Source: Purchased

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{Review} Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

May 18, 2015 Review 3 ★★★

{Review} Orange is the New Black by Piper KermanOrange Is the New Black: A Memoir by Piper Kerman
Published by Spiegel & Grau on March 8, 2011
Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 314
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there.

I picked up a copy of Orange is the New Black at my library’s spring book sale last month because 1) I like non-fiction, and it seems to be one of the very few things that can still draw me in while I’m in this god-awful book slump and 2) I wanted to see how it faired to the TV show.

When I first heard about the TV show I was slightly curious. My mother said she wanted us to try it out as one of our new shows, but upon further investigation, I discovered it was not really the kind of show I was comfortable watching with my family, haha! Over the next year or so though, I kept hearing how great of a show it was, from the great acting to the complex lives of the female characters, and I was loving what I was seeing on my Tumblr dashboard, so I figured I’d give it a shot in the frigid months of January and February. Tumblr was right (really, has it failed me before on TV shows? Nope), of course, and I’m now anxiously awaiting Season 3!

But back to Kerman’s memoir. I think is the case of the TV adaption being way better than its source material (could it really shine without the amazing presence of Laverne Cox though?), although Orange is the New Black isn’t a bad read, not at all. It held my attention and was informative and funny. I didn’t really learn a whole lot more than I already knew about the prison system though, and I think illustrating statistics among the system via each character’s lived experiences on the TV show works better than having Kerman rattle off information about race, class, sexuality within the prison industrial complex. One thing that I did like compared to the TV series was that Larry was much less annoying, haha!

Overall, a solid read but it doesn’t hold a flame to the TV show!

3 Stars

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{Review} Take Them by Storm by Marie Landry

January 12, 2015 Review 0 ★★★★

{Review} Take Them by Storm by Marie LandryTake Them by Storm by Marie Landry
Series: Angel Island #3
Published by Self-Published on 01/06/2015
Genres: New Adult
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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This book is a standalone companion novel to Waiting for the Storm and After the Storm.

Sadie Fitzgerald has always been different, and not just because she makes her own clothes and would rather stay home watching Doctor Who than party with kids her age. When it’s time to leave Angel Island for college, Sadie is eager to put her old life behind her. Small-minded people and rumors have plagued her for years, but with the love of her adoptive family, the O’Dells, Sadie has learned to embrace who she is. Now she’s not afraid to admit the rumors about her are true: she’s gay.

For the first time in her life, Sadie feels free to be herself. She dives into college life and begins volunteering at the local LGBT center, where she discovers her small-town upbringing left holes in her education about life outside Angel Island.

The world is a bigger and more accepting place than Sadie ever imagined. She’s finally found where she belongs, but with the reappearance of someone from her past, an unexpected new friendship, and a chance at love, Sadie soon realizes she still has a lot to learn about life, friendship, and love.

Cover Talk

Purple is my favourite colour, so I may be a bit biased here, but I love the cover. It’s eye catching, and quirky, just like Sadie. It actually matches very closely the descriptions of the clothing she wears and makes in the book, so it’s not another girl in a pretty dress cover that has NOTHING to do with the book. Nothing against those covers, because hey, they can be absolutely BEAUTIFUL, but after a while they become overdone when they have no connection to the plot. Alas, I digress.

My Expectations

I love Marie Landry’s books, and have been looking forward to Sadie’s story since she first told me about it so I was pretty sure I would like this book. However, 2014 had me in a god awful slump, and I didn’t want to read anything with dead mothers in it at the moment. That said, I decided to persevere and read Take Them by Storm since I had been looking forward to it for a while now.

My Thoughts

Marie Landry has done it, yet again! Take Them by Storm had me captivated from the first chapter, and I found myself reading for long stretches throughout the day and night, pushing aside other things to make time for Sadie, Ella, and River, as I returned to those loveable group of friends one last time.

While Take Them by Storm picks up a few weeks after After the Storm ends, it can be read as a standalone novel. Sadie is the protagonist, or I should say star of the book, as she really does shine. Whereas in After the Storm, Sadie was bubbly but self-conscious, and dealing with a lot of heavy things, in this book, she has the chance to truly get outside of her comfort zone and expand her horizons, as she starts at Loyola College while living with her best friend, River. Away from her unloving and bigoted parents and cruel high school peers, Sadie has the opportunity to volunteer at a local LGBTQ Rainbow Centre as part of her placement, allowing her to further grow confidence in herself, her identity, and to develop a sense of community for the first time in her life. (And if you’ve read any of Marie’s other books, particularly The Game Changer, you also get to see some familiar faces in Bellevue which was SO fun as a fan and reader!)

I really appreciated the complexity that Marie Landry gave to Sadie’s story, and character. She wasn’t defined by her sexual orientation, but identifying as a lesbian was still important to her. Not every relationship worked out picture perfect with a happily ever after story, nor was Sadie’s story one of doom or gloom. There was a little of both, and Sadie spent a lot of being happy, making mistakes, and just generally trying to figure out who she was and what she wanted – in other words, she was a typical college student! I also LOVED that the LGBTQA+ spectrum was represented, or discussed, including bisexual, pansexual, intersex, asexual, trans*, queer, and two-spirited identities. There was also a bisexual character (she actually read more pansexual to me, but nonetheless), and thankfully there was no bi-erasure, as can often happen. Sadie also gets served the same treatment as Landry’s other female protagonists, with a few steamy bedroom scenes of her own. No fade to black just because it is a LGBTQ romance, yay!

Although a LOT of things worked for me, one thing that didn’t really was one of the romantic relationships Sadie has towards the end of the book. Without spoiling anything, I had just never gotten the same kind of chemistry with the character as I did with some of the other female characters. It also seemed to happen very quickly, and then there was about a month’s jump forward in time, which made things seem even more rushed and made it a bit difficult for me to be all swoony and excited over them. That said, this was one thing in a sea of many things that I did really like!

In the end, Take Them by Storm was a whirlwind ride through Sadie’s first few months of college, and the highs and lows that came with it. I’d recommend this to anyone who is looking for a great contemporary read, whether you have read Waiting for the Storm and After the Storm and are looking to continue the story, or are looking for a great read about a young woman coming into her own with a wonderful group of friends. Also, being the last book, I am sad to leave this series behind! I’ve had some good laughs and cries over all three books. But I can’t wait to see what Landry has up her sleeve as she moves on to new characters, places and stories.  I’m sure they will be just as swoon, cry and laughter worthy as her others!

4 Stars

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{Review} Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

November 5, 2014 Review 2 ★★★★★

{Review} Station Eleven by Emily St. John MandelStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by HarperCollins on September 9, 2014
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Science Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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An audacious, darkly glittering novel about art, fame and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, from the author of three highly acclaimed previous novels.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theatre troupe known as the Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains-this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame and the beauty of the world as we know it.

I recently picked this up for an assignment on Canadian literature. I’d read numerous positive reviews – from JamieHannahKaren, and Blair – so I was really looking forward to this book. While literary science fiction is not a favorite genre of mine, the dazzling reviews were enough to sway me. Station Eleven is about a lethal flu epidemic that plagues our world and the ensuing aftermath. The narrative focuses on several characters each related, in some way, to a famous Hollywood actor who dies onstage during a production of “King Lear” in the opening pages. In an interview with the New York Times, Mandel said, “I wanted to write a love letter to the modern world, and a way to write about all these things we take for granted was to write about their absence.” I was pleasantly surprised by this insightful look into our world, our culture, and our humanity.

Part of what made this book so rich for me was how well Mandel developed a response to what exactly happens when 99% of the world’s population dies from an influenza epidemic. It’s about resilience, of the body, of the mind, and of the heart. I loved the multiple narratives in this book because it demonstrates so well how many different reactions are possible. A recurrent theme is that survival is not enough, and while Mandel writes characters who embody this concept, there are others who aren’t as mentally resilient.

These characters, though – they’re insanely realistic. I LOVE THEM. I ached for them. Their stories felt so tragic but so beautifully expressed. However, I don’t think there’s any way to explain these characters or their plots without ruining it all. Part of the enchantment of this book is the suspense: you don’t know how everything links together, and it seems to take forever to figure it out, but you do eventually.

The narrative has a wonderful sense of self-consciousness. You always have a sense of where you are currently in the timeline of the novel (which is long). I love this passage, which really exemplifies what I’m trying to describe:

“standing on a stool on his wondrously functional pre-Libya legs, the bullet that would sever his spinal cord still twenty-five years away but already approaching: a woman giving birth to a child who will someday pull the trigger on a gun, a designer sketching the weapon or its precursor, a dictator making a decision that will spark in the fullness of time into the conflagration that Frank will go overseas to cover for Reuters, the pieces of a pattern drifting closer together.”

We jump around from the moment the epidemic was unfolding and 20+ years after it happened, as well as a few memories from way before the epidemic. It really conveys a sense of shock when you go from completely normal – like our current world – to complete devastation and craziness. Super, super scary. I love when Mandel described the world 20+ years out, though, because it was so interesting to compare people who’s attitudes and experiences are so similar to mine, to a generation who grows up without any of the “modern conveniences” we are accustomed to (i.e. electricity, plumbing, gasoline, Internet).

For me, this book ticked every box: while the pacing is slower, it’s elegant and unique, and the characters and plot are expressed beautifully. Mandel is a wonderful storyteller. Her writing demonstrates that she put a lot of thought into the story, and it is completely controlled. That is the mark of an extremely talented writer; she knows everything but isn’t overhanded by revealing it all at once. If you enjoy books with interesting characters and emotional narratives, this one’s for you.

Collected Quotations

“‘It’s like the corporate world’s full of ghosts. And actually, let me revise that, my parents are in academia so I’ve had front-row seats for that horror show, I know academia’s no different, so maybe a fairer way of putting this would be to say that adulthood’s full of ghosts. . . . I’m talking about these people who’ve ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed. Do you know what I mean? They’ve done what’s expected of them. They want to do something different but it’s impossible now, there’s a mortgage, kids, whatever, they’re trapped. Dan’s like that. . . . You probably encounter people like him all the time. High-functioning sleepwalkers, essentially.'”

“Hell is the absence of the people you long for.”

“Something I’ve been thinking about, which will sound harsh and I’m sorry: you said you’d always be my friend but you’re not, actually, are you? I’ve only realized that recently. You don’t have any interest in my life. This is going to seem bitter but I don’t mean it that way, V., I’m just stating a fact here: you’ll only ever call me if I call you first. Have you noticed that? If I call and leave a message you’ll call me back, but you will never call me first. And I think that’s kind of a horrible thing, V., when you’re supposed to be someone’s friend. I always come to you. You always say you’re my friend but you’ll never come to me and I think I have to stop listening to your words, V., and take stock instead in your actions. My friend C. thinks my expectations of friendship are too high but I don’t think he’s right.”

“Survival is insufficient.”

5 Stars

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{Review} The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby

September 8, 2014 Review 0 ★★★★

{Review} The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan JubyThe Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby
Published by HarperCollins on March 8, 2011
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Woefield Farm is a sprawling thirty acres of scrub land, complete with dilapidated buildings and one half-sheared, lonely sheep named Bertie. It's "run" - in the loosest possible sense of the word - by Prudence Burns, an energetic, well-intentioned 20-something New Yorker full of back-to-the-land ideals, but without an iota of related skills or experience. Prudence, who inherited the farm from her uncle, soon discovers that the bank is about to foreclose on the property, which means that she has to turn things around, fast. But fear not! She'll be assisted by Earl, a spry 70-something, banjo-playing foreman, with a distrust of newfangled ideas and a substantial family secret; Seth, the alcoholic, celebrity-blogging guy-next-door, who hasn't left the house since a scandal with his high-school drama teacher; and Sara Spratt, a highly organized eleven-year-old looking for a home for her prize-winning chickens, including one particularly randy fellow soon to be christened Alec Baldwin.
Some Brief Thoughts

Oh, man. THIS BOOK. I don’t even know how to begin to explain it. First things first, the best thing about this book is the characters. Their special brand of hilarity reminds me a little bit of The Big Bang Theory – like, hilarious, but they’re not trying to be funny. They aren’t “nerds” like the show, instead they are a crazy cast of misfits… there is Earl, an old guy with his eye on retirement, who is a farmhand with basically no farming skills. There’s Seth, who is an irritating, sloppy blogger who is incredibly self-centered and conceited – but as he is forced to work on the farm, his character development is truly amazing. I was rooting for him in the end, which is NOT something I thought I’d be saying when I first opened the book! There’s Sara, who is also annoying, but in a much more endearing way; she only wants the best for her prize-winning chickens and is determined to get it from the folks at Woefield. And finally, Prudence… so sweet, hard-working, and determined, she’s a city girl and a “retired” writer who wants to make it on a farm. She reminded me so much of myself – her ideals, not necessarily her personality – and it was hilarious to see her try to make it all work.

Which is, essentially, the whole kit and caboodle of this book. Prudence wants to make the farm into a utopian land that is sustainable and profitable, but all she has for help are Earl, Seth, and Sara… which leave something to be desired. Each of these characters is prone to hair-brained ideas, and the best part is seeing how they turn out. You just never know, and I can honestly say EVERY “solution” had me busting my gut and shaking my head in wonderment.

Part of that is the animals – Woefield is pretty pathetic, especially at first, and all they have for animals are Bertie the sheep and Sara’s chickens. But holy cow, do they ever get up to some crazy shenanigans with these animals. You would think it would be pretty easy to take care of one sheep, but Earl and Seth show that is not the case….

There’s also a hunky guy, which in my opinion never hurts. BUT my favourite thing about this hunky guy is that, while I was rooting for him and Prudence to get together, HIS role, from his perspective, was about saving the animals at Woefield. (He’s a vet… even better.) He’s concerned about Bertie the sheep, not Prudence – and I love that he’s not playing her white knight.

Other things I loved: the farm life (I love farms), the fact that it’s in Canada, the grumpy characters yet the way they’re totally endearing, and the constant laughing out loud. I can’t even begin to describe the humour. I’ve tried to include some of the funniest quotes I could pull below, but I don’t know if just a few lines will accurately convey the situation. It is one of the funniest books I can ever remember reading, and if you are in need of something light, fun, and wholly entertaining, this should definitely be next on your list!

A few notes: This book was published in the US under the title Home to Woefield. Also, both Earl and Seth like to swear a lot, so this book is definitely at least a PG-13.

Collected Quotations

“My heart kind of hurt when I looked at her. Not because I was in love, but because I could tell from looking at her that she didn’t hate herself. Not only didn’t she seem to hate herself, she barely seemed to think about herself. How fucking glorious must that be?”

“It’s been a pretty tough day,” he said. “No sense making it worse with a salad.”

“The old man kept going about how he could never keep her home, how she loved to roam. He said she should have been a sheep in the foothills of Scotland. Now if that wasn’t a load of shit I don’t know what is. I’ll tell you why that sheep roamed. The fences around here was held up with goddamn binder twine and half-assed prayers. That’s why.”

“I think Prudence is one of the busiest people who ever lived. Probably only God and Jesus and the devil are more busy than Prudence.”

4 Stars

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{Review} Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

August 20, 2014 Review 4 ★★★★½

{Review} Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonLife After Life by Kate Atkinson
Published by Anchor Canada on January 7, 2014
Genres: Adult, Historical Fiction
Pages: 496
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, she finds warmth even in life's bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here is Kate Atkinson at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

This. Book. Is. Sublime. I don’t know if I can do it justice – in fact I know I can’t – but I will try, because this book is a must read. For everyone. Now. Seriously. Go read it!!!

My Expectations

Life After Life is a book I’ve had vaguely in the recesses of my mind for a while now. I picked it up as a treat to myself after I finished my undergraduate exams. Going in, all I really knew was that it is about reincarnation, and not much more than that. Needless to say, expectations were pretty much nonexistent.

Cover Talk

I love the cover for this; I think it’s gorgeous. The texture is really glossy and cool, too. The fox and rabbit are symbolic, and after reading the book, they felt even more important. Ursula’s childhood home is named Fox Corner and they see a lot of foxes. The rabbits are also frequent visitors at Fox Corner. Throughout the course of several childhood reincarnations, they become symbolic of Ursula’s overall journey through life.

My Thoughts

Life After Life is set (mostly) during WWII and the main character, Ursula, gets reincarnated many times throughout the course of her existence, but always as the same person with the same family. The synopsis doesn’t give a lot away about the logistics of reincarnation, but I think it’s done in a pretty unique way I think. (I can’t tell you more than that – part of the joy of Life After Life is in discovering and puzzling out the plot!) It’s written as fragments of the lives Ursula has lead – basically kind of like different possibilities of the same life. For example, she dies at one point, but then is reincarnated and the story picks up at her last death. It’s a challenging concept because the author presents reincarnation in a very complex way. It took me about 40 pages to understand the pattern. It becomes even more interesting when Ursula grows up a little bit – old enough to have clear memories. Sometimes she remembers things clearly but most often she has hazy half-recollections. This book is an exploration of humanity at its core; it’s not really about “getting it right” (although each time she avoids a poor decision she had made in the past), it’s more about an individual’s possible paths, about family, about history, about war.

The book is set up in life cycles – she dies multiple times but is essentially living out the same story with each life. Then the narrative will move on, beginning a new cycle of deaths and rebirths. Some lives go nowhere, but that’s realistic: it’s a sad fact of life that not everyone’s life is long.

And Ursula. Oh, Ursula. She is seriously the best narrator ever. Meeting Ursula so many times made me feel like I know her intimately; when one of her lives turned out to be horrible and depressing, my heart ached for her. I read some reviews that said it was boring spending so much time in Ursula’s head experiencing such similar events, but I found it uniquely rewarding. Atkinson also repeats phrases and images throughout Ursula’s lives, which gives each life a sense of poignancy and bittersweetness. In one instance, she repeats the image of “a black cat, a rhinestone for an eye”, and each time I was reminded of the horribly sad circumstances in which the image first appeared.

At the heart of it all, though, this book is not sentimental or frenzied. There is such a sense of Englishness about the book. This sums up what I mean perfectly: “‘No point in thinking,’ she said briskly, ‘you just have to get on with life. We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try.'” It is uplifting, but also steel-faced in the midst of a horrible wartime. Even the small details – tea in the city, the summer countryside, etc. are perfectly done:

“She found Frieda slipping in and out of delirium and lay down beside her on the mattress on the floor. Stroking her damp hair, she talked in a low voice to her about another world. She told her about the bluebells in spring in the wood near Fox Corner, about the flowers that grew in the meadow beyond the copse – flax and larkspur, buttercups, corn poppies, red campion and ox-eye daisies. She told her about the smell of new-mown grass from an English summer lawn, the scent of Sylvie’s roses, the sour-sweet taste of the apples in the orchard. She talked of the oak trees in the lane, and the yews in the graveyard and the beech in the garden at Fox Corner. She talked about the foxes, the rabbits, the pheasants, the hares, the cows and the big plough horses. About the sun beaming his friendly rays on fields of corn and fields of green. The bright song of the blackbird, the lyrical lark, the soft coo of the wood pigeons, the hoot of the owl in the dark.”

Atkinson’s writing style is really unique too – and it kind of has to be to fit the unique concept. Each chapter’s title is a date, and most chapters are only a few pages long (although others are lengthy). Atkinson uses a lot of sentence fragments, which I find can work beautifully, especially with a concept that is so philosophical.

As I’m sure you can tell, there are so many elements that were so important for Atkinson to get right. What is so impressive to realize, after having finished reading, is how much work she put into Life After Life. So much thought. So many plot lines to keep straight. So many tiny details to make sure are perfect. Every aspect of this book was carefully considered and carefully written. Even the smallest supporting roles – which are so often dismissed easily – have been given such life and spark that they feel as important and real as Ursula herself.

Life After Life is the epitome of good taste, good writing, good thinking. I don’t care what your favourite genre is or what you normally read, this is a must-read for any reader. It is one of the most beautiful and accurate expressions of human life I have ever read. Felicitations, Ms. Atkinson.

Collected Quotes

“Do not tell secrets to those whose faith and silence you have not already tested.”

“An icy rush of air, a freezing slipstream on the newly exposed skin. She is, with no warning, outside the inside and the familiar wet, tropical world has suddenly evaporated. Exposed to the elements. A prawn peeled, a nut shelled.
No breath. All the world come down to this. One breath.
Little lungs, like dragonfly wings failing to inflate in the foreign atmosphere. No wind in the strangled pipe. The buzzing of a thousand bees in the tiny curled pearl of an ear.
Panic. The drowning girl, the falling bird.”

“Ursula craved solitude but she hated loneliness, a conundrum that she couldn’t even begin to solve.”

“‘I don’t suppose the dead care about anything much,’ Teddy said. ‘I think when you’re dead you’re dead. I don’t believe there’s anything beyond, do you?’
‘I might have done before the war,’ Ursula said, ‘before I saw a lot of dead bodies. But they just look like so much rubbish, thrown away.’ (She thought of Hugh saying, ‘Just put me out with the dustbin.’) ‘It doesn’t seem as though their souls have flown.'”

“‘My heart is split in two. I loved him so much. Love him so much. I don’t know why I use the past tense. It’s not as if love dies with the beloved.'”

“She allowed the hum and buzz of the park to lullaby her. Life wasn’t about becoming, was it? It was about being. Dr Kellet would have approved this thought. And everything was ephemeral, yet everything was eternal, she thought sleepily.”

“What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

“She thought of Dr Kellet and Pindar. Become such as you are, having learned what that is. She knew what that was now. She was Ursula Beresford Todd and she was a witness. She opened her arms to the black bat and they flew to each other, embracing the air like long-lost souls. This is love, Ursula thought. And the practice of it makes it perfect.”

Join the Convo!

Have you read Life After Life? What did you think? Were you a fan of her experimental style and unique premise, or did you find it fanciful? If you’ve read Life After Life, do you have any recommendations for similar work I can try?

4.5 Stars

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