Review: The Guest List: A Novel by Lucy Foley

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My Interest

Reece Witherspoon’s Book Club is reading  The Guest List this month,  so I decided to join them. She has announced a second,  topical pick for this month, I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown, which I bought for Kindle but have not started reading yet.

The Story

High-powered London online magazine creator and social media influencer Jules, is set to marry her perfect man–t.v. survival show hottie, Will. Jule’s secures a tiny island over Ireland for a new-to-the-world wedding venue. The dress is perfect, the venue is perfect, but, is the perfect man, really…perfect? A note slipped into her things tells her he’s not the man he appears to be. Should she worry?

Will is attended by a pack of posh Public school [private boarding school in England] mates all still pretty obsessed with the juvenile antics of their school–especially a sort of torture game called “Survival.” Secrets abound about their time at school, their Stag Party trip to another deserted island, this time off Sweden. What happened at the Stag, does it really have to stay on the Stag?

Then there is Hannah, wife of Jules’ “best friend”–yes, she’s so ultra-cool she has a married guy with a child as her bff. Jule’s need of Charlie leaves his wife mostly abandoned. So why is Hannah so drawn to Jule’s half-sister?

My Thoughts

This story rockets to a fireworks show of an ending! It is perfectly paced, the chapters are just enough, but never bog the story down in one of the bogs surrounding the wedding venue, aka The Folly. The last third of the story had my heart racing–I could not put it down till I got to the very end.

My Verdict

4.0

I will definitely go back and read her previous book The Hunting Party and maybe a few of her other backlist titles. The Guest List was compelling, I really hope they live up to it.

The Guest List: A Novel by Lucy Foley

 

 

My Reviews of Other Hello Sunshine Book Club picks:

 

 

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

 

 

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Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 

 

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Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

 

 

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

 

 

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

 

 

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Review: Where the Crawdads Sing: A Novel by Delia Owens

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The Story

The marshlands of coastal North Carolina are home to an exquisite natural world, and to “swamp people.”  The story of “Marsh Girl,” Katherine Danielle Clark, aka Kya, is told in back-and-forth chapters, revealing her incredible bravery in surviving alone after abandonment by all of her family, and of the murder of local football star Chase Andrews.  Is Kya his murderer? Or is she simply a reclusive, self-educated naturalist?

What I Loved

“Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would.”

Every. Single. Word. This is a book that manages to SURPASS its hype–it is that good. Several reviews have compared it to the writing of Barbara Kingsolver–and that is true. This book is Poisonwood Bible great. Kya’s survival of her abandonment outshines that of Turtle in Kingsolver’s Bean Trees, bringing to mind an updated Understood Betsy–one that Oprah would admire (but without the sexual abuse so often found in Oprah’s book club picks).

“…[the] great blue heron is the color of gray mist reflecting in blue water. And like mist, she can fade into the backdrop, all of her disappearing except the concentric circles of her lock-and-load eyes. She is a patient, solitary hunter, standing alone as long as it takes to snatch her prey. Or, eyeing her catch, she will stride forward one slow step at a time, like a predacious bridesmaid. And yet, on rare occasions she hunts on the wing, darting and diving sharply, swordlike beak in the lead.”

I especially loved Kya’s natural world. The author captures the beauty of the marshland in language worthy of a classic naturalist like John Muir. She manages to show not only the physical beauty of the area but the beauty of Kya’s connection to her natural world. The way she knows the gulls, or, when she points out that “all grasses are flowers,” or when she pilots her boat by understanding the unseen world of currents and channels, as well as the seen world of bayous and estuaries, is truly magnificent.

“Her collections matured, categorized methodically by order, genus, and species; by age according to bone wear; by size in millimeters of feathers; or by the fragile hues of greens. The science and art entwined in each other’s strengths; the colors, the light, the species, the life; weaving a masterpiece of knowledge and beauty that filled every corner of her shack. Her world, She grew with them–the trunk of the vine–alone, but holding all the wonders together.”

“She touched the pages and remembered each shell and the story of finding it, where it lay on the beach, the season, the sunrise. A family album.”

Kya’s flight from the humiliation of public school and her subsequent world-class naturalist status, gained solely from observation and self-education, would make Charlotte Mason and every CM-homeschooler rejoice. Her meticulous collecting, labeling, mapping or drawing of the location a specimen was found, show how she “saved” herself and how she made the boundaries for herself that a child needs. I can’t stop thinking about how much I would love to see her collections if they were real.

I listened to the audiobook.

My Verdict

4.75

Not to be missed

Where the Crawdads Sing: A Novel by Delia Owens

If you enjoy novels about the natural world:

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Remarkable Creatures: A Novel by Tracey Chevalier

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Flight Behavior: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

 

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Review: Next Year in Havana: A Novel by Chanel Cleeton

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My Mom said “You must read this,” and she was right! If this book is any indication of her book picking talents, I’ll be reading more of Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club picks. Thank you, Reese, for not picking depressing, dysfunctional, self-loathing tomes like Oprah!

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The Story

Cuban sugar magnate’s daughter, Elisa Perez, is a 19-year old, sheltered society beauty, whose world is about to be changed forever by two men: Fidel Castro and Pablo, a lawyer turned revolutionary for Fidel. She is the type girl who can “hear the whisper of [her] dress floating in the breeze ” (p.174). Havana in 1958 is electrically charged with energy. Batista, the dictator who keeps Cuba for the foreigners and his own stable of powerful, wealthy backers, is about to be overthrown. Fidel Castro promises a better life for the ordinary people of Cuba thereby making Elisa’s father a prime target.

“Our father runs his businesses, but our mother runs our home with a jewel-covered fist” (p. 46). [Page numbers are from the Kindle version].

“We [Perez daughters] are the source of our mother’s greatest pride and also the instrument of all her ambitions” (p. 79).

“Love is for the poor. In our world, you marry for status, for wealth, for family” (p. 80)

“Loyalty is a complicated thing–where does family fit on the hierarchy? Above or below country?” (p. 97).

As the three eldest Perez sisters navigate love and coming-of-age at such a fraught time, family loyalty is stretched almost too taunt when brother Alejandro goes against his powerful father. Elisa and her revolutionary risk all to see each other. Their romance is powerful and believable: “In one step, I know power” (p. 97). All the characters in the 1958 story are so alive, so real that I had to remind myself that this is a novel and not a memoir.

The second part of the story is the fairly predictable modern-day granddaughter wanting to know more about grandma Elisa. She has a cliched romance and, naturally, discovers the secrets that drive the story. I LOVED this book, but Marisol’s story was just-too-close to the hackneyed love at first sight trope that I’m finding so tiresome these days. Regardless, this is an excellent book. The 1958 story is just so raw and so real that a merely “good” modern-day storyline pales by comparison. Then, too, I was a political science major in college and studied Fidel–I know how that society works, so the shocks weren’t there for me.

Some Quotes on Cuba and Fidel

“Terrible things rarely happen at once….They’re incremental, so people don’t realize how bad things have gotten until it’s too late” (p. 196).

“The country is not ours; it is merely on loan from Fidel” (p. 202).

“I’m not sure God weighs in on the issue of Cuba’s future–I fear he created this paradise on earth and left us to fend for our selves” (p. 241).

“Some love it [Cuba] so much they can’t leave; others love it so much, they cannot stay”     (p. 272).

Some Final Thoughts

So many conversations in this book could have been overheard this morning at Starbucks. No, the author has not put modern-day ideas into her story–her story is being repeated in modern-day. The enclave where the Perez sisters lived is the 1% of any nation. Fidel is Trump or Bernie or [fill in your favorite 2020 candidate]. Fidel started out wanting to rid the nation of a despot. But if power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Many think that’s what has happened since the last U.S. election. Others fear it is what will come in 2020. As a political science student, I learned that elites and poor distribution of land/wealth/capital always lead to unrest. But I also learned that no “share the wealth” program has ever ended in anything but despotic rule.

I am very anxious to read the sequel, When We Left Cuba, which is now available.

Next Year in Havana: A Novel by Chanel Cleeton

 

 

 

For another look at Marisol and Luis’ Cuba see: Havana Real by real-world blogger Yoani Sanchez. My review.

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Batistia’s Ideal of Cuba as Playground for the Rich

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Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows: A Novel by Balli Kaur Jaswal

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The Story

Modern, Westernized Sikh, Nikki, accepts a part-time job teaching creative writing to widows and other women at a large Sikh Temple in a predominately Sikh/Punjabi area of London.  The classes are successful, but not in the anticipated ways.

What I Loved

I was a little bit worried that this would turn in to 50 Shades of Saris or something, but it didn’t! Whew! When the ladies of the writing class are inspired by a classmate’s deeply sensual and rather erotic story, they begin writing their own. Understandably, this causes conflict in a very traditional, very conservative, religious, community. Nikki, like all young feisty heroines, is both naive and inspiring, sits back and lets it all happen while trying to understand the many secrets these widows–these “unseen” women, are keeping.

By telling erotic [but mostly profanity-free] fantasy stories the ladies tackle a taboo. Through this, they become empowered (and few marriages get really improved!) Personal growth, friendships, and new ideas help strong women become more than “just” widows, wives and mothers. They become fully enfranchised women in their community.

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What I Wasn’t So Sold On

I thought the boyfriend story and the ending were a bit too contrived. While the women certainly grew in self-esteem and forged closer ties, I found it unlikely that so much could happen so fast in terms of what was done in their community.

My complaint is a small thing, though.

 

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Comparison

By the women using sexy stories to discover their needs and learn to articulate them, I was reminded of some of the early women’s liberation and consciousness-raising sessions for women in the late 1960s in America. Mostly I was reminded of the embarrassing, but often empowering sessions in which women were given a mirror and asked to look at their genitalia–something many women, even mothers, did not often know the correct terms for, let alone their real function. Women, many of whom like the women in the novel, knew sex only as ‘duty’ to their husband,  were introduced to the previously shamed idea of women being capable of feeling ‘pleasure’ in sex and in being deserving of expressing their desires and even leading their husbands in this regard.

As embarrassed as women in either the 1960s scenario or in the novel may have been, they gained independence, respect, and stature through such exercises. For the widows in the story or for the 60s women,  being HEARD, being taken seriously, being seen and treated as a competent ADULT, was life-changing.

 

Rating

4 Saris

Thanks to blogger, Good Books Guide, for bringing my attention to this book!

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Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: A Novel by Gail Honeyman

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I cannot believe this is a debut! Wow! Wow! Wow!

The Story:

Eleanor Oliphant has endured a lot of trauma in her life. Now, stop! Don’t run away! This is NOT an Oprah book! I promise. No dead babies. No incest. But very real trauma that is handled in an amazing way.You won’t need therapy after reading it, I promise.

Eleanor lives in the same flat she move to when she started at college, works at the same job she got after college and is now about 30 years old.  She prefers real writing to texting. She eats the same pasta and the same lunch and does the same things all the time.  And one night each week she has a conversation with her mother. Then she meets IT co-worker Raymond.

Eleanor is a classic introverted loner, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need or want love, physical affection, relationships and even a soul mate. It doesn’t mean she won’t or can’t change–or that she needs to change everything. But when anyone spends too much time alone they build up walls around their heart. In Eleanor’s case it is understandable.

Eleanor is a good person, the kind that often gets overlooked. Raymond is the classic good guy. But he’s the kind that often gets overlooked. They are not George and Amal in looks. They are not brilliant or incredibly creative. They are just good, honest people, doing rather boring ordinary jobs in the dull, ordinary, back office of a company that creates image. But when an elderly man needs help, they are the ones on the scene who do the right thing. And go on doing the right thing. And, gradually something amazing happens.

What I Loved:

I loved that all of this was told with grace and humanity and almost no cliches. I loved that there were no magic potions, no waving of magic wands, no white charger. I loved that two ordinary people whose lives nearly any reader can picture and feel, did the right thing and kept on doing it. I love that Eleanor, in spite of everything, kept going. She found solace in earning a very demanding degree. She took pride in her work in a very dull, repetitive, but necessary job. She ignored the looks and the behind-the- hand  comments. If ever #shepersevered applied to a woman, it applied and applies to Eleanor.

Most of all  I loved that she did something I once had to do–she looked at what others did and adopted what worked regardless of what her family had done. In today’s parlance, she broke the cycle. I cheered her. I wanted to hug her. More people in general need to respond like Eleanor. More people need to be there for others like Eleanor and Raymond were for Sammy. It helps. It costs nothing.

 

 

What I Didn’t Like:

There was nothing I even-didn’t-sort-of-almost-not-really-like. It’s a great book. I was pleased to see it’s already a big movie deal with Reece Witherspoon (not the one I would have chosen but….)

Now, someone please tell me there will be a sequel. I need a sequel. I’m screaming for a sequel. #Sequelrequired. This is easily one of the best books this year.

 

Lesson: Take the cheese slices.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Susan Honeyman

 

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