Friday, December 16, 2011

Harper Review Trio: The Flight of Gemma Hardy (Livesay), First You Try Everything (McCafferty), Ali in Wonderland (Wentworth)

I confess...while these books are all courtesy of the lovely folks at Harper (which will be reiterated in the reviews since I also post them on Goodreads), I did leave a book-lover piece out of my recent Things the Rambler is Lovin' post.  While the APR is high so I wouldn't reccomend it if you don't pay it off every month, the Amazon Visa is lovely for fellow book lovers.  You get 3 points on Amazon purchases, 2 at drugstores, and 1 on other stuff.  A penny a point did add up when I used it on some of my medical bills instead of paying them directly.  Since I usually find used books for under a dollar (with a $4 shipping fee), a horrid $1,000 co-pay earned me a couple free books.  Always good in my world.  Anyway, reviews:

Inspired by Jane Eyre, when we meet Livesay's heroine she is a young orphan living with an Aunt and cousins who clearly let her know she is more a burden than a loved member of the family.  Gemma is excited by the prospect of a boarding school scholarship, only to find herself living as a servant at the school with a rough group of fellow working girls.  The reader follows Gemma as she grows to young adulthood, including a role as a governess in a house with its own secrets.

I spent the majority of this book (which was provided to me by the publishers) convinced I'd never be able to decide which way to round from 3.5.  The ending, however, didn't fit with my preferences and I ended at 3 stars.  I do like that Gemma isn't made into a paragon of perfection, she has and acknowledges faults.  I just don't tend to be a fan of too much literary magic.  But, I know that sometimes fits with the type of novels that inspired this story so others might feel differently.  I'd also have liked to see some of the characters more fully fleshed out.  It was a nice read, but just not one I see myself passing on or revisiting in the future.

Switching between characters, this novel tells the story of a marriage ending and shows one partner unravelling as the other begins to move forward.  In early chapters, I related a bit to some of the descriptions of Evvie from Ben's viewpoint but she quickly began to deteriorate and a troubling underside to her became clear.  She has trouble accepting Ben's departure and her sanity begins to crumble over time.  Ben is concerned but is trying to walk the line between being supportive and giving her false hopes or falling back into old habits himself.

I wasn't quite sure how I'd feel about this novel as I progressed.  There's a key story element that I won't reveal but that I just didn't enjoy at all.  Despite that, I am giving this novel (provided to me by Harper) a solid four stars for the deep psychological study of a woman shaken to the core.  The author shows that the roots of Evvie's disturbance went deep (vs. having her just crack one moment) and I think both partners are well explored.  I'd very much like to remove the one storyline that felt like too much of an add-in (I can see how the author got caught by the concept, just think it'd be a better novel without it) but it is a worthwhile read as it stands.  Good for folks who like compelling character-driven studies of personality and psychology.
Having enjoyed a few of Jen Lancaster's books, I was glad to have the chance to read a copy of this book provided to me by the folks at Harper.  It is a humorous memoir of a woman who grew up in an elite D.C. circle and roamed around a bit before finding herself back in the D.C. arena after marrying a well-known political advisor/journalist.  The book covers event's of Ali's childhood, her adventures in love, and her life as a wife and mother.  The author is a comedienne with come acting creds but not someone I was familiar with prior to the book.

Unfortunately, this just didn't fire right for me.  I was amused but never in a laugh-out-loud fashion and I never felt like I could really relate to Ali.  I'd go with 2.5 stars given the option.  I'll round up to fit the full-star needs of the review sites and because I certainly never debated abandoning ship.  It just never quite spoke to me and it lacked the "girlfriend gab" aura I had hoped to find.

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