Friday, October 11, 2019

Augusten Burroughs reveals rather soon in the book that he is a witch, descended from a long line of witches.  As anyone who read his previous books will know, his mother (from whom he inherited this trait) was not exactly the most stable or reliable person in his life.  Therefore, it has mostly been up to him to develop this aspect of his life. 

The book mostly relates the journey he and his husband Christopher undertake as they attempt to move from a cramped apartment in New York City to a larger house out in the countryside.  Throughout this experience, there are many "premonitions" that come true . . . but others that don't.  There are times when Augusten is driven to do something odd (such as buy a bag and see if certain valuables will all fit into it) that later prove to have meaning after all.  He also performs various spells and incantations to get things moving the way he wants, but how the process of how he comes up with these particular chants isn't really revealed.

The times when things work or his premonitions come true -- well, that's proof that he's a witch.  When that doesn't happen -- well, that's because he was never taught the knowledge that should have been passed down from his mother.

While I wasn't completely convinced of the author's ability to cast spells and see the future, I did enjoy his engaging style of writing and the amusing events that happen as the city dwellers move to the sticks.

Disclaimer:  I received an advance readers' edition of Toil & Trouble from the publisher in exchange for this review

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The #MeToo movement has exposed many instances of sexual abuse by those in power.  My Dark Vanessa, scheduled for release in January, takes a look at the issue when a student is abused by a teacher.

Vanessa Wye is a bright 15-year-old girl who manages to get a scholarship to attend an exclusive private boarding school, Browick.  Vanessa feels inferior to the other students due to not coming from a wealthy family.  She also suffers from insecurities about not being smart enough to compete with the other students at the school.  When the book begins, she is starting her sophomore year at Browick, and has a single room after a falling out with her roommate and former best friend, Jenny.

So Vanessa is nervous, isolated, socially and academically adrift.  Her literature teacher, Jacob Strane, seems to take an interest in her, especially when she joins the creative writing club, which he sponsors.  The book takes an interesting look at how the middle-aged Strane grooms Vanessa into an inappropriate relationship.  She is at first confused and fearful by his attentions, but soon he convinces her that she is special and has all the power in their relationship.

The book alternates between events of Vanessa's school years, in the early 2000s, and the Vanessa of today, who is working at a low-paying job and seems to still lack any direction.  Certainly, the current Vanessa seems to be suffering from PTSD and is still conflicted and confused about what happened to her at school.  She experiences a range of emotions and the characteristics she exhibited as a student (even before being abused by the teacher) are still in evidence: lack of motivation, slovenliness, etc.  The current Vanessa is still in touch with Strane, although he is reluctant for their relationship to be revealed, even though she is now an adult.

The story was interesting in that it showed the terrible effects that can result when abuse occurs in a situation like this.  The young girl wants to feel special and noticed, but the attentions of the teacher and mentor quickly turn into something much darker.  The only problem that I had was that the book really seemed to drag in the more modern parts of the book when Vanessa is just floundering around, not really doing much of anything.  Otherwise, I enjoyed reading about how a predator can manipulate a victim into a relationship.

Disclaimer:  I received an advanced reader's copy of My Dark Vanessa from the publisher in exchange for this review

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Jenny and Cecilia are two respectable, married women with nearly grown children who are looking forward to secure retirements in a few years.  When circumstances threaten their orderly plans, they decide to do something radical in the delightful Swedish series The Simple Heist, now available from Acorn TV.

Jenny has new found money worries.  A high school math teacher is never highly paid, but she and her husband Gunnar are comfortably off.  Then she has an affair with a younger chemistry teacher at her school (not a physics teacher, as everyone seems to think) and Gunnar files for divorce.  Even this upheaval doesn't worry Jenny too much -- until she discovers there's a long-forgotten prenuptial agreement that effectively cuts her out of the family assets.  With no home and a limited income, her future prospects are also looking bleak.

Cecilia works as a gastroenterologist and shouldn't have to worry about finances.  Her husband, Jan, has left all the (boring) money issues for Cecilia to sort out.  Meanwhile, he has been searching for their dream retirement house in Provence.  Now that he's found it, he's anxious to put in a bid so that they can
make their dreams a reality.   The only problem is that Cecilia has invested their life savings into some risky stocks, which have recently crashed. Since she never bothered to mention this investment to Jan, he has no idea that they have no money at all to fund their retirement, let alone buy a French hideaway.

At this time, one of Cecilia's patients is told that his cancer treatments are no longer working and he has very little time left.  He's very disappointed because he's worked out the perfect crime.  Since he won't be around to carry it out, he asks if Cecilia would like to take it over instead?  She becomes intrigued and learns that her patient has worked out an "easy" bank to rob.  He knows that their security hasn't been updated, and unlike many banks in Sweden, it still gets regular deliveries of large sums of cash.  He even has blueprints for the layout of the inside of the bank.  At first, Cecilia and Jenny laugh off the suggestion, but as they contemplate their various financial problems, it begins to seem like a more attractive proposition.

While they work out their plans for the robbery, there are many issues to consider.  Cecilia thinks they need a gun to look like authentic robbers, but Jenny isn't so sure.  They must arrange disguises and the getaway car.  The bank is also in Stockholm, which is not where they live, so they must also come up with excuses to miss work.

In the meantime, they also have personal problems that keep intruding.  Jenny's daughter Harriett has boyfriend problems and keep showing up unexpectedly.  The chemistry teacher who caused Jenny's divorce is also interested in continuing their relationship, but Jenny has more pressing matters to attend to.  Cecilia feels overlooked and under appreciated at her job.  Her application to be chief of staff was laughed off and her supervisor is tracking her arrivals and departures from work to the minute.

While worry about their immediate financial problems is the main catalyst for the robbery, the women are also upset at being viewed as no longer important by society.  They feel invisible as older women and therefore think (as does the dying patient who told them about the robbery) that they are the perfect people to pull off the heist since they are the least likely suspects.

As someone who watches a lot of programs from Sweden, I was excited to recognize Jenny (Lotta Tejle) from "Thirty Degrees in February" and the Swedish pop star Lena Philipsson as the somewhat testy hospital supervisor. I enjoyed seeing all the planning that went into pulling off the robbery and all of the suspense as they put their plan into action.  The cover of the DVD says, "Series 1" so I wonder what sort of "master criminals" Cecilia and Jenny will turn out to be in future adventures!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Simple Heist from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

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