The Witches of Eastwick – John Updike

Synopsis

Toward the end of the Vietnam era, in a snug little Rhode Island seacoast town, wonderful powers have descended upon Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie, bewitching divorcées with sudden access to all that is female, fecund, and mysterious. Alexandra, a sculptor, summons thunderstorms; Jane, a cellist, floats on the air; and Sukie, the local gossip columnist, turns milk into cream. Their happy little coven takes on new, malignant life when a dark and moneyed stranger, Darryl Van Horne, refurbishes the long-derelict Lenox mansion and invites them in to play. Thenceforth scandal flits through the darkening, crooked streets of Eastwick and through the even darker fantasies of the town’s collective psyche.

My Review

Have you ever enjoyed the movie more than the book? I usually prefer the book… In this case, I preferred the movie.

John Updike can write. There is no denying it. I actually enjoyed the way he writes. I appreciate Updike’s style of writing, his eloquence with his words, his characterisation and his statements made. He uses a range of literary techniques throughout that create a sense of a very thoughtful and knowledgable author. He develops his characters well, especially the three witches. In contrast, there were parts of the novel that did not hold this same exceptional skill, including his vulgar comments used and mysoginistic statements. I was quite shocked by what I was reading at times.

There are themes in the novel I enjoyed, including the focus on relationships being less structured and what each person wants. As a heterosexual woman with a husband and child I have not had to face discrimination due to my sexuality. This book challenges the idea of society’s expectations of being either heterosexual or homosexual. The characters enjoy experimentation. Personally, I believe that love is love and if an individual falls in love they should feel comfortable in thier relationship in society with complete acceptance and non judgment. This is where I am torn with the book. Updike’s messages behind his words are very clever. He gives the three witches power to stand on their own and in this respect is the opposite of chauvanistic. He does show a blatant disregard for motherhood and maternal instinct of every female character with children, which made me feel a huge disconnect with the characters.

This novel does not have as much magic as I expected and hoped for. It is not a light, fun read… I found the plot to be slow paced and did not enjoy reading the novel by the end.

In summary, Updike is a capable author who I respect for his writing ability, along with the important issues raised, yet I was disappointed and did not enjoy reading this novel. For me to have enjoyed this reading experience, it needed more magic, a better storyline, a faster paced plot, less vulgar comments and a better ending.

⭐⭐.5/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

All You Can Ever Know – Nicole Chung

#book-review #book-blogger

Synopsis

What does it mean to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them?

Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From early childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hopes of giving her a better life; that forever feeling slightly out of place was simply her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as she grew up—facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from—she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth.

With warmth, candor, and startling insight, Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets—vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong.

My review

Nicole Chung’s memoir is open, honest and moving. I am in awe of the courage taken to share her personal story.

This is a story of one adoptee whose story is alike in ways, yet completely different to other adoptees worldwide, as it is one person’s personal story. Nicole discusses her feelings of loss, separation, abandonment, cultural displacement and love within her family. Everyone who has been adopted has their own story and this is Nicole’s honest reflection. The way she opens up to the reader is beautiful, especially her use of rhetorical questions. These questions she asks herself are significant to understand how she is feeling and how she reaches certain mindsets, making certain decisions throughout her life.

I decided that reading Nicole Chung’s story was a must. After attending an adoption seminar for prospective adoptive parents, I felt a range of emotions and had the realisation that no matter how difficult times will be, my belief is that every child deserves a loving family. My family and I wholeheartedly appreciate Nicole’s statement on adoption ‘I urge people to go into it with their eyes open, recognising how complex it truly is; I encourage adopted people to tell stories, our stories, and let no one else define these experiences for us.’ If one makes a decision to grow their family via adoption, the hope is that they do so with open hearts, minds and an understanding of the need for open adoption in this day and age. As a hopeful future adoptive eomma, I will be eternally grateful for the courage of the birth mother to do what she felt was in the best interest of her child, with more courage than I could ever imagine.

Nicole’s memoir made my heart ache as I read of her feelings of racial discrimination and cultural displacement. This can happen anywhere in the world and my hope is that this is happening less and less as people are further connected with other cultures around the world. In Australia, although we are a multicultural society, especially in my home town and even more so in large cities, my hope is that someday soon racial discrimination will not occur in schools at all. As a society, we need to teach our children to show love towards one another without exception. Nicole’s experiences at school with other children left me feeling shocked at the hurtful nature of the comments made.

As a mother, I was moved by Nicole’s experiences and views on motherhood. I also believe that appreciating all of the little moments and realising how lucky us mums who have birthed our own children are, to be able to witness each milestone. Being a mum is who I am first and foremost, so it is lovely to read of a mum who also considers motherhood in this way. Every decision Nicole made to connect with her birth family was taken with consideration for her own child. From her story, I can see that Nicole is a beautiful mum.

Thank you Nicole Chung for your honesty, sincerity and for opening my eyes further. You have given me the hard truths and further confirmation of what is truly important to an adopted child. This memoir is a must read.

Pachinko – Min Lin Lee

#book-review #book-reviewer #bookish

Synopsis

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant–and that her lover is married–she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters–strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis–survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

My review

From start to finish, I was captivated by the author’s sense of place. Min Jin Lee took me to a Japan that I have never considered. As a 16 year old High School exchange student living in Tokyo, I expected to fill out paperwork, however, was surprised when I had to fill out forms in which I was referred to as an Alien, upon my arrival. I considered it humorous and enjoyed my year as the foreign commodity in a Japanese High School. I loved everything about my life in Japan; friends, school and the language.

Pachinko, however, shares the horrific history of Koreans living in Japan. For people of racial difference who have lived in Japan their entire lives there is difficulty in becoming a Japanese citizen and people are still treated differently in this respect.

The Japanese people have managed to maintain their culture and traditions like no other I have experienced. This is why I love Japan so very much. The Japanese people have a beautiful and rich culture that I enjoy learning about and experiencing. In some respects, this comes at a cost, as we read in the novel.

I particularly enjoyed reading about this family through the generations. A young girl from Korea moves to Osaka, Japan with her newlywed. They soon realise the living conditions and treatment of Korean people is almost inhumane. The discrimination and further interracial issues raised made me feel very emotional and saddened for Koreans living in Japan at this time.

This multi generational novel explores Korean and Japanese culture, whilst detailing events and issues of historical significance. The numerous issues touched upon include societal views on unwed pregnant women, immigration, racial discrimination, homosexuality, abortion, adoption, parental expectations, impact of the atomic bomb, separation of a nation, mental health, cultural and family bonds. This is a family who places their love for their children first.

I also enjoyed learning more about certain aspects of Korean culture, in particular, the cooking and cultural ideas. I would highly recommend this novel for anyone interested in Japanese or Korean culture.

I was amazed by this author’s ability to write a novel that is a tapestry of a family in which historical issues are beautifully woven throughout their lives.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Cinema at Starlight Creek – Alli Sinclair

Synopsis

A heart-stirring novel of loss, love and new hope set against the glamorous backdrop of 1950s Hollywood and a small Australian country town. How far would you go to follow your dream?

Queensland, 1994 When location manager Claire Montgomery arrives in rural Queensland to work on a TV mini-series, she’s captivated by the beauty of Starlight Creek and the surrounding sugarcane fields. Working in a male-dominated industry is challenging, but Claire has never let that stop her pursuing her dreams-until now. She must gain permission to film at Australia’s most historically significant art deco cinema, located at Starlight Creek. But there is trouble ahead. The community is fractured and the cinema’s reclusive owner, Hattie Fitzpatrick, and her enigmatic great nephew, Luke Jackson, stand in her way, putting Claire’s career-launching project-and her heart-at risk.

Hollywood, 1950 Lena Lee has struggled to find the break that will catapult her into a star with influence. She longs for roles about strong, independent women but with Hollywood engulfed in politics and a censorship battle, Lena’s timing is wrong. Forced to keep her love affair with actor Reeves Garrity a secret, Lena puts her career on the line to fight for equality for women in an industry ruled by men. Her generous and caring nature steers her onto a treacherous path, leaving Lena questioning what she is willing to endure to get what she desires.

Can two women-decades apart-uncover lies and secrets to live the life they’ve dared to dream?

My review

Chapter by chapter, this novel drew me in further and further. The dual timeline structure was a harmonious blend of characters and settings.

I was immediately drawn into Lena’s world, an actress struggling to make it big in Hollywood in the 1950s. Her big heart, empathy and down to earth manner sets her apart from the actresses who will sell their soul for their careers. Aren’t these the characteristics we hope actresses and actors have?! As role models for the teenagers of today in many respects, it was wonderful to read about a compassionate and kind actress hoping to make a difference. I also love reading about this era, as I love the fashion and a variety of other aspects of the time period.

The parallel setting is a small, layered, mysterious and intriguing town. Starlight Creek is referred to as ‘two parralel worlds.’ This concept is dealt with as the reader begins to understand the town and the characters who live in the town. It is 1994 and Claire Montgomery arrives in Starlight Creek with the career changing idea to shoot a documentary in the run down old cinema. Its beauty and stories felt within the structure appeal to Claire immediately. Although, she runs into many obstacles, the main being the owner, Hattie and her handsome nephew, Luke.

I fell in love with the main characters and their budding romances. Lena and Claire both struggle to balance their careers and relationships. This juggling act between following one’s dream, falling in love and having it all is a constant balancing act, especially for women as their roles change, including motherhood. This is something I find to be a struggle. Although the time periods are vastly different, these concerns remain. The focus on women’s rights and lack of equality in 1950s was well researched, along with the expectations of women in the film industry. I also did not realise the extent of the restrictions caused by the Motion Picture Production Code, known as the Hays Act.

The novel is beautifully written and was Lena’s ‘story to write, no one else’s…’ On a cold winter’s night, I enjoyed snuggling up under a blanket whilst reading a historical romance novel that had me from start to finish. I read of love, following one’s heart, dreams and realising the importance of professing our love. We shouldn’t hesitate when it comes to true love. I am grateful to have read such a novel that allows the reader to be reminded of this and I would therefore, highly recommend The Cinema at Starlight Creek.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Postmistress – Alison Stuart

#book-review #book-reviewer

Synopsis

A stunning historical tale of loss, desire and courage that is full of the terror and the beauty of the Australian bush, for readers of The Thorn Birds, The Naturalist’s Daughter and The Widow of Ballarat.

To forge a new life she must first deal with her past…

1871. Adelaide Greaves and her young son have found sanctuary in the Australian town of Maiden’s Creek, where she works as a postmistress. The rough Victorian goldmining settlement is a hard place for a woman – especially as the other women in town don’t know what to make of her – but through force of will and sheer necessity, Adelaide carves out a role.

But her past is coming to find her, and the embittered and scarred Confederate soldier Caleb Hunt, in town in search of gold and not without a dark past of his own, might be the only one who can help. Can Adelaide trust him? Can she trust anyone?

When death and danger threaten – some from her past, some borne of the Australian bush – she must swallow her pride and turn to Caleb to join her in the fight, a fight she is determined to win…

My review

A mother’s love changes the path of a woman’s life forever. The Postmistress follows the heartwarming story of Adelaide Greaves, a strong female protagonist who leaves behind everything she knows, to be the best mother she can be. The relationship between mother and son, along with the love shared can be felt within the pages.

Alison Stuart sets the scene perfectly. It is 1871 and Adelaide is an independent widow, working as a postmistress in the Australian mining town of Maiden’s Creek. This is a beautifully written and well researched historical romance novel that takes the reader back in time, in my case, to a world unknown to me. Through the eyes of an unwed, pregnant woman we see the horrors that could be, yet fortunately the reader is taken on a trip with Adelaide to Australia, where she becomes an independent and successful woman, providing for her son.

The historical facts of the time, along with the Australian gold mining and medical practices in the late 1800s were fascinating, including the treatment of snake bites and society’s attitudes and advice towards smallpox. Alison Stuart weaves historical facts subtley throughout the story, which is testament to her talent in writing historical fiction. This allowed me to further delve into the world of the characters.

Prior to reading this novel, I was in the mood to sit down and feel true romance. The romance within The Postmistress delivered. Adelaide’s lost love caused her to grieve longer than her heart deserved. Upon meeting American born Caleb Hunt, Adelaide’s only love interest was Danny’s father. Caleb and Adelaide’s friendship grows, as does Danny and Caleb’s. Without a father growing up, Danny looks to Caleb for advice. The bond between them is strong. As Adelaide is forced to face the past there are many twists and turns within the novel.

I would highly recommend this novel and look forward to reading future novels written by Alison Stuart. The Postmistress is a novel that I could see inspiring an Australian TV series.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman

Synopsis

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

The only way to survive is to open your heart.

My review

This book is truly brilliant, just as Eleanor Oliphant is. I absolutely felt like I became friends with Eleanor by the end of the book. Eleanor is a woman who speaks her mind, avoids interactions with others, doesn’t fit the everyday social mould and is one of the most courageous characters I have encountered. Eleanor grew up in the foster system as a result of the emotional and physical abuse of her biological family. Her story is revealed throughout the book as she uncovers more about her self and her circumstance.

Gail Honeyman manages to delve into the important issues surrounding foster children and the continued struggles, including feelings of loss, grief and abandonment that surface as time goes on.

Raymond, a colleague of Eleanor, sees her for who she is and soon shows her a side of life she hasn’t experienced – true friendship, kindness and care.

There is great humour within Eleanor’s logical and inquisitive thoughts. Some examples include her realisation that her nail technician should have become a dog groomer, since she was unsure whether to become a nail technician or vet. Why not incorporate two skills in one profession? Eleanor also wonders ‘if cobblers and chiropractors had established some kind of fiendish cartel’, as the woman in the store was quite insistant on Eleanor purchasing a pair of heels. There are many other thoughts that had me giggling as I read her logical, yet true thoughts that make Eleanor the individul she is.

Eleanor’s character is built in a way that the reader understands her world and hy her thoughts and actions are as they are in present day. I was cheering on Eleanor as she started to make positive improvements in her life for herself. What a strong character, what a strong woman.

Gail Honeman is truly talented to be able to present a character such as Eleanor. Thank you for bringing Eleanor to life. There are many Eleanors in life who are misunderstood and simply need friendship, care and love. This book will stay with me for a long time.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Concubine’s Child – Carol Jones

Thank you to Carol Jones for this beautiful, signed copy. I am very grateful to have won a copy of this novel.

Synopsis

In 1930s Malaysia, sixteen-year-old Yu Lan is in love with her best friend, Ming, whose father owns one of the busiest kopi shops in Petaling Street. But Ming’s family don’t see the apothecary’s daughter as a suitable wife – for Yu Lan’s father, Lim, spends more time playing mahjong than selling herbal remedies. It’s not long before Lim makes a terrible decision that will change Yu Lan’s life forever, selling her as a concubine to the wealthy, ageing Towkay Chan who is desperate for a male heir.

The consequences of Lim’s betrayal resonate through four generations and into the present day, where Yu Lan’s great-grandson, Nick, is searching for his lost family history. His wife, Sarah, begins to be very afraid of what he will find as past and present meld into one.

My review

My heart is aching after having read about the unimaginable pain, experienced by a concubine, who was once a happy and free young girl. This novel gave great insight into a time and place I had no knowledge of – 1930s Malaya. The novel was hauntingly powerful. I had to give myself time to process the sadness and experiences of this family prior to writing my review.

This novel follows Yu Lan, a young sixteen year old girl whose world is turned upside down as she is taken from her home, her love and her family, to become a part of a stranger’s family. The decision is made by her father, removing her from everything she has every known and depriving her of freedom, love and a wedding day. She becomes a concubine. Yu Lan was brought into the Chan family to produce a male heir for Towkay Chan. The sorrow and loss Yu Lan experiences are raw and heartbreaking. There were moments when I felt little relief from the melancholy feelings of the characters.

As a historical fiction novel, it was extremely well researched and allowed me to understand the horrors of this place and time. The dual time line allowed me to understand the modern day and historical culture of Malyasia. The story realistically paints scenes of the places, appealing to the senses. ‘Already the scent of home reached her nose, a mixture of barks, berries, roots, fungi …. ’ When travelling I have noticed the different scents of different places, just as home has it’s comforting scents. Carol Jones describes the feeling of coming back home in a way I will never forget. Home is truly where the heart remains.

‘You couldn’t fight life’s storms. You couldn’t fight fate. You could only wait.’ The life lessons discovered in the novel are significant not only in the characters’ world, also on a greater scale in relation to historical significance. This is emphasised in the modern day story of Ya Lan’s great grandson and his wife. It is possible to see the damaging effects that continued for years. Revenge plays a huge part in this novel along with the spiritual world. The characters will all learn from the ghosts of their past.

I would highly recommend this book due its historical significance, beautiful cultural descriptions and heartbreaking experiences felt by Yu Lan. What a wonderful story that will stay with me for a long time.

⭐⭐⭐⭐