Isa & May by Margaret Forster

While Isamay is working on her dissertation about the importance of grandmothers in history, she can’t help thinking about her own grandmothers and the role these two amazing women have played in her own life so far. Named after her grandmothers, Isa and May, who were present at her birth, Isamay shares more than just her name with these two unlikely women. She has inherited May’s stubbornness and determination and she looks just like elegant and sophisticated Isa.

As Isamay devotes herself to her interesting thesis, she examines famous grandmothers such as Queen Victoria, George Sand and Elizabeth Fry, and she attempts to find out in what way these grandmothers have influenced and shaped their grandchildren and what effect they had on their grandchildren. Although she is caught up in her work and is concentrating more on the past than the present, Isamay never forgets to visit her grandmothers or to think about them. Isa and May couldn’t be more different and they are jealous of each other and always fight for Isamay’s attention. They have high expectations regarding their granddaughter and therefore, Isamay is always trying to please both of them. However, her grandmothers are not the only important people in Isamay’s life. There’s also Ian, her secretive boyfriend, who never wants to talk about his past or his family, even though Isamay is eager to find out everything about him. Nonetheless, they seem to get along well, until Isamay changes her mind concerning a serious matter. Almost thirty, Isamay has never wanted children, but she suddenly considers this possibility. But Ian seems so sure of the fact that he doesn’t want any children that Isamay begins to wonder if his decision might have something to do with his mysterious past. As the would-be academic is caught up between the past and the present, she learns a great deal about history’s most influential grandmothers, but she also reveals and uncovers the dark secrets of her own family.

One could say that Isa & May is a powerful book about grandmothers and their important role in family life, but this novel is so much more than that! In my opinion, Isa & May is a tribute to every grandmother out there and I think that everyone should read this novel, as it narrates such a heart-warming story that will linger in your mind for a long time! After I have finished reading this book, I thought about it the entire day and I couldn’t help thinking about my own grandmother and how she has influenced me and guided me my whole life. I just loved Isa & May and I could really identify with Isamay in regard to her relationship with her grandmothers. I really liked the protagonist and I enjoyed reading about her dissertation work, as I found it fascinating to learn about these famous grandmothers. I loved all these glimpses into the past and I couldn’t get enough of Margaret Forster’s beautiful writing! I can’t believe that this was my first book by this talented writer! I think that Margaret Forster might become one of my favorite writers and I am looking forward to reading her other books in the near future!

What I loved about Isa & May was the fact that it dealt so much with the past. If you follow my blog, then you certainly know that I tend to read books that are set in the past, preferably in the Victorian Period. Thus, when I first heard about this book, I didn’t really know if I wanted to read it, because it is set in the present. But I still wanted to give it a try and I am so glad that I did, because it’s now one of my favorite books! Even though Isa & May is set in the present, it deals more with the past than with the present and that’s why I loved this book so much! I loved reading about Isamay’s relationship with her grandmothers and sometimes, I had to smile and laugh when I read about May, because she is such a great character and I grew really fond of her! I am very enthusiastic about this novel and I think it will appeal to everyone out there! Whether you have lost a grandmother, or if you still have one, and especially if you are a grandmother – Isa & May will make you smile and you will find this novel delightful! This book was perfect for me as I was lost in Margaret Forster’s beautiful writing and I think that the author has a real gift for storytelling! I was really impressed by Isa & May and I hope you will share my feelings if you decide to read this wonderful book!

Here are a few passages that I liked:

Page 97-98:

“It struck me today, as I was walking across Hyde Park, that I don’t really fully live in my own times. I often don’t see what is actually there. I see the trees, I see the grass, I see the Serpentine – I don’t mean that I’m not seeing my surroundings. But I don’t seem to see the real people. I wipe away all their reality. Instead, I fill the park with women in long dresses and men in frock coats, and other nonsense. I see children with hoops. Only the horses and dogs stay the same, because they never change. I love the past and live in it too much.”

And:

“I am comfortable in past times. The people are so familiar to me…The past is so secure, all over and done with, all ready to be explored. The future was always exciting, but it also worries me now. I am no longer in a hurry to get to it. When my grandmothers talk about the past, it all makes sense to me, doesn’t bore me in the least. I encourage them, I always want more detail, and I go with them all the way.”

I think I like these lines because I also sometimes find myself living in the past and therefore, I can fully identify with Isamay!

Note: I would like to thank Kevin Soar from Random House Group for sending me a copy of this engaging book!

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Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

When Elspeth dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to Julia and Valentina, her twin nieces. The girls live in Chicago and they have never met their aunt; they don’t know anything about her, as their mother Edie doesn’t want to talk about her sister. They only know that Edie and Elspeth are also twins and that they have been estranged for the last twenty-one years. So when the girls receive a letter stating that Elspeth has bequeathed her entire estate to them (with two conditions: they must live in the apartment for an entire year before they may sell it and their parents are not allowed to set foot in the apartment), their parents are not happy about it. They don’t want Julia and Valentina to leave and they are concerned about the fact that the twins will soon live on their own in a foreign land. Nevertheless, the girls are thrilled and can’t wait to embark on the biggest adventure of their lives. So when they turn twenty-one, Julia and Valentina excitingly head to London. There, they are delighted to find out that their aunt’s apartment is overlooking Highgate Cemetery, where George Eliot, Karl Marx and other famous people are buried. The twin girls like to live in London and they become accustomed to their new freedom and come to know their new neighbours. Julia and Valentina meet Robert, their aunt’s former lover, who still mourns over Elspeth’s death, and Martin, who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and never leaves his apartment. As the girls soon become entwined in the lives of their neighbours, they also find out that they’re not alone in their apartment: Elspeth’s ghost is trapped there and tries to communicate with the twins. Having made this enthralling discovery, the girls are determined to unveil Edie and Elspeth’s secrets and to find out why the two have been estranged for such a long time. However, what they don’t know is the fact that this whole experience will change their lives forever!

Audrey Niffenegger has created a unique and haunting story about love, identity and rivalry and she has provided us with a tale full of mysteries, secrets and twists. Her Fearful Symmetry is beautifully written and suspenseful; its fascinating scenery and well-constructed plot capture the reader’s attention and the reader is immediately caught up in a world of deception and darkness. I really enjoyed reading about London and the historic Highgate Cemetery and I liked the characters, since they are original and well developed. Furthermore, I liked the fact that the novel contains gothic elements and I was intrigued by the relationship between the twins. The novel skillfully captures an intense and oppressive atmosphere and its dark setting will remind you of a Victorian ghost story. All in all, I really liked this novel and I recommend it to everyone who likes to read dark ghost stories!

I would like to thank Amanda McPherson from Regal Literary Inc. for sending me an advance reading copy of Her Fearful Symmetry!

The Lace Reader

I just finished reading The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry and even though it’s an interesting book, it did not meet my expectations. I have heard so many positive things about this book, so I just couldn’t wait to read it. Unfortunately, the book was not what I expected. I didn’t really like the beginning and the storyline in general. However, this is still a good book; it was just not the right book for me.

The novel deals with serious issues and tells a complex and dark story. I find it difficult to summarize this book, simply because in this novel, nothing is quite as it seems. The first sentences of The Lace Reader show us that we are dealing with an unreliable narrator:

“MY NAME IS TOWNER WHITNEY. No, that’s not exactly true. My real name first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time.”

Thus, Brunonia Barry makes no secret of the fact that we can’t really trust the narrator. Throughout the novel, the reader finds it difficult to separate fact from fiction, as the author tells a story full of secrets, lies and confused identities. What is real and what is not? How much can we trust Towner (or is it Sophya)?

The Lace Reader tells the story of the Whitney women who can read the future in the patterns in lace. It is the powerful tale of an eccentric family who has many dark secrets and issues to deal with. After a traumatic experience, Towner Whitney leaves Salem and doesn’t intend to come back. However, 15 years later, she learns that her great-aunt is missing, so Towner finally decides to return home. There, she is haunted by memories of her difficult past and finds herself confronted with her deepest fears. Will she manage to find peace and finally put her past behind her? And what disturbing secrets will she unveil to us?

The Lace Reader reminds me of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, although I must admit that I find Setterfield’s work more fascinating and compelling. All in all, I think that The Lace Reader is a good book, full of suspense, secrets and mysteries!