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A Doll's House

A Classic’s Club Book Review

Author: Henrik Ibsen

Genre : Realistic Problem Play

Publisher: T. Fisher Unwin

Year of Publication: 21st December 1879

Number of Pages: 101

My Rating: 5 out of 5

I picked a Doll’s House as the next book to read for my Classics Club ’50 books in 5 years challenge’ because my son is reading it for school and I thought it would be cool to discuss it with him and share ideas on the themes.

This exceptional read is a three-act play written by Henrik Ibsen, who was a leading Norwegian playwright. It features Nora Helmer and her relationship with her husband, Torvald. The play takes place just before Christmas.

Nora is overjoyed because her husband has been appointed Manager of the local bank. He is to start at the beginning of the coming year. The family has been experiencing financial problems and Nora is looking forward to having more money than she can spend.

Torvald believes his wife wastes money, calling her extravagant and a spendthrift who cannot save, even as she says that she really does save all that she can. His opinion of her is also evident in the way that he addresses her, calling her ‘a little squirrel’, ‘a little lark’, ‘a little skylark’ and ‘a little featherhead’. Ugh! When he says something that seems to upset her, he gives her money to cheer her up.

Unknown to Torvald, Nora is not as helpless as he thinks, as she reveals to her old school friend, Mrs. Linde. She has had to work hard as well to support the family. Soon after their marriage, Torvald had overworked himself and fallen ill. The doctors had recommended that he travel south. The trip had to be taken, even though the couple did not have money to finance it.

As far as Torvald knew, Nora borrowed some money from her father to pay for the trip. But Nora’s father had also been ailing at the time and she did not want to bother him. So she did the unthinkable and borrowed money from an unsavory man known as Nils Krogstad, without telling anybody else about it.

Since then, Nora has saved what she can and worked long hours on whatever job she can get in order to repay the loan and the interest charged. When Mr. Krogstad realizes that Torvald is planning to fire him from his position at the bank because of a fraud that he committed, he attempts to blackmail Nora. He threatens to reveal that she borrowed money from him (and committed a fraud in the process) if she does not get her husband to retain him in his position. Nora is distressed by this as she knows Torvald detests loans and any impropriety.

This play is a very insightful look into the way that women were regarded in society at the time. Torvald thinks his wife is a feather head and constantly refers to her as ‘little’. It is clear that he has all the authority in the home and does not regard his wife as an equal.

Eventually, Nora realizes that her husband does not really love her, as he even refuses to do a favor for her. He implies that he would do anything for her, but when she faces condemnation, he turns on her and blames her for ruining him. All he cares about is himself.

As appearances mean a lot to him, he is happy to keep her in his house but proclaims that she must not have any contact with her children, lest she infects them with her immorality.

She also realizes that she does not love him anymore. She feels that she has been treated like a doll, first by her father, then by her husband. Her opinion does not matter. Torvald does not understand her and he has no respect for her. She decides to do the unthinkable and put herself first, for once, and look after her own interests.

I found this play very thought – provoking. The characters were so well developed that I felt like I knew them and what drove them, within such a short period. Their obsession with societal expectations was evident as they place this above all else. I thought it was fascinating how they believed that a parent’s immorality or indiscretions would inevitably lead to the ruin of the children. And how Nora was astonished by the realization that altruistic intentions could not forgive a crime!

The play shows us how damaging secrets can be. It also demonstrates how unreasonable it is to expect that others will always be grateful for what you do for them, especially when you cut some corners in the process. I found it hilarious that Torvald was quick to forgive his wife after he realized that no harm was to come to him and how he attempted to make her forget what he had said before when he thought he was going to be ruined.

The only thing that puzzled me was how a mother can walk out on her children, especially when they had such a good relationship and the kids kept on insisting on spending more time with her. In as much as I understand the need to put herself first, this seems a bit extreme to me!

It therefore does not surprise me that Ibsen was made to write an alternate ending to this play (which he called ‘a barbaric act of violence’) for a staging in Germany where Nora eventually decides to stay, as audiences of the time could also not fathom such an ending.

All in all, A Doll’s House was an interesting take on life and marriage in particular in the 19th century and I give it 5 out of 5 stars! I also greatly enjoyed hearing my son’s take on the themes in the play, so that’s an added bonus.

Adaptations

This play was first performed at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 21, 1879.

Since then, it has been performed numerous times and adapted for TV, radio and cinema. I didn’t really enjoy watching the adaptations. I think this is because an adaptation of a play follows the script very closely, so I just felt like I was re-reading the play again!


  1992: Part of the British “Performance” series, with Juliet Stevenson as Nora and Trevor Eve as Torvald. Directed by David Thacker.
1973 : Claire Bloom as Nora and Anthony Hopkins as Torvald. Directed by Patrick Garland.

If you love plays or classical literature, I recommend that you check this one out!

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The Tattooist of Auschwitzt

Book Review

Author : Heather Morris

Genre : Biographical Fiction

Publisher : Echo/ Bonnier Publishing Australia

Year of Publication : 11th January 2018

Number of Pages : 194

My Rating :4 out of 5

The Tattooist of Auschwitz has been on my ‘to-be-read‘ list for a while. To be honest, it has stayed so long on my TBR list because I really did not want to read a story about the horrors of the Holocaust, having never read one before. The movies and documentaries I watched on the subject gave me quite a chill! I still kept coming across it everywhere, so my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to read it.

This is Heather Morris’ debut novel, originally written as a screenplay before being reworked as a novel. The book has received international acclaim with four million copies sold worldwide (according to Amazon). In the midst of all this success, there has also been some controversy surrounding the book.

This is the story of Lale Sokolov, originally known as Ludwig Eisenberg. It is April 1942 when Lale leaves his home in Slovakia. The German government has demanded that each Jewish family provide an adult child to work for them. Failure to do this will lead to the whole family being sent to a concentration camp. To save his family from this fate, Lale presents himself to the Germans for service, believing his family back home will be safe.

On the gate at Auschwitz are the words ‘Work will make you free’. Lale ponders the meaning of this phrase. A number is tattooed on his arm. He soon learns the true nature of life at Auschwitz where a simple misstep can lead to the loss of a life.

Fortunately for Lale, he gets appointed as a Tätowierer, whose job is to tattoo other prisoners. This puts him in a protected and advantaged position but also at risk of being considered a collaborator, since he now works for the political wing of the SS.

He meets Gita as he tattoos her arm and immediately feels a connection with her. They start a relationship that endures until they separately leave Auschwitz and find each other back home in Slovakia. Heather Morris wrote Lale’s and Gita’s story from Lale’s recollections, more than sixty years after the events had transpired. Lale told her the story after Gita had passed away.

Gita and Lale

I liked the author’s writing style. The story is well written and easy to follow. I was able to easily picture the events as they happened and follow Lale’s thoughts as he lived through the traumatic events. The horror of life at the concentration camp – fear, devastation and suffering – are laid bare in a manner that made me feel like I was watching the events unfold through the characters’ eyes.

Yet in the midst of all that is a powerful story of the resilience of human beings, their ability to survive brutal events and remain hopeful, even when surrounded by suffering and death. Their ability to fall in love and trust that they can build a relationship.

It would have been easy for the characters to just give up but throughout the book, the desire to overcome their circumstances was evident. It amazed me how Lale and Gita were able to find one another and develop such a close bond in such restrictive and devastating surroundings when their future was so uncertain.

Although I really doubted the authenticity of some of their encounters given my (admittedly limited) knowledge of concentration camps, I rooted for them and admired Lale’s determination to be with his beloved. Most of all, I marveled at his courage and ingenuity.

I rate this book 4 out of 5 and recommend it to anyone who loves stories about overcoming adversity. It would have been a 5 but for some discussions I came across online, which resonated with me, given some of my misgivings about the book.

Controversy

Given the historical significance of the Holocaust, any story that is centered on it is bound to attract a lot of attention. Some researchers have questioned the accuracy of some of the details in the book and have stated that some of the events that have been described could not have happened.

Critics have been concerned that readers may take the story as a source of knowledge about life at Auschwitz – Birkenau. In as much as the author clearly states that she changed some facts to further the plot, the story is described as being ‘based on a true story’ and a lot of readers connected with the story because of this.

When questioned about this, the author stated that she wrote “a story of the Holocaust, not the story of the Holocaust.” She told the New York Times that ;-  “The book does not claim to be an academic historical piece of non-fiction, I’ll leave that to the academics and historians.”

My Take on this

This made me ponder on whether writers of historical fiction have an obligation to accurately depict historical events in their books. Is it not true that inaccuracies can mislead and leave readers with a wrong impression of events?

Is it enough for authors to state that their stories are fictional and expect readers not to assume all the historical events are as they happened? What is the line between the fictional and the historical bit? And what is biographical fiction anyway?

I think critics here were so concerned because this is described as a book about real people in a real place at a real time in history. A very sensitive time and place. This would therefore lead most readers to expect the story to be mostly true. And it should be.

How much artistic license do you think an author has when they claim that a novel is based on a true story? Shouldn’t they at the very least get the actual known historical events correct? Let me know!  

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The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

  • Book Review

Author : Lola Shoneyin

Genre : Literary Fiction

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Date of Publication: 2010

Number of Pages: 245

My Rating : 5 out of 5

Yes, I somehow ended up with two copies of this book. I think I bought the first one and whilst it was still on my ‘to read’ list I came across it again and bought a second copy!

Lola Shoneyin is a Nigerian poet. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives was her debut novel published in 2010.  Lola was nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2010 for this book. She won the PEN Oakland 2011 Josephine Miles Literary Award and the 2011 Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose Prize.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives features the Alao family, made up of Ishola Alao (Baba Segi) and his four wives – Iya Segi, Iya Tope, Iya Femi and Bolanle. Iya is the Nigerian term for ‘mother of’ so they are named after their respective first born children. Baba Segi is, of course, named for the oldest child of the first wife.

The book opens with Baba Segi contemplating a problem that he has had to deal with before. The latest addition to his family, his wife Bolanle, has not yet conceived a child. The last time he faced this problem, he found the solution at Teacher’s shack, where men gather and discuss different topics over whiskey.  

Teacher recommended a visit to a herbalist. Not long after taking the prescribed powder, his first wife got pregnant and Segi was born. Now with seven children from his three wives, he is again concerned because Bolanle has not yet conceived, after almost three years of marriage.

Bolanle is different from the other wives. She has gone to university and is educated, whereas they are not. She refuses to see a herbalist. Teacher advises Baba Segi to take her to a hospital.  

Bolanle married Baba Segi against the wishes of her family and friends, who do not understand why she would marry an uneducated polygamist. Baba Segi’s other wives resent her because she is educated. As a result, they refuse to let her in on the secret that they all share, hoping to get rid of her.

When Baba Segi decides to visit the hospital with Bolanle, he sets in motion a course of events  that will change their lives in unimaginable ways.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It gives us a good view of life in a polygamous family and the power dynamics that influence it. The role of the first wife and how it evolves as the husband gets more wives is explored. I enjoyed seeing the different personalities of the characters and how they affect their relationships.

Baba Segi believes he is fully in control of the family and tries as much as he can to be fair to all his wives. Iya Segi is cunning, wise and controlling. Iya Femi is spiteful and vengeful. Iya Tope is lazy and not so bright, yet she is also kind. Bolanle is lost and carries deep-seated pain.

Lola tells this story in an engaging way. She lets the main characters tell us their backstories and show us their feelings by using a first person narrative. In other places, she uses the third person to further the story. These characters are well developed and authentic. I empathised with them, even when I did not like their actions.

The book tackles themes such as polygamy, violence, infertility, prejudice and other social injustices. It is a beautiful narrative that both entertains, questions and challenges. It is a tale of how far people will go to get what they want and to maintain their livelihood.

It shows how easy it is to misjudge people and not appreciate their strengths. How our prejudices can make us blind to what should be obvious. Perhaps the most important lesson of all is – always be wary of karma!

I rate it 5 out of 5 and recommend it to lovers of African literature.

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Purple Hibiscus

Book Review

May contain spoilers…..

Author : Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers

Date of Publication: 2004

Number of Pages: 307

My Rating : 5 out of 5

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (Best Debut Fiction Category) in 2004 and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 2005 for Purple Hibiscus. Purple Hibiscus is Chimamanda’s debut novel, published in 2004. I read it after reading Americanah which resonated with me because of all the stories I had heard about the lives of immigrants in the US.

Purple Hibiscus is a heartbreaking story about fifteen year old Kambili and her family. Kambili’s father, Eugene, is a wealthy Nigerian businessman. He is also a religious fanatic who does not allow any dissent in his family. Everything has to be done his way. He exercises tight control over their lives, planning and intricately scheduling every minute including family time, reading time, eating time and prayer time. There are prayers before and after meals, with a prayer before meals taking twenty minutes. Any dissent is met with horrific acts of violence.

Eugene is fastidious about rituals and prayers but fails in kindness and compassion, yet he is blind to his many faults. Typically, he blames others for his wrongdoing and makes them go for confession when they have done nothing wrong.

There are a lot of lessons to be glimpsed from the book. Chimamanda shows us how violence begets violence. Eugene was exposed to violence for behavior that was deemed ‘sinful’ by a priest he lived with while in school and metes out similar punishment to his family.

Whilst this is no excuse, it helps us get a better understanding of his character. His family lives in silence and fear. This has greatly affected Kambili who rarely talks. When she does it is in a voice that is barely audible. Their mother, Beatrice, tries to prevent the violence by deflecting Eugene’s attention when she sees his temper rising, though she rarely succeeds.

When Kambili and her brother, Jaja, visit their Aunt Ifeoma at the University campus in Nsukka where she works and lives with her family, they are surprised at how different life in her house is. Though Ifeoma’s family lacks the abundant resources that Kambili’s family has, they enjoy cheerful banter during meal times.

Ifeoma’s house is full of music and laughter, which is alien to Kambili and Jaja. To their surprise, their aunt tells them that there is no need to follow their father’s strict schedule while they are at her house.

At Nsukka, Kambili meets Father Amadi, a young catholic priest whose amiable behaviour is unlike anything her father would approve of. Father Amadi quickly notices that Kambili is different and pays her special attention. Kambili develops a crush on him. Though we do not see any inappropriate behaviour on Father Amadi’s part, he manages to draw Kambili out of her shell. She is able to open up and relax due to the way he treats her. Eventually she falls in love with him, even though she knows nothing can come out of this relationship (sigh………).

Another theme that is explored in this book is how the wealthy are allowed to get away with ghastly behavior. Eugene is extremely generous. He is the main benefactor of his church. This gives him the confidence to stand in judgment of other worshippers, regarding those who missed communion on two consecutive Sundays as ‘having committed mortal sin’.

Villagers flock to his rural home when he goes there and he gladly dishes out money. He is a highly regarded member of society, even though he permits his children only fifteen minutes to visit his own father whom he regards as a ‘heathen’.  

He refuses to have anything to do with his father. When they fail to report that they spent time with their grandfather at Aunt Ifeoma’s house, Kambili and Jaja are punished for knowingly being in the same house with a heathen. This in spite of the fact that their grandfather is only brought to Nsukka due to his deteriorating health.

Eugene is not even moved when his father dies, his only comment is that a priest should have been called to pray for him and convert him. This does not stop him from sending a lot of money for the funeral, though he doesn’t bother attending it.

Neither the villagers nor Father Benedict are shown as being at all concerned about the way he treats his family, though it must be clearly evident that something is off as others easily pick up on this. The only person who dares defy him is his sister, Ifeoma, who goes as far as to refuse his financial assistance because he tries to control her life in exchange for his support.

Another theme that Chimamanda brings out is how society tends to turn a blind eye to things that make us uncomfortable. Nobody asks Kambili how she got hurt when she lands in hospital after her father repeatedly kicks her, not even Father Eugene or the doctor. The only person who dares broach the subject is her cousin, Amaka, who mentions it in a way that makes it obvious that she is already aware of what happened.

How long can people really survive such treatment? Kambili’s mother, Beatrice, seems weak and helpless, as victims of domestic abuse often appear to be. She tries to protect her children but seems trapped by circumstances. She goes back to her abusive husband even after Ifeoma begs her not to go.

Ifeoma often tries to talk some sense into her brother, although ultimately, she concludes that he is broken, perhaps beyond redemption. Jaja is wracked with guilt because of his inability to protect his mother. He is eventually able to take a stance against his father, and we see his character begin to develop. Unfortunately, the cycle of violence is doomed to continue as victims of violence often retaliate.

All in all, this book was a poignant look at religious fanaticism and domestic violence. It is heartbreaking and distressing. It made me mad and frustrated. I wished I could enter into the book and shake some sense into some of the characters.

I found the story well-paced and superbly written. The characters are well developed and easy to understand, even those that I did not like – Eugene and Father Benedict. I felt sorry for Kambili, celebrated Jaja’s growth into manhood, and empathized with Beatrice. I understood Ifeoma’s anger and frustration with her brother and even Amaka’s attempt at rationalizing her uncle’s behaviour.

The story is told against the background of political instability and a military coup in Nigeria, which provides some useful information on what is going on in the characters’ lives.

I love how Chimamanda uses the blooming of the newly planted and rare purple hibiscus  to depict a new beginning for the family and how the characters are at last able to move on. The story is told from Kambili’s point of view and her emotional turmoil is brought out beautifully.

I appreciated the way Chimamanda contrasts religion as depicted by Ifeoma’s family and Father Amadi, as opposed to Eugene and Father Benedict. The same religion expressed very differently. We see how Kambili feels isolated from her religion because of her father’s fanaticism, whereas her cousins embrace their religion and have a friendly and casual relationship with their priest, free from judgment.

Even though a lot of violence is depicted, and I could clearly see how inhumane and traumatic this is for the characters, I did not find it at all graphic.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even when it made me sad, and rate it 5 out of 5. I recommend it to lovers of African literature.

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Sometimes I Lie

Book Review

Title : Sometimes I Lie

Genre : Psychological Thriller/ Mystery

Author: Alice Feeney

Publisher : HQ/HarperCollins

Date of Publication : March 13th 2017

Number of Pages : 279

My Rating : 4 out of 5

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:

  1. I’m in a coma.
  2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
  3. Sometimes I lie.

This is the opening of Alice Feeney’s debut novel, Sometimes I Lie. Amber is in a coma, unable to move any part of her body. She was in an accident whose details she does not remember.

As she lies in a hospital bed, she hears everything that is happening around her and tries to tie together the fragments to figure out what happened to her.

I have always wanted to read this book but I’m only now getting round to doing so. I saw a lot of people discussing it online and the views presented made me want to read it.

This is a gripping thriller that I really loved. The author tells the story using Amber’s experience as she lies in hospital, flashbacks to the days leading up to her accident, and diary entries from her childhood.

At first, she appears to be a sympathetic character and I started off feeling sorry for her. But that is only because I had not paid enough attention to the “Sometimes I lie” bit at the beginning.

As the story progresses, it becomes quite clear that Amber is anything but a sympathetic character.

Ultimately, I started having many questions. What really happened before the coma? What of her childhood? Does her husband Paul really not love her anymore? What is the role of the sister/best friend Claire, in all this? And the mysterious Edward who appears in the story to leave a distressing and shocking footprint?

I liked Alice Feeney’s writing style. Amber is likeable and sincere, until she is not. I empathized with her as the victim of serious wrongdoing, then discovered that perhaps that may not be so. She is such an unreliable narrator.

I must say that I was very confused. As I went along, I had to undo all the impressions I had in my head about all these characters, most especially Amber.

In any case, since Amber is a self declared liar and no other point of view is presented to help us discern what is really happening, how do we know what part of the narrative is true and what part is not? This is the point of the story, I guess……..

By the end, I was still not sure what was going on. I felt a strong inclination to re-read the book and try and garner new facts from hints that I may have missed. Like the significance of the colour red and the events as set out in the diaries, use of the name Taylor, among others.

Amber is shown as clearly having an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). She has to check everything 3 times. We later see that she also suffers from anxiety and the OCD developed as a result of that.  This story is full of twists and turns and I kept wondering what would come next.

 I have seen many people speculate about a lot of aspects of the book, especially the final twist. For me, I was totally sure that this was a case of someone who had a Disassociative Identity Disorder (DID) and was heavily medicated in a mental institute!

It would make sense (to me anyway) if these characters (or at the very least Amber and Claire) are all the same person, especially as the lines are so blurred between Amber/ Claire/Taylor – and it’s not even clear who the villain in this story is! Or maybe I have just been reading too many books with DID characters recently!

I loved the suspense and mystery in this riveting psychological thriller and rate it 4 out of 5. It would have been a 5 if it didn’t confuse me so much! I recommend that you pick it up today, if you love psychological thrillers full of twists and turns.

You will enjoy trying to figure out what is going on. If you have read it, let me know whether you were as confused as I was!

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Emma

Classics Book Review

Title : Emma

Author: Jane Austen

Publisher: John Murray

Genre : Regency Romance/ Classic Literature

Year of Publication: December 1815

Number of Pages: 594

My Rating : 4 out of 5

I read Emma after reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. By the time I read it, I had already watched the 2009 BBC adaptation starring Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as George Knightley. I was therefore not a stranger to the story, although there are parts of the story that I understood better after reading the book, as usually happens.

Emma is the twenty-one-year old second born daughter of Mr. Woodhouse. She is handsome, clever and rich and has a happy disposition. Following her mother’s death in her childhood, she is brought up by a governess, Miss Taylor, whose mildness of temper hardly allowed her to impose any restraint.

As her father is also affectionate and indulgent, Emma is used to having her own way and doing whatever she pleases.

The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself………”

She declares herself uninterested in marriage and is happy to live out her life at Hartfield with her elderly father.

George Knightley, whose younger brother is married to Emma’s older sister, is described as a sensible man of thirty eight.  He is the only one who ever sees any fault in Emma, or who tells her anything about her faults.

After Miss Taylor gets married to Mr. Weston, Emma believes she is the one who made the match. She takes pride in her matchmaking skills. She sets her sights on Mr. Elton – the vicar of Highbury, in spite of Mr. Knightley’s and her father’s caution against doing so.

In need of a new companion following the marriage of Miss Taylor, she attaches herself to Harriet Smith, a pretty seventeen year old girl whose parentage is unknown. As rightfully suspected by Mr. Knightley, this friendship does not bode well for Harriet.

Emma looks upon those she deems beneath her in class with disdain. Regarding a well- to-do-family of low origin, she thinks –

“The Coles were very respectable in their own way, but they ought to be taught that it was not for them to arrange the terms on which the superior families would visit them.”

She only accepts an invite to their house because all of her friends have already accepted.

She considers Mr. Martin, a respectable farmer, as being someone whom she can have nothing to do with. She finds one of her father’s oldest friends, Miss Bates, tiresome; dislikes Jane Fairfax, not just because she finds her reserved, but also due to her superior talents and elegance.

Emma’s meddling makes a lot of people upset and she ends up presenting herself in very bad light. Mr. Knightley continually tries to steer her onto the right path, although it is only at the end that she reflects upon her behaviour and accepts that she has behaved badly.

I must admit that I was taken aback by Emma’s character, as I previously thought that  Jane Austen’s heroine’s were sensible and pleasant, even as they were surrounded by more disagreeable characters. No wonder then, that Jane Austen herself is reputed to have stated that she wrote a heroine that only she would like.

Although I really liked Mr. George Knightley, I found most of the other characters in the book quite disagreeable – the worst being Mr. and Mrs. Elton, Frank Churchill and his aunt. Emma does have some redeeming qualities in that she takes care of the less fortunate families and is devoted to her father.

I found the story line featuring Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill a bit tedious and did not understand Jane at all – reserved or not, I did not get how she put up with Frank’s horrendous behaviour.

Given the sixteen-year age gap between Emma and Mr. Knightley, the difference in their characters and the way he is constantly correcting her, it was at first hard for me to see these two together as a couple. I wondered what sort of marriage one would have with a man who is used to correcting one’s behaviour since childhood……..

What is clear though, is that Emma holds Mr. Knightley in very high esteem and even though she often seems to ignore his advice, she does not like displeasing him. This is most evident when she gets a tongue rashing from him following her dreadful behaviour at Box Hill.

“It was badly done indeed!”

To her credit Emma is eventually able to see how bad her behaviour is and how her actions hurt others.

“She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so.”

She sets out to apologise and make amends. I liked this aspect of the book as Emma undergoes a lot of growth. It was also interesting for me to see different manifestations of love. Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Taylor showed their love to Emma by indulging and spoiling her, whilst Mr. Knightley showed his love by endevouring to make her a better person.

This is a story of two people who are not fully aware of their feelings and need to be jolted by something to find their way to each other. Maybe because of this, it felt to me like romance was not the central theme of this story as it plays out very late in the book. I think the broader lesson is on the importance of friendship in a relationship.

In as much as class was still a central theme, in comparison to Pride and Prejudice, there wasn’t too much emphasis on women getting married solely to secure their future. It was refreshing to see an alternate life, other than marriage, being proposed for women in that era – like becoming a governess or remaining single.

This book was quite long at almost six hundred pages, especially since the characters do not really get up to much. At some point, I found that it dragged on a bit, especially with the side stories involving Jane and Frank.

For me, Emma is a 3 out of 5 as it was really hard for me to empathize with the main character.

Adaptations

There have been numerous adaptations of Emma, as with most Jane Austen novels. I found many listed with the oldest one being from 1948 and the most recent being the 2009 miniseries. The 1995 movie Clueless is a Beverly Hills American adaptation loosely based on Emma. A new adaptation is expected in 2020.

1972 BBC Miniseries.

The costumes were very different from later adaptations (less cleavage). Mr. Knightley looked much older. This version has the best Mr. Woodhouse!

The 1996 ITV production starring Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong.

They showed us this Emma’s thoughts through reveries and dreams. I loved Kate Beckinsale in this.

The Miramax 1996 movie featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam.

I enjoyed this version but thought Mr. Knightley looked younger than he should be. I loved the costumes!

In 2009 BBC made this four part series starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller.

This is my best adaptation so far. I felt it brought out the story better.

Though I found Emma hard to like, I know many readers empathise with her in the end and say her behaviour was due to her naivete. After all, she did eventually reflect on her wrongful actions and change.

Did you like Emma? Did you feel the romance? Let me know!

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The Patient

A Net Galley Book Review

Author: Steena Holmes

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Date of Publication: October 15th 2019            

Number of Pages: 317

My Rating: 3 out of 5

“I think one of my patients is a serial killer. I just don’t know which one.” That is the great setting against which this book opens. Danielle Rycroft is a therapist living in Cheshire, a town dedicated to Alice in Wonderland.

Wonderland is Danielle’s childhood comfort blanket and anchor, where she took refuge as a child when her parents argued. Now as an adult, she desires to help her three patients – Tyler, Ella, and Savannah, rebuild their lives and get past the issues that plague them.

When the town of Cheshire is rocked by violent murders, subtle signs from her patients lead Danielle to suspect that one of them may be responsible for the gruesome murders. She is worried that she has not been able to help them in the time that she has been seeing them. This leads her to seek support from her own therapist in order to get herself back on track.

This is my first time reading a book by Steena Holmes. I found this book well written and easy to follow. She uses different points of view which let us into the minds of the characters and also give us insight into the lead character’s backstory.  

The story is heartbreaking and tormenting. The plot is consuming and I had to pause at certain points when I pictured the events too keenly for my comfort.

Whereas I liked the book and found it interesting, I was able to figure out who the culprit was pretty early on in the book. It was almost like the author wanted us to know as there were very many red flags leading me to deduce what was going on. That removed most of the suspense and anticipation from the book for me. I continued to read as I still wanted to see how it would all unfold.

That said, I was intrigued by the ending. It felt like there was still more to the story than I was able to figure out, which I suppose is the best part of a psychological thriller.

I rate it 3 out of 5. It would definitely have rated much higher had I not figured out the story so soon. I recommend it to adults who enjoy reading psychological thrillers.

Thanks to the publishers and Net Galley for a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating

Book Review

Title : Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating

Genre : Contemporary Romance

Author: Christina Lauren

Publisher: Piatkus

Date of Publication: September 4th 2018

Number of Pages: 320

My Rating : 4 out of 5

I bought this book after reading The Unhoneymooners, which I found engaging, delightful and full of humor. I’m always on the lookout for new authors to read, so when I come across a good book, I invariably check out all the author’s other books.

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating did not disappoint, well, not totally. Hazel met Josh Im at a party in college, where she promptly vomited on his shoes – immediately after propositioning him.

Almost a decade later, Hazel is attending a party at her new best friend’s house, only to discover that Josh is the brother to Emily, her best friend.

Josh is a physical therapist with his own business whilst Hazel is an elementary school teacher. Sensible careers right? That’s where their similarity ends. Josh is smart, neat, easy going and calm, whereas Hazel is loud, has no filters, does ridiculous things and is a hot mess.

Whilst Hazel thinks Josh is the blue print for perfect, she strongly believes that he would never date her, due to some catastrophic encounters they had in college. And sadly, it was not just the vomiting.

This does not stop her from declaring that they are going to be best friends. She reckons that since she is undatable, there is nothing to get in the way of their developing a close relationship as best friends. No harm done, right?

Josh thinks :– it might be fun to have her around. Like keeping interesting beer in the fridge that you’re always surprised and pleased to find. Okay……

The two start hanging out together and the rest, as they say, is history.

In as much as Hazel is quirky and a little weird, she is also warmhearted and full of energy. Unfortunately, most men are not able to manage her energy and find her behavior embarrassing.

Given the history these two have from college, I find it a bit strange how when Hazel proclaims that they are going to become best friends, Josh accepts so easily. This despite finding out that Hazel had not changed at all.

I tried really hard to appreciate Hazel as a character, but sadly, I could not fully empathize with her. Right from the start when she described herself as ‘lazy and broke’, among other things, there was zero indication of her wanting to improve herself. Am I being as judgmental as her former boyfriends? Maybe.

I’m all for one accepting oneself as they are, but surely there is room for character development and growth? More to the point, Josh is her polar opposite, the perfect character with no flaws. Whilst commendable, is it really realistic? Is anyone really perfect? Yet somehow, these two end up together, as one would expect in a romance.

But I suppose that’s the premise of the whole story, how such diverse characters can find love and how no one is ‘undatable’, we just need to find that one person who understands us and accepts us for who we are, quirks and all!

This is also an interracial story, as Hazel is American and Josh is American Korean. Though there are no major interracial issues brought out in the story,  we do get to see a bit of Korean culture, especially on family dynamics and relationships.

The book was interesting enough to keep me engaged. I found it well written and easy to follow. The authors use first person to narrate the story, switching from Josh to Hazel.

I liked this style of writing as I got to know what each of the lead characters was thinking throughout the book, making it easier for me to connect with the story. I liked The Unhoneymooners more, but this one is good as well.

Due to the above, I rate this book 4 out of 5 and recommend it to lovers of contemporary romance novels. Hazel may be hard for me to take, but some may find her endearing…….

Do you think it’s possible for ‘polar opposites’ to find lasting love together? Let me know!

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The Unhoneymooners

Book Review

Title : The Unhoneymooners

Genre : Romantic Comedy

Author: Christina Lauren

Publisher: Piatkus

Date of Publication: May 14th 2019

Number of Pages: 288

My Rating : 5 out of 5

The Unhoneymooners features Olive Torres “Ollie” and opens with her twin sister’s wedding. Amelia “Ami” is the lucky twin, who manages to win all raffles and promotions whilst Ollie is the not-so-lucky twin.

When Ami is unable to go for her nontransferable nonrefundable honeymoon, she suggests that Ollie should go on the all-inclusive trip to scenic Hawaii. Ami’s new husband, Dane, likewise offers the trip to his older brother, Ethan.

The only problem is that Ollie and Ethan can’t stand each other. The reason may have something to do with fried cheese…………. or it may not.

This is a delightful story that I loved right from the beginning. The good thing is that it kept on going at the same pace and not once did I want to put it down. The chemistry between Ollie and Ethan is unmistakable and their banter is witty and engaging.

Given that they were on a honeymoon in picturesque Hawaii (someone else’s, but still), was there any way that they would not fall in love?

Even knowing that these two would end up together, I still found myself eagerly following along to see how it would happen.

I also found myself wondering how the conflicts in the story would be resolved, given that this is a story of twins falling in love with brothers. I wondered if maybe it might be a bit weird?

To their credit, so did the characters, but the authors managed to overcome this and make the story endearing enough for me.   

There are many romantic comedies that promise to keep you engaged and are described as ‘laugh out loud’ but somehow fail to keep my interest. Some begin well then falter at some point. This is not one of those!

The characters in this book are lovable and easy to relate to.  The authors are the writing duo of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, writing under the name Christina Lauren. I have not read any of their books before, and I’m glad to have found them. I really like their writing style and will check out their other books.

This book is best read on a sunny day by the pool or on a beach – preferably with a fruity cocktail by your side!

I rate this book 5 out of 5 and recommend it to lovers of romantic comedies.  Many thanks to the authors for providing us with this lovely gem of a book.

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And Now There’s You

A NetGalley Book Review

Title : And Now There’s You

Author: Susan S. Etkin

Publisher: Spark Press

Date of Publication: 24th September 2019  

Number of Pages : 326

My Rating: 3 out of 5

Leila Brandt is a widow in her mid-fifties. Her daughter, Hillary, and business partner, Michelle, feel that she needs to start dating again as she has been alone for five years. To get this going, they give her an interesting birthday gift – they sign her up with a matchmaker.

In the meantime, Leila meets Ayden, who is the architect contracted for her latest interior design project. Though she feels a keen attraction to him, Ayden has been divorced for many years and she doubts whether he can give her the sort of relationship she is looking for.

I was drawn into this story by the premise of love at a later stage in life. I wanted to see how the story would progress and how the dynamics of previous spouses, full engaging careers and family would play out. The story started quite well and I loved the way the author described Leila’s character and her state of mind at the beginning.

Unfortunately, after that, the story dragged on a bit. It took quite a long time to develop and I felt like there wasn’t much to hold my interest. While well written and easy to follow, I found some of the detail distracting, I guess I’m not used to being told everything characters in a book eat and drink in such detail!

Whilst the premise was interesting, the story ended up being too predictable for me without much to distinguish it and keep me interested. I found myself wishing the characters were just a little more complex to give the story that edge that would have made it a great love story.

This is Susan S. Etkin’s debut novel. I rate it at 3 out of 5 and recommend it to anyone who loves romance or has an interest in interior design as it features that too.

Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Lock Me In

A NetGalley Book Review

Title : Lock Me In

Author: Kate Simants

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Killer Reads

Date of Publication: 3rd October 2019

Number of Pages Kindle Edition: 400

My Rating : 4 out of 5

One morning, Ellie Power wakes up with bruises all over her body. Her bedroom door is broken. This is a bad sign as her mother usually locks her in when she leaves for her night shift at her hospital job. Ellie has to be locked in at night.

You see, she has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and believes there is another identity living inside her. Her alter, Siggy, sometimes takes Ellie over at night. Ellie has no recollection of what she does when Siggy takes over.

She is terrified of Siggy who seems to get violent, as evidenced by the bruising on her own body as well as her mother’s injuries. To prevent any harm, Siggy must not be allowed to get out at night.

Detective Sergeant Mae met Ellie and her mother years ago when he was investigating the mysterious disappearance of Ellie’s best friend, Jodie. That investigation ended badly for him and his partner but when Ellie’s boyfriend, Matt, goes missing, DS Mae cannot help but take a keen interest in the case.

Ellie is worried about what transpired on the night following which she woke up with bruises, as it was the last time that Matt was seen.

This is an interesting, well written and captivating psychological thriller that kept me hooked from the beginning to the end. I’m always amazed as to how our brains function and DID is such a complex subject that I find myself wanting to understand it more.

The author narrates this story from Ellie’s (first person) and Matt’s (third person) points of view in addition to recordings from Ellie’s treatment sessions, and with only a brief narrative from Ellie’s mother.

This gives us great insight into the thoughts and motivations of these characters. I was drawn into Ellie’s struggles with her conflicting identities and really empathized with her.

I found the characters well developed and easy to relate to, although I was left with some unanswered questions about Dr. Cox and Ellie Power’s father. To me, it felt like some parts of their story lines were not totally closed off. I would have liked to understand some aspects that the author introduced about them.

Although at some point I thought I could tell where the story was going, there were some twists that surprised me. I totally did not see the ending coming! I loved the chemistry between DS Mae and his Trainee Investigator, DC Catherine Ziegler and the way they worked well together.

This is Kate Simants’ debut novel and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work. I rate it at 4 out of 5 and recommend it to anyone who loves psychological thrillers with a twist.

Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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The Good Neighbor

Net Galley Book Review

Author: Cathryn Grant

Publisher : Inkubator Books

Date of Publication: September 8th 2019

Genre: Psychological Thriller

No. of Pages: 309

My Rating: 5 out of 5

One night, a few weeks after Moira, Alan and their teenage daughter Brittany move into a cozy neighborhood in Silicon Valley, Brittany goes missing.

The neighbors hardly know them but they rally together to support them in looking for her. One particularly friendly but nosy neighbor, Taylor takes it upon herself to do all she can to help bring Brittany home, even setting up a Facebook page.

As she gets more involved in the search, Taylor discovers that all is not as it seems with the Cushings, who have had limited interactions with the other neighbors in their cul-de-sac and whose daughter was home-schooled. Secrets from their past emerge that leave her conflicted.

I found this psychological thriller by Cathryn Grant very well written and engaging. I was drawn into the story from the beginning and enjoyed it to the end.

The characters are well developed and unique and the story was written from the point of view of each of these diverse characters. I was intrigued and eager to discover what was motivating them.

The story is well-paced with many twists and turns and I did not feel the action fall off at any point. I was able to read through the story quickly. Though I thought I had it figured out at some point, the ending still caught me by surprise.

I happily rate it 5 out of 5 and recommend it to anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers. This is my first Cathryn Grant book and I’m definitely going to check out her other books after this.

Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Pride and Prejudice

Book Review

Author : Jane Austen

Publisher: Thomas Egerton

Date of Publication: 1813

No. of Pages:478

My Rating: 5 out of 5

Ever since I read this book many years ago, I was captivated by the story of Elizabeth and Darcy and promptly fell in love with the couple. For that reason, I picked Pride and Prejudice as my first read for the Classic Club’s 50 Classics in 5 Years challenge.

Elizabeth is the second eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, who reside at Longbourn and have five daughters. Unfortunately, their estate is entailed to the male line. As they have no sons, it will go to Mr. Bennet’s nephew, Mr. Collins upon Mr. Bennet’s demise.

Since Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have not been careful in their spending, they don’t have enough money to leave to their five daughters, whose only hope for a comfortable life is to make good matches when they marry.

The story begins with this eye catching opener;- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”.

It’s therefore easy to understand why there is considerable excitement among the locals when Mr. Bingley, a ‘single man of large fortune’ moves into the neighborhood. Mrs. Bennet perceives it as a excellent chance to get one of her dear daughters an appropriate match. Charles Bingley turns out to be good looking, pleasant and easy going. In welcome addition, he takes a keen interest in the eldest daughter, Jane, much to Mrs. Bennet’s exuberant delight.

Charles Bingley also arrives with a close friend, Mr. Darcy, who is even wealthier than him. Unfortunately, his manners are not as endearing as those of his friend. The whole neighborhood soon decides he is proud and disagreeable. He inevitably invites Elizabeth’s fierce wrath when he blatantly refuses to dance with her after being called on to do so by his friend.

Elizabeth “Lizzy” overhears his refusal and his assertion that ;- “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to temp ME; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men”. Though she reacts in her usual playful manner, Elizabeth’s pride is deeply hurt by this assertion.

In spite of this beginning, Lizzy and Darcy are invariably drawn to one another. Lizzy cannot help but intellectually challenge him at every turn and the two exchange witty banter. Soon Darcy undoubtedly finds himself attracted to her.

He tells his friend’s sister ;- “I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow”.

Even as his feelings change, he realizes that she is a completely unsuitable match for him. To say the least, her immediate family’s behavior is appalling. Although her father is a gentleman, her mother’s family connections are considered unsuitable, as they are not of the same class as he.

Meanwhile, Lizzy thinks Darcy is full of self-importance and pride. Can they overcome their pride and prejudices and get a happily ever after? Luckily for them, they get opportunities to know each other better and re-evaluate their initial assumptions.

I find this book engaging and enjoy Jane Austen’s writing style. She drew me into the story and kept me reading till the end. The language is beautiful, though some of it is very different from how we speak today.

Women are not described as ‘handsome.’ We do not state our age as ‘eight and twenty’ (though I think I might start doing this, it seems fun!). They maintain a very formal way of talking and addressing each other.

It saddens me that most women at the time had no way of supporting themselves, making them so dependent. Because of this, the primary criteria in choosing a spouse was social class and economic security.

This is clearly illustrated by Lizzy’s friend, Charlotte who marries to get a home and stability and not because of love. Lizzy goes against the grain when she refuses to marry a man she neither loves nor respects, simply to get a comfortable life.

I also found it quite disconcerting how society was obsessed with class and connection, with Mrs. Bennet’s relations being referred to as unsuitable because they were working class. Moreover, the foolish actions of one daughter could ruin the reputation of the whole family and consequently the marriage prospects of her sisters.

I love the diverse characters and how they are portrayed. The Bennet family is not portrayed in the best of light, with the exception of Jane and Lizzy. Mrs. Bennet is hysterical and takes to her bed when overcome by her ‘nerves’. Mr. Bennet is often sarcastic and rude to his wife and describes his younger daughters as ‘silly’.

Lydia is reckless and selfish, and Kitty is similar, being easily swayed by her sister. Mary is described as having airs and being vain. In addition, we have the charming Mr. Wickham who manages to deceive everyone about his character ; the pompous Mr. Collins ; the nasty and jealous Caroline Bennet, and the haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

I read somewhere that Jane Austen has inspired a lot of contemporary romance, and it is easy to see why. This story has all the characteristics that I recognize in many romance stories. From the wealthy, tall and handsome hero to the beautiful and witty heroine (who start off despising each other), to the jealous ‘other woman’ who is out to sabotage the relationship. Well, I for one don’t mind the familiar story-line so long as true love triumphs in the end.

What I like about this book is that it not just a simple romance, it is in fact a commentary on the social dynamics of the time. Jane Austen is an acclaimed author and rightfully so.

Film Adaptations – There have been many film adaptations beginning with the 1938 movie to the 2016 movie titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I’m yet to see this last one as I am not really into zombies, but I may just check it out.

My favorite

My favorite adaptation of the book has got to be the 1995 BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I loved the chemistry between these two. They pulled off their characters beautifully and were supported by a very believable cast. Not to forget the famous dip-in-the-lake scene.

This 2005 movie version starring Keira Nightley and Matthew Macfadyen also warmed my heart.

Needless to say, I love this story and will probably re-read it again and again! I rate it 5 out of 5 and recommend it to all lovers of classics and romance.

Do you like Pride and Prejudice? Which film adaptation do you prefer? Let me know!

What Happened That Night

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A NetGalley Book Review

Author: Deanna Cameron

Publisher: Wattpad Books

Date of Publication: September 2019              

Number of Pages: 328

My Rating: 4 out of 5

When Griffin Tomlin is found dead in his parent’s swimming pool, the Porterfields’ lives are irreversibly changed. Shortly thereafter, Emily Porterfield is arrested and charged with his murder.

Her sister Clara, who has had a crush on Griffin for a long time, knows more about the murder than she is saying. The family is torn apart, with Emily in jail and her parents unable to reconcile their reactions to the news.

It turns out that Griffin was not as perfect as previously thought by all. Clara told her sister about a traumatic event and believes this to be the reason that led to Emily’s act. With the aid of her new friend, Aniston, who is a writer for the school paper and amateur sleuth, she begins to see that there may be more to Emily’s act than she initially believed.

What they uncover is as shocking as it is unexpected. Clara is tormented by what she knows and its aftermath. She also finds herself drawn to Griffin’s best friend, Kolby further complicating her feelings.

This is book addresses the deep themes of sexual assault, torture, and murder. Clara narrates the story vividly. Her complex emotions are extensively explored and prominently displayed.

We equally see the reactions of those around her and how they impact her. The considerable pain and social isolation of sexual abuse victims is evident throughout the book.

The author seamlessly moves from the present to the past as she develops the plot. I found this book interesting and engaging, although it was not an easy read because of the subject.

I was drawn to Clara’s character and acutely felt her pain. I felt like Emily’s character could have been better thrashed out to help us make more sense of her behavior.

I am absolutely going to look out for more of Deanna Cameron’s work, as I love her writing style.

I rate it 4 out of 5 and recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading mysteries and does not mind delving into deep heavy themes.

Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Murder in Venice

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Book Review

Title : Murder in Venice

Author: Maria Luisa Minarelli

Publisher: Amazon Publishing UK

Genre : Historical Fiction/Mystery

Date of Publication: August 2019

Number of Pages: 294

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Murder in Venice is a historical fiction novel set in picturesque Venice in the 1750s. It revolves around a murder investigation carried out by Marco Pisani, who is an avagadore (high magistrate of Venice).

When an apprentice stumbles upon a dead body on the streets on his way to work early one morning, Marco is called in to prepare the trial and prosecution charges. The dead man, Barbaro is an impoverished noble.

What at first seems to be an open and shut case of a robbery that has gone badly turns into something else when two more bodies are found. With the invaluable aid of his lawyer friend Zen, his resourceful gondolier, Nani and the beautiful Chiara, Marco sets out to uncover the truth.

As Marco works to solve the mystery, we are able to see his exceptional thoroughness and his remarkable dedication to his job. What he discovers challenges the very core of his beliefs and eventually he finds himself torn between his duties as an avagadore and his sense of morality.

This book is the first in a series. It was originally written in Italian. The author gives us a glimpse into the lives of the Venetian people during the 1750s. Venice is no longer the center of commerce that it used to be. As a result, many nobles who relied on trade with the Orient for their livelihood find themselves without the trade interests that sustained them.

The author develops the story against this background. She demonstrates to us how the fortunes of the people have declined. Venice is a city that was once a ‘world leader in civilization and wealth’ but whose citizens now live in abject poverty.

I liked the vivid description of Venice at the time. I was transported into the lives of the people and got a good understanding of issues like the place of women in society and the power of the noble families.

The story is well-paced and interesting and kept me engaged until the end. It was easy to read and follow, and I loved the ending. I rate it 4 out of 5 and recommend it to anyone who loves mysteries and historical fiction.

Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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The Classics Club Reading Challenge

I’m joining the Classics Club today, 6th of September 2019. My goal is to read 50 classics within 5 years, so by 6th September 2024.

Here is the list of books that I have selected, listed in the order that I want to read them. I might make changes as I go along. I selected books that I have heard of before, a few that I have read and others that look interesting, based on the title.

Most of these books are available for free online. Watch out for my progress updates as I move along.

I will post my reviews here and on the classics book club blog.

1. Pride and Prejudice : Jane Austen – Completed 26/09/2019
2. Little Women : Louisa May Alcott
3. Things Fall Apart : Chinua Achebe
4. A Doll’s House : Ibsen Henrick Completed 6th December 2019
5. The Prince and the Pauper: Mark Twain
6. Emma : Jane Austen – Completed 30th October 2019
7. The Blind Assassin : Margaret Atwood
8. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall : Anne Bronte
9. Katherine : Anya Seton
10. Wuthering Heights : Emily Bronte
11. Colored Man Round the World : David Dorr
12. Marriage : Susan Ferrier
13. The Color Purple : Alice Walker
14. A Tale of Two Cities : Charles Dickens
15. Jane Eyre : Charlotte Bronte
16. The Story of an African Farm : Olive Schreiner
17. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Mark Twain
18. The Comedy of Errors : William Shakespeare
19. The Pirates of Malaysia: Emilio Salgari
20. A Grain of Wheat : Ngugi wa Thiong’o
21. The Professor : Charlotte Bronte
22. An Ideal Husband : Oscar Wilde
23. The Importance of Being Earnest : Oscar Wilde
24. Persuasion : Jane Austen
25. Jo’s Boys : Louisa May Alcott
26. A Handmaid’s Tale : Margaret Atwood
27. Sense and Sensibility : Jane Austen
28. The Invisible Man : Ralph Ellison
29. Little Men : Louisa May Alcott
30. Northanger Abbey : Jane Austen
31. Mansfield Park : Jane Austen
32. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer : Mark Twain
33. Frankenstein : Mary Shelley
34. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde : Robert Louis Stevenson
35. Vanity Fair : William Makepeace Thackeray
36. Gulliver’s Travels : Jonathon Swift
37. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding : Julia Strachey
38. Treasure Island: Robert Louis Stevenson
39. Of Mice and Men : John Steinbeck
40. King Solomon’s Mines : H. R Haggard
41. Satires : Horace
42. Gone with the Wind : Margaret Mitchell
43. Man and Superman : George Bernard Shaw
44. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: Howard Pyle
45. Little Dorrit : Charles Dickens
46. Much Ado About Nothing: William Shakespeare
47. The Hunchback of Notre Dame : Victor Hugo
48. The Bride of Lammermoor : Sir Walter Scott
49. Dracula : Bram Stoker
50. The Hobbit : J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Classics Club

I am joining a classics challenge! I was super excited to come across this challenge. It is run by the classics book club which is a community of lovers of classics. The idea is to read at least 50 classics and blog about them, within a period of 5 years.

This is meant to increase the number of people blogging about classics. Since I love classics, I have decided to join the challenge. Not bad, yeah? I can do that in 5 years. It is bound to be a refreshing experience.

My first task is to choose 50 classics that I would like to read and review. In selecting my list, am including books that I have read in the past and would like to blog about. That’s not cheating, it’s allowed.

The first one on my list has to be Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, my favorite romance. I’m looking forward to blogging about this one! I have read it multiple times. I picked it up again last year after watching the 1995 BBC adaptation (yes, the one with Colin Firth diving into the lake). I don’t know why it took me so long to find this series, but I loved it once I did.

I am also including several others that I read years ago, as it has been a while and I need to refresh my memory to do them justice in a blog post. The Classics Club has helpfully provided a list to pick from, though you can include any book that is considered a classic. I have created a separate page for this project here where I will update my progress and post my reviews. Feel free to either join me or follow my progress!

The Nickel Boys

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Book Review

Title : The Nickel Boys

Author: Colson Whitehead

Publisher: Doubleday

Date of Publication: 2019

Number of Pages: 224

My Rating 5 out of 5

The Nickel Boys is Colson Whitehead’s latest novel, published in July 2019. Colson Whitehead is an American author with eight other published books. In 2016, he won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and the National Book Award for his book The Underground Railroad. It was also named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year.

The Nickel Boys is a historical fiction book set in the 1960s, a time when racial discrimination was rife in the US. At the same time, the civil rights movement was gaining momentum. The main character, Elwood Curtis lives with his doting grandmother in Tallahassee, Florida after his parents take off in the night. He is a straight-A student who is fascinated by the outstanding teachings of Martin Luther King Jr that he listens to continuously.

Due to his grandmother’s good influence, he is honest, hardworking and well on his way to college. He genuinely seems to have a bright future ahead of him. Unfortunately, life in the Southern parts of the US during the Jim Crow laws era could spring some unexpected surprises on black lads.

Elwood finds himself at the Nickel Academy for boys, a segregated reform school. He makes good friends at the Academy. One of them, Turner, is a streetwise orphan from Houston. The two have contradictory attitudes toward life. Elwood, guided as he is by the teachings of Dr. King, genuinely believes in taking control and transforming the world. Turner believes in lying low in order to survive.

Elwood soon learns that at Nickel, “academic performance has no bearing on one’s progress to graduation” and the teachers do not care much about grades. What counts is “work, comportment, and demonstrations of compliance or docility.” Within a short time, he gets to know what happens when one steps out of line at Nickel.

Life at the academy is brutal, miserable, and it’s easy to get into trouble. Instances of terrible violence, bullying, sexual abuse, and neglect are common. In addition, mysterious disappearances are often classified as escapes. The administration is inept and corrupt and motivated by self – interest. The boys are trying their hardest to survive and get out of Nickel.

Colson Whitehead narrates this fascinating tale of unutterable woe in a captivating style that kept me hooked till the very end. Though it is a short book at just over 200 pages, it is full of emotion and action. I was powerfully drawn into the boys’ lives – horrified by the tragic events and shocked at the excessive brutality that is meted out on them.

I equally found myself rooting for them, though as everybody knows from horrific real-life events from that era, not everybody gets a happy ending. Can anybody escape unscathed and manage to build a happy successful life? What does it take to survive in such an environment?

The book is based on a real school in Florida, known as the Dozier School. In an interview with the New York Times, Colson said he hoped to “highlight the experience of black students at the Dozier school, who, under segregation, “got it worse” than the white boys, and whose stories have not generated as much attention.”

It is heart-rending to imagine that such brutality was unleashed on young boys, in the name of ‘reform.’ Whatever it was  those boys had done, such cruel treatment was totally uncalled for. Though a fictional retelling of the story, it conveys some good insight into the unfortunate circumstances that led some of the boys into the school. It clearly demonstrates how the corrupt system terribly failed them.

My sole hope as I read the book was that such places do not exist today. I hope that as a generation, we are able to learn from the events of the past to ensure we are more responsible in the way that we handle matters around racial discrimination.

Unfortunately, like many others, Colson expressed the view that it seems we are regressing as a society, which is highly regrettable. Hopefully, this book will get people thinking and talking about what happens when parts of society are treated as being sub-human.

When despite all their best efforts, they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. To make matters worse, those who are entrusted with the authority to aid their reform have no interest in doing so. Instead, they ensure a speedy descent towards their ultimate downfall.

I recommend you pick this book up today and have a read. It is masterfully crafted by an experienced award-winning author who does not disappoint!

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Are You a Power Mom?

Lessons From Chicken Soup For the Soul.

Title : Chicken Soup for the Soul. Power Moms

Compiled by : Jack Canfield, Mark Victor & Wendy Walker

Publisher : Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing

Date of Publication : 2009

Number of Pages : 381

My Rating : 5 out of 5

Why Read This Book ?

Somebody in my family gave me ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul – Power Moms’. I still do not know who it was as it was part of the Secret Santa Christmas gift exchange that we do every year with my extended family.

At the time, I wondered why this beloved relative thought this was an appropriate gift for me. Not that I did not consider myself a Power Mom. On the contrary, I knew this description had aptly described me for many years since I became a mother. The issue was that this series consisted of 101 Stories Celebrating the Power of Choice for Stay-at-Home and Work-from-Home Moms.

You see, I did not consider myself as either one of these. I had almost always been a Work from Work Mom, except with my most recent job where I had occasionally been allowed to work from home, one day a week. Before that, apart from maternity leave and the other usual leave days, I was not to be typically found staying at home or working from home.

Not that I did not want to, the choices were just limited. None of my previous positions had provided for a flexible working schedule. So why did this relative think that this book was a good gift for me? Perhaps he/she was predicting my future. You see, for the better part of that year; I had been at home. This was not out of choice but due to a retrenchment exercise, which led to me being laid off.

In as much as I had been home, I did not consider myself a Stay-at-Home-Mom. I was busy searching for employment and any additional day I spent at home and not in an office genuinely felt like a punishment. I did not expect to take so long to get back into employment. Thus looking for work had become my full-time job.

Given that, I did not fully appreciate how good it was that I was at home. I felt that my kids were grown, at 15 and 11 years, and did not need me around. Besides, my son was away at a boarding school and was only around during the holidays.

There are only so many CVs you can send out in a day, so I had plenty of free time. My favorite thing to do with free time is read, so I decided to read the book and see what it was about.

Inspiring Stories by Power Moms.

The book comprises 101 short stories mostly written by Moms about their working lives and the choices they made after getting children. There are also some stories from a few men. It was compiled by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Wendy Walker. There are stories from Jane Green, Melora Hardin, Liz Lange, Jodi Picoult, and Lynne Spears, among many others. The foreword was written by Lisa Belkin.

Moms who share their stories have different professional backgrounds. There are lawyers, doctors, writers, marketers, professors, journalists and so on. The stories are grouped into 10 chapters, based on different themes. They detail the reasons why many women decide to quit their jobs and stay at home. Through their stories, different Moms share experiences that they went through after they made this critical decision.

They talk about financial sacrifices and the effects of spending days with babies or young children at home as opposed to adults in a professional environment. They highlight the satisfaction that ultimately comes from being there for your children and watching them grow without missing out on any important milestones.

Several Moms tell us how they dealt with additional challenges such as children with special needs. Moms who work part-time from home as they care for their children share the struggles involved in balancing the two roles as well as successes achieved as they carved their paths.

We also get to hear from several men. They write about experiences with stay at home moms, be it their wives or mothers. Some men also share their own experiences of staying at home and caring for their children. Finally, we take a look at how it feels when it is time for the kids to move on and start their own lives. The writers relate their experiences with letting go and watching their children start their own lives.

My Reflections on The Stories.

Once I started reading these compelling stories, I instantly realized how I had inadvertently been presented with a golden opportunity to be with my two children and spend more time with them. The genuine joy of being at home to greet my daughter when she came home in the evening was beyond anything I had ever experienced in the past. Previously, I had always arrived home after her. To a greater extent, I would be too exhausted to constructively engage in any meaningful conversation.

Now, we could take a stroll around our gated compound as she narrated to me what had happened to her in school that day. I got to properly know her problem areas in school and could adequately support her as she completed her homework. When schools closed and my son came home for the holidays, we were able to spend time just talking or playing all manner of board games. I guided them to explore different skills like cooking, baking and even ironing. We danced, exercised and told stories.

With time, I came to sufficiently appreciate the opportunity that I had to be home with my children. It is not just a simple issue of being there physically when they need me. It is about being fully present as I am not bone-tired every night from an exhausting workday and a long commute.

The stories started to resonate with me. My kids are much older than those featured in the stories and I do not have the crazy schedules that they narrated. Still, I remember those days. These remarkable women demonstrate to us how rewarding it is to be present in your children’s life. They highlight the key challenges and the rewards of doing this. Additionally, they illustrate how a proper balance at times becomes necessary and show us how they were able to achieve it, either by taking on part time work away from the home or working from home.

I respectfully salute all these women for their amazing strength and incredible dedication. Many of them fully deserve the noble Super Mom title! I was inspired by their tales to look for work opportunities that allow me to spend more time on that most important job of all- being a Mom!

I fully recommend that you pick up this book and browse through these inspiring stories. Whether you are looking for some practical advice, comfort or just a laugh, this book has it all!

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Americanah

Book Image

Book Review

Title : Americanah

Author : Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers

Date of Publication: 2013

Number of Pages: 477

One of the most outstanding books that I read in 2018 was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, so I have decided to write my first review on it. Americanah won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013.

Chimamanda is a Nigerian writer who grew up on the campus of the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. Americanah is her third novel. Her debut novel was Purple Hibiscus which was followed by Half of a Yellow Sun. She won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (2005) and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (2004) for Purple Hibiscus. Half a Yellow Sun got her the Orange Prize in 2007 (presently called the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction). Chimamanda has also written a collection of short stories – The Thing Around Your Neck and an essay titled We Should All Be Feminists. Her most recent book is titled Dear Ijeawele or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. She is additionally a prominent speaker and thought leader.

I have read her first three books and am planning to read all her publications and share my views. I was first drawn to Chimamanda after watching her 2009 TED Talk titled The Danger of a Single Story. Not that I had never seen her books in book shops, I just hadn’t come round to reading them. Half of a Yellow Sun seemed a very abstract title to me, so I did not pick it up. Understandable as that was the phase of my life when I was more interested in much lighter fare for my reading table. Once I read Americanah, I instantly became a fan and picked up her other books as well. I only wish I had started reading her books earlier!

Americanah is a beautifully narrated story of the journey of Ifemelu, a young Nigerian girl who grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. A teenage Ifemelu meets and falls in love with Obinze whilst in High School. The two move on to the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. The country is under military rule and mismanagement prevails. Soon the students start a riot to protest the lack of water and electricity. Lecturers strike to protest a lack of pay, which necessitates the closure of the University. When the lecturers’ strikes become commonplace, many students leave for the US. Ifemelu also eventually joins her aunt who is already in the US with plans that Obinze will join her there after he graduates.

Unfortunately, Obinze is not able to move to the US after he is denied a visa. He ends up in the United Kingdom on a six months’ visa. He unsuccessfully tries to legalize his immigration status and after three years, he is eventually deported. Fortunately, back home, he builds himself up and becomes wealthy.

Ifemelu, on the other hand, struggles to settle down in her new life but is eventually able to make a good life for herself. She still yearns for home and in the end decides to go back to Nigeria. She then has to come to terms with a new Nigeria where she is referred to as an Americanah. Chimamanda explains this as a term used to refer to Nigerian immigrants who return home with affectations such as pretending not to understand Nigerian languages and speaking with an American accent. Ifemelu’s strongest desire is to settle down and to re-connect with Obinze, her old love.

This is a compelling story of genuine self-discovery and personal growth told along with a critical exploration of what it means to yearn for and eagerly seek greener pastures. The prolific author shows us the struggles that lead Africans to leave their homes and the daunting challenges they inevitably encounter trying to fit in in overseas countries like the US and UK. I love the way she uses Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s contrasting lives to show us two different immigrant experiences. One immigrates legally on a valid student visa and achieves a measure of success. The other travels on a short term visa and struggles to obtain residency. Even though they leave on different terms, they both end up going back home.

Most importantly, Chimamanda carefully explores controversial issues on race, through Ifemelu’s personal experiences. An interesting illustration of this is when her class watches scenes from the TV series Roots. A spirited discussion inevitably ensues between an African and several African American classmates around the bleeping of the N-word in the classic film. This gives us a glimpse of the diverse perspectives held by Black Americans on race as opposed to Africans, who have not been exposed to racism on the same scale.

I love how Chimamanda uses Ifemelu’s blog titled – Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negros) by a Non-American Black – to bring out what may have otherwise been tricky to discuss. She gives a frank and unadulterated view. Examples given include – how surprising it is for Africans to always be labeled ‘black’ ; how it can be difficult for Africans to recognize racists statements/questions (Do you like watermelon?) ; and how strange it feels to be asked to give ‘the black’ perspective. I particularly liked that she showed the backlash that many black women face regarding the way they choose to wear their hair.

All in all, this is a story of how it feels to be caught between two distinct worlds. It is about the struggle to remain authentic to who you are, whilst desperately trying to fit in and gain acceptance. It is also a charming love story, and a tale about growth and enduring love for home. I recommend it for anyone who loves a good tale with strong well developed characters, and most especially for anyone who would genuinely like to get a better understanding of the unique experiences of black immigrants.

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Books Books Books

I love reading and consistently have. I fondly remember eagerly reading as a young girl. I would bury my head in a book and get taken away into a new world. A world that originally only existed in between the pages, but which came alive as I began visualizing it. I visited enchanted lands on The Magic Faraway Tree, went on adventures with the Famous Five, and solved mysteries with The Secret Seven, Moses and Nancy Drew.

With age, I was typically drawn to other books like the Sweet Valley High series which was irresistible to my teenage self. I also discovered successful comics like The Adventures of Tin Tin, Asterix, and the Archie series. There were many other titles I read during this period whose names am not able to recall, either because they were not as popular, or they were standalone and not part of a series. I vaguely recall some hardcover books that I discovered during the one-hour library session that we had in my primary school which featured young girls and their love for horses and riding. No one else even perused these books and there were in pristine condition. Whereas I scarcely remember their titles or authors, I know I found them very interesting. This was to the surprise of my classmates who considered them extremely serious, long and boring. Which they were not, at least not to me.

Other books that I enjoyed reading though many of my friends did not were classics like – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Little Women; Pride and Prejudice; Jane Eyre; Wuthering Heights; Oliver Twist; A Tale of Two Cities; Treasure Island, and The Three Musketeers. Looking back, I am not totally certain what initially drew me to these publications. I was slowly becoming a voracious reader, and if in print, I was going to read it!

Over time, I must have read over 500 Mills and Boon and Harlequin Romance series books! I honestly found them irresistible, even as I typically began finding the familiar plot rather predictable. I would save up my pocket money in High School, so I could go purchase a couple of these books when the school closed. Thankfully, I also discovered espionage and conspiracy genres as authored by Tom Clancy, Jeffrey Archer, and Robert Ludlum. Never has an excellent publication thrilled me as the Matarese Circle invariably did!

During my prime High School years, I read esteemed African writers like Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease and A Man of the People. Also Ngugi Wa Thiong’o – A grain of Wheat and The River Between. I should have read all their books. Things Fall Apart was required reading for our exam, and we analyzed it thoroughly in class. I suspect that I did not fully appreciate the message in the other books by these literary giants, possibly due to my maturity and general awareness at the time. I therefore intend to re-read them together with the rest of their collection. It will most likely be a different, insightful learning experience.

This looks like a great reading list. Yet I have scarcely touched on what I read post-high school after discovering John Grisham and Robin Cook. Nor did my genuine love of Danielle Steele, Jackie Collins, Agatha Christie, Lee Child, James Patterson, and Paulo Coelho even come through! Or that time I borrowed a fascinating volume of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and worked through it, story by story, instead of the business book I should have been reading. Or how I am currently reading A Song of Ice and Fire after watching Game of Thrones! Nor how The Richest Man in Babylon and Who Moved My Cheese are my favorite books of all time! I now realize it is not possible to list all the authors I love and all the books I have read over time!

Possibly, what this means is that, invariably, I have lots of essential material for a lively blog on books. My reading habit has stayed comfortably with me, though it suffered a bit of hiatus at times due to extremely busy periods at work combined with after work studies! I continue reading. I love books. Books have defined me and will undoubtedly continue to do so. I proudly accept the noble title of ‘bookworm’ with no apologies. Not even to the dear auntie who always shakes her head in wonder, saying what she recalls of me as an adolescent was the book in my hand! I take it as an ideal compliment, though it is understandable she does not get how a young girl could genuinely enjoy reading so much!

Ergo, as long as authors keep writing, I will keep reading and will indeed re-read what they wrote many years ago. Mostly to see what new lessons I can glimpse that may have subtly escaped me then. And I will continue connecting with other readers to share ideas and get tips on wonderful new books to add to my collection! And who knows, maybe one remarkable day, eventually write a brilliant book too!