Lucky In Love

LILKW          I just finished Kasie West’s newest creation Lucky In Love which is due to come out in July.  (Right in time for my birthday, but I got a signed ARC because the reading gods love me!  Well, my friend, Rachel, does as she braved a signing a couple weeks ago.  Rachel does her own reviews and is always good for a recommend.  Here is her website.)

Lucky In Love is about a high school senior, Maddie.  She is a super focused, studios teen.  The kind that forms plans to make plans (rare breed, I know.)  She is determined to get into a good college and earn some scholarships to pay for it, determined to keep her parents from divorce, her brother from his wallowing self-destructive tendencies, and her co-worker Seth securely in the friend zone.  She has plans after all, and boyfriends don’t fit into it.  (Maddie and her friends have made a “no boyfriends” pact, which means they definitely didn’t pay attention in US History because all the world wars started because of similar pacts.  #truestory.)  After a disastrous 18th birthday, Maddie buys a lottery ticket with her last two dollars on a whim.  She wins!  $50,000,000, to be exact.  (I wrote it out so you can see all the zeros.)  Life is great now, right?  Money solves all problems, right?  Happily ever after, right?  Yeah, no.

Before I get into my thoughts on this particular novel I want to comment on all of Kasie West’s novels in general, well her contemporary novels.  I haven’t read Pivot Point or its sequel, Split Second.  But, I have had the pleasure of all of West’s contemporary YA romances.  I’ve read several YA romances in recent years, and I have to say that Kasie West has a very unique flavor.  I want to call it wholesome, but that isn’t quite accurate.  There is just something very good about her writing.  And I don’t necessarily mean that in a technical or even aesthetic sense.  This isn’t to say she doesn’t have bad characters or her characters don’t make bad choices.  (For instance this specific novel almost got thrown across a Starbucks due to one life decision the protagonist made, but luckily I have more self-restraint than that.)  That being said, the world is a bit brighter when Kasie West pens the words describing it.  She primarily writes in a female POV and you will always finish each of her books with a smile on your face and a thought somewhere along the lines of “damn that was adorable.”  I’ve linked Kasie West’s Goodreads page if you have any interest in any of her other novels.  She also answers readers’ questions on PSILYKWGoodreads as well.

Okay I have a gun to my head and the mysterious bandit wants me to pick a favorite.  P.S. I Like You.

            I know what you’re thinking: “But By Your Side involves being locked in a library!”  This is true but I liked the way the relationship develops in PS I Like You more, and they write letters.  Like, real hand-written letters.  It’s fantastic.

Okay, back to Lucky In Love.

I am beginning to realize how many books I pick up where I look at the cute couple and the pink balloons on the cover and am like “oh this is going to be a good romance” only to realize that while there is romance, it’s about more than that.  I don’t think there is any spoiler in me sharing what this novel is really about: money.  Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of money.

Specifically, it’s about money and how it changes people.  Not only people who have it, but the people who really want it.

To be perfectly honest (if such a thing exists), this book was quite hard for me to read.  Normally West’s books are good for one sitting, maybe two.  I took my time with this one, nearly a week.  Money is a hot-button issue with me.  I’ve lived life both paycheck-to-paycheck, and also lived life with a comfortable cushion between each pay day.  I was lucky enough to have both parents working through the majority of my child hood, and a super saint of a mom who if she was stressed out about money did a pretty darn good job of letting me be a kid anyway.  It wasn’t until later in life, when all the true adulting began that I started to understand the true value of money, and what a stressor it can be.  Money is on of the top three things that can automatically stress me the fuck out.  (Cancellations of favorite television shows and having to forego sleep in order to achieve reading endeavors are the other two in case you were wondering.)

Push comes to shove I have a pretty easy life.  I’m gainfully employed, I have decent credit, a reliable vehicle, my mom still tells me I’m special, and I have two adorable puppies.  Still, off the top of my head I can think of a hundred things that would significantly improve my life, and all of them would require lots of money.  I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

“There will always be more money,” is something a friend of mine always likes to say.  I do applaud her optimistic point of view, and technically it’s true.  There always will be more money, but that doesn’t make it any less important.  Even sitting here, doing nothing except writing this blog is costing me money.  It’s everywhere and in everything.  It would be nice if I could power this laptop on puppy cuddles and potato chip crumbs, but alas it runs on electricity, which I pay for.  With money.  Though I’ve been trying to get the power company to accept original sonnets as payments instead.  So far, it’s a no go.

West’s protagonist, Maddie, doesn’t just defy odds and win the lottery.  She changes her own life and the lives of everyone around her, and she does this not through optimism or altruistic deeds, but through money.  In this book, West explores the age-old adage: money can’t buy you love or happiness (or more book-specific, it can’t help you control your life or solve all of your problems.)  West obviously agrees with this, because Maddie quickly realizes the damage that money can do, and how it can change people, even people you love and trust, and turn them into something twisted, greedy and jealous.  Maddie eventually begins to realize that not only does she see all those around her in different light until she’s not sure who is on her side, but that she, herself, is seen in a different light by others, and it isn’t always objective, flattering or accurate.  Money makes people petty.  It’s a sad, tragic truth of this novel.

I worry most teenagers will miss the mark with this novel.  I know as a teenager I knew how to spend money, but it wasn’t until I became a struggling adult that I truly understood the power of the dollar, and that I could understand the enormity of becoming a millionaire overnight, and what it all means.  Maddie is quite mature about her win, actually.  Then again, Maddie’s entire personality constitutes a need for control, so it fits.

What it comes down to is that money isn’t a cure, privilege, or right.  It’s a tool.  A tool earned by hard work (or in this case, dumb luck) which may or may not aide you in this journey (often stupid and tedious goddamn limping trudge) that we call life.

Aaaaaaaannnnnd, the romance is really adorable too.  Seth is a good, rounded out character considering you don’t get his point of view.  I had a very vivid picture of him by the end of the book, and I lurved him.  And seriously, this was one of the most creative and adorable first dates I have ever read about.  If Seth were real, I’d have high-fived him.

As always, Kasie West did not disappoint in her newest novel.  I give this four solid stars, because while it was engaging and had deeper meaning, it did not have that captivating factor that often warrants a five star rating.  Plus, I felt there were a couple of loose ends at the end, which I can’t really expand upon without giving spoilers.  Any fan of contemporary YA romance will feel fulfilled by this novel.

Until, my next reading adventure.  It’s going to be…. HA! Not telling.  NO SPOILERS!

OH, and because this novel made me think about it a lot, my list of what I’d do if I won the lottery:

  • Quit my job. (It’s cool, I’m replaceable.)

    zombiepirate.jpg
    I knew it was a thing…
  • Go back to school and achieve degrees in (in no particular order) Literature, History, Biology, Psychology and Philosophy (the last so I’d have something cool to talk about at parties.)
  • Open of a nightclub and throw lots of parties in it, especially themed ones like zombie night and pirate night.  Zombie pirate night???!!!!!
  • Ensure the life-long solvency of all my closest friends and family, including next generations thereof. #trustfundbabies.
  • Buy one absolutely, wildly expensive sports car. Probably an Aston Martin DB11 or Vanquish.
  • Build myself the perfect house (cottage, chateau, castle) in the middle of freaking no where, preferably with a view of a waterfall.
  • See the world.
  • Donate.  Donate.  Donate.  Cancer research, Red Cross, Alzheimer’s research, Parkinson’s research, FEMA, SPCA, the list goes on.  I know everyone says they’d do this if they won/earned tons of money, and there’s a reason so many have this instinct.  The world owes us absolutely nothing, but goddammit if it isn’t our job to owe the world something if we can afford it.

Completely interested to see some other people’s lists in my comments.  Or anything really.  I’m not picky.

The Upsides

UpsideI had the pleasure of reading Becky Albertalli’s newest accomplishment this month, The Upside of Unrequited.  This book puts you in feels, especially if at any time in your life you were a teenage girl of questionable proportions who thought “what the fuck are you talking about?” a lot when people were talking to you.  (In case you’re wondering, that’s 99% of all teenage girls.  I’m assuming that the last 1% are all sociopaths or in a coma.)

“Upside” is about Molly Peskin-Suso, seventeen.  She has a lot going on.  Her parents are a bi-racial lesbian couple.  She’s a chubby, Jewish, super crafty Pinterest-queen.   She’s starting a new part-time job at a chic boutique.  In her young life she’s had twenty-six crushes, none of which ever came to anything.  Her best friend and cousin, Abby, has moved away and started a new life.  And lastly, Molly’s twin, Cassie, for the first time ever after a history of casual hookups, falls in love and suddenly and has a girlfriend.  What’s more, Cassie is desperate for Molly to find a boyfriend now too, so goes out of her way to set her up with her own girlfriend’s cute, hipster friend, Will.  Molly’s more into her new co-worker, Reid.  But the thing is, Molly’s never been able to maneuver down the precarious path of crush to boyfriend.  She’s not sure how it works, and what it comes down to it, she’s not sure she’s worth it.

Sound familiar?  Yeah, that means you were probably a teenager at some point too.

So much to say about this novel.  It was a difficult read for me mostly because it proved to me what a bitter adult asshole I am sometimes.  I was that fat teenage girl whose friends earned themselves boyfriends and was left behind.  I was that grand-daughter who had to listen to her grandmother say “you’d be so pretty if only you weren’t so fat.”  I was absolutely the girl who formed crushes knowing they wouldn’t go anywhere because I was too fat to have a boyfriend.

“Even if he likes me, I’m not sure he’d like me naked. I hate that I’m even thinking that. I hate hating my body. Actually, I don’t even hate my body. I just worry everyone else might. Because chubby girls don’t get boyfriends, and they definitely don’t have sex. Not in movies—not really—unless it’s supposed to be a joke. And I don’t want to be a joke.”
― Becky Albertalli, The Upside of Unrequited

Not to make myself sound miserable or anything.  I had friends, we had good times, we watched a lot of horror movies and consumed a lot of sugar to the detriment of our sanity.  I was carefree, bought a lot of witty t-shirts and read a lot of books.  Good times.  Still, this novel struck a chord because despite all that I did do, there was just as much that I didn’t get to do.  Or, also in my case, so many things I regret doing *winky face emoji.*OWQuote

The first thing I would like to address about this book, is the blatant social agenda.  Molly’s life is so progressive I coughed out rainbows for twenty-four hours after I binged this novel.

Gone are the days when family means mother, father, child; or husband and wife.  Gone are the days were male means penis and woman means vagina.  (Some would say those days never really existed, we just believed they did.)  I’m all for it.  Let the lives and difficulties of modern day protagonists reflect the social changes and mores of modern day humans.  The new millennium has brought a shift in the definitions of love, sex, gender identity and marriage.  Woohoo!  Social progress is awesome!  We’re almost fully-realized human beings!  When aliens finally enslave our future generations they’ll be able to give us mad props on how open minded we are.  After all, we did allow aliens close enough to enslave us.  We’ll probably give them the right to vote in presidential elections before they tighten the noose.

I don’t have a problem with social agendas disguised as YA romances.  I do feel preached to, however, when the social agenda slaps you in face.  It’s courageous.  Abertalli is trying to make a point.  There were a few beautiful moments that celebrated social progress, and I appreciated those.  A new day has truly arrived.  Honestly, anyone who does need this point made to them probably would never read this book.  They probably read non-fiction books about turning road kill into stuffed animals and tune into a lot of weather reports.

That was judgey. Well, this whole blog is judgey. Sorry not sorry.

I know I’m not the only un-teen who has read this, and I had to keep reminding myself as I went that this is a book for teens.  Despite how I feel that the agenda is unnecessary because most of the target audience finds sexual preference about as interesting as preferred ice cream flavor, Albertalli is trying shape young minds.  Go humanity!  Yay!

There was a thread on Twitter concerning the idea that young chubby girls cannot possess any kind of self-worth unless they achieve their romantic goals, or at least that books like this perpetuate that idea.  And honestly, I can see where people might be coming from.

In Albertalli’s defense, she makes it very clear from page one that Molly Peskin-Suso wants a boyfriend like most chubby kids want cake (or in my case fried chicken).  She doesn’t form her unrequited crushes by accident.  They are a result of a deep-seeded desire to experience the floaty, dreamy, sugar-coated, dancing on air sensation that happens when you love someone and they love you back.  It’s not a desire that only chubby girls experience; it’s probably the most human desire that a person can have.  (Other than compulsive over-eating and condemning things we don’t understand.)  To quote the great cinematic endeavor Moulin Rouge “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”  A movie about can-can courtesans and bohemian artists may not be everyone’s cup of tea (or absinthe), but you have to admit that’s a pretty profound statement with universal meaning.  We are programmed to love.  It’s a biological imperative.  This programming always existed since we were still mostly covered and fur and only communicated telepathically (yeah that was a Sense8 reference, you know you love that show too).  All we’ve done over the years is make the process infinitely more complicated.  For instance:

Despite the genetalia I was born with, do I associate more as a man or a woman?

Despite my gender identity, am I attracted to men, women or both?

Would I care about being with someone whose sex did not match their gender identity?

kitten
I couldn’t find a chart so here’s a kitten from Pinterest

Okay, I know my gender identity and I’m attracted to someone, but are they hetero-, homo-, bi-, pan- or asexual and how do I find out?

How many beers will I have to consume before I’m brave enough to ask?  (Because that’s right girls, it’s not just up to the guys anymore.  Yay progress!)

Seriously, someone should make a flow chart.  I’m sure someone has made a flow chart.  I should find the flow chart.

 

I think more than anything Albertalli was just trying to get the point across that you don’t know unless you try.  You can’t cry over what could be if you’re not willing to try and make it a will be.  Wow, someone should put that on a poster with kittens.  Growing up is hard, trusting people to do right by you is harder.  But no one gains anything by waiting and wishing for everything you want to fall right into your lap.  Ultimately, that’s what this novel is about.  It’s not about how chubby girls get boyfriends and suddenly love themselves.  It’s about acceptance of yourself and others as they are, communication (always), and the good old-fashioned try.  And, for god’s sake, abandoning that teenage mentality that when something goes wrong it’s the end of the world, because it’s really not.  Awesome lessons for any teenager with no self-esteem and even less confidence.

“But you know, there’s an upside here. Because when you spend so much time just intensely wanting something, and then you actually get the thing? It’s magic.”
― Becky Albertalli, The Upside of Unrequited

Going back to the Twitter thread, I think it’s important that people understand that your self-esteem doesn’t hinge on winning the boy or the girl.  Even with all of our social progress, there are too many girls out there who still believe that unless they’re in a relationship or being desired in some way, they’re worthless.  This, frankly, isn’t true and never has been.  I believe Molly Peskin-Suso’s journey exemplifies this assertion, and this is a social agenda I can get behind. Without giving up the ending, I believe Molly’s story is much more about confidence than romance.  Despite outside influences and pressures, Molly makes a lot of really good decisions for herself, and that’s what’s important here.   I’ve been happily single for years, and the older I get the more I believe that the only thing I would ever give up my freedom for is a madman in a blue telephone box.  If you didn’t get that reference, that’s alright, just continue on with your life not knowing what you’re missing.quote

I rated this book five stars solely based on the feels it gave me, because even though not all of them were good, a book that can affect you is a good book.  Also, it deserves all five for the effortless wit that I treasure in novels of any kind.  It is an easy, fast read that even people who have all their shit figured out could appreciate.  Albertalli effectively captures the terrifying state of liking someone and not being sure how, if, or when they will ever like you back.  Good writing, good reading.  AND if you haven’t read it, Albertalli’s first novel: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a damn adorable read as well.

“There’s just something terrifying about admitting you like someone. In a way, it’s actually easier when there’s no chance of anything happening. But there’s this threshold where things suddenly become possible. And then your cards are on the table. And there you are, wanting, right out in the open.”
― Becky Albertalli, The Upside of Unrequited

Jamaica Inn

“I never thought I’d struggle with telling good from evil.  But there was once a time when I lost that certainty and everything I thought I knew was just a lie.”

I have, as of March, read only eight books this year.  Four mostly average modern

jamaica_inn_sign
http://www.cornwalls.co.uk

romances, two adorable YA romances, Jane Eyre (for the second time) and Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier, which is the subject of ye ole’ blog this fine rainy afternoon.

A much condensed summary follows, spoilers abound.

Jamaica Inn tells the story of Mary Yellan, who travels from her farm in Helford to the remote, dark and dreary moor-swallowed Jamaica Inn to live with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss Merlyn after her mother dies.  Mary Yellan learns that Jamaica Inn is avoided by the locals because Joss is a horrible, cruel alcoholic, a smuggler, a wrecker, and a murder.  Mary endures for the sake of her broken, child-like aunt (mostly) but also because of Joss’s devastatingly charming horse-thieving younger brother, Jem.  Against her better judgement, and even though she doesn’t trust him one lick, (he is a horse thief, after all and may or may not be involved with all the smuggling stuff) Mary still falls in love with him.  He kisses her in the rain, she can’t help it.  And I did mention he was devastatingly charming?  When Jem’s own crimes catch up with him though, Mary is forced to rely on (in many instances of dramatic convenience) Frances Davey, the Vicar of Alternun, and also a creepy albino.  (I would like to mention that I do not use the terms “creepy” and “albino” as being mutually exclusive.  There can be non-creepy albinos, this just doesn’t happen to be the case.)  In a desperate bid to prevent her uncle from escaping justice for his crimes.  Mary runs to Mr. Bassat, the local magistrate (because for once Davey is dramatically inconvenient) only to learn that someone else has already informed on Joss and Mr. Bassat is on his way to arrest him.  Mary returns to Jamaica, finds Joss and her Aunt Patience murdered, and is immediately taken in by Frances Davey.  Fearing that Jem is responsible for the murders, Mary relies on Davey, only to learn from the albino vicar that Jem is the informant against Joss.  And, Jem (as they speak) is tracking down a lead on the murderer that would lead him to Frances Davey’s door, because, in fact, Frances Davey is the leader of the smuggler ring (dun dun dun), and he murdered Joss and Patience to keep them quiet.  Davey kidnaps Mary, and leads her across the moors, Mr. Bassat and Jem giving chase.  A thick fog slows them down, their pursuers catch them up, Davey is shot by Jem.  Mary is taken in by the Bassat family (local nobility) and though they encourage her to stay with them, she runs off into the sunset with her gallant hero on the backs of his stolen (supposedly) horses.

Jamaica Inn was Daphne Du Maurier’s fourth novel, published in January, 1936, and

Daphen du Maurier
Daphne Du Maurier (1907 – 1989)  www.dumaurier.com

according to the website www.dumaurier.org sold more copies in the first three months of publication than her previous three novels combined.  This does not surprise me.  It was a damn good read, given to me by my best friend in reading and writing shenanigans.  I carried the small, second-hand paperback around in my purse as I read it, and a co-worker of mine noticed it and informed me that her mother’s favorite author was Daphne Du Maurier.  Not having heard of Daphne Du Maurier before, and having not yet gotten very far in the novel, I asked this co-worker in a tremor of hope: “Is it her favorite because she writes about really good sexy times?”  The co-worker told me in fact, it was.  This, reader, is untrue.  Though romance exists betwixt these pages, and Du Marier has been described as a writer of “dark romance” (though I believe that’s mostly because of her sex.  Heaven forbid a female write something else other than romance), I can only describe this novel as a gothic tale in the truest sense of the word.  I was worried that due to my modern proclivities, I would be desensitized to a novel written in 1935, that the darker aspects would fall short for me.  I was pleasantly proven to be wrong.

One of my favorite characters is the setting.  I read on the above website, in a review

stripple_brown_willy
Brown Willie http://www.cornwalls.co.uk

written by Ann Wilmore, that Du Maurier was inspired to write an adventure-like novel after she and a friend were stranded by bad weather on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall during a horseback riding excursion.  It’s all very Bronte-esque.  I kept thinking of Wuthering Heights as I read, for Mary Yellan loves to wander around the moors that surround Jamaica Inn for miles.  Honestly, I would too if I the alternative was spending time with my asshole uncle.  Not surprisingly, in my research I discovered that Du Maurier adored the Brontes.  It shows.  That, and she writes about Cornwall because she loved it so much.  I was so tickled to discover that she didn’t make any of it up (but then again it’s so

roughtor_garrowtor
Roughtor and Garrowtor http://www.cornwalls.co.uk

vivid how could she.)  I found pictures!  So many pictures of all the places she talks about.  And even discovered that the smuggling plot featured was actually quite true to real life Cornwall at the time.  The region was very poor, and smuggling was the hot fad to overcome your circumstances. During the course of my research, it was mentioned several times that Daphne du Maurier was quite privileged, being the daughter of famous actors, and so was able to spend almost her entire life writing and staring out at the landscapes that inspired her.  Her love shows.

garrow_farm_brown_willy
#creepybarn http://www.cornwalls.co.uk

 

Let’s talk about Joss Merlyn.  Best villain name ever, am I right?  Here is a good quote that best describes him.

“And though there should be a world of difference between the smile of a man and the bared fangs of a wolf, with Joss Merlyn there they were one and the same.”

He’s giant, he’s mean and cruel.  He’s also alarmingly self-aware which suggests an intelligence that should make any ward of his wary.   The first time the reader is introduced to him, Joss un-apologetically declares that he likes to get shit-faced wasted, and then he talks far

Leslie Banks in Jamaica Inn (1939)
Leslie Banks in Jamaica Inn (1939) taken from http://www.IMDB.com

too much and it’s going to get him into trouble one day.  In retrospect, I see Joss as the boogey man of the horror movie.  He’s obviously evil-looking and acting, but he also has moments of calm consideration.

“Had he cut her a chunk of bread and hurled it at her she would not have minded so much; it would have been in keeping with what she had seen of him. But this sudden coming to grace, this quick and exquisite moving of his hands, was a swift and rather sinister revelation, sinister because it was unexpected and not true to type.”

What’s worse is Mary understands why Patience married him.  And Patience is hopelessly devoted, at her best when her husband needs her the most.  More than once I wondered what he did to earn Patience’s unerring devotion.  Patience was at once a happy, outgoing woman, not the shell you meet in this book.  That means Joss must have wooed the hell out of her.  More than once Mary understands that maybe a decade or so ago, he was a catch.

“They jogged along in silence, Jem playing with the thong of a whip, and Mary aware of his hands beside her.  She glance down at them out of the tail of her eye, and saw they were long and slim; they had the same strength, the same grace as his brother.  These attracted her; the others repelled her.  She realized for the first time that aversion and attraction rand side by side; that the boundary line was thin between them.  The thought was an unpleasant one, and she shrank from it.  Supposing this had been Joss beside her ten, twenty years ago?  She shuttered the comparison at the back of her mind, fearing the picture it conjured.  She knew now why she hated her uncle.”

He’s a contradictory, fully realized villain, and you’ll enjoy his brutal ups and downs.

In true gothic nature, Jem Merlyn is the yang to Joss’s ying.  Though just as lawless as his brother (they can’t help it, it’s made quite clear they were genetically doomed at

kissintherain2014
Jessica Brown Findlay and Matthew McNulty from Jamaica Inn (2014) Kissing in the rain. http://www.imd.com

birth), Jem offers a much more charming and witty version of breaking the law. The man sells a stolen horse back to the wife of the man he stole it from.  It’s freaking genius.  From the first time Mary and Jem meet, and the banter ensues, you know they’ll fall in love.  It’s inevitable.  Did I mention he kisses her in the rain?  He also climbs through a window to comfort her and breaks the glass with his bare hand.  #commitment.  Obviously, if there weren’t the slight detail of the fact that he was a horse thief, and therefore on the wrong side of the law, he would be the perfect man.  Nope, I take that back.  I actually wrote that with a straight face.  This is gothic romance!  His faults are what make him perfect (also in true Bronte fashion.)  Jem is irreverent, sarcastic and a little misogynistic.  When Mary meets him, she’s at the lowest point she’s been in her entire life.  She doesn’t want to fall in love.  Not to mention Jem is related to the man she hates most in the world.  But again, true to the genre, if she wasn’t afraid of him a little or hated him a little, she probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with him.  #Rochester  #Heathcliffe

“No, Mary had no illusions about romance. Falling in love was a pretty name for it, that was all. Jem Merlyn was a man, and she was a woman, and whether it was his hands or his skin or his smile she did not know, but something inside her responded to him, and the very thought of him was an irritant and a stimulant at the same time. It nagged at her and would not let her be.”

I never understood the ability of these Gothic assholes to ensnare me just as thoroughly as their literary objectives.  They say awful things, I melt into a pile of goo.  Works every time, no exception here.  Most of Jem Merlyn’s appeal comes from the things he says.  I had several laugh out loud moments because of him, particularly when addressing Mary.  Most importantly, the two just work.  I think Jem represents every good that can pop up when everything else is bad.  He is diamond in the rough.  He is the power of lawlessness, even in so far as the fact that he forces her to fall in love when that’s the last things he wants.

“She laughed because she must, and because he made her.”

Somewhere between the ying and yang is the creepy albino vicar, Frances Davey.  I gave myself a giant pat on the back that I saw his duplicity coming from a thousand lonely moor-ish miles away.  From the time he drives his carriage way to fast, to his constant unconcern to the suffering Mary, who is clearly distressed and in danger, I knew something was up with this guy.  Everything he does, especially his keen ability to appear out of darkness when Mary needs him most like the prince of dramatic convenience screams ‘villian.’  He might as well have a name tag.  “Hello, my name is your future kidnapper.”  He was brilliantly written.  I liked all his opposites.  He’s an albino, and therefore white or transparent in nature, but in reality he’s black and opaque, hiding his true self.  He’s a vicar, meant to peacefully lead his flock, but he sees himself as a wolf.  The creepiest moment in the whole novel (and this is saying something because the novel as a whole is pretty chilling) is when Mary is snooping through his desk and finds a drawing of him at a pulpit with the face of a wolf, and all of his congregation with heads of sheep.  In one brief image, you come to understand Frances Davey fully, and feel in your fretful heart that if his carriage ever found you in the middle of the night on the moors, you should probably just insist that you are going to walk home in the dense preternatural fog.  My one point of contention is his decision in the end to take Mary with him when he tries to escape, knowing Jem would have figured him out by then.  He’s a smart guy, he put together the whole wrecking/smuggling ring that everyone thought Joss was leader of, and got away with it for years.  He would have had to realize that Mary would slow him down, Mary would never become his complacent companion, and that (most importantly) Jem would never stop looking for her (or least in my head he wouldn’t, I have no textual evidence to support this).  So I’m still wondering if he just went insane when he knew his gig was up, because there was no rationality in that, but it was sure suspenseful.

The main character herself, Mary Yellan, is a strong heroine to carry you through this book, and I liked her a lot.  She is independent, fierce, and most importantly, she knows her own mind and her place in the world.  Raised as a farmer’s daughter, she knows she was born to work, and doesn’t shy away from it.  She is pragmatic, has no ambition for romance, and is dismayed and troubled when it falls in her lap.  Throughout the book she wants nothing more than to support herself and Aunt Patience in a safe, legal manner until the time of her death.  She often condemns her femininity and laments that she was not born a boy because she thinks her life would have been easier.

“I don’t want to love like a woman or feel like a woman, Mr. Davey; there’s a pain that way, and suffering, and misery that can last a lifetime.”

It’s such a strong motif, that I wasn’t surprised to read that Daphne Du Maurier often wished she were born a boy as well, and that she even had a fully realized male alter ego that she named Eric Avon, a rugby player.  #hardcore  My one fault with her (and this goes against every one of my romantic notions) is that she chose to follow Jem in the end.  Don’t get me wrong, I love that they end up together.  But she had her heart set on returning to Helford.  She never wanted to leave, and only went to Jamaica Inn because of her dying mother’s wish.  Yet here comes sweet-talking Jem Merlyn, traveling in the opposite direction.  A couple kisses and a few taunts later, Mary jumps into his wagon, surrendering her ambitions to the pursuit of love.

“He took her face in his hands and kissed it, and she saw that he was laughing.  ‘When you’re an old maid in mittens down at Helford, you’ll remember that,’ he said, ‘and it will have to last you to the end of your days.  ‘He stole horses,’ you’ll say to yourself, ‘and he didn’t care for women, and but for my pride I’d have been with him now.’”

This, to me, is what dated the novel the most.  Modern relationships are about embracing the spirit of compromise.  The notion of giving up everything you want in life for the man you love, isn’t all that romantic to me.  I have no doubt Jem would have endeavored to make her happy, but it still rubbed me the wrong way.  Ann Willmore, in her review on www.dumaurier.org, writes:

“The men of her novels often exist to show the confines of women, and although Mary shows courage and resourcefulness with a desire for independence, at the end of the story she opts to settle for a life with Jem, condemning herself to follow in her aunt’s footsteps.”

I don’t necessarily agree Mary is condemned to become her aunt. We’ve established that Jem is a foil to Joss.  Joss is brutal, Jem is cunning and smooth.  If anything, Jem will teach her to steal horses, and they’ll become the most prolific horse thieves of all of southern England.  No steeds will be safe!  More than likely, in true Bronte fashion, Mary just married the hell out of him, had his babies, and lived happily ever after far, far away from Jamaica Inn.

jemandmary2014
Jessica Brown Findlay and Matthew McNulty from Jamaica Inn (2014) a BBC miniseries. IMDB.com

Thus concludes my assessment.  I shall like to read more Daphne DuMaurier in my lifetime.  Rebecca for sure.  It’s (arguably) her most famous.  And also I was recommended Frenchman’s Creek because:  “It has pirates.”  And how doesn’t like a good pirate story?

Best Read: What Happened in 2016.

stack-of-booksSo I read a lot of good books this last year, and some achingly bad ones unfortunately.  It wasn’t that hard to narrow down which ones were my favorite.  The list came surprisingly easy.  Before I start I would like to mention that my best friend in writing shenanigans, Ashley Davis, also wrote her own list (and has inspired mine) and having read four out of those five books, I think it’s definitely worth a check out.  My list was dangerously close to being a duplicate of hers, but I wanted to add some more reads true to my regular reading habits.

Okay, as for the first four in no particular order:

  1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik. (fantasy)

I don’t actually read much fantasy, I prefer to watch it.  George R. R. Martin ruined uprootedme I guess.  But I saw this book sitting on a table at Barnes & Noble begging me to read it simply form the plot line reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast.

Agnieszka’s small town borders a dangerous forest filled with dark magic that means death for anyone who steps foot in, around or near the wood.  Their only defense against this horrible threat is a mysterious, immortal wizard, called the Dragon, who keeps watch from his tower and intervenes when necessary.  The catch?  Once every ten years the Dragon comes down from his tower and claims a sacrifice in the form of a young woman.  No one knows what happens to these women while in the Dragon’s care, only that they are forever changed when he returns them.

Okay, the book blurb doesn’t give this away, but I feel like it’s obvious, so I am.  Though the safe bet is that Agnieszka’s beautiful, strong and talented best friend, Kasia, will be taken.  The Dragon chooses Agnieszka, and when I say he does so reluctantly, it’s an understatement.  The Dragon, just like his mythical counterpart (something Naomi Novik is well-versed in) likes beautiful things.  Agnieszka is pretty much the opposite of everything he thinks he wants in a companion.  But aren’t those the best kind of relationships?

I fell in love with the Dragon (inevitable) and I was charmed by Agnieszka (thankfully).  Most of all I love them together.  But it’s the magic that will keep you turning the page just as much.  And Novik’s flawless use of setting to enchant her readers.

            “There was a song in this forest, too, but it was a savage song, whispering of madness and tearing at rage.”  ~Naomi Novik, Uprooted.

After I finished this book I meandered listlessly through my life like a hollow shell of the reader I had formerly been.  It’s one of those books that once you finish you immediately want to start reading again.  I was so depressed it was over, and one of my sincerest hopes is that Novik continues with this universe, even if she leaves Agnieszka and the Dragon behind.

  1. Lightless (Lightless #1) by C. A. Higgins  (Sci-fi)

Lightless is about a highly classified military vessel, the Ananke, and its computer lightlessscientist, Althea, who thinks of the Ananke like her daughter.  When two fugitives break onboard and plant a virus in an effort to escape, which causes the computer systems to start breaking down one-by-one, Althea begins a head over feet race to save her beloved ship, and is forced to rely on one of the saboteurs, the intriguing yet grossly deceptive Ivan, for help before everything falls apart.

This has definitely been a year where I made a concerted effort to read things I don’t normally read.  When I picked this book up and read the back, I was intrigued, and a little intimidated after I read that the author is a physics major.  (Lisa don’t science all that good.)  The enchanting cover (I know, I know you’re not supposed to do that) and this excerpt from the blurb swayed me into shelling out my hard-earned income:

            “The perversely fascinating criminal whose silver tongue is his most effective weapon…”

My thoughts: A smooth-talking badass?  Sign me the hell up.  I was not disappointed by said badass, Ivan, either.  Nor was I in the rest of the novel which kind of spreads out before you like the darkness of space, vast, cold and horrifying in its infinity.  I’m that girl who hinges herself delightfully onto the finger holds of any romance, and for those who feel similarly there is no romance in this novel.  It doesn’t need it.  Higgins will captivate you with the chilling mysteries of the Ananke, and the unrolling terrorist plot against the very 1984-esque government that rules this world with its endless cameras and a ruthless iron fist.

This novel is multi-perspective giving it richer, deeper insight into what the hell is going on because you hear it coming from different sides.  I can’t go into much more without getting into aspects of the plot that are best left as a surprise.  Though this obviously science-fiction, I also felt it was literary, much more dependent on character development to propel the plot forward.  And oh, what a plot it is.

  1. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (YA / Literary)

atuawt  Wavonna “Wavy” Quin is more of a parent to herself then her actual parents.  Her mother, a narcissistic addict, and her father, a violent drug dealer, could give less than two shits about her or Wavy’s little brother.  Obsessed with astronomy and struggling to survive, Wavy finds an unlikely ally in Kellen, one of her father’s enforcers.

There is so many things about this book to love.  Greenwood creates a stark and realistic reality for her aptly titled novel, constantly reminding the reader that in order for beauty, you have to have ugliness.  And sometimes what is wonderful to one person is completely awful to another.  A surprisingly multi-perspective novel, Greenwood immerses you in her story that coats your skin like thick molasses from page one.  I stayed up all night, dry and bleary-eyed into the wee hours of the morning reading this book, desperate to finish so the bone-deep ache inside my chest would finally dissipate. I have never been pulled in two so effectively by a piece of fiction in my entire life because as much I loved it, I really, really hated it too.

I can’t say much more about this, I’m not even going to quote from it because there isn’t one single quote that could exemplify this novel because there are so many working parts, so many ways of defining everything: all the tragedy and all the hope.  Expect to be engrossed, expect to feel a little sick, but most of all—except to cry.  Cry for all those ugly and wonderful things.  So many people in their reviews called this a love story, and though it might be, it’s so much more than that.  This book will make your world bigger.  When I finished, I kept arguing with myself in my head, telling myself that I was fine, everything was okay, and that it was good.  So good, but I felt so dirty.  And damaged.  I felt damaged after finishing.  This novel just further proves that the best books affect you profoundly, but they don’t have to affect you profoundly in a good way.  Either way, it behooves me to warn you that you will be grossly affected by the contents of this ugly and wonderful book.

  1. Never Sweeter (Dark Obsession #2) by Charlotte Stein (New Adult)

Okay, ignore the blurb on Goodreads for this book because I don’t feel like it does

never-sweeter
#unrealisticmaletorso

the book justice.  It makes it sound like a quid pro quo “let’s make a deal” new adult relationship.  All you really need to know is that Letty was bullied by Tate throughout high school and is devastated to learn they are going to the same college together, and sharing a survey of cinema class.

At this point, readers well-versed in the romance genre (and yes, I am very much so) can guess where the plot is going to go.  Letty and Tate are forced to spend time together for a project in their shared class, Letty learns there is so much more to Tate and falls for him.  If that’s what you’re thinking, then pat yourself on the back because you’re freaking right!  Honestly, the predictable plot and the utterly unrealistic male torso on the cover isn’t the reason you should pick up this novel.  It’s the quality of writing, the mind-blowing sex, and the all-over human aspect of Letty’s and Tate’s relationship.  She also makes you think of bullies in the way only the bullied can appreciate.  It is a delicate thing to write a victim falling for her bully, but Stein pulls it off effortlessly with humor, wit and honesty.  I know that this is a rather idealistic novel.  Not all bullies are as misunderstood or regretful as Tate, and not all victims are as forgiving as Letty.  But I promise if you suspend that disbelief, jump in feet first, you won’t regret this quick, utterly romantic read.

One should note too that this is the second in a series.  You do not need to read the first, they are standalone, though I did enjoy the first one as well.  There is a third coming out on Valentines’ Day, much delayed because of publishing issues.  I can’t freaking wait.

Before I get to my favorite read of 2016, I have a few honorable mentions.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (horror).  I read this in October, and I still have nightmares about it.

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice (The Austen Project, #4) by Curtis Sittenfield (contemporary romance).  I went on an alternative Austen tangent after reading Longbourn by Jo Baker (A must read for anyone who loves Downton Abbey and awesome books).  I had also just read Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfield, and immensely enjoyed it, so this seemed like my obvious next choice.  I was not disappointed.

Beast by Brie Spangler (YA):  I went heavy into LBGTQ romances this year too, after reading Simon V. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli and rereading Carry On by Rainbow Rowell.  Beast is about Dylan, who falls for a transgender girl, Jamie.  Any reader who has ever looked in the mirror and not liked what they saw could intrinsically empathize with his story.

  1. The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

Samantha Whipple, the last descendant of the famed Bronte family, enrolls at madwomanOxford and quickly finds herself ensnared in the mystery of the infamous Bronte estate when heirlooms of her deceased, eccentric father keep ending up on the doorstep of her creepy tower dorm room.  Falling into the sinkhole of rumored past, Samantha enlists her devastatingly handsome and acerbic literature professor to help her figure out the clues to the legacy her father left behind.

Confession: I did not want to read this book.  My best friend who is much smarter and prettier than I am, picked up this book and twelve pages in blew up my phone insisting that I read it or else our friendship would cease.  I’m not lying, she really did promise to not be my friend anymore.  I read the blurb and was less than enthusiastic.  But because my best friend doesn’t get passionate about frogs, only princes, I decided I would at least give it a go.  So I put down my male torso adorned romance novel and accepted the novel from my friend, who could barely contain her glee as she handed it over.

I loved this book so much I feel like crying thinking about it.  That’s how overwhelming my joy is.  It’s one of those books that will remain close at hand, and when you’re feeling shitty about your life, you’ll pick it up, wrap yourself up in a blanket and re-read it like you’ve never read a single word before.  I feel like there is no way I could intelligently articulate how good this book is.

Second Confession:  I love romance (I feel like I’ve already mentioned this).  Ninety percent of my reading decisions are based on that precarious analysis of the way two people slip from single to attached.  I feel romance is not the focal point of this novel, the literature is.  As well as Samantha’s relationship with her father, and the gaping hole his death left in her life.  Then, of course, enter the intimidating genius of James Timothy Orville III, young literary prodigy, who challenges Samantha like no other.  The slow burn of their relationship is like the purest hit of heroin right into your heart muscle.  Not to downplay the rest of the novel, the fun literary theorizing, the intense mystery and scavenger hunt, and most importantly, Samantha Whipple herself, who narrates her life with a unique, laugh-out-loud funny voice.  If nothing else, the dry way Samantha observes the world around her will keep you moving forward.  Here’s an example.

            “I realized that my life of late had consisted of far too much dialogue and not enough exposition.  I imagined an angry, bespectacled English teacher slashing his pen through the transcript of my life, wondering how someone could possibly say so much and think so little.”      –Catherine Lowell, The Madwoman Upstairs.

As wonderful as Samantha is, let’s not downplay Timothy.  Even though the reader is unfortunately, frustratingly not privy to what is going on in his head, he still feels very much alive, and wonderful and even when I was screaming at him to make better decisions. I wanted to be making out with him at the same time.

I shall give no more away than that.  Just read it!  Read it and feel better about your life for having read it!

Now I’m off to continue my 2017 literary adventures…