Adult Fiction Mini Reviews

A widely varied collection of light adult fiction. Nothing challenging, but some fun picks in several genres. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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This is a widely varied collection of light adult fiction. Nothing challenging here, but some fun picks in several genres. (All summaries via Goodreads.com.)

Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

I wanted to love this book, but I definitely didn’t. It consists of overly formal writing that devolves as letters become outlawed on the island of Nollop. It’s silly–why did the government decide banishment was a good punishment for accidentally using one of the banned letters?–and the writing drove me nuts. I don’t see the purpose of using long and/or archaic words for the purpose of impressing others, and that’s what the writing in this book felt like to me. (Maybe I’m not really a word lover so much as a story lover.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Lizzy and Jane

In a desperate attempt to reconnect with her cooking gifts, struggling chef Elizabeth returns home. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her estranged sister, Jane, is battling cancer. Elizabeth surprises everyone—including herself—when she decides to stay in Seattle and work to prepare healthy, sustaining meals for Jane as she undergoes chemotherapy. She also meets Nick and his winsome son, Matt, who, like Elizabeth, are trying to heal from the wounds of the past.

I thought Lizzy and Jane would be a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but it wasn’t, not really. It took some (very few) of the elements of that story and incorporated them into a very different romance story. Elizabeth is a New York City chef who has lost her spark. Desperate to get it back and salvage her job, she travels to Seattle to spend time with her father and her sister, Jane. Ever since their mother died of cancer, Elizabeth and Jane have had little to do with each other, but now that Jane herself has cancer, the two must find a way to get along and heal past wounds. (Also Elizabeth falls in love, but honestly, that almost seems beside the point here.)

The story of Elizabeth reuniting with her sister during Jane’s cancer treatment was rough. Both sisters had some very selfish, hurtful moments, and both had moments when they started to heal their relationship. I usually find romance-based novels a bit sappy, and I felt that way a bit with this book. Not having gone through cancer treatments myself or with any close friends or family, I was unsure whether or not that aspect of the book was well done.

If you want a sweet, heartwarming story, Lizzy and Jane might be a good choice. It wasn’t really for me, but it was a fun, quick read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The ABC Murders

There’s a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card, he leaves beside each victim’s corpse the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught – until he makes the mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans.

You know I love me some Agatha Christie, and I’ve been reading through some of her Hercule Poirot books with my husband recently. As always, Agatha Christie will surprise you, even when you think you know it all. This is one of her most famous Poirot mysteries–a serial killer starts killing people alphabetically, leaving an ABC Railway Guide next to his victims, and Poirot must figure out who the killer is before he makes his way through the alphabet–and if you haven’t read it, I don’t want to spoil it for you by saying anything more.

This wasn’t my favorite Christie mystery ever, but I’m not sorry I read it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Classic Book Reviews: Uncle Tom’s Cabin + The Beautiful and Damned

I continue my adventures in reading the classics with Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Beautiful and Damned. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m continuing my journey of reading the classics that have somehow escaped me (you can read previous posts here and here). Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Beautiful and Damned were next on my list, simply because I happened to have audio book versions of each. (I admit to listening to each of them on 2x speed and using my 30 minute commute to force myself to listen to them when they got dry and boring.) Still, it’s easy to see how each of these books became classics, and I’m glad I read them.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

First published in 1852, this book follows the story of several slaves and the white people who surround them. When Mr. Shelby, the slave owner, finds himself in debt, he has to sell two of his favorite slaves–kind, patient Tom and the young child of Eliza. Eliza decides to run away with her child, while Tom agrees to be sold downriver. We follow both characters, along with the masters and fellow slaves they encounter on their travels.

I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. It is powerful and surprisingly modern for the time it was written. It’s easy to see why Abraham Lincoln reportedly cited it as the cause of the Civil War. Of course, there is a fair amount of racism still present (it was written in the 1850s, after all), and there is a strong case of White Savior Complex and a large group of simple, pure-hearted slaves, but I was amazed at what a case Stowe built for ending slavery. She focused on how deeply these mothers felt the loss of their children, husbands the loss of their wives, and often directs her narrative voice at the audience, urging them to think about how they would feel in similar circumstances. Stowe clearly had a deep Christian faith, as did many of her readers at the time, and she gathers evidence for how unchristian it is to own slaves. She even attacks those who justify slavery by describing how kind they are to their own slaves and how lost these people would be without guidance–Stowe rightly points out that everyone desires freedom above practically all else and how harmful it is to be even a kindly master.

If you can get past the historical racism inherent to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the length which at times feels dry, you should read this book. I’m glad I did, even though I doubt I’ll pick it up again.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Beautiful and Damned

Embellished with the author’s lyrical prose, here is the story of Harvard-educated, aspiring aesthete Anthony Patch and his beautiful wife, Gloria. As they await the inheritance of his grandfather’s fortune, their reckless marriage sways under the influence of alcohol and avarice. A devastating look at the nouveau riche and New York nightlife, as well as the ruinous effects of wild ambition, The Beautiful and the Damned achieved stature as one of Fitzgerald’s most accomplished novels.

Fitzgerald is great at presenting a depressing, dark view of human nature, and that’s exactly what he does in The Beautiful and Damned. Anthony and Gloria selfishly mistreat each other and fall into straits as they can’t control their spending/drinking/vanity. It’s painful to see them do so much harm to themselves and each other, although it is of course very well written. If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, you’ll know what to expect from this book.

Rating: Meh

Faithful Place

Faithful Place by Tana French is a dark thriller/mystery, but not as intense as some of French's other books. | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was a nineteen-year-old kid with a dream of escaping his family’s cramped flat on Faithful Place and running away to London with his girl, Rosie Daly. But on the night they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn’t show. Frank took it for granted that she’d dumped him–probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again. Neither did Rosie. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie’s suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank, now a detective in the Dublin Undercover squad, is going home whether he likes it or not.

Getting sucked in is a lot easier than getting out again. Frank finds himself straight back in the dark tangle of relationships he left behind. The cops working the case want him out of the way, in case loyalty to his family and community makes him a liability. Faithful Place wants him out because he’s a detective now, and the Place has never liked cops. Frank just wants to find out what happened to Rosie Daly–and he’s willing to do whatever it takes, to himself or anyone else, to get the job done. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I enjoyed Tana French’s earlier book in her Dublin Murder Squad series, The Likeness, but it was so intense that I put off reading Faithful Place, even though I bought it for fifty cents at a thrift store almost four months ago.

Fortunately, although this book is still dark, it’s not nearly as intense as The Likeness. Frank left behind his abusive, dysfunctional family and his poor, rundown neighborhood without looking back, but when new information appears regarding the disappearance of his childhood sweetheart, Frank is sucked back in. Frank has to balance loyalty to his past with his desire to find the truth about what happened to Rosie, and he’s willing to risk alienating coworkers, friends, and even family to do so.

Frank, a minor character from The Likeness, is a great MC. He’s a successful undercover detective with a hardscrabble past and an uncertain future, and despite his decisions, he always remains likable. His family is that uncomfortable mix of horrible and lovable, as is Faithful Place. And while I wouldn’t necessarily classify this series as mysteries (more like thrillers, I suppose), the ending definitely took me by surprise.

It’s not necessary to read this series in order, so if you’ve been put off by the goriness of In the Woods or the intensity of The Likeness, you might pick up Faithful Place instead.

I think this quote summarizes the book pretty well:

“Most people are only too delighted to wreck each other’s heads. And for the tiny minority who do their pathetic best not to, this world is going to go right ahead and make sure they do it anyway.”

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

Thursday Next Series Review

The Thursday Next series is a must read for book lovers. I loved these books! | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I loved Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer, and I had heard great things about his Thursday Next series, namely that it’s an amazing series for bookworms. And oh my gosh, yes, it was.

There are four books in the original series, and in the hopes that you’ll read all of them, I’ll try to avoid spoilers. The series starts with The Eyre Affair (and yes, the title is referring to Jane Eyre). As the Goodreads.com summary begins, “Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously.” Set in alternate universe England, this book focuses on Thursday Next’s work in SpecOps as a literary detective, authenticating newly discovered Shakespeare plays and arrests poetry forgers. It’s not very exciting, until Thursday discovers that someone is kidnapping literary characters straight from the pages of fiction.

I think of this book as a time travel story for book lovers. It’s chock-full of literary references and textual jokes, something I love but am very bad at describing. Either way, Thursday is a great character, and the plot is fun without being too convoluted.

The series continues with Lost in a Good Book. This book starts to explore Thursday’s work with Jurisfiction, an agency that governs the characters inside books. The parts where Thursday learns to jump into and between books with the help of Miss Havisham (yes, that Miss Havisham) are just wonderful.

This exploration of BookWorld continues in The Well of Lost Plots (a super fun sequel) and has its culmination in Something Rotten. The series has such a good finish! Something Rotten wraps up plot points from not only this book, but all the way back to the first book in the series. The series finale allows us to have time travel, BookWorld, LiteraTec, and much more.

After the original quartet of books, there is a follow-up series in which Thursday is in her fifties, still secretly working for SpecOps and Jurisfiction and dealing with her old enemies and her teenage children. So far I’ve only read First Among Sequels, which is still as fun as the original series and allows us to keep up with the ChronoGuard, SpecOps, and Jurisfiction.

The Thursday Next series is a must read for any book lover, especially if you’re interested in time travel, text-based jokes, and an exploration of alternate universe England. These books are fun, funny, and ultimately satisfying.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

This series is stuffed with favorite quotes, so in keeping with my Lovely Words series, I’m sharing a few of them below.

“If the real world were a book, it would never find a publisher. Overlong, detailed to the point of distraction-and ultimately, without a major resolution.”

“Governments and fashions come and go but Jane Eyre is for all time.”

“Death, I had discovered long ago, was available in varying flavors, and none of them particularly palatable. “

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

Wonder Women and Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Quick reviews of Wonder Women and Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received both of these books from a BEA giveaway. The publisher did not ask for a review in return.

Wonder Women

Ever heard of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered “highly dangerous”? Or German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world’s first scientific expedition? How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China?

Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn’t get the credit. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors—each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stickto-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive
bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I so wanted to love this book! You know I like reading about smart, strong women, so I was super excited to pick up this book (written by author Sam Maggs, whose previous book I really enjoyed). And it does have interesting stories of amazing women, but it is written in such a flippant way that I couldn’t take it seriously. This could have been so much better. Disappointing.

Rating: Meh

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

A sharp and funny urban fantasy for “new adults” about a secret society of bartenders who fight monsters with alcohol fueled magic.

College grad Bailey Chen has a few demons: no job, no parental support, and a rocky relationship with Zane, the only friend who’s around when she moves back home. But when Zane introduces Bailey to his cadre of monster-fighting bartenders, her demons get a lot more literal. Like, soul-sucking hell-beast literal. Soon, it’s up to Bailey and the ragtag band of magical mixologists to take on whatever—or whoever—is behind the mysterious rash of gruesome deaths in Chicago, and complete the lost recipes of an ancient tome of cocktail lore. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book had such a fun, unique idea. The characters were a bit cliche at times (if you’re a recent college grad, you’ll recognize these stereotypes), but that doesn’t keep the story from being an enjoyable urban fantasy. The “excerpts” from the book of magical mixology are probably the best part–so funny! But be forewarned–there is a fair amount of language in this book.

And of course, because all my posts this month tie in with my Lovely Words series, here’s my favorite quote from Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge:

Those who read on will learn how to do the impossible: To fade from sight. To exert control over distant objects with only one’s mind. To justify the existence of the olive, which is the most loathsome of all fruits.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

ARC: Muffins and Mourning Tea

Muffins and Mourning Tea is the latest addition to the Oxford Tearoom mystery series. Just as fun as the rest of the series! #spon | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cotswolds tearoom owner Gemma Rose is excited to join the May Day celebrations in Oxford… until the beautiful spring morning ends in murder. Now, she’s embroiled in a deadly mystery – with four nosy old ladies determined to help in the sleuthing! Before she knows it, Gemma finds herself stalking a Russian “princess” and keeping up with the Old Biddies in Krav Maga class, while still trying to serve delicious cakes and buttery scones at her quaint English tearoom.
And that’s just the start of her worries: there’s her little tabby cat, Muesli, who is causing havoc at the local nursing home… and what should she do with the creepy plants that her mother keeps buying for her new cottage?

But the mystery that’s really bothering Gemma is her boyfriend’s odd behaviour. Devlin O’Connor has always been enigmatic but recently, the handsome CID detective has been strangely distant and evasive. Could he be lying to her? But why? (Review via Amazon.com)

Muffins and Mourning Tea is the latest installment in the wonderful Oxford Tearoom mystery series (you can see my previous reviews here, here, here, here, and here), and it was just as fun as always.

Gemma finds herself nearby when a murder is committed in the midst of a crowd, and of course, she can’t resist the temptation to investigate. But what with trying to run her tearoom, fending off the Old Biddies, and dealing with her boyfriend’s sudden evasiveness, Gemma has her hands full.

We get to spend time with some favorite characters in this book, including Gemma’s nosy and overbearing mother (who is still trying to give her daughter hideous decorations and setting her up with her former love interest, Lincoln), the Old Biddies (hilarious as always), and Gemma’s detective boyfriend Devlin. I can’t wait for the next book to find out more details about Devlin’s strange behavior in Muffins and Mourning Tea.

Of course, I also learned some new things in this book–like what banoffee pie is (there’s a recipe in the back of the book that I might have to try!) and more fun traditions from Oxford. I love a good British mystery, and the setting of Oxford makes this series different from the proliferation of British cozies I’ve come across.

If you’re looking for a fun and not super cliche cozy mystery series, I strongly recommend these books. They are always enjoyable with fun characters and a great setting, and Muffins and Mourning Tea is yet another example of H.Y. Hanna’s skill in writing satisfying mysteries.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC: Class of ’59

Class of '59 is the latest installment in the American Journey series. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When Mary Beth McIntire settles into a vacation house on June 2, 2017, she anticipates a quiet morning with coffee. Then she hears a noise, peers out a window, and spots a man in 1950s attire standing in the backyard.

In the same house on March 21, 1959, Mark Ryan finds a letter. Written by the mansion’s original owner in 1900, the letter describes a basement chamber, mysterious crystals, and a formula for time travel. Driven by curiosity, Mark tests the formula twice.

Within hours, Mary Beth and Mark share their secret with her sister and his brother and begin a journey that takes them from the present day to the age of sock hops, drive-ins, and jukeboxes. In CLASS OF ’59, the fourth book in the American Journey series, four young adults find love, danger, and adventure as they navigate the corridors of time and experience Southern California in its storied prime. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve reviewed several of John Heldt’s books in the past (you can see those reviews here, here, here, and here). This book is the fourth installment in his American Journey series, a time travel/romance series which brings couples together against the backdrop of famous times and places in America’s past.

Unlike earlier books in the series, Class of ’59 opens with the main characters discovering the time-traveling tunnel without the help (or knowledge) of the professor. Mark, a collegiate boy living in the late 50s, discovers an unbelievable story about time travel hidden in a desk in the new house his family moved into. When he tries it out, he finds himself transported to the same house almost sixty years into the future, where he meets Mary Beth and her sister. The two girls make the trip back to 1959 and experience the glory days of southern California, participating in school dances and meeting stars in Hollywood.

Of course, the two girls find themselves falling in love with Mark and his brother. The romances are sweet, if a little rushed. But after a few weeks of bliss, the four new friends find themselves in danger, and they have to quickly make choices that will affect the rest of their lives.

Class of ’59 had a few of the same problems I encountered in the last book, namely the use of descriptors rather than names and some flowery sentiments (how many times do we need to be reminded that Mark views Mary Beth as “stunning” or “beautiful” or “never ceases to amaze” him?). Still, if you can get past those details and enjoy the romance and the historical setting, you might give this book a try. And if you’ve enjoyed the rest of the American Journey series, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mini Review: Never Let Me Go

Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy slowly reveal their secrets in the strange, thought-provoking novel Never Let Me Go. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book was not at all what I expected. It started out with an idyllic childhood at Hailsham, where Kathy and her friends Ruth and Tommy were at boarding school. But as the book goes on, you can see that there is something else going on in their lives–a secret that only now that the three friends are adults can they truly understand. I won’t reveal what the secret is for fear of spoilers, but I will say that it ended up being more sci fi related, instead of the relational drama I was expecting.

Never Let Me Go is a book that will definitely make you think, but it just didn’t work for me. Maybe it’s because I was expecting a totally different kind of book; maybe it’s because I hated several of the characters (fortunately, our narrator Kathy is not nearly as irritating as some of the other characters). Whatever the reason, this just wasn’t the book for me.

Rating: Meh

The Tilted World

The Tilted World is a great historical fiction drama about a little-known natural disaster in the United States. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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The year is 1927. As rains swell the Mississippi, the mighty river threatens to burst its banks and engulf all in its path, including federal revenue agent Ted Ingersoll and his partner, Ham Johnson. Arriving in the tiny hamlet of Hobnob, Mississippi, to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents on the trail of a local bootlegger, they unexpectedly find an abandoned baby boy at a crime scene.

An orphan raised by nuns, Ingersoll is determined to find the infant a home, a search that leads him to Dixie Clay Holliver. A lonely woman married too young to a charming and sometimes violent philanderer, Dixie Clay has lost her only child to illness and is powerless to resist this second chance at motherhood.

Then a deadly new peril arises, endangering them all. Now, with time running out, Ingersoll, Ham, and Dixie Clay must make desperate choices, choices that will radically transform their lives-if they survive. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I love historical fiction, but I haven’t read much lately, as most of the historical fiction books that have come out recently have taken themselves very seriously. (That’s not always a bad thing, but I’m not often in the mood for any book that can be described as “sweeping.”) The Tilted World, on the other hand, is not only great historical fiction, but also has fascinating characters and drama that will keep you turning pages.

Dixie Clay, a young woman married to an alcohol distributer in the midst of Prohibition, has become a moonshiner herself, using the constant activity to keep her from dwelling on the death of her infant son. Ingersoll is a revenuer who comes across an orphan baby and unwittingly hands him over to Dixie Clay. Both are fun characters, and their interactions provide some great moments.

But the real drama comes from the historical background. In the 1920s, there was a huge amount of rain that swelled the Mississippi river, and the subsequent flooding produced one of the greatest natural disasters the United States has ever seen–and I had never heard of it before picking up this book. I loved the backwoods Southern town that featured so heavily in the book, and I loved learning about this real-life disaster that had somehow escaped my knowledge.

There is some language and sexual content, so be aware if those aren’t your things. Otherwise, The Tilted World is a lot of fun. It has interesting characters, a great setting, and a historical backdrop that will inform you about one of this country’s greatest forgotten disasters.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Oh Dear Silvia

Comedian Dawn French writes a dark but funny look at a woman in a coma and the people whose lives she has affected. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Who is in Coma Suite Number 5? A matchless lover? A supreme egotist? A selfless martyr? A bad mother? A cherished sister? A selfish wife?

All of these. For this is Silvia Shute who has always done exactly what she wants. Until now, when her life suddenly, shockingly stops.

Her past holds a dark and terrible secret, and now that she is unconscious in a hospital bed, her constant stream of visitors are set to uncover the mystery of her broken life. And she must lie there, victim of the beloveds, the borings, the babblings and the plain bonkers.

Like it or not, the truth is about to pay Silvia a visit. Again, and again and again… (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve been a fan of Dawn French ever since watching her hilarious show, The Vicar of Dibley. (If you want to watch it, it’s currently on Netflix. So funny! And if you haven’t seen it, you might remember Dawn French as the Fat Lady in the painting that guards Gryffindor in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.) So when I found out that she has also started a writing career, I knew I had to check her books out. Although Dawn French has written a memoir which I really want to read, this contemporary fiction book made its way into my hands first.

Oh Dear Silvia is a quick read. It’s darker than I expected (Dawn French is a comedian after all, and the cover blurbs made the book out to be a comedy), but it is still a bit funny. Silvia is in a coma for the entire book, so we get to see her life and actions from the viewpoint of her ex-husband, current lover, family, nurse, and housekeeper rather than from her own. Each character has been affected differently by Silvia’s strong personality, but as we go through the story, Silvia’s darkest secret is revealed and many of her actions start to make sense.

My biggest complaint is that the dialects were a bit much. There is a Jamaican character and an Indonesian character, and the written dialects straddle the line between funny and offensive. I’m never a big fan of dialect in books, but this was more bothersome than usual.

Oh Dear Silvia is an easy read that’s both fun and dark, with a twist that’s interesting but not overly shocking. If you’re a Dawn French fan who decides to read this book, go in realizing that it’s not going to provide constant laughs.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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