Author Profile

Author Obsession: Sophie Kinsella

I have long felt that Sophie Kinsella understands the many beautiful shades of gray that women can occupy.  Women are not all the same, our experiences are not identical and certainly, our reactions to life will not be carbon copies of each other.  Regardless of whether I personally identify with a character, Kinsella writes female protagonists I feel like I know. In turn, these women experience stories that ring true all with a heavy dose of humor and, often, a lovely added romantic element.

I started, as many people do, with The Confessions of a Shopaholic.  Kinsella has experienced great success with this series.  As of now there are ten books in the Shopaholic section of Kinsella’s published shelf.  I enjoyed these books.  I liked Becky even though it was hard to watch her make the same mistake over and over again.  And I do know people like Becky.  Sometimes, I am like Becky!  I call it “retail therapy” and I think everyone does it.  Unfortunately, the success of these books has created a little pigeonhole.  Some people who read the Shopaholic and did not enjoy it went no further with this author.

That is a shame.  Before she was the commercial success she is now she published seven books under her real name, Madeliene Wickham.  Now, these were enjoyable books but my real author obsession stems from the eight non-Shopaholic books she has published as Sophie Kinsella.

When I say that I adore a book I mean:

(1) I own a hardcopy (if the copy wears out I will buy another copy).  I need full-time access.

(2) I have read it more than once all the way through.

Of the above Kinsella books I adored Twenties Girl and The Undomesticated Goddess most of all.

When I say that I love a book I mean:

(1) I have a copy, probably on my Kindle

(2) I read excerpts from it just to revisit moments in the story.

I loved Can You Keep a Secret and I’ve Got Your Number.

I have not yet read Finding Audrey.  It is Kinsella’s first Young Adult publication, which is probably how I missed it.  I will rectify that immediately!

Now, there was nothing wrong with either Remember Me or Wedding Night.  I read them both and enjoyed them tremendously.  I recommend them!  However, when I run into a Sophie Kinsella book I must admit that I do not give these two hugs.

Her latest book My (not so) Perfect Life goes straight into the adore category.  I was lucky enough to grab this one off the new books display of my local library and it is going straight on my to-be-owned list.

mynotsoperfectlifeThis book is the story of Katie Brenner at the beginning of adulthood and all the mistakes we make when we use social media as a litmus test for life.  The jacket describes this book as “Part love story, part workplace drama…” but I disagree.  Yes, there is a romantic angle but I don’t know if it took up even twenty percent of the total story.  Instead, I felt that this book was truly a butterfly story – we got to see Katie look back on herself, reaccess herself and take steps into her future self.

Katie, like many people today, spends a great deal of time cultivating a social media image that portrays her life as the glamorous Londoner she longs to become.  At no point did I think she did this with any acrimony.  In fact, even when she is posting pictures of other people’s hot chocolates while eating another round of butternut stew it never occurs to her that other people’s Instagram feed might not be the whole story.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is when she meets a man in the elevator and proceeds to speak to him like she would anyone else.  Only later does she learn he is her superior and, upon Googling him for hours, finds out that he is a big deal.  Her take?  “This is the trouble with meeting people in real life: They don’t come with profiles attached.”

I love this!  When social media comes into the picture so many of us stop acting like normal people.  We think we know someone from their Instagram feed or their Facebook page.  Then, we change how we think and behave based on those preconceived notions.  It is like we are all minor celebrities trying to live up to or explain our online image.

One thing that Katie talked about extensively is her West Country accent and upbringing.  I must admit that I almost always read these books with a standard English accent.  So, I felt like I was missing out a bit on the real Katie.  I did a bit of digging (6-7 minutes on youtube) and found Anna from English like a Native who is a self-proclaimed British / English pro.  She has some great videos on the different British accents and I quite enjoyed her video on the West Country accent.  I felt quite sorry for my family though because Anna makes me feel like I could finally conquer that Cockney accent.

 

 

 

 

Mystery

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen

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Secrets and the inability to share them create a tense and wonderful mystery story set in the English countryside during World War II.  Farleigh is the ancestral home of the Sutton family.  One morning a soldier dressed in Royal West Kent uniform is found dead in the fields of the grand home.  His parachute failed.  When examined more closely, the soldier is deemed a spy.  The question is, why would a spy even attempt to land at this remote and rural location?  What was his objective?

The author provides a lovely little bit of history with the inclusion of the seven rules for the civilian population of Great Britain during the war.  This was circulated throughout Great Britain in 1939.  One of the most important: Keep All Information to Yourself.  Within the story the question then becomes, how will anyone solve the case in an era of secrecy so severe that you could not even tell your family the nature of your job?

While solving the delightful mystery this story simultaneously highlights the tireless, important and sometimes overlooked work of women during World War II.  I think anyone with a basic knowledge of history remembers that women played an essential role in the war effort.  But even with a background in history (American though I must admit), the book reveals to me more of the countless ways women were vital to the war efforts.  For example, there are a number of references to Land Girls.  I had to look this one up and I was fascinated to learn that by 1941 women were conscripted into the Women’s Land Army to provide agricultural support.  These women had a non-compulsory uniform and were referred to as Land Girls.  And, please, pay attention to how they determined that the soldier was a spy.

Bowen focuses her story on the Sutton family since Lord Westerham, his wife Esme and their five daughters call Farleigh home.  I genuinely appreciated that these five women were a diverse group.  All of the women’s personalities and responses to the needs of the times were vastly different.  I must admit, there was one daughter I adored and one I would pay good money to slap.  Amazon put together this adorable little infographic but pay attention to the author’s cast of characters as well.  FarFieldFamily

Rhys Bowen is a prolific writer and this stand alone novel is my first experience with her mysteries.  This, to me, is truly a gift.  I read an exceptional story and found a new author to obsess over.

 

Audible

Audible: Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss

I do not naturally excel at audible learning.  So, for me, a book on tape or audible story needs to be amazing.  It has to have all the markings of an incredible story and be read to me in a way that keeps me focused enough to follow along.  It is a high bar.  My two favorite types of audibles are:  (1) when the narrator does all different voices and accents or (2) when the author is also the narrator.

Recently, I requested Talk to the hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door by Lynne Truss from my local library.  

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White book cover of Talk to the Hand with anthropomorphic raccoon showing the audience their hand.

Apparently, I requested the book on tape instead of the good ‘ol printed version.  (This happens to me often when I pair requesting things with a glass of wine.  Don’t judge.  My library system is amazing but it has a lot of boxes to check).  Usually, I curse my ineptitude and stick it right back in the return slot.  But, since this is narrated by the author I gave it a go.

 

I think I have already established my penchant for all things British and Lynne Truss is capital-B British.  Delightful dry British is peppered throughout the book along frequent British slang.  Now, the New York Times review saw the addition of “buffed, posh, tosser and lolly” as baffling to some readers but for me it made it all the more enjoyable.  Honestly, if the inclusion of the word “bloody” in the title doesn’t tip you off then that is probably your fault.

Similarly, you will see reviews for this book by people who consider themselves “younger” and thought that Ms. Truss was an “older” person picking on their generation.  To them I say, “Bugger off.”  She clearly states in the very beginning that if you straighten your arm and you have a little excess skin around the elbow, you are probably old enough to enjoy the book.  However, if your elbow skin springs into a flat plain (I’m paraphrasing here because, you know, listening to the book on tape means I cannot look it up) you are probably too young to understand her perspective.

Really though, I only had one small problems with my experience with this particular book on tape.  I wanted to go back and re-read certain parts.  She makes some really excellent points in this book about the turn modern society has taken in its regards to what is polite and what is rude.  I want to be able to quote her.  I also want to research some of the people she references in explaining the history of manners.  Unfortunately, those names are difficult for me to remember without looking at them in print.  This is an easy fix.  I’ll just buy my own copy of the printed book.

 

 

Uncategorized

Swept Off Her Feet by Hester Browne

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Now, chic lit is often used with great disdain to dismiss a book. Well, I proudly enjoy most stories that would probably be considered chic lit except I just call them fiction. Although, I do wish we could get away from some of the covers (Hello Publishers!) that are typically Barbie pink or feature women in uncomfortable, but beautiful, shoes.  These covers effectively pigeonhole a variety of books related to modern womanhood into one neat subcategory. Girlfriend here on this cover looks like she is using the potty or selling Poo Pourri.

But, crack it open.  This book is a delight.  And, I argue that if this story featured a male protagonist with Encyclopedic knowledge of antiques who travels into the country as a favor to his brother and finds romance and history it would be just regular fiction. But, since this features a woman and there is some kissing, it is automatically chic lit.  Which means they have to use a “girly” cover.

I bought this book because I have loved the author Hester Browne since first reading her Little Lady Agency (pink cover and all).  She has written a couple of other books and I have enjoyed each and every one of them.  Recently, I found there was one I had missed.  Oh, the joy!  To find a book by a personally vetted author is a gift.

Side note: I extra love fiction written by British women set anywhere in England.  Perhaps it is because all the trivialities of life are just so much more iteresting when you incorporate British slang. I mean, ‘loo’ instead of ‘restroom’ or ‘mini-break’ rather than ‘vacation’ is just fancier for me.  I love all of it.  The added benefit is that I (who rarely get to travel) get a free cultural lesson while reading what is, at its heart, a romance book. In the end, I feel smart and charmed which is always a winning combination.

So, I dove into Swept Off Her Feet. I found it extra enjoyable because in addition to being set in London there are prolonged jaunts into Scotland. Yum. Scottish reeling, English antiques and several love interests made for a sweet and fun book that just hits the spot.

Now, the synopsis of this book will tell you that it is about two very different sisters, Evie and Alice, and their intertwining romances and opportunity for true love at a Scottish ball. Really, this story is all from Evie’s perspective. While you get to hear about Alice’s love life, it is Evie and her love of antiques and the history that they tell that guides this story. If you enjoy books with smart, kind women who are brave in the face of social trials and tribulations then go ahead and give this fiction book a go (give it a go being British slang for try it.)