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How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life

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What do a chamber pot, a famous poet, a family feud, and a long-ago suitor all have in common? Elizabeth Barrett Browning might have written about the length and breadth of love, but Abby Randolph has given up on all that, preferring to spend her time between her cluttered "needs work" apartment and an overcrowded antiques mart optimistically named Objects of Desire. Yet Ab What do a chamber pot, a famous poet, a family feud, and a long-ago suitor all have in common? Elizabeth Barrett Browning might have written about the length and breadth of love, but Abby Randolph has given up on all that, preferring to spend her time between her cluttered "needs work" apartment and an overcrowded antiques mart optimistically named Objects of Desire. Yet Abby can't help but wonder what happened to her earlier passionate self . . . Then the Antiques Roadshow comes to town, and Abby joins thousands of Boston's hopefuls at the crack of dawn, artifact in hand. But there, among the carousel horses and bedraggled stuffed animals, Abby's rather squalid piece of porcelain gets the star treatment. And from the moment the show airs, everything changes—friendships, her career, love affairs, even the way she views herself and others—as life comes rushing back at Abby Randolph full force.


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What do a chamber pot, a famous poet, a family feud, and a long-ago suitor all have in common? Elizabeth Barrett Browning might have written about the length and breadth of love, but Abby Randolph has given up on all that, preferring to spend her time between her cluttered "needs work" apartment and an overcrowded antiques mart optimistically named Objects of Desire. Yet Ab What do a chamber pot, a famous poet, a family feud, and a long-ago suitor all have in common? Elizabeth Barrett Browning might have written about the length and breadth of love, but Abby Randolph has given up on all that, preferring to spend her time between her cluttered "needs work" apartment and an overcrowded antiques mart optimistically named Objects of Desire. Yet Abby can't help but wonder what happened to her earlier passionate self . . . Then the Antiques Roadshow comes to town, and Abby joins thousands of Boston's hopefuls at the crack of dawn, artifact in hand. But there, among the carousel horses and bedraggled stuffed animals, Abby's rather squalid piece of porcelain gets the star treatment. And from the moment the show airs, everything changes—friendships, her career, love affairs, even the way she views herself and others—as life comes rushing back at Abby Randolph full force.

30 review for How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sabrina

    How do I hate thee How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways 1) I hate thee for thou's characters which were dull and bland at most. 2) I hate thee for the lack of action and suspense and substance which I hoped and I hate thee for the angst I recieved 3) I hate thee for misleading me with the title and cover art, a sneaky and manipulative trick 4) I hate thee for the promising premise and for the disappointment I recieved 5) I hate thee for including a god-forsaken love story and making the characte How do I hate thee How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways 1) I hate thee for thou's characters which were dull and bland at most. 2) I hate thee for the lack of action and suspense and substance which I hoped and I hate thee for the angst I recieved 3) I hate thee for misleading me with the title and cover art, a sneaky and manipulative trick 4) I hate thee for the promising premise and for the disappointment I recieved 5) I hate thee for including a god-forsaken love story and making the characters all hate-worthy that I wanted to go into the book and rip their heads off one by one. Seriously. 6) I hate thee because the main character made me ashamed for all women. I get it, you're depressed and want some love. Get over it and man (or woman) up. I hate weak female protaganists, I didn't want to read Twilight! 7) I hate thee for thou's lack of originality and whereby thinking that a quick sum of everything that happened in the book is a good way to end it. Just no. You're not Harper Lee, you can't do it properly! 8) I hate thee for making me get angry and mad and having to express my hatred through a review which will not even be acknowledged by the author! 9) I hate thee because thou is so easy to hate. Everything in this book was just frusturating! The characters, the plot (if there was any), every single page had something I hated Elizabeth Barrett Browning must be screaming somewhere that she has an affiliation to a book as horrid as this. To make matters worst, I was recommended this book by a teacher I assumed liked me. Now I wonder what I did to make her hate me! Oh, how I hate this book. Oh, how I hate thee.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Miriam

    First, let's just say that Mameve Medwed's HOST FAMILY was one of those delightful finds in the publishing house that makes you just happy you work in one. I would have never read it except I found it on one of our notorious "take shelves" and then I devoured it. So when I saw that she had published a new novel, I was overjoyed. And the concept is intriguing: down-on-her-luck girl gets ugly chamber pot from her mom only to find out via Antiques Roadshow that it is worth a lot. A custody battle e First, let's just say that Mameve Medwed's HOST FAMILY was one of those delightful finds in the publishing house that makes you just happy you work in one. I would have never read it except I found it on one of our notorious "take shelves" and then I devoured it. So when I saw that she had published a new novel, I was overjoyed. And the concept is intriguing: down-on-her-luck girl gets ugly chamber pot from her mom only to find out via Antiques Roadshow that it is worth a lot. A custody battle ensues. It' MY kind of book. And yet. I hated it. I hated her. I hated her problems. I hated that chamber pot. I couldn't wait for it to end. I will read another Mameve Medwed book. But this one really left me cold. And it makes me sad.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Roderick Wolfson

    Who wants to read an intelligent comedy with literary references? I greatly enjoyed How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life, starting with the title. The book is narrated by a woman who is the daughter of a Harvard professor. Her issues with coming to closure range from dropping out of Harvard just prior to graduating and an ex-partner claims it extends to avoiding periods at the ends of sentences! People familiar with Cambridge (MA), trash-picking, and/or PBS may particularly enjoy this bo Who wants to read an intelligent comedy with literary references? I greatly enjoyed How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life, starting with the title. The book is narrated by a woman who is the daughter of a Harvard professor. Her issues with coming to closure range from dropping out of Harvard just prior to graduating and an ex-partner claims it extends to avoiding periods at the ends of sentences! People familiar with Cambridge (MA), trash-picking, and/or PBS may particularly enjoy this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I first picked this book up because of its interesting title. I read about 5 pages, got bored, and put it down for a month. Then I picked it back up, read the jacket, and thought, "Hey, this sounds interesting! I guess I just didn't read far enough!" Wrong. The jacket was the best part. The jacket made it sound like this was a book with substance, but it just turned out to be a somewhat poorly-told love story with little else to back it up. The first half of the book the narrator was hinting so h I first picked this book up because of its interesting title. I read about 5 pages, got bored, and put it down for a month. Then I picked it back up, read the jacket, and thought, "Hey, this sounds interesting! I guess I just didn't read far enough!" Wrong. The jacket was the best part. The jacket made it sound like this was a book with substance, but it just turned out to be a somewhat poorly-told love story with little else to back it up. The first half of the book the narrator was hinting so hard at the backstory with Lavinia and Ned and then saying, "But I'll tell you later" - and when she finally did tell you, it was rather anticlimactic. I thought the characters were uninteresting and/or flat stereotypes. The main character Abby was not believable as an antiques collector who supposedly loved antiques - she didn't seem to know or care about antiques any more than I do (which is to say, not at all.) I wasn't buying it. I also thought the main character wasn't likeable, which isn't bad if the book has an interesting plot but this one didn't (for the most part.) Worst of all, I rolled my eyes so hard I thought my head would fall off at the last few pages where the narrator summed up everything, saving me the trouble of having to look for any connections and/or meaning within the book (thanks, Medwed.) If she hadn't done that, I would have at least given the book 2 stars because it made you think a little. Overall, a better ending would have been, "And then I found out I contracted chlamydia from having unprotected sex with a random stranger." While I'm on the subject... obviously that whole episode didn't bother the narrator, but honestly... what the heck was that?

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    When I first got this book and was putting it on my goodreads, I read a bunch of dismal reviews. I still took it home and read it. I feel that I overlooked those other people because of a parallel lines with Abby. First, I'm the same age she is. Second, I had recently applied to be on Antique Roadshow and wasn't picked. Now days, tickets are dulled out in a lottery regardless of what you plan to bring ( which I think is insane.) You enter your email and a few months later you get to check back t When I first got this book and was putting it on my goodreads, I read a bunch of dismal reviews. I still took it home and read it. I feel that I overlooked those other people because of a parallel lines with Abby. First, I'm the same age she is. Second, I had recently applied to be on Antique Roadshow and wasn't picked. Now days, tickets are dulled out in a lottery regardless of what you plan to bring ( which I think is insane.) You enter your email and a few months later you get to check back to see if you were picked. And if so you get two tickets and must bring one item ( but can bring two.) Maybe 10 years ago the show was just long lines of people trying to get in with their goods like the book portrays. This book wasn't horrible, you felt bad for Abby.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    This, ever so slowly, began to irk my sense of... self-worth. I smacked the inanimate pages and decided on a short break. Fury and frustration near the end as horrible decisions keep this woman from saving herself, but wait there is love! EBB does not save Abby but this was not why the book went into the trash. Mameve created a worthy character of troubles, building the tension, and horrifying my sense of rectitude. Pulling it from the trash, I checked the last paragraph. I smile at the exertion This, ever so slowly, began to irk my sense of... self-worth. I smacked the inanimate pages and decided on a short break. Fury and frustration near the end as horrible decisions keep this woman from saving herself, but wait there is love! EBB does not save Abby but this was not why the book went into the trash. Mameve created a worthy character of troubles, building the tension, and horrifying my sense of rectitude. Pulling it from the trash, I checked the last paragraph. I smile at the exertion spent twisting this book... it was the second antique which really saved her. I almost love the hatred this dredged up, quite thrilling and then through it back in the trash.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Audrey Brecknock

    This was my first Mameve Medwed book, and since I read it, I've heard a lot of hype about her. This book was pretty good, but not exactly mindblowing; the plot was typical, but the writing was interesting. There were plenty of allusions for literary geeks and scholars, subtle and entertaining. The main character was satisfyingly weak and human, though that made for some frustrating moments of dealing with her insecurities, indecision, and the cleanings up of her messy life. An easy, fairly quick This was my first Mameve Medwed book, and since I read it, I've heard a lot of hype about her. This book was pretty good, but not exactly mindblowing; the plot was typical, but the writing was interesting. There were plenty of allusions for literary geeks and scholars, subtle and entertaining. The main character was satisfyingly weak and human, though that made for some frustrating moments of dealing with her insecurities, indecision, and the cleanings up of her messy life. An easy, fairly quick read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    There is something delightful about this author's writing style and sense of humor. The story centers around Abby, a 33 year old antiques dealer who grew up in Cambridge as the daughter of a Harvard professor. Her best friend is a complete bitch but successful financially having followed the path of the typical Harvard graduate's dream, whereas Abby dropped out of Harvard after a few semesters and still doesn't know who she is. Can she find happiness in her life without conforming to what her Ha There is something delightful about this author's writing style and sense of humor. The story centers around Abby, a 33 year old antiques dealer who grew up in Cambridge as the daughter of a Harvard professor. Her best friend is a complete bitch but successful financially having followed the path of the typical Harvard graduate's dream, whereas Abby dropped out of Harvard after a few semesters and still doesn't know who she is. Can she find happiness in her life without conforming to what her Harvard friends and family expect of her?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nina Fitzgerald

    I found this book while wandering the stacks at the local library. It was a light and entertaining read about an angst-filled antiques dealer who needs to come to grips with her life and the people who inhabit it. Although I became a bit weary of the overuse of the incomplete sentence, I enjoyed the author's clever writing. I found this book while wandering the stacks at the local library. It was a light and entertaining read about an angst-filled antiques dealer who needs to come to grips with her life and the people who inhabit it. Although I became a bit weary of the overuse of the incomplete sentence, I enjoyed the author's clever writing.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lesley

    Picked this one up on impulse at the library; was pleasantly surprised. I was worried it was going to be a satire, but it was actually pretty cute. Fair warning: ending was horrifically cheesy.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    This is a mildly amusing novel about a neurotic woman whose unhappy and humdrum life is turned around by a trip to Antique Roadshows where she finds herself on television with an immensely valuable chamber pot that had belonged to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and was used as a writing implement while the poetess was writing works like "Sonnets From The Portuguese." By and large the book's tone is more than a little bit jocular and the work is not the sort of novel to take seriously, but if you are This is a mildly amusing novel about a neurotic woman whose unhappy and humdrum life is turned around by a trip to Antique Roadshows where she finds herself on television with an immensely valuable chamber pot that had belonged to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and was used as a writing implement while the poetess was writing works like "Sonnets From The Portuguese." By and large the book's tone is more than a little bit jocular and the work is not the sort of novel to take seriously, but if you are looking for romantic fluff that involves a somewhat self-aware but very insecure and clueless female narrator and protagonist, this work certainly has much to offer for it. That is, if you can look with an indulgent eye at the atrocious morality that can be found in this work, which includes some casual fornication and adultery, making light of marriage, and some adroitly handled but still awkward sex scenes, as well as romantic advice being dispensed after the grave from lesbian lovers trying to set their children from their past marriages together. This is not necessarily the most appealing sort of work to everyone, but there is certainly an audience for this sort of romantic novel. This novel is about 250 pages and it is the sort of book that is likely to win awards in the contemporary fictional climate. On the one hand, it is a clear work of self-conscious literary fiction, in that it is a fiction that is in part about writers--some of them good (Elizabeth Barrett Browning), and some of them bad, like Ned, the true love of the author who is cast aside in pain and anguish when he uses her confessions to craft a terrible nonfiction novel about his family and community. There is a sustained note of irony throughout this book, not least in the fact that the author may very well be writing about her own relatives and neighbors, and thus is sending up the sort of parochial elitism that it represents itself, thus immunizing itself from the sort of criticism it is likely to receive from those who might be aware of people who actually behave not unlike this. While my own feelings about the plot itself and the sometimes loathsome characters within it is decidedly mixed, at the same time I did leave with an appreciation of the author's skill, if not necessarily her character. How much insider knowledge does it take to appreciate a work like this? By and large, the book is one that offers the reader a perspective of the sort of authorial intervention it takes to get certain people into happy relationships, including apologies and a recognition of the importance of trust. The narrator's appalling lack of insight in terms of dealing with others leads to a lot of complications, especially because the fame and monetary value of the chamberpot leads to a legal fight and to the development of a sort of fame. That the author is a Harvard dropout from one of those elite Waspish families that tends to view Ivy League education as a birthright suggests as well a certain decadence in the elites of the Northeast, which also makes this book a bit less enjoyable to read to someone whose thoughts about such elites are deeply complicated. This is a book written by and for contemporary audiences who want a lot of gossipy and fluffy plots that send up high culture but that depend on a certain degree of knowledge and interest with the insular ways of corrupt elites in a clear state of decline, trying to find themselves because they lack the ability and ambition to do something meaningful in a conventional sense.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marisa Turpin

    The only reason I schlepped this book on vacation to Florida is it was a paperback, therefore taking up little room or weight in my suitcase/checked bag. I cracked it open on my first day while lounging at the pool. The main character Abby, could be funny at times. However, as the book progressed I found her to be more and more pathetic and helpless. She has just been left by her live in boyfriend, Claude, who ditched her for another woman. They had collected antiques and ran a booth together in The only reason I schlepped this book on vacation to Florida is it was a paperback, therefore taking up little room or weight in my suitcase/checked bag. I cracked it open on my first day while lounging at the pool. The main character Abby, could be funny at times. However, as the book progressed I found her to be more and more pathetic and helpless. She has just been left by her live in boyfriend, Claude, who ditched her for another woman. They had collected antiques and ran a booth together in an antique mall. She is left to run it on her own, when another seller urges her to get her chamber pot appraised on the Antiques Roadshow. Lo and behold it is worth $70,000 because it had belonged to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her ex-best friend sues her for it, saying it was her mother's property (They were best friends growing up, being neighborhood Harvard faculty brats. Their mothers suddenly decide to get together and leave their husbands for one another to travel the world). Her best friend's brother also happens to be her ex-fiancée. He broke her heart by riding a tell all book of her confessions to him. She takes to her bed over every little thing and is just ridiculous. I wanted to reach into the page and slap her. I almost finished it before landing on my return flight, but flipped to the back to get it over with and done. Finally went back today to read the last couple of chapters. Should not have bothered. Do yourself a favor and skip it altogether.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Cute, fluffy story of a down-on-her-luck antiques dealer who inherits a chamber pot from her mother -- a chamber pot that she takes to the Antiques Roadshow and finds out belonged to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and is worth a lot of money. There's a love story and some humorous moments. Good for a light read. Cute, fluffy story of a down-on-her-luck antiques dealer who inherits a chamber pot from her mother -- a chamber pot that she takes to the Antiques Roadshow and finds out belonged to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and is worth a lot of money. There's a love story and some humorous moments. Good for a light read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Molly

    Solid 3.5 for fun and literary references. Definitely worth your time if you want something fun with good writing and intelligent content. I will concede that the trope of the messy, underachieving thirty-something woman is tiring. But, I liked almost everything about this book. (Which I picked up based solely on the title and then Antiques Roadshow and poets sold me.)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    This played to my tastes - literary connection, check. Interesting profession of protagonist, check. A romantic relationship that one can root for, check. Interesting locale, check. And excellent, witty writing, check, check, check. If you're looking for absorbing and enjoyable, this might fit the bill, depending on your checklist. This played to my tastes - literary connection, check. Interesting profession of protagonist, check. A romantic relationship that one can root for, check. Interesting locale, check. And excellent, witty writing, check, check, check. If you're looking for absorbing and enjoyable, this might fit the bill, depending on your checklist.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Angie (Literary Labors)

    I don’t understand how this book can have so many negative reviews. The first half of the book was for sure slow-going, and the main character made a few really imbecilic decisions. But despite that, I found the story to be sedately beautiful.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Despite the other reviews, I actually loved this novel. Sure, I hated the ex-best friend and the way Abby flings herself into any rebound romance, but what I loved was the character development, the forgiveness, and the eventual “happy” ending a reader craves at the end of a book like this.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lizanne Pitt

    I don’t know what I expected, but this book was different. It both annoyed and endeared me at the same time. It was weirdly written, but I don’t feel like I wasted my time. Not sure if I would read it again or if I would even recommend it. But was interesting.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jules

    I quite enjoyed this offbeat tale. It was a nice read, endearing. I really liked the main character and how she dealt with the conflicts that arose in the novel. While the ending was rather predictable, the story itself was unique and fun.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Dull...dull...dull read...sorry...just couldn't stay awake for this one...snooze fest everytime I opened it....I just sort of turned the pages in my sleep I guess. Dull...dull...dull read...sorry...just couldn't stay awake for this one...snooze fest everytime I opened it....I just sort of turned the pages in my sleep I guess.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Louise Kuhlman

    Fun read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    Very predictable, I did like the setting in Cambridge, Massachusetts and reference to Harvard , not much character development, great light read

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Kellar

    I tried SO hard to like this book. Some parts were funny. Some expected outcomes came true.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    Clever funny book. Very enjoyable.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Nothing wrong with the book, really - it's about a young woman with low self-esteem. Written in the style of her thinking out loud. Not my style, so Did Not Finish. Nothing wrong with the book, really - it's about a young woman with low self-esteem. Written in the style of her thinking out loud. Not my style, so Did Not Finish.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

    3.5 entertaining, fast, beach type read

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Just skip it. The book jacket misleads you, the storyline is boring, the characters unlikeable.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Sigel

    I liked it well enough, just really disliked the character.

  29. 4 out of 5

    liz

    Yes! I loved this book!! It veered dangerously close to chick-lit, but something saved it from getting quite that obnoxious. Maybe that it was just well-written enough? (I did have my moments of being fed up with the protagonist). Did every man I ever met go to J-school*? Is it a rule in the XY-chromosomes-training manual to coax what you want from a woman and then leave the dried-out hollow husk the way we girls might learn how to sew on a button and brown a roast? Oops--twenty-first-century co Yes! I loved this book!! It veered dangerously close to chick-lit, but something saved it from getting quite that obnoxious. Maybe that it was just well-written enough? (I did have my moments of being fed up with the protagonist). Did every man I ever met go to J-school*? Is it a rule in the XY-chromosomes-training manual to coax what you want from a woman and then leave the dried-out hollow husk the way we girls might learn how to sew on a button and brown a roast? Oops--twenty-first-century correction--the way we girls might study how to be a titan of industry and double-cross your best friend? * Journalism school, Columbia in particular I also think this book demonstrated the virtues of me picking books based on the title, backed up by the first sentence. Because it wasn't until a subway ride or two that I realized that the author's name is MAMEVE MEDWED (and looked at the author photo, horrified). I'm sorry, MAMEVE MEDWED??!!!! I'd thought it was Maeve [something Irish], but MAMEVE MEDWED???? Screams made-up name. It's like some kind of a weird anagram. Also! I realized I don't think I actually told you what the book was about -- the protagonist takes a chamber pot she inherited from her mother onto Antiques Roadshow, where she finds out it could bring her fame and fortune -- but then a lawsuit follows over who truly owns the pot, instigated by the children of her mother's partner, who the protagonist grew up with (the venimous sister instigated it, the once love-of-protagonist's life brother waited in the shadows).

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Abby is a little adrift in life. Her boyfriend has left her and her father, a professor, remains disappointed that she did not make better use of her education. Her mother, who left her father for another woman, has recently died in a disaster while traveling. She instead has a shop in an antique mall and sells vintage items. She is convinced by a fellow antique seller to go on Antiques Roadshow with a chamberpot that she inherited from her mother. To her great surprise, the chamberpot turns out Abby is a little adrift in life. Her boyfriend has left her and her father, a professor, remains disappointed that she did not make better use of her education. Her mother, who left her father for another woman, has recently died in a disaster while traveling. She instead has a shop in an antique mall and sells vintage items. She is convinced by a fellow antique seller to go on Antiques Roadshow with a chamberpot that she inherited from her mother. To her great surprise, the chamberpot turns out to have belonged to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This discovery ends up shaking Abby’s life up, first by a legal battle with the daughter of her mother’s partner, Lavinia. Lavinia has always gotten the best of Abby from childhood, but she is determined to hang on to one of the few things from her mother. Also complicating matters is Lavinia’s brother, Ned, who was once the love of Abby’s life, but the book he wrote that fictionalized the life of their mothers based on her thoughts and observations, left her feeling betrayed. Abby must decide what is important to her and what she is willing to fight for in life. I definitely got frustrated with the characters in this book, and overall, the plot was fairly predictable.

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