Tuesday, June 30, 2015

No Angel Book Review

No Angel by Penny Vincenzi

Click here for the Amazon product page.


Celia Lytton, a strong-willed, courageous beauty, defied her blue-blooded parents when she married her husband, Oliver, head of the great Lytton family publishing house. Celia soon finds herself to be not only a good mother but a sharp and creative editor with a knack for her husband's business. But when Oliver returns home after four life-shattering years at war, Celia must fight to reconcile her family and her career - and she must make difficult and dangerous choices about what it means to love. No Angel is a magisterial saga of power, family politics, and passion, a riveting drama and an irresistible love story set against the compelling backdrop of the First World War.

Review by Brittany:

Penny Vincenzi is the queen of writing delicious novels. I claim this after only having read two by her, but I would be hard-pressed to find anyone who could write sagas quite like she can. Not only are her characters and stories amazing, each sentence is like a delectable treat that I eat up as I read it.

What I loved about this novel (and her previous one that I've read) is that the main characters is merely one of the main characters. In the grand scheme of the novel, Vincenzi introduces the reader to the entire Lytton family and those acquaintances that they so often come into contact with. Each character gets an extended storyline so that it's easy to fall in love with them the same as it is with the main characters.

Some of the pluses to this book that are singular to this one are the backdrop of the First World War, the twenties, and the publishing world. The First World War plays a large role in the development of Celia's relationship with her husband, and with the development of her career. Without the War playing a role, the story would not have been the same. LM, Oliver's sister, is also largely affected by the War and the repercussions of caring about someone who had to fight. All of the female characters played large roles during the war, carrying Lyttons through and being the force holding their families together. The children in the novel are also affected by the War in different ways as well.

Reading about the publishing world was an interesting aspect. I don't know how historically accurate the publishing parts were, but it made the story enjoyable and it all felt believable. The different lines of books that Lyttons published, both before and during the War, interested me, and I loved reading about the business meetings that were held. It added an interesting aspect to the novel and was a bit of an unexpected career focus for a novel regarding the First World War.

Vincenzi writes novels that you have to devote time to dive into. With over 600 pages, this was quite a read, but I enjoyed every second of it. It's the kind of novel that a reader can just roll around in, and this particular book is the first in the Lytton trilogy. I'm looking forward to reading more about Lyttons.

Notable quotes:

"Marriage is a business and it works best when both parties see it that way."

She had often heard of people saying they didn't know how they would be able to bear things and felt impatient; you bore what you had to bear.

She looked back on the person she had been a year before, confident, in command of herself, in control of her life, with a man she loved and who loved her, and found it almost incredible that everything should have changed so dreadfully much.

The fact that he was occasionally hostile to her, sometimes critical of her, frequently irritated by her, was irrelevant. Without her his life, or at least the point of his life was negated; therefore if he were to carry on as a properly functioning human being, he needed her.

Just remembering when she had been young and in love with Oliver; when all they had asked was to be together, when to talk, laugh, plan their lives, make love, had been absolute happiness, when finding anyone else, or anything even remotely more important to them had been unthinkable. And wondering that such love, such closeness, such tenderness could disintegrate so hopelessly and so thoroughly, first into indifference and then into despair.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Altered Carbon Book Review

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Click here for the Amazon product page.


In the twenty-fifth century, humankind has spread throughout the galaxy, monitored by the watchful eye of the U.N. While divisions in race, religion, and class still exist, advances in technology have redefined life itself. Assuming one can afford the expensive procedure, a person's consciousness can now be stored in a cortical stack at the base of the brain and easily downloaded into a new body (or "sleeve"), making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen.

Ex-U.N. envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed before, but his latest death was particularly painful. Dispatched one hundred eight light-years from home, resleeved into a body in Bay City (formerly San Francisco, now with a rusted, dilapidated Golden Gate Bridge), Kovacs is thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards of a society that treats "existence" as something to be bought and sold. For Kovacs, the shell that blew a hole in his chest was only the beginning...

Review by Brittany:

So this book has one of the best opening scenes I think I've ever read. The reader is immediately thrust in  action, experiencing Kovacs' most recent death. These first few pages set a bit of a violent scene for a book that has more of that.

When Kovacs begins a sort of murder investigation (for a man who is technically still alive, thanks to money and resleeving), there is violence and mystery around every corner. One thing I loved about this novel was that every character felt like they had something to hide. Each character was shady in his or her own way, which made solving the murder mystery a bit difficult from the reader standpoint. I always have an appreciation for an ending I can't guess and for characters I can't trust - even if it's the main character. I also just thought Kovacs was cool, investigating and smoking his cigarettes and reflecting on all of the work he had done as an envoy. He was just a cool dude, which I could appreciate.

One thing about this one is that I will have to read it again. There were times in the story when I got a little bogged down in the details. While the major plot points and story line were followable, there were often times when the author included so many details about the way the world works now that I got a little lost in them. This does illustrate the thought and planning that went into the novel, but I think that I would have to read this one again to fully take in the details.

This book was a little different than what I normally read, but it was definitely enjoyable. There is very clear skill on this author's part with characters, storytelling, and world-building. I plan to read this one again, and I'm interested in more of Kovacs' adventures.

Notable quotes:

Anyone pitiful enough to want to spend so much time outside their own head wasn't going to want to see the same basic human realities reflected in the gilded skulls of those they admired.

"Shopping is physical interaction, exercise of decision-making capacity, saying of the desire to acquire, and an impulse to more acquisition, a scouting urge. It's so basically fucking human when you think about it."

"One tells the truth to so few people in the end, it becomes a habit."

"Childishness is a common enough sin amongst humans."

"Takeshi, where did you get this belief that everything can be resolved with such brute simplicity?"

For a moment something ached in me, something so deep rooted that I knew to tear it out would be to undo the essence of what held me together.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Big Little Lies Book Review

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She's funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline's youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline's teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline's ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn't be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

Review by Brittany:

When reading this book (my fourth by this author), the one thing I kept thinking is how Moriarty makes the worst things happen to her characters, and I just love it. Celeste struggles with having a marriage that seems perfect but isn't quite. Madeline is struggling in her relationship with her teenage daughter. Jane is struggling with the paternity secret she keeps and with the possibility of her son being the kindergarten bully. All of these women have something going on that is painful and serious, and I reveled in each of their hardships.

I have two favorite things about this book: the exploration of bullying in different scenarios, and the development of relationships. The story centers largely around the kindergarten bully and figuring out which child is the one causing harm to others. But as readers, we also experience the often cliquey relationships between the parents and how they underhandedly bully each other. Even more serious is the case of domestic abuse that is explored throughout the story. This also connects to the relationship aspect of the novel because the relationship between the abused wife and her husband is tumultuous and often frustrating to a reader. It is hard to understand why she stays with him, but this is the crux of the problem in relationships like this. I also thought the relationship between Madeline, her ex-husband, his new wife, and her current husband was explored well. It's a four way relationship that is often strained, but the reader witnesses it shifting as the story progresses. Each character is on interesting footing with one another, and Moriarty did well with developing the relationship.

Overall I loved this book, as has been my experience with all of Moriarty's novels thus far. I definitely recommend!

Notable quotes:

All conflict can be traced back to someone's feelings getting hurt, don't you think?

Recently, she'd noticed something strange happening when she talked to people in groups. She couldn't quite remember how to be.

That was her fault. Maybe if she'd spoken nicely. Been more patient. Said nothing.

All around her was color: rich, vibrant color. She was the only colorless thing in this whole house.

If she packaged the perfect Facebook life, maybe she would start to believe it herself.

You were not meant to deal with complicated feelings of betrayal and hurt and guilt at your kids' athletics carnivals. Feelings like this should not be brought out in public.

It was a revelation that after all this time she could still feel something so basic, so biological, so pleasant.

Children did this. They sensed when there was something controversial or sensitive and they pushed and pushed like tiny prosecutors.

Nothing and nobody could aggravate you the way your child could aggravate you.

She'd swallowed it whole and pretended it meant nothing, and therefore it had come to mean everything.

It was interesting how you could say things when you were walking that you might not otherwise have said with the pressure of eye contact across a table.

When someone you loved was depending on your lie, it was perfectly easy.

There was a huge heavy block of pain lodged beneath her chest. Was this a heart attack? Was this fury? Was this a broken heart? Was this the weight of her responsibility?

She knew the way your mind could go round and round in endless pointless circles.

Of course he was right, he was always right, but sometimes doing the wrong thing was also right.