Category Archives: Book reviews

All the Ever Afters: A Powerful Rendition of the Stepmother’s Side of the Cinderella Story

This post was originally published on www.bookclubbabble.com

April 13, 2018 –

There are always at least two sides to every story. Perspective is everything and Danielle Teller’s novel has definitely delivered a different angle. Teller’s novel is a powerfully written rendition of the Cinderella story, from the point of view of the stepmother. It is an enjoyable read, at times sad, at times uplifting, but ultimately, Teller’s message comes with a strong core theme: the bond between parent and child comes from the nurturing, caretaking relationship more so than from the physical act of childbearing.

The author, a medical doctor, was inspired to write All the Ever Afters after becoming a stepparent. Having been a stepchild, and being a parent myself, I was intrigued at the novel’s premise. The setting of the novel harkens to a late medieval period, and the narrative is a sharp reminder of a woman’s role in society during that time, as well as of the extremely limited opportunities that women had.

All the Ever Afters tells the tale of the stepmother, Agnes, from the time she is forced to leave home at a young age, to her working in menial jobs, to becoming a woman, to succumbing to a man’s charms, and to having her two daughters. I won’t give away how she ends up becoming Cinderella’s stepmother (that was one of the parts I was anticipating and wouldn’t want to spoil it for the reader). The novel’s description of Agnes’ past allows the reader to empathize with her difficult life and to understand her parenting methods.

The book details several pieces of evidence that suggest that Cinderella (Ella) is more of an introvert than her stepsisters in that she prefers quieter, less stimulating environments. Agnes notes that Ella is “peculiar, … a solitary woolgatherer who did not engage in play like other children. She was a stickler for quiet.” Agnes “never knew what was going on behind [Ella’s] pretty eyes.” Agnes tells Ella’s father that “It would be good for Ella to get out of her chambers” and “It cannot be healthy for her to spend so much time alone.” One of the stepsisters notes that “good company is wasted on [Ella] and that she “stare[s] off at nothing.” These descriptions of Ella deeply resonated with me, since growing up I was an introvert in a household of extroverts, and often felt (and still feel) misunderstood when I seek solitude to recharge my energy. While reading All the Ever Afters, I wished that Agnes would allow Ella to be herself, instead of suggesting that Ella was somehow abnormal because her character was different from that of Agnes and her own daughters. Agnes does eventually come to this realization when Ella is older.

At the same time, I felt sympathy for Agnes, who had a difficult life and who, in adulthood, is forced for much of the time to live apart from her own children. It is easy to understand why Agnes is frustrated with Ella, who is beautiful and born to a wealthy family, and from whom not much is expected. However, suffering is always relative; a child does not understand how good he/she has it. The fact that Ella wants for nothing does not negate the painful fact that she loses both of her biological parents. In this, I also wished that Agnes would have been more openly sympathetic to Ella upon the death of her father.

Enter a stepparent into a family dynamic, coupled with a child’s need for stability, and it is easy to see how a child may test and resist the stepparent. The stepparent should be patient and build a loving relationship with the child so that the child trusts him/her. All the Ever Aftersdetails the blossoming relationship between stepmother and stepchild in a realistic way, where trust and affection is developed slowly.

Ultimately, All the Ever Afters tells a complex tale of a love that forms through patient nurturing and by just being present. It is a wonderful reminder that being an affectionate, understanding parent has great rewards.

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The Big Sheep: A delightfully humorous dystopian novel

Originally posted on http://www.bookclubbabble.com

Robert Kroese’s The Big Sheep is a fun, genre-bending ride. Kroese is largely an author of humorous, deeply sarcastic science fiction, although he writes (and writes very well) in multiple genres. Indeed, I don’t think enough work has been done in the humorous sci-fi genre. Fans of Kroese’s Mercury series, which pokes tongue-in-cheek humor at everything from lawyers (no offense taken) to bureaucratic agencies, will not be disappointed with The Big Sheep.

The Big Sheep is ultimately a work of science fiction, set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world after an event referred to as The Collapse. As a result, a large part of Los Angeles, known as the Disincorporated Zone, essentially became a chaotic, third-world country run by mafia lords. Sheep is also a detective noir thriller, featuring seemingly high-functioning autistic and mysterious private investigator Erasmus Keane (who refers to himself as a phenomenological inquisitor) and his trusty sidekick Blake Fowler, who tries to keep Keane semi-grounded.

The novel’s plot and atmosphere harken to Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which inspired the movie Blade Runner. I would strongly recommend reading Androids before reading The Big Sheep, since the reader will understand the connections and get the humorous references more easily.

In Sheep’s main plotline, detectives Keane and Fowler are hired by two different clients to solve what appear to be two different cases. In the first case, a Hollywood star is afraid that someone may be trying to kill her. In the second, a lab is searching for a missing genetically modified sheep. All this action is set against a backdrop of Hollywood-style cinema, which ties in well with the issues of antiaging and immortality raised by the novel. After all, no one likes getting old, right? Especially if you’re an actor whose ability to get work depends largely on your looks.

To make it even more interesting, there is a subplot involving Fowler’s missing girlfriend Gwen. Kroese suggests enough hints to make the reader keep guessing. What happened to Gwen? Is Keane who he says he is? What led to The Collapse? The multiple mysteries presented make for a gripping read until the very end.

Kroese’s witty dialogue has always been a huge draw for me, and here are some illustrative quotes:

“It was never a good thing when a bad guy started quoting Nietzsche.”

“You’re breaking up, Banerjee,” said Keane. “We’re going through a tunnel.” He ended the call.

“Was that a good idea?” I [Fowler] asked.

“He was getting on my nerves,” said Keane. “Go through a tunnel if it makes you feel better.”

“Oh, she’s watering his plants all right,” said Keane.

“Congratulations,” I said. “That’s the worst euphemism for intercourse I’ve ever heard.”

“No,” said
Keane. “Intercourse is the worst euphemism for intercourse you’ve ever heard. Normal people call it
f*cking.”

One reviewer wrote that Sheep is a novel that “fires on all cylinders.” It is exactly that, an
enjoyable, humorous ride that keeps the reader on his toes until the very end.

Kroese’s The Last Iota,  a novel set in the same dystopian world as The Big Sheep, ties in well with Sheep and expands on its subplot.