The Enchanted April

By Elizabeth Von Arnim

“And the more he treated her as though she were really very nice, the more Lotty expanded and became really very nice, and the more he, affected in his turn, became really very nice himself; so that they went round and round, not in a vicious but in a highly virtuous circle.”

This was a lovely book narrated beautifully by Nadia May. The story is already well known, I think, if not from the book then by the multiple award-winning and Oscar-nominated movie, directed by Mike Newell. I saw the movie again a couple of months ago, was inspired to (finally) read the book, and now I want to see the movie again!

Four very different women disappointed by life and love, strangers to each other, decide to rent a beautiful villa in Italy together. Two are married and two are not. The two married ones, Lottie Wilkins and Rose Arbuthnot were once in love with their husbands and vice versa but time and temperament have estranged them. Lotty is shy and spiritless and her husband squashes her. She has very little filter and is sometimes awkward and imprudent. She has not been an asset to his career. Rose has driven her husband away by her devotion to her church and doing good works for the poor. She coldly disapproves of him. He leaves her to herself and to her religion. She is confused by her unhappiness. Rose and Lotty are getting away from their husbands as much as they are attracted by the prospect of escaping London for beautiful Italy. Mrs. Fisher is a dried-up selfish old snob who lives in the past. Beautiful wealthy Lady Caroline is trying to escape men altogether. They all inevitably fall in love with her at first sight, much to her dismay, and won’t leave her alone. She calls them “Grabbers”. She was the most interesting of the four women, to me. Improbably nicknamed “Scrap,” She is self-absorbed, but I loved her. All she wants is solitude, but people won’t stop bothering her. Her lovely countenance hides inner bitterness, boredom, and disillusionment.

“…but it was her fate that however coldly she sent forth her words they came out sounding quite warm and agreeable. That was because she had a sympathetic and delightful voice…. Nobody in consequence ever believed they were being snubbed. It was most tiresome. And if she stared icily it did not look icy at all, because her eyes, lovely to begin with, had the added loveliness of very long, soft, dark eyelashes. No icy stare could come out of eyes like that… it got caught and lost in the soft eyelashes, and the persons stared at merely thought they were being regarded with a flattering and exquisite attentiveness. And if ever she was out of humour or definitely cross— and who would not be sometimes in such a world?—-she only looked so pathetic that people all rushed to comfort her, if possible by means of kissing. It was more than tiresome, it was maddening. Nature was determined that she should look and sound angelic. She could never be disagreeable or rude without being completely misunderstood.”

Poor lady!

One by one, by the end, all four of the unhappy women, have their lives transformed by the enchanted beauty of San Salvatore. Two marriages are restored when their husbands visit and see their wives transformed. Lady Caroline learns gratitude and sees herself with clear eyes, and finally realizes that love is a blessing, not a curse, and, perhaps, lets it into her life. Mrs. Fisher, who was thoroughly unlikeable and badly behaved for almost the whole book, learns life still holds love and value for her despite her age, starts to look ahead and not back. As they walk away from San Salvatore and the (enchanted?) villa, we hope and pray they take the enchantment with them permanently. We think they do.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 11, 2021

One Day in December

By Josie Silver

I listened to this book on audio with Elinor Tomlinson reading the main protagonist Laurie’s part. She did a great job but boy her voice is very posh. The reader who voiced Jack was good too, but for some reason, I didn’t think the timbre of his voice matched the character. But that’s just me. Not his fault.

This was a good love story and well written. I was attracted to the story because something similar happened to me once except we were in cars, not at a bus stop. Nothing came of it. We never met. The ending was very happy for the two main characters and almost made up for the problems I had with the story. It was very cinematic. I can just see it as a movie scene in my mind’s eye. Since this was a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, It just may be a film someday, although it would probably be a little difficult given the limited plot. I almost feel it is more of a love story between two best girlfriends rather than a romance.

Now, my problems. Throughout a lot of the story our hero, Jack, behaved badly. Cringingly so. The man Laurie married was such a good guy and behaved with amazing trust, maturity, and patience. He also loved her so much. He would make a great hero in his own book.

**spoiler**

As far as her relationship with her husband, Oscar, she was hypocritical and stubbornly self-deluded. she made a conscious decision to marry (“I choose you, Oscar, every day.”–or words to that effect) Nice words, Laurie. Too bad you didn’t walk the walk. Having chosen Oscar, and made her vows, she decided not to continue with the marriage on the lamest of excuses. She betrayed him and her vows in her heart. I felt like she was casting around for an excuse to divorce him and Oscar’s promotion and permanent transfer to Brussels full time just fell into her hands and boy did she pounce on it. She didn’t want to admit to herself that she was in the wrong and a less than sterling character. Or the author did not want to paint her in that light, I should say. I feel like Ms. Silver wrote herself into a corner in that she could not split them up without contradicting their established characters, or something tragic happening. The excuse that Laurie did not want to move to Brussels with him was so phony and lame. I can’t help but think she, indeed, was setting him up for a sequel. In my opinion, killing him off certainly would have ticked all the boxes as a solution to getting Jack and Laurie back together. This was a big problem with me, but another problem I had was with the temporary estrangement between Sarah and Laurie. I think Sarah really over-reacted and skipping out on Laurie’s wedding where she was maid of honor was really despicable and over the top. It just didn’t ring true. Their reconciliation was largely “off-screen,” thus missing an opportunity for some good emotional drama and tears. As such, it was very anticlimactic.

**end spoiler**

So, Ms. Josie Silver, I have told you the problems with the book and even told you how they could have been corrected. Now the least you can do is write a sequel featuring Oscar’s love story. Then all will be forgiven!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 15, 2019

The Fifth Kiss

by Elizabeth Mansfield

I have gotten a few of Elizabeth Mansfield’s books on Audible, and, in rereading them, they have not lived up to my memory of how great they are. Still, they are superior to almost every other regency I have picked up lately. Elizabeth Mansfield excels at portraying heroes that are good, even sweet men. This is not one of those. The hero in this one is a nasty piece of work. He was a bad father and a bad husband to the late sister of our heroine. Even though he was neglectful and unfaithful to her she worshiped the ground he walked on. We learn later that she was terminally ill and instead of telling her husband the truth so as not to impede his brilliant political career, she told him she was not interested in intimacy anymore, and encouraged him to find it elsewhere. What. Miles and Olivia, the dead wife’s sister, and our leading lady, have always been antagonistic to each other and this devolves into almost hatred, before the corner is turned and Miles starts to redeem himself with Olivia’s help. However, throughout most of the book he is unreasonable, hateful, and angry. The narrator, I suspect, made him even more unpleasant than how he probably was on the page because she voiced him with a particularly villainous, snarly tone. She went too far, and it lessened my enjoyment of the book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 25, 2018

A Regency Match

By Elizabeth Mansfield

I’m afraid on this “re-read” audio version, I agree with the majority of the reviewers about the contemptible stupid behavior of the heroine. Sophia has set about proving that the hero is justified in his bad opinion of her by creating scenes and embarrassing him at his country betrothal party. At first, her purposely behaving like a zany clumsy hysteric was a little amusing. I did get some laughs out of her setting the piano on fire and then her phony inconsolable self-flagellation. But the incident with the horse was way too much. She really crossed the line. Totally unreasonable and foolish.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

January 17, 2017

Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay

by Jill Mansell

This was a perfectly fine romance/chick-lit novel. It was well-written and kept me interested. It just lacked that special spark. It was amusing, not funny. I liked the characters but didn’t love them. The one character I hated came straight out of the Milly Johnson bad-guy playbook. I wasn’t tortured with him for long, thank goodness. The super-nice character he was threatening saw right through him and was strong enough to dispatch him fairly quickly. Another badly behaved character was at her worst during a confrontation with our main heroine, and then she turned around within minutes. She just changed her mind, apparently. While this was easy on my stress level, it prevented a strong catharsis that is so enjoyable in my more favorite novels. Another storyline resolved itself too easily as well. There’s a fine line between torturing the reader with our protagonists’ cluelessness and bad decisions and building up to a “stand up and cheer” break-through. This was a pleasant read, but a little too pleasant to make it memorable. No real lows, but no real highs either. No more Jill Mansell for a while, I guess. This was the second chance book. Never say never, though

Rating: 3 out of 5.

March 5, 2020

People We Meet on Vacation

By Emily Henry

Sometimes I think that’s why we’re so drawn to each other. Because he’s used to being the steadfast big brother and I’m used to being the annoying little sister. It’s a dynamic we understand: I lovingly tease him; he makes the entire world feel safer for me.”

I really liked this romance mostly due to the male lead, Alex, and to a slightly lesser extent, Poppy. Alex is a very well-drawn and unusual character, especially for the role of a romantic hero. Emily Henry really brings both him and Poppy to life. Alex is uptight, careful, reserved, and responsible, while Poppy is gregarious, funny, and a little wild. Sounds like a typical opposites-attract dynamic but Emily makes them both so multi-layered, likable, and funny that it feels fresh. Both characters are grounded in their early life experiences and unusual family situations. Alex’s father checked out of fatherhood after the death of his wife and Alex was left to raise his three younger brothers. Poppy is from a loving but quirky family. Mom and Dad are sweet and folksy whose home is bursting at the seams because they won’t throw anything out. On a scale of 1 to 10, they’re about a 7 on the hoarder scale. She grew up feeling “less than” only wanting to escape her small Ohio town. She does so with a vengeance and very successfully.

She and Alex meet at the University of Chicago and become the best of friends. Poppy has a successful career in New York City, and Alex is a small-town high school teacher. But they meet once a year to go on vacation together. Their adventures make up the book as their relationship continues to develop during their early trips on a shoestring budget to Poppy’s luxurious and glamorous getaways courtesy of her employer, a travel magazine. We start in the present day after Poppy and Alex have had a mysterious falling out 2 years prior and have been incommunicado ever since. They are miserable without each other, at least we know Poppy is, and she takes the first steps to repair the relationship by suggesting another vacation, this time to Palm Springs for Alex’s little brother’s wedding.

The book is very funny, both witty and comic, and the friends to lovers trope is romantic and sweet. The happy ending is hard-won as the obstacles are real and understandable. It is not a case where soulmates are kept apart by a big misunderstanding or sheer stupidity. I liked another of her books, Beach Read but I found this one even better. I listened to this on Audible and the narration was terrific, particularly her interpretation of Poppy’s mother and father and of the taciturn but nurturing Alex, who only seems to come out of his shell around Poppy.**4 1/2 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

September 8, 2021

The Silent Patient

by Alex Michaelides

“I’m forty two years old. And I became a psychotherapist because I was fucked-up. That’s the truth – though it’s not what I said during the interview when the question was put to me.”

This is the kind of book that might be better read than listened to. The narrations were great, no complaints there, whatsoever, and I had no trouble following it or remembering all of the characters, but I wish I was able to page through from the beginning to relive all of the clues and get a better handle on it all.

**Spoiler**

Especially the dual timelines. That was surprising, and a bit of a cheat. Were there any clues in the text, that it wasn’t a chronological story? I think it was signaled right from the beginning that there is something wrong with Theo and he is not a good person. Also that Gabriel was not the paragon that Alicia thought he was. The difference between what Alicia says about him versus how he acts on the page stands out. Theo’s crude language and anger was a giveaway for me. I really thought Alicia was innocent though. It seems like the police would have seen the marks of the wires on her wrists and ankles and figured out that there was more to the story of Alicia tying him up and shooting him. 

**end spoilers**

There were a lot of red herrings that were very well done.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 22, 2019

Northanger Abbey: An Audible Original Drama

By Jane Austen

What could be better than Emma Thompson reading to you? I enjoyed this dramatization of Northanger Abbey with music, sound effects, and each character portrayed by a different actor. Emma Thompson as the narrator, Jane Austen, was perfect and very amusing. She conveyed so many subtleties of the story by her inflections. It is an abridged version, unfortunately, but it seems that the abridgment was very well done. I have seen all of the movie versions that I know of, but I still look forward to reading the unabridged version sometime soon.

I see that a couple of weeks ago Audible released The Jane Austen Collection, similarly narrated and played by top British actors, such as Claire Foy, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Billie Piper, and Florence Pugh. How Will I find the Time?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

November 16, 2020

The Weaver Takes a Wife

by Sheri Cobb South

“Mr. Brundy,” she said with a nod, making the most perfunctory of curtsies to her father’s guest.
He made no move to take her hand, but merely bowed and responded in kind. “Lady ‘elen.”
“My name is Helen, Mr. Brundy,” she said coldly.
“Very well- ‘elen,” said Mr. Brundy, surprised and gratified at being given permission, and on such short acquaintance, to dispense with the use of her courtesy title.”

I got this audio book from the author. I had read this 17 years ago when it first came out and remembered it fondly. I love a romance between unequal partners particularly when the heroine is in a higher position than the hero. It did not disappoint on second reading. Sheri has a nice way with a humorous turn of phrase. The narrator was very good, but sometimes let the Weaver’s plebian northern accent bled into his narration. Also, with most male narrators, his female voice tended to be affected and simpering. I look forward to reading the audio version of In Milady’s Chamber, the first in her John Pickett regency mystery series.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

January 8, 2017

Attachments

By Rainbow Rowell

“I’m sort of… coming off a bad relationship”
“When did it end?”
“Slightly before it started.”

This book was not for me. If I hadn’t been listening to it on my way to and from work and when walking, I probably would not have finished it. On the other hand, I may have liked it better if I had read it instead. It got pretty tedious with the To: Jennifer Scribner-Snyder From Beth Fremont and visa versa with every email of which this book is mostly comprised. You can’t skip over it when you’re listening to it. I found Lincoln hopeless and sad and the girls silly and uninteresting. Beth and Lincoln didn’t even meet until a few pages from the end. I didn’t laugh once. Rainbow Rowell has a good reputation and rave reviews from almost all readers. I don’t get it. I’m willing to blame this on the format and give her another chance at some point. This was her first book so maybe she gets better

Rating: 1 out of 5.

March 2, 2018