With the success of the movie "Philomena," this book was reissued as Philomena with a cover showing Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, the actors who play Philomena Lee and Martin Sexsmith in the film. The book, which came first, is not really about Philomena. It's about her son Anthony, known as Michael Hess in the United States.
Although I found the book to be mostly fascinating, it is decidedly not nonfiction. As a fictionalized account of Michael Hess' life, British journalist Sixsmith took extreme liberties with the story...inventing dialogue and fabricating scenes that didn't actually happen. I looked in the back to see his sources, but no interviews, letters, or other paperwork were cited. We know he interviewed people, but one of his key sources, Susan Kavanaugh, has said that he made up a lot of what's in the book and painted Michael's character in an unflattering way. How could Sixsmith have known what Michael said confidentially to his therapist and priest in confession? He should have stated at the outset that this was a fictionalized account of Hess' life.
With that said, I found Michael's story to be moving and interesting. I learned a great deal about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the inner workings of the Republican party during Reagan's tenure, and the Irish Catholic church. I already knew about the Magdalene laundries and found the beginning of the book to be fascinating and heartbreaking, as Philomena Lee's beloved son is ripped away from her...and she was powerless to prevent it. I saw the film "The Magdalene Sisters" back in 2003 and know the Joni Mitchell song well.
The Catholic church has never taken responsibility for these abuses, and staunch Catholic defenders either defend the practices or deny that any abuses took place. In fact, young women and girls (such as Sinead O'Connor) were enslaved in these Catholic-run prisons until 1996.
In my research, I was glad to discover that Philomena Lee met Pope Francis recently, giving her a sense of closure:
"I felt such a sense of relief yesterday for the guilt I carried and that I still carry a little bit today," said Lee on Thursday, a day after the audience. "Because you were made to feel so, so bad about having a baby out of wedlock. "He really made me feel so good inside because I carried the guilt inside me for 50 years, without telling anybody."
However, the Catholic church has yet to issue an apology or validate the abuses suffered in its name.
Back to the book. One quibble I had, echoed by Michael's friend Susan Kavanaugh, is the author's near-obsession with Michael's sexual practices. He is portrayed as a sex-obsessed, promiscuous. and thrill-seeking gay man who is incapable of staying faithful to his partners. That might be true, but we have no way of knowing where he got his information. It's almost as if he's implying that Michael contracted AIDS because of his sexual behavior. He also infers that Michael is never satisfied and cannot make a commitment because he is tortured by being abandoned by his mother. That seems to underline every single activity in Michael's life...that he didn't deserve to be happy. In spite of this, Michael led a highly successful career (as a closeted gay man and supposed Democrat) in the Republican party and the White House. That must have been enough torture for him--as he heard all sorts of homophobia, hatred, and AIDS jokes from the party itself and the religious right. One Goodreads reviewers put it well:
"Having stuck this very bad book through to the end, I really would have liked to understand Michael/Anthony's true character but perhaps only glimpses of that can be extrapolated from Sixsmith's words. He portrayed Michael on the one hand to be generous, witty, fun loving, brilliant, sensitive and on the other to be moody, self destructive, dangerous and insensitive. Completely misleading and contradictory. If a writer can't truly get to the heart of someone's character, then do bereaved friends and family still living a courtesy and don't write about character at all. If Sixsmith had focused on Philomena's quest rather than trying to fabricate a dead man's personality, he would have been more in his element."
Finally, Sixsmith's writing was choppy and didn't flow together well. In a few early chapters, we learn about a civil servant who is trying to stop the tide of Irish babies being sent to the USA to be adopted...Sixsmith alludes to his man's unhappy marriage as well, but to what point? He drops out of the story. We also never hear about Michael's relationship with his brothers later in life...one of them mercilessly bullied him as a young child. We know he doesn't include them in his will, but that's about it. Sixsmith also wrote a couple of chapters in first person as he described how he wrote the book--this totally threw me off and confused me until I figured out who was speaking. These chapters would have been better put in an introduction.
I would have liked to have known more about Michael's sister Mary in her later years. She is mentioned a few times and comes to see Michael at the end of his life. Given the fact that she was the most important person in Michael's life--and she is still alive--why didn't we get more of her story? I can find little about her on the Internet.
Philomena herself doesn't come into the book again until the very end, which was a loss. I'm not sure why Sixsmith chose to portray the life of a man who had died...instead of the mother who was alive. Maybe so he could take literary license with the facts? Who knows?
I was annoyed by the ending, in which Sixsmith mentions Anthony/Michael's father...he alludes to the fact that his father might have been discovered, but says that is a topic for another book. What the hell? That is definitely not enough for another book. Why not share the information in this book??
Both Michael and Philomena stalled in their efforts to find each other. The Catholic church and the Irish government were not helpful. In fact, if the book is correct, Philomena found out about her son when her daughter Jane spied a photo of a new gravestone on the convent grounds. That small lead led to this story.
I give the real Philomena Lee and Michael Hess, both fascinating characters with interesting lives, five stars. The book gets two or three, because the story was compelling...but loses a lot in the telling....more
In this thoughtful middle grade/young adult novel, young Danny struggles to cope with the death of his older brother, Eli, in Iraq. He's not getting much help from his angry father and vacant mother, who grew much more distant after Eli died. Eli had filled the gap of his parents' attention, and now not only was Eli gone, but his parents were even more far away.
Over the summer he befriends two unusual young people: the decidedly "uncool" but extremely smart Walter, and the beautiful, exotic Isabelle, who has quirky and creative younger twin siblings.
I actually found Isabelle to be annoying and pretentious. One Goodreads reviewer described her well as an irrelevant Manic Pixie Dream Girl (defined as "a fantasy figure who 'exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.'” Walter and the twins offered more of an appeal for me.
My favorite parts of the book were Danny's memories of Eli, who was sarcastic and mischievous but loving, and Danny's friendship with Eli's high school friend and purple potato farmer and his girlfriend, who come to be like a family for him.
Rebecca Rupp approaches grief with a quiet, sensitive touch, and even though Danny chronicles the death of various people in his "Book of the Dead," the book was redemptive in the end....more
Twelve-year-old Ambrose is a glass-half-full kind of guy. A self-described “friendless nerd,” he moves from place to place every couple of years with his overprotective mother, Irene. When some bullies at his new school almost kill him by slipping a peanut into his sandwich — even though they know he has a deathly allergy — Ambrose is philosophical. Irene, however, is not and decides that Ambrose will be home-schooled.
Alone in the evenings when Irene goes to work, Ambrose pesters Cosmo, the twenty-five-year-old son of the Greek landlords who live upstairs. Cosmo has just been released from jail for breaking and entering to support a drug habit. Quite by accident, Ambrose discovers that they share a love of Scrabble and coerces Cosmo into taking him to the West Side Scrabble Club, where Cosmo falls for Amanda, the club director. Posing as Ambrose’s Big Brother to impress her, Cosmo is motivated to take Ambrose to the weekly meetings and to give him lessons in self-defense. Cosmo, Amanda, and Ambrose soon form an unlikely alliance and, for the first time in his life, Ambrose blossoms. The characters at the Scrabble Club come to embrace Ambrose for who he is and for their shared love of words. There’s only one problem: Irene has no idea what Ambrose is up to.
In this brilliantly observed novel, author Susin Nielsen transports the reader to the world of competitive Scrabble as seen from the honest yet funny viewpoint of a boy who’s searching for acceptance and for a place to call home....more
This is #2 in J.K. Rowling's new adult mystery series. Detective Cormoran Strike is an interesting character--he's a disabled veteran with a prosthesis, born to a famous rock star father but alienated from him, motherless and still deeply ambivalent about breaking up with his psychopath girlfriend. I preferred the first book in the series, The Cuckoo's Calling, but this one still contained vintage J.K. Rowling story telling.
The Silkworm is all about the dog-eat-dog world of writing and the publishing industry, and it doesn't paint a particularly warm picture! For example, this quote accurately sums up the novel:
...writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.
Novelist Owen Quine writes a poison pen novel about everyone he knows...then he shows up dead. Quine's novel itself is a bizarre, sexually weird, and symbolically complicated story that I can't imagine why anyone would ever want to read. The writers, publishers, agents, and their family members in The Silkworm are mostly all cut throat and vicious. They have few, if any, redeeming qualities.
Also, I would love to see J.K. Rowling write a book with a really standout, great female lead...instead of consigning women and girls to the supporting character role (ala Hermione Granger). Robin, Strike's assistant, is smart, resourceful, and dedicated, but she's still stuck with her boring drip of a boyfriend and can't seem to realize he's no good. I'm finding that to be tiresome! Also, she's desperate for more opportunities to become an investigator, but this process is so slow it makes me sleepy!
J.K. Rowling is a skilled writer, and I will keep reading anything she writes...but this one just didn't hit the mark for me....more
I've read everything Wally Lamb has written, and this plot sounded promising. Sadly, I found this novel lacking in comparison to his others.
It's the story of Anna Oh, an artist, wife, and mother, who has left her marriage of 27 years and is about to marry another woman: Viveca, a wealthy art dealer who helped Annie become a successful artist.
Annie has three children with her psychologist husband, Orion: Ariane, Andrew, and Marissa. The book spans all of these lives and many others.
Here are the three things I found difficult about the book--if you'll read other reviews you'll find a theme in my criticism of certain novels:
--Too many characters...did we really need to know about all of them? I also noted some convenient coincidences with some of the characters.
--Most of the characters were not really likable.
--Each chapter began with a different character perspective. This seems to be a popular novelistic approach, but it often makes it harder for me to connect with the characters or get drawn into the book.
Annie is a damaged soul--and we find out why--but I found it hard to sympathize with her much. The novel examines the generations of damage caused by sexual abuse, and reading it from the perspective of the pedophile was particularly difficult for me.
How many books do we have available that tackle the subject of a woman leaving her husband and getting married to another woman? This book could have treated that topic in a much more compassionate way. Instead, I found myself wondering what she saw in Viveca, who seems to be a shallow snob. Maybe Annie just doesn't choose very wisely...similar to her children.
Lamb digs deep into these characters' souls, and most of them have complex personalities. I guess I was just looking for more soul and redemption, which I've found in his other novels. This is still a good book, but not as great as his others....more
I found this at the library and thought I'd read it before seeing the movie, as is my habit! Turns out that Richard C. Morais wanted to make a film evI found this at the library and thought I'd read it before seeing the movie, as is my habit! Turns out that Richard C. Morais wanted to make a film even before and while he was writing the book.
I loved the first half of the book...the colorful depiction of Indian cooking, Hassan's relationship with his family and then Madame Mallory, and the process of running a restaurant in India and then France.
But AD (after the deaths of both Hassan's feisty father and the equally feisty Madame Mallory), the book slumps. It takes us, very quickly, through Hassan's trajectory of becoming one of Paris' top chefs. Much of the fancy French cuisine, heavily butchery and innards-focused, does not sound very appealing to me. The second half of the book focuses on the Paris restaurant scene and the process and snobby politics of earning Michelin stars.
Hassan seems more devastated by the death of another character than his own father or most significant mentor. Morais also confesses that he didn't go to India until after he'd begun writing the novel, and then only for 10 days. This is evident to me, not in the way he describes Indian cooking but rather how he describes (or fails to) the culture. After Hassan moves to Paris, he's hardly even Indian any more. This doesn't seem realistic to me. I was hoping to have the author touch on the perspective of an Indian chef learning and practicing French cooking, and that just doesn't happen.
I've heard great things about the movie, so I'm looking forward to seeing that. I understand from friends that Madame Mallory does not die in the movie, and Hassan's also more in touch with his Indian roots....more
Interesting premise: Australian Alice hits her head at the gym and when she wakes up, she's lost 10 years of her life. She thinks she's 29, pregnant wInteresting premise: Australian Alice hits her head at the gym and when she wakes up, she's lost 10 years of her life. She thinks she's 29, pregnant with her first child, and happily married, but instead she's 39, has three highly spirited kids, and on her way to a divorce.
This book turned out to be more in the genre of "chick lit" than I thought it would be. Although I hate the term "chick lit," most of its books share these elements:
--Woman meets man and gives up her career --If she does have a career, it's journalism, PR, or magazine editing --Woman achieves desired perfect, privileged life, with a gorgeous house, rich husband, and 2+ children
In the intervening 10 years, Alice got her perfect life and became a shallow, spoiled brat (in my view). I did enjoy this beach read in spite of its flaws...it made me think about my own life, my priorities (am I spending enough high-quality time with my kids and my husband?), and how quickly life is passing me by. But several things bugged me about it:
--Does someone really change THAT MUCH in 10 years? I find that hard to believe.
--Alice didn't seem very smart. It took her a long time to get that she'd wreaked a lot of damage in the past 10 years.
--I could have done with all the extra plots...especially Frannie's letters to Mr. Moustache. This side plot seemed unnecessary and detracted from the main story. Also, although I have great sensitivity to infertility, I found Elisabeth's letters to be cumbersome as well. Yes, they allowed us to see inside these characters' minds, but I found this book to have too many side characters in general. And what happened in the end to Elisabeth and Frannie was no surprise of course.
--SPOILER: I liked the storyline about Alice's daughter's troubles at school...but could she really do a complete turnaround? A teenager who's been neglected and angered suddenly becomes an angel just because she starts getting positive attention. A bit unrealistic, I think. Alice's life seemed frivolous, pampered, and shallow to me. The world's largest lemon meringue pie? Really? I don't think I would like Alice very much.
--I found the character of Gina to be baffling...her close friendship with Gina changed the course of Alice's life? I guess she needed some kind of conflict, and Gina was meant to present that conflict.
--Does her husband suddenly decide that he is working too much, or does Alice decide that she doesn't care about all the long hours?
--Alice gets her dream job at the end, even though she has NO relevant job EXPERIENCE. Classic chick lit.
I know I'm sounding overly critical. I did enjoy the book, but it was multiply flawed. I'm curious to hear what my book groupies think of this one.
Now to read a novel with a woman character that inspires me....more
This thriller novel was nothing like I expected it to be. I thought it would be more of a kidnapping type of scenario, I suppose. Right from the beginning, it's clear that's not what this is.
Usually I am not crazy about books that have no likable characters, but this one was different. These characters are extremely unlikable, but they are interesting. Amy is married to Nick, and the book starts out with Amy going missing. The book alternates between each spouse's viewpoint, and our narrators are not reliable. They're both also spoiled brats in their own ways.
It's beautifully crafted, and I couldn't put it down. But I also understand the perspective of people who didn't like this book.
It doesn't exactly give you hope in the future of humanity, and it makes me wonder how on earth people could want to stay married to each other when they clearly despise each other so much....more
It is telling that I didn't realize Oryx and Crake was a trilogy and was upset to discover its open ending...even though two of my friends (including the book group member who nominated this book) had told me it was the first in a trilogy. I think I heard "science fiction," and I just blocked out the rest. :) But it's the kind of science fiction I'm drawn to: dystopia.
In fact, Margaret Atwood prefers to call this "speculative fiction" rather than science fiction, because science fiction involves things that are unlikely to happen or impossible, while speculative fiction is about things that could actually happen or were possible on earth...not about outer space. And that is exactly why this book is so frightening.
Oryx and Crake are actually minor characters in this book...the protagonist is Jimmy, or Snowman, and much of it takes place after most of humanity has been decimated by a plague brought on by humans' obsession with genetically engineering everything that moves (and doesn't). Cloning has gone wild, as has the pharmaceutical industry. Corporations run the world, and the powerless live in the "Pleeblands," like the "districts" in The Hunger Games. Crake has invented a new breed of (sort of) humans, who are like an open book--they are innocent and dull, and they lack drama or sexual longing. In short, they are incredibly boring, and they are all Snowman has for company in the end of the world.
The characters are deeply flawed and did not experience childhood love, and as we discussed at my book group meeting, brilliant scientist Crake and ethereal, distant Oryx are not particularly likeable or easy to understand. Jimmy/Snowman's and Crake's love for Oryx, whom they first encounter while watching kiddie porn (yes!), reminded me of the shallow foreign men who went to Japan to meet women, and often stayed there...they sought the type of woman who adored them unquestioningly, were more submissive, and didn't question their actions or words. I have a difficult time understanding men who fall for these types of women, like Jimmy and Crake. And I found it all too disturbing and depressing that kiddie porn and sexual trafficking would exist into the future. But as we know, desperate times call for desperate measures...and sex is a commodity.
While I was toward the end of this novel, I read about a timely, depressing NASA-funded study that predicts the collapse of civilization in a few decades and warns about the depletion of the world's resources and society dividing into the elite and commoners (all of which are essential elements of this book). (Now NASA is trying to distance itself from this study, probably because the agency doesn't want to be accused of being fatalistic, even though Margaret Atwood doesn't mind that.)
I've been reading Margaret Atwood for 30 years, and she is an exceptional writer. I've heard that the books only get better as they progress...and now that she's gotten me hooked, I will be reading the rest of the trilogy. But I might have to recover from this one first. It makes me truly worried for my children and grandchildren, because I can see these things happening so easily....more
I LOVED this book...in fact, it's my favorite so far in 2014. I would not have been drawn to the title, but it was my book group selection for the month.
The story is about "Verity," a female British spy, is captured in Nazi-occupied France, and her best friend Maddie, the pilot who flew her into France. The Nazis torture and interrogate Verity (or "Queenie"), and she writes about her friendship with Maddie and their training before and during the war. Slowly, the reader learns the pieces of her story...at least, what she is telling the Nazis.
I don't want to say much more about the book for fear of giving any details away. It did take me a bit of time to get into (I'm not terribly interested in flying airplanes--so the beginning bored me a bit at times), but it is SO WORTH PERSEVERING.
I finished it in the middle of the night before book group...and I found myself crying in the living room at 5:00 a.m. The book is not only beautifully written, but it's cleverly crafted. It's one of the few books I've read that makes me want to go right back and reread it now that I know the ending...it will stick with me for a long time.
I think next time I will listen to it so I can hear the English and Scottish accents. It's one of the few books I've read that has the word "gormless" in it (one of my English husband's favorite words, which I'd never heard before I met him).
Some have called it as a "love letter to female friendship," which is an excellent way to describe it. I do think it's one of the most beautiful homages to friendship I've ever read. This is one of my favorite lines from the book:
"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend."...more
Sujata Massey, author of the wonderful The Sleeping Dictionary and the Rei Shimura series, has written a novella about the relationship between an IndSujata Massey, author of the wonderful The Sleeping Dictionary and the Rei Shimura series, has written a novella about the relationship between an Indian ayah and the English children under her care.
The role of a child care taker is a complicated one. During a few summers in college, I worked as a nanny taking care of my two cousins in Seattle. I also babysat extensively during high school and formed strong attachments to many of my charges. When I left my two cousins at aged 2 and 4 to go to Japan, I sobbed because I knew how much I would miss them. I had grown very attached to both of them.
My situation was different than Menakshi, who was forced to drop out of school and take up a job as an ayah (nanny) because of her father's death and her family's poverty. Although she had great potential, she had to give up her own dreams to help her family.
Even though the children in her care were privileged and spoiled, she becomes attached t to them and they to her. What the children (especially middle child, Julian) don't understand is the complication in this attachment. The children's mother, Marjorie, is snobbish and shallow, and disengaged from her children's lives and inner thoughts. She doesn't want to spend much time with her children, but she also feels resentful because of their attachment to Menakshi, their ayah. The children don't understand that Menakshi is paid to be with them: it's not her choice, and she has her own life.
I always enjoy reading stories that take place in locations where I've lived or visited. Menakshi's story starts and ends in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia, a place I visited in 1988. Sujata Massey beautifully depicts the life of an Indian ayah and the complicated relationships that people in the employ of their colonial employers had to deal with--and in fact, still deal with in many countries.
Even though Menakshi endures great hardships in her life, she finds love in these pages and a more hopeful future than working as an unappreciated ayah. So even though her life improves, she feels some sense of loss as she misses these English children who came to love her.
I'm looking forward to Sujata Massey's next full-size novel. I prefer novels to short stories and novellas, although this was a fun one to read!...more
Or as I call it, A Game of Endless Unlikable Characters.
My husband DEVOURS these books. When he's immersed in one of them, he doesn't pay attention tOr as I call it, A Game of Endless Unlikable Characters.
My husband DEVOURS these books. When he's immersed in one of them, he doesn't pay attention to much else. He loves them.
Then my 17-year-old son, who used to be such a great reader but in recent years has been deterred by electronics, also read the whole book and is now watching the show.
Plus one of my close friends, who doesn't usually go for fantasy, became obsessed with the show and the books, and she told me that I should give them a try.
So I gave Book 1 a try, and I will not be reading any more of the series. Remember, I finished Book 1 of the Lord of the Rings series and gave up during The Two Towers. Fantasy is not my thing, unless it's something fun like Harry Potter. I can take the violence, and I have read many dystopian sci-fi novels. It's just that this didn't hold my interest.
I should have known better when in the beginning, every single chapter was told from the perspective of a different character. I have a 50-page rule (ala Nancy Pearl). I was about to give up, but then on Page 49, we returned to a character that I had seen before. So I plowed on, thinking I might become more engaged.
When I took a break at around Page 625 to read The Chaperone and enjoyed it much more, I should have known better.
I also should have considered that my husband never thought I would like these books.
But I was determined to finish the book, much like I felt that I needed to read Twilight. It's such a part of our popular culture, and I wanted to know why everyone seems besotted with it.
So here are the 10 reasons I wasn't crazy about A Game of Thrones:
1. Far too many characters! I know Martin provides lists at the end of the book, but honestly, why did there have to be so many? I lost track. Many of the characters are mentioned in passing only once or twice. Why include them at all?
2. Lack of character development Very few of the multitude of characters are fleshed out fully. Even the primary characters...we get very little back story on how they became who they are, with only a few exceptions.
3. Lack of sympathetic characters The only person I cared about in this book was Arya Stark. That's it. I didn't care what happened to anyone else. Daenerys was interesting, but she was brutal too. Ned was better than most of them, but even he was not loyal to his wife and had a dark past. Nearly everyone in this book lacks morals, compassion, or kindness. These people are unlikable!
4. Rape and brutal treatment of women I had heard that Game of Thrones had lots of sex, but I didn't expect the huge amount of rape and horrific treatment of women...constant child bride rape, incest, gang rape, and forced prostitution. Is this typical of fantasy? No thank you. I'd heard that this series has more strong female characters than other fantasy books, but even those strong female characters are often powerless in such a patriarchal, misogynist culture.
5. Too much detail Martin goes way into detail about political posturing, history of various families, and geography, while sacrificing real, valuable information. And then there's the endless, repeated titles of royalty, such as "King Joffrey, the First of His Name, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm," blah, blah, blah.
6. Way too long I am not scared of long books. In fact, I loved Vikram Seth's 1,500-page long A Suitable Boy. But you've got to keep me interested to make me feel like the length is worth it. This book could have used a good editor. (See #1 and 5.)
7. Endless plots From what I understand about this series, each book does not end...it just goes on and on into more books. I need closure.
8. Lack of geographic perspective I needed a map, like Tolkien provided. I am a visual person. Where in the heck is "The Neck"? How does the wall divide the kingdom? So much of this book and series is about place and kingdoms. I didn't know where the heck anything was, except sometimes "north" or "south."
9. Does not compel me to read any more I'm not interested in seeing where this series continues.
10. Very sad outlook on humanity J.R.R. Tolkien wrote wonderful villains and complicated characters and had redemption in his books...the friendship in the fellowship of the ring, the rip-roaring fun in the Shire, the wisdom of Gandalf, the great adventure, the beautiful Elfen lands...so many more things to like about that series, even though those books were not my cup of tea either. As one reviewer wrote, "I have bums and alcoholic friends that blaze like Gandalf the White compared to most of Martin's characters." That reviewer went on to say "It is a story mired in filth and obscenity and shines the light on the worst conditions of human experience and offers them up as plot lines, dialogue and personal, social and political interactions."
As I mentioned above, I've read my share of dystopian literature (The Hunger Games series, The Road, A Handmaid's Tale, etc.), but even those types of books have some redemption in them, usually in the relationships between the characters. If I'm going to read a dark, dark book, I need to get some satisfaction out of it.
My apologies to the Game of Thrones lovers! ...more
I love novels like this, when I learn about historical figures through fictionalized accounts of their lives. The Invention of Wings is based on the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, abolitionists and feminists long before women's suffrage or the Emancipation Proclamation.
Sue Monk Kidd quotes Professor Julius Lester in her notes at the end of the novel, "History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own." Kidd expands beyond the facts and events to put flesh on the stories of four women.
The novel begins in the early 1800s, with Sarah Grimke turning 11 and her mother "giving" her ownership of her very own slave, Hetty, or Handful. From the beginning, Sarah is deeply uncomfortable with her family's legacy as slave owners, and she also chafes against her role as a girl and woman. All she wants in life is to study and become a lawyer and a judge, but her family throws cold water on her dreams. As a female, all she could hope to become is a wife and mother. She rebels in her own way, by teaching Handful to read and write.
The novel weaves the story of Sarah with that of Handful and her mother Charlotte. Both Handful and Charlotte are highly talented seamstresses, spunky and spirited and seeking a way out of their own lives. They are the most fascinating characters in this novel, and they are mostly made up. (Sarah's mother did "give" her a slave when she turned 11, and Sarah wanted no part of it, but that's about all that is known about the slave girl.)
While Sarah struggles to put a voice to her passionate thoughts, Handful and Charlotte have no problem expressing what's on their mind. They weave their own pains and desires in their quilts and pass on their family history through stories. They take chances for the sake of freedom, even if it might cost them their own lives.
Angelina is the sister with the gumption--probably because she'd been mostly raised by Sarah--but Sarah, too, eventually finds her own voice. I enjoyed reading about the sisters speaking out against slavery, even though their family and their own city (Charleston, South Carolina) were horrified by their actions. The schism in the early abolitionist movement between abolition and women's rights reminded me of the division in the 1960s, when women who fought for civil rights were not given their own voice in the movement.
Sarah, Angelina, Handful, and Charlotte are all trying to find their own wings and escape the prisons of their lives. Handful's and Charlotte's restraints were real, while Sarah and Angelina were bound by the cultural expectations of their time.
This novel is not an easy read--Kidd depicted the horrors of slavery without flinching. I was grateful for Kidd's notes at the end, and also for the Internet, so I could learn more about the Grimkes when I was done reading the book. Sarah and Angelina Grimke were pioneers of their time, standing up for what they believed was right, even if their voices shook....more
Drawn to this book because of its cover and title, I found it to be a light middle-grade read. Tara Feinstein is studying for her Bat Mitzvah while grDrawn to this book because of its cover and title, I found it to be a light middle-grade read. Tara Feinstein is studying for her Bat Mitzvah while grappling with her combined Indian-Jewish heritage.
From what my middle grade novelist husband tells me, it's unusual to have an intact, happily married set of parents in these types of books, as Tara does. Her parents are caring, engaged, and funny, and she worries a lot about disappointing them. She also has a supportive extended family, both Indian and Jewish. Furthermore, her rabbi is great--so it's a positive depiction of religion as well.
Her life is full of friendship drama, especially as she comes to realize that her best friend, Ben-o, has a crush on her.
Ultimately, Tara discovers that doubt does not mean a loss of faith, and she finds a way to happily marry both cultures in her Bat Mitzvah.
As a long-time Sujata Massey fan, I was anxious to get my hands on her latest novel, and it did not disappoint!!
Sujata Massey was born in England to parents from India and Germany (just like my friend Nandita), and she grew up mostly in Minnesota. After working as a reporter, she spent several years in Japan where she taught, studied, and began writing her first novel, The Salaryman's Wife. That first novel grew into a detective series with smart, industrious, and savvy Rei Shimura, a Japanese-American antiques dealer who lives in Japan and solves mysteries on the side. I read every single one of the Rei Shimura novels as soon as they came out and have widely recommended them to friends. In fact, the Rei Shimura series is the only detective series I've devoured in its entirety outside of the VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky (my first introduction to detective novels). I'm not naturally drawn to mysteries, so I'm highly selective. Authors (e.g., Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell) lose my attention if their books are not well written or if I get tired of the main character. Of course, Rei Shimura held my attention completely because of the series' setting in Japan (mostly). Loved them!
So onto The Sleeping Dictionary. This book took six years for Massey to research and write, because it involved so much in-depth research into Indian history, culture, and language. Massey's family comes from Calcutta (now Kolkata) and she spent time there as a child (read her wonderful diary entries here!), so it was a natural choice for setting this novel.
It's the story of Pom, who lives with her family in a small village by the sea. Her family is very poor, but she feels secure and well loved until a tidal wave wipes out her whole village and her family. Completely alone and helpless in 1930s India, Pom is a survivor. She ends up at a British boarding school, where she is renamed as Sarah and begins working as a maid. She learns how to read and write while operating the fan in a classroom. When she befriends a wealthier Indian girl, Bidushi, who she had known as a child, she comes to discover her own intelligence and talents. Although she hopes to become Bidushi's ayah and always stay together, these dreams are soon dashed by tragedy.
Still very young, she next finds herself in the city of Kharagpur, lured into prostitution at a high-class brothel. As an Indian girl without a family, she has few options for survival. She desperately tries to cling to her dignity in the midst of her despair at being forced to sell her body, and she continues to nurture dreams of becoming a teacher. (The title of the book comes from the term for young Indian women who slept with British men and taught them the ways and language of India.)
I hesitate to give away too much of the plot and adventure in the novel, but I will say that she moves to Calcutta where she renames herself as Kamala, begins to work for an English man, and gets involved in the Indian independence movement.
So here are some of the reasons why I loved this book:
--Pom/Sarah/Kamala is a strong, spunky Indian female, and I found myself rooting for her immediately and throughout her story. Faced with desperately difficult choices in her life, she does the best she can with what is given to her. While she is certainly a victim many times in her life, she has no privilege to wallow in misery and self-pity, but time after time she finds ways to rise above her difficult circumstances.
--I could practically taste Calcutta through Massey's detailed descriptions of the city. I've traveled only in the north of India (we concentrated our time there in Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan), but I found myself intrigued by the City of Palaces and sad to read about its devastation during the pre-Independence riots and violence.
--I have read great quantities of Indian fiction (and a bit of nonfiction, too), but this book taught me things I did not know...for example, about the massive famine in Bengal caused by the British Empire hoarding India's rice (millions died), India's amazing female freedom fighters and independence activists, Japan bombing India during the war, some members of the Indian resistance movement joining the Japanese led by Subhash Chandra Bose, to name a few...it also gives the Anglo-Indian perspective on what was happening during that time.
--Massey develops multidimensional characters, including Hindus, Muslims, and British, and even some of the women who are sucked into prostitution. Kamala herself makes some unfortunate decisions and lies to people because she feels she has no choice. She's a complex character who is far from perfect. Both Kamala and Simon evolve through the story. There's even a Scottish clergyman who is open minded, fair, and compassionate...imagine that!
--As a consummate book lover, I enjoyed the sheer love of books in this novel. From the moment "Sarah" borrows books from a kind teacher at the British boarding school and her gradual collection of the great masters, to Kamala landing a wonderful job as a librarian for Mr. Lewes...books offer her an escape from the great losses in her life.
I was excited to learn that this book is the first in a planned trilogy, AND that Rei Shimura will be making a reappearance! The Sleeping Dictionary will be near the top of my "Top Reads of 2013" list! If you enjoy reading historical fiction or books about India, the colonial era, or strong female characters, give it a try! ...more
My book group chose this book for October, mostly based on the fact that two members had read De Rosnay's earlier bestselling book, Sarah's Key.
It's the story of Rose Bazelet, a widow who lives in an old house in Paris in the 1860s, an era when hundreds of houses are being demolished to rebuild Paris. She refuses to leave her home, and the book consists of her reminiscences of her life in the house.
I found Rose to be a bit difficult to like, especially because of her neglect and dislike of her daughter, who clearly needed more love. She poured all of her love and affection into her son instead. And to stay in a house and put others' lives at risk all for the sake of principle? I found her to be reckless at best.
It was somewhat interesting to learn about this era in Paris' history, but I'm not sure I would recommend this book to anyone....more
I LOVED this book, but it's probably not for everyone. Kate Manning was inspired to write this book when she saw this photo and learned that 30,000 homeless children lived on the streets of New York in the nineteenth century.
Introduced as a lost diary, the book opens with a suicide. We don't know who died, but we learn that the main character fakes her own death with this dead body of another. We know she's married, and her husband helps cover it up. The authorities are after her, and we know she is famous because her carriage would be recognized in the street.
Then we go back to her childhood, Axie Muldoon, who is a poor Irish immigrant child, wandering the streets of New York with her sister Dutch and brother Joe. Her father--an alcoholic--has died, and her mother has lost her arm in an industrial accident. Soon they are discovered by a famous do-gooder, who gets medical care for Axie's mother but arranges for the children to go to the Children's Aid Society. Soon the children are off to the midwest on the Orphan Train. (This is the second novel I've read this year about the Orphan Train--the first was The Chaperone.) Axie--a spunky, independent, and bright child--ends up returning to New York City after a few months, but her siblings have been ensconced in new families and appear to not mind their separation.
Once back in New York, Axie finds her mother again, but she has remarried Axie's layabout uncle and is pregnant again. When she goes into labor, Axie must act as midwife...at 11 years old. And so begins her story of helping women in labor and childbirth.
Without giving too much more of the plot away, I will say that Axie is a complex, fascinating character, as are her husband and best friend. Axie's story is based on the life and death of Ann Trow Lohman (1811-1879), also known as Madame Restell, a "notorious" midwife who was a friend to desperate women but the enemy of moral crusaders such as Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. Comstock finally brought her down, she was vilified in the press and in society, and she ended her own life (although it was rumored that she had faked it). Comstock was proud of the number of suicides he prompted.
My only quibble about this book is that at times I found the Irish brogue inconsistent. I think it was written in such a way because this was Axie's true speaking style, but it comes and goes and at times I found that off-putting.
We had such interesting conversations last week at book group when we discussed this book...about feminism, history, birth control, the status of women in this era and now, midwifery, and abortion. This wonderful piece of feminist historical fiction will give you new perspectives about the status of women--then and now--and the lesser evil of abortion. I couldn't help but think about Rush Limbaugh, our modern-day Anthony Comstock, and Sandra Fluke, who in advocating for birth control was blamed for debauchery...much like Madame Restell/Axie Muldoon.
As the mother of three children, one of whom was born at 24 weeks, I am deeply grateful to have been born and become a mother when I did. I'm also grateful to have been able to plan my own family by using birth control.
I could not put his book down...read it! It's sad and thought provoking, but redemptive. ...more
I loved this book, and it was especially delightful to finish such a fun, well-written, and entertaining book on the evening of a wonderful birthday.
One reviewer calls this book "Babette's Feast meets Pirates of the Caribbean." If you like historical fiction, cooking, eating, or pirates, you'll enjoy it too.
England, 1819...after pirate captain "Mad Hannah Mabbott" kills Lord Ramsey (big wig of the Pendleton Trading Company, new name for the East India Trading Company), she kidnaps Owen Wedgwood, Ramsey's talented chef. She informs him that he can stay alive if he cooks a sumptuous dinner for her every Sunday evening.
“Dear Mr. Wedgwood,
Welcome to the Flying Rose. I hope you have settled to sea comfortably. Your lot may improve in direct proportion to your willingness. I do look forward to more of your fare. Let me lay out my proposal: You will, of a Sunday, cook for me, and me alone, the finest supper. You will neither repeat a dish nor serve foods that are in the slightest degree mundane. In return I will continue to keep you alive and well, and we may discuss an improvement of your quarters after a time. Should you balk in any fashion you will find yourself swimming home, whole or in pieces, depending upon the severity of my disappointment. How does this strike you?
In anticipation, Capt. Hannah Mabbot”
Wedgwood, a widower, is a bit of a milksop at first...but he makes delectable food out of the crudest ingredients. Meanwhile, Abbot is on the hunt for the elusive Brass Fox, while she's on the run from the British Navy and a Frenchman named Larouche and trying to rout out the saboteur on her ship. Wedgwood makes a few escape attempts but eventually he comes to appreciate the enormous Mr. Apples, fierce Chinese twins, and deaf-mute Joshua, who he teaches to cook and read. Author Eli Brown will make you want to cook and eat, and you will appreciate the fresh and plentiful ingredients in your kitchen and wish you could cook like Wedgwood.
“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey. To eat such a meal is to remember that, though the world is full of knives and storms, the body is built for kindness. The angels, who know no hunger, have never been as satisfied.”
He discovers the root of Abbot's passions for justice and becomes taken with her love for fine food, quick wit, and extreme bravery. This book sent me to the Internet to look up the opium trade. It also brought back memories of our two visits to Macau, as I read about the pirate era on that island. A wild pirate adventure, love story, and culinary tale all rolled into one!...more
Unless you've been sleeping under a rock, you'll know that this is the latest book, a debut mystery, by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert GalUnless you've been sleeping under a rock, you'll know that this is the latest book, a debut mystery, by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. Its protagonist is Cormoran Strike, a private investigator who lost his leg while a soldier in Afghanistan. A bit of a tragic figure, he has just broken up with his manipulative, cruel, but beautiful girlfriend. He owes tons of money and is living in his office.
Cormoran is hired to figure out whether supermodel Lula Landry really killed herself, or if she was murdered. He, along with his temporary secretary Robin, dabble in the world of fashion designers, druggies, and movie producers, most wealthy and competitive. Editor David Shelley apparently first read the novel without knowing of its true author and expressed surprise that a woman had written the novel...she writes from a man's (and a soldier's) perspective that well.
I was reading out examples of classically British English to my British husband all through this book. So glad they didn't try to edit it to suit American audiences. I suspect that some American readers might not understand every single word or phrase without looking things up...just fine with me. It's truly a London novel, too....more
This book took a bit of time for me to grow into, but I liked it in the end. It's about 16-year-old Imogen, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, who is a witnThis book took a bit of time for me to grow into, but I liked it in the end. It's about 16-year-old Imogen, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, who is a witness to an armed robbery and shooting in a diner. She feels completely responsible when the gunman is shot and killed by the police.
It took awhile before Skilton revealed why Imogen blamed herself for this violent man's death...and until then I had a hard time understanding why she was reacting the way she was. Yes, she had a black belt...but that's no match for a gun.
She becomes self-destructive and nothing really moves her except for Ricky, the boy who was also there in the diner that night. She has an intact, loving family, but has some issues there as well. Imogen is just flat out angry at life, and after the diner incident occurs, this feeling intensifies.
When Imogen finds herself attracted to Ricky, she enters a huge internal battle about love and strength. Can someone love you and want to protect you? Can she allow herself to feel vulnerable? Can Ricky allow Imogen to be just as strong as he is?
This was the second young adult book I read during my surgery recovery, and it was worth the effort. Excellent first novel by Skilton, also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do....more
As I'm recovering from another ear surgery, I decided to try out some young adult books in the hopes that they would retain my attention better. PainAs I'm recovering from another ear surgery, I decided to try out some young adult books in the hopes that they would retain my attention better. Pain meds combined with pain and fatigue after surgery tend to make it difficult for me to spend much time reading.
I picked up The Chosen One by pulling it off the shelf at the library and reading the book jacket. It's the story of Kyra, who is the second-oldest daughter of her father, who has three wives. She is a member of The Chosen Ones, a fundamentalist Mormon, polygamist compound, which is tightly run by the dictator, "Prophet" Childs.
The prophet has decreed that Kyra, at age 13, will marry her Uncle Hyrum, older brother to her own father (in his 60s, with three wives), in four weeks. Although her father is against it, the family has no choice. He's too scared to resist. The prophet rules the compound with an iron, violent hand, forbidding anyone from reading or disobeying his orders. He threatens Kyra's father that he will take his entire family away from him if he cannot get Kyra to marry Uncle Hyrum. I couldn't help but think of the slimy, evil prophet in the polygamous compound in the TV show "Big Love."
Kyra has her own love interest: a boy her own age, named Joshua, who wants to marry Kyra. She also sneaks away to take books out from the bookmobile that goes past the compound each week. Kyra must decide if she will leave her own family forever to be free. Either choice has enormously heavy consequences, not just for her but for the people who help her....more
Wow--this is the 11th book I've read by Jodi Picoult. Some are definitely better than others. The only two I've given five stars to have been KeepingWow--this is the 11th book I've read by Jodi Picoult. Some are definitely better than others. The only two I've given five stars to have been Keeping Faith and Sing You Home. This one I would put in the "average" category.
I like Picoult's books because she always poses ethical dilemmas and creates complex characters, many of whom have deep flaws but good intentions. They often have courtroom drama and surprising twists at the end.
The main character, Delia Hopkins, raised by her widowed father in New England, is now a mother and is engaged to her daughter's father, Andrew. Then she discovers that she was kidnapped by her own father when she was just four...and her mother is still alive. Andrew is an alcoholic and just happens to also be a lawyer, so she asks him to represent her father, even though he doesn't have much experience with trials...and is not licensed to practice in Arizona, where the case goes to court.
As usual, Picoult's books are highly readable and accessible...but this one will not stand out in my memory. The plot seemed to meander. The characters frustrated me at times. The "surprise" wasn't really much of a surprise. I found it hard to understand why Delia made the decisions she did, and I didn't like what happened to the most intriguing character in the book. The prison scenes were awful and implausible...her dad is supposed to be this great guy, yet he helps manufacture meth and shoots a staple into someone's eye??? And I know prison can be awful, but is it typically this brutal? And are alcoholics never allowed to have happy endings?
In summary, this book was okay...but Jodi Picoult has done so much better. ...more
This is the third novel by Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both of which I loved (and gave five stars to). WhThis is the third novel by Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both of which I loved (and gave five stars to). While The Kite Runner was a wonderful, heart-breaking story of boys' friendship, I found A Thousand Splendid Suns to be even more poignant and beautiful because it was about two women who were thrown together in marriage to the same men, but eventually forged a strong bond and sisterhood.
Hosseini's new novel steps away from the classic form and ambitiously takes on multiple perspectives and stories about family, both biological and chosen, and how one choice can change several people's lives.
It starts out in the 1950s as a story about a 10-year-old boy, Abdullah, and his 3-year-old sister, Pari, who are closely intertwined to each other. Their mother died giving birth to Pari, so Abdullah had the primary responsibility of raising his sister. Their father remarried a woman, Parwana, who didn't have much love for the children, as she was nursing a dark secret of her own. Living in a small Afghani village, their father struggled to put food on the table and the previous winter one of their younger children died from the cold. When given a chance to change this situation, he sold Pari to a wealthy family in Kabul, his brother-in-law's employers. Abdullah and Pari were torn apart tragically.
Hosseni is a brilliant writer--he paints a vivid landscape on the page and his characters are complex, multilayered, and interesting. I wanted to know more about Abdullah and Pari, but when Pari grows into an older child, her mother takes her off to Paris and we don't hear anything about her until she is older. Her mother is a narcissistic woman, and Pari doesn't learn the real truth about her origins or her adopted father until many years after her mother dies. Pari's adopted father is a cold, aloof man, who has his own secret reason for his unhappiness, but found joy in Pari as a young child.
And this is my only fault with this book...it's like a series of loosely interwoven stories, each chapter starting with a different perspective and setting. I am not a fan of short stories for this reason...I want to sink my teeth into a story, and short stories are just not long enough for me to get immersed. The plot jumped around from the Afghani village to Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to Greece, and some of the characters I preferred to others. Many I just wanted more of...especially Pari and Abdullah.
Each character lacked love or experienced pain in relationships, much of them with their family members. But love is also found in unusual and subtle ways.
This novel is not nearly as tragic as Hosseini's first two, and some of the characters find redemption and reconciliation in the end. Beyond the colorful storytelling and wonderful stories of families and friendship, And the Mountains Echoed opens the world to Afghanistan, not just as a war-torn country of tragedy, but one of real relationships, heartbreak, and love....more
This was another "scan the library bookshelves" find, a quirky story about a thirtysomething man (Milo Slade) who has an unususal form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It manifests itself in making strange demands on his brain and taking over his life until he satisfies them. For example, a word will pop into his head and his obsession will not go away until someone spontaneously says this word. Or he will suddenly have the need to pop the seals on grape jelly jars, bowl a strike, see a movie he's watched several times before, let all the air out of his tires, or sing a karaoke version of "99 Luftballons" in German (remember that song from the '80s?) in front of an audience. And he keeps all this a secret from everyone.
As you can imagine, his marriage was not terribly successful. When the novel begins, he and his wife Christine have separated, although it seems that neither of them are convinced that's what they really want. Milo is a home health care nurse and seems to have a stronger relationship with his patients than he does with his wife (who of course knows nothing of his disorder but probably just thinks he's weird).
One day Milo finds a video camera with a bag of tapes under a park bench. He returns the next day to find them still there, so he takes them home and begins watching the videos. They're made by a grieving young woman he initially coins "Freckles," and she has a lot of secrets, too. Milo is determined to help this woman feel better by solving one of her problems. He takes off on a road trip to North Carolina to find a friend of hers, who had vanished 20+ years earlier.
This journey makes Milo realize that he's not the only one who is a bit odd and he's also not the only one hiding secrets. He begins to reveal more of himself and understand what he really wants and doesn't want out of his life.
After awhile, the demands did get a bit annoying to read about...I suppose Milo felt far worse. I wonder if this is a real type of OCD, or if it's something the author made up. I had a hard time understanding why Milo didn't want to get help for this problem of his--it would have driven me crazy! I didn't feel particularly sympathetic to Milo because of the way he detached himself from others through his secrets. My favorite part of the novel was when he met with one of his elderly clients, who were all far more honest and genuine than Milo himself. ...more
A Tale for the Time Being is the first full-price hardcover book I remember purchasing for myself, ever. Ozeki has long been one of my favorite authorA Tale for the Time Being is the first full-price hardcover book I remember purchasing for myself, ever. Ozeki has long been one of my favorite authors, and I was thrilled when I read that she had finally published her third novel. I went to see/hear Ozeki read from this book at Powell's, and I was enchanted. In the intervening time since she published All Over Creation, she became a Zen Buddhist priest. Clearly, this experience informs this novel.
She explained that she has always wanted to do the audio recordings of her books, but publishers prefer not to have authors read their own books. She realized that if she put enough Japanese words in the book, they would let her do her own reading. After listening to her read, I think I might like to listen to the audio book too. This is a highly unusual reaction for me, as I don't often read books twice--at least not until many years have passed.
I found myself reading this book very slowly--it took me most of April to read, in fact. Ozeki is a poetic, lyrical writer. I am often drawn to her books because they are set in Japan or the United States (or both) and feature Japanese or Japanese-American characters. This was no different.
It's the story of 16-year-old Nao, who is living in Tokyo but spent much of her childhood in Sunnyvale, California. She is mercilessly bullied by her classmates and even her teachers. Some might find it difficult to believe, but bullying is an extreme problem in Japan, and it's even tolerated and sometimes encouraged by the adults in charge. Her father, who lost his job in California and has become unemployable back in Japan, keeps attempting suicide, which is considered an honorable out in Japan. The only bright spot in Nao's life is her 104-year-old great-grandmother, who is an anarchist, feminist, novelist Buddhist nun, who she calls Old Jiko. She decides that she's going to commit suicide, but first she wants to tell the story of Old Jiko's life in her diary.
Ruth, a Japanese-American novelist living on an island in British Columbia, finds Nao's diary washed up on the beach. The resemblance between Ruth the character and Ruth the novelist is more than just their name, ancestry, and location. Ozeki has actually put herself, and her husband Oliver, into the novel.
As Ruth begins reading the book, she becomes captivated by Nao's life and begins to care very deeply about what happens to her. Not too long after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, initially Ruth believes that this is what has caused the diary to come into her hands.
I loved so many things about this novel...the way that Nao finds such deep solace and healing in writing down her pain, the wisdom of old Jiko and the way she connects with her young great-granddaughter, the connections between Japan and North America--present in each of Ozeki's novels, the way Ozeki describes the sparsely populated island on which she and Oliver live, the poignant reflections of Nao's great-uncle's time in the Japanese army and Nao's connections with him, and the spiritual, symbolic activities of the crow, cat, and the sea. So many things have changed since I left Japan, and so many things remain the same.
As Nao goes to visit Old Jiko up on the mountaintop, I envisioned the monastery to look something like Koya-san, where I visited while I lived in Japan. I could picture Nao riding the bus up that mountain and communing with the trees and spirits while she visited there.
So many things about this story were deeply sad, but ultimately, the novel had great redemptive power and spiritual meaning. I highly recommend it--A Tale for the Time Being will definitely be at the top of my book list for the year. It was worth the full price, as the story will stick with me for a long time....more
I read Jane Casey's first novel, The Missing, and was not as nearly taken with it as her second, The Burning, which felt similar to BBC's "Prime Suspect" (with Helen Mirren), but with a young Irish detective named Maeve.
One reason why I didn't like her first novel was that I didn't find her main character, Sarah Finch, to be very likable. She ended up being a teacher after she hated school, and she didn't seem to get any enjoyment out of her job. I cannot relate to this, but my husband tells me that he thinks it sounds British...he thinks that more people in the UK go into teaching without really being called to do so. That might be true.
At any rate, I prefer Maeve. She has to put up with her English colleagues' misogyny and crap about her Irish ancestry, but she is a strong and complex character. She's working on a case to catch a London serial killer who likes to beat his female victims to a pulp and then set their bodies ablaze. It's more of a police procedural (hence the Prime Suspect comparison) than a mystery book, but I liked it.
The other thing I appreciated about this book was the publisher didn't dumb it down for Americans...as in, they didn't change the British terms and language (like they did in Harry Potter, for example). Most Americans will not know what a bacon buttie is...but that's okay! They can look it up if they want to know.
I will keep reading Casey's books (she has three more Maeve Kerrigan books published with another one on the way), and I'm so glad she redeemed herself after the first one....more
Last year my husband and I watched a short British made-for-TV movie called "Good Night, Mister Tom," and I became interested in the history of English children evacuated to the country during World War II...so this book intrigued me.
It's the story, in part, of Anna, an eight-year-old girl who is evacuated from London and sent to a stately home in Yorkshire in 1939. Wise beyond her years, she soon becomes aware of the adult secrets around her. Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, who have opened up their home, are deeply unhappy with each other. Soon they each start affairs. In the meantime, Anna's mother (whose husband is fighting in Africa) starts up her own affairs in London, for no particular reason except that the war is on. Every adult in this book is unhappy and unfaithful....even Anna herself when she grows up.
Unfortunately, none of the characters are sympathetic with perhaps the exception of Thomas. Anna was more likable as a child, but when she grew up I found myself getting irritated with her choices and the way she let her life fall to ruin. This book, unfortunately, does a great deal of telling rather than showing. In fact there's little dialogue. The writer is a documentary film maker, and in many ways that shows.
I felt this book had promise--the setting in Yorkshire, the time it happened, the idea of children being sent away from home, the war--but I feel let down. I think I will have to read Good Night, Mister Tom (also a book) instead. ...more