I feel odd trying to explain why I willingly reread a book I didn’t like that much the first time. Based on the thinnest thread of a true story, that...moreI feel odd trying to explain why I willingly reread a book I didn’t like that much the first time. Based on the thinnest thread of a true story, that a servant girl named Mary Saunders killed her employer, Donoghue creates an almost soul-crushingly true-to-life picture of a young woman who becomes a street prostitute in mid-1700’s London. I think the issue is I want to like this book more than I do. Too often these sorts of stories are romanticized or focus only on prostitution at the highest levels of society.
This book certainly doesn’t do that. The sex is about as non-sexy as it’s possible to get and often during my reading, I found myself wanting a shower, so immersive is Donoghue’s prose in making you really feel the grimy unwashed flesh and fetid back alleys that make up Mary’s everyday existence. Mary has few options from the start of the narrative. She can be pure and desperately poor or a whore and desperately poor. To lose your entire future, grim though it was, for the innocent love of a scarlet ribbon and some nice frippery is rather profoundly tragic.
But none of that makes up for how little I liked Mary. She’s a shallow, grasping girl and shows so little interest in or compassion for anyone else that it is nearly impossible to feel anything warm for her. And yet – maybe that’s why I came back to this book. Mary is a bitter, conniving woman – but how much of that is her essential nature and how much is what her circumstances made of her? Could she have been a loving, kind woman? Could she have found some sort of happiness, even if only with a regular customer who showed some small measure of kindness and regard? It’s like I am unwilling to give up entirely on Mary and dismiss her as an inherently self-serving and rude creature, but at the same time there is almost no indication from the text that she has any finer feelings or desire for change within her. This book continues to challenge me and make me think as Mary’s circumstances and limited chances in life make me want to sympathize with her, but her personality and character repels me. It brings to mind the sad but true idea that everyone wants to feed and save the clean, pretty orphans but what of those diseased or disfigured by their circumstance. Here is a case where the outside is pretty enough but the person within is scarred and festering.(less)
I devoured the Amelia Peabody books when I was in college after being given the books by a friend’s Mom. Loved them then and still love them now. Rere...moreI devoured the Amelia Peabody books when I was in college after being given the books by a friend’s Mom. Loved them then and still love them now. Rereading the first book, I realize what bothered me so much about the Parasol Protectorate. I thought the characters were just a little too modern, but so are some of the characters here. I think the real difference is in the language used. Peters’ can have her characters be daring or unconventional, but they talk about it using the period-correct words and phrases.
Set in an exciting time at the birth of modern archeology in Egypt, this is less a book about a mystery than a book about the wonder of ancient Egypt, the characters, and some good old fashioned love story elements. This series gave me great hope as a young woman that there might be men in this world who wanted smart, sassy women who could give them a run for their money. Rereading these now – my husband was laughing out loud at some of the exchanges between Amelia and Emerson, saying “Clearly, those two are destined for each other”. (less)
An interesting read but not nearly as strong as "Devil in the White City". And I'd argue not quite as gripping as "Issac's Storm". Worth reading but n...moreAn interesting read but not nearly as strong as "Devil in the White City". And I'd argue not quite as gripping as "Issac's Storm". Worth reading but nothing earth-shattering.(less)
I am really happy this wasn't the first Vreeland I read, because while it was AMAZING, it was also highly highly structured. It is a collection of int...moreI am really happy this wasn't the first Vreeland I read, because while it was AMAZING, it was also highly highly structured. It is a collection of interwoven short stories that starts with the current owner of a possible Vermeer and moves back, owner by owner, to Vermeer himself and, finally, to his daughter, the girl in the painting. Wonderfully well-rounded prose and fleshed out characters one gets a good sense of from only a few paragraphs. But again, the structure...this almost feels like an experimental novel - something written within an iron cage of structure just to prove one can. Great but impossible to just fall into - the architecture of the narrative is nearly always forefront in the reader's consciousness.(less)
This book reminds me really strongly of Sophia Coppola's film…though certainly not in modern word usage. Set from Marie's POV, I found it a fairly enj...moreThis book reminds me really strongly of Sophia Coppola's film…though certainly not in modern word usage. Set from Marie's POV, I found it a fairly enjoyable read, but I've always felt a little sorry for a silly big of fluff that found herself in the midst of huge changes. The pages and pages of fictional letters between Marie and her mother (which by the way – why isn't there more about Maria Therese, because damn, that woman was breeding to stock the courts of all of Europe) are heartbreaking and funny all the same time. I can't even imagine what it would be like to be the center of gossip for years because your only purpose is to have heirs and everyone knows your husband has yet to bed you. It would seriously suck. As I said, I liked this book, but I'm sort of the target audience so I'm not sure how much my opinion counts.(less)
This one was tough - to review, not to read. There is a trend right now of writing psuedo-historical novels full of gothic themes and intrigue...that...moreThis one was tough - to review, not to read. There is a trend right now of writing psuedo-historical novels full of gothic themes and intrigue...that never really go anywhere. Was this a book about faith? Was this a book at sexual mores of this time period? Was this a book about not much of anything? Yes, yes it was. Also, throwing in random lesbian themes to make your book more "timely" or "relevant" - it was old 5 years ago.(less)
This book started out so promising and then sort of got lost in the details. There seemed to be real problems sticking to a time period...A new person...moreThis book started out so promising and then sort of got lost in the details. There seemed to be real problems sticking to a time period...A new person would enter the story and there would be pages of backtracking or general NYC history before the narrative would continue. Made it a rather tough read.(less)
This has to be my 20 or 25th rereading of this book. This was always one of my favorite of Janette Oke’s books, perhaps because it is so dark. Is this...moreThis has to be my 20 or 25th rereading of this book. This was always one of my favorite of Janette Oke’s books, perhaps because it is so dark. Is this a deeply insightful work exploring the scars of abuse on a young psyche? Not really. Is it a historically dense exploration of women on the frontier? Not in the least. Do I love it to little bits for being a heartfelt and moving if simple story of love, life, and finding your place in the world? Absolutely!
Damaris grows up in home terrorized by her father’s alcoholic binges. One day her mother gives her a few precious possessions she’s kept hidden, a little cash she’s secreted away, and all but tells her daughter to go and find a life for herself. I love Damaris’ emotional journey as she finds a place for herself among the townsfolk of a small western town and slowly begins to see that all families were not like hers and all men are not like her father.
I love the romance element of this book partly because there is so little overt romance. (view spoiler)[Damaris meets a dear friend of one of her three “bosses”, Gil, and it rang very true to me that it takes her the better part of the year to understand that she has feelings for him, not that she has the slightest clue what to do with them. I am not a big fan of romances that use misunderstanding of as the crux of the drama, but again – here it rings true and I still tear up a little when Damaris comes to realize that Gil wants to marry her out of love for her, not concern for the orphan children she’s taken in.
Honestly, I’ve always wanted more books with these characters. I want more of Gil and Damaris working through their painful pasts and building a new life with the orphans and a few additions of their own. Also, I think half the town would end up Aunties and Uncles to any kids these two had or adopted and I am embarrassed to admit how much I want to read all of the slightly-treacly fussing and loving that would ensue. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I have seen it said many times that people either adore this book or are left rather cold. Sadly, I am in the rather cold camp. This detail-rich story...moreI have seen it said many times that people either adore this book or are left rather cold. Sadly, I am in the rather cold camp. This detail-rich story takes us on the journey of a young woman leaving a seaside community for the glamour of late 19th century London, centered around her love for a music hall performer, Kitty Butler. On one hand, this book is exemplary for the matter of fact way it treats love and sexuality, with some very nicely poetic writing as Nan struggles to put words around her own feelings. On the other, it is treated as such a non-issue as to strain credulity. Nan is written as such a blank slate that even as she and Kitty met other women in relationships with each other, Nan has not one whit of curiosity about the larger community, common terms, or even a feeling of “Oh, it’s not just me”. It takes her over a year and a few other lovers to even start to grasp the idea that there is a lesbian community in existence or care one bit about it.
I struggled with this book because I very much dislike Nan. I found it depressing to read a character, albeit one on a “journey” of self-discovery, with so little free will. She careens from disaster to disaster, all caused by others, and without exhibiting much common sense at all. While I can empathize with the devastation of first love lost, I wanted to strangle the silly girl for scraping by on coin earned prostituting herself simply because she could not bear facing Kitty and collecting her hundreds of pounds of back pay. Heartbreak is all well and good, but I lose sympathy for a character that choses to endanger herself and nearly starve out of a misguided sense of pride.
Of all the sections of the novel, I found the middle section to be the most interesting – not for what the author actually wrote – but for the larger themes it seemed to touch upon. Plucked off the street – literally – Nan falls into a life as the plaything of a rich woman who seems to enjoy a good bit of S&M in her love life. While the details are pretty explicit and there is lots of sex, to me the most interesting part of this section is how easily Nan adapts to be utterly submissive. She has moments of chafing against some of the more humiliating yens of Diana’s – but by in large, she has no issue with being submissive, not only sexually but as an overall lifestyle. Again, this is character to which things happen, rather than one who makes decisions and causes things to happen. In the end, I enjoyed this story much less than Water’s other major work, Fingersmith. This lacked the emotional impact of Fingersmith and the sense of engagement with the story.(less)
I "read" this one as an audiobook while commuting and the story was so engaging in places, I almost didn't want to get out of the car. Set within the...moreI "read" this one as an audiobook while commuting and the story was so engaging in places, I almost didn't want to get out of the car. Set within the walls of a convent, there is a lot of history packed into this book, a lot of interesting detail about how gender and class impacted individual's options. The novel centers on a young, unwilling novice who is forced into the convent by her family. I love the way Dunant slips in history and fact seamlessly into the narrative as the characters encounter different circumstances or challenges. In this case, Serafina and the sisters that interact with her become evocative of every woman who "chose" convent life. Dunant creates wonderfully rich and real characters and it was very interesting to me to explore an entirely female depiction of power and politics. Wonderful story and I am interested to read more of her work. (less)
At last!! This is just the sort of book I was hoping for and didn’t get in The Alchemist's Daughter and A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies. While those...moreAt last!! This is just the sort of book I was hoping for and didn’t get in The Alchemist's Daughter and A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies. While those were sort of tediously detailed, as if to hide their rather threadbare and boring plots, this book never tried to be more than a drawing room drama of the first order. A very well written, light romp in a rather Austen-esque Regency setting. Is this Austen reborn? Not in the least, but it does wonderfully capture the warm, well-developed characters of Austen and the interesting dramas hidden just below a sheen of gentility and manners. I love a good comedy of manners and this was a lovely little distraction of the ilk.
While I will never get done cackling like a loon at the idea of someone being a dried up old spinster at 28, I accept this was reality for a few thousand years of human existence. Somewhat typically, Jane is very bright and a very skilled glamourist, but of course, she has a younger sister, MaryAnn – I mean Melody, who is divinely pretty and about as deep as a puddle. All of the intrigue here is of the romantic and social status variety, but it is well written and the choices Jane makes seem natural. She is a very Eleanor Dashwood type – modest, practical but also keenly observant and deeply passionate under her proper exterior.
This book was a mild summer afternoon, spent under a sprawling shade tree with an always-full pitcher of lemonade at the ready. And you know – I need those kinds of books sometimes. I am very much looking forward to reading more set in this world and a continuation of the lives of these characters. (less)