Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot LiveseyThis book is a (relatively) modern-day retelling of the Jane Eyre story, taking place in the 1950s.

As I’m not a Jane Eyre die-hard, I was firstly quite tolerant about the variations that were made to the original story, and secondly, not always aware of what the next step in the story should be so I could read it without too many pre-conceptions.

The cover suggests YA but this is definitely a book for adults too. It’s for anyone who likes or loves the story of Jane Eyre.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy: What it is about

It’s the 1950s in Scotland. Gemma Hardy grows up with her uncle’s family, after her parents (Scottish mother and Icelandic father) die when she’s still very young. But when her uncle dies her aunt sends her to boarding school at the age of ten. She’s there as a ‘working girl’, which means she has to do household chores before and after (and sometimes during) school hours.

She has very few friends at the school and generally has an awful time there. When she’s 18, she applies to become an au pair for a family on the Orkney Islands, in the far north of Scotland, and so, this is where she goes.

If you know the Jane Eyre story, you can guess the sort of events that will happen. If not, then I’ve almost given you too much information already, so I’ll let you enjoy the book for yourself.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy: What I thought

4.5 out of 5 stars I had to look up the Jane Eyre story to see how Gemma Hardy compares with it. The general storyline is very similar, but the ending is different. I didn’t remember Jane Eyre well enough to predict how the story would continue, which was actually quite nice: something would happen and I would think: ‘Oh, that’s right’; there were moments of recognition. But because I didn’t remember the original story too well, I didn’t actively look for certain things to happen. I wonder how other readers, with a better memory of Jane Eyre will feel about the story.

The story taking place in the 1950s and 1960s was interesting, but it often didn’t feel as if the story was taking place in the 20th Century. Some of the situations, especially the boarding school, were decidedly Dickensian. The novel wasn’t strongly set in the mid-20th Century. The beginning of the book, before Gemma’s flight, could generally have taken place 200 years earlier too. Only later, when there are buses and aeroplanes, the sense of being in a recent century becomes stronger.

I liked the connection with Iceland, a country that I always find fascinating to read about. And Gemma spends some time on the Orkneys islands above Scotland, which appeals too: it’s rough, cold, small-townish, and scenic.

Strangely enough (but not after I checked the Jane Eyre story) there are a few supernatural moments in this novel. I found them too few to call this a supernatural novel, but I would have liked the author to be a bit more firm on this matter: either there are supernatural events and then they are used in equal amounts throughout the book, or there aren’t. But just one or two here and there, it didn’t make sense. Maybe it does in the context of the Jane Eyre book, where there was also just a little bit of the supernatural. But there it didn’t bother me, whereas in Gemma Hardy, it seemed a little odd.

Another weaker point in the book is that the events after Gemma’s flight where much shorter in time than the rest of the book, which felt a bit rushed. She went several places in quick succession (in terms of pages in the book) and the pace was so much faster than the earlier parts of the book, that it didn’t seem the same book almost.

But, notwithstanding these comments, I had a great time reading this book. I liked Gemma’s dire situation, and how she fought for a better life, and I also liked discovering parallels to Jane Eyre. If you’re a Jane Eyre fan, you may find this book too similar, maybe. Let me know!

Rating: 4.5/5

I got this book: ARC from the publishers, Harper, for review

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 464

First published: 2012 (January)

Genre: contemporary fiction, coming of age

Book Review: The Look of Love by Mary Jane Clark

The Look of Love by Mary Jane Clark

Genre: mystery
I got this book: for review from the publishers, William Morrow (a Harper imprint)
First Published: 2012 (January 17th)
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 352
Rating: 4/5

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The Look of Love: What it is About

Piper Donovan is asked to provide a cake for the wedding of a spa owner in California. She’s invited to spend a week at the very luxurious spa while preparing the cake.

Soon after she arrives there is a murder and it appears that Jillian, the bride, is in danger. There are several people who have a reason to harm her or via her, her father, who dotes on her.

Piper gets to know some of the guests and helps one of them to try and uncover possible foul play (maybe unrelated to the murder). Meanwhile she also auditions for a commercial and has a friend back home who would like to get more involved with her, if she lets him.

The Look of Love: What I thought

4 stars (out of 5) This was a fun, easy read. First I expected this to be a cozy mystery, but it wasn’t really. Piper doesn’t try and solve the murder or is involved with finding out who is after the bride. She’s just present when things happen and curious about the situation.

This was my first book by this author, but apparently there are more books with Piper Donovan as protagonist. I didn’t warm to her much and wondered whether this was because I stepped in half-way a series and would have known and loved Piper had I read the other books. In any case, the author didn’t introduce Piper in much detail and so I missed a connection with her. On the other hand, it was not at all necessary to read other books in the series to understand this book. It was definitely an independent story.

I enjoyed the setting: a luxurious spa in a warm climate. A nice place to spend some time, even if it was only in a book. The mystery was fun, as was the secondary story in which Piper helped another guest finding out what dirty goings on were happening in one of the treatment rooms.

It was fun to note that there were several doting fathers that were worried for the welfare of their daughters, whereas the daughters just did what they felt like. On the other hand, I found the idea of the fathers rather patronising and it seemed that in the world of Piper, women needed some protection (or this was assumed by their fathers).

The groom played a minor role in the story and he could have been a bit more worried about his bride-to-be, when she appeared to be the target of some vicious attacks.

The story had some rather unlikely parts (such as hiring someone to do a wedding cake only a few weeks before the wedding, without ever having tasted one of her cakes) but all in all it was a fun story. Ideal for when you’re on holiday in a lounge chair at the pool in the sun, but actually, also quite a good read when on the sofa with the heating on while it’s gray and miserable outside. Short chapters, easy writing.

Book Review: First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty

First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty

Genre: contemporary fiction
I got this book: ARC for review from the publishers, Harper
First Published: 2012 (January 17th)
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 304
Rating: 4/5

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First You Try Everything: What it is About

Evvie and Ben are a middle aged couple that have drifted apart. They don’t have children and live quite separate lives. Separate enough for Ben to start an affair with Lauren, a single mother.

Not much later, he moves out and Evvie is left on her own. She doesn’t know Ben has found someone else and expects them to get back together again. She phones and visits him much more often than he is happy with.

She is desperate get back together and eventually, she finds a drastic way to get Ben back again.

The book is told form the perspectives of Evvie and Ben, and, in one chapter, from a secondary character’s view.

First You Try Everything: What I thought

4 stars (out of 5) This book was both interesting and depressing. It took me a long time to start caring a little for Evvie. She’s strange, even before she falls apart. She was rather childish and dependent and I couldn’t connect with her at all.

Ben was a more reasonable character that I could understand. I think he could have tried a bit harder to stay with Evvie, but as she was acting rather odd, it was no surprise that he left her. He still cared for her (and probably felt guilty) and was patient with her when she phoned or came by his work or new home.

Evvie’s solution to get Ben back was very original but clearly something you’d only find in a book. Ben’s reaction, again, was very natural and reasonable, I thought.

I liked the ending, when Evvie developed an unlikely friendship.

Not for the newly-divorced, this book gives insight in the breakdown of a marriage and the consequent breakdown of one of the ex-partners. A well-written emotional roller coaster.

Book Review: The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

The World We Found by Thrity UmrigarI’ve been reading a lot of good books lately, and I’m pretty sure it’s nothing to do with my mood. If anything, I’m a bit of an impatient reader at the moment, as I have a certain number of books I want to finish before the end of the year.

So yes, another great book by Thrity Umrigar. A few years ago I read The Space Between Us, which I also enjoyed a lot. The World We Found is out in January but can be preordered.

The World We Found: What it is about

Armaiti, an Indian woman who moved to the US years ago and is married with a daughter, discovers that she has a brain tumor and not long to live. She invites her old friends to come and visit before she dies. The friends haven’t been in contact with each other for about twenty years. Since they went to university together and were all involved in student protests, these are the people Armaiti would most like to see again.

The three friends, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta, live in India. The former two are independent women, rich enough to afford the trip. They have some trouble locating Nishta, but find her in a Muslim neighbourhood, in difficult circumstances. Her husband, in his student days a liberal-minded man, turned Muslim fundamentalist after the riots in 1992 in which many Muslims were killed. After the first contact, her husband doesn’t allow Nishta to talk to her friends again, let alone come to the US with them (at their cost).

The book covers Armaiti and her attempt at coping with her illness, and Laleh and Kavita in India, who keep trying to find a way to get their friend to come with them.

The World We Found: What I thought

I loved this book! The writing style is easy, but not lazy. The story is very fluent and satisfying.

Since both Laleh’s and Nishta’s husbands had also been involved with the group of friends at university, Laleh’s husband, Adish, goes to talk to Nishta’s husband Iqbal about the trip (not having seen each other for years) but the difference between them is now so enormous. It was a pity that they didn’t part as friends. In hindsight each of the men didn’t think badly of each other, but they didn’t want to show their real feelings. This rang very true of how people deal with each other.

Select the space below to see a small ***SPOILER***:

What Adish did to Iqbal in the end was terrible and unforgivable. It was a typical case of “Muslim equals terrorist” and it worked a charm. It was probably the only way to stop Iqbal from doing what he was planning to do but even so, I felt very bad about this particular incident.

*** End of Spoiler ***

I thought it was a bit unlikely that the women would be great friends again straight away after 20 years of not having met up. On the other hand, it was heart-warming and I loved how they cared for each other.

As in The Space Between US, Umrigar doesn’t spend too many words explaining what India is like, the customs of the people or what the streets, houses, etc. look like: it’s all “normal” and doesn’t need any explanation. I love that. In this book, the reader is not a visitor to India, looking in from the outside, but is treated just as anyone else and doesn’t get a lot of explanation. Also, sometimes Indian (Hindi?) expressions are used, none of which aren’t translated. This made it all very real and very personal.

A great read! It’s time I chase up the other novels by Umrigar.

Rating: 5/5

I got this book: from the publishers Harper, for review

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 320

First published: January 2012

Genre: contemporary fiction

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