Monthly Archives: March 2020

All The Bright Places #BookReview

Book Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places had been on my TBR for a long long time. Finally, I got to it over the lockdown.

Quickly, here’s what it’s about

This is the story of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Theo Finch is the quintessential misfit, the ‘freak’ of the school while Violet Markey is a passionate writer and one of the most popular girls. While Theo has a history of depression, Violet has recently lost her sister in an accident leading her to withdraw into herself.

The two meet on top of the school bell tower teetering at its edge. Finch talks to Violet, persuading her to get down and in the process saves himself too. Later, they are paired off for a geography assignment ‘Wander’ where they have to discover and document the wonders of the state of Indiana. As they journey through the state, slowly, reluctantly (for Violet) they strike up a friendship as they try to heal each other.

What I thought of it

The story unfolds through two perspectives with Finch and Violet taking up the narrative, in turn, giving us a glimpse of both their points of view.

Let me first talk about our two protagonists

Finch is fascinating. We get to know early on that he is battling depression/bipolar disorder. He has many personalities hidden away inside him. There’s this thing he does – every few days he takes on a personality and then he proceeds to talk, walk and act as that person would. That had me intrigued. I do get though, that it might have appeared very confusing to people around him, specially to Violet. Once, in a wave of frustration, she demands which one is his ‘real’ self.

Finch obsesses about suicide, researching is, writing about it, even experimenting with it often, constantly on an edge.

He’s a bit of a bully when it comes to Violet. It annoyed me but it works in her favour because he drags her out of her depression, pulling her along on the path to recovery, slowly but surely.

In stark contrast to Finch, Violet’s character seems rather dull. While he hides way his dark periods under a flamboyant devil-may-care attitude, she is quiet and withdrawn. I couldn’t connect with her character; which is strange because I loved the relationship she shared with her sister and I could empathise with her emotions as she tries to come to terms with the latter’s death. Yet, she lacked the layers and depth that Finch had. 

In any case, the more flawed a character the more interesting it is, and Finch has a definite advantage there.

The idea of ‘Wander’

The idea of wandering around your own city or state is charming. I loved the places Theo and Violet discovered. We often take our surroundings, our towns, cities and states for granted. Every young person should try to take up this assignment and rediscover his place of birth, should try to look at it as a tourist would.

Violet’s blog

Violet has a blog, along with her sister, which she abandons after the latter’s death. As she recovers she decides to launch another web-magazine titled Germ that has everything a young adult might need – from fashion and style to counselling and help for mental issues. 

What’s even more fascinating is that the Germ Magazine for young adults really does exist. Taking the idea beyond the book and making it real is fantastic.

Tackling young adult mental health issues

All the Bright Places tackles the issue of mental health among young adults with depth and subtlety. It’s heartbreaking to watch how helpless Finch is in the face of his depression, how desperately he wants to stay ‘awake’. He puts on a cheerful front but he longs to be understood. 

“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

I hated the near-absence of his mom. I get that she had a lot to deal with in her own personal life but I couldn’t wrap my head around the way she left Finch to his own devices, knowing that he had mental health issues. I was so so sorry for him. It made me sad to watch a smart and intelligent boy having to struggle to stay afloat like he did.

On the contrary, Violet has a very clear advantage in how invested her parents are in her well-being, how clued in they are to her every mood, how they celebrate every small sign of recovery. And that is perhaps why she stands a better chance at recovery.

I have to admit I found the end disappointing. It left me feeling angry and frustrated.

The title of the book

I thought a lot about the title and what it meant to convey. This definitely isn’t a ‘Bright’ book. In fact it’s rather morbid. That said, there are some genuinely warm, happy moments and that is perhaps what the title implies: that all of us have some ‘bright places’ even though darkness might lurk around the edges. Or perhaps it implies Violet’s and Theo’s wanderings and the ‘Bright’ places they encounter along the way. I’d love to hear what you thought if you have read this book.

All the Bright Places: The film

Obviously, I had to go and look up the film after I was done with the book. And obviously, I found it wanting. It was too slow for my liking. I did like Justice Smith, who plays Finch, perhaps because of my bias towards that character. As for Violet, she was even more uninspiring than the one in the book.

Last thought: Not the perfect book to read during a lockdown but if mental health issues intrigue you, you’ll like this one.

The Lemon Tree Cafe #BookReview

Book: The Lemon Tree Cafe
Author: Cathy Bramley

Cathy Bramley is a familiar author. I had read The Plumberry School of Comfort Food and loved it. That’s why it was with a sense of happy anticipation that I started on The Lemon Tree Cafe. I expected a sweet romance with a generous dose of food (going by the title). And I did get that, but was that enough to make it a good read? Do read on to find out.

You might also like The Plumberry School of Comfort Food by the same author.

The Story

Rosie Featherstone is a high-flying social media professional. When she’s asked to airbrush a model’s picture she refuses to do so and quits her job. At a bit of a lose end, she begins to assist her Nonna (that’s her maternal grandmother) who owns a small village cafe. In the process she not only rediscovers her Italian roots but also heals her deepest wound even as she unravels some dark secrets of her Nonna’s past.

What I liked

I’ve already said the book had all my favourite ingredients.

The very setting makes it a winner

The tinkle of bells at the Cafe door announcing a customer, the smell of herbs and coffee and freshly baked cookies, a sunny conservatory full of lemon trees – I could see exactly why it would seem like a safe haven to Rosie.

Then there’s village life with it’s close-knit community

…that’s warm and sweet, the quiet ease of it, where everyone knows everyone, where people accept each other’s quirks. Idyllic, right? Specially after the hustle of Rosie’s city job. I liked the way the community comes together to take on Garden Warehouse, the giant chain of stores that threatens all their businesses. And also how they reach harmony in the end.

And of course there was food

Hot Espresso and Blueberry Crumble Cake, freshly baked Pizza and Panini sandwiches. Delicious!

The side characters were endearing

….though one too many. What’s better, however, was that some of them who were side characters in Plumberry took centre stage here. I love when that happens.

Most importantly, the book attempts to tackle the very relevant concept of consent.

What didn’t work for me

After I finished the book I found out that this was first published as a four-part ebook. I presume some of the hiccups that I found in the storyline resulted from that format. 

Parts of the story that were completely irrelevant to the plot

It seemed like these ideas were put into the narrative but then the author forgot to take them forward leaving them half-baked and hanging. They could have been completely removed without affecting the story.

There was a bit of a scene where Rosie’s sister Lia lashes out at her in a fit of sibling rivalry. There were no indications of it coming on and no indications of it afterwards too. It just seemed unnecessary.

There was another part where Rosie finds two of Nonna’s ‘trusted’ helps stealing from the till. The author does offer some justification but it in no way helped along the narrative. If they did need the money they could have approached Rosie, if not Nonna. However, they go on working at the Cafe as if the incident hadn’t happen.

Lack of consistency in the characters

This is a related issue also probably stemming from the the fact that the book was written in parts. For instance in the early part of the book Nonna is portrayed as absentminded to the point of eccentricity (she was once found asleep on an upturned bucket) but after the first few chapters there’s little indication of this absentmindedness. In fact she seems quite sharp and capable specially towards the end where she takes care for her partner, Stanley.

Too many characters and too many plot lines that ended up diluting the story

Even the romance came in fits and starts because there were just so many other things and people the author needed to carry forward. And that watered down the romance making it sound obligatory.

Oh and here’s my biggest complaint..

Rosie connects with the model, Lucinda Miller, whose picture she had refused to airbrush and in that very first conversation, over that one single phone call, Lucinda shares her life story, her forthcoming project, her deepest insecurities, her doubts and fears. That seemed highly unlikely to me. 

Sigh!

I almost feel sorry for having criticised a book which I actually enjoyed. Perhaps I over-analysed it. In my defence, I have to add that sometimes one might like a book despite its many flaws. Sometimes all that matters is how a book makes you feel. While The Lemon Tree Cafe might not have a life-changing impact it certainly gave me some hours of reading pleasure. And that does count for something.

Last thought: An easy happy read for when you need a break from routine.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it for the prompt ‘a book on food’.

The Plumberry School of Comfort Food #BookReview

Book: The Plumberry School of Comfort Food
Author: Cathy Bramley

First, a confession: I read this book and wrote the review eons ago but forgot to share it here for some reason that I cannot remember, till I stumbled upon it in my drafts. And so here it is, The Plumberry School of Comfort Food.

I found the book at a Books by Weight Sale a few years ago and bought it only for it’s title. So when Shakespeare said ‘What’s in a name’ he really didn’t know what he was talking about. It sounded warm and happy and comforting. And that’s exactly what it turned out to be. The cover is lovely too, isn’t it? Happy and cheerful?

The story

The book is about Verity Bloom who works for an insurance company. She was once an amateur cook and enjoyed making fun Youtube videos with her childhood friend Mimi. When Mimi passes away, Verity loses all interest in cooking and turns into a Prick-and-Ping-Princess, someone who depended on the microwave to do all her cooking. Meanwhile Mimi’s mom Gloria, who had been a food stylist for television (I had no clue that was profession) decides to set up a Cookery School and calls over Verity to help her. Since she’s at a bit of a lose end in her professional as well as her personal life she agrees. That’s where Verity renews her love affair with food.

What I thought of it

This one is a simple feel-good book. Somedays that’s all I have the heart for. For starters I loved the setting – a quaint town called Plumberry. Isn’t that the sweetest of names? The School is wonderful and the cottages in the town, so very inviting.

Watching the women set up that school right from choosing a name to devising courses and planning marketing strategies to pull in the crowd was great fun. Some of the schemes they devised are good enough to be used in a real-life school of cooking, they were that innovative.

I loved the constant debate between the School’s celebrity Chef Tom and Verity about whether food should be serious business or something that spells fun and togetherness. The title gives away the winner but I could see Tom’s point of view too.

The book met another one of my criteria for a good read – a bunch of endearing side characters. There’s a cute little love triangle that keeps you guessing and a bit of a mystery thrown in for good measure.

I give it four stars for delivering on its promise and because I like romances with liberal doses of food and some humour.

I know I’ll be looking out for Cathy Bramley at the next sale.

Last thought: A sweet easy read to curl up with on a rainy day.