She’s back: The Break

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

The last time I read a book by Marian Keyes, it did not go well. And that was a shame because she’s one of my favourites. An author I can count on to make me laugh, probably make me cry and definitely reset my mojo.

But that didn’t happen with the last one.

So I was apprehensive about reading her new book, The Break.


Amy and Hugh have been mostly happily married for years. But the last 18 months or so have been difficult. Hugh’s father passed away and now Hugh is thinking about the finiteness of time. When his best friend dies suddenly not long after, Hugh goes to a dark place where Amy can’t reach him. She engages in a bit of a harmless work flirtation to help her deal with what’s going on at home.

And then Hugh announces that he’s taking a break from their marriage for six months and traveling, doing the things that he always wanted to and didn’t. He’s leaving Amy and their girls, Neeve, Amy’s daughter from a previous marriage who is in the early stages of a YouTube empire, Kiara, Amy and Hugh’s sweet daughter who always knows the right thing to say and do, and sensitive, ethereal Sophie, who is actually Amy’s niece but they adopted and now lives with them.

Without Hugh, Amy wants to feel sorry for herself and lie in bed and cry. But her friends and family tell her she has to live her own life. If Hugh’s on a break from their marriage, doesn’t it also mean that Amy is?

The Break is classic Marian Keyes. Classic Walsh sisters Marian Keyes! I was delighted to read this book. It was the exact mix of hilarity and seriousness that I have come to expect from Keyes. In The Break, Keyes explores fidelity and the crises that come from the deaths of those close to us. She’s also come up with an incredible cast of characters that I really hope we see more of! I can absolutely see Amy’s family members starring in their own books a la the Walshes.

It’s a bit of a doorstopper at 568 pages but it’s such a delight I’m not sure you’ll notice. The Break is an excellent book to tuck in your bag for a long flight or a weekend away. It’ll also do nicely on a rainy weekend with a cup of tea.

If you read The Woman Who Stole My Life and swore off Marian Keyes, you need to change your mind. The Break is a classic.


The Woman Who Stole My Life

I’ve always liked the work of Marian Keyes. I’m sure that her sparkly, candy coloured covers have turned some readers off, believing them to be nothing more than shallow chick lit, filled with heroines who’s biggest problems are marrying the right guy and having enough money to buy shoes.

But those readers would be wrong. Keyes’ work is actually a lot more serious than I think she’s given credit for. Her heroines are often struggling with addiction, mental health issues, the death of a loved one, or abusive relationships. They are absolutely sprinkled liberally with laughs and some truly ridiculous escapades but I’ve never had trouble finding something of worth in her work.

So I was excited to read The Woman Who Stole My Life. This latest effort was vague on plot but I assumed that it was because giving too much away would ruin it. To an extent, I suppose that’s true. All I knew going in was that there was this man that Stella Sweeney met that would make all kinds of things happen.

The Woman Who Stole My Life was not what I expected from Marian Keyes at all but it didn’t exceed my expectations either.

In the very beginning, Stella is going on about karma and how she’s a big believer in it even though her artist husband, Ryan, thinks she’s nuts. As she’s driving around town, she slows to let a man in a range rover merge and ends up getting rear-ended and t-bones the car she was trying to help out.

Then it’s years in the future and Stella is back in her little Irish house with a surly teenaged son, worrying about money and staring at a blank computer screen, willing some inspiration to strike so that she can write her new book. The rest of the book is supposed to fill in the blanks.

And it does. There’s a bizarre medical situation with a rare neurological disorder that basically leaves Stella a prisoner in her own body (basically my nightmare) and her neurologist is the only one who can communicate with her, the same man, of course, who she t-boned that day months earlier.

The back and forth in time narrative didn’t work for me. Normally I’m up for that – I like seeing where a character has ended up as a way of trying to work out what happened to the earlier version. This time, it seemed unnecessary and confusing. It added pages and pages to this book that didn’t need to be added. I went through the whole book thinking that the title referred to Stella herself but the end revealed something completely different. Again, I would have been more than ok with that (I love when an author outsmarts me) but it seemed forced, rushed, like the proper foundation hadn’t been laid for me to get to this point.

I have come to expect plucky, cheeky, smart heroines from Marian Keyes. They can be kicked around by life but they always have something to redeem them, something that sets them back on their right path. Often they are surrounded by their hilarious supporting cast family (I’m thinking mainly of the Walshes, have you read any of the books to feature the Walshes?). I’m not used to a broken, self-pitying heroine who married a perfect twit and lets all the big decisions in her life be made by a man. I’m not used to it and I don’t accept it from Marian Keyes.


Book Gluttony: The Library Trip

I did it again. I ignored the piles of unread books in my own house to take a trip to the library and bring home another pile of books to read.

I could take the time to unpack what is wrong with me that I can’t seem to be happy with the riches already in my home and insist on making my reading life that much more chaotic (to say nothing of the physical piles of chaos I’ve created in our home…) but who wants to do that?

Want to hear about the bookish treasure I took home instead?

That’s what I thought. Read on, book lovers!

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. I’ve been wanting and meaning to read this book ever since it came out but for whatever reason, every time I pick it up in a bookstore, I’ve put it down again. But hey, I work in communications, it might not be a bad idea to finally read this book about the “renaissance of public shaming” via social media.

Girl at War by Sara Novic. I keep seeing this book and reading about it and it kind of jumped out at me at the library so I brought it home. This book about the war in Yugoslavia and it’s aftermath on our heroine, Ana Juric holds a personal connection for me: my father was a peacekeeper in that conflict. I’m not sure that I’ve ever read any fiction about this area and I’m glad for the opportunity to remedy that.

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith. I can’t seem to quit him. And after reading the most recent Isabel Dalhousie novel (The Novel Habits of Happiness) I decided that I’d been harsh on this series based on the first book. This is the second book in the series and I’m excited to potentially have another mystery series to love.

The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes. I LOVE Marian Keyes. I’m pretty sure I own all of her books. I meant to buy this one. But every time I almost did it, I stopped myself. When I saw it at the library, I thought to myself why do I need to own this book? Why not just take it home now? So that’s exactly what I did.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Earlier this year I read and LOVED China Dolls. I’m hoping that Shanghai Girls is more of the same. Shanghai in the 1930s always seems like the most elegant place, until it all falls to sh*t of course.

Well there you have it. Are you marvelling at my self restraint? I only brought home FIVE books, guys. I can totally get through a pile of five books. I was actually incredibly selective when I went this time. I spent a lot of time in non-fiction but there was nothing there that I had to read immediately. Actually it just made me feel bad that I had books by A.N. Wilson and Judith Flanders already sitting at home since I glanced at some of their other work and almost brought them home too…

Also. There’s a teachers weekend at one of the big bookstores up here, the weekend of the 26th and I’ve already had one of the teachers in my book club offer to take advantage of that on my behalf so the book gluttony isn’t slowing down any time soon…


Me Before You

I finally read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

I don’t know that I will ever be able to recover from the heartbreak of that book. The last time I remember being this affected by a book was when I read Marian Keyes’ Is Anybody Out There? Did you read that one? It was the first book about the Walsh sisters that I read – Anna Walsh is recovering from all sorts of heinous injuries under the watchful eye of Mammy Walsh and she can’t get a hold of her husband Aidan. She can’t remember what happened but it’s not like them to go so long without talking. Finally she remembers what happens and why Aidan isn’t calling and she’s devastated and spends the next year of her life trying to reach him on the other side.

I was in pieces after that book.

Reading Me Before You brought on a similar sensation. I wish I had been on my own somewhere to read that and give in properly – instead I was in the car beside my other half trying to muffle the sounds of my sobs, knowing that he was looking over every so often. So embarrassing.

Anyway – the book. Louisa Clark is living a very ordinary (boring) life at home in the house she’s always lived in when she loses her job at a local cafe. Not being particularly trained for anything but reluctant to take a job as a stripper, she ends up as a kind of paid companion to Will Traynor, a quadriplegic. At first Louisa, very aware of her limited skills, pussy foots around him, checking in on him every 15 minutes as instructed by Will’s mother. Eventually though she gets tired of walking on egg shells and she starts treating him like a human being which, is exactly what Will has been missing since his accident.


Louisa has been hired on for 6 months. Then she finds out what Will’s plans are at the end of those 6 months and she sets out to change his mind.

Obviously she also falls in love with him.

I’ve already said too much. I knew what the twist was when I was making my way through it so I guess it was fairly predictable. But the way it all unfolds was still so completely heartbreaking. I wasn’t prepared for the full range of emotions. The book is funny and captivating and so, so smart. At the end your heart will break (if you have a heart) but there is a curious sensation of hope.

I had just finished The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, my book club’s selection, when I started Me Before You. I enjoyed The American Heiress but I think that Me Before You would almost have been a better book club book – seems like there is so much more to discuss.

Not bad for a book I initially thought of as Chick Lit.


Coming Soon

Even though it’s likely to be a while before I can rationalize buying a new book (the library has become my new best friend), I still like to know what’s coming out so that I can add things to my list. I’m obsessive about my list (confession: I have a book journal). This morning I saw that one of my favourite authors, Marian Keyes, has a new book coming out. Which made me curious about who else is about to release a new title.

So I did a little research. We’re heading into the Fall so you know some good ones are going to be released shortly. Here is a (by no means complete) list of some of the books I will be looking out for (and lusting after):

First up: Marian Keyes’ The Mystery of Mercy Close. Those of you that have read any of the books featuring the Walsh sisters will be thrilled to hear that this newest book features Helen Walsh. Helen! The baby! The one that’s always up to no good finally gets her own book! If you want to reacquaint yourself with any of the other Walsh sisters, check out (in no particular order): Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday, Angels, or Anybody Out There. In the meantime, Keyes is releasing an e-book: Mammy Walsh’s A-Z of the Walsh Family. The Mystery of Mercy Close is set to be released by Penguin Canada on October 30 2012.

Ken Follett is set to release his second book in the Century Trilogy in September 2012. For us Canadians, the date is September 18th. Mark it down. Winter of the World will pick up the stories of the five interrelated families – in Russia, America, Germany, Wales and Britain – that we encountered in Fall of Giants. Ken Follett is a master story teller of epic tales and I cannot wait for Winter of the World to come out. Incidentally, if you were a fan of The Pillars of the Earth miniseries, the sequel series, World Without End will start airing on Showtime September 4th.

Nearly three years ago, Gretchen Rubin showed us small practical ways that we could increase our personal happiness. She’s at it again, this time tackling bigger issues when it comes to the relationships with those closest to you. Happier At Home still focuses on small practical ways to increase happiness, but in terms of bigger issues like raising happy children, maintaining a loving relationship with one’s spouse and how one can prevent a smart phone from taking over. I loved The Happiness Project and I’m looking forward to September 4th when Happier At Home will be available in stores.

Obviously I’m still anxiously awaiting the release of JK Rowing’s adult novel, The Casual Vacancy. In case you’d forgotten, it’s due to be released on September 29th.

Finally, in case you’re jonesing for a new title to run out and get right now, Philippa Gregory has released The Kingmaker’s Daughter, her first sister novel since The Other Boleyn Girl. Although I have been underwhelmed by some of her more recent releases (The Red Queen, Lady of the Rivers and The White Queen all come to mind), when I see her name, I can’t help myself. The ‘Kingmaker,’ Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick was always such a shady character and whenever sisters and marriage and thrones are involved, well, Gregory tends to be at her best.

What new book are you most looking forward to?


Nothing Wrong With A Little Chick Lit

The other day I came across this article that sounded like it was about Sophie Kinsella and how chick lit is awesome, but really it wasn’t. It was more about questioning if chick lit doesn’t do more harm than good.

For some reason, the idea of chick lit is deeply abhorrent to a lot of people. Something about it dumbing women down, making women seem ditzy and scatterbrained, and reinforcing the notion of women as the weaker sex? Something. I don’t know. I personally have never understood the uproar.

I am a self confessed, unabashed lover (and promoter) of chick lit.

In my personal opinion, Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes are the complete and total Queens of the genre, dominating my own bookshelves for years now. But there is room for the likes of the equally impressive Emily Giffin, Jane Green and Cecelia Ahern (whose work *confession* I have not read as yet only because I’m terrified of crying (see: sobbing) like a baby, having seenP.S. I Love You completely against my will).

I think the argument against chick lit has a lot to do with the perceived materialism exhibited by the female characters in these books and maybe these days, with a pinch of hindsight, that makes folks uncomfortable. But just like I continue to buy Vogue magazine, chock full of all the beautiful things that I will never be able to have, I love to jump into the Shopaholic books and read about all the beautiful things that Becky Bloomwood finds. If I can’t have them, someone should be able to! Even if that someone is a fictional (albeit it fabulous) character.

I like to think of myself as a smart woman. I’m fairly well read. I know stuff. So what’s the problem with reading chick lit? It’s fun, often extremely poignant and there is always something to be gleaned from them about the human condition. And isn’t an emotional education just as important as a formal one?

By attempting to diminish the work of these brilliant women, the people that have an issue with the chick lit genre are belittling their merit and insulting those of us that love their work. When I finish Catherine the Great, I would love nothing more than to have something chick lit-ish waiting for me next. And I see nothing wrong with that.

Bottom line here: I’m going to read what makes me happy, so if you know what’s good for you, you will stop harping on about all this chick lit stuff and let me read it in peace!

Sophie Kinsella’s new one (I’ve Got Your Number) was released this week. I’ve visited copies of it a few times now. Haven’t taken the plunge. Soon my pretty!