Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Casual Vacancy

by J.K. Rowling
October 18-December 9, 2012

By page two, Barry Fairbrother is dead. By page twenty-two, I was completely lost in the British vernacular. By about page 102, I realized I was no longer in the world of Harry Potter, or anything YA, for that matter. The f-bomb was abundant and the subject matter was pretty intense.

I was quite excited to open this book, a birthday gift from Joanna, and eager to jump in. When I posted this fact to Facebook, I started getting comments about this book being "pornographic" compared to the world of wizardry. I hadn't heard that? And of course, since I was still traumatized from the garbage that was and still is 50 Shades, I really wasn't sure what to expect.

Unfortunately, I had several issues with Vacancy. First, as mentioned earlier, was the British themes. Call me ignorant, but I had a very hard time understanding not only the slang, but also the social hierarchies and classes. To me, parish council is a group of leaders at church. Here, it's local government. Once I adapted, it flowed easier, but then I was beginning to feel indifferent.

Second, the characters. Oh, the characters. Would new ones ever stop being introduced? Would any of them be even remotely likable? (I'm going with "no" on that point.) In the beginning, they were added so fast and furiously that I completely missed one, and it wasn't until a few pages from the end that I figured out who the hell Maureen was. And by then, I had lost interest.

Third, the issues. Rowling covers pretty much every issue known to man. Child abuse (VERY difficult to read about, in my opinion), rape (of a teenager, no less!), cutting, child neglect, drug use (from marijuana to heroine), and domestic violence. The troubles continue at such a rapid pace that by the end, two unfortunate children are dead. We've plummeted into situations that are nearly impossible to read about.

Finally, the "vacancy" itself. While I know that the death of Barry and the subsequent vacancy of his parish council seat was just a vehicle to delve further into the lives of these selfish, flawed characters, I just didn't care. I think mainly because we were so inundated with political ads this year, but I really wasn't riveted by Pagford's local government.

I'm sad to say that The Casual Vacancy left me feeling emotionally vacant, and honestly, very glad to be finished with it. This string of bad books had gone on entirely too long.

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Gone Girl

by Gillian Flynn
October 21-November 19, 2012

I have never claimed to be a fan of mystery or suspense dramas. But the hype this book was getting intrigued me. A few chapters in and I was hooked. This isn't what I would typically expect from a mystery and I loved it.

Nick and Amy are about to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. When Nick returns from the bar that he owns with his twin sister, he finds the house ransacked and his wife missing. The police begin an immediate investigation and discover that the pieces aren't quite fitting together. It's not long before Nick becomes the prime and obvious suspect; while he continuously insists that he is innocent. Each alternate chapter is told by Nick and Amy respectively. Nick comes across truly set-up and scammed, yet a crappy husband who is incapable of showing proper emotion. Amy is an insipid, spoiled sociopath who is completely unlikable from the start. I can't say much more than that without spoiling pieces of the plot.

Flynn does such a great job at keeping the reader in the dark until the very end. The twists and turns never stop. The narrators, Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne, portray Nick and Amy flawlessly. This was the kind of audiobook that I listened to long after I pulled into the garage in the evening. I would also sneak a chapter or two here and there while doing household chores. I even listened to Gone Girl while running on the treadmill! For an avid reader like me, that says a lot. This isn't the type of story I'm normally drawn to, but what a great distraction from the usual.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Orchid House

by Lucinda Riley
September 24-October 17, 2012

And with that, the book hangover is finally cured! Or maybe I just had a really long string of so-so books? Either way, The Orchid House was a delight to read. I was lucky enough to receive a FREE copy from Simon & Schuster when I joined their fan club. What a treat to find it in my mailbox! (If you aren't a fan, I highly recommend it.) In the welcome letter, S&S claims that The Orchid House is a fan favorite, and they were 100% correct. I first gave my copy to my mother who decidedly has much more time to read than I do. She devoured the whole thing in less than a week, even claiming that she forced herself to slow down because she didn't want it to end. When it was back in my hands, my mother made me swear to read it post haste.

I'm glad I did! The Orchid House weaves between present day, World War II and the 1930s, in places from England to Thailand, and boasts an enchanting cast of characters. When Julia, a concert pianist mourning the tragic death of her husband and baby son, returns to Wharton Park, the estate her grandfather worked when she was a child, she discovers a diary that leads her back in time. As Julia learns the history of the home and the generations who lived in it, she begins to heal with the help of the current heir of Wharton Park, Kit Crawford. Together they learn secrets from the past and develop their own special relationship. Each character who came along was fantastic. The story continued to develop and get so much better. I can see why my mother didn't want it to end. Riley has the ability to bring to life characters and inanimate objects alike. My only issues were with the description of Julia's husband and child's death. While it was a bit too graphic, and the after effects were slightly campy, Orchid House found its way back quickly and in a satisfying way. Phew!

I most definitely recommend this one when you're looking for a refreshing break from the everyday mundane.
"Through the pain and the joy of the journey I have made in the past two years, I have learned the most important lesson like can offer, and I am glad of it.
 The moment is all we have."

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Shadow of Night

by Deborah Harkness
July 7-October 21, 2012

Diana and Matthew are back! Back in time that is; 1591 to be exact. The second book in the All Souls Trilogy, I was eagerly awaiting its release. I was also excited to hear Jennifer Ikeda reading the audiobook version again. She has such a knack for creating authentic-sounding men and women of any age as well as voicing a myriad of accents.

At the end of Discovery of Witches (Which, by the way, I loved. So romantic, so intriguing, and so descriptive that it actually had me craving wine.), Matthew and Diana were stepping back into Elizabethan London with the help of Diana's limited time-traveling capabilities. Shadow opens at that exact moment with a slew of characters, some historically accurate, and from there the complexity of the plot never ends. In truth, I had quite a hard time following it, and even started over after five completely confusing chapters. I'm glad I did because it made more sense the second time. But, between the highly detailed historical information and the character development, I missed the "magic" from the first book. This second installment seemed to be more about the experience of living in 1591; Matthew being a devout Catholic in Protestant England, witches being burnt in Scotland, the founding fathers of the School of Night; than the charm of a love story between a witch and a vampire. The most interesting part for me was when Diana met her tutor/witch, found out she's a Weaver, and really began learning how to perform and understand her magic. Meeting Matthew's father Phillipe, who we heard so much about in the first book, was equally enjoyable. Matthew and Diana's love deepens while they are in the past and future occurrences are forever changed. But the copious details and shift from what we had in Discovery was what had me lost most of the time. When Matthew and Diana finally came "home" to the present, I found myself reinvesting in the story and eager to see where the reader will be led in the last book. Shadow, too, ends with a cliffhanger, much like Discovery.

I found a great interview with Harkness where she claims that, "These are not your children’s vampires and witches." So true! Reading the first book, all I wanted was for our couple to consummate their relationship. Well I got my wish in Shadow of Night! But I wonder if actually reading this book as opposed to listening to it would have enhanced my experience? I heard that there is actually a glossary of characters in the printed version! I could have used that. I think I will reread both books before the third and final book is released.

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

The House of Velvet and Glass

by Katherine Howe
July 31-September 23, 2012

Could it actually be possible that I am still suffering from a book hangover that began back in March (I love you, Harry!)?! I don't know how else to explain the fact that it took me two (very long) months to read this book. I really wanted to get into it, and I kept trying, but I felt like I was just powering through. I didn't want to give up, but nothing was pushing me to want to read any faster. I don't get it. I adored Howe's first novel, The Physick Book..., and I love the basis of The House of Velvet and Glass.

Set in 1915 Boston and weaving between the last night the Titanic saw life and colonial Shanghai, House is rich in history and Howe is a master at setting the perfect scene. Sibyl is trying to deal with the loss of her mother and sister on the Titanic, all the while learning how to run a household with her father. She often sneaks off to a medium to try to contact her lost family, and after a few meetings with Miss Dee, the fortune teller gives Sibyl a scrying glass informing her that Sibyl may have the "gift" as well. When Sibyl's brother is kicked out of Harvard, he brings home a mysterious girlfriend who slowly befriends Sibyl and introduces her to an opium den in Chinatown. Sibyl takes her scrying glass to the den and finds the connection she has been missing. With the help of the opium, she believes she is "seeing" the Titanic just before sinking through her crystal ball. As Sibyl learns more about the art of scrying, she begins to realize that maybe the future is better left unknown.

"a life spent only looking back, at the past, or ahead, after death, is a life that has no meaning."

Sounds great, right? That is why I don't understand why I couldn't get into it. Do I continue to blame Harry Potter? Not sure. Or maybe I'm forcing myself to like something that just wasn't doing it for me. In honesty, I think I enjoyed the bonus features at the end of the eBook more than the story. Katherine Howe included an essay on scrying, plus a Boston Globe article on the Titanic's sinking; both pieces that I really enjoyed. And I wonder if I would have read those first if I would have appreciated the book more? I believe I knew all along that I was reading historical fiction, but for some reason it wasn't until reading these features that I had an "a-ha moment."

"He kissed her like he was sipping cool water, like it was the most natural and perfect thing in the world."

Either way, I hope to speed up my reading again now that the weather has turned. If only I had more time to sit down with a great book...

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Age of Miracles

by Karen Thompson Walker
July 17-30, 2012

Well there's a transition for ya. From a sex-crazed masochist to the eminent end of the world. Interesting. I'd read lots of praise for The Age of Miracles, so I was eager to get started.

The earth's rotation is slowing. Subtly at first, then more noticeable. Toward the end, a day lasted nearly 72 hours. Gravity soon became a victim, as did agriculture and the environment. 11-year old Julia tells the story of how it affected her town, family, friends and life in general. The government decided to keep the world on "clock time," meaning they still acknowledged a day as being 24 hours long. The result was school days in complete darkness and sleeping during "white nights." There were rebels as well; individuals who decided to live by the cycle of light; teaching themselves to stay awake and sleep for sometimes 24 hours straight, respectively.

The premise is great. In her literary debut, Walker has such a gift with storytelling that even the tone was quiet and slow. Although the world changed and the situation was stressful, I felt calm reading each chapter. The problem for me, though, was that I felt the book was a constant progression, building up to something that never came to be. And it got very repetitive. I was waiting for something "bigger" to happen, yet Julia went on with her life. It began to feel like I was reading a list of new things that were happening to the earth, and the list seemed the same chapter after chapter. Not that I wanted scientific detail, but I wanted the author to be more descriptive. But, the last lines of the story had a certain finality to them:

"We dipped our fingers in the wet cement, and we wrote the truest, simplest things we knew—our names, the date, and these words: We were here."

The bottom line is that I wanted more. But because the writing was so eloquent and Julia was such a likable little girl, I sailed through to the end. For me, the book was so close, but didn't quite reach its full potential.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

50 Shades of ... I don't really care

by E.L. James
May 29 - July 16, 2012

Thank God that's over. I am probably the only woman on the planet who didn't read this trilogy in a week, let alone twice in a row. I didn't jump on the Christian Grey train; rather I wanted to shove him in front of one. I suppose I can understand why everyone is so fascinated with the books. I mean, let's face it, I read a lot and I have never read sex scenes quite like these. But after the initial "shock" and once through the first book, it was old news and honestly a little boring. If I hadn't bought the complete trilogy on my Kindle at one time, I highly doubt I would have continued on to book two, and definitely not book three.

I find it unnecessary to do a complete recap, so this post will be strictly opinion with lots of spoilers. I don't suggest reading any further unless you've already finished the books. If you have, I'd love to hear what drew you to them (or not).

I was immediately turned off by the poor prose. By no means am I a literary giant, but I've read enough to know good writing from bad. And even if I can't articulate which it may be, trust me, I just know. Within the first 10% of the book I was already rolling my eyes at the way the author overused "he/she mutters" and 'he/she murmurs." Really, why is this a story of two people with mush mouths who whisper to each other all the time? And if Christian Grey is the strong dominant the author portrays, then I'm quite sure he would never murmur anything. This was my biggest pet peeve. Incidentally, I did a find for "murmur" on my Kindle, and I came up with 764 results. Buy a thesaurus, Ms. James.

The next thing that kept my eyes rolling (and no, I don't want to be "punished" for doing so; that was just absurd) was Ana's constant referral to her inner goddess and her subconscious. It got to the point where I thought she was a schizophrenic with all these personalities living inside of her. When her subconscious started wearing half-moon glasses and reading Charles Dickens, it went completely over the top into utter ridiculousness. In reality, a 21-year old girl could simply not be emotionally mature enough to recognize any of this. Remember what you were interested in at 21 and fresh out of college? Yeah, me too, and it wasn't my freaking subconscious.

Toward the end of the second book, I was just becoming bored by so many things. First, the fact that Ana was so in love with Christian, yet she constantly walked on eggshells around him. She always worried whether or not he was mad at her. So very NOT sexy. Second, his possessiveness. If he murmured one more time, "you're mine" I was going to puke. Flawed or not, get a grip buddy. Third, I honestly failed to see the attraction to a man who takes pleasure in inflicting pain on a woman. In my opinion, he was a half step away from all-out domestic abuse. At one point he even says: "I want to punish you. Really beat the shit out of you." WAKE UP ladies!! THIS IS NOT OK! I would have thrown the book at the wall, but my Kindle didn't deserve to be smashed into a million pieces.

Finally, the little mystery thrown in for good(?) measure. By that point, I didn't care about Jack Whateverhisnameis or why he was out to get the Greys. It seemed an afterthought to add this inane storyline, and I don't think it added any intrigue or compassion at all.

I could probably go on for another 500 words or more, but I think you get my disgust loud and clear. I. Just. Don't. Get. It. But if you loved it, please, oh please, tell me why. Was it the sex? If so, I have to believe there are better-written smut books out there. Was it the love story? Because I don't understand loving a controlling, insecure masochist.

Talk to me.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

(Almost) A Year in Review

It's sad but true. I am almost a year behind in posting! I'd like to chalk it up to being too busy reading, but you know how it goes: Other chores take priority, I've had freelance out the wazoo; or was it simply that I couldn't come up with the perfect thing to say about what I just read? Whatever the reason, I never stopped reading. Well, wait. There was the time in March when I nearly boycotted reading because I was so smitten with Harry Potter. I felt I would be disloyal to all of Wizardom if I jumped into a new book without properly grieving the end of those seven books. Yeah, I was that obsessed. I even joined Pottermore the first day it became available to the public (my screen name is ShadowRain12825 for anyone who wants to friend me!) and haven't stopped thinking about how truly wonderful those books were since March 14, 2012 when Harry sent his own son off to Hogwarts for the first time. I know, I know, I'm way late for that train. But I'm so glad I waited! I don't know how the people who read each book as it was released could handle the wait! I was lucky to read all seven books consecutively over the course of only four months.

OK, fine, enough about Harry (one last word: I love Ron). I've decided that instead of completely stressing myself out about the fact that I need to write TEN overdue posts, I need to just clean the slate. I'll recap the books I've read since last July and move on with my life. The next full post will be about that sicko Christian Gray :)

1. Cutting for Stone  |  Abraham Verghese  |  January 10 - July 17, 2011
It took me a whopping seven months to get through this audiobook. So many times I wanted to give up. I found it to be slow and overly long (I desperately wanted to edit out so much of it). The only thing that kept me going was peer pressure – so many friends held this book in such high esteem. And then one day I suddenly turned a corner and ended up truly enjoying it. Glad I stuck to it.
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2.  Still Alice  |  Lisa Genova  |  August 16 - September 3, 2011
Tough subject matter, but poignant and heartbreaking. Genova has a Ph. D in neuroscience, so the book is written accurately but still has the ability to engage the reader at every turn. Alice's quick decent into Alzheimer's isn't exactly "light reading," but well worth the education for the reader.
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3.  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake  |  Aimee Bender  |  July 18 - August 30, 2011
Anyone recognize this acronym: WTF??? That is exactly what I said when this book ended. WTF??? Her brother became the chair?? Seriously didn't get it. Maybe the biggest strike against the book for me was the author narrated the audiobook and it was probably the worst narration I've ever heard. Monotone, lifeless; she could have read anything and made it sound awful. Sorry, it's just better to have talented narrators...otherwise you lose me. Fast.
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4.  Faith  |  Jennifer Haigh  |  September 3-24, 2011
Funny thing happened the other day. I stopped and got Faith out of the library because a pal had been raving about it and said I just had to read it next. After two chapters I realized that I've already read it! Duh! It was definitely good, so I have no idea why it was so forgettable. An intriguing story about an accused Catholic priest in Boston and how his family deals with the scandal.
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5. I Still Dream About You  |  Fannie Flagg  |  September 24 - October 15, 2011
I adore Fannie Flagg. Her writing is music to my ears. Not being a southern girl myself, Flagg has the ability to paint such a vivid picture, that I feel like I've lived in Alabama my whole life. Even as Maggie Fortenberry contemplates suicide by creating a list of 16 reasons why she should and only 2 why she should not, I couldn't help laughing at the charm brought in every page of this book.
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6. A Discovery of Witches  |  Deborah Harness  |  September 1 - October 8, 2011
I wouldn't say I'm a fan of Fantasy or Sci-fi, but I love, love, love witches. Add in a 1500-year old vampire and you've got a real winner. I couldn't get enough of this book, and was actually quite satisfied with the somewhat untidy (not wrapped up in a bow) ending. Then I found out it was the first in a trilogy. Hooray! Shadow of Night comes out next month. I can't wait!
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7. One Day  |  David Nicholls  |  October 20 - December 29, 2011
Hilariously funny in parts with an unforeseen, shocking ending. Dexter and Emma meet on July 15, 1988 and the book follows them on that same day each year after for 20 years. Nicholls' ability with character development had me on an emotional roller coaster. Except I didn't get sick on this one.
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8. This is Where I Leave You  |  Jonathan Tropper  |  January 10 - March 8, 2012
Judd and his dysfunctional family reluctantly sit Shiva for his father. His wife is cheating on him with his boss. Sounds like hard stuff, but this novel is funny and fresh. It was a great one to listen to while sitting in traffic after work. Made the commute not so bad.
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9. Harry Potter  |  J.K. Rowling  |  November 20, 2011 - March 14, 2012
These seven books really deserve their own post, but what could I say that hasn't been said before? I resisted for so long, for no real reason, but was finally convinced to give them a try. I felt like I was living at Hogwarts for four months. I can't say enough good things about this series, and I'm sure no one needs convincing – I'm probably the last person on earth to read them.
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10. The Night Circus  |  Erin Morgenstern  | March 19 - May 28, 2012
To be fair, this book never stood a chance. As the first one to be read after Harry, I couldn't focus on a single word. I would go days without reading it; in turn taking me 2-plus months to get through it. Once my focus started to return, I became quite interested in the characters. But even though I'm not a fan of a big bow at the end, I found myself saying out loud, "Was the whole damn thing really a dream?!"
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And there you have it. Some of my highest ratings in a long time...maybe that can be another excuse for not posting!

Friday, March 23, 2012

State of Wonder

by Ann Patchett
June 27 - August 15, 2011

State of WonderIf you pay attention to the dates above (the length of time it took me to read the book), you'll notice that I read State of Wonder about seven months ago. To say I'm behind on blog posting would be the understatement of this young year. But, because I'm so late, I was able to reference other sources that have given State of Wonder the prestigious honor of being on several Best of 2011 lists. And of course you regulars of Read My Mind know that Ann Patchett is a favorite author of mine, so I quickly purchased her latest title less than three weeks after its release. Unfortunately, I do not understand how this landed on so many "Best of" lists.

I think I've said before that I feel like I read faster when I'm on my kindle. Truth. But even so, it just seemed like Patchett took a lot of time building up some spectacular surprise, and I was eagerly anticipating a big reveal. By the time I got to the "wonder" of the book, I was underwhelmed. Dr. Marina Singh is a research scientist who must travel to the Amazon jungle when she learns that a colleague of hers has died unexpectedly and suspiciously. Once in Brazil, Singh is also charged with "nudging" Dr. Annick Swenson; who for years has been researching and failing to properly report her discoveries on a fertility drug that will allow women to conceive well into their 70s and beyond. (No thank you!!!)

Our protagonist was actually rather boring on paper. It's almost as if Marina was the "wrong" lead character. Dr. Swenson was much more feisty and mysterious. And perhaps the jungle itself, so vividly described that it came to life in my mind's eye, was the true heart of the story. Even the native boy, Easter, who never spoke a word, left me wanting more.

In no way does my blasé attitude toward State of Wonder mean that I'm finished with Patchett. It simply means that I don't have to love every book she writes. And while I ultimately found the ending outrageous, it was thanks to Patchett's talent with a pen (or keyboard) that kept me committed until the final words.

"Never be so focused on what you're looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find."

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

An Unexamined Life

by Gareth Young
Oct 16-Nov 14, 2011

Recently, I learned about a pretty cool concept called Book Rooster. It's essentially an online community of passionate readers who receive free kindle editions of books by indie authors and write reviews. It's a great way for these sometimes struggling authors to get more reviews posted on All you have to do is sign up and indicate which genres of books you are interesting in, and Book Rooster will start sending you titles. If you aren't interested in a particular book, all you have to do is wait for the next one to come along. Reading and reviewing with no pressure! My kind of site for sure. A more simplified version of the follow review is posted on Amazon, thanks to the free digital copy I received from the Rooster. Check it out.

I must say that upon reading the brief synopsis on An Unexamined Life, my interest was piqued. Definitely not the kind of subject matter I read on a daily basis. So I downloaded my free sample and headed off to Jamaica where I was sure I was going to read at least two, if not three, books. Little did I realize that a cocktail in one hand, seated at the swim-up bar, does not bode well for a kindle. Reading just had to wait until I was home again.

Never before has a book sparked such raw emotion and anger in me. Some might say this is a sign of a truly brilliant author, and while that may be true, I certainly can't say that I'd ever again want to read another of Young's books (this is the author's second novel). Joe Kay is a man who is living the textbook life. On paper, he has everything; a high-paying job, a devoted wife, and most recently, a large inheritance from a dead aunt. When his career takes a nose dive, Joe finds he has more time to spend with his wife. Only now does he realize that years of career-first neglect has driven a large gap between the couple. Joe resorts to online "dating," spending late nights chatting with strange women and having cyber affairs. For whatever reason, Joe becomes braver and begins bringing these affairs to the light of day. He even begins a fantasy-driven affair with his next-door neighbor. At this point, I'm keeping up and fairly intrigued as to where the next pages will take me, but then the protagonist's flaws come screaming to life.

Joe frequents a coffee shop more than ever now that he has Liz, a high school student, to ogle. He quickly becomes infatuated from afar as he eavesdrops on her every word. He finally works up the nerve to speak to her and he is instantly a teenager again. The affair that ensues paints the picture of a weak, selfish, perverted pig. I found myself actually wanting to throw my kindle at a wall I was becoming so frustrated with Joe's weaknesses.

"Moral weakness wasn't indicative of a lack of love for my Eliza, unimaginably cherished, the light of my life. Surely she could see that as a man of means and charm, it was inevitable I would be exposed to irresistible temptation?"

Puke. Some would ask me why I didn't just put the book down for good, but at 263 short pages, I had to at least be assured that Joe's wife would get some kind of redemption. The final moments of Joe's story had me writhing with disgust and frustration. I finished the book wondering if perhaps An Unexamined Life is more suitable to a male reader? As a woman, I refuse to make a single excuse for Joe's adulterous behavior. As an avid reader, I can compliment the author on his prose, but with the hatred I feel for Joe Kay, I have read my first and last Gareth Young book.

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