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A couple years ago, I watched Never Let Me Go and was struck by how wonderful it was. I’m not one to read a book after I’ve seen the movie, so I looked into other books that Ishiguro had written. By far, The Remains of the Day was the most recommended and highest reviewed. I bought it, and then promptly forgot about it until… about three days ago.

Though it didn’t take me long to read the book (it’s fairly short), I have to say that I just didn’t quite get it. It’s incredibly well-written, of course. Ishiguro does an excellent job of painting a picture of the English countryside and Darlington Hall, but I couldn’t get past how robotic Mr. Stevens was – and, yes, I understand that this was the point.

Mr. Stevens is your stereotypical English butler. He prides himself on his dignity as a butler, aiding his employer in every way possible, even when he ends up insulting himself or doing something counterproductive in the process. He fails to understand why one would ‘banter’ with one’s employer, devoting several long, tedious pages to trying to determine what situations might call for banter and how one is to determine the appropriate level of banter in a response while avoiding offense. (He also always refers to himself as ‘one,’ sometimes several times in one sentence. It is very frustrating.)

At the beginning of the novel, Mr. Stevens has just received a letter from Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn), the former housekeeper at Darlington Hall. In her letter, he feels that she’s expressing regret at the path she chose for her life, maybe even regretting her marriage and hoping for her former job back. He takes a road trip through the English countryside to meet up with her, philosophizing on what it means to be a good butler and reminiscing about the political events his former employer was involved in.

In the end, nothing really happens aside from tangent after tangent after tangent. I felt like the hours I’d spent reading this book had been wasted due to the lack of plot. This book is extremely well-written, but unfortunately, that’s about all I can say for it. Maybe I’m just missing something, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why so many people love this book.

Final rating: ★

The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield

After Kate Mayfield was born, she was taken directly to a funeral home. Her father was an undertaker, and for thirteen years the family resided in a place nearly synonymous with death. A place where the living and the dead entered their house like a vapor. The place where Kate would spend the entirety of her childhood. In a memoir that reads like a Harper Lee novel, Mayfield draws the reader into a world of Southern mystique and ghosts.

Kate’s father set up shop in a small town where he was one of two white morticians during the turbulent 1960s. Jubilee, Kentucky, was a segregated, god-fearing community where no one kept secrets, except the ones they were buried with. By opening a funeral home, Kate’s father also opened the door to family feuds, fetishes, and victims of accidents, murder, and suicide. The family saw it all. They also saw the quiet ruin of Kate’s father, who hid alcoholism and infidelity behind a cool, charismatic exterior. As Mayfield grows from trusting child to rebellious teen, she begins to find the enforced hush of the funeral home oppressive, and longs for the day she can escape the confines of her small town.

Interested?  This title is currently available for request on Netgalley and through the Goodreads First Reads program.  It will be available for purchase on January 13, 2015.

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Finding Mr. Brightside is an unconventional romance featuring two teenagers who bond over a shared tragedy. Abram and Juliette have known each other forever – but they never really knew each other until they accidentally met at a CVS one night. What starts out as an awkward encounter featuring some prescription drugs slowly turns into an easy friendship, until Juliette and Abram realize that it’s becoming something more. Their developing relationship is complicated by the fact that Juliette’s mom and Abram’s dad were having an affair – which ended in a deadly car crash.

The story is sweet and heartfelt, and the writing feels very realistic. The perspective frequently changes between Abram and Juliette – something I generally dislike – but their voices are so distinct that there’s no confusion. Many YA books have conspicuously absent parents, but Juliette’s dad and Abram’s mom are present throughout the book, dealing with issues of their own.

Although the story takes place over a fairly short stretch of time – it can’t be more than a couple months – the progression of Juliette and Abram’s relationship feels natural. The characters are perfect for each other: Juliette helps Abram regain control of his life, and Abram helps to break down the walls Juliette has built around herself.

I was pleasantly surprised with Finding Mr. Brightside, and I look forward to more from the author. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy.

Final rating: 

Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark

Abram and Juliette know each other. They’ve lived down the street from each other their whole lives. But they don’t really know each other—at least, not until Juliette’s mom and Abram’s dad have a torrid affair that culminates in a deadly car crash. Sharing the same subdivision is uncomfortable, to say the least. They don’t speak.

Fast-forward to the neighborhood pharmacy, a few months later. Abram decides to say hello. Then he decides to invite her to Taco Bell. To her surprise as well as his, she agrees. And the real love story begins.

Sound like something you’d be interested in?  Goodreads has one copy available through December 19.  Request it now!

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At an indeterminate point in our future, all teenagers must undergo an exam to decide whether they’ll be sent away to work for the Guild, a mysterious collection of rich and powerful people. Tate Sullivan and her cousin Zoe aren’t too worried – as they’re reminded right before they go in, no Sullivan has ever passed. But of course, as luck would have it, both Tate and Zoe pass and are immediately sent away without so much as a chance to say goodbye to their families. They’re given private quarters, fancy clothes, and more food than they’ve ever seen in their lives. Everything is great… until they’re split up and forced to fight for their lives against a system that wants control of their minds and bodies.

The plot of Under My Skin is intriguing. It’s something I haven’t seen done before, which was surprising and much appreciated. At a time when it seems like everything in dystopia has been overdone, it was really nice to find something completely new.

The main problem, for me at least, was that I was thrown into the middle of this world without much idea of what was going on. Who is the Guild? What are they all about? Clearly they’re evil, but what exactly do they do? What is a Water Bearer? Are these girls being auctioned off? What’s going on?! For most of the book, I felt like I’d missed something, because Tate wasn’t questioning what was happening to her like I was. I kind of slogged through the first half or so before everything started becoming clearer. Of course, once I finally understood what was going on, everything started coming together. 

As for the characters, they were very well developed. Tate is strong, stubborn, and smart. At first, Zoe seems like she’ll fall into the background, but she ends up being more than capable of holding her own. Even the secondary characters like Quinn, Des, Rebecca, and the various Guild members are well written. They all have their own voices and distinct personalities.

All in all, very well done. I just wish I hadn’t felt so lost at the beginning.

Thanks to Netgalley and the author for the free copy.

Final rating: 3.5/5, rounded to ★

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Holly Brennan is an overweight widow who’s supremely unhappy with her life. She doesn’t like flying as it is, but after settling her late husband’s affairs, she boards a plane to find out that she’s squeezed next to “Adonis himself,” who is none too happy to be sitting next to the likes of her. Logan Montgomery struggles to overcome his first impression of Holly, and is helped along by, of all things, the fact that she smells kind of good. By the end of the plane ride, he’s mistakenly assumed that she’s in some sort of financial pickle (just because she’s overweight?), but still wants her to join his overpriced gym so that he can whip her into shape. (Don’t worry: being the amazingly nice guy he is, he gives her a discount.)

And thus begins a saga of Logan looking down on Holly, and Holly looking down on herself. She’s supposedly extremely overweight, but she has endurance and flexibility to spare, so it’s not long before the pounds start falling off. As Holly begins to look more respectable (or so Logan feels), he invites her to spend time with his famous friends, who convince her that she needs a serious makeover. It’s not long before Holly’s looking hot and Logan starts noticing her in a different way (and so do other men). Still, Logan feels that Holly doesn’t match up to the expectations that society sets for him (in other words, she’s still not skinny enough to be his girlfriend in public).

I really thought that Big Girl Panties would be a hilarious, refreshing book that celebrates that a woman can find love even if she doesn’t have the perfect body. Instead, I got a book that berates a woman for not being a size zero. I got a book in which the hero actually considers recommending that his girlfriend get liposuction to help flatten her belly. I got a book in which the heroine must lose 80 pounds before the hero gives her the time of day, and then still feels bad about herself for not being “skinny enough.” And this isn’t even all in Holly’s head – the narration shifts frequently enough that we know Logan feels exactly how Holly fears that he does. As she’s feeling bad about herself, he’s actually thinking, at that same moment, that she doesn’t quite look the part of a celebrity trainer’s girlfriend. He’s actually thinking that maybe his girlfriend will reflect badly on him, make him lose some credibility.

At the beginning of the book, despite its problematic parts, I thought I would end up liking it. Not loving it, but at least liking it. I’m so disappointed right now, because around the point that Holly really starts losing weight, the book just snowballs. I started skimming around page 200 because the story became so repetitive. All in all, Big Girl Panties is a mess. Would not recommend, unless you really enjoy becoming irate at judgey fictional characters.

Final rating: ★☆☆☆☆