My (not so) Perfect Life

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My (not so) Perfect Life

by Sophie Kinsella

Spring 2017

I was so excited when I saw My (not so) Perfect Life on the new shelf (because I had recently added it to my Goodreads TBR list), so of course I grabbed it. And then I read it in two sittings. It was so good – heartfelt, funny, and brilliant. I loved every second and laughed out loud on multiple occasions. Kinsella is amazing. I want to read more of her books and thankfully I have plenty to choose from.

The thing I loved most about My (not so) Perfect Life was how Kinsella deals with the concept of “perfection” and how it doesn’t really exist. Katie’s stepmom, Biddy, tells it straight to Katie: “Don’t put so much pressure on yourself, love. Whoever started the rumor that life has to be perfect is a very wicked person, if you ask me. Of course it’s not!” I love her enthusiasm. Later, Katie puts it together. She says, “I think I’ve finally worked out how to feel good about life. Every time you see someone’s bright-and-shiny, remember: They have their own crappy truths too. Of course they do. And every time you see your own crappy truth and feel despair and think, Is this my life, remember: It’s not. Everyone’s got a bright-and-shiny, even if it’s hard to find sometimes.” There’s so much truth in these quotes and I love that Kinsella brings it out in her novel, along with all the humor and laughs.

Katie is an aspiring branding associate. She’s worked hard to become a research associate at a major London branding firm, but is not quite living the life. Her apartment is small, roommates are weird, commute long, and budget small. Her boss, Demeter, has it all: perfect husband and kids, clothes, job, lifestyle, etc. All Katie wants is to be given a chance. She wants Demeter to see her and recognize her work, but Demeter is oblivious. On top of it all, Katie feels pressure to display the perfect life to everyone around her, including her dad and stepmom. She has a great relationship with them, but she knows how badly her father wants her to come home, and that is a lot of pressure. Spoilers: Just when Katie starts feeling like she might be making headway, she gets fired, and the worst of it is that Demeter thought she had already fired her before she actually did. Katie is crushed, but determined to find another job before telling her parents. At the same time, her dad and stepmom inform her that they are opening up a B&B of sorts, using fancy tents on their gorgeous country property. Katie’s stepmom has a talent for hospitality and baking (including the most delicious jam), and her dad has a knack for drawing people in and giving them a fun time. Their business takes off and they ask Katie to help them with branding and a focus. Katie agrees to “take an extended holiday from work” to help out, not telling them the truth that she’s jobless. Hilarity ensues as she changes her sleek city look into a softer country style, causing her to be unrecognizable as the business takes off (due to her branding skills) and her old boss comes for a stay with her family. Katie takes the opportunity to get revenge, making Demeter do awful things in the name of getting closer to nature, etc. She slowly softens though as Demeter’s shell cracks and Katie sees that her “perfect life” is actually a life of difficulty and challenges with her family. Demeter’s biggest struggle is at work where she is repeatedly forgetting things and messing things up with customers (very unlike her), to the point where she thinks she’s going crazy and is about to be fired. Her boss, Alex, is a young man who previously hit it off with Katie in the city. He comes to the B&B to fire Demeter, but Katie steps in to help Demeter keep her job. They continue to hit it off and he decides to listen to Katie, who has realized that Demeter is being undermined and set up by a younger, jealous colleague (her assistant who has been using her access to destroy Demeter’s career). They form a plan to get proof, using Katie, who is able to get on record that Demeter’s assistant was ruining Demeter’s reputation. The truth comes out and Katie is given her dream branding job with Demeter. Alex and Katie fall in love as well and officially get together. Her parents’ business continues to thrive and it’s the happiest ending!

Summing it up: this book was light, funny, heartwarming and awesome! I loved it and I highly recommend it!

All the best, Abbey

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe

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Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe

by Jenny Colgan

June 2017

I heard about one of Jenny Colgan’s books (having to do with Paris) and quickly added it to my ‘to be read’ list on Goodreads. Doing so, I realized that it wasn’t her first book in this series. I have a thing about reading in order, so I looked up book one, which was Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, and dove right in. Well, this book was cute, sweet and funny. It would make the perfect summer read. I really loved this book and just adored Issy, the main character. One aspect of Colgan’s writing that I enjoyed was that she tells the reader what each character is thinking throughout the whole book. So, two characters might be talking and she shares both of their thoughts in the same paragraph. It’s different, but nice. Sometimes I thought the story was a little wordy, but it didn’t taint my opinion that I loved this book!

Issy is 31 years old. She has a boring, but steady desk job, a great flatmate and she’s shagging her boss (quietly, as it’s not good for his image). Life is fine and Graeme might just be getting more serious about her. Then, one day Issy gets fired. They offer her a really good package, but it’s crushing. Especially since Graeme cuts off all contact, dumping her when she got fired. After a little while, Issy gets an idea. By her old bus stop, there is a vacant store. She always imagined a little cupcake bakery there and she starts wondering if that could be a reality. Her grandfather was a baker and taught her everything. Issy is a gifted baker and after lots of thought and planning, she decides to go for it, convincing first the landlord and then the bank (care of a rather handsome banker, Austin) that she has a viable shop. Austin takes a particular interest, helping Issy at length with all the details of what she’s getting into and how to navigate paperwork, etc. Issy hires a young, single mom, Pearl to help get the shop (the Cupcake Cafe) up and running. They bond quickly and before long it’s opening day! At first business is very slow, but after a road accident outside the shop (no one getting injured), they get flooded. Spoilers: business steadily builds from that day on, and they even need to hire another person. Issy decides on Caroline (a rich, rather snobbish woman who tried to rent the shop when Issy was going for it. She is great at marketing and keeping things running, even if she can rub people the wrong way, including Pearl. But she is a good fit for the shop.). Issy has an odd relationship with Austin (who has a ten year old brother he has looked after since both their parents died). They like each other, but they have a professional relationship because he is her banker and weighs in on financial decisions. They get close to being together, but then Graeme comes back and Issy goes back to him. She realizes it’s a mistake after a little while and leaves him (he’s selfish and doesn’t get why Issy loves her shop). Then there is a huge misunderstanding. Graeme is secretly planning to force Issy out of her shop in order to develop a new apartment complex. Austin finds out because Graeme comes to his bank to get a loan for the project. Austin assumes Issy knows because she’s dating Graeme, and thinks it’s a big plot by the two of them. Of course, Issy knows nothing and this all comes out at her shop on a crazy day. Issy is already not with Graeme anymore and she’s furious about Graeme’s scheme. She’s also hurt by Austin’s assumption. Austin realizes his huge mistake and does what he can to help stop Graeme. He denies the loan and helps get Issy an opportunity to extend her lease (of course it’s ending while all of this is going on). Issy gets an extension for 18 months and the business is so successful that she expands next door. She and Austin finally hash things out and get together. This whole time her grandfather has been battling dementia. He has been writing down his old recipes and encouraging Issy every step of the way, even to the end when it looked like the shop would close. He loves long enough to know she saves the store.

Summing it up: this whole book was so sweet and very clever. It was such a fun read and so heartwarming. It’s the perfect light read and I definitely recommend it!

All the best, Abbey

The Sea House

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The Sea House

by Esther Freud

July 2016

Have you ever paused to listen while you’re floating in the water? Perhaps you’re swimming, getting caught up in the rhythm of your strokes, and then decide to rest, willing your body to straighten and bob on the surface. It’s then you are calm and can hear an easy whoosh and all the background noises are muted so you can’t make them out. It’s a soft, calm state, where there is no rushing, just being. That is how I felt reading The Sea House. It was such a calm, steady, beautiful book. Freud’s writing is descriptive, but muted, in such a good way. As much as I felt like I couldn’t wait to find out what happened, I knew I’d get there at the right pace and that there was no rush. I was transfixed by the characters and the quiet little sea town of Steerborough, England.

The Sea House follows two points in time Steerborough 1953, and Steerborough present. In 1953, a deaf painter named Max moves to town. He is mourning his sister, and staying with her friend, Gertrude, who is trying to help Max by giving him a job to do — paint her house. He has a difficult time beginning, but finds purpose in painting the whole town on a long scroll. He has a brief affair in the midst of working and by the end of the summer he is ready to live again and moves on. In the present time, Lily is an aspiring architect who has lost her purpose. She is in a committed relationship, but questioning it because her boyfriend has never told her he loves her. She is working on her thesis, studying the great architect, Klaus Lehmann, who lived briefly in Steerborough with his wife. He was immensely popular, which meant his work took him away from her often, causing him to write her many letters: the basis of Lily’s research. Lily is struggling to find her passion and meaning, but is drawn into the quiet town life and finds it increasingly difficult to leave. Spoilers: Lily soon realizes what bothers her about her boyfriend and their relationship and is able to speak up about it. Her boyfriend realizes he needs to change and does so. He is able to say, I love you, by the end of the book. Lily also decides to stay on in Steerborough for a few more months doing the things she loves: painting and waitressing (in order to afford rent) and finding herself.

There was a great quote at the beginning of the book. I thought it not only applies to art, but to life. When Max was learning to paint his mentor wrote him the following:

You can only get to understand things by drawing them. If you give up drawing something because you don’t understand it, then you never will understand it. And if you wait until you can draw perfectly, then you will have to wait until you are dead.

For those of you who have read The Sea House, what did you think about it?? Where you surprised with Lily’s choices and what about Max? Why did he leave at the end, especially when he didn’t have to? I’m so sad for him and I don’t understand it!!

Summing it up: I recommend this book! It was a calm, beautiful book and a delight to read. It was also a perfect summer book!

All the best, Abbey

The Girl On The Train

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The Girl On The Train

by Paula Hawkins

June 2016

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to write about The Girl on the Train, but I’m finally sitting down to do it before I forget too much. I will always remember The Girl on the Train fondly because it is the first thriller I’ve read, and as an introduction to the genre, it got me hooked. I really liked this book. I immediately felt for Rachel because she was so depressed and in such a bad spot in life. I wanted her to find happiness. I love that through her ups and downs she came out on top. I also loved the twists in this book . . . wow . . .I was totally caught off guard and I loved the surprise of a huge plot twist (it’s addicting!). While parts of the plot were sad or disturbing, overall I really enjoyed The Girl on the Train and I’m seriously thinking about seeing the movie!

Spoilers mixed in the plot: Rachel is down and out — she is an alcoholic, jobless, divorced, and purposeless. She just wants her life to go back to the way it was when she was married and happy. So, she rides the train, which passes by her old house that her husband and his new wife live in, pretending to go to and from work. Most days she sees a couple that live near her old house. They seem perfectly in love and happy until one day she sees the wife, Megan, embracing another man. A few days later Megan is reported missing and Rachel feels like she needs to solve the case, especially since she was in town the night of the disappearance, only she was blackout drunk and can only remember bits and pieces. In her research she learns that Megan used to be a nanny for Tom and Anna (Rachel’s ex-husband and his wife). She also learns that Tom was having an affair with Megan (ironic because he had an affair with Anna when he was married to Rachel). Soon, Rachel pieces together the mystery. Tom killed Anna because she was pregnant and wanted to be more than an affair with Tom. Tom is a malicious, devious liar, who has made Rachel believe things about herself that are not true for years. He never loved her and never told her the truth about anything, including his family and past. He repeated the same pattern with Anna and with Megan and is finally caught in his lies.

Summing it up: I highly recommend this book! It was a great thriller and a very quick read.

All the best, Abbey

The Corinthian

 

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The Corinthian

by Georgette Heyer

July 2016

The Corinthian swept me away immediately. I got lost in the characters, the language, the age, and especially the humor. Georgette Heyer is a master of effortlessly combining romance and humor. I loved everything about this book. I was so hooked that I stayed up until 2 am in order to finish!

The story takes place in London during the Regency Period. Sir Richard Wyndham is a 29 year old bachelor being pressured into marrying someone he does not love. He is wealthy, quite a dandy, and unwilling to settle down. Penelope Creed (Pen) is a 17 year old heiress who is being forced to marry her cousin, a “fish face,” whom she despises. One night, she decides to escape out her window, only to fall into the arms of  Richard (who has decided to give up love and marry for convenience, but is miserable about it). They quickly decided to “escape” together, Richard escorting Pen to her true love. Along the way they meet many characters and get into many hilarious scrapes before ending quite happily for everyone.

Summing it up: I highly recommend this book! It was a humorous, lighthearted, perfect read for the summer.

All the best, Abbey

Being Committed

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Being Committed

by Anna Maxted

May 2016

Being Committed was another book that grabbed me by its cover! I knew nothing about it, but in the end I really liked it. Being Committed is British literature, and other than the “classics,” I haven’t read anything like it. The vocabulary was very different, but it wasn’t a distraction, rather it was really interesting and engaging . I found Maxted to be quite hilarious, as well as deep and real. The story follows Hannah, a down and out P.I. who has a dysfunctional family and difficult personal life because of it. Hannah was married at twenty and divorced soon after. She has never been able to truly commit to anyone because of her past. (Spoiler: her mother had postnatal depression after having Hannah, which her father refused to recognize. As a result, Angela had an affair, making Robert so furious that he allowed Hannah to discover her mother in the act. Ever since, Hannah can’t open up and has a distant relationship with Angela.) Through a serious of events, Hannah is forced to delve into her past and learn what really happened and the truth of why she can’t commit. In the end, she grows as a person and changes for the better, helping her family (except her father) change as well. (Spoiler: she reconciles with her ex-husband, Jack, and they get back together. She revives her relationship with her mother and recognizes her father as the narcissist he truly is.)

I loved how Maxted was able to take heavy family issues and describe them in their ugly reality, but mold the issues into a heartwarming story filled with humor and heart. Hannah is the type of heroine that you want to see succeed and grow. It is a very satisfying story and my only complaint is that it seemed to drag on a bit at parts and feel like a “long” read. I really enjoyed it though and I will definitely read more of Maxted!

Summing it up: I definitely recommend this book! It was a fascinating book filled with humor and heart.

All the best, Abbey