Reviews: Sea Swept, Rising Tides, and Inner Harbour — Nora Roberts

Read: 42
To Go: 58

Book List:
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
32. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
33. The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery
34. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
35. A Necessary End — Peter Robinson
36. Envy — Sandra Brown
37. The Preacher — Camilla Läckberg
38. Hidden — Catherine McKenzie
39. Ricochet — Sandra Brown
40. Sea Swept — Nora Roberts
41. Rising Tides — Nora Roberts
42. Inner Harbour — Nora Roberts

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Finished reading: July 14, 2013

I read the first three books in Nora Robert’s Chesapeake Bay quartet—loaners from my mother—in a row, so I thought I would consolidate the reviews into one post and save all you poor followers from the unnecessary emails. It also works better this way because, while being independent stories, the three novels share an overarching narrative which I wanted to discuss.

In Sea Swept, Cameron Quinn, boat-racing champion, returns home from Monaco when he gets word that his father was in a car accident. When he arrives in Maryland, he rushes to his father’s death bed where Ray Quinn asks his three adopted sons to take care of his newest stray, a young boy named Seth. Cut off from his posh lifestyle, Cameron has to adjust to his new home life, and find a way to reach out to his new charge, all while entertaining a simmering flirtation with Anna Spinelli, the social worker assigned to Seth’s case.

Nora Roberts has always been pretty hit-or-miss for me, but Sea Swept was a sharp, funny read with unexpected depth. Cameron Quinn—charismatic and, underneath the tough veneer, kind—makes for a pretty wonderful lead character, and Anna Spinelli—fair-minded and truly caring—is the perfect match for him. Roberts pulls together a believable love story between the two, set against the picturesque backdrop of St. Christopher’s, Maryland, with enough witty banter between the four Quinn men to keep you laughing through the book.

What I especially liked about Sea Swept—as well as the other two books—is the Quinn family backstory. Ray and Stella Quinn adopted three angry, abused young men from broken homes, and gave them better lives, full of love. It’s a little more depth than you can usually expect from a Nora Roberts series, and the writing—thankfully—doesn’t stray often into ridiculous territory. The stories are all written sensitively, and the cast of characters are worth investing in.

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Finished reading: July 17, 2013

In Rising Tides, Ethan Quinn, a fisherman and boat-builder, is settling into his new life, helping his brothers to care for the young and haunted Seth, while loving Grace Monroe, a long-time friend and single mother, from afar. After the two admit their feelings for each other, their burgeoning relationship forces Ethan to confront the painful childhood memories he’s held onto his whole life.

Though Ethan’s introspection and commitment-phobia (because of some fear that he’s genetically predisposed to cruelty) in Rising Tides was at times cliche and bordered on overly dramatic, the book had a sentimental streak that warmed my heart. Grace just exuded joyfulness and optimism, and her daughter, Aubrey, had some of the cutest lines of the book, and they more than made up for Ethan’s “noble sacrifice” routine, which wore a little thin. Rising Tides also featured more of that comical brotherly dialogue I love so much.

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Finished reading: July 21, 2013

In Inner Harbour, Phillip Quinn, an advertising executive working part-time at the Quinn family boat-building business, finds himself drawn to Dr. Sybill Griffin, a visitor to St. Christopher who claims to be working on a book about small towns. But the quiet, watchful Sybill is in Maryland for more than just research, and her connection to Seth rattles the Quinn clan, and provides some long-overdue answers about Seth’s parentage.

Phillip and Sybill were likely my least favourite pairing, but that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Inner Harbour. Though I like sleek, sophisticated and generous Phillip, I found Sybill at times a little too clinical to be realistic; her constant reminders to herself to stay back and remain objective and quietly observe were a little grating. But her kind heart and nervous efforts to ingratiate herself with Seth and the Quinns made her a little bit easier to like.

On that note, the reason Sybill finds herself in St. Christopher’s—to observe Seth, her biological nephew, and ascertain whether his abusive mother had invented a tall tale about her son being ‘stolen’ from her—brings the series’ subplot, which had been bubbling under the surface until that point, to a boil. Unfortunately, it was anti-climactic.

Throughout the novels Gloria, Seth’s terrifying birth mother, has been a background antagonist who doesn’t have much to her: she’s a shadowy, cackling villainous template who never truly does anything to threaten the status quo for the Quinn household during the three books. When she finally does show up near the end of Inner Harbour, to demand some sort of payment for Seth (an unsuccessful extortion scheme was her method of antagonism), all it takes is a hard shove and a few nasty words from Sybill to send her packing. On one hand, it shows emotional growth for Sybill, which is, I think, a plus. But for a plot that Roberts expects her audience to invest their time (and considerable worry) in, the conclusion is a bit of a disappointment. However, the home-stretch fumble isn’t unfortunate enough to ruin an otherwise enjoyable series.

Next book: Slow Heat in Heaven — Sandra Brown

– Kelsey

(P.S.: Yes, the book count will return to normal in the next review. This was only a temporary arrangement for the sake of the triple-review.)

Review: Ricochet — Sandra Brown

Read: 39
To Go: 61

Book List:
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
32. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
33. The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery
34. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
35. A Necessary End — Peter Robinson
36. Envy — Sandra Brown
37. The Preacher — Camilla Läckberg
38. Hidden — Catherine McKenzie
39. Ricochet — Sandra Brown

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Finished reading: July 13, 2013

In the same spur-of-the-moment spending spree that led me to purchase Envy, I also bought Ricochet and one other Sandra Brown book. What can I say? I was looking for uncomplicated reading, and Brown fit the bill. Unfortunately, both Envy and Ricochet showed me that her older work just isn’t as good as her newer novels (Lethal and Low Pressure).

When Savannah detective Duncan Hatcher is summoned to influential judge Cato Laird’s home in the early hours of the morning, he finds an unusual crime scene. The judge’s wife, Elise, has fatally shot a burglar, and is claiming self defense. But clues at the crime scene suggest she’s being less than truthful so Duncan investigates further, putting his career in jeopardy. When Elise makes a startling allegation in private, Duncan dismisses it as a lie designed to distract him from the investigation. But when, days later, Elise goes missing and is presumed dead, Duncan realizes he may have made a terrible mistake.

Ricochet is, like Envy, a case of a good idea being poorly executed. The plot itself is well thought out and smartly paced: Brown knows when to reveal and when to hold back. But the detective leading me through the mystery was hard to stomach. And while I believe unlikeable main characters have their place in fiction, I don’t think Duncan Hatcher was supposed to be unlikeable—and therein lies the execution problem. He was supposed to be relatable, and he wasn’t. At all.

Duncan Hatcher and his partner, DeeDee, are initially presented as fair-minded, intelligent detectives (albeit, with some temper). But when it comes to Elise Laird and the supposed burglary-gone-wrong, neither of them can set aside their prejudices to conduct a truly fair investigation. DeeDee is envious of Elise’s looks and station, but disguises it as contempt for an alleged liar (though, despite all their hunches about the burglary, neither she nor Duncan can actually come up with concrete evidence to suggest Elise is being anything but truthful). And Duncan’s attracted to Elise, and angry at her husband, so to mask his own failings at objectivity he regards her with sexist disdain, assuming that she’s exploiting his attraction to her to prevent him from examining the crime. Not to mention that when Elise comes to him, thinking she can trust him with allegations of a threat on her life, Duncan blows her off, putting a woman’s life in jeopardy to protect his pride.

Detectives who don’t always play by the books—and, occasionally, go full-on rogue in the name of justice—come with the territory of writing a crime fiction novel. But Duncan and DeeDee are just too much. They’re terribly unappealing characters. And while Brown is able to mostly turn them both around by the end of the book, making Duncan and DeeDee if not likeable, at least tolerable, the two of them leave a bad taste in my mouth. I know I was supposed to be happy to see Elise end up with Duncan in the end. But I just kept hoping she would run for the hills.

Not exactly the reaction you’re hoping for at the end of a mystery-romance novel.

Next book: Sea Swept — Nora Roberts

– Kelsey

P.S.: Shortly after reading Ricochet, I found out that it had been adapted to a made-for-TV movie. So, of course, I had to watch it. And I actually thought I might die of laughter sometime throughout the movie. John Corbett, the ultimate nice-guy actor, is so horribly miscast as a “rogue” detective: his idea of being edgy was yelling all of his dialogue, which—trust me—did not help. It was unintentionally hilarious, though.

Review: Hidden — Catherine McKenzie

Read: 38
To Go: 62

Book List:
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
32. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
33. The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery
34. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
35. A Necessary End — Peter Robinson
36. Envy — Sandra Brown
37. The Preacher — Camilla Läckberg
38. Hidden — Catherine McKenzie

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Finished reading: July 12, 2013

Walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. And not one but two women are shattered by the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker, Tish. While dealing with her own loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son, make funeral arrangements, and prepare for the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother—and her ex-boyfriend—Tim. Tish prepares to attend the funeral, volunteering to go as a representative from the company, knowing the risk of inserting herself into Jeff’s life.

Hidden was a bittersweet novel about grief, secrets, and trust that lacked a driving force. It had a vague sense of momentum, but not enough to really hook me, or to propel the story forward. Perhaps it was the sense of stasis that grief creates, or the reflective nature of the novel, but Hidden didn’t seem to really move.

The story is a marked deviation from what I know of Catherine McKenzie’s work—funny, sweet, smartly-written love stories—and while she creates beautiful, heartbreaking characters in Claire and Tish, the nature of the plot presented a challenge it was difficult to overcome: stagnation.

Next book: Ricochet — Sandra Brown

– Kelsey

Review: The Preacher — Camilla Läckberg

Read: 37
To Go: 63

Book List:
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
32. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
33. The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery
34. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
35. A Necessary End — Peter Robinson
36. Envy — Sandra Brown
37. The Preacher — Camilla Läckberg

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Finished reading: July 9, 2013

After reading The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg, which I very much enjoyed, I wanted to dig into the rest of the Patrik Hedstrom series, starting from the beginning. While I was in the BMV I found The Preacher, the second in the series. They didn’t have the first book, The Ice Princess, in stock, so I just made do with what was available.

In The Preacher, the inhabitants of Fjällbacka, a small Swedish town, are shaken when a young boy discovers a woman’s body while he’s outside playing. When the police arrive, they find the remains of two other women, campers who’d gone missing decades prior, resting under the victim. Patrik Hedstrom is assigned the case, and starts his investigation with only one tenuous lead. He focuses his attention on the Hult family, a squabbling clan of religious fanatics and criminals, trying to connect the cold cases to the freshest murder. But the suspect list is long and, with another young woman gone missing, he doesn’t have much time to catch the killer.

I’ve put off writing a review of The Preacher for a while because as much as I enjoyed it, I’ve had a hard time articulating why without sounding trite. For that reason, this will be short.

One of the reasons I was so excited to start reading Camilla Läckberg when I got that first book in the prize pack was because of Stieg Larsson: his Dragon Tattoo series opened up the Canadian market to an influx of Swedish crime fiction, and I, personally, was eager to read more of it. With The Drowning and now The Preacher, Camilla Läckberg blew Larsson out of the water almost effortlessly. Her mysteries are disturbing and full of twists; her writing is concise and sharp; and Patrik and Erica are the ultimate crime-solving duo.

The Preacher presents a particularly nasty crime for Patrik to solve, with a surprising (and, I’ll admit it, upsetting) finale. And the Hult family, each member harbouring their own secrets, is a formidable opponent for the Tanumshede police officer to go up against.

Erica takes a step back from her role as partner in crime(solving) in The Preacher, because of her pregnancy, and focuses on her sister Anna. Having left an abusive marriage, Anna is in a new relationship with a man who Erica immediately distrusts—and with good reason—which creates tension between the sisters, leading to a falling out with disastrous consequences. Although I’ve been reading the series out of order, Anna’s background arc is one I’m really invested in. Seeing her return to her abusive ex-husband by the end of The Preacher had me itching to pick up the series’ third book to read what comes next.

But of course, I was going to pick it up anyway—I’m hooked on Camilla Läckberg’s gory small-town murder mysteries.

Next book: Hidden — Catherine McKenzie

– Kelsey

Review: Envy — Sandra Brown

Read: 36
To Go: 64

Book List:
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
32. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
33. The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery
34. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
35. A Necessary End — Peter Robinson
36. Envy — Sandra Brown

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Finished reading: June 25, 2013

As I mentioned in my last post, this summer I’ve been on the look out for new mysteries to read, since I’ve read all the Connelly books. While I was in the bookstore in June I noticed a bunch of Sandra Brown novels, and, having enjoyed her newer books, decided to go back and read her older works. They’re a mix of mystery and romance, usually, which seemed to suit my preferences perfectly. I started with Envy, because the premise immediately hooked me.

In Envy, Maris Matherly Reed, heiress to the Matherly publishing house, is wading through the slush pile when she comes across a tantalizing manuscript from an author who identifies himself only as PME, and leaves no return address, and no phone number. Desperate to meet the writer, she tracks him down to an eerie, ramshackle cotton plantation on a Georgia island. There she meets Parker Evans, the bitter, wheelchair-bound writer whose manuscript, a tale of two young friends and a deadly betrayal, may be closer to reality than fiction, and has a connection to Maris’s own life.

In theory, the plot for Envy was a fantastic idea. A story of deception, revenge and, of course, writing, it had all the hallmarks of a brilliant novel. In practice, the execution was severely lacking. It was likely because the characters of Envy were templates instead of real, fleshed out, believable people. It was hard to care about anyone; they were all character sketches that relied heavily on well-played stereotypes.

Maris was the typical hard-working rich girl: she’ll inherit into wealth, but she’s brilliant, dedicated, and determined to earn her success—in short, she has no flaws to speak of. Her father, Daniel, is the shrewd patriarch who sees straight to the heart of people, even when others can’t; her husband, Noah, is the maniacal cackling, scheming villain who has no real motivation other than to be a jerk and to inconvenience Maris. And it’s an indication of poor characterization and somewhat lazy plotting that after reading the novel and ruminating on it for over a month, I still can’t decipher what Noah’s actual character motivations were for his repeated villainy. Parker falls easily into the stereotype of gruff love interest with a secretly romantic heart and good intentions. The only slight difference here—and, admittedly, kudos for diversity, which isn’t often present in romance novels—is that Parker is in a wheelchair.

The events that led to Parker needing to use a wheelchair, which gradually reveal themselves over the course of Envy, are supposed to make him more sympathetic (if you weren’t already swayed to like him by his role as love interest). But it’s hard to sympathize with someone who ruthlessly uses the woman he says he loves, and treats her like a trophy in his years’-long pissing contest with Noah, revealing a lot about the way he views women (hint: Maris isn’t the first woman to get caught between Parker and Noah). Someone like Parker, who already makes advances that sound more like sexual harassment, and is, generally speaking, a revenge-driven cad, is hard to root for. At the end of a romance novel you’re supposed to cheer when the main couple get together, but there was no cheering on my end. Even if she was a cookie-cutter character template, Maris deserves better than Parker. All women deserve better than Parker.

On the plus side, and in an Alanis Morisette-level “ironic” twist, Parker was the novel’s most well-developed character.

I guess you have to take your victories where you can get them.

Next book: The Preacher — Camilla Lackberg

– Kelsey

Review: A Necessary End — Peter Robinson

Read: 35
To Go: 65

Book List:
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
32. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
33. The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery
34. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
35. A Necessary End — Peter Robinson

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Finished reading: June 24, 2013

I don’t know what it is about the summer, but when the weather is hot and school is out, I get the urge to read mystery novels almost exclusively. In 2011, the summer months were when I got addicted to Michael Connelly through the Lincoln Lawyer series. In 2o12, I started reading his Harry Bosch books while making the daily commute to my summer internship. But this summer, after I’d finished The Black Box and caught up on Robert Rotenberg’s series (Stranglehold being the most recent), I had no mysteries to read by authors I knew. So, I thought, I needed to expand. In came A Necessary End. I found it in the BMV and it looked like an acceptable mystery, so I picked it up.

Big mistake.

In A Necessary End, a small English town is shaken when a rally protesting the implementation of a nuclear power plant becomes violent, and a police officer from a neighbouring town ends up dead. Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, the lead detective on the investigation, is put under the supervision of Superintendent Richard Burgess, a senior officer sent in from London to assist on the case. But Burgess’s nasty tactics and anti-Communist tunnel vision put the investigation’s integrity in jeopardy, and Banks knows the only way to ensure a truly fair outcome is to solve the case himself.

I don’t want to waste too much time on A Necessary End, because it wasn’t more than a run-of-the-mill mystery at best. At worst, it was forgettable, dull, and the literary equivalent of plodding through a damp marsh. Yuck.

If I was interested in anything, it was the political climate during the time period the book was set in: Thatcher was the prime minister, and anti-Liberal, anti-“Commie” sentiments were pervasive. The swirling political tension, and how it affected Burgess and Banks’s police work and their list of suspects, was more compelling to read than the actual mystery, the conclusion of which I figured out within the first half of the novel.

Next book: Envy — Sandra Brown

– Kelsey

Review: Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy

Read: 34
To Go: 66

Book List:
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
32. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
33. The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery
34. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy

“Top 50 38 Romantic Lines” read: 12/38

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Romantic quote: “He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.”

Finished reading: June 21, 2013

It took me five months to read (granted, I put it down for long periods of time in those five months, and really only read it when I was taking the train home to Barrie), but in mid-June I finally finished the tomb that is Anna Karenina. Never was there a person more proud than I was at that moment. But, I have to admit, other than making me proud to have completed it, Anna Karenina didn’t do much for me. Though I’m sure it’s sacrilegious to say, it was just okay. Solidly middle-of-the-pack, but no better than that.

In Anna Karenina, the unhappily married titular character embarks on a doomed affair with Count Alexei Vronsky, which leads to her alienation from Russian society and overwhelming unhappiness. In a parallel story, Konstantin Levin, a friend of Anna’s brother, returns to Russian society, convinced that he must ask his longtime friend, Kitty Scherbatsky, for her hand in marriage. When she says no, anticipating that she’ll be receiving another proposal that night—from none other than Count Vronsky—both Kitty and Levin experience all-consuming despair.

Anna Karenina is a story told in eight parts and roughly 800 pages, depending on the edition you pick up. I don’t know why it’s that long. A month after reading it, I still can’t comprehend why it took Tolstoy 800 pages and eight parts to tell a rather commonplace tale of an affair to remember. Especially when, for several parts at a time, the novel seemed to be in relative stasis. For at least three parts, Anna and Vronsky were pretending to be happy while snipping at each other in their private moments, and Anna was an indecisive jealous mess. But any reader with a pulse can comprehend the state of the union in just one part, so why waste time on the other two when nothing of note had changed?

Levin and Kitty’s parallel story, surprisingly, was the one I was more invested in, because it actually had momentum. Each part brought Levin and Kitty to a new place, both plot-wise and as characters, and then finally reconnected them. Unlike Anna and Vronsky, who were practically spinning their wheels in a mud-filled ditch, Levin and Kitty kept moving forward. Not to mention they were infinitely more likeable characters (even if Levin was a bit of a stick in the mud sometimes).

Anna Karenina (or, as I like to call it, Six Crazy Russians) was, to be quite frank, nothing special. It was long and tiresome with occasional moments of beautiful writing (like the romantic quote from the Stylist list). The plot was, to use a cliche, as slow as molasses to advance, and had far too many diversions into the minutiae of Russian life (including a particularly perplexing and not at all relevant election scene). But at least Kitty and Levin were there to make it bearable.

Next book: A Necessary End — Peter Robinson

– Kelsey

P.S.: I watched the movie adaptation of this—the newest one—and it was fantastic. Treating it like a stage performance was a little unusual, but it worked. Plus, the performances were brilliant, a lot of the time-wasting scenes were cut out, and the movie itself was visually stunning. Worth a watch!

Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery

Read: 33
To Go: 67

Book List:
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
32. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
33. The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery

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Finished reading: June 16, 2013

I came across The Elegance of the Hedgehog in an unusual way. You may recall, if you’ve followed the blog long enough, that near the end of last year I read Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club. Besides being a beautiful and touching memoir, it was also a wonderful novel about books, and gave me plenty of novels to put on my to-read list. The Elegance of the Hedgehog was one of the books Schwalbe and his mother read together, but didn’t really pique my interest until I saw it in Chapters during my post-Christmas book binge. I picked it up, decided to buy it, and was told by my sister shortly afterwards that: “You always pick the books with the weirdest names.”

Guilty as charged.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog intertwines the lives of three inhabitants of a posh Parisian apartment building: Renee, a dumpy concierge who hides her autodidactic intellect behind a bland facade; Paloma, a brilliant pre-teen with an existential bent and a plan to commit suicide on her 13th birthday; and Kakuro Ozu, the building’s new, mysterious Japanese tenant. When Kakuro unexpectedly reaches out to both Paloma and Renee, sensing that neither are who they appear to be, his friendship has a profound affect on both women.

Translated from French, Hedgehog is also a meditation on beauty, art, literature, and philosophy. While this has its place in a novel about a woman who learns everything by reading it herself, and a suicidal girl determined to find little moments in life that are beautiful, it went on far too long, and reading Hedgehog began to feel like a slow death.

It couldn’t have been clearer that Barbery was trying to elevate her novel to an intellectual plane far above the common reader, but it didn’t feel smart: it felt like she was trying too hard. The first two thirds of Hedgehog are basically screaming “Look at me! Look at how many obscure references I can make! Look at how much I know! Let me rub it in your face!”

Fortunately the entrance of Kakuro Ozu—far too late in the narrative, might I add—shook up the book’s pretentious pandering, and infused Hedgehog with a new life. When Barbery gave her three characters a chance to engage with each other, The Elegance of the Hedgehog became a much more likeable, and even poignant, read. Renee, Paloma, and Kakuro were all interesting, heartbreakingly relatable characters, but if you were a reader who couldn’t slog through Barbery’s relentless reference-dropping, you’d never know it.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog was, underneath the suffocating pretension, a bittersweet story about a friendship that was powerful enough to transform three lives. It’s dramatic ending was a shock to the system that left me aching for the characters I had quickly come to love. If Barbery had dedicated more of her novel to the relationships between Renee, Paloma, and Kakuro, it would have been an infinitely stronger story overall.

Next book: The Beast itself, Anna Karenina.

– Kelsey

P.S.: I watched the movie adaptation, Le Herisson, and it was brilliant. Because of the nature of the medium, Le Herisson had to cut out the philosophical discussions and get right to the heart of the story, and it was all the more touching for it. Even if you have to watch it with the subtitles on, I’d recommend a screening.

Review: Spin — Catherine McKenzie

Read: 32
To Go: 68

Book List:
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
32. Spin — Catherine McKenzie

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Finished reading: June 9, 2013

If I remember correctly, I bought and read Spin in the same day. I was browsing through the BMV and found it, and decided it would be a quick, easy read. It was both. It was also an unexpected heart-tugger.

In Spin, music writer Kate Sandford scores an interview with her dream magazine, The Line, scheduled for her birthday. So she goes out to celebrate, and pays for it the next day when she shows up late to the interview, reeking of booze. It’s no surprise that she doesn’t get the job, but her unimpressive performance convinces one of the editors that she’s perfect for another writing gig: following “It Girl” Amber Sheppard into rehab, and writing the ultimate undercover expose for The Line’s sister publication. If she can get the scoop and complete the full 30-day program, they’ll reconsider her for a position at the magazine.

Kate agrees to the assignment, finding it amusing that the editors think she needs to attend rehab. But during her 30-day stay, she starts to realize that she may have had more of a problem with alcohol than she thought. And when she starts to develop a friendship with Amber, she begins to question whether she can write the story at all.

 Spin is a book that is at once sweet and complex, and faces the difficulties of addiction head-on. Kate isn’t always an easy narrator to like, but watching her evolution throughout the book, from denying her problem to finally getting sober and staying that way, feels satisfying, and kept me solidly in her corner.

Worth a mention: McKenzie’s inclusion of a chapter-by-chapter playlist for a book that revolves around a music writer was such a novel idea. I loved listening along as I read, and picked up a few new songs that I really like now. (Apologies by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, for one, is beautiful.)

Next book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog — Muriel Barbery

– Kelsey

Review: The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott

Read: 31
To Go: 69

Book List:
31. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott

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Finished reading: June 8, 2013

Since I have a relatively uncomplicated work-week, I thought I’d take some time to play more review catch-up. The next on the list is The Dressmaker, which I read almost a full two months ago (that feels wholly unbelievable to me). It was one of those books that I got for Christmas, put on my shelf, and forgot about for a while. But after reading A Lion Among Men, I needed something a little easier to read, and went with The Dressmaker. A fine choice, indeed!

In The Dressmaker, aspiring seamstress Tess is thrilled when she is hired on as the maid of Lucile Duff Gordon, an English fashion designer who is as famous for her temperament as she is for her lush dresses. The two, along with Lucile’s husband, board the maiden voyage of the Titanic, where luxury awaits. As Tess is drawn into Lucile’s world, she catches the eye of two men: a suave Chicago businessman, and a kind sailor. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes. Amidst the chaos, Tess is one of the last to get a spot on the lifeboats, and her sailor also escapes, witness to the Duff Gordons’ questionable actions in their nearly-empty lifeboat.

When the survivors reach New York, rumours start to circulate, and Lucile quickly becomes the subject of media scrutiny, and then is asked to appear at the Titanic hearings. And Tess finds herself caught in the middle, forced to make a choice about what—and who—she believes.

The Dressmaker is rich with historical detail, and its focus on the Titanic hearings, which pit the word of Tess’s sailor, Jim, against the formidable Duff Gordons, keeps the pages turning. I sped through it in a day, desperate to see whether Lucile would admit to her part in what transpired in her lifeboat, and how Tess’s loyalties to her employer would be tested.

But the true strength of The Dressmaker is in its complex female characters. Lucile may be cruel, but she knows what it means to come from poverty and make something of herself. Tess, in the throes of new love, refuses to compromise her dreams of designing clothing for a life as a housewife. And Pinky, a diligent New York Times reporter covering the hearings, demands a raise from her boss that will put her above her male colleagues, at the time a daring and likely unprecedented move.  They’re characters you can sympathize with and root for—even Lucile.

Next book: Spin — Catherine McKenzie

– Kelsey