Book Review

Book Review: My Mrs. Brown

 

My Mrs. Brown
By William Norwich

My Edition:
Hardcover, 288 pages
2015, Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781442386075

Emelia Brown leads a quiet, reserved life in rural Rhode Island. She’s the pinnacle of good manners, though often overlooked by others and pegged as meek, drab and generally not worth noticing. But when Mrs. Brown assists with an estate inventory, she finds the Oscar de la Renta dress she didn’t know she’d always been dreaming of and it changes her life. She decides to do something bold – she will save up to purchase one just like it and travel to New York City (for the first time!) to purchase the dress from the boutique. But first, she must find the money to purchase the rather expensive dress and fund her trip, as well as overcome the skepticism from friends and peers regarding her trip, as only she knows the reason for this journey.

Honestly, I didn’t know much about this book when I first spotted it on the Simon & Schuster Instagram page. They were hosting a giveaway and I decided to step out of my comfort zone and throw my hat in the ring – to my great surprise, I won!

This is a character-driven novel, focusing on Mrs. Brown’s desire for this dress and what owning it will eventually mean to her. Her friends don’t understand why she wants to possess such an expensive dress in the first place, let alone travel to New York to purchase in rather than shop online. Mrs. Brown explains that this is the “most correct” dress she’s ever seen and it’s clear from the start that she knows exactly why she feels she needs the dress , and rather than explain to her friends (or readers), she lets her journey speak for itself.

This book was utterly average for me. The writing was decent, the plot moved along and I was curious why Mrs. Brown wanted to take this journey, but I couldn’t bring myself to connect with her. I wanted to know why she wanted the dress, but I didn’t care if she succeeded in owning it or not. Everyone in the novel is instantly charmed by Mrs. Brown’s quiet and polite personality and were practically tripping over themselves to help her. To me, she was dull and meek, content to let others walk all over her because she was raised to keep her chin up.

Once she set her mind on this mission she had an amazing run of luck and no real setbacks – in fact, any setback she encountered was then fixed by an even bigger run of luck. Those more fortunate than her suddenly became obsessed with random acts of kindness towards this one woman. But why? I wondered if she was the only quiet older woman they’d ever met.

While Mrs. Brown appeared to have a big impact on the lives of the characters she interacted with in the book, she made very little impact on me as a reader. Maybe it’s because I don’t often read character driven or contemporary novels, maybe it’s due to the difference in generations, or maybe it’s just a book I wasn’t all that into.

I did enjoy the takeaway, though, which for me was that you can’t let fear determine your life. Mrs. Brown conquered a lot of doubts and worries she had by taking her journey, including the fact that no one truly understood why she was doing it until it was over.

“Fear is criminal. It steals from life.”

I don’t regret reading it, however, and if you enjoyed the novel, I would love to hear your thoughts! I’ll also note (because you know by now that I love book design almost as much as I love the contents) that the endpaper in this book is adorable and I love the hand-drawn cover art (especially the cat on the back!)

You can find William Norwich on Twitter or visit his Simon & Schuster page here.

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Book Review

Book Review: The Poisonwood Bible

 

The Poisonwood Bible
By Barbara Kingsolver

My Edition:
(beat up) Paperback, 543 pages
1998, HarperCollins
ISBN: 0060930535

The Reverend Nathan Price uproots his wife and four daughters and moves them to the Belgian Congo in 1959, thinking only of his success. They carry with them everything they think they’ll need from home, but soon find that most of it is rendered useless by the climate and lifestyle of Africa. Each member of the family is changed and shaped by the country and their tragic tale is told across decades, reflecting not only how one family was affected by the country, but how all those living there were affected by the country’s fight for independence. 

Yet again, my blurb fails to do this book justice. I found this book at least a year ago (probably longer…) in the free section of my local library. It’s a bit more…well-loved…than I prefer when it comes to books I own, but I’d heard of it and it did sound good…so…free book! It sat in my car as an emergency read should I ever be caught without a book and lo and behold, that happened to me recently. Well, once I got a few chapters in, I knew this wasn’t going to be some book I’d casually read here and there over the course of a few months. I was hooked by the daughters Price, each with their own unique personality and way of speaking, and I had to know what happened next.

Nathan Price is a stubborn tyrant, determined to bend the people and nature of Africa to his will. As a result, his family learns a hard lesson and seemingly pays the price for his hubris, while he continues his mission of trying to baptize every local in their village of Kilanga. Readers experience this through the eyes of his daughters, as things play out, and the eyes of his wife, reflecting on the past. There’s Rachel, the eldest at sweet sixteen, who is beautiful, vain and self-centered and not exactly the most intelligent of the brood. There’s Leah, half of a pair of genius twins, earnest in her faith and desperate for her father’s love and attention. There’s Adah, the other twin, crooked and mute, but fiercely intelligent and observant. Then there’s little Ruth May, only five when she’s transported to Africa, just looking to have fun and make friends.

I looked forward to each new chapter because Kingsolver mixed up the perspectives, giving different views and opinions for events depending on who was speaking to the reader. I think Kingsolver developed clear personalities for each family member and stuck with them, even as events caused the characters to change and grow. Kingsolver’s knowledge and experience in Africa is clear, making the experience of the Price family authentic. I especially enjoyed the way she wove the native language, as well as a smattering of French, into the narrative.

This is a heavy book, content wise, and honestly, literary (or contemporary? I don’t know…) fiction isn’t something I pick up often. But I’m glad I gave this beat up book a chance because it was really an enthralling story. My only real critique is that perhaps the last fifth or so of the book was very heavy with history (and I realize a lot was happening in the Congo in the time this book was set in), and it felt overwhelming. It became more like cramming in a history lesson and trying to wrap up the events of the country, with less of a focus on the lives of the characters I had become so invested in.

I highly recommend this book for historical/literary fiction lovers.

Book Review

Book Review: Love Virtually

Love Virtually
By: Daniel Glattauer

My Edition:
Paperback, 265 pages
2010, SilverOak
ISBN: 9781402786747

From the back of the book: Leo receives emails in error from an unknown woman called Emmi. Being polite, he replies and Emmi writes back. A few brief exchanges are all it takes to spark a mutual interest, and soon Emmi and Leo are sharing their innermost secrets and desires. The erotic tension simmers, and it seems only a matter of time before they will meet in person. But they keep putting off the moment – the prospect both excites and unsettles them. And after all, Emmi is happily married. Will their feelings for each other survive the test of a real-life encounter?

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Book Review

Book Review: Mambo in Chinatown

Mambo in Chinatown
By Jean Kwok

Paperback, 370 pages
2014, Riverhead Books
ISBN: 9781594632006

5/5 stars

I received a free ARC of this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.

Charlie Wong is a twenty-two-year-old, living in a tiny apartment in Chinatown with her father and sister, her mother having died years earlier. She works as a dishwasher at the same restaurant where her father is a noodle-maker and she’s miserable. Then she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio and discovers a side of herself she never knew, yet she must hide her new job and emerging talents as a dancer from her father. Then her sister starts to become ill and Charlie must try to help her as best she can, while Charlie’s father shuns Western medicine.

Continue reading “Book Review: Mambo in Chinatown”