Review: The Divergent Trilogy

Titles: Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant

Author: Veronica Roth

Reviewed by Amanda and Holly

SPOILER ALERT!!! We’re covering all three books here, so while we try not to give away too many details, read at your own risk if you haven’t finished the triology yet. / end warning


Holly:  Welcome to my life – G-Chat from Amanda on 5/1/2012: “Have you read Divergent? The sequel came out today and I am itching to buy it.” “G-Chat from Amanda on 9/27/2013: “Have you read Divergent yet? You did right?” I did not (for shame) actually read Divergent until October 2013 – quickly followed by Insurgent, and then Allegiant as soon as it came out. Oh, how the tables turned, because then I was dying to discuss the conclusion with Amanda, who suddenly had 12 books to finish ahead of Allegiant. So, starting with Divergent: I loved it. I loved the idea of the factions – that people had to follow these guiding principles, but also had a choice in their faction. I liked that everyone had to take the aptitude test, but you were not required to choose based solely on your results. Of course, it was pretty clear that Beatrice was not going to stay in Abnegation.

Amanda: You know you love it when I tell you what to do Holly.  You always have.  And I’m ALWAYS right right?  RIGHT?  At least maybe when it comes to books?!  I just reread Divergent to refamiliarize myself before reading Allegiant and I’m so glad I did.  I forgot the nerves I felt every time Tris did something crazy or something Dauntless.  And oh, poor Tris, that ending.  You’re so sad and yet so in love with Four.  I would have forgotten important things like poor Will and how Tris’s mom had sent her to Caleb.  Most importantly I would have forgotten Eric and Jeannine Matthews and the set up for Insurgent.


Holly: I jumped immediately from Divergent to Insurgent – possibly on the same evening. I was so caught up in the story. Okay, Tris’s family – and the city – was falling apart, but at least she had Four. And her brother. Surely they would figure something out, right? I knew that the third book was coming, so obviously everything would not get resolved, but I was not expecting the cliffhanger ending. I MUST KNOW WHAT’S OUTSIDE THE CITY! Book three followed just a few days later, for me.

Amanda: Oh Insurgent.  I was so hopeful for change.  There’s so much potential and then just so much more evil.  I forgot how annoying Tris and Four are in this book. Lies, truth, anger; rinse and repeat.  But yes, as Holly said-that ending– Oh my goodness! What is outside the city?


Amanda: What a bummer.  This was so clearly the weak link in the trilogy.  I don’t know why the serums overall in this book just did me in.  I bought into them in Divergent and Insurgent and then boom! They’re at the bureau and there is a serum for everything. Really? There couldn’t be another answer? And they have cameras-with sound no less– hidden all over the city of Chicago and yet have no cameras within the Bureau?  So those in charge have no concept of what’s happening in the very building they operate in?  And really, that ending?  Did you have to do that to my heart Veronica Roth?!  Sigh. I just didn’t  think Four could turn into that weak of a person.  I did not like him at all.

Holly: When I finished Allegiant, I could not say one thing about the book to my sister, lest I give away just how much I hated it. Okay, okay, reading teenage dystopian novels (or any fantasy stories) obviously requires a suspension of disbelief, but nothing in this book made sense to me, even within the confines of the world that Roth created in the first two books. I mean, there is a whole system outside the city walls, setting up these “experiments,” yet apparently there is no plan to receive people who make their way out from the experiments? And, I don’t know, maybe offer the teenage runaways some psychiatric treatment, and something to do besides roaming the compound? This book was just such a buzzkill for me. When Amanda finished, she chided me for not warning her not to read Allegiant on the el (hey, that’s the same train the Dauntless used! How poetic!), because she is crier. I pointed out that I didn’t even think about that, because a) I have a heart of stone and don’t cry at books/movies/sappy commercials, and b) I didn’t really care what happened to anyone at the end of the book. I just wanted it to be over.

Amanda: On further reflection, I do think that Roth was very brave with that ending.  I think she was setting herself up for some brutal reactions from her fandom, and she had to have known it.  I don’t think that it had to end that way, and yes I was sad-but I swear I didn’t cry on the el.  I don’t cry nearly as much as Holly thinks I do.

Holly Ratings: Divergent: 4/ Insurgent: 3/ Allegiant 1

Amanda Ratings: Divergent: 5/ Insurgent: 4/ Allegiant 2

Why Blog About Books?

Or, Why I’ll Be a Terrible Book Blogger

By Holly

Some confessions: I didn’t even know that so many book blogs existed until just a couple months ago. I have, thus far, proven terrible at keeping up with a Goodreads account. I have an aversion to giving number ratings to books, because usually the way I feel about a good book is far too complex to summarize in a simple number. And, I am not nearly hip enough to keep up with reading books that are just barely published, let alone not even released yet. (When I started checking out book blogs, I kept seeing the term ARC everywhere, and I first thought that must be some e-book format until I finally realized what it meant). Also, I have no interest in limiting my reading to one particular genre, or in spending too much time trying to get a hold of what’s hot in books. I love, and I also want to express my heartfelt appreciation for whoever came up with the system where you can request library books when you’re at home in your PJs and pick them up when they are available. In short, I am probably not a trendy enough reader to be a blogger.

However, I do think this book blog is the best idea that Amanda and I have had since we decided (or I decided for us) to go kayaking on the fjords in New Zealand. I love to read. I really love to write. I have thought about blogging a zillion times since blogging became a thing, but the kind of blogs I like to read are not the kind of things I would like to write, so I keep finding myself stuck in this loop in which I want to write but I don’t know what I can write about regularly and consistently and, most important, interestingly.

Enter books.

Amanda has some book blogger friends, and, if I have not mentioned already, her reading is analogous to the running of Kenyans from the Kelejin region. She is crazy speedy, and always looking for more good books. She’s also insightful and willing to share her recommendations, even when sometimes it takes me years to make it through them. On a recent visit, Amanda was telling me about her book blogger buddies and how there are book expos and free copies (that ARC thing, again) and lots of opportunities to connect with other people on the subject of good books. I was hooked from the get-go.

Writing about books with my sister is perfect – she is much better than me about knowing what’s out there and what’s good and she will surely figure out a way to get us to book expos and events. For me, writing about books is an opportunity to write about just about anything – because really, no matter what I’m dwelling on, I can link it to the book I’m currently reading. That link might be the subject matter, because I often look for books related to places I’ve been or things I want to learn, or it might be the fact that I lost myself in a particular novel because the character’s troubles helped put some situation of my own in perspective.

So, with this book blog, I’ve got a new reason to read more, and read more discerningly. I get to write, and I have some measure of accountability (I mean to my sister. Don’t worry – I’m not counting on a flock of readers, since, as I have self-deprecatingly titled this post, I will be a terrible book blogger). And, the most fun part is setting this up with my sister, aka my BFF, giving us plenty to talk about and to crack up about and enough communication to tide us over between visits.

Review- The Girl You Left Behind

Title: The Girl You Left Behind



 What happened to the girl you left behind?

In 1916, French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything – her family, reputation and life – in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.

Nearly a century later and Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting’s dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened…

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love most – whatever the cost.

I have to say that I loved Moyes’ Me Before You whole heartedly.  I loved the story, loved the heart breaking ending, loved Lou and how she rose above her family.  Because I loved that book so much I made a mistake of not really paying attention to what The Girl You Left Behind was about before picking it up.  I wanted to love it, I really did.  I was not expecting to start the book in WWI France.  I really like historical fiction-I just wasn’t looking for it when I picked this up.   I did think the first portion of the book was very good.  I liked Sophie, and I tried to understand the choices that she made.  She was very brave!  I think I almost would have been happier had Sophie’s story ended at the first section of the book.  Knowing the ending that sounds kind of heartless, but maybe I’m a cynic?  I just can’t believe her story would have ended the way it did.  I’m all for feel good endings, but this was just too unrealistic in my mind.

I really was not happy with Liv’s story at first.  She seemed to be too unbelievable a character to me.  She was so weak and determined to be unhappy.  I liked Paul and liked how he and Liv fit together but all the coincidences were just too much for me.  The battle just dragged on for too long.  I did enjoy the secondary characters like Mo and I was really happy learning the journey of the painting in the end.  I don’t know why that was more believable to me and so more enjoyable than Sophie’s story on her own.

I do think this is a book worth reading, and probably a good book club discussion book.  Could you face Sophie’s choices?   Or even Liv’s choices about her painting, her house and her love life?  Maybe I can make Holly read this just to talk about it!

Rating: 2 Stars

Review – Jeneration X

Title: Jeneration X: One Reluctant Adult’s Attempt to Unarrest Her Arrested Development; Or, Why It’s Never Too Late for Her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops Are Not for Dinner

Author: Jen Lancaster

Reviewed by Holly

Before I review this book, I feel like I must provide some context (and yes, about 75% of the time, if you ask me a simple question, this is how I begin).

Saturday, I ran a half marathon. Monday, I picked up a book from the library about John Brown and the Civil War. I just want to get those facts out there before admitting that I spent Tuesday night sitting on the couch eating M&Ms and reading this book.

And, for further context, I really struggle with the idea of # ratings for books, because, well, I make it a point to not ready crappy books (or so I thought). I figured that probably 80% of what I review will be solid 3 star selections, with some venturing into the territory of books I can’t shut up about.

I think it’s pretty clear where this is going.

I did not enjoy this book.

(I didn’t really enjoy my M&Ms either, but I finished both so that I could move on to better choices. Perhaps the wiser choice would have been to put down both. Or at least the book. But, I did recently come across the term brilliant term hate-reading. I shall not link to any teenage vampire books, but I assure you that I am familiar with the concept of hate reading.)

Back to Jen. I feel like I can call her Jen. I laughed out loud through Bitter is the New Black. I related to her struggles in Such a Pretty Fat (see M&Ms, above). I too appreciate the mecca of Tar-jay, and also have a deep and abiding love for pork chops.

I read her first three books years ago, and then I took a long hiatus, mostly because Pretty in Plaid was the next to come out and it was a hardcover and – ain’t nobody got time for that.

Recently, thanks to paperbackswapping and a sister who is a good sharer, I found myself in possession of Pretty in Plaid, My Fair Lazy, Jeneration X, and The Tao of Martha.

I read My Fair Lazy, and, it was okay. I finished it, sent it off though paperback swap, and promptly erased most of it from my mind. I read Pretty in Plaid, and I liked that more than I thought I would, especially because the stories were new, and included (exaggerated and revisionist maybe, but still fun) glimpses of Jen’s childhood and her career pre-Bitter. I read The Tao of Martha, and I really liked that more than I expected, and have in fact highly recommended it to a couple people.

Then I read Jeneration X, because I thought that it would be a quick read and fun book to review next. Quick, yes. Fun, well, I’m 500 words deep here, and have yet to review the book, so how’s that working out?

This book…is just not good. The other books were all centered around a theme (losing weight is hard! karma is a bitch! being organized makes life less stressful! clothes!) – Jeneration X started with a forward about being, apparently, a hard-working Gen Xer stuck between unrealistic boomers and entitled millennials, and ended with a rant about occupy wall street (non-sequitur, much?) but other than that, seemed to be a cluster of stories that didn’t match very well and were not in any particular order – the cats had died and then the cats were still alive. And “I can’t have a court date then because I’m getting an award,” followed by, “Oh, I got a letter in the mail about getting an award!” Not to mention, I spent at least 60% of this book thinking that I had read it already because I knew so many of the stories:  Jen buys a Barbie head on an Ambien trip. Jen and Stacy are BFFs, and did you know you can buy Stacy’s book too? Jen and Fletch move to the suburbs. New puppy!

However, I finally got to the weird story about Jen’s stalker/mailer, which I didn’t remember, ergo, I must not have read the book. (Also, I tried to find the scoop on that situation on the internets, but I couldn’t come up with anything.)

To further belabor my point, this is my interpretation of how Jeneration X came into being. I’m speculating on a few details here, but this is how it feels as a reader.

  1. Jen writes three best-selling books about going from being an a-hole to becoming a better person in one way or another.
  2. Next, Jen writes childhood memoir. This is still best-selling, I’m sure, but she lost me there with the hardcover thing.
  3. Jen makes fun of teenage vampires on her blog. I love her again.
  4. Jen has ideas to write more memoirs, including “become more cultured and less of an asshole” and “volunteering to be less of an asshole. Also, she decides to write fiction.
  5. Jen writes the book about becoming more cultured.
  6. Jen starts to work on the volunteering memoir but that doesn’t work as expected – she alludes to this in Jeneration X.
  7. Jen is on a rigid writing schedule. She told us all about it in The Tao of Martha…must write two books a year, and go on tours, and deadlines are very stressful. (I am not sympathetic.)
  8. Jen must write something for said schedule, so she throws some stories  together and wraps them up with a loose  “theme” about becoming more adult.

This does not work. Happily, I really think she got it back in The Tao of Martha. And, I’ll probably read the novel at some point, but I just can’t do it right now.

(Did you know that Amanda made us a Twitter and Jen Lancaster is one of the first people she/we followed? I should probably not tweet her this review though. Good thing I don’t know how to work the Twitter.)

Rating – ONE STAR

5 books I cannot shut up about


This list is making me think I have really random taste in books!

American Gods, Neil Gaiman

If I were to be marooned on a desert island this is the book I’d like to have with me.  I feel like I notice something different about the gods every time I read it.  I took a Norse mythology class in college so I love this book for the Norse gods that Gaiman makes real.  I love the discussion of the old versus the new, without having it made a Christian discussion.  And I love Shadow, love to watch him figure out what’s happening and how to interact with the gods as the book goes on.  I actually have the updated anniversary edition of this book that I received as a Christmas gift last year, I can’t bring myself to get it out to read.  its like I have to savor it and save it for just the right time.  This book is also being developed into a tv show. This excites and terrifies me at once!  It was originally going to be with HBO which gave me great hope, but I just read this week that Gaiman said HBO is out.  He was writing the screenplay himself which should make it brilliant! (Dr. Who episodes anyone?)

Feed, Newsflesh #1, Mira Grant

I had never read a zombie book before Feed, and I don’t know that I’d go seeking another one out, but something about Feed and the Newsflesh series just grabbed me at the throat-kind of like a hungry zombie might! I love the strong women that Grant writes (and in her October Day series as Seanan Maguire) and the snappy dialog that moves the stories along.  I think this series captivates me because its not really about the zombies.  The story is about defining the press, access to information and politics in a very different USA.  Its also about bravery, friendship and selflessness in the end. Oh the end– I won’t spoil it you should read it!

The Eyre Affair, and all Thursday Next books, Jasper Fforde

I love this book.  I would much rather sit down with a book than the television, and if I’m in an off mood, this book always perks me up.  Its bizarre, completely bizarre.  Dodos have been resequenced and ducks are extinct.  There’s a tariff on cheese-can you imagine the horror! But Thursday gains the ability to enter Jane Eyre and so finds out all about the Book World.  What fun -and terror- that could bring! You could go to Hogwarts or Longbourn or meet Sherlock Holmes (well actually if you’ve read Fforde you know you can’t meet Holmes).  Thankfully my sister, my husband and my mom have all given in to read these, so I can throw out Thursday Next jokes to crack myself up-and even if they aren’t as amused as I am, they at least don’t think I’m ready for admission to the psych ward.

The Magicians, Lev Grossman

Clearly I have a thing for books about books.  The Magicians takes Thursday Next’s ability to enter books to the next level.  The story is kind of an adult Harry Potter-magical education with sex, dark adult drama and lots of wine.  Quentin is feeling somewhat lost after finishing his magical education when he finds out that Fillory, the lands in his favorite childhood books, is actually real.  He also learns Fillory is not only what he’s imagined it to be.  The sequel is also fantastic and I’m anxiously awaiting the Magicians Land hopefully next year.

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged…  My love for this book goes back to the same Brother Ruhl that taught us about Chehkov’s rule of the gun on the wall. If my memory is right–and as I’m getting old it’s possible that I’m wrong! But I think this was the first book that Brother Ruhl taught me to read, to really get down to the details and I’ve loved it ever since.  The is another book I read usually once a year-and I’m always happy to watch Colin Firth and the BBC version! I also find it hilarious to contemplate the slew of books inspired by Pride and Prejudice.  I’m really looking forward to reading Longbourn, I enjoyed Price and Prejudice and Zombies, and rolled my eyes and laughed through Jane Bites Back-when Jane Austen has been made into a vampire.  I can’t bring myself to read any “sequel” that has come out in recent years.  I really don’t want to read anyone’s interpretation of what Elizabeth and Darcy might do or how they might act.  Austen left the story at the perfect time for me.

5 Books I Can’t Shut Up About

By Holly

Devil in the White City – by Erik Larson
One of many reasons that I’m going to make a terrible book blogger is because sometimes it takes me forever to jump on the bandwagon after I hear rave reviews about a book. I mean, aren’t book bloggers supposed to be all on top of what’s cool before it’s cool? Anyway, I heard 100 things about Devil in the White City, and it just didn’t sound that exciting to me – world’s fair 1893, Chicago history, true crime, blah blah blah. I’ll be in the corner with a Jen Lancaster book. And then I picked this book up, and I don’t think I put it down for two days. I was totally consumed – and totally hooked on Erik Larson’s writing style. I just could not – and still cannot – get over how he writes nonfiction with so much detail and emotion that you feel like you’re there. I rave about this book all time, and then sometimes I remember that it’s actually about a completely creepy serial killer, and that my obsession with this book maybe makes me come across as crazypants. I swear though, it’s about the writing style. Larson introduced me to the narrative nonfiction genre, and made me rethink how I read, and how I (would like to) write.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society – by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Whenever anyone is looking for a book recommendation, I shout out this book. It’s short and flowy (is that a word?) enough to be a vacation read, but it’s also a historical fiction piece that maybe will make you slightly smarter as you go. It’s cute and romantic without being trite and cheesy, and the authors (there are two, and I really don’t know anything about them or their other work) create interesting characters with believable backgrounds and personalities. It’s written in letters, but don’t let that steer you away, even if that’s not your thing. This book is worth a shot, and, if nothing else, you will learn something about Guernsey.

The Brooklyn Follies – by Paul Auster
This is obviously a book I can’t shut up about, considering that I couldn’t even write my first review without referencing The Brooklyn Follies. This, like 70% of what I read, came as an Amanda-recommendation, and she rarely steers me wrong. The Brooklyn Follies is just my type of novel, where complicated characters must come to terms with the fact their lives are somehow failing to meet their expectations, and something’s gotta give. I don’t mean that to sound like this book is at all formulaic, because it’s not. It’s more that there certain books that really tug at my heartstrings in a similar fashion (I Know This Much is True, White Teeth, The Corrections), and it seem the main element is a character (or several) figuring out how to get his or her a** in gear. As I learned in high school English (in addition to learning about the gun in act one), this book could be subtitled, “the [mis]education of Tom Wood.” And you should read it, because obviously I won’t shut up until you do.

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth & Happiness – by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
I read Nudge because my friend was applying to graduate school in accounting, and she said “oh, no, I swear it’s really interesting. Read this book, and you’ll understand the kinds of things I want to study.” I said, “nice try, but a PhD in accounting sounds like anything but interesting.” And then I read this book, and I proceeded to reference it in every conversation I had (about anything) for a solid two weeks. That was a few years ago, and I still find myself referencing it on the regular. Nudge is about behavioral economics, or how we make decisions about using resources. Ugh, I know. If I haven’t lost you yet, the authors use the phrase “libertarian paternalism” to describe their model, and those two words are ones I would not generally use to describe my outlook on anything. I’m telling you though, it’s really thought provoking, and, they offer practical solutions to huge social issues that, in theory, make a great deal of sense. When I’m trying to incentive someone to act a certain way (whether that’s trying to improve performance at work or trying to get myself out of bed to go for a run), I think about how this book really addresses the challenge of creating incentives that are relevant and simple. Even if it sounds dull, I swear it really is interesting!

It’s Called A Breakup Because It’s Broken – by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt
I know you’re saying, “dude, Holly, are you really picking a breakup self-help book as the #5 book you can’t shut up about? Cuz, uh, that’s sort of lame and embarrassing.” Yeah, I know. I thought a lot about contenders for #5, but I kept coming back to this one for many reasons. My primary reason is that I picked this book up while wandering around a bookstore in a sad state of mind (years ago), and this book totally cheered me up and helped me gain some much needed perspective on a breakup situation. I was definitely not too cool to follow along all the list making exercises in the book, which helped me see that, like Cher, I DID believe in life after love, after all. In the greater scheme, I’m also picking this book because a) I have a secret thing (not so secret anymore, eh?) for self-help-type books. Jillian Michaels, Geenan Roth, the What-Color-is-Your-Parachute? guy – I love them. I think that’s a reflection of the fact that b) books really are my go-to source for whatever it is that I’m dealing with. Recently, I’ve read a book about the intricacies of football, in order to better understand and enjoy lazy Sundays with my football crazy fiance (oh look, that old breakup thing turned out to be a good thing after all!), and books about wedding traditions to make sure that I’m not inadvertently including too many crazy homages to the patriarchy in our’s. I’ve read weight loss books, workplace motivation books, personal finance books, and relationship books, because when I want to get better at something, reading a book about it is usually my first line of defense (or would that be attack?…clearly I don’t read military books, though we do have a houseful of civil war books if the mood strikes). I’ve recommended It’s Called A Breakup Because It’s Broken a few times, though it is difficult to say to someone, “hey, you are looking a bit crazy. Read this book!” without sounding like a complete asshat. However, sometimes it’s worth being that asshat to a friend, so go ahead and recommend this book as needed. And if you’re the one walking around Barnes and Noble like a sad Sally, pick this book up, get some coffee (and probably a pastry) and sit down and start reading. You’ll probably at least crack a smile before you leave the store, even it you don’t buy the book.

What’s going on here?

By Amanda

Why start yet another book blog, you ask? I had gotten into the habit of sending my sister emails with lists of her “Required Reading” (really see my Goodreads shelves) so that we could discuss books over wine when we get to visit. Sadly, grown up life is too busy for frequent travel between Chicago and Virginia and we don’t get to have wine and book club as often as we would like. So we decided we needed a book blog so we can chat (probably still drinking wine) and get other opinions too. I can say for me that I will try any book you put in front of me. If its outside of the genres I gravitate to- mystery, YA, fantasy, women’s fiction– then as long as it has a good recommendation I’ll try it. I just love a good story!

What’s with the gun on the wall, you ask? We had the same brilliant and terrifying English teacher in high school (RIP Brother Ruhl) and one of the lessons that was imparted was from Chekhov “If there’s a gun on the wall in Act One, it’s going to go off by Act Five.” Wikipedia even tells me Chekhov said: “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there”. Holly and I realized we couldn’t keep referencing the gun on the wall– starting our own blog– without actually breaking down and doing it, so here we are. Holly and I can text across the miles and have a toast to Brother Ruhl, Anton Chekov and lots of good books to come. Still no guns on our walls though, just book shelves.

Review: Song of the Spirits

TitleSong of the Spirits

Series: In the Land of the Long White Cloud saga

Author: Sarah Lark

Reviewed by Holly

I generally don’t pay too much attention to the ads on my Kindle, but this was a triple whammy: historical fiction set in New Zealand for $1.99? Oh Amazon, you sure do know the way to my heart, and to my Mastercard. Seriously, the ad for “Song of the Spirits” appeared just as I had been agonizing over what would be an appropriate first book review post. Since there are few things I love more than New Zealand and bargains, I (uncharacteristically, I swear) clicked “buy” before knowing anything else about this book. I might have noticed that it is the second book in a “saga” (is that like a “series?” a “triology”? I am not sure), but that didn’t deter me from diving into this one, so don’t let it deter you either.

Description from Amazon:
“Song of the Spirits continues the soaring saga begun with In the Land of the Long White Cloud, as the founding families of colonial New Zealand experience trials and triumphs of friendship, romance, and unforgettable adventure.

Elaine O’Keefe is the radiant grand-daughter of Gwyneira McKenzie, who made her way to New Zealand to take a wealthy sheep baron’s hand in marriage in In the Land of the Long White Cloud. Elaine inherited not only her grandmother’s red hair but also her feisty spirit, big heart, and love of the land. When William Martyn, a handsome young Irishman of questionable integrity, walks into her life, she succumbs rapidly to his charms. Only to have her heart broken when her sensual half-Maori cousin Kura Warden arrives for a visit and draws William away.

Though both young women must endure hardships and disappointments as they learn to live with the choices they make, each of them also discovers an inner resilience—and eventually finds love and happiness in new, unexpected places. Tested by the harsh realities of colonial life, both girls mature into spirited young women with a greater understanding of the challenges—and joys—of love, friendship, and family.”

I loved it. The book centers on two cousins, Elaine and Kura, in colonial New Zealand as they transition from adolescents to adults, but there is so much more going on here. The family has a complicated history, and, admittedly, some of the details were confusing, though I’m pretty sure reading book one of the “saga” will straighten that out (oops). The girls’ family members, as well as their love interests, made for compelling characters, and I found myself just as interested in some of the side stories as in the central action. The book opens with Elaine’s story, and cousin Kura doesn’t seem to have much going for her besides a big head until later in the book, but her grandmother, who is also her primary caretaker, moves her story along. I will add that Grandma Gwyneira acts a bit shady, but I’m just gonna let that slide.

The descriptions of the landscape – geographically and socially – of late nineteenth century New Zealand serve as far more than the backdrop for the story. Reading good historical fiction gives you a sense of a particular time and place, so that you sneakily end up learning something while you’re caught up in all the “he said what to her? Uh uh!” In the afterword, Lark writes that “although New Zealand’s history is relatively short, it was been all the more precisely recorded as a result. Practically every town has an archive that contains the names of the settlers, their farms, and often, details of their lives.” This absolutely makes me want to read more about the history of New Zealand – after I read book one, of course.

I’m also open to going to do some field work research…whadaya say, sister?

Last note: there are a couple complaints on Amazon about this book, saying it was predictable and that the characters did exactly what you’d expect. I have to say, if you could predict where Elaine and Kura would end up by the end after initially meeting them in the early chapters, then you should probably get thee to 7-11 for a lotto ticket. In this book, people turn out to be entirely different than their first impressions belie, and the two primary characters come to change their outlooks on love, family, success, and of course, each other.

My favorite novels are ones in which the basic facts of a character’s life get rearranged in a way that seems completely improbable until it starts to make perfect sense. If you have no idea what that means, read The Brooklyn Follies, stat.