so I cannot personally comment but here’s a film review by Roger Ebert to present some perspective on the film.

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Dear John

09/11/2011 at 2:01 AM (Books, Movies, Romance, Romance, War) (, , , )

Dear John Book Cover

We meet John who enlisted in the Army because he rebelled at school and then dropped out due to conflicts with his gentle and unassuming father who was unable to converse about anything except his one passion: coin collecting. He drifts on with life until he meets and falls in love with Savannah at the beach one day. Their initial spark for each other quickly blooms into love. Savannah, a special education student, alerts John up to the possibility his father may have a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome which enables him to mend bridges with his Dad (who in my opinion is the true hero of this book). But the time John has with Savannah is short lived as he is in the military and has to finish his tour of duty. This book by Nicholas Sparks points out how the lives of soldiers are so different from those of civilians and how difficult it is for love to progress normally in those circumstances.

They exchange letters that speak from the heart during his service and the time for John to reunite with his girl draws closer. They have one brief meeting before he goes on leave again but he feels the nature of their relationship has changed and then Savannah confesses she had a difficult time of it after his departure. But then tragedy strikes in the form of September 11. He feels compelled to re-enlist to display his patriotism but this time he receives a blow to the heart from the girl of his dreams – she has fallen in love with someone else during their long separation. The letter he receives makes him reel with shock and realises the life he had planned has changed course because even if Savannah has moved on, he’s still in love with her. After he returns home, he decides to visit her after making some inquiries and realises that he made a mistake when it turns out her husband is an old friend and a patient in the local hospital. Although he is permitted to have a future with her from her ill husband (which I thought was patronising even if he was sick), John decides to show his love in a more courageous manner by sacrificing it.

This is why this book often gets described as a tearjerker. I did cry once when I was reading but John and Savannah felt pretty secondary to me. Their love story was bittersweet and if I’m to be honest, I thought Savannah exhibited a lot of selfishness. So I find it a waste that John is left to pine over the girl who betrayed him after spending the money obtained by selling his father’s amassed coins on her future instead of looking after his own. I think that was not the author’s intention but that’s my interpretation. The scene during which I cried was that of John’s father’s funeral because so few people knew his true worth.

Note I know there is a film on it but I have not seen it so you have to rely on the following links for thoughts on that:

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