Talking about ‘Sisterland’ with Bibliobeth

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Synopsis:

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

Funny, haunting, and thought-provoking, Sisterland is a beautifully written novel of the obligation we have toward others, and the responsibility we take for ourselves. With her deep empathy, keen wisdom, and unerring talent for finding the extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most exceptional voices in literary fiction today.

Thoughts:

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of Sisterland?
BETH: I’ve had mixed feelings about Sisterland since I read it and am trying to get all my thoughts into order! For starters, the book wasn’t really what I was expecting, although I can’t tell you what exactly I expected when I first read the synopsis. So I guess at first I was a little surprised, but I enjoyed learning more about the twins, Daisy and Vi, and the back story of their lives. I think I enjoyed the story of their early life best, as it was interesting to learn about how the girls dealt with their ESP.

BETH: What did you think of the relationship between the two sisters?
CHRISSI: I thought it was a interesting relationship. Although they are identical twins, I thought that they were polar opposites. I don’t know if this was intentional. Perhaps they were so used to being compared that they (maybe unconsciously) became so different in personality. Yet, they seemed to still have a connection and, in the main part, a good relationship. It was quite fascinating to observe the differences between them. It made me think of the identical twin children I work with at school. They’re completely different too.

CHRISSI: In the story, both the sisters have ESP, although Kate has turned away from it. How important is this element of the plot to understanding the two women?
BETH: The way that both girls deal with their psychic powers is very interesting to understanding their characters. Vi completely embraces her “gift,” and has actually used it to make a living for herself whereas Daisy/Kate has not only ignored her “senses” but has even changed her name so that people from her past do not connect her with what happens. When Vi has a premonition about an earthquake and there is huge media interest, we see Kate shying away from any publicity while actively still trying to support her sister, and Vi seems to thrive on any interest given to her.

BETH: Did you enjoy the more paranormal parts of the story? i.e. the twins psychic abilities?
CHRISSI: Well, yes, I think so. But it seemed so out of place to me. I’m not sure why. I think I was expecting their psychic abilities to have more of an impact on the story. At first, I enjoyed it because I thought that’s where the book was going. But then the earthquake storyline seemed to become side-lined and this is where the story began to fall flat for me. I guess when there’s going to be a paranormal element of the book I want it to be at the forefront of the story. Sisterland is more about the everyday things we do that become part of who we are with a little slither of psychic abilities.

CHRISSI: Did you find it easy to connect to the sisters?
BETH: Unfortunately not, I found it somewhat difficult. I felt quite sympathetic to Vi at times, particularly in their childhood years where Daisy/Kate was often thought of as the more popular, prettier twin, and I think that helped me understand why she was a bit of a wild card in adulthood. With Daisy/Kate, I admired the way that she supported her sister, even though she didn’t always understand or agree with what she was doing, but then something happens that felt out of character for me, and I felt it was harder to connect with this.

BETH: How do you think the subject of Vi coming out as a lesbian was dealt with?
CHRISSI: An interesting question. I didn’t really believe in Vi’s relationship with a woman. I feel like she was doing it to be different to her straight, married twin sister. That might be cynical of me on my part, but it didn’t really ring true for me.

CHRISSI: Do you think Kate’s relationship with her mother affected her own parenting skills?
BETH: The twins relationship with their mother was one of the most interesting parts of the book, and one I wished had been explored further. When the twins were fairly young, their mother sank into a sort of depression and left the girls to do things for themselves, like preparing dinner and then pretending to their father that their mother had made it to disguise the fact that she had been in bed all day. Daisy/Kate seems to be a very good mother to her two children, perhaps she is making up for what she felt she never had, but she is sometimes over-the-top protective and anxious about the two of them. For example, preparing an emergency bag in case something happened and refusing to leave her youngest son, Owen with the baby-sitter.

BETH: How do you think the novel compared to Prep by the same author?
CHRISSI:  I didn’t enjoy Prep as much as I hoped, but I gave it 3 stars, much like I’m giving this book. Curtis Sittenfield is a beautiful writer, but I find the plots of the books incredibly slow paced. In Prep, it felt like it took a while for it to get going. Sisterland is an improvement, but it still has that slow pace.

Would we recommend it?:
BETH: Yes!
CHRISSI: Yes!

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The Never List

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How did I get it?:
I got it free on the o2 moments reward scheme!

Synopsis:

The most relentless, deeply disturbing thriller writer since Jeffery Deaver and Gillian Flynn

For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the “Never List”: a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs. But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.

Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn’t make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.

Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors—who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.

Thoughts:

The Never List has been on my radar for quite some time now. My sister read it last year, and immediately she was trying to get me to read it. But you know the problems of a bookworm/book blogger. I had too many books to read before getting around to this one! However, I always take part in the Richard and Judy Book Club, so when they had included it in their Spring Reads, it forced me to read it sooner. I thought The Never List was a gripping, disturbing psychological thriller. It surprised me that it was a debut. It felt incredibly accomplished.

I thought this story had great premise. It starts with best friends Jennifer and Sarah experiencing a near fatal accident. It makes the girls paranoid that something is going to happen to them that may end in death. So, they make a ‘Never List’. Things that they should do to keep them safe. The girls keep to this list, until they become more confident. Whilst at college, they become more lax. The girls get into a car one day, they are abducted and thrown into a cellar with some other girls. Down in the cellar the girls experience some shocking torture. Jennifer is thrown into a box to live, whilst Sarah and the other girls are tortured weekly, whilst their captor takes notes on their reactions. This ordeal goes on for 3 years, until Sarah manages to escape and saves the other girls.

The story then shifts to the present tense, 10 years later. Sarah is living practically as a hermit, still seeking therapy to get over the terrible ordeal. It’s time for the parole hearing of the captor, and Sarah has to be encouraged to speak at the hearing, so he isn’t released from prison. Sarah is still receiving letters from the captor. She’s still wondering where Jennifer’s body is. Sarah has accepted that Jennifer is dead, and she thinks if she can find Jennifer’s body, then it will keep the captor in jail.

Overall, The Never List is a very good read. For me, it began to slow in the middle, but then it picked up pace and I couldn’t wait to find out what was going on. I actually found my mouth dropping at the twist towards the end. I certainly didn’t expect it.

I can’t wait to see what this talented author comes out with next. I was very impressed with The Never List, so I shall be keeping an eye out for her next work!

For another perspective, please check out Beth’s review HERE.

Would I recommend it?:
Of Course!

Talking about ‘A Commonplace Killing’ with Bibliobeth

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How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

On a damp July morning in 1946, two schoolboys find a woman’s body in a bomb site in north London. The woman is identified as Lillian Frobisher, a wife and mother who lived in a war-damaged terrace a few streets away.

The police assume that Lil must have been the victim of a vicious sexual assault; but the autopsy finds no evidence of rape, and Divisional Detective Inspector Jim Cooper turns his attention to her private life.

How did Lil come to be in the bomb site; a well-known lovers haunt? If she had consensual sex, why was she strangled? Why was her husband seemingly unaware that she had failed to come home on the night she was killed?

In this gripping murder story, Sian Busby gradually peels away the veneer of stoicism and respectability to reveal the dark truths at the heart of postwar austerity Britain.

Thoughts:

CHRISSI: What did you think of the narration?

BETH: At first I found the narration quite confusing in this novel to be honest. It hopped around quite a bit from chapter to chapter regarding which character was speaking, and at times I found I had to concentrate to realise who exactly was speaking which slightly spoiled my enjoyment of the story.

BETH: How do you think this novel worked in the crime genre?

CHRISSI: I think this novel would have been a better reading experience for me, if it had focussed specifically on the crime element in the book. I felt like it jumped around between historical fiction and crime fiction. If it had zoned in on the horrific crime, then I feel like that it would have flowed better. It felt quite stilted for me.

CHRISSI: Did it affect your reading experience knowing the area in which the book was based?

BETH: Great question. I absolutely loved that the book was set around the Holloway Road in North London which is where I am living at the moment. It was really nice to read about an area I’m just becoming familiar with myself, and I found myself smiling when I recognised parts of the area or local buses. Even though the book is set in the summer of 1946 and obviously some things have changed, refreshingly other things stay the same. And from what I see today, there still may be some “spivs” hanging around…

BETH: Would you have preferred that the villain in this book was unmasked at the end rather than halfway through?

CHRISSI: I think it would have been better placed at the end of the book. I think if it was at the ending then it would have built suspense really well.  I think because it was unmasked halfway through, I had nothing to really look forward to. If you can look forward to the unmasking of a villain…

CHRISSI: What did you think of Evelyn?

BETH: Evelyn is a woman that Lillian Frobisher takes into her house to rent a room, feeling slightly sorry for her but hoping she can help with general household tasks and looking after her disabled mother who requires constant care. I found Evelyn herself to be incredibly flighty, and interested in nothing but having a good time, milking everything she can from Lillian and her husband Walter Frobisher. When the murder occurs, I was very surprised at Evelyn’s reaction and her general uncaring attitude but would have loved if the author had delved a bit deeper into her character which seemed slightly murky to say the least!

BETH: What did you think of Lillian?

CHRISSI: Lillian was certainly an interesting character, even though I never really liked her as a character, I accepted that she was what life had made her. Lillian had hopes and dreams and wasn’t afraid to go after what she wanted. I kind of think that she felt hard done by. She felt like she did everything. She kept her house, she queued for what food was available for them, she went without her lodger’s rent because she didn’t feel like she could chuck her out. Her husband bored her, so she went out looking for something more.

CHRISSI: Did you have a favourite character?

BETH: I was surprised at how many characters in this book are genuinely unlikeable. Walter Frobisher I just found pathetic, Lillian is a bit of a “hussy,” and I’ve already told you my thoughts on Evelyn. As with Evelyn though, I don’t feel we got the opportunity to delve a bit deeper into certain characters, which would have been more interesting. The only character I found myself feeling slightly sorry for was the Detective Inspector Jim Cooper who seems to have quite a troubled history – serving in the First World War and having a failed relationship with the love of his life Marjorie (who also happens to have been his friends wife – oops!).

BETH: Given how war can change people, do you feel any kind of sympathy for the murderer, or understanding of his actions?

CHRISSI: A great question! A tricky one too. War can definitely change people, it makes such an impact on individual’s lives. I don’t really feel sympathy for the murderer, but I can understand why he acted the way he did.

Would we recommend it?:
BETH: Yes!
CHRISSI: Yes!

Talking About Apple Tree Yard with Bibliobeth

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How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

Safety and security are commodities you can sell in return for excitement, but you can never buy them back.

Yvonne Carmichael is a geneticist, a scientist renowned in her field but one day, she makes the most irrational of decisions. While she is giving evidence to a Select Committee at the Houses of Parliament, she meets a man and has sex with him in the secluded Chapel in the Crypt. It’s the beginning of a reckless liaison, but there is more to her lover than is at first apparent – as Yvonne discovers when the affair spins out of control and leads inexorably to violence.

Apple Tree Yard is about a woman who makes one rash choice that ends up putting her on trial at the Old Bailey for the most serious of crimes. Like the highly acclaimed Whatever You Love, it is part literary investigation of personal morality, part psychological thriller.

Thoughts:

CHRISSI: Did the book grab you immediately, or did it take a while for you to connect with the story? Did you ever connect with the story?
BETH: When the novel opens, Yvonne is in court charged for an offence committed with an unnamed man. We aren’t told immediately what has happened, and it is a while before we find out which intrigued me from the start and made me want to continue reading. As for connecting with the story, I don’t think I felt any real empathy for the characters themselves although they were interesting enough to make me want to carry on with the story.

BETH: Was this book what you expected or did it surprise you in any way?
CHRISSI: I’m not sure what I expected from this book as I went into it not knowing much about it.  From reading the synopsis, I thought it was going to be more of a psychological thriller but I actually got a courtroom drama/thriller feel out of it. So, it didn’t really surprise me in any way. Despite the promising start, I didn’t start to become intrigued by the book until the last quarter. I think this is because I didn’t really find the characters believable as much as I wanted to. This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the book. It’s not a bad book. It just didn’t grab me.

CHRISSI: Do you think that the outcome to the story is inevitable as soon as Yvonne starts the affair, or do you think there was still a point up to which things could have been different?
BETH: I didn’t really know what the outcome was going to be, to be honest it could have gone either way depending on what the author wanted to do. What was interesting for me as to how my opinions changed about our main character Yvonne throughout the novel. It was like the author was deliberately swaying me one way or another, and to be honest I’m still not sure how I feel about her!

BETH: What did you think of the way in which the characters were presented?
CHRISSI: This is an interesting question. I think part of the reason that I didn’t connect with this book, was because I didn’t really connect with the characters. I don’t always have to like a character, but I usually like to find something about them that intrigues me, or makes me realise why they act the way they do. I can’t quite make up my mind on my thoughts about Yvonne. She’s certainly complex. Credit to Louise Doughty for that! I didn’t think Yvonne’s lover came across very well. I think the most likeable character was Yvonne’s husband, Guy. He put up with so much.

CHRISSI: Discuss the ending of the book, and what you see Yvonne’s future to be now?
BETH: I don’t really want to give too much away about the ending in the book, but I felt dreadful sympathy towards Yvonne and how much she has changed as a person through the events she experienced. It was quite hard to read about her husband Guy, and the unconditional support he gave her despite what she did. As for her future, it’s hard to say, I don’t think that she would be able to go back into such a high-powered role career wise, and there is a risk that she could spiral into depression.

BETH: Were there parts of this book you didn’t enjoy? Why?
CHRISSI: As I mentioned, I didn’t really get pulled in by the book until the last quarter of it, despite the promising beginning. I think for me, the characters weren’t very believable and I didn’t become invested in their story. I was intrigued enough to keep reading, of course, so again, it’s not a bad book. I think it’s one that will definitely be a good book club read. There is a lot to discuss within the book.

CHRISSI: Would you read another book from this author?
BETH: Yes, I would. I enjoyed this novel and thought the telling of it was very unique. I’ve already got the authors Costa Award nominated book Whatever You Love on my Kindle and hope to get to it fairly soon!

BETH: Do you think Yvonne has learned anything by the end of this novel?
CHRISSI: Yvonne’s life is a bit of a train wreck. I think she did learn something by the end of the novel. I think a lot of it was self-discovery.

Would we recommend it?:
BETH: Of course!
CHRISSI: Yes!

The Rosie Project

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How did I get it?:
NetGalley- thanks to Penguin Books

Synopsis:

Love isn’t an exact science – but no one told Don Tillman. A thirty-nine-year-old geneticist, Don’s never had a second date. So he devises the Wife Project, a scientific test to find the perfect partner. Enter Rosie – ‘the world’s most incompatible woman’ – throwing Don’s safe, ordered life into chaos. But what is this unsettling, alien emotion he’s feeling?

Thoughts:

I’d heard so much about this book before I requested it on NetGalley. Looking up the reviews definitely made me want to read it. It has now been selected for a Richard and Judy Spring Read 2014 which is a book club. I’m not surprised it has been picked as I think it’s a brilliant book which would appeal to many people. I didn’t quite think it was a five star read, but I still think it’s a lovely, sweet, unique love story with a little detective twist.

The Rosie Project follows Professor Don Tillman who is a postdoctoral researcher working in the genetics field. Don covers a lecture on the genetic aspects of autism for his friend and colleague Gene. We find out that Don himself, obsessively orders his own life and has difficulty forming relationships. In order to find a partner he starts ‘The Wife Project.’ He develops a questionnaire to identify a suitable wife. This person has to be an intellectual, a non-smoker and also share similar interests to Don. Gene introduces Don to Rosie. Rosie is a barmaid in a gay bar, completely opposite to what Don is looking for. Rosie is a result of a one night stand and she’s looking for her real father. Rosie and Don embark on ‘The Father Project’, a genetic search to try to find her father!

The Rosie Project is full of funny and touching moments. Don repeatedly misreads social situations and Rosie completely changes his world. Rosie and Don are engaging characters. I felt for both of them and wanted the best for them both. I don’t think it’s completely a true account with someone with autism, so if you’re looking for a book about autism then don’t read this one! (Alternatively, if you are looking for a great book about autism, then I would recommend The Reason I Jump!)

This is a quirky, fun read which I think is definitely worth taking a look at.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!