Top Ten Books I Want to Reread

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

This week's topic is the Top 10 Books I want to reread. I'm actually one of those people who could probably subsist on just a select few books that I read over and over, so I'm definitely a proponent of rereading! But of course, I do like new books as well and there are just so many to read that I actually don't reread as often as I'd like.

With the exception of the top three being the top three I'd like to reread (in random order), these are in no particular order:

1.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn -- I plan on rereading this around Christmas time. It's one of those feel good books that I think goes well with the season. 

2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close -- I adored this book. I'm definitely going to reread it before the movie in November (oh wait, I JUST realized how really soon that is!) But I can tell you I am extremely & incredibly anxious about this being turned into a movie because I love it just the way it is. I wonder if my reread will be my last read... depends on how I see it after the movie. (I will say I think the movie will be good on its own and it has good actors, but I just liked the book so much!)

3. Girl in Translation -- Another one I adored. I can't reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and not read Girl in Translation. Can't wait to go back and read about these characters again!

4. Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters Trilogy Series #1) -- This one might surprise you because it's out of my typical genre, but I probably read this at least three times before I ever even started blogging. It used to be a trilogy, but I guess now there is a fourth one... LOL. I read the second one but never got further than that. If you love magical books with a love story, you'll love this too.

5. If You Follow Me -- This wasn't well-received by all the bloggers who read it, but it seems like those who liked it loved it! Just looking at the cover of this one makes me think back to when I read it and how much I liked it.

6. The Housekeeper and the Professor -- Beautiful

7. I Know This Much Is True -- It's been a long time since I read this one so I don't remember the details at all. But I remember that I also adored this book and felt that it's 900+ pages flew by!

8. The Count of Monte Cristo -- It's been a while since I read this one too, but it was fantastic!

9. Gone with the Wind -- I haven't read this in years and years, and it's been almost as long since I saws the movie. I grew up with this being watched/read frequently as my mother is a HUGE fan and I miss it! 

10. The Weird Sisters -- I just read this one this year but look forward to revisiting these characters and the writing!

Bookish Mindfulness & Memories

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I've been thinking a lot about mindfulness lately. Really in the grand scheme of things, my knowledge of mindfulness is just pebbles in a valley of rocks and boulders. But the little I understand is of interest to me, especially as it pertains to slowing down the mind and body and reducing anxieties. I'm seeing various foci in terms of mindfulness but in general it's a concentrated awareness of oneself at any given moment. It's the awareness of all of your senses in that moment (what do you see? hear? feel?) and can be used as an exercise to transport yourself to a place of peace when you're feeling not so (at peace). Similar to meditation, I think, which I also would like to learn more about.

They say reading isn't necessarily a form of mindfulness, but it can be if the focus is not on content but experience. And I imagine that for bloggers and other book lovers that the experience might be more mindful. Where are you when you're reading? Are you in a cushy chair or cuddled up with pillows? Or are you outside with the sun warming your shoulders? Or maybe you're sitting in the car in a parking lot, knees bent to bring your legs up in front of you turning the driver's seat into a makeshift reading chair (as I am often wont to do in between clients' homes). What does the book feel like? A lot of books I've read lately have different types of textures on the covers. Some feel almost like a suede (ah, it's hard to describe), whereas others are more glossy. What are the pages like? Are they thick or thin? Neatly cut or deckle edged? And the smell. Most readers I know love the smell of books. Is it a new book smell or is it just a little bit musty? One of my special requests when trading books online is that books do not come from a smoking home or otherwise smell like smoke, as it can literally ruin the experience for me of reading that book (truly no offense intended to smokers!) And what about the font? Is it large or small? Is there anything special about it? Are there curlicues as decoration on the pages? Sometimes I'll notice a special design at the beginning of chapters like a shaded box over the chapter name or maybe just a pretty design at the top of that page. And how are you feeling? Are your muscles tense or do you feel relaxed, at ease? Are you breathing fully or could you maybe slow it down a little to calm yourself a little more?

Those are just some examples of being in the moment when reading.But I've also found that I am able to create specific memories from reading. Maybe not all books, but some where there has maybe been something special about that experience. And maybe this isn't considered mindfulness per se, but I think there are similarities in its astractness. You know how when a specific song comes on the radio, it can transport you to a time and place far passed? That's how I feel with some of the books I've read. For instance, I have the book Room by Emma Donaghue on my shelf. It's an ARC signed by Ms. Donaghue at BEA in May of 2010. That right there can invoke those memories. But the main memory I have is of the last morning in New York City reading that book while standing and waiting for the Subway. The experience of reading that book is forever mingled with that specific memory - a memory to which I a happy to be transported. I actually have another New York City subway book memory (from a different NYC trip this past December) and that is of reading Daniel Palmer's Delirious while standing on the subway. I love how in the city you can be surrounded by a crowd and still be all alone in your own place. More memories: I remember reading Wench while sitting in my car one evening in a church parking lot in Orlando while waiting to meet my husband for a basketball game at the nearby arena. When I think of that specific experience, I feel an incredible peace and happiness. My husband and I have partial season tickets to see our favorite NBA team and going to those games is such an (ironically) relaxing escape from the rest of the world. And I am able to specifically tie that feeling in with reading that specific book.

I have a memory of reading Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult not long after finishing my undergraduate degree. I specifically recall lying on the couch with my legs over the arm of the couch and feeling a wonderful freedom I hadn't felt in a long time, knowing there wasn't any homework I needed to do and that I could invest all my thought into just being in the moment. Of course, I have to wonder how much of this memory is fabricated by me or twisted in some way because according to my lists, I didn't read this book until 2006 and I graduated from college in the spring of 2005. Interesting conundrum! Maybe my memory isn't quite accurate, but hey it's a peaceful one and that works!I remember last Christmas morning choosing from my stack of new books and cracking open Zeitoun. That one was different because it was a dust-jacket-less hardcover. But there was definitely a joy and piece I felt on that day as I read. I have a couple that correlate to being away for work which would have otherwise been a frustrating experience for me (as I dislike work-related travel). I read True Colors by Kristin Hannah in my hotel room on the frequent 15 minute breaks that the training, held in the hotel, gave us. Even though I disliked being away from home, that was a peaceful experience. Or the time I had to travel to North Carolina to testify in a trial for work. I was reading Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver on my nook. While I don't have these kinds of memories for every book I've read, considering I've read over a few hundred in the past five years alone, I can come up with quite a few examples.This just goes to show that reading, especially for those who already have a love for it, can be an experience, in and of itself, separate from the emotions generated by the actual content of the book. I have to say I love that about books, especially considering that, for me, they are often an escape, a means to "take me away" from the stressors of daily life. And I haven't even mentioned the peace I feel at walking through a bookstore, preferably with a coffee drink in hand. I do that once or twice a week regardless of if I want to buy anything. The peacefulness helps keep me sane! (Kudos to anyone who can tell me what bookstore this picture is of!.. Click on the picture to enlarge.)

So what are your bookish mindfulness memories??

So Near

Monday, September 19, 2011

Title: So Near
Author: Liza Gyllenhaal
Pages: 311
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: NAL-New American Library (Penguin)
Pub. Date: September 6, 2011

When I was a case worker (in child welfare), I transported children in my car all the time. I will never forget the first time I had to put a car seat in my car and the absurdity I found in that I was expected to figure it out on my own. I had no children for which I'd have been given experience. And I remember the looks on the other girls' faces as they scoffed at my unknowing. Ironic that in a child welfare agency I was tasked with doing, on my own, what new mothers are encouraged to learn from safety classes at the local fire stations. One of the girls did resign to helping me. Anyway, (I know you're wondering what this has to do with So Near), this situation is one I couldn't help but think of several times through the course of this story....

Jenny and Cal are parents to two-year-old Betsy and life is pretty good. Cal and his brother, Kurt, own a construction company, Horigan Builders, that (though it wasn't specified, I believe) works hand-in-hand with their father's business, Horigan Lumber and Hardware. Business isn't doing quite as well due to the downed economy, but the Horigan's have a lot of support. Then one day, driving home after a Horigan's vs. Horigan's baseball game, Cal's jeep overturns and Betsy is thrown from the car and is killed. Jenny and Cal's marriage, then, is ultimately affected as they each grieve in their own ways; but they also each have a secret, one in which they each take the blame and feel an overwhelming guilt, as they each believe they are the cause of their child's death.

So Near is told in first person but alternates between Jenny and Cal's points of views. This format worked well for this story because it gives the reader an all-knowing perspective that is necessary to one of the underlying concepts. So Near is about how a marriage can fall apart based on simple miscommunications. In seeing both Jenny's and Cal's points of view (often the same situation from both sides), we can literally see the mistakes being made. It's akin to being a marriage counselor working with a couple and seeing the big picture that the couple can't. It had me crying out for them because despite the magnitude of the tragedy they were enduring, the potential demise of their marriage was truly based on such simple concepts. And much of the source of their miscommunication was the guilt they each felt about the accident for which neither wanted to admit to the other.

So they each handle their grief separately. However, while Jenny does by focusing on her gardening, Cal does so by taking on Gannon Baby Products, the manufacturer of the car seat Betsy had been in. He hopes that a lawsuit against them will maybe prevent any future accidents, if not make them pay for being what could be the cause of Betsy's death. I loved how Gyllenhaal was able to portray the emotions Jenny and Cal went through. While not everyone has experienced this specific situation, emotions are universal. I loved the following quote because it demonstrates the need people have to externalize their difficult feelings. Here is when Cal is first talking with the lawyer who will help him file the suit:
"I slumped back in my chair. My heart was racing. Yes! I thought. It was as though Lester had been able to put shape and meaning to the anger and confusion that I'd been living with these past three months." (p. 116)
In the meantime, Jenny imagines she sees Betsy everywhere but explains how this is not the strangeness in her life but, rather, the other way around:
"It wasn't the first time I imagined I saw Betsy. Though it's more sensing her presence than actually seeing her. These visitations never feel scary or crazy to me. For the brief seconds that I know she's there -- reaching out for me -- everything actually feels right again. Normal. It's the rest of my life that seems so out of kilter. It's as though I exist in a constant state of vertigo." (p. 127)
And one more of Jenny describing the totality of the grief she has felt in her life:
"Sometimes, oddly, I find myself confusing my memories of Betsy -- or more my sense of loss and longing -- with those that I have of my mother. As if all tears trickle down into a single pool eventually -- and all great sadness becomes one. " (p. 132)
Because of their grief and inability to communicate with each other, and also because of the secret guilt they each feel, Jenny and Cal make some bad decisions. Their decisions saddened me, and I know some readers will not like that part. I did wonder if parts of the ending and Jenny's and Cal's reactions to their behaviors were a little too pat, but I could see that part being justified as well.

After writing most of this review, I realize I didn't get much into the car seat issue, after all. But that is also integral to the story. Was or was not the car seat at fault for Betsy's death? I think in some ways this becomes the focus for Cal because, as alluded to in the earlier quote, we often need something to define a situation or make a tragedy purposeful.

Although So Near was a book about a tragedy and the enduring grief related to it, (as well as actually some other family dynamics which I didn't mention here), for me the overarching message was about the marriage and how easily miscommunication can spiral. You'll probably have moments, like I did, of wanting to shout, "Just tell him/her what you're thinking and everything will be okay!" And hopefully everyone can take something away from that for their own marriages and relationships.

The Cradle in the Grave

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Title: The Cradle in the Grave
Author: Sophie Hannah
Pages: 456
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publisher: Penguin
Pub. Date: August 30, 2011

This is the second book of Sophie Hannah's that I've read, and I am truly thrilled to have found Hannah's books. Just as with The Wrong Mother, my first Hannah book, The Cradle in the Grave involved an intricate, gripping plot combined with literary elements and some controversial topics.

The Cradle in the Grave tells the story of three women whose children passed away for unexplained reasons. Some call it "crib death" or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), while others say the mothers murdered them. Two of the mothers are initially found guilty and later acquitted on appeal, and the other mother is found not guilty from the get-go. Fliss Benson, originally somewhat of a peon in the production company, Binary Star, is suddenly tasked with taking over production of the documentary on these "crib death murders". Then, Helen Yardley, one of the wrongly accused mothers is killed. Fliss, meanwhile, receives a card in the mail with 16 numbers on it (4 rows of 4); it just so happens that the murdered woman is found with one on her as well. So while Fliss tries to continue with the documentary and find out the truth about Helen's murder, document the history of the children's crib deaths, and possibly find out what really happened to the children (all while hoping she's not next), the entire local police station band together to solve the murder of the famed mother. Oh, and there's also the expert witness doctor who testified against all these mothers who is now being investigated and will likely lose her license.

First, let me say this book is apparently party of  a series... I think.  The detectives all appeared in The Wrong Mother. I don't remember much about them but their basic characteristics and their names. I'm not sure if their back stories are really integral to the series or not. I'm one of those that does NOT like reading series out of order... and turns out this is the most recent in the series and The Wrong Mother is third of five. Normally that would give me all kinds of reader anxiety, but I really didn't feel like I was missing anything. If I hadn't recognized the names, I wouldn't have realized I was reading a series. The core of this story was really the other characters, the mystery, and the scandals.

Not only is Hannah's writing wonderful, but I liked the format and structure of the book. Though most of the story is told through the traditional narrative methods (alternating chapters from the detectives in third person and Fliss Benson in first person), Hannah also included interview transcripts, excerpts from a book one of the characters wrote, an article written by another character, and later the prologue from another character's book. Now as I write it it sounds confusing, but truly it wasn't and it added a lot to the story.

As for the actual meat of the story, there was so much. Like I said, there was really intricate thriller, but it was combined with a pretty hot topic. In that vein, this book was sort of a vehicle for discussion. There was a time in the past when I stopped a book midway through and really had a lot of negative to say about it because it felt like the author must have been wronged and clearly had an agenda. As I have spent my entire post-college career in child welfare, I took offense to that. I worried momentarily that The Cradle in the Grave was going there as well. Hannah's characters ruminate and philosophize on the concept of crib death and on the child welfare system. (Turns out the child welfare system in the UK works exactly as the one in Florida!) So, of course, if the characters criticized parts of it (which they surely did), I was thinking of the rebuttals and rationalizations in my head. And I also happen to know a lot about "crib deaths" from my last job, so whenever there was talk about the symptoms of all the various injuries, I was SURE I knew what happened. Turned out, though, that Hannah managed to present rational arguments from both sides of the debate and really represented the topic well, in my mind. I liked how the book ended in that while the mystery was solved, the other topics left me thinking. There's definitely a lot that could be discussed after reading this book, though I would only recommend discussion of it to the most democratic and sensitive of groups.

The Cradle in the Grave was fantastically put together and wove in quite the hot topic for debate. I can't wait to read more of Hannah's books.

That September Day 10 Years Ago

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I'm pretty sure everyone in this country will be spending some time today thinking about that Tuesday 10 years ago from today. I truly cannot believe it's been an entire decade already! On September 11, 2001, I was a college freshman at the University of Central Florida. When I think back to my experiences that morning, I feel incredibly ignorant. Despite my admiration for the concept of New York City, I didn't even know what the twin towers were. I got ready for class and headed over to the UCF campus where I met my friend, Sarah, at her dorm so we could walk to our psychology class together. The ride from my townhouse to campus was only a few minutes so I didn't hear very much on the radio. By the time I parked on campus all I knew was that there was a plane that crashed into a building. Obviously a tragedy, but I had no idea at that time of the overwhelming significance. I met with Sarah and we walked across campus to our class. Our class continued as scheduled, and I remember our professor asked if we had heard about the plane(s) that had crashed. I don't remember exactly what I was thinking at the time except that it was much worse than I had realized (what? two planes?) But after a quick remark, the class continued.

After class, Sarah and I headed down to the student union to grab lunch. I picked up a salad from Chick-Fil-A and we walked down to Sarah's dorm where we planned on eating with her roommates. So it wasn't until lunchtime when we sat down on and turned on the tv that I understood what really had happened. And then there was this overwhelming fear for which I'm sure you're all familiar. Even down in Florida, phone calls couldn't go through to others (also in Florida) because the networks were so busy. It took forever to get through to anyone.

I had to work that night at a restaurant where I waited tables. I remember it was an extraordinarily slow night, and all of the guests and workers were watching the tv's in the bar to keep up with the news reports about what had happened. It was a very somber evening.

There's so much that can be said about that day but also so little. Because we all already know. So let's keep in mind the people who lost their lives that day as well as their families. Also, everyone whose lives have been affected in the aftermath. I'm hoping to be able to take another trip to Manhattan in the near future and will be checking out the new memorial. I also recommend touring the pentagon. We did that on our last trip to Washington, D.C. and it was very enlightening. You have to request tickets at your local congressman's website. And I recommend checking out the pentagon memorial afterwards as well.

I've surprisingly read very few books about 9/11, but I do recommend the ones I can think of: Let's Roll by Lisa Beamer (non-fiction/memoir), Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (fiction), and One Tuesday Morning by Karen Kingsbury (christian fiction). I recently started to read a new non-fiction that came out, The Eleventh Day by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan. It was really interesting but I did get a little bored halfway through and just haven't gotten back to it. I will definitely review it here when I'm done.

Ivan and Misha (Review & Giveaway)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Title: Ivan and Misha: Stories
Author: Michael Alenyikov
Pages: 197
Genre: Fiction, Related Short Stories (GLBTQ)
Publisher: TriQuarterly (Northwestern University Press)
Pub. Date: October 30, 2010

Ahhh, what do I say about this... Ivan and Misha in most ways is a gem. It's fantastically written, emotionally provoking. But I almost stopped reading it right into the first story after the prologue. I'm glad I continued, but there were definitely a couple moments that made me uncomfortable.

Ivan and Misha are twin brothers who emigrate from the USSR in the 1980's with their father to New York City. The prologue starts there and then picks back up in their lives in 2000. We read a story from Misha's point of view, one from their father's, one from Ivan, and a seemingly random one from one of Ivan's ex's. And there are a couple other voices interspersed among those stories. The stories jump back and forth in terms of chronology but do so to meet the purpose of being about that specific character and their experiences and emotions. Our characters are dealt with issues of love, culture, AIDS, death, and mental health issues. Overall I enjoyed this book because of the writing. I kept finding passages I loved. The author truly managed to create raw emotion in his writing. I specifically liked the story from the father's point of view. It reminded me of Olive Kitteridge in that he was reflecting on his life from his old age, on his children, etc. Alenyikov also excelled in his depiction of the mania Ivan experienced as part of his Bipolar Disorder.

I want to include some passages I liked, as the writing and the emotions evoked were my favorite thing about this book. The following is the father describing the confrontation when he learns his son, Misha, is gay.
He stood there and took all my words. His face grew red. His arms crossed his chest. The set of his jaw hadn't changed since he was two. When I ran out of words I threw those magazines in his face. Then we stood in silence. I was emptied of feeling. Numb. So bewildered I forgot the cause of my rage. Do you have any idea how terrifying that silence was to me then? It was the silence between a father and son that if not breached can last forever. I know. I did not speak to my father for his last twenty years.
"Papa," he said, calmly, steel in his voice. "If you do not accept me for what I am, I will see you next at your funeral."
We stared at each other. Neither of us gave ground. Time passed. I don't recall if I'd ever stared so long into another man's eyes--and, yes, I could see what I'd been missing for too long: that he was no longer a boy.
Then, I looked away.
And of course I had no choice: accept him or lose him, really quite an easy decision. (p.57)
And another quote from when Misha is talking to his boyfriend who has insecurities related to what his mother thinks of him.
"Yes, your mother is a psychotherapist, and yes, she may be, as you insist, larger than life and so very demanding. But why," Misha had asked, "is this such a problem it cannot be solved? They are people. All people are too much of this, too little of that. What is the big deal, Smitty, if they love you?" (p. 85)
And let me include one more quote that I thought was interesting. (I like the analogy).
Leaning against Ivan's cab, Taz lit a joint. They passed it back and forth, each time leaning in, hips grazing hips, fingers touching, Ivan on fire, looking up at a crescent moon and a scattering of stars in the city's night sky. Ivan doesn't do drugs. Another rule. (The second he's broken this week; it'll take three to know they fall like dominoes.) (p. 126)
Really, there were plenty of other quotes I could have included. For that, and because I felt for the characters, I really enjoyed this book. But let's talk about the taboo part-the part that almost made me put it down. So much of this book is about love in all its forms; sensuality; the psychological complexity of that. But maybe I'm just not psychologically complex enough in my thinking. In the very beginning of the book there were some incestuous undertones and then not too long later there was a moment of incest that disgusted me. And I really don't know what was worse, the act itself or the situation in which it occurred. I just don't get where that came from or why. I moved on anyway because I really liked all its literary merits and the characters otherwise, but something similar crept back in near the end, again really bothering me. And you know, I haven't read much LGBTQ literature specifically, but the problem I have is that for those prejudiced against this population, homosexuality is viewed almost as a sexual disorder. Isn't this what we are trying to teach people that it is certainly NOT?? So then why couple their sexuality with such a taboo (and truly sexually dysfunctional) concept? I truly don't get it, so maybe it's just beyond my reach. But those moments were uncomfortable for me. But then I think about the fact that maybe not all books about LGBTQ characters should have to be teachable moments, but just books about those specific characters and their respective lives regardless of the characters' sexual identity? So anyway, that was the main problem I had with the book and I'd love to hear your thoughts about that!

I also wanted to mention that I may have had my first conscious understanding of unreliable narrators. It's a concept I've seen other bloggers talk about but wasn't sure if I got it. But pretty much all the characters in Ivan and Misha are unreliable!

The publisher/author is offering a giveaway for one signed copy of Ivan and Misha! The giveaway is good for the U.S. and Canada. All you have to do to enter is fill out the form below! Giveaway will run through September 20th.

Follow the rest of the tour!

Wednesday, September 7th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, September 8th: A Bookish Affair
Monday, September 12th: Lit Endeavors
Tuesday, September 13th: Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Wednesday, September 14th: Literature and a Lens
Thursday, September 15th: The Reading LIfe
Monday, September 19th: Wordsmithonia
Tuesday, September 20th: Regular Rumination
Wednesday, September 21st: Dolce Bellezza
Thursday, September 22nd: Bibrary Bookslut
Friday, September 23rd: Ready When You Are, CB
Monday, September 26th: Col Reads
Tuesday, September 27th: Books Are Like Candy Corn
Wednesday, September 28th: The Book Pirate
Thursday, September 29th: Stella Matutina


Friday, September 2, 2011

Title: Incognito
Author: Gregory Murphy
Pages: 302
Genre: historical fiction (1911)
Publisher: Berkley (Penguin)
Pub. Date: July 5, 2011

It's been far too long since I read Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence for me to at all compare it to Incognito as many reviewers have. In that vein, all I really know is that they both have to do with early 1900's high society in New York City. In Incognito, lawyer, William Dysart, becomes acquainted with Sybil Curtis when his client, Lydia Billings, asks that Ms. Curtis's property be purchased for her. Mr. Dysart quickly realizes this task will be much more difficult than he was prepared for and that there's a lot more going on between Ms. Curtis and Mrs. Billings than it initially seemed. As he interacts more with Ms. Curtis and tries to figure out what's really going on, William begins to fall for this mysterious woman.

Incognito is heralded as a literary mystery. At times I did feel that's what I was reading, but really when it came down to it there really wasn't a big mystery. Sure, I was curious what the connection was between Ms. Curtis and Ms. Billings, but it's revealed practically halfway through the book and didn't hit me as this big "ah-ha". I mean, I sort of had an "ohhh..." moment but that's it. If that's what the whole story were built around it definitely would not have worked. There was another small mystery in that William's mother died when he was young, and his vague memories lead him to search for the truth about that situation. But even that one I saw coming. So for these factors, I found the story somewhat anticlimactic. I wish the author would have delved deeper into other factors of the story lines because it would have added a depth that would have rounded off the book much better.

The majority of this book was actually an enjoyable read. William Dysart was a likeable character. His counterpart, Sybil, finds him to be an honest, genuine person not common to his standing, and this is what draws her to him. Similarly, I found myself caring for his character for those reasons. And although Sybil's character was nice enough, I don't feel like she was built enough to make William's falling for her that realistic. In this sense, I found Incognito to be reminiscent of a typical romance book where nothing significant really happens to warrant the attraction between two characters. There were a couple scenes that I felt were a little hokey in their interactions. What I did enjoy reading about was William's wife, Arabella, and the realizations Williams has about how she essentially tricked him into believing she was a woman who desired only a simple life as well as a woman who loved children and wanted a family. None of these were apparently true, and she prefers material things and being a part of the high society. Murphy did well at portraying this luxurious but hypocritical society. I would have preferred more of this and less of the mild mystery and stereotypical romance. I certainly wouldn't call this a 5-star read as 17 amazon reviewers did, but it was okay and I could see where a romance fan might really enjoy the elements of this story. I, however, am now in the mood for The Age of Innocence!