review: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

intheunlikelyevent {Source: GoodReads.com}

Note: I won this book in a GoodReads.com giveaway from the publisher, Knopf. I thank them for the chance to read and review. All opinions are my own.

Oh, Judy.

I love Judy Blume so much. As soon as I finished In the Unlikely Event, I immediately picked up my well-read copy of Summer Sisters so I could be back in one of Judy’s worlds again.

In this tale, we follow quite a few perspectives (I admit to finding this tough and a tad confusing in the beginning, but I quickly found my groove), but the main heart of the story is Miri Ammerman, a fifteen-year-old girl living in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1950s. As planes plummet to earth, Miri struggles with the fever of first love, a best friend who seems to be unraveling at the seams, a rambunctious, opinionated and loving family, and a town in chaos.

Three planes did actually crash in quick succession in Elizabeth, during Judy’s childhood. Those scenes are especially vivid and all the more wrenching because you know it happened. Those balls of fire, those plane bellies upended and spilling intestines, those bits of people found strewn across the earth like piano keys. It’s all too much, and that’s reflected in the characters’ growing horror as they wonder… what is happening? Is the world ending? Is it a conspiracy to kill children? Is it just bad luck?

Could it be that the world is that cruel, that unfeeling… that dark?

I loved following Miri’s story, and I found her to be an engaging and lovely character – tart in her opinions, intelligent and as fiercely trusting as only a fifteen-year-old girl can be. The haunting touches throughout the book – Ruby (she hit me the most, like a smack, looking into that baby’s eyes), Natalie’s eating disorder, Penny and Betsey, Fred the dog, Mason… it all comes together to form a tapestry of normal life, made even more beautiful by tragedy.

Judy Blume has said this may be the last book she ever writes. If so, it’s a worthy coda to her wildly successful career. But I hope it isn’t true. I can’t wait to fall into another one of Judy’s worlds again.

She’s just that good.

review: Affinity by Sarah Waters

72929{Source: GoodReads.com}

Lyrical, gripping, melancholy, heartrending and sensual – Affinity is one of Sarah Waters’ best novels, and also one of her most depressing. I believe even Waters herself admitted to being eager to escape from the dank, grey walls of Millbank Prison.

Affinity is the story of Margaret Prior:

description

Margaret is “lady visitor” recovering from a suicide attempt due to the death of her father and the death of her romantic hopes. She is counseling female prisoners who have found themselves heading toward a dark path.

While at Millbank, Margaret meets a young “medium” named Selina Dawes, and her beauty, stillness and mystery intrigues Margaret, bringing her back to the prison day after day to visit with her.

description

Desperate and filled with longing, Margaret is convinced by Selina to help her escape from Millbank, and in true Waters fashion, nothing is as it seems. Margaret’s final thoughts are truly heartbreaking, because you know she had finally imagined herself free, in love, unconstrained by “false boundaries” — and yet the dream was never quite what Margaret believed.

‘It is a world that is made of love. Did you think there is only the kind of love your sister knows for her husband? Did you think there must be here, a man with whiskers, and over here, a lady in a gown? Haven’t I said, there are no whiskers and gowns where spirits are? And what will your sister do if her husband should die, and she should take another? Who will she fly to then, when she has crossed the spheres? For she will fly to someone, we will all fly to someone, we will all return to that piece of shining matter from which our souls were torn with another, two halves of the same. It may be that the husband your sister has now has that other soul, that has the affinity with her soul—I hope it is. But it may be the next man she takes, or it may be neither. It may be someone she would never think to look to on the earth, someone kept from her by some false boundary…’ – Selina Dawes

review: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

thenightwatch {Source: GoodReads.com}

One major reason I love Sarah Waters’ books is that she paints such a rich history for women. I love how she features lesbians and lesbian life throughout history. There is much written about men and gay men (natch, why shouldn’t men take over literature too?) and yet, not a lot of quality, compelling, raw, devastating and accurate prose written about women, women who loved other women. It’s so important that we have Sarah Waters.

The Night Watch is my favourite Waters novel. It’s perfect. Everything about the way she constructed the book, everything about the editing of it, the descriptions of World War II and its aftermath (gah, I can’t get over how well she writes period dramas, without delving into cliched tropes), the characters, the relationships. It’s perfection, beginning to end.

And oh, how I adored the people we met.

Gentle, vicious, frustrating, frustrated, impulsive, silly Helen.

description

Noble, complicated, intelligent, miserable Kay.

description

Gorgeous, devastating, intimidating, wealthy Julia.

description

Irrepressible, disappointed, beautiful, melancholy Viv.

description

Interestingly, Waters chose to begin this novel at the end, and go back in time to find out how our characters came to be where and who they are. It’s a frustrating tactic (because in a way, we’ll know all we know by the first act) but an effective one, as Waters peels the onion slowly and lyrically.

She brings wartime London alive with precision and grace, and her characters stumble through their lives, never quite making the right decisions, never quite realizing where they will end up. The relationships are so skillfully woven here, and the vividness of certain scenes and images still stick in my mind.

By the end, you might feel a little cheated – I did when I first read it- but I now choose to marvel at how Waters unraveled their stories and how she showed what was truly vital for us to know – after all, hindsight is 20/20, and these characters never knew and might never have dreamt, where they’d be after the war.

Were they would be after those rash decisions, when it seemed as though the world would end – but then, it didn’t.

review: Beneath the Skin by Nicci French

beneaththeskin {Source: GoodReads.com}

This review contains mild spoilers, though I tried to allude rather than reveal.

What made (makes) this book so beautiful to me is twofold.

1. The casual elegance of the writing. Nicci French (for the purpose of just plain not feeling like typing out two names, I will ignore that this is a pseudonym and just pretend it’s one author) is brilliant at sketching characters that feel like real people and for using spare, simple and yet beautiful prose. I really love her style and always have. It’s especially evident in her earlier works and now in the Frieda Klein series.

2. The relationship between the three women, invisible, like a thread – but so strong that not even death shakes it. I thought this was a haunting river through the novel.

Beneath the Skin is not my favourite of French’s novels (that award goes to Land of the Living, but it is one of her best, in my opinion.

Zoe, Jenny and Nadia are three women with a horrible connection. but wait, there’s more…