Saturday, April 28, 2012

Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert, 2006)

The Heroine: Elizabeth Gilbert, a real-life writer and journalist on the edge of a mid-life crisis as her marriage falls apart. Combating depression in the midst of a messy divorce, Liz decides to embark on a journey across Italy, India and Indonesia in order to learn what each culture knows best: pleasure in Italy, spirituality in India and balance in Bali. From encountering new friends in Italy, to struggling with meditation in India, to finding love in Italy, Eat, Pray, Love encompasses all genres into one extremely funny, entertaining and touching memoir.

The Highs: All women should read Eat, Pray, Love. While Elizabeth Gilbert's style is light, playful and humourous, this book is ultimately the tale of a women's fight to overcome her personal demons and move on from life's hardships. Inspiring, uplifting and life-affirming, Eat, Pray, Love is a lesson in happiness as the readers learn along with Elizabeth on her journey of self-discovery. I first read this book last year and since then I have re-read it quite a few more times!

Elizabeth Gilbert is an extremely personable narrator; I don't think even she could have invented a better protagonist! By the end of the book, Liz feels as if she is both your best friend and your sister. Candid and personal, Liz bares her soul to her readers and lays her vulnerabilities open for all to see. I must applaud her for her courage and tenacity, as I learned a lot about myself while reading about her struggles – I suppose I could credit her for providing a valuable psychological health service! By sharing her struggles, I'm sure there are millions of women who feel less alone in their own troubles and pain.

For travel junkies, Eat, Pray, Love is a must-read. Since Liz spent four months living in each country, she had a great range of experiences and got to see things most vacationers and tourists miss out on. I know I'm dying to go to Bali since reading Liz's lush descriptions – and I've taken note on what she claimed is the best pizza in all of Italy!

The Lows: For those who have no interest in the subject of spirituality, you may not enjoy Eat, Pray, Love as much as I did. Liz spends a lot of time mulling over the topics of spirituality, as well as spends four months staying in an ashram in India. While I found Liz's spiritual exploration fascinating, others might find it tedious or boring.

I have never seen the movie version of Eat, Pray, Love, so I have no comments to make on how closely the film follows the book.

Final Thoughts: Eat, Pray, Love is a feel-good read with an added dose of spiritual soul-searching.

Rating: Eat, Pray, Love earns nine bowls of pasta out of ten. 

Connect with author Elizabeth Gilbert here
Photo from here

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Lantern (Deborah Lawrenson, 2011)

The Heroine: Eve, a young translator who has become disenchanted with her career in England, secretly longing to write her own stories. On a business trip to Switzerland, Eve meets Dom, a charming and wealthy composer. Immediately swept off her feet, Eve and Dom embark on a whirlwind romance that leads them to Les Genevriers, an ancient and crumbling farm in the beautiful Provencal countryside in France. Although captivated by the beauty around her, Eve begins to learn that not is all what it seems: spirits seem to haunt the old house, Dom grows distant and cold and Eve becomes obsessed with the mysterious disappearance of Dom's ex-wife Rachel. Intertwined is the story of Benedicte, a young farm girll that lived at Les Genevriers with her family in the early twentieth century, Eve's story is a traditional Gothic tale spun on its axis to meet the modern era.

The Highs: The Lantern is full of romance, though not the type between a man and a woman. The prose is full of drawn-out descriptions of Provence and its hills, the flora and fauna of the region and beautiful imagery of the seasons, reflecting Eve's emotional life perfectly. Truly a Gothic tale, this book is perfect for anyone who longs for a little more beauty in their life, though The Lantern also does include some interesting plot points.

I really enjoyed the story of Benedicte Lincel and her family that was intertwined with Eve's tale. One of the last of the traditional farming families, the Lincel's struggled through cold winters, the burden of Benedicte's blind older sister, Marthe (destined to become a famous perfumer) and the insane cruelty of Pierre, Benedicte's brother. I really felt for Benedicte and developed a camaraderie with the sweet, simple farm girl whose life was plagued by trouble and disappointments.

The mystery of Rachel's disappearance and Dom's refusal to talk about it really caught my attention. I love plot twists, and though I felt The Lantern was a little lacking in suspense, I was intent on finding out what became of Rachel and I was satisfied by the ending.

The Lows: While The Lantern may be beautiful and sumptuous, I felt that the author really dragged out her descriptions so much and laid it on so thickly in each and every chapter that the actual plot moved along at a sluggishly slow pace. I got very impatient with the novel by the end of the book, wishing the author could just cut the crap (excuse my language) and get to the point already!

I was disappointed with the protagonist, Eve. Although I understand that the book is supposed to be written in a "hauntingly beautiful" way, it seemed like Eve was kept at a distance from the reader and, as a result, I never felt close to her or truly invested in her life.

Final Thoughts: The Lantern was enjoyable, but I doubt I would ever read it again.

Rating: The Lantern earns six parakeets out of ten. 

Buy 'The Lantern' on the Book Depository here
Connect with author Deborah Lawrenson here
Photo from here

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wishlist Wednesday!

Wishlist Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Dani at Pen to Paper. This week, I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Everything Was Goodbye by Gurjinder Basran. I came across a review on this book in a magazine and I've been looking forward to reading it ever since. Here's the summary from Chapters:
Raised by her widowed mother and the youngest of six daughters, Meena is a young Indo-Canadian woman struggling to find her place in the world. As a restless and headstrong teenager, she knows that the freedom experienced by her Canadian peers is beyond her reach. But unlike her older sisters, Meena refuses to accept a life that is defined by an arranged marriage. She befriends a young man named Liam, a social outcast and kindred spirit, who asks her to run away with him. As she weighs her decision carefully, she learns that she is too late-he has already left without a trace. Faced with increasing pressure from her family and her tight-knit community, Meena must confront the expectations placed on her, and with them, all the rippling consequences that follow.
I'm super excited about this book because I am absolutely fascinated by the complexities of cultural assimilation and multiculturalism. As a Canadian, these are issues that are given a lot of air time in our "mosaic" of a country. I'm also really interested in learning more about Indian culture because of my upcoming trip to India (more on that later!). This sounds like a new twist on a Romeo and Juliet style tale, wrapped up in the political and social hot topic du jour. Can't wait to read it!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Arranged (Catherine McKenzie, 2011)

The Heroine: Anne Blythe, a journalist and aspiring author who suddenly finds herself single at thirty-three after discovering that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. Lonely and longing for partnership and a family, Anne decides to take a chance on Blythe & Company, a dating service whose card she happened to pick up off the street. Only after meeting with the company does she discover that their true service is arranged marriages. In a bold move, Anne flys off to Mexico to marry Jack, a man she has never met until the day before their wedding. In the sand and surf paradise of Mexico, Anne discovers that her new husband may actually be her perfect match after all. Or is he? Arranged follows Anne's unconventional love story and her journey to self-discovery.

The Highs: Reading Arranged was really a breath of fresh air (if you'll excuse the cliche). This novel is completely original, unexpected and unique, three things you rarely find in romance – and I say that with affection, as a devoted lover of all things, well, love. Catherine McKenzie's unconventional take on a love story really pays off and thanks to her excellent plot and talent with words, I devoured this book in a single sitting.

The protagonist, Anne Blythe, is extremely lovable and relateable. While those girls who complain endlessly about the woes of the single life ("Why can't I find a man?") can get annoying fast, Anne walks the fine line between mopey and proactive with ease, taking control of her own destiny. While her judgement can be questionable, I admire her tenacity and her boldness. I was really rooting for her throughout the story and by the end, I felt as if she was a close friend.

The romance between Anne and Jack is the real highlight in this novel. Perfectly paced and realistically narrated, their scenes are sometimes sweet and sometimes sexy, but always interesting. Anne and Jack really do seem like a real life perfect match – neither of them are perfect, but they compliment each other well and help each other become better people.

Arranged is more than just a love story. It is a tale of a woman's search for self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-love. This book made me question a lot of things I'm not sure I really understand yet. Like what makes a good marriage? Is love or friendship more important? What kind of person do I want to spend my life with? As I am only just turning 20, I think it will be quite awhile before I ever discover the answers to these questions!

The Lows: One cliche in Arranged that has persisted, despite the unconventional plot, is the evil journalist that tricks the members of the opposite sex into liking them so they can write about it. Remember Matthew Maconahey from How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days? Remember Eva Mendes from Hitch? Yeah, well, you'll find one of them in this book, too. As a writer, I'm often attracted to other creative types...this long-standing cliche makes me wonder if I should worry guys are using me as content!

Final Thoughts: A love story with a twist, Arranged is perfect for anyone looking for a little romance in their lives.

Rating: Arranged earns eight margaritas out of ten. 

Buy 'Arranged' on the Book Depository here
Connect with author Catherine McKenzie here
Photo from here

Sunday, April 8, 2012

You Against Me (Jenny Downham, 2011)

The Heroine: Ellie Parker, a shy, pretty honors student who is suddenly trust into the spotlight when a girl at school, Karyn MacKenzie, accuses Tom, Ellie's older brother, of rape, setting off a series of events that reaks havoc through the Parker and MacKenzie families. The single light is Ellie's life is the mysterious boy she meets at a party. Unfortunately, her good looking and kind hero turns out to be Mikey MacKenzie, Karyn's older brother, searching for answers to what really happened to his sister. As Ellie is forced to stradle the line between the Parkers and the MacKenzies, between right and wrong and between truth and fiction, she is forced to question her own values and what she really believes in above all.

The Highs: I absolutely adored You Against Me. The novel is narrated by both Ellie and Mikey, providing the reader with perspectives from both sides of the conflict of alleged rape. I loved this style, with the alternating perspectives, because it gave each moment a deeper meaning to know what both characters were thinking. It was especially sweet during the romantic scenes, when the author provided the reader with a peek into how both characters felt about the other. It made for some excellent sexual tension and some really exciting plot twists and suspense!

Ellie and Mikey's love story was very romantic and sweet. It reminded me a little of Romeo and Juliet, with Ellie and Mikey divided by their dueling families, but desperate to be together. The author handles romance expertly, easily preventing the love scenes from slipping into cheesy or melodramatic territory. Realistic but tender, the story made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

You Against Me made me think long and hard about my life and my values. In the novel, Ellie is forced to choose between what is easy and what is right. Could I have the strength to turn my back on my family in I thought it was the right thing to do? Or does family loyalty trump everything (after all, if your family isn't there for you, who will be?)? This novel is much more then a teenage fluff piece; there is the same emotional depth that was present in Jenny Downham's first novel, Before I Die.

The Lows: I felt frustrated when I reached the end of the book because the ultimate outcome of the court case (Tom Parker versus Karyn MacKenzie) is never revealed. After most of the story revolving around the effects that the upcoming trial was having on both families, it was a let down to never learn what the verdict was.

Final Thoughts: You Against Me is a thought-provoking, well-written novel about family, love and truth that is gripping and powerful enough to appeal to all age groups.

Rating: You Against Me earns nine tea biscuits out of ten. 

Buy 'You Against Me' on The Book Depository here
Photo from here

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wishlist Wednesday!

Wishlist Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Dani at Pen to Paper. This week, I'm looking forward to grabbing a copy of Arranged by Catherine McKenzie. I'm currently in the mood for some fun chick-lit, probably inspired by the slightly warmer weather here in Canada. Here's the teaser summary from Barnes and Noble
Anne Blythe has a great life: a good job, close friends, and a potential book deal for her first novel. When it comes to finding someone to share her life with, however, she just can't seem to get it right. When her latest relationship implodes, and her best friend announces she's engaged, Anne impulsively calls what she thinks is a dating service—only to discover that it's actually an exclusive, and pricey, arranged marriage service. 
Anne initially rejects the idea, but the more she learns about the service, the more she thinks: Why not? After all, arranged marriages are the norm for millions of women around the world; maybe it could work for her. 
A few months later, Anne is traveling to a Mexican resort, where, over the course of a weekend, she meets and then marries Jack. And initially, everything seems to be working out. . . .

This book sounds really interesting and completely different from anything I've ever read before. Arranged marriages are a subject that ignites much curiosity here in the west so I'm very interested in learning more on the subject, especially if the lesson comes in the form of a snappy chick lit novel. Plus, Catherine McKenzie is a Canadian author from Quebec, so I'm excited to support a Canadian author. If any of you have already read this book, let me know what you thought!

Ransom My Heart (Meg Cabot, 2009)

The Heroine: Finnula Crais, a young maiden in the small village of Stephensgate, England in the year 1291 AD. Known as an eccentric in her town for her habit of wearing breeches instead of gowns and her considerable talent with a crossbow, Finnula is forced to step even further beyond the boundaries of proper behaviour for a young woman when her sister falls pregnant out of wedlock and asks Finnula to kidnap a soldier for her in order to collect the ransom to use as a dowry. Loyal and courageous, Finnula captures the good-looking and charming Sir Hugh – who, unbeknownst to her, is actually her vassal, Lord Hugo, on his way back from the Crusades in the Holy Land. Enraptured by Finnula, Hugo decides to play along with Finnula's scheme and sets them off on a journey full of humour, unexpected twists and of course, love.

The Highs: Though set in the Middle Ages, Meg Cabot's signature light and comedic style is still present in Ransom My Heart. Funny and endlessly entertaining, the novel is a light-hearted romantic comedy that is made more charming by its unlikely setting. I really appreciated the author's commitment to staying true to the time period, including such details as the proper historical terms for clothing to the lifestyle of the illiterate peasants the period is known for (at least, if you've been watching any Monty Python lately).

The romance between Finnula and Hugo is at times sweet and tender and at others, fraught with sexual tension. Stubborn, brave and loyal Finnula is the perfect match for the headstrong, noble and kind-hearted Hugo – the pair seems destined to end either in a wedding or murder (though this novel includes both!). Their fiery romance leaps off the page and Meg Cabot is no amateur when it comes to penning steamy sex scenes!

I really loved the plot twists in this novel. Featuring many small subplots within one story – you've got the classic romance, the murder mystery and the historical drama – plot twists are abound and just when you feel you have found the conclusion, another plot emerges. I especially liked how the story doesn't climax at a wedding; not all is resolved when the couple ends up together. This novel features a many-layered plot to appeal to a wide audience.

The Lows: I felt that a few things in the story came almost out of nowhere, when I thought that perhaps their importance warranted at least a mention earlier in the story. For example, Finnula's dog Gros Louis (a little joke for anyone familiar with Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries series!) is quite important to the plot of the book, but is brought in rather abruptly near the conclusion of the book without a single mention at the beginning. It could show a lack of planning on the part of the author when an element of the story seems added as an after-thought.

I should also warn any readers who may object to scenes of a sexual nature that Ransom My Heart is full of sex scenes that are fairly graphic in nature. Personally, I'm all for it, so this was a high for me!

Final Thoughts: Ransom My Heart is an adorably funny historical romance, perfect for anyone looking for an uplifting read.

Rating: Ransom My Heart earns eight barrels of brew out of ten.

Buy 'Ransom My Heart' on the Book Depository here
Connect with author Meg Cabot here
Photo from here
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