Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

51bdApUjo-L._SL500_AA240_Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger is a modern gothic tale set in London near Highgate Cemetery.

The story begins in a hospital, where 45 year old Elspeth dies of cancer while her younger lover, Robert, is at the vending machines getting coffee. Robert crawls in bed with her and wraps himself around her in a touching scene I won’t soon forget.

Elspeth has an estranged twin, Edie, who lives in Chicago. Edie and her husband Jack also have twins, Julia and Valentina, mirror images of each other. Elspeth has left her London flat and everything in it to her nieces, two young ladies she has never met, with the stipulation that they live alone in the flat for one year, and that their parents never set foot in the flat. Julia and Valentina, unmotivated girls who’ve already dropped out of two colleges, find this all a bit mysterious but decide to give it a go.

Once the twins arrive in London and settle in, it’s not long before they sense an otherwordly presence in the flat. Valentina is more attuned to it than Julia and becomes fixated on discovering what it all means.

There are a number of superb peripheral characters in Her Fearful Symmetry that were well developed and interesting. Martin, a neighbor in an upper flat, struggles with raging OCD. His wife Marijke lives apart from him, but their love story is touching and beautiful. Robert, also a neighbor, a guide at Highgate, and the one tragically left behind after Elspeth’s death, is a study in grief and longing.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because it’s truly an amazing reading experience. However as much as I enjoyed it, there were parts that left me confused. There’s an intricate twist about Edie and Elspeth and Jack. I re-read that section twice and finally had to get out a piece of paper and diagram the whole thing just to make sense of it. There were scenes that I really enjoyed (the BEST was when Elspeth snagged the kitten!!), but the end felt rushed and wrong to me. I’m sure there are many people who will disagree with me about the ending, but I felt almost cheated by it.  Rather than saying, “Wow!” at the end, I was saying, “What??!!”  I was waiting for a showdown between two characters (one alive and one dead) that never came, and that disappointed me.   I had hoped for answers about one character’s motivations and there weren’t any, which forced me to speculate.

rip4150However, don’t let me scare you off.  Niffenegger is a pro at writing about love and emotions and does so in a most creative way in Her Fearful Symmetry. This author, who made time travel so believable in The Time Traveler’s Wife, now gives us a beyond-the-grave love story, full of suspense and impending doom. If you’re looking for a creepy ghostly read for October, look no further! Her Fearful Symmetry will be in stores tomorrow, Tuesday, September 29th.

I read HFS as part of the RIP IV Challenge.

FYI, the publisher is giving away ten ARCs and three first edition hardcovers on October 1st in a lottery to anyone who joins the Facebook page as a fan and sends an email to hfs@regal-literary.com. Good Luck!


Weekend Update: From Hamster Heaven to a Book Club Meeting

Our weekend started on a sad note.  My daughter’s beloved hamster, Bear, died in her hands Friday morning.  At 7am, when K. checked on Bear, she was lethargic and struggling to breathe.  K. picked her up, and she raised her little head, put it back down, closed her eyes and she was gone.  My daughter sobbed, “Mom, do something!  Call 911!” so I called the animal hospital, but the vet said it would cost $80. just for him to leave his home and unlock the office door before regular business hours.  Treatment, of course, would cost extra.  After hanging up, I assured K. the animal hospital would do everything they could.  I was pretty sure Bear was already dead, so I asked my husband, within earshot of the kids, to rush Bear to the animal hospital, but privately I asked him to drive around the block a couple times so that I could get the kids off to school.  After school, she came flying at me, asking, “Is Bear ok?”  I broke the news that poor Bear had gone to Hamster Heaven.  K. was heartbroken but matter of fact.  After we held Bear’s funeral, K. said, “She’s in a better place, right, Mom?” quickly followed by, “When can we go to the pet store to get another one?”  We went up to Petco right after the ceremony and brought home a hamster that seems very sweet and looks like a smaller younger version of Bear.  Bear, Jr.  Hopefully this one will live longer than 3 months.

On Saturday, my daughter L. and I hit Borders (she needed the next book in the Five Ancestors series, and I needed a paperback for a book exchange for my book club’s 1st anniversary), then the hospital to see my stepdad.  He had a quadruple bypass a couple weeks ago, came home, then had to go back to the hospital last week and have a second surgery for a massive infection.  He’s facing one more surgery and weeks in the hospital, but he’s got a great attitude and we believe he’s going to be ok.

After a quick visit with Grandpa, L. and I headed to Starbucks for a double chocolate chip frappucino (her) and a mocha (me), then off to our local Farmer’s Market for strawberries, honey and apples.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the food we eat lately, and where it comes from.. trying to buy food grown locally and in season as often as possible, and trying to cook more and buy less processed food.  It’s so easy and convenient to buy pre-made products, or out of season fruit shipped in from Guatemala or Brazil, but I’m at least thinking about things and making small changes.
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On Saturday evening our book club had it’s first field trip, stepping out t see The Other Boleyn Girlin the theater.  When a book is so amazing, it’s hard to be objective about the movie, but I think they did a pretty good job with it.  It was quite different than the book, however.  Of course with a 661 page book, a movie would need to be 4 hours long or more to get it all in, so I guess they did the best they could given the time constraints.  I wasn’t sure how Natalie Portman, who in past roles has seemed so wholesome, would pull off the fiery character of Anne Boleyn, but she brought a lot of passion and excitement to the role.  Scarlett Johannsen made a great Mary Boleyn, and Eric Bana was a HOT Henry VIII.  The costumes were nicely done and not over-the-top.  We enjoyed it, but it was hard not to pick the film apart afterward (THAT didn’t happen in the book, THIS was glossed over, etc.)

Sunday was an unseasonably warm day, near 90 degrees.  My flabby, lily-white legs and I are so not ready for shorts.  Maybe I’ll look into one of those spray-on tans before my legs make their annual appearance in the neighborhood.  Wouldn’t want to blind anybody with their brilliant whiteness.

On Sunday afternoon, my Girl Scout troop had their monthly meeting. One of the parents in the troop agreed to have the meeting at her house and teach the girls about skin care.  They made masks of yogurt and oatmeal and gave each other facials.  They had a great time, and now my daughter wants to give EVERYONE a facial.. me, her dad, her sister, the dog.  She also is scrutinizing my every move in front of the bathroom mirror.  “Mom, Mrs. R. says you should NEVER put your fingers into a jar of lotion.”  “Mom, Mrs. R. says you should rub lotion onto your face in a circular motion.  That’s not a circular motion, Mom!”  UGH, quit watching me, kid!!

Sunday night was Book Club time.  I look forward to these meetings so much.  Something about no kids, no men, good food, intelligent conversation, and a glass of wine makes me incredibly happy. We started with food (potluck) and a game, because I am truly a book club geek.  I listed the first sentence of all 12 books we’ve read together as a club and asked everyone to match the sentence to the correct book.  I thought it would be easy, but only two people got them all right.  I’ve won several online book giveaways recently, which made awesome prizes for my geeky little game.  Then we proceeded to discuss The Time Traveler’s Wife in great detail.  There was so much to say (three hours worth!)  Everyone enjoyed the book and found the writing style unique and fascinating.  I would highly recommend it for a book club discussion.

In April our book club will read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and will vote on books for our summer reading.  My suggestions are:  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to know if you think they’d be good for a group discussion.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend!   

Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I’m probably the last book blogger on the planet to read  The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, so what can I say that hasn’t already been said about this book? 

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 Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, you know that this is the tale of Henry and Clare.  Due to a genetic mutation, Henry time travels at random times to places in his past or future.  He has no control over when or where he goes.  Part sci-fi, part love story, this is a fascinating read. 

The narration alternates between Henry and Clare.  They meet for the first time in ‘real time’ when he is 28 and she is 20. She has known him all her life, because he began visiting her when she was 6 and he was in his 40’s.  When they meet in real time, Clare is already in love with Henry, but he has no memory of those earlier visits, because they are in her past, but his future.  Confused yet?  Clare is a woman obsessed and is always waiting, waiting, waiting..  for Henry to appear, for her real life to begin, for him to return from his travels. 

 The beginning of the book disturbed me.  When Henry time travels, he arrives naked, shivering, and ravenous, leaving his clothes and possessions behind in real time, so this is how 6 year old Clare meets him.  The image of a little girl befriending a naked man in a meadow, keeping him a secret from her family, trusting him, bringing him clothes and food; as a mom of young girls, this bothered me.  I didn’t like the cover for the same reason.  I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because the last half of the book really took off.

 Each section is preceded by a date and the ages of Henry and Clare, which was handy since you never knew where or when in time things were taking place.  I would read a section then go back again to check the date and ages.  I did this throughout the book and it interrupted the flow of reading for me, but without the reference none of it would have made much sense.

 The Time Traveler’s Wife is a highly original book with interesting, flawed characters and an intriguing premise.  Reading groups will find much to discuss.  It is unique, unlike anything else I’ve ever read, and for that reason I would recommend it.

 

The movie, starring Eric Bana as Henry and Rachel McAdams as Clare, comes out in November.   

Where Have You Been?

Several of my faithful readers have asked the question, ‘Where have you been?’  First, thank you for caring!  And thank you for coming back, even when there’s been almost no activity here for the past week.  I’m surprised that anyone notices what goes on (or, more accurately, doesn’t go on) here at my little blog.

 My stepdad had a quadruple bypass last Friday.  It was quite sudden and unexpected.  Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, he is doing great. He came home yesterday and had his first good nights sleep in a week, without the air conditioning blasting on him, and with no one bugging him to take his blood pressure or give him medicine in the middle of the night.

Waiting around in hospitals is not fun, but it does provide ample time for reading.  I’m almost done with The Time Traveler’s Wife, my book club read this month.  I didn’t think I liked it at first, but now with just 100 pages to go, it is consuming me and I can hardly think of anything else.  I understand the movie is coming out in November, with Eric Bana as Henry DeTamble. Great casting choice, don’t ya think?  Eric Bana is currently in theaters playing Henry VIII in The Other Boleyn Girl.  My book club buddies and I will be seeing that next weekend.  How did this one actor end up in the movie version of two of my favorite books?
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Seems everything I read lately is being turned into a movie.  My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult was picked up by NewLine Cinema.  The Fanning sisters were set to play Anna and Kate, but they have since backed out because Dakota didn’t want to shave her head.  Can’t say as I blame her..   Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) has replaced the younger Fanning as Anna, and Sofia Vassilieva is in talks to play Kate. Maybe Eric Bana can play the dad! (Actually, I heard Alec Baldwin has been cast in the movie. Interesting..)
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What books would you like to see made into movies?