Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Girl Who Chased the Moon (Sarah Addison Allen, 2010)

The Heroine: Emily Benedict, a high school senior that returns to her mother's hometown after her death in order to live with her mysterious grandfather and hopefully discover the secrets of her mother's past. Introverted, intelligent and people-pleasing, Emily is confronted with a truth about her mother that she never expected, along with a group of unusual new friends and hints of magic lingering around the town.

The Highs: The concept of the book is original and unique and I found it a very refreshing change. Though the book deals with difficult issues such as alienation, isolation and loss, the touches of magic like the Mullaby lights (mysterious glowing lights spotted around the town at night) and the sense of sweetness able to detect a baking cake lend a sense of lightness and humour that keep the story from seeming too serious. The mood is instead uplifting, hopeful and encouraging – a great, easy read for anyone who needs a pick-me-up.

I adore the author's use of suspense throughout the novel. After the first few introductory chapters, I found myself entrenched in the story and longing to know what would come next. A real highlight for me was the slow, intense growth of the relationship between Emily and Win Coffey. The romance had the same sort of Twilight – esque sweet intensity as Bella Swan and Edward Cullen (with the same sort of supernatural twist!) The romantic relationship between Julia and Sawyer was also very sweet to read about, with many "aww"- inducing moments.

I found myself very attached to Julia, a woman that befriends Emily and is the focus of half of the novel. I really related to her hardships, trying to overcome the misfit status she had created for herself as a teenager and become the woman she wants to be. Her story encompasses many uplifting lessons, like overcoming personal demons and being proactive in creating your own happiness.

The Lows: I found this read a little too quirky for my traditional tastes. Though light, enchanting and airy, I found it hard to comprehend some of the magical elements and I became confused as to whether this novel is classified as fantasy or realistic fiction. Perhaps I need to spend more time developing my creative side, but for those of you with active and engaged imaginations, this shouldn't be a problem.

I had a little trouble connecting to the protagonist, Emily. She is perfectly kind, quiet and docile – in short, one of those girls who is so nice and bland that they become a little boring. Without her relationship with the mysterious (and may I say, sexy?) Win, I probably wouldn't have been too interested in what happens to her. I also found it odd how easily she accepted all of the magical elements around her, like the ever-changing wallpaper in her mother's old bedroom. Personally, that would have really freaked me out!

I also would have appreciated a little more depth in the story. An improvement I would have loved would be flashback chapters inserted between the present-day chapters to the time of Dulcie Shelby (Emily's mother) and Logan Coffey. I would have absolutely loved that and I think it would have provided some additional suspense, tension and much-needed depth to this book.

Final Thoughts: If you're looking for something new and different, this is the book for you!

Rating: The Girl Who Chased the Moon earns six magical cakes out of ten. 

Buy 'The Girl Who Chased the Moon' on Amazon here
Connect to author Sarah Addison Allen here
Photo from here

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Virgin Cure (Ami McKay, 2011)

The Heroine: Moth Fenwick, the young daughter of a gypsy fortune teller living in the slums of New York City in 1871. Naive, innocent and yearning for a life outside of her means, Moth runs away from her position as a lady's maid to join a brothel specializing in virgins – a girl's virginity is worth much more to the men who hire courtesans. Entering a life of luxury and sin, Moth must choose between the creature comforts of life as a high-class prostitute or her morality.

The Highs: I love the plot of this novel. I have never read a book from the perspective of a prostitute and I found the inside look at a nineteenth-century brothel to be fascinating and fresh. I also appreciated the historical details incorporated into the novel, mainly in the form of the margin notes by Dr. Sadie, including a diagram on a corset's effect on internal organs, notes on the signs of syphilis and the story of the fabled "virgin cure". It provided a realistic element to the story that greatly enhanced reading.

I also loved the many secondary characters that made the story lively and interesting: Miss Rose Duval, an Moth's mentor prostitute; Mrs. Wentworth, the lady who tortures Moth when she worked as a maid and many of the circus performers at the Bowery. This book is also peppered with women who support early examples of feminism before the twentieth century, including a female doctor and a female business owner (though it is a brothel). I found it an interesting study in early modern women.

The fact that the author was inspired by her great- great- grandmother, a doctor in the 1800s who treated poor women and children, a largely ignored sector of society. As someone quite interested in history and family studies, I found the author's personal story (written in the Author's Notes) enchanting and delightful.

The Lows: I did not really care for the protagonist, Moth. I found her dull and lifeless, as well as under-developed. She doesn't have much of a personality and, at the end of the story, I didn't feel like I had a really clear understanding of who she was. While this can happen easily when a book is written in first person (as The Virgin Cure is), I expected more from an author who got such high acclaim for her previous book The Birth House.

I also found that she didn't focus enough attention on expanding the most interesting parts of the story, which were the subplots like the romance between Alice and Cadet, the conflict between Mrs. Wentworth and her husband and the inner working of a prostitute like Rose Duval. The story never did explain why Mr. Wentworth was so disgusted with his wife! I wish the author would have discarded scenes where Moth is begging on the streets in exchange for the more interesting and dramatic stories going on in the background. Perhaps the novel would have been improved even more if it had been from the perspective of another character altogether rather than on the lacklustre Moth!

I personally found that the writing, while technically good, lacked emotion and suspense. I didn't feel enraptured in the story, with the exception of the very last chapters, and I certainly had no interest at what happened to Moth. The lack of suspense in the story really hurts its appeal; there is no mystery to keep you turning the pages.

Final Thoughts: While the plot and concept of The Virgin Cure is interesting and appealing, I found the story lacking and consequently it took me awhile to get through this book. Maybe I'm a cold-hearted witch, but I didn't feel anything for Moth's plight.

Rating: The Virgin Cure earns six cartes de visite out of ten. 

Buy 'The Virgin Cure' on Amazon here
Connect to author Ami McKay here
Photo from Favim

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Heroine's Closet

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Bookies and friends, I am really excited to announce my new spin-off blog, A Heroine's Closet! Created as a place to discuss my other loves, fashion, make-up, nail polish and all things shiny, I hope to provide some great content and giveaways for my readers. I hope to see all of you over there! And don't forget to say hi over on Twitter @heroine8addict or in the comment boxes...I'd love to hear your feedback on both of my blogs!

In other news, I'm also really pleased to share with you that Books Are My Heroine will be featuring a guest post by the fantastic Dani from Pen to Paper in the near future. If you haven't checked out her blog yet, head over there now! Something for us all to look forward to!

Also, you can now find me on Blog Lovin', for those of you who like to follow blogs that way. 

Cheers, Bookies!

NEXT UP: A review of "The Virgin Cure" by Ami McKay

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Inspiration from Kelly Cutrone

I recently picked up a copy of Kelly Cutrone's (Founder of the PR firm People's Revolution, a la The Hills fame) first book, If You Have to Cry, Go Outside. I was expecting a no-nonsense lesson on how to succeed in business, but instead I received an honest, no-holds-barred reflection on life, love and work that was both uplifting and reassuring. Kelly Cutrone has lived an extraordinary life, experiencing both the highs of fame and riches and the lows of poverty and drug addiction. The take-home lesson from If You Have to Cry, Go Outside is that success is based on following your own dreams, not on what other people may think or tell you. As this is a very relevant message at this point in my life, I personally loved this book and would recommend it to anyone who is currently at a crossroads in their life. 

I quickly bought and devoured Kelly's second book, Normal Gets You Nowhere upon completion of her first book. Normal Gets You Nowhere addresses issues in our larger society, specifically the idea that we as a world community have been desensitized to other people's suffering. Kelly encourages her readers to fight back against that attitude by helping those less fortunate and people we are close to in our own lives. Both of Kelly's books are great reads and I encourage all of you to go get your own copies!

On a relevant note of contributing to the fight against suffering, I'm very pleased to promote a new philanthropic effort called Gone Reading International. Gone Reading is a company that sells products such as t-shirts, mugs and other gift items - all with a cute bookish spin - with 100% of the profits dedicated for the building of new libraries in the developing world. Click here for more information on Gone Reading's mission and goals. And don't forget to check out Gone Reading's cute "Jane Austen for President" collection!

Buy Kelly Cutrone's books on Amazon here
Connect with Kelly Cutrone at her website, here
Click here to access Gone Reading

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Paris Wife (Paula McLain, 2011)

The Heroine: Hadley Richardson, a young woman living in 1920s Chicago and known to history as Ernest Hemingway's first wife. Plain, practical and intelligent, Hadley is at a crossroads in her life when she meets Ernest unexpectedly and is swept up in a romance that takes her across the Atlantic to Jazz-Age Paris, where money, art and sex intersect into a story of corruption and disillusionment.

The Highs: The author makes Paris of the 1920s come alive with her historically accurate details and her subtle descriptions that allude more to the attitude and feeling of the time and location than just the physicality. Interspersed with characters that have become legend since (Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein), the novel provides a window into an endlessly fascinating historical period, so different from our own that it sometimes feels like the people are not human at all, but some other species entirely.

Hadley herself is an extremely relate-able character, for anyone who has ever felt like a background bit player. She is warm, smart and kind, but not quite artistic enough or rich enough or innovative enough or unique enough to be fully accepted into the Paris set of creatives that dominated the city in this period. Instead, she observes from the outside, providing the grounding perspective on events that seem unimaginable to the reader. She is extremely well-written and the first person perspective pulls you into the story and makes you feel as if you are part of it.

This book reminded me pleasantly of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The novel's themes speak to the idea that opulence and extravagance only lead to ruin, not happiness. Though it is dreadful to read about Hadley's downfall, you become so attached to her character throughout the story that you cannot stop reading until you know her fate (car-crash style). The writing is nearly as sumptuous and beautiful as in The Great Gatsby, as well.

The Lows: Though this only speaks to good writing on the author's part, I found myself loathing Ernest Hemingway (or at least his character) by the end of the book, along with most of the characters featured in the Paris set. Selfish and thoughtless, they made me mourn the loss of the good in humanity. Hadley is the only character who retains her kindness and goodness at the end of the novel, which only makes me love her more.

I also felt there were some parts of the novel that lagged, perhaps because the writing felt more literary than emotional at certain dramatic points in the story. I would have appreciated more tension and more emotion from all of the characters, because it seemed like some of the outrageous moments would have inspired a more dramatic reaction from myself. But maybe I'm just a drama queen!

Final Thoughts: This book is a great read for anyone who loves The Great Gatsby and other American classics, or appreciates a story with a lot of moral and social commentary.

Rating: The Paris Wife earns seven spilled cocktails out of ten. 

Buy 'The Paris Wife' on Amazon here
Connect to author Paula McLain here
Picture from here
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