Book Reviews

With life being a little crazy-but-good, there hasn’t been many opportunities to sit back and enjoy a good book. That being said, in the occasional stolen minute or two, I’ve gone through a few over the past few months. Some are old favourites, some are new favourites, some weren’t ever going to be a favourite but sometimes you just have to read something that’s going to make your brain soft, right? Here’s the round-up:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Book description: A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

My review: Three stars. The first thing I have to say is that the found photographs in this book are VERY disturbing. Holy creepy, 1800s. What is going on with the weird mime costumes? I wonder if people will look back in a hundred years at photos I’ve taken of X and think the same thing. I sincerely hope not.

The story itself surprised me, I think in a good way. It started off really moody and atmospheric, and I kind of thought it might be a weird magical realism type of thing, which I wasn’t sure I would have the fortitude to get through. But about halfway through it turned into sheer fantasy and the pace really picked up, definitely more my style.

But seriously – those photographs? Will live on in my nightmares.

The Undomestic Goddess, by Sophie Kinsella

Book description: Workaholic attorney Samantha Sweeting has just done the unthinkable. She’s made a mistake so huge, it’ll wreck any chance of a partnership. Going into utter meltdown, she walks out of her London office, gets on a train, and ends up in the middle of nowhere. Asking for directions at a big, beautiful house, she’s mistaken for an interviewee and finds herself being offered a job as housekeeper. Her employers have no idea they’ve hired a lawyer-and Samantha has no idea how to work the oven. She can’t sew on a button, bake a potato, or get the #@%# ironing board to open. How she takes a deep breath and begins to cope-and finds love-is a story as delicious as the bread she learns to bake. But will her old life ever catch up with her? And if it does…will she want it back?

My review: Four stars. I am a total sucker for this book, I unabashedly love it. I first read it as I was leaving law, so it certainly helped that it seemed to be corroborating all of my stereotypes about the horrible profession I was in. I have a very distinct memory of a birthday I had many years ago where, by chance and circumstance, I was entirely alone in Tuscany. I had this book and a bottle of chilled wine and the Italian sunshine. It proved to be a very nice afternoon. Yes, anything by Kinsella is fluff, but this is my favourite kind of fluff.

The Stripper’s Guide to Looking Good Naked, by Jennifer Axen, Leigh Phillips, Barbara McGregor

Book description: Strippers are the experts when it comes to getting nakedespecially when the topic is looking your best while wearing the least. Authors Jennifer Axen and Leigh Phillips are “regular” women who interviewed hundreds of strippers to uncover the real-life beauty secrets of baring it all. Their mission: to deliver these sexy trade secrets to women all over the world!The Stripper’s Guide to Looking Great Naked reveals how to walk, stand, and move with allure, and incorporate confidence and sex appeal into everyday lifewhether crossing the room during the day or slipping out of your clothes for that special someone at night. Here are quick, incredibly useful backstage tips for covering body blemishes, dealing with naked “emergencies,” and showcasing any body shape’s best features. This daring and fun illustrated guide reveals how any woman can use these racy but simple strategies to feel more confident, no matter what her state of undress, from the beach to the bedroom.

My review: I don’t know, three stars I guess? It’s a fine fluffy book that you can read in an afternoon, even with a baby on your hip. I just love reading about beauty tips, what can I say. There are some interesting ones in here, not all that I would follow. But one useful tip that I do use from this, which surprised me how well it worked: to avoid red bumps at the bikini line, whether shaving or waxing, use liquid deodorant. Weird but totally works.

Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles

Book description: On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

My review: Four stars. Incredibly stylish, I think this book perfectly depicts the era of pre-WWII America in all it’s brash determination to overcome the Depression and the hopelessness it brought. Or so I imagine, I wasn’t exactly there. Katey symbolizes the American dream, where one can rocket up the social strata with nothing other than wit, charm and the balls to go out and get what you want. One thing I did notice is that while everyone else seemed to pay the price for being rich, or trying to be so, Katey emerged through her journey unscathed and far better for it, both emotionally and materially. It makes her reminiscing on all other social climbers as a little snobbish … that might be my only beef with this book. But it is very beautiful and I think I’d say a must read for anyone who enjoyed The Great Gatsby.

Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

Book description: Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard. 

My review: Three stars. This book came highly recommended and I’ve been looking forward to reading it for months. Until I finally got a chance to pick it up and really read what it was about. Guys, it’s about the real event of the last person to be executed in Iceland, in the early 1800s. I had to stifle a groan (I probably didn’t stifle it). I mean, this is going to be a depressing book, right? WE KNOW HOW IT ENDS.

Now don’t get me wrong – Burial Rites is fantastically written. Kent clearly is amazingly talented. But yes, this book was depressing. There really wasn’t much plot (woman sits around waiting to die). There really isn’t that much character development (woman tells story about how she got to this point where she is waiting to die). The family around her changes their tune towards her, slightly, but her fate doesn’t change. This is a book about setting. If nothing else, I would love to go see Iceland, which sounds beautiful and it seems like everyone in Canada is experiencing right now due to Iceland Air’s awesome new promotion. But I would never go there in winter, because it might in fact be the most depressing place on Earth.

It just being the first few days of summer and all … I think I could use a book that’s a little perkier, is all.


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