Book Review: The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

I was lucky enough to win a copy of The Wife by Meg Wolitzer with a ticket to go and see the movie. As you know, many film adaptions change the storyline a little so I wanted to read the novel before I went to see the film with my husband.

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Blurb: 

The Wife is the story of the long and stormy marriage between a world-famous novelist, Joe Castleman, and his wife Joan, and the secret they’ve kept for decades. The novel opens just as Joe is about to receive a prestigious international award, The Helsinki Prize, to honour his career as one of America’s pre-eminent novelists. Joan, who has spent forty years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career, finally decides to stop.

My thoughts: 

The book seems to begin with a commentary on marriage – and on a marriage that has lasted decades. And yet, as the novel moved between the present and different moments in the past, I became aware that it is much more than that. The novel describes more than just a women’s expected role in a marriage: to support the husband in his desires, to suppress one’s own desires and ambitions. It describes as well the expected role of women in a patriarchal society and how women respond to the expectation. Some women respond in open rebellion, some acquiesce completely, while others find a different way to achieve what they want. The wife in Wolitzer’s novel finds a way to ensure that she gets what she wants. But it is at a price. She plays second fiddle to her husband and her true talents are never acknowledged and recognised.

While reading the novel, I had to remember that the main character is a woman who became a wife in the 1950s and would not have had the same opportunities that women in our modern day have. I needed to remember this when she responded in ways that negated all that women have fought for in the past. And yet, on reflection, I realise that so many women do still respond as Joan Castleman does in this novel.

The Wife is a commentary on a type of relationship between a man and a woman. It is a commentary on how women often give up their own dreams to pursue the ones of their husbands. It is a commentary on the expectations of the husband and how he does not treasure the gift the woman has given to him. I enjoyed reading the novel as the commentary resonated with me as a woman, and as a wife. And yet I could not help feeling frustrated with so many of the choices made by the main character – maybe because I, myself, would never make those choices.

Even though I enjoyed reading the novel, it is not one that enamoured me; it is not one that made me turn the pages quickly to read the resolution. The Wife is a critique on marriage and on the relationships between men and women. It is a serious read and not one that will encourage the reader to forget about the cares of the world.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 68th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

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Book Review: The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

I had read a lot of buzz of Signe Pike’s debut novel The Lost Queen. I love historical fiction and anything on the Queens of the past and so decided to read this description of a long forgotten Scottish queen.

Genre: Historical fiction

Blurb: 

Intelligent, passionate, rebellious, and brave, Languoreth is the unforgettable heroine of The Lost Queen, a tale of conflicted loves and survival set against the cinematic backdrop of ancient Scotland, a magical land of myths and superstition inspired by the beauty of the natural world. One of the most powerful early medieval queens in British history, Languoreth ruled at a time of enormous disruption and bloodshed, when the burgeoning forces of Christianity threatened to obliterate the ancient pagan beliefs and change her way of life forever.

Together with her twin brother Lailoken, a warrior and druid known to history as Merlin, Languoreth is catapulted into a world of danger and violence. When a war brings the hero Emrys Pendragon, to their door, Languoreth collides with the handsome warrior Maelgwn. Their passionate connection is forged by enchantment, but Languoreth is promised in marriage to Rhydderch, son of the High King who is sympathetic to the followers of Christianity. As Rhydderch’s wife, Languoreth must assume her duty to fight for the preservation of the Old Way, her kingdom, and all she holds dear.

My thoughts: 

The thought of learning a little more about the Merlin legend intrigued me; as did reading about a Scottish queen. As I was reading, I referred frequently to the illustration of sixth century Scotland placed at the beginning of the book. The history interested me even more as I came to learn of the differences when comparing the country of the past to what it is now. In my mind I had to compare the two so that I could understand the history of such a long time ago.

The history of the past is woven within the story told to us of a person who lived such a long time ago. My interest peaked as I read of the options available for young girls of noble birth during this time period. Theirr options were limited and they were expected to take a certain path. I could feel Languoreth’s frustration with this as I read the moments described in this forst volume. I felt an empathy for her and eagerly continued reading to see what she would do that made her the queen which encouraged Signe Pike to tell her story.

It was easy for me to immerse myself in this tale. The history interested me. The characters intrigued me. Some scenes described were brutal – but this is what you would expect in a history of the sixth century. Refinement is interspersed with brutality. And all with a realistic lens. I enjoyed Pike’s writing as she encouraged me to invest my time in her story.

If you enjoy historical fiction and love to read of kings and queens of decades past, you will enjoy The Lost Queen. Pike’s superb writing makes the time period come alive and encourages the reader to feel a connection with Languoreth, a queen that has almost been written out of the history books completely. I look forward to reading the second novel in this series.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 67th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Favourite Read of the Month: September 2018

During the month of September, I  read 8 books for this year’s Book Pledge, bringing my total for read books this year to 66 books. According to the 50 Book Pledge website, I am ahead of my goal – which leads me to wonder whether I read more books than I think I do 😀

The titles I read in September are listed below. To read my reviews (if you haven’t already), click on the title in the following list:

  1. The Black Witch by Laurie Forest – YA fiction, fantasy  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.
  2. The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest – YA fiction, fantasy ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.
  3. Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey – women’s fiction ⭐⭐ 2 stars.
  4. The Winters by Lisa Gabriele – thriller, suspense ⭐⭐⭐⭐  4 stars.
  5. Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah – memoir, non-fiction ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.
  6. P. S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han – YA fiction, romance ⭐⭐⭐⭐  4 stars.
  7. Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han – YA fiction, romance ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.
  8. The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn – psychological thriller, mystery ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.

Reflecting on my choice of reads for the past month,I would say that I have chosen well. It is difficult to choose my favourite: the choice is between Laurie Forest’s Black Witch Chronicles and Trevor Noah’s memoir. I think I will settle for Laurie Forest’s The Black Witch as this novel not only introduced me to a new fiction writer, but also to a fantasy series that I have grown to love (so much so that I am eagerly waiting for her next novel to come out).

What was your favourite read in July? Share your choice, or the link to your post, below.

Favourite Read of the Month:

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

Book Review: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

I had seen a lot of buzz about this book on my Twitter feed and had this novel in my mind to read. When he was one of the authors at the Killer Crime Club event hosted by Harper Collins, I knew I had to push this story up on my list. After listening to him speak about his novel, I knew I had to read it as soon as I could and chose it to be a weekend read.

Genre: Psychological thriller, thriller, mystery

Blurb: 

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

My thoughts: 

The novel begins with an introduction to Ana, the protagonist, who suffers from agoraphobia. When I read the descriptions of her experiencing the fear that is so much a part of her illness, I could only say “Wow!”. The descriptions put the reader in Anna’s mind and you are able to feel what she is feeling and experience what she is experiencing. My heartbeat raced in the same rhythm as hers; and I turned the pages quickly to see how she would survive.

Not only are Finn’s descriptions stellar, his handling of uncovering the pieces, bit by bit, of the mystery that is both Anna and her neighbours is expertly done. I was taken by surprise more than once – and right up to the end of the story. The Woman in the Window is a quick read not because it is short, but because the reader cannot put it down. This is a psychological thriller that I would recommend without reservation.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 66th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

After finishing the second volume of the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before series, I could not help but pick up the third.

Genre: Young Adult, romance, contemporary

Blurb:

And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends.

Life couldn’t be more perfect!

At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks . . . until she gets some unexpected news.

Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

My thoughts: 

The book describes Lara Jean’s final year at high school as well as her continued romance with Peter Kavinsky. In the story she is also looking ahead to the next step in her education, as is Peter. We read about the decisions she has to make for her future and the struggles she has to make these decisions.

The book is a perfect continuation of the story we read in the first and second volume. The emotions expressed are heartfelt, and the decisions made sincere and born of love – a love for oneself as well as for another person. This volume is the perfect ending to the romance we have enjoyed so far; and, like the other volumes, is written with sensitivity and an adherence to Lara Jean’s sense of what is right and wrong for herself.

I recommend the series To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before for those who enjoy reading romance. These novels were written for adolescents and they capture the essence of first love as well as the decisions that teens need to make when in a relationship with the opposite sex. The series is perfect for this age group and avoids any inappropriate descriptions of a sexual nature.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 65th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: P. S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

After reading To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and enjoying it, I knew that I had to read the next book in the series. I ordered the book online and, when it arrived, I placed it near the top of my TBR pile.

Genre: Young Adult, romance, contemporary

Blurb:

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter. She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever. When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

My thoughts: 

This volume is the continuation of the unexpected romance between Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky. The story describes Lara Jean’s first romance with all the problems that come with it. As with the first novel in the series, the romance described is pure and what one would wish for when reading of a first love. No relationship is perfect, and this is what Lara Jean Finds out. The obstacles described to her love in the novel are believable, as are the resolutions.

I loved reading this volume as much as I did the first. I turned the pages with a smile on my face and, even though the drama described is a typical teen drama, it was not overdone. This is an excellent sequel to the start of the series and I look forward to reading the next installment.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐  4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 64th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is a South African comedian and I love his work. He makes fun of South Africa and its people – and yet the fun is not mean. Instead the snapshots he describes are so true, they are laughable. I had been eyeing his memoir in the bookstore and I finally bought it. I bought it for two reasons: firstly because he is an excellent comedian; and secondly he is South African born as I am.

Genre: Memoir, non-fiction

Blurb:

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

My thoughts: 

I loved reading this book for so many reasons. Firstly his reflections on the past brought up so many memories of my own growing up and living in South Africa during the time period that he describes. Secondly, it was interesting to read of another person’s experience growing up in my Motherland near the end of Apartheid. Thirdly, I love Trevor Noah’s humour and his take on life and people – a humour that found its way into his writing. Fourthly, the memoir was well written and subtly exposed the many things that were wrong with the Apartheid system.

Born A Crime is a retelling of a childhood that keeps a person reading. The book is sprinkled with the laws of the system in South Africa, laws which affected the lifestyle of this comedian. The book has been written for a mainly non-South African audience so many of the social expectations, South Africanisms, and everyday experiences are explained. I read this book quickly, and discussed many of the issues highlighted at the diner table with my family. Now my husband is reading the memoir – and soon afterwards my daughters will too.

Trevor Noah’s memoir is a must-read if you enjoy this genre and are looking to understand the experience of a mixed-race child born during a time when it was a crime to mix intimately with other races.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 63rd in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: The Winters by Lisa Gabriele

I entered a draw to win an Arc of The Winters by Lisa Gabriela as the story sounded interesting. I was happy when I received the book in the mail. I loved the cover from the beginning and looked forward to reading the contents.

GenreThriller, suspense

Release date: 16 October 2018

Blurb: 

After a whirlwind romance, a young woman returns to the opulent, secluded Long Island mansion of her new fiancé Max Winter—a wealthy politician and recent widower—and a life of luxury she’s never known. But all is not as it appears at the Asherley estate. The house is steeped in the memory of Max’s beautiful first wife Rebekah, who haunts the young woman’s imagination and feeds her uncertainties, while his very alive teenage daughter Dani makes her life a living hell. She soon realizes there is no clear place for her in this twisted little family: Max and Dani circle each other like cats, a dynamic that both repels and fascinates her, and he harbors political ambitions with which he will allow no woman—alive or dead—to interfere.

As the soon-to-be second Mrs. Winter grows more in love with Max, and more afraid of Dani, she is drawn deeper into the family’s dark secrets—the kind of secrets that could kill her, too. The Winters is a riveting story about what happens when a family’s ghosts resurface and threaten to upend everything.

My thoughts: 

The novel is written in the first person and is told from the perspective of the soon-to-be Mrs Winter. We experience her uncertainties and read about her changing her judgements on the new people in her life. Her vacillations are authentic as they remind me of the many times I have had to run through my judgements in my head. As I was reading this well written novel, I could relate to some of the experiences of the main protagonist: being a second wife, taking on a stepchild, moving into a home that has already been established. With her words, the author accurately reflects the tension that would arise with a new person coming into an established home.

As I was reading this novel, I thought that it had been labelled incorrectly as a thriller. Instead it read like contemporary women’s fiction. The issues hinted at are experienced by many women the world over – the drama of a stepmother arriving to create a second family. So I was taken by surprise when the element of suspense was introduced after I had read more than half the novel. I loved how the writer surprised me. I loved how I was taken completely unawares. I loved how the novel moved towards the unexpected.

The Winters is a story that may seem mundane but has the unexpected weaved into it. It is a novel that brilliantly describes how strong a woman can be if she needs to be. It is a novel that makes us question the validity of what a person allows the public to see. It is a novel with a few unexpected twists that will leave the reader eagerly reading until the last page.

I enjoyed reading this novel and recommend it if your enjoy reading both thrillers and contemporary fiction.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐  4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 62nd in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey

I am a little behind on reading the ARCs that I received at the OLA Super Conference early in February so I decided to pick up the first one on the pile. Heartbreaker  by Claudia Dey has already been released by the publisher with an updated cover.

Genre: women’s fiction, fiction

Blurb: 

Seventeen years after falling from a stolen car into a remote northern town, Billie Jean Fontaine is still an outsider. She may follow the stifling rules of this odd place, but no one will forget that she came from elsewhere. When Billie Jean vanishes one cold October night in her bare feet and track suit with only her truck keys, those closest to her begin a frantic search. Her daughter, Pony, a girl struggling against being a teen in the middle of nowhere; her killer dog to whom she cannot tell a lie; her husband, The Heavy, a man haunted by his past; and the charismatic Supernatural, a teenage boy longing only to be average. Each holding a different piece of the puzzle, they must come together to understand the darkest secrets of their beloved, and lay bare the mysteries of the human heart.

My thoughts: 

The novel is divided into three parts with each section told by a different character in the story. The first part is told by a girl (Pony Fontaine), the second by the dog, and the third by a boy (Supernatural known as ‘Supes’). Each point of view gives the reader information which can be pieced together to tell us the story of Billie Jean Fontaine.

Reading the first section was difficult for me. The information given was fractured; and the narrative kept changing the timeline. The introductory pages to the story were confusing and only dogged determination on my part not to stop reading enabled me to slowly piece together the life of the protagonist. It is only when reading the second section of the story that I began to understand what the writer was telling me.

The saving grace for me of this story was the third section. While reading this section, I was able to put together fragmented bits of the story and make sense the story and actions of Billie Jean Fontaine. I understand that the writer wrote in this way deliberately to mirror the knowledge each person in her life has of this woman; but I did find that the confusion created in me did not endear me to Dey’s writing or her form of storytelling.

This novel is one that may be the preferred read of someone who enjoys tales with a more literary bent. It is not fast-paced, and it is not romantic. Instead the story is teased out bit by bit in a way that may bore many readers.

I give this novel ⭐⭐ 2 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 61st in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest

At the Frenzy Presents Event hosted by Harper Collins Canada to which I was invited, I received not only a copy of The Black Witch by Laurie Forest, but also an ARC of the second book in the fantasy tale – The Iron Flower. After reading the first volume of The Black Witch Chronicles, I was eager to read the second and dove right in. I had quickly become a fan of Laurie Forest and was eager to read more on the world she had created, and read the stories of the characters I had come to love.

Genre: young adult, fantasy

Release Date: 18 September 2018

Blurb:

Elloren Gardner and her friends were only seeking to right a few wrongs, but their actions have propelled them straight into the ranks of the realm-wide Resistance against Gardnerian encroachment. As the Resistance struggles against the harsh rulings of High Priest Marcus Vogel and the Mage Council, Elloren begins to realize that none of the people she cares about will be safe if Gardneria seizes control of the Western Realm.

With tensions heating up in Verpacia, more and more Gardnerian soldiers continue to descend upon the university…led by none other than Lukas Grey, now commander of the newly rebuilt Fourth Division base. Though Elloren tries to keep him at arm’s length, Lukas is determined to wandfast to her, convinced that she has inherited her grandmother’s magic—the prophesied power of the Black Witch. As his very nearness seems to awaken a darkness inside her, Elloren finds it more and more difficult to believe that she’s truly powerless, as her uncle always claimed.

Caught between her growing feelings for the rebellious Yvan Guriel and the seductive power offered by Lukas Grey, Elloren must find a way to stay true to what she knows is right and protect everyone she loves…even if that means protecting them from herself.

My Thoughts: 

I absolutely loved the first volume in this epic saga (The Black Witch)  and hoped that Forest would continue with all that I loved of her first novel in the second. I was not disappointed. The representations of the characters I had grown to love were just as rich; the attacks on society just as subtle. The germinating seeds of the Resistance in Elloren as described in the first novel in this series, begin to flower in the second. Our protagonist grows even more as a person in this volume in spite of – or because of – events out of her control.

I do not want to tell you too much of the story as I would not want to spoil it for you. What I will tell you is that Forest’s descriptions of those peopling Gardenia once again entranced me. I could see the detail in my mind as I was reading: the hair and colour of skin, the dress, the beauty enhancements. While reading, I held my breath with Elloren; and my heart raced for her as she worked towards the safety of her friends. I was invested in the story and hoped that the outcome for her and her friends would be a positive one.

I read book 2 of The Black Witch Chronicles in two days over the Labour Day weekend (and the tome is not short). I could not put the book down and immersed myself willingly in a fantasy world filled with dragons, selkies, and fae people. The grandeur of this world is an epic one and one which – when I turned the last page – left me wanting more.

The Iron Flower  by Laurie Forest is an excellent read and a perfect sequel to the first. If you are looking to start a new series, or you are looking for an epic read, I do suggest reading The Black Witch Chronicles – you will not be disappointed.

Review of Book 1: The Black Witch  by Laurie Forest

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 5 stars with no hesitation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 60th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)