A Novel Bookstore is one hell of a good, though flawed, novel. At a reader’s first glance, this book would seem to be more in the tradition of the ea...more A Novel Bookstore is one hell of a good, though flawed, novel. At a reader’s first glance, this book would seem to be more in the tradition of the earlier book.
Bitter Almonds covers a different aspect of reading, the knowledge of reading, the ability to make sense of vague shapes and get meaning.
This means that the book is a somewhat technical descriptive story. The paragraphs about drawing an “o” make the reader want to smack someone.
This isn’t to say that the book isn’t worth reading. It is, and is rather short, so it can be read quickly. It really is more of a novella than an actual novel.
Edith, who works as a translator, discovers her maid, Fadila, cannot read or write any language, so Edith decides to try and teach her. Of course, this novel is about the friendship, if that is the correct word, that develops between the two women – one an educated and happily married French woman, the other a three timed married, illiterate immigrant from Morocco.
And that seems to be the point of the novel.
At first glance, the central theme of the novel is power that reading gives people. Not only the ability to negotiate the subway system, but also to deal with various bills and issues that develop in everyday life – Cosse does a wonderful job of showing how essential such a skill is and how in many ways, people who can do it, take it for granted. She nods towards another way of keeping information when Fadila describes how old she might be and refers to how her mother would remember the birth year. There is poetry in those few lines. Cosse moves away from it quickly, the plot of the novel showing how society has moved away from such things (for better or worse, Cosse doesn’t suggest which).
But that isn’t the only theme.
It seems as if the novel isn’t so much concerned with the teaching of reading, though this process takes up too much of the novel, but treatment of immigrants, in particular, old immigrants. Fadila’s struggles are not only a result of her inability to read and write but also of society’s inability or disinterest, in teaching her. This leads to all types of messy situations - housing, money, phone issues.
The problem is that the book does and does not do such a subject total justice. The general plot does, but the characters are so distant from the reader that any pity or emotion is cool, and the reader disconnected. Yet the book is oddly gripping in such a way that to put it down, to walk away before finishing isn’t possible.
I don’t blame you for being angry. Being constantly mistaken for a penguin must be reall...moreDisclaimer: ARC via Netgalley
Dear Angry Little Puffin or ALP,
I don’t blame you for being angry. Being constantly mistaken for a penguin must be really harsh, especially when you are some much cuter than penguins. It’s really nice that Mr. Young helped you get this book published so people who aren’t in the know can finally be in the know.
Honestly, why did the people in the Montreal Bio-Dome look at the silly penguins, and not you cute and adorable birds?
Do penguins have a good cereal named after them? A good peanut butter cereal at that? I think not.
And March of the Puffins would have been a much better movie. Your rant, ALP was wonderful and a neat way to educate people on the greatness of puffins as opposed to the weakness of penguins. It is far better to be at the top than at the bottom, I agree. The illustrations that accompany the rant, from the crossed out title to the globe to the flight are cute, adorable, and filled with nice little jokes. The page with the stupid penguin merchandise was apt.
The best part, however ALP, was the inclusion of the girl and her father. Too often we see sons and fathers, or daughters and mothers. It was nice to see a girl in the know with her father encouraging her love for puffins. That section of the book would make any woman smile with joy (it ranks right up there with that car commercial with the girl in the back seat pretending to race while her father drives).
So ALP, I should let you know that I don’t a little child, but I fully intend on buying this book because Puffins rule and Penguins drool.
If you have read Judith Tarr’s medieval fantasies Alamut and The Dagger and the Cross, or watch Robin of S...moreDisclaimer: Digital ARC read via Netgalley.
If you have read Judith Tarr’s medieval fantasies Alamut and The Dagger and the Cross, or watch Robin of Sherwood with the wonderful character of Nasir, then you want to read this book.
From Martyr to Murderer traces the development of the Middle Eastern Assassin sect as it appears in the Western Medieval literature of the time. The Assassins were what the name implies, and you might have heard of them in connection with Saladin (Richard I’s nemesis and moral superior) whom they tried to kill three times or in the death of Conrad I of Jerusalem (a political enemy of Richard I) whom they did kill. You might have heard the term for their leader – The Old Man of the Mountain.
This book is not a history of the Assassins (this is perhaps not possible) but there is enough detail to give the average reader a general view of the historical reality (including a discussion of the leadership conflict that led to the major division). Instead the focus of the book is how Western writers from history chroniclers to romance writers in the Middle Ages depicted the group. And it isn’t how you would automatically think, considering the difference in religion. In some aspects it is surprising, and Pages presents possible reasons for the medieval viewpoint.
This means that Pages quotes at length from various sources. In most of the cases, she presents the original (usually French or Latin), and then a translation, nicely done. The inclusion of large amount of text makes sense because when Pages analyzed the story, the reader can easily turn back to.
It isn’t just the historical Assassins that are dealt with in this book, Pages also covers the literary trope of the female Assassin, who usually converts to Christianity for the hero’s love and goodness (sounds like the female spy turned good, doesn’t it?). There is a somewhat harsh story about such a princess with a much different ending and the princesses seem to have more agency than say Christian women in similar stories. Pages looks at the reasons for why this might be.
In some ways, I found myself wishing this had been a more expansive look, reaching into the modern period (I would love to read Pages’ thoughts on the character of Nasir) but considering the title of book, that’s just unrealistic on my part.
Highly recommended for those interested in medieval literature and history. (less)
It’s all Braveheart’s fault. Totally. Mel Gibson’s movie about Scotland’s Freedom Fight, William Wallace, might be...moreDisclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.
It’s all Braveheart’s fault. Totally. Mel Gibson’s movie about Scotland’s Freedom Fight, William Wallace, might be one of the reasons why there is shortly going to be a vote about the dissolution of the union, but it sure as hell played fast and loose with history.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if, when asked about Robert the Bruce, most Americans said something like “you mean that guy who sold out Braveheart?”
This is a shame because, in many ways, it is because of The Bruce that Scotland became Scotland, yet outside of the United Kingdom he is not as well known as he should be. Michael Penman does go some way in changing this.
The book, in terms of style, is not perfect. It borders on being dry at times. The scholarship seems good (I am not an expert in the field) and everything is footnoted. If a reader does not have any background knowledge about the period, the reader might be a little lost. Knowing about Edward I and II is a benefit as is being away of the politics. Penman does not include much background material.
Those criticisms aside, reading the book is a learning experience, even for those who know who Bruce was. It is comprehensive as it can be in terms of Bruce’s life, focusing, in particular, on his relationship with his father and brothers. Areas of debate are examined and when the facts are unclear, Penman makes sure that the reader knows that. It seems a common thing to point but considering how many authors make jumps based on little evidence, a writer who doesn’t does deserve some praise.
Recommended highly for those interested in Scottish history. (less)
One wonders if Aesop knew how much of good thing he had when he wrote his fables, that years and years later, that the idea of animal characters bein...more One wonders if Aesop knew how much of good thing he had when he wrote his fables, that years and years later, that the idea of animal characters being used as allegory would still be current. Today, most people think of Animal Farm when discussing allegories using animals, but perhaps in later years it will be Animal Farm and the hen Sprout, the heroine of this charming and deeply moving tale.
While no doubt highly influenced by Korean culture, Sien-Ma Hwang’s story also draws on Western classics like “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Little Red Hen”. Sprout starts her story trapped in a cage fulfilling her heart breaking duty of laying eggs. She eventually gets out and struggles to find a place in the outside world, a place where she has longed to be but that comes with dangers that she didn’t know about it. Due to a series of circumstances, she finds herself in charge of an egg.
While the book is mediation about family, love, and motherhood, it is also a close look at nature as well as the influence of man on nature. The fictional character closest to Sprout in the history of literature seems to be HCA’s Little Mermaid. The idea of scarf ice for the greater purpose and the morality of it is something that both characters share to a great degree.
It also is impossible to read the beginning of the book and to not think of North Korea. Sprout’s journey starts in the most horrific way (and it will most likely insure that you confine chicken eating to free range). But if the coop is North Korea than is the barnyard the South? It is better but not a paradise. The allegory works because becoming who you are transcends society, even a benign one.
It’s strange considering how short the book is the large impact that it has. Putting the book down, leaving Sprout in some ways is like cutting off a limb, disconnecting your mind from something, it’s a wrenching feeling. This is despite the almost starkness of the prose. If the Narnia books are an allegory overboard, Sprout’s story is an allegory grown properly. (less)
So Weird Al needs to dedicate his song “Word Crimes” to the Fadiman family, and I really want to met Fadiman and her husband George. (I swear, if I fi...moreSo Weird Al needs to dedicate his song “Word Crimes” to the Fadiman family, and I really want to met Fadiman and her husband George. (I swear, if I find they are divorced, I will sob uncontrollably for a minute).
I picked this up at one of those really cheap book stores. You know the type with tables and not bookshelves. It was a pleasant surprise to read this book.
Now, to be fair, not every essay in the book is great. The first one, however, is a beautiful piece of writing about love, marriage, and individual libraries is quite frankly worth the 3 dollars the book cost me. Seriously, if you ever see “Marrying Libraries” as a short eBook and you don’t possess this collection, buy it. Fadiman’s essay details the combining of her library and her husband’s. They are confronted with problems any book lover can understand. How to organize the volumes (this leads to thinking of divorce) and which duplicates to keep. This essay includes a story about a designer who simply organized books according to size and color. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with people like that? But starting the collection with this essay is apt because while Fadiman is writing about her relationship with books, what also comes though is her relationship with her husband, a man who took her to a used bookstore on her birthday and brought her 19 pounds of books.
Yep, he’s a keeper that one.
Her essay “Never Do That to a Book” is about different types of readers – courtly and carnal. Which one are you? (I’m a carnal reader. Books and I get down and dirty). The one essay about the Fadiman family and grammar is inspirational (and some SPAs should read it). A great many of the essays include gossipy bits about writers that Fadiman knows. For instance, you will discover how Mark Helprin leaves messages on answering machines. Then there is the bit about eating (like really eating) books. When the essays are one target and are about interaction with books as a whole, they are quite good.
The essays that are slightly more general in reading subject matter, such as “The Odd Shelf”, aren’t bad but are somewhat less interesting, and perhaps lacking in some passion. For instance, the essay about the sonnet and poetry is nice, but it didn’t really grab me though Fadiman is spot on in her observations.
The most inventive essay is the one about plagiarism, a timely essay even though it was written years ago. Fadiman and George have a very wicked sense of humor.
Despite the wonderful description of the tango, this book is just like every single other urban fantasy novel that is glutting the market. One high m...moreDespite the wonderful description of the tango, this book is just like every single other urban fantasy novel that is glutting the market. One high maintenance, slightly unbelievable kick ass heroine? Check. (Please how does she do free running to work and not get smelly and sweaty?) One quasi star crossed love interest? Check. End of the world thing? Check. Rivalry with other women? Check.
To be fair, there is more humor and at least the lead is not the youngest child. (less)
If you are a fan of David Tennant (and why wouldn’t you be) than odds are you have seen Broadchurch, which was sho...moreDisclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.
If you are a fan of David Tennant (and why wouldn’t you be) than odds are you have seen Broadchurch, which was shown here in the U.S. on BBC America. If you haven’t seen it, then you might have heard about it. If you haven’t, there is an American version of the show coming out in the fall; it is called Gracepoint. Mr. Tennant is in that as well. Olivia Colman, who in many ways was more nuanced performer in the series, isn’t, sadly (though Anna Gunn is a wonderful actress).
Broadchurch is about two detectives as they struggle to find the murderer of a young boy in a small coastal community, that community where everyone knows of everyone if not knows everyone. This book is a novelization of the television series, so if you haven’t seen the series and are planning to watch it or the U.S. version, the book has major spoilers. The butler did it type of spoilers – don’t worry there isn’t a butler.
Ellie Miller returns from a vacation in Florida to discover that her promotion has been given to an outsider, a male outsider, Alec Hardy. If that isn’t enough of a problem, a boy’s body has been discovered on the beach. The boy, Danny, is a close family friend. In such a small town, this means that dirty secrets are brought to light as community distrust and infighting begin to take a toll.
What makes Broadchurch, show or novel, so good is its refusal to use cliché types. It might at first glance look that way. The relationship between Hardy and Miller is one that we seem to see in every blasted cop show today, but soon it transcends that. No one comes out as a saint or sinner, but simply people. It is this that makes Broadchurch far more compelling. Karen White, for instance, the reporter who has made it her mission to call Hardy to account for a mistake in his past, could at first come across as the ambitious star reporter who should be pistol whipped, but she is more than that. Miller could simply be the emotional cop, but she is more than that. Hardy could be the dick cop who is always right, but he is more than that. The only character that might be one dimension is the character of Beth, Danny’s mother. “An English rose” is how one reporter describes her, perhaps she is, but she is not perfect. She is simply good and far more complex than that description would let anyone to believe.
It is the normalcy of both the place and the people that make the story gut wrenching and compelling. You may not live in a community as small as Broadchurch, but if you are a member of a neighborhood many of the truths or problems are also present in the small individual sections of big cities. Instead of the convoluted plot lines of some crime stories, the crime here isn’t so much shocking because of its victim, but because of its intimacy, because of the suspect pool. The reader may not know Miller, Beth, Ellie, Alec and the dozen or so other people in the novel, but the reader knows people like them. When Ellie wonders if it was the man whose name she doesn’t know but who she nods hello to everyday, it is something anyone can relate to.
The novelization keeps the basic plot but aids more details. The relationship between Karen and Olly works better in the novel than on the television screen due to the use of inner monologue. The writing it is good, containing lines like: “Maybe the small town mentality is sexually transmitted.” (Loc 2152). Despite the reader knowing the outcome, the book itself is gripping and near impossible to put down. This is unusual for a novelization, and Erin Kelley deserves full marks for it. Overall, the writing is smooth, though there are times when some dialogue feels very stilted, almost like an info dump. At this point, it should be noted that the edition I read was an uncorrected ARC, so perhaps this problem will be smoothed out by final publication.
That criticism aside, while the book is not as good as Ruth Rendell or P.D. James at their top form, it is far better than most novelizations.
In the spirit of Celine’s book I will try to curse in this review. I think he would approve.
The bastards are out to ge...more**spoiler alert**
In the spirit of Celine’s book I will try to curse in this review. I think he would approve.
The bastards are out to get you.
The question is, which bastards.
This book, this stream of piss, is just like piss. No, really it is because we all need to piss, right? You go to the doctor if you can’t. That’s like this book. You’re not going to want to read this book. You’re going to cock that eyebrow and shake that head. The words racist and sexist are going to dump from your mouth when you discuss Celine. You will say, correctly, that the world is a depressing enough place already, and you really don’t want to increase the dosage of your happy pills again.
All that will be true.
But you should read this book. Because it tells you, strangely and in a depressing way, that you are not alone. It also contains pearls of wisdom like:
“Dogs look like wolves when they’re sleeping” (106). “Love is harder to give up than life. In this world we spend our time killing or adoring or both together” (59). “The rich don’t do evil themselves. They pay” (287).
Celine writes at one point, “The best thing to do when you’re in this world, don’t you agree, is to get out of it” (49). He’s not advocating suicide (and neither am I), but let’s be honest, we’ve all felt this way. Getting out of it can even mean going to Mars. See, this book is about the human condition, but the internal human condition, the dark night of the soul in reality, the side we don’t let people see, that we rarely talk about, the fucking black dog that Churchill walked.
What the hell, just read it and get drunk afterwards. (less)
Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. Also, I didn’t request it, but was invited by the publicist.
I am one of those readers who hated the Physic Book o...more Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. Also, I didn’t request it, but was invited by the publicist.
I am one of those readers who hated the Physic Book of Deliverance Dane. I thought it was stupid and idiotic, and the heroine was a complete twit who should have taken her dog to the vet. I also hated the Kate Mosse book I read. I’m really, really, really picky about time travel romance/mystery novels. It’s shocking that I actually liked some of the Outlander series.
You should know that in all fairness to Janet Eubank.
Crossover is not a badly written novel. Look at this description, “the house was like a woman of a certain age. There were still good bones and good manners and not a hint of embarrassment at being forced, after years of independence, to go to work in the world. The job might be demeaning and badly paid. Never mind; it was honest work and could be done with dignity and even some grace. Unhappiness was a private matter to be kept strictly inside” (Location 10).
And it gets better.
Description and setting wise the book does grab the reader. Meredith arrives at an English college to start her journey to her master’s degree. She is studying something vaguely 18th century; it’s never quite clear what English literature she is interested in and writing her essays on, but she is apparently brilliant according to her tutor. She finds herself getting stuck into some kind of time replacement, role switcheroo thing where she and a look-alike from the 18th century trade places. Meredith is determined to find more about the family she finds herself time placed with, and she uncovers a mystery featuring affairs and violence.
It’s sad, though, that I found the supporting characters of Sue and Tony, Meredith’s friends, to be far more entertaining than Meredith. Sue and Tony would make a wonderful romance novel; their relationship is interesting. Sue and Tony actually seem interested in scholarship and not just their tutor’s pants. They actually seem to work. Meredith’s relationship with her tutor, on the hand, is not interesting but simply pro forma. It just happens. Meredith seems to just happen.
The mystery itself is slightly more interesting than the time travel and the romance aspects of the novel. If this had been a simple straight forward gothic style mystery drawing on Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, it would have worked. The time travel aspect allows for modern detective work, but in some ways weakens the book. This could be because all of the people who help Meredith are men. She is given a chance to work a woman tutor who actually specializes in the area of Meredith’s interest, but she rejects it to work with her original tutor. The reason given is believable, but having Meredith being aided by one woman in the story would have alleviated the feeling of Mary Sue specialness that really means Mary Sue twit.
Yep, Meredith is one of those. You know, like you see in those books I couldn’t finish.
Now, granted the novel was first published in 1984 and that means the latter works come after and Eubank’s character is more original, possibly an influence on the others.
What separates this book from its followers is the simple fact that Eubank can write atmosphere extremely well. Place and mood are wonderfully conveyed. This is true regardless of the time period. It’s why I was able to finish it. It’s why if she writes a straight gothic book, I’m there with bells on.
In short, if you like Mosse, you should like this. It’s a better book.
Even when Rendell’s books don’t grab me by the throat, they are still. Wuthering Heights, for instance, did a better job of conjuring a moor in my eye...moreEven when Rendell’s books don’t grab me by the throat, they are still. Wuthering Heights, for instance, did a better job of conjuring a moor in my eye (so does Kate Bush’s song based on Bronte’s novel). Yet, the twist is properly lied out, and still surprises the reader. Nice way to spend a couple hours.