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Book Review: Where’d you go, Bernadette?

The first time I read Where’d You Go, Bernadette was several months before I met my first husband: Oky Kusprianto. Why, do you ask, is this important? BECAUSE BERNADETTE IS AN ARCHITECT! Many things happened in my life (like Oky suddenly dying), and I forgot about how much I loved this book until the Mad Tea Book Club was born. Several weeks ago I was doing some content planning with fellow co-founders Sherry from The Cozy Library and Krisandryka Wijaya. Our theme for March is women-themed books, so I remembered Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

I re-read the book and it was every bit as hilarious and touching as the first time around. This time, the significance of Bernadette being an architect was highlighted because I also watched the film with Cung, my second husband. Cung is also an architect, by the way. The film version stars Cate Blanchett who was amazing as the genius and reclusive Bernadette Fox.

Synopsis

Two days before Christmas Break, Bernadette Fox disappears. She leaves behind Elgin Branch, a top officer at Microsoft, Balakrishna “Bee” Branch, their bright teenage daughter, and Ice Cream, the beloved family dog. The whole family was supposed to go on a holiday to Antarctica as a treat to Bee for her stellar grades in school.

The story is told mainly from Bee’s perspective, with heavy use of emails, texting, recorded phone communication, and also written letters. Bee shifts through all this material to try to find out exactly what happened to her mother.

I love this book because…

Me copying Bernadette Fox.

Maria Semple’s satiric style is absolutely a kick. Even the plot is satirical, although in an all too possible way in this digital age and time. Bee is a lovely girl, and it is her relationship with her mother that this whole book lies upon. At the heart of it is not a detective story, but a story of the incredible bond between a daughter and her mother, and how that relationship can look like in this modern era.

There is nothing I don’t like about this book. That should tell you something because I’m very, very picky with the books I read. I love Bernadette so much, I even started copying her fashion style!

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Series Review: The Book of Isle

After I finished all of the Enola Holmes series (check out that review), I decided author Nancy Springer must be on my favorite writers’ list. Imagine my delight when I saw that she also wrote my favorite genre: fantasy! In fact, she is more known as a fantasy writer than for mystery series. One of her favorite sets was the Book of Isle (in 5 novels).

I bought the Kindle boxset for 21.99USD – making it just over 4USD per book. GREAT DEAL readers! Alert!

The 5 books were my 4th to 8th reads of this year for the read 60 in 2021 Goodreads challenge. I finished the whole thing in 2 weeks. That should tell you how irresistible her stories were. The Goodreads description of the series called it a “classic epic fantasy in the grand tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien.”

Synopsis

On the island of Isle, gods, goddesses, and magical beasts lived together with humans. Some were good, some corrupt, some downright evil. Ellid, a lady as fair as the sun fell in love with Bevan, son of the High King and the goddess of the moon. Their relationship triggers events that resulted in the rebuilding of a peaceful kingdom. Generations and legends go by until the changeling Dair befriends the cursed wanderer Frain, and through their bond peace in the mainland is able to be restored. Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?

The magic is ancient good against evil, not unlike CS Lewis’ Narnia. It’s not children’s fantasy though. It’s for adults, although thank goodness she writes so much better than GRRM (Game of Thrones slowly became only about sex, war, and food). Nancy Springer delves deep into human nature, exposing love, lust, greed, ego, and a longing for death that is a constant theme from Book 1 to Book 5. Her battles were fast and action-oriented, but never more violent than is necessary.

A feminine epic fantasy.

One of my favorite things about the Book of Isle was how un-patriarchal it was. Goddesses were as powerful as gods, sometimes even more so. The One (the creator of the world) was genderless, never mentioned as “he”, nor “she”. In Book 5, a goddess gets the revenge that she sought because a human king had shamed her. This act was not seen as an act of revenge that spiraled out of control. Rather it was portrayed as a fair act because the king completely deserved it.

Like Lord of the Rings, the Book of Isle often used poetry form to communicate older myths that existed within the island. It worked very well, adding an air of grace to the tales. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading the Book of Isle.

Do you like fantasy? Have you read this series? What did you think?

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Series Review: The Enola Holmes Mysteries

I first heard about Sherlock’s younger sister through the recently released Netflix film: Enola Holmes (September 2020). The film is a must watch. It is utterly delightful with great acting from Millie Bobby Brown who plays Enola. I then discovered the 6-book mystery series by Nancy Springer, of which the film was based upon.

Did I like the books?

YES! Fast paced, action filled, with surprisingly dark mystery themes as befits Victorian London (late 1800s to early 1900s). The author most definitely has an agenda which is to show the massive gap of gender inequality during those times, and how Enola and her mother managed to still make a life for themselves. I especially liked how the corset was used as a continuing imagery to suffocate women, but Enola brilliantly and very practically used it as a tool to hide her most precious belongings (money), including a dagger to protect herself.

How did the film and the books differ?

Films and books always have huge differences. In this case I liked both, although I will say the film tried to appeal to a more “traditional” mindset when they added possible romantic nuance between Enola and Lord Tewksbury. In the books there was no such shimmer. All Enola wanted to do was go to university and make friends with the like minded, strong-willed Lady Cecily. Oh and the ending? No spoilers but the the sixth book punches a much stronger ending.

Is it worth the investment?

The books are about $7 each. The whole set is available on Amazon Kindle for $36, so you can save some money if you buy all six books. They are very fast reading of about 10 -12 hours per book. If strong girl heroines shattering society perceptions are your thing, then this series is definitely worth the time and money.

Have you seen the movie or read any of the books? Let me know what you thought in the comments! If you are looking for more young adult fiction with strong girl heroines, check out my book Nisha.