The plot was typical Victorian romance. But the hero was fascinating. He was institutionalized most of his childhood, and today would have been labeled autistic. At the same time he was the classically good looking and brilliant hero. The heroine had a great sense of humor and chattered mindlessly whenever she was nervous. All of which was lost on the hero. Yet somehow they made the perfect couple. They made the book. Truly a joy to get to know. The narrator was OK. She handled the heroine well, but wasn't quite up to all the Scottish male characters.
This was often a side-splittingly silly book. It was totally unbelievable but that didn't matter. The plot was convoluted and difficult to follow but that didn't really matter ...much. The romantic hero was totally unappealing because he was either dead, Satan or nothing but grey smoke and it is hard to make any of that sexy. It is just creepy.
But the snappy writing, the quick one-liners and the silly naivete of the heroine made all of those faults totally unimportant. And the whole book was written so tongue-in-cheek that those really weren't faults. They were part of what made the whole package so fun to read.
Because of who the characters were, the story could have so quickly gotten bogged down into philosophical discussions of good versus evil, spirit versus soul, etc. The author could have easily pulled an "Anne Rice" on us. But she didn't. She kept it light, fluffy and entertaining.
Her secondary characters were well written and strong enough to not wilt away in the glow of the main character. I loved her best friend, the various apparitions in her life and especially, Rocket.
The narration was great
My only complaint is that the bits of information that actually moved the plot forward, that explained what was going on and ultimately, what would lead you to read the second and third books in the series were so buried under the pithy one-liners and double entendres, that if you blinked you missed them. I finished the book not sure I had a clue about what actually happened in the plot. And wishing she had focused more on certain traits of Charley, like the fact she had perfect memory of everything that happened from the second she was born. But this might have been a timing problem on my part. I'm not sure I was up for quite so much humor in my current read when I sat down with this book. And if you are not in the mood for good-natured silliness, the book can be unfulfilling. Like eating your favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry's when all you really wanted was toast. But that is not the author's fault.
This book had a great deal of promise. But it had too many stories going on at once and none of them got the attention they deserved, so in the end the book was disappointing. The author attempted to roll up all the loose ends but at the end, it felt like everything the woman had gone through in the past year, all of the tension and stress hinted about but always repressed, might as well have not happened. Everything that happened to her seemed predictable and the end result of each event was expected. This was another book where it is immediately and painfully obvious to the reader that a plot line must end in disaster and you want to reach in, slap the heroine and say "Pay Attention! Do us all a favor and dump him now, not 169 pages from now."
The author did a very good job of describing a community and the way people in it live and interact together. The way she used the store and the newspaper to tell the story of an entire community was inventive. It was obvious she did her research on vintage clothing. The subplot about the dying French woman and her secret was creative, but ultimately not as heartbreaking to read about as I think the author hoped it would be. And it reminded me that soon everyone who suffered directly at the hands of the Nazi's will be gone. And the true evil has almost become a cliche. Maybe the reality of the tragedy will become real again, when it is no longer used as a plot device in contemporary novels.
The narrator did a great job on the British and French female voices. Her Canadian and American accents were bad. It sounded like she was pronouncing words she spoke perfectly in British English, almost phonetically when she tried to translate them into American and Canadian. She might as well have been going from English to Sanskrit. And she did a poor job on the male characters. But that might be because all of the male characters were totally uninteresting men.
I picked the original 1940s edition of this up at an estate sale several years ago. Since I am someone who is seldom seen without a book in hand (now it is earbuds in ears), my family teased me incessantly about the title. But this book taught me more about the art and skill of reading to learn and reading to understand than I learned through my entire formal education. I would almost say that this book "taught" me to read and what I had done up until that point was a pale imitation. This should be required reading to every person even considering going to college. And if they cannot understand and learn from the book, that is a good sign their reading skills need remedial work.
I was excited when I noticed that Audible had the updated 1970s edition available. It is a major departure from the original work. It was almost entirely overhauled. Even though they are considerably different I found them both equally well written and the new version presented new ideas.
I felt somewhat foolish listening to a book about how to read. But I have found the same skills helpful as I listen, as I found them as I read. And while the book deals primarily with "serious" or "scholarly" reading, the skills discussed also enhance my experience reading modern fiction, even trashy modern fiction. You can always learn something, if you know how to go about it.
I cannot recommend this book enough. To say it changed my life when I first read it, might be an overstatement. But it certainly caused me to enjoy reading even more, and to not just use books to reinforce what I already know, but to stretch myself and actually learn something new.
I did not want to "like" this book. You cannot begin to read a nonfiction book that is an account of a husband loosing his wife to cancer after a long and predominately happy marriage and expect to "like" it. But I wanted to appreciate the fact that the author shared something of her personal life and unfortunate death with total strangers and consider how I would feel if an unimaginable situation was suddenly not only imaginable but real. I hoped to get a sense of the cathartic experience writing the book must have been for the author.
But I didn't. For a memoir about the life and death of a beloved spouse, this book seemed focused not on the dying spouse, but the living one, the one who wrote the book. His wife's life seemed to be nothing more than another adjective used to help describe the author, his challenges, his difficulties, his life. Her relevance, her reason for even being mentioned in the book seemed to be solely to help the reader understand the author better.
I would not presume to say that the author did not love his wife. The book doesn't indicate that at all. I came away with no sense about how he felt about his wife, other than as an extension and reflection of him. But I have never lost a spouse and focusing on oneself instead of the lost partner may be a normal way most survivors of a long term relationship cope. They just don't write a book about it. I wish he would not have either.
This book reminded me of Susan Howatch's earlier books. It is a big book full of big and flawed characters. As I read it my alliances and sympathies jumped from character to character and back again. There were a few weak sections. The heroine's "should I or should I not" debate over leaving her husband for her lover went on way too long. And her mothering skills and actions were inconsistent. But overall this was a great story. Finally, it gave a great description of how the end of the war affected the women back home in Britain, who had been running the country only to be rudely displaced upon the return home of the soldiers.
I want to know who/what the villain is and how the book ended. But I cannot finish it. Too weird to read. Makes absolutely no sense. The heroine's best friend treats her worse than the bad guy does. Overall an interesting idea, but poorly executed.
I did appreciate the ending. It was a non-traditional HEA. I couldn't figure out how the author was going to "fix" things so it would end in the traditional hearts and flowers. She didn't, but things still worked out. It made the book more satisfying.
And trite. Not to mention pedestrian, dull and unoriginal. Could not finish.
Ms. Harper reminds me of early Janet Evanovich books - without the mystery. Or the guns, crazy grandmothers and criminals. She is a genuinely funny author and that is actually a rarity. Her characters, and they are real "characters", are a mess, they make stupid decisions, which they compound by worse choices. But you have to love them. Even the ones you aren't supposed to love.
This is a very light, quick but satisfying read and I recommend it for anyone looking for a few escapist hours. I'm not usually a big chicklit fan. But I enjoyed this book so much that I broke a longstanding promise to myself and read her next series, even though they were about vampires and werewolves, two fantasy genres I avoid even more than chicklit. Guess what? They were funny and engaging too. I hope she continues to write and expands her genres. I will continue to read.
The narration was very good as well. The voice and the author's vision matched well together.
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