Becky’s One Hundred and Thirty-Second Book Review: “The Effect of Living Backwards” by Heidi Julavits

I had “The Effect of Living Backwards” sitting on my shelf for at least a few years. I have picked it up a couple of times, contemplated reading it, and then put it back in favor of something else that caught my eye. I finally picked it up and started reading it. I finished it over a week ago and I still haven’t been able to figure out if I liked it. On the one hand, the book was written very well and it was entertaining. On the other hand, it was kind of a mind-fuck.

“We’re taught to find the antecedents to our adult failures in childhood traumas, and so we spend our lives looking backwards and pointing fingers, rather than bucking up and forging ahead. But what if your childhood was all a big misunderstanding? An elaborate ruse? What does that say about failure? Better yet, what does that say about potential?” (The Effect of Living Backwards, pg 4). This quote sums up a lot of the themes in this book in just a few sentences. The main character, Alice, comes across as a little crazy. She had a very strange childhood and when we meet her she is at this weird place that seems like it is supposed to be a bizarre mental hospital of sorts. It is never made really clear to me where she is, it’s called a ‘role play complex’ but that doesn’t really make sense to me. The novel focuses on Alice and her relationship with her sister, Edith and the experiences that they went through together.

At this strange place where we first meet Alice, she is being pushed to retell the story about the hijacking that she was a part of a few years ago. Once she starts to tell her story, we go back to when the hijacking was actually happening. The way this book is written is a few different characters are introduced and then there is a chapter featuring one of the supporting characters. We learn the depths of everyone, which was interesting, but at the same time it was almost overwhelming? I like development of characters as much as the next guy, but at what point do you draw the line? How much do we really need to know about each character? “I had never been anybody, I was free to be anyone.” (The Effect of Living Backwards, pg 5).

The big advantage to dedicating a chapter a piece to supporting characters is we were able to see their development, which made for a more interesting story. One of the women who is on the plane with Alice and her sister proved to have – if possible – an even stranger childhood than Alice and Edith. This was one of her quotes that I found to be very self-aware and at the same time, it really explained the woman and her behaviors. “I realized that I was not a creative woman, merely a strangely raised woman, and that exposing one’s children to exceptional situations will not protect them from mediocrity.” (The Effect of Living Backwards, pg 177).

The whole deal with Alice and Edith is they have a strange relationship. They are sisters and were raised in very strange circumstances. Then they are on a plane that gets hijacked and everything changes. Edith is supposed to be getting married and now everything is called into question because they are thrown into this unexpected terror. On the one hand, they both take turns being brave and almost standing up to the guys. On the other hand, they both let the hijackers push them around. It was interesting to see the range of emotions that the girls went through in turn. “We imagine we will react a certain way to imminent tragedy, and yet the reality is that the mind fails to respond as we expect it will respond. Fear can desert you when you are most petrified, leaving you calm, composed, capable of constructing sober strategies; it can make you wonder, in the absence of any conventional emotional response, what the hell kind of monster you are.”  (The Effect of Living Backwards, pg 212). The hijacking really did give both Alice and Judith the opportunity to see what they were like in an extraordinary situation. They both reacted in different ways and they both took turns being the strong one. Their relationship was definitely an interesting one.

“You couldn’t pull these women away from their beating, drunken, jobless husbands with a backhoe, and thus I began to wonder why I was so hell-bent on trying. It was part of the reason I dropped out of grad school, part of the reason that waitressing appeared to be a far more noble way to serve humanity. People tend to know what they want, and it’s nice to just give it to them sometimes, without telling them they’re wrong for wanting it.” (The Effect of Living Backwards, pg 213). This quote I had to include because it just struck me. How often is it that you encounter a situation with people and they do know what they want to the point where you can give it to them? I never thought about waitressing at that level. Heidi Julavits definitely put a new spin on it for me.

Would I recommend this book? Yes and no. I still find myself contemplating the story, trying to figure out exactly what it was that happened. Trying to understand Alice and Judith and what was real and what wasn’t. If you’re looking for a beach read, I wouldn’t pick this up. My brain was far too engaged while reading this book to consider it a beach read. It has a lot of depth to it and I still can’t figure out if I liked it. I may have to find some more of the author’s works to determine if I like it. There were a lot of aspects to this book that I did enjoy, there were certainly a lot of quotes that I wrote down in my pink sparkly notebook (and I didn’t even include them all). “The Effect of Living Backwards” is a notable work and I think that if in the right mindset, many people would enjoy it. 

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Becky’s One Hundred and Thirty-First Book Review: “The Good Cop” by Brad Parks

“You have to know what flavor of ice cream you are in this world, and I am vanilla.” (The Good Cop, pg 9). Ah, good old Carter Ross. I’m sure in his mind, he is vanilla, but having met the guy who produced and in no way influenced who Carter Ross is (according to his website, Carter Ross is a “fictional character who bears no resemblance to Brad beyond their shared height, weight, eye color, hair color, skin color, charmed upbringing, sartorial blandness and general worldview” (www.bradparksbooks.com/author.php) I would have to say vanilla is not an accurate description. There is at least some chocolate syrup on there, maybe some nuts and sprinkles. Brad certainly seems like a sprinkles kind of guy.

It may seem like I’ve been writing an awful lot about Brad Parks lately. That’s true. It’s one of those things that happens when you meet someone for the first time. Someone who’s mind you’ve been – at least partly – because you’ve read their work. Not to mention the fact that he is sort of a celebrity (ok, a minor one). He’s kind of a big deal, sort of. Meeting Brad Parks was quite an adventure and one you can read about if you so desire, on reverseorderofoperations.wordpress.com.

But back to the book review: I finished reading “The Good Cop” a little while ago but wanted to hold off on writing the book review since I was writing on my other blog about Brad Parks. Now that I have the next Carter Ross book in my possession begging me to read it, I think it’s time.  

“The Good Cop” is once again following the hilarious Carter Ross who really does seem to get himself into the craziest situations. The story that falls in his lap (and gets him up at an ungodly hour) is about a dead cop. Carter finds out about the death but doesn’t information about the circumstances right away so he goes off to investigate as the nosy reporter that he is. Carter decides that he is going to interview the widow and get some really good, heart wrenching material about this stand up cop with a daughter and a newborn son tragically struck down in his prime. Already half the story is written in his head when his editor Tina, tells him to drop the story since the cop wasn’t killed, it was a suicide.

Being the reporter that he is, Carter of course thinks there is something fishy going on. What guy who is planning on killing himself makes plans to go to Disney World with the family? Soon, there are more bodies to deal with. Not long after that, people try to kill Carter in a few different ways. “The Malibu may not be good for many things, but getting in people’s way is one of them. It has got a nice, wide rear end – the J.Lo of the car world.” (The Good Cop, pg 242). There are some crazy things that happen in this book, including Carter trying absinth, but the one thing that I really want to talk about I can’t because it would be a spoiler. Trust me, this book is something to pick up.

One thing that I really enjoy about Brad Park’s writing is that he has a nice amount of humor in his books, but it is not overly obvious. It is present in the way that I hope my writing will show humor. This quote in particular I really found amusing and just a great example of the subtle humor that he likes to put in his writing. “I only wished I had brought a clipboard along. A white man looks that much more convincing with a clipboard.” (The Good Cop, pg 279)

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely!! I think that Carter Ross is the kind of character that anyone could easily fall in love with. He’s goofy and charming and all in all, just someone you want to read about. I cannot wait to really dig into “The Player” which is the fifth book in the Carter Ross series. One thing I’ll say, don’t pick up this series if you are trying to get anything done. But it is an excellent series and one that I fully recommend. In fact, it is so good that I pay for the hardcover because I’m too impatient to wait for the paperback to come out. I swear, Brad Parks is lacing his books with something addictive.

 

Becky’s One Hundred and Thirty Book Review: “Twilight’s Child” by V. C. Andrews

I have already expressed distaste for the pattern that V.C. Andrews tends to follow in her series. There are slight variations to the novels, but the overall plot seems to be the same. It’s disappointing really because I enjoyed the Casteel family series because it was the first one that I read. Now that I’ve moved onto her other series, it just seems like a lot of the same things.

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST TWO BOOKS IN THE CUTLER FAMILY SERIES AND ARE PLANNING ON IT!

The first book in this series introduces Dawn as a girl from a poor family who finds out she was kidnapped and is sent back to live with her original family which unfortunately has a lot more money but a lot less love. Dawn is thrust into this world where she feels unwelcome and just doesn’t fit.

In the second book, Dawn is sent to New York City to attend a music school. Like all girls who make good decisions, Dawn sleeps with one of her teachers and gets pregnant. After Grandmother Cutler finds out about Dawn’s pregnancy, she sends her off to the plantation that she grew up. Dawn went through a terrible ordeal during her pregnancy having to deal with Grandmother Cutler’s awful sister, Emily who is a religious fanatic that finds various ways to torture Dawn. After Dawn’s baby is born, she holds her once and then the baby is taken away – given up for adoption against Dawn’s will.

At the beginning of “Twilight’s Child”, Dawn has been rescued from The Meadows – the plantation that she was kept at during her pregnancy, by Jimmy. He takes her away from The Meadows and resolves to get Dawn back her daughter. Luckily, the hotel’s lawyer handled everything and they are able to get her back since it was an illegal adoption.

Jimmy and Dawn are soon married and for once, everything seems to be going well for Dawn. Of course, this is short lived. Although I don’t want to give too much away because there is an off chance that someone who reads this will want to discover the series themselves, let’s just say that even more incest is revealed and attempted. I’m really not sure what V.C. Andrews’ obsession with incest was about, but it is overplayed for sure.

Would I recommend this book? No, I don’t think this series was great. There were a lot of repetitive themes in the Cutler family series that I saw in the Casteel series as well. It gets to be a bit much. Everyone loves a good scandal, sure…but I don’t think that most people enjoy reading about incest. It has that ick factor that no one really wants to get into. I don’t think V.C. Andrews ever went outside her comfort zone with her books. They all seem to be very formula. I suspect that she was continuously published because of her established name and not because of the work that she was producing.

Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-Ninth Book Review: “Secrets of the Morning” by V.C. Andrews

SPOILER ALERT: THIS IS THE SECOND BOOK IN THE CUTLER SERIES, DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ “DAWN” AND ARE PLANNING ON IT

 

Back in August, I wrote a review on “Dawn” which is the first book in the Cutler Family series. I did finish the rest of the series but didn’t get around to writing the reviews for them. This review is about “Secrets of the Morning” which is the second book in the Cutler Family series.

“Secrets of the Morning” picks up right where “Dawn” left off. Dawn has been sent off to New York City to attend a prestigious school where she will be far away from the evil Grandmother Cutler. Right away, things are difficult for her. Despite the fact that Dawn went away with best intentions, the woman who runs the house that Dawn lives in while at school was sent a letter by Grandmother Cutler full of lies about what a terrible person Dawn is. Immediately, Dawn is treated like a criminal. Having to deal with this becomes more difficult when she cannot be around Jimmy but Dawn is lucky enough to have a roommate whom she is able to bond with. For the first time, Dawn has a female companion.

 

IT IS NEAR IMPOSSIBLE TO WRITE A BOOK REVIEW ON THIS BOOK WITHOUT SPOILERS. THE REST OF THIS REVIEW CONTAINS A LOT OF SPOILERS. READERS BEWARE!!!

 

“Secrets of the Morning” is divided into two books really. First, Dawn goes off to school in New York. Then she starts taking extra singing lessons with her music teacher. When he promises her the world, she eventually falls into bed with him. Being the naïve girl that she is, she didn’t use protection. Surprise, surprise…Dawn ends up pregnant. When she goes to tell Michael – the teacher, he promises her the world. They make plans to run away together and get married. She quickly finds out that he is a liar. She tries to run after him and gets hit by a car. Once she is in the hospital, Grandmother Cutler gets called and of course learns Dawn is pregnant.

While a traditional Grandmother would be caring, Grandmother Cutler sees Dawn is pregnant and sends her off to live at The Meadows – the plantation Grandmother Cutler grew up on. Dawn is sent off and forced to be pretty much a slave in the household of Grandmother Cutler’s sisters. She is allowed the smallest amount of food, forced to clean the house on her hands and knees, all the while being completely isolated from the rest of the world. She has a miserable time.

During her time at The Meadows, Dawn sees bits and pieces of the world that Grandmother Cutler grew up in which makes for some interesting reflections.

Would I recommend this book? Once again, I say meh. The book was interesting, but at the same time I just had a hard time finding sympathy for a girl who is stupid enough to sleep with her teacher and get pregnant. I like having a protagonist that you want to cheer for. I didn’t find that with “Secrets of the Morning”. While reading the book, I just kind of hope that everyone in the book will be hit by a asteroid or something. So I guess you could say that I wouldn’t recommend this book. It just wasn’t great and life is too short to waste on bad books.

Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Book Review: “The Little Lady and the Prince” by Hester Browne

Sometimes, you just need to eat some candy. Or in my case, read some candy books. You know the kind – books with little substance that can often be devoured in a few days if not hours. “The Little Lady and the Prince” by Hester Browne is just one of these books. This is the third book in the series and I found it to be quite enjoyable.

 

SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST TWO BOOKS IN THIS SERIES PREPARE FOR SPOILERS!!! OR JUST STOP READING…

 

The Little Lady Agency is what started it all. The main character, Melissa Romney-Jones starts up this ‘finishing’ business in the first book and continues her adventures in a second and now third book. In this business, Melissa performs a wide range of things including girlfriend-like tasks. She sends flowers and gifts for those forgetful sons/uncles/boyfriends to make them look good, she does makeovers for guys without a clue, she even helps guys get out of sticky spots like flings turned stalker and so on. All in all, she does a little bit of everything and she does this under a different name – Honey.

In the first book, Melissa met an American who was just getting out of a very messy divorce and wanted to avoid the ‘set-ups’ from various friends and acquaintances. So, Jonathan (the American) hires Melissa/Honey to be his stand-in girlfriend. Eventually, they stop pretending to have a relationship and actually develop one. In the second book, he brings her with him to New York City so she can get a taste of America and consider opening up a similar business but more focused on throwing parties and the like rather than being a girlfriend-for-hire (minus the physical part). All in all, Melissa doesn’t like the idea of cutting down what she does in her business but things work out and at the conclusion of the book, she and Jonathan are engaged!

This brings us to the third book “The Little Lady and the Prince”. This book begins with Melissa preparing to move to Paris to live with Jonathan. One thing I did not mention before was that Melissa’s family is a bit much. They are all basically terrible, terrible people with no one else in mind but themselves. Her father is the worst of them all, but it is pretty much a given that when Melissa interacts with her family, someone is going to find a way to use her. In “The Little Lady and the Prince” her grandmother recruits Melissa to help an old friend with his grandson who just so happens to be a prince. Melissa has to pull out all the stops to shape this playboy prince and it is not easy for her. Before agreeing to do it, Melissa discusses it with Jonathan who thinks it is a great last job at her agency. Jonathan then pitches to Melissa that they open a business together in Paris. He will sell people their homes and she will help them get settled by teaching them where they need to go, what shops to use, where to get good coffee, where to walk their dogs, etc. Jonathan is very enthusiastic about this but Melissa is a bit apprehensive.

Melissa begins working with the prince and finds the task is not going to be an easy one. It certainly doesn’t help that he is gorgeous. “He twinkled his brown eyes at me, and something inside me melted. Not on purpose. Like when you accidently leave ice cream out.” (The Little Lady and the Prince, pg 178). I liked this quote because it displays the quirky humor that Hester Browne portrays throughout her entire novel.

I really like the development of the different characters in these books. There is the best friend – Gabi who is more often than not the comedic relief in the book. Then there is Nelson, Melissa’s flat mate who cooks and rubs her feet. Nelson is quite the sweetheart and the interactions between Melissa and Nelson are always entertaining. Melissa’s family is a little ridiculous, they are constantly calling on Melissa to help with one thing or another but they do provide that little something extra to the book. Then there is Melissa herself. On the one hand, she is a kind, organized, intelligent woman with a thriving business in her lap and on the other hand, she is a pushover that falls easily into whatever scheme her family cooks up. When Melissa puts on her blonde wig to become Honey she finds that strength that she needs. It is fun seeing her transform herself and eventually discovers that everything was inside the whole time. She didn’t need a feather to fly.  

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that fans of chic lit would enjoy this series a lot. This particular novel had a few twists and turns that I did not see coming and that were an added bonus. Hester Browne has a creative way of writing that I can’t help but devour.