This is my favorite novel written by Amanda Quick. Clare, the heroine, creates perfume. She marries Gareth, the Hellhound of Wyckmere, and the two get...moreThis is my favorite novel written by Amanda Quick. Clare, the heroine, creates perfume. She marries Gareth, the Hellhound of Wyckmere, and the two get caught up in an evil plot to steal an alchemist's book. One aspect that brings this tale to life is the setting, the isle of desire. It's a beautiful place and the descriptions leave me wondering if Clare and Gareth live in the garden of Eden. My favorite part of the book, though, is Clare's strong, independent nature. Quick is able to create a heroine any woman can admire in a time period where women were valued for the number of male heirs they bore. Watching both Clare and Gareth develop as a couple is a truly magical experience.(less)
This is one of the largest books I have read in a long time. When I first started reading, the sheer weight and length of the book intimidated me. How...moreThis is one of the largest books I have read in a long time. When I first started reading, the sheer weight and length of the book intimidated me. However, Follett's ability to create a mystery from the very first pages of the book held me captivated. Set in southern England between the years 1123–1174, this historical fiction novel not only explores the period of anarchy between the reign of King Henry I and King Henry II but the every day lives of the citizens (from a range of social classes). All characters were engaging, my two favorites being Aliena and Prior Philip. Most of the villains had redeeming qualities about them, which made them less one dimensional. My main problems with the novel, and why I rated it three stars instead of five, were the length, the villain William, and the ending. Because it was such a long book, there were a lot of high points and low points. As a reader, I felt discouraged that this up/down trend had no breaking point. When the "heroes" gained ground, their hopes and triumphs were quickly dashed by the "villains" of the book. Part of me wonders if Follett was trying to mimic real life, which can throw as many high and low moments at you as this book. However, some of the historical knowledge of cathedrals seemed unnecessary too. Second, William was very one-dimensional. Follett tried to get the reader to relate to him, but I despised him throughout the book, unlike Waleran and Remiguis. Finally, the ending was anti-climatic. After such a rollar coaster of a book, I expected more at the end. I was sorely disappointed by the outcome and felt like the beginning did more justice to the book than the conclusion. One other point that I wish was addressed and developed earlier in the book was the character of Archbishop Thomas Becket. He was a powerful force at the end of the novel, and I wanted to learn more about him earlier on. Despite its flaws, I am glad I read this book. It has inspired me to do some historical research during my free time about some of the people and events in the book.(less)
This was a very boring book. The characters did not have complex personalities, and there was not a lot of interaction between Jacelyn and Claibourne,...moreThis was a very boring book. The characters did not have complex personalities, and there was not a lot of interaction between Jacelyn and Claibourne, who are the main characters and love interests. It was probably one of the worst romances I have ever read! The only positive thing about the novel was the author's attention to the time period and details of the clothes that the characters wore.(less)
This is Beverley's second book written when she first broke into the romance publishing frontier. It reminded me of a Jane Austen or gothic romance bu...moreThis is Beverley's second book written when she first broke into the romance publishing frontier. It reminded me of a Jane Austen or gothic romance but not written as well as some of the ones I have read under that genre. The best thing about this book is the mystery, which was hard to figure out. The setting, the dark house juxtaposed next to the sea, gave the perfect mysterious atmosphere. Unfortunately, the chemistry between the main characters, Chloe and Justin, was lacking. Part of this was attributed to their past, when Justin convinced Chloe to marry his cousin Stephen rather than himself (she was seventeen at the time). Life is too short to make such mistakes with love, and as the reader finds out, the marriage between Chloe and Stephen was a mistake. Another minor detail that irritated me was how Justin constantly doubted Chloe. Even though Justin thought Chloe was a spy, he needed to let go of his suspicions earlier in the book in order for their romance to develop faster. The two characters who interested me the most were Chloe and her cousin, Randal, who constantly flirted with her. What was the flirting about? Did he like her or was it all part of the time period? I want to read about Randal and his future romance. Did Beverley ever write a book about his story? Overall, it is my least favorite novel by this author and does not do the writer justice like her Rogue series does.(less)
Initially, I was very excited to have won Under Man's Spell as my first Goodreads Giveaway novel because it closely described the types of literature...moreInitially, I was very excited to have won Under Man's Spell as my first Goodreads Giveaway novel because it closely described the types of literature I read and study at college. I'm fascinated by the postcolonial worlds and having read contemporary pieces by Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to name a couple, I was excited to see what former Tanzania resident J.K. Muta had to offer.
From the very first chapter, I realized this was not the type of book which could compete with authors I had studied and analyzed while in college. The writing was too pedantic. I still hoped the book could stand on its own, especially considering its focus on women. By the time I finished chapter one, I knew it didn't matter what the subject matter was. This was not a well-written book.
There were many flaws to this book. The writing style was the most glaring problem. It was written as if someone was telling a story rather than describing or living it. Every detail, no matter how inconsequential, was included and repeated throughout the entire book. It was extremely boring to read the same things over and over again. Many of these nonessential details could have been cut to increase the pace of the story, such as describing the characters when they rode bikes around town or were washing up after eating. Subsequently, I couldn't find one quote worthy to save. Another major flaw to the story was the overall scope. The story encompassed a generation of people that by the end of the novel turns out to be related, albeit a bit distantly. Until that point, the reader is confused as to who the characters are and why the story jumps around, both location and time period. I forgot who people were, especially when there were at least ten or more chapters between character highlights and focuses. Including a family tree at the beginning of the book could have solved many of these problems. A map of Tanzania and an index of Tanzania words would have also helped with the understanding of the location and language of the characters. Relating and feeling anything for the characters and the horrors they went through was nonexistent because the writing was so detached. It was also strange and confusing that practically all the men in the novel were evil. They always wanted the women for sex and were abusive and violent to them. It didn't matter whether a character was living in a rural tribe or in a larger city. About 90% of the men in this novel were macho bastards that ruled the women with an iron fist. There was no balance between the good and evil. There were a couple of male characters that had consciousnesses and souls, but it was never explained how or why they ended up with modern ideas about gender equality. I actually balked at re-picking the book up on numerous occasions. There was no way I could handle the boring descriptions, confusing characters, and seemingly improbable, or at least overly demonic, situations and characters. The scope of the book was too large for what the final product was.
The setting of the story was unique and interesting. It was one of the few redeeming qualities of the book. However, Tanzania was not described vividly enough, and the jumping around to cities and rural villages was not tracked well enough. Consequently, the reader felt disjointed as to where the author was taking them and why.
The story and plot had potential if the author could have cut down the scope and focus. Instead of using a lot of women to highlight the troubles of Tanzania, she could have featured one person. That one person could have experienced or seen the murdering of Albino babies, burning of witches, polygamous marriages, rapes, and the unsafe abortions (just a few of the topics addressed in the novel). Even then, choosing one or two problems to highlight would have been easier to understand rather than showing everything that was wrong with the undeveloped nation. I also didn't understand why she included the little story about colonization that Abe told Kabula's daughter. It seemed like an unnecessary detail that was never revisited later on in the book. In fact, Western Civilization was highlighted as being the only way the women would gain power and control in their country. The women who attended schools fared better than the ones who continued to practice the traditions of their people. In fact, the most powerful woman in the book is Pili, who is a captlist in Tanzania. She owns many lucrative businesses both in the villages and cities and because of all the money she has, she instills fear and respect in otherwise unruly men. There were very few traditions that were highlighted as important or worth keeping until the end of the book when the women focus on mat making, pottery sculpting, and hair braiding. Western modernization was depicted as the ultimate solution for women "under man's spell."
The character development of the women was especially weak, which made it difficult to connect with their troubles. The most engaging ones were Abe and Esta, very different women separated by over a generation of time. Abe is oppressed by the traditions of her family while Esta is liberated thanks to the strength of her mother, who separated herself from the destructive ways of her family. It was very easy to get confused as to what happened to them, though, because there were many other main female characters that were highlighted as well as numerous supporting ones. The supporting characters were constantly being used to show how terrible the women in Tanzania fared, both with their men and with each other.
There were some blatant themes and motifs expressed in the book. First, women were controlled by chauvinistic and macho men who ruled with superstitions, fears, and traditions that were dangerous for the women. Women are not only pitted against men but each other. There are very few who work together to make a difference until the end of the book, spurred by the modern thinking Pili, Esta, and Elizabeth. Western modernization was also highlighted as a saving grace for the women. In order to survive, the women needed to embrace Western education and capitalism while leaving their traditions in the bush with other uncouth animals. That is the only way to survive. When some of the women band together at the end of the novel, changes are slowly implemented. The author is at least realistic in her approach at showing that a nation will take many years to change its way of life so drastically. So, she shows the seeds being sown but with no conclusive evidence if any of them took root and grew. Overall, the themes were pretty basic and predictable considering how the elements of traditional Tanzania was approached. I would have enjoyed a less dichotomous perspective because tradition and modernity don't necessarily need to be exclusive of each other.
A lot of the themes of the book, as well as the lack of connection with the characters, could be a reflection of the approach the author took. First, J.K. Muta is an American educated business major. So, she was not trained to write with the usual skill that other writers have. Second, her message and purpose of the writing was heavily influenced by her American experiences. She came to the U.S. after graduating high school in Tanzania and enrolled in college here. She got her degrees and stayed in the states. She "modernized" herself to a Western lifestyle and way of thinking. She let go of the past because of the problems associated with her culture and peoples. Thus, she highlights the saving grace of Western education and capitalism without harboring any sense of loss for the customs that will disappear over time. Even the simple act of eating on the mats that the women weave is looked down upon by the modern and educated main characters because it requires them to sit on the floor. There is no battle between tradition and civilization like there was in Things Fall Apart. Everything is laid bare as being very black and white. It's either good or evil. A third problem with the way the author approached the book was that much of what she wrote is based on stories she was told, probably from family members or friends that were left behind in Tanzania. Because she did not actually experience the atrocities she describes and because she wants to maintain the reality of it all, the writing comes off being extremely cold and unfeeling. This is a failing of many books that are fictional but based on real life events. It is hard to combine fiction with nonfiction and historical data without losing some of the details or strengths of their separate genres.
Unfortunately, this book did not compel me to learn more about Tanzania like other fictional world literatures have. It left me feeling bored and unfilled by the conclusion, which ended too hopefully and neatly for the main Westernized women considering all the horrible situations that were described even up to the second to last page. The entire book was overly dramatized and the most graphic scenes felt somehow muted by the way they were told. Yes, I was horrified by everything the women had to face. Yes, much of it was wrong and backward superstitions. However, it cannot all be described as a failing of the culture or the men. As demonstrated with Abe, many of the women were involved in the generational hatreds that the people carried. This attribute cannot be blamed solely on the men regardless of their polygamous society, which isn't always "bad." Again, claiming that polygamy was the root of the evil and gender problems between men and women felt like a very Western and Christian approach. At many points during my reading, it appeared that the author was making an argument for colonization, one such example was during the Christian Bible reading scenes conducted by the very wealthy Pili. It was only through the influences of colonial Europe that these changes were implemented. Without them, Tanzania would still be "backward" in their belief system.
Overall, the layout of the actual book was appropriate. It had engaging cover art which highlights an important event in the story. The cover font, although not an attractive style, was legible. The title was also appropriate for the themes and issues explored in the book, implying that men are the real "witches" because they are the ones with the power to spell and enslave the women, as made apparent by Rose who constantly fights for the love and attention of a man that plays the field. The font inside the book was also appealing to the reader's eyes.
The book had other saving points, such as the overall message for women's liberation, equality, and education. I didn't agree with all the authors' solutions to the problems nor her assumptions as to why these problems exist in Tanzania. The best scene that expressed hope and change was the gathering of the tribal women at the end of the book. It was designed to secretly teach the women a trade that would make them more independent from their husbands. I appreciated that the movement started from within their country and by their people rather than an outside Western force. The idea of the UWT chapter (Tanzania Women's Organization) that Pili, Esta, and Elizabeth tried to start at the end of the book was also a very clever idea that would promote healthy and important changes from within. I was disappointed that this idea was only brought up at the end of the novel, and that the characters involved could only dedicate a couple of weeks' time to the endeavor. Everything at the end of the book felt rushed so the author could clean up loose ends before letting her liberated female characters live happily ever after.
After reading Under Man's Spell, I wouldn't recommend it to many. It's not engaging enough to captivate the average reader. If you have an interest in world literatures, Africa, Tanzania, and gender issues, then this book will be a worthy read just to garner another perspective of the issues women face. However, there are no factual references, so it's difficult to tell how much of the information came from stories of a very distant past or modern day problems that the women currently face. Supplementing the reading with your own research will further your understanding of the book and its message. For example, I found The Policy on Women in Development in Tanzania a useful supplemental article to Under Man's Spell because it offers an introductory exploration of how the Tanzania government tries to promote equality among its people. Since there is a lot of violent acts against women in the book, a mature adult audience is highly recommended.
In the end, I don't regret reading Under Man's Spell despite my disappointments and boredom with the way it was written. There was some useful information expressed although none of the data can be easily verified as fact or fiction. My biggest complaint was with the author herself. She is a novice compared to others writing in this genre style.(less)
I have read and heard many positive critiques about Philippa Gregory, so I was really excited to finally read one of her books. Unfortunately, the hyp...moreI have read and heard many positive critiques about Philippa Gregory, so I was really excited to finally read one of her books. Unfortunately, the hype did not live up to my expectations.
Fellow readers claim that this book takes a new approach to Katherine of Aragon's life with a predominant focus on her marriage to Prince Arthur. Yes, this is true. It does focus on that five month period but at what cost? This is not the most fascinating part of Katherine's life, especially considering all that was left out from the book. This focus on an untouched aspect of her life was really just an excuse to highlight romantic aspects of the characters' relationships, which more than likely didn't exist in real life.
One of the major critiques of the book was the unusual focus on the romantic relationships. I enjoy reading historical romances, but that is not what I expected when I picked up The Constant Princess. Even if I was hoping for a romance novel, this one paled in comparison to others of the genre that I've read. Gregory targeted a certain audience with her drivel, women romance readers, rather than us lovers of history. Additionally, the whole approach to the story just felt wrong. None of it was realistic. When a reader picks up a historical fiction genre book, we hope to be fascinated by how facts and history are translated into a more creative form rather than a romanticized re-telling of history. Throwing in a couple of important dates or real people from history does not make the book historical fiction.
Gregory wrote Katherine's history as a character tale because that gave her the most freedom to play with the fiction elements of her book. Many intimate details are revealed about all the characters, including Henry VIII's obsession with Katherine (and even his own father's obsession with his daughter-in-law). Katherine's personal life and thoughts are indicated by the use of italicized first-person narrative spread intermittently throughout the third person traditional story-telling style. At first, I found this aspect intriguing. However, the thrill quickly wore off. These portions were overly dramatized and redundant. Katherine came off as a wishy-washy, whiny woman. She would have faith in God one minute because she was chosen and then, just as quickly, lose it all because of bad luck in her life. If Gregory had dramatically reduced these portions in the book, I would have enjoyed the reading more because it would have highlighted these few poignant moments. Instead, I found myself skipping ahead to the more-compelling third person narrative.
Philippa Gregory states at the conclusion of her book and on her website that she wanted to portray Katherine as a strong woman, which is why she ended it the way she did. To put it bluntly, she failed. Katherine's whole reason for committing the heinous lie of history (that she was a virgin when she married Henry VIII) was because another made her promise to lie. She was to continue the lie because she was told to not because she wanted to be Queen of England. This decision needed to be all about Katherine to make her stand out as the strong woman that history has depicted her as. She told the lie or the truth (after all, we can only speculate on this matter because this is a gray area of history) because she desired the power, freedom, and political connections a continued marriage to the king of England would provide.
Alas, the entire book was not redundant with childish writing and bad grammar. There were some interesting parts, such as the last ten or so pages of the book. Katherine shows herself as a warrior who bravely leads her troops against the villainous Scots. Where was this Katherine hiding throughout the entire book? Too bad she didn't make an appearance until the end! Excluding this, the only other high point of the book was when Katherine is introduced as a child in Granada at the very beginning. Even in this situation, her mother, Isabella of Spain, shined more than her daughter. Now, that's a historical fiction book I want to read!
Overall, most of the characters were not developed strongly enough or were too comical in their overly emotional presentations. Sadly, any historical elements to the book were told to the reader rather than shown or described through the narrative.
I expected much more from Philippa Gregory, but she never delivered the fascinating glimpse of British history that she is raved for. I'm not excited to pick up any of her other titles even though I did enjoy the Hollywood adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl. I just don't see the point if all I have waiting for me is disappointment. (less)
To be honest, my first inclination was to rate Peony in Love as an "average" read. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. My initial disappointmen...moreTo be honest, my first inclination was to rate Peony in Love as an "average" read. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. My initial disappointment reflected my expectations of the novel while reading. First, the title and purpose of the book were misleading, at least as far as I was concerned. I expected a retelling of The Peony Pavilion, a tale that reminded me of Romeo and Juliet.
Because Peony in Love began as a retelling of a famous Chinese opera, much of the story in Part 1 was predictable, which lessened my overall enjoyment. Why read this book when I could have read the original opera, which was probably better? Then, the story morphed into something different. However, the twists made the tale difficult to follow. Was this a love story about Peony and her mysterious poet? Was this a love story about a family, specifically the women of the Chen Family Villa? These were just two of many questions that plagued me all through Parts I and II.
As the book progressed, I realized that the theme and purpose revolved around a love for writing, which wasn't clear until Part III. After finishing the novel, I gave myself time to reflect on its meaning and slowly grasped the massive undertaking that Lisa See took. True, this was a retelling of The Peony Pavilion, but it was even more. See explored the writing and creation of The Three Wives' Commentary, an academic book written by three women:
1. Chen Tong, born ca. 1649 (Peony in the book) 2. Tan Ze, born ca. 1656 3. Qian Yi, born ca. 1671
These women were Chinese scholars, not officially recognized, who loved writing. Their importance is best expressed by See herself in the brief history reference at the beginning, "In 1694, The Three Wives' Commentary became the first book of its kind to be written and published by women anywhere in the world."
Peony in Love deserved a higher rating because of its complexities, storytelling, and See's goal: To show that women have been writing and publishing as long as men, even if their stories got "lost" in history. This is the same theme I express with many historical fiction short stories I write. I'm still in awe at how See brought these different stories together into one masterpiece.
As I mentioned, the book is divided into three parts:
Part I: In the Garden Part II: Roaming with the Wind Part III: Under the Plume Tree
The setting is seventeenth century China after the Manchus seize power and the Ming dynasty is crushed. The reader sees the "world" through the young eyes of Peony, who's turning sixteen. The Chen Family Villa is exquisitely described, especially since a lot of women weren't allowed to leave their family compounds until marriage. The setting is enhanced by the historical research (the novel is based on a true story), and the Chinese traditions and rituals that See painstakingly paints of another time and place foreign to many modern readers.
The poetic beauty of ancient China is mirrored by the colorful characters that See develops. Even though the book is about three women, the entire story is told from the first person perspective of Peony. This stylistic choice annoyed me, though. I wanted more insights into other characters, like Peony's mother, father, grandmother, and most especially the two other female writers, Tan Ze and Qian Yi. I felt cheated that everything was filtered through Peony, who I quickly wrote off as a silly "lovesick maiden."
At first, Peony was the most boring character. Her actions were predictable and reflected her young, immature mindset. She was a spoiled and selfish brat. I didn't respect anything she wrote or thought because she was always thinking of herself. There were many important events happening outside Peony's little world, especially to her mother and grandmother, and I was frustrated that she was blind to them. Of course, that was how she was raised to be.
As the book progressed, so did Peony's thinking. Slowly, I warmed up to her. I never did embrace her character fully, but I appreciated the positive affects the other characters had on her as well as her growth throughout the story.
Out of all the characters, my favorites were Tan Ze and Qian Yi. Tan Ze was an amazing antagonist while Yi represented a delicate balance between Ze's and Peony's overwhelming personalities.
Lisa See had numerous resources to use to make this book successful, and it shows in her writing style. The story was practically written for her, at least through historical documents. Rather than waste unnecessary time on the plot, she spent a great deal developing her characters and expanding on their personalities, which history very rarely captures accurately if at all. See's writing flows on the pages of the book like water down a stream. Everything is very precise and poetic at the same time. She uses traditional ideas that women are too emotional or weak to reflect on the strengths of the fairer sex. In this way, she undermines the preconceived notion that emotional writing cannot be academic writing. These women were scholars in their time period and are still acclaimed critics today...and what they analyzed was the theme of love, both in their own lives and in the opera.
Peony in Love is a read that many adults would enjoy and maybe some teenagers depending upon their intellectual capabilities. It helps if you are already interested in Chinese culture, literature, and history. I cannot express enough how useful a degree in Chinese literature or history would be when reading this piece. Specifically, if one has read either The Peony Pavilion or The Three Wives' Commentary your understanding and enjoyment of Peony in Love will increase. There are too many nuances that are missed, and it's easy to become confused like I was without a better appreciation of what See is writing about. I recommend reading, at least a couple of times before starting the book, her Chinese history introduction and the preface from The Peony Pavilion included at the beginning of Peony in Love. They both inform the purpose of See's writing and sets an appropriate tone/mood. Finally, at the end of the book, Lisa See includes a very important "Author's Note" and "Acknowledgements" section that further illuminates her intentions and the sources she used when writing. Again, I recommend reading both sections a few times after having completed the book to solidify your comprehension.
I'm very grateful I took the time to reflect on my reading because it allowed me to appreciate Peony in Love for all it has to offer rather than relying on my initial shallow thoughts. Still, I couldn't rate this book a +5 purely because I didn't like Peony's voice, which could have been stronger. Some parts of the artistic layout also frustrated me. I would have preferred the women to have separate perspectives that come together at the end of the novel rather than filtering everything through Peony. Still, this was an amazing attempt at perfection. I only hope that my writing inspires others the way Lisa See's did.(less)
This is the first book I've read by author Naguib Mahfouz, and I was pleasantly surprised by the pace and development of the story and characters. Mahfouz is well-known as one of Egypt's first novelists; he dared to break traditions and focus on a genre that was not encouraged by his country. The passion and love he had for the novel is depicted in every word that he wrote. Though his writing style is simple and direct, he focuses on a specific time and place that connects readers to the myraid characters he develops in Midaq Alley. He doesn't give a fully detailed view of these characters, though, but instead provides a distant surface view of the scenes letting the reader fill in some of the gaps with their own imagination.
As I was reading, I was able to get inside the characters, understand some of the connections between everyone, and the reasons behind their motivations. I appreciated this approach rather than the typical omniscient narrator that tells the reader what they need to know.
The setting says a lot about the characters. The novel takes place in a small and poor alley (Midaq Alley) in Cairo, Egypt. There are over fifteen characters that live in this alley, and Mahfouz shows how they interact, or don't interact, based on the concerns facing each family. Many of the younger characters, like Hamida and Hussain, desperately try to escape the poverty that awaits them if they continue to live in the alley. Yet, no matter what happens to each character, no matter the tragedies or triumphs, life continues in the alley.
Midaq Alley is a novel about dramatic confrontations that stage the events in the lives of the characters created without surfacing all the personal conflicts that motivate those actions. One member in Yahoo Cafe Libri compared the novel to an opera because of the presentation of larger elements of conflict without the knowledge of the interior elements that support the actions and reasonings of the characters. I agree with Jeffrey's assessment because the novel does read like an opera or a play. For example, everyone has dramatic fights with each other, like a bad daytime soap, in which there is yelling, screaming, and storm-offs between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, daughters and mothers, etc. The reader doesn't understand why there is so much dissatisfaction with the status-quo and wonders if the characters even understand their own motivations and behaviors; why leave now? Where can they run to? Love is displayed with violent confrontations that often end with tragedy while sexual deviance arises as a minor subject matter in an already jam-packed book. The main point of confusion that might hit readers is whether or not the characters' actions are justified. Are they independent activities in the larger scheme of the alley or will they connect later to another point in the novel? In this sense, Midaq Alley reflects real life scenarios in which passions control characters' actions and logic takes a back seat as readers get carried away by the moment as painted by Mahfouz.
The story and plot focuses on life in the alley. Each chapter is almost like a vignette because the emphasis skips from character to character. For instance, one chapter is dedicated to Hamida and her search for the perfect, rich husband to take her away from the poverty of the alley while the next chapter focuses on the Kirsha family and the problems between husband, wife, and son. The stories don't always intersect, so sometimes it can be a little difficult to follow the plot, especially if you get invested in one character's story and then the novel switches to another character. I found myself impatiently waiting to see how Hamida's actions would affect her and her mother's lives as well as the multitude of beaus that were chasing after her. Eventually, I learned to appreciate each character for a different reason, and I especially came to respect the preachings of the spiritual advisor to the alley, Radwan Hussainy. His speeches and advice were always powerful and important even though many in the alley refused to listen. Hussainy represented the Islamic faith, and taught me new lessons about life even if he didn't always reach the people in his flock.
One part that was truly fascinating about life in the alley is how people were not always involved or interacting with each other, yet the gossip still spread when something bad happened. For example, Hamida never interacts with the Kirsha family, but they are quite aware of the scandal she causes with her finicky choices for a husband. The way the people in the alley interacted, or didn't interact, reminded me of a small suburb where everyone knows everyone else's business even if they don't speak to the people they are gossiping about. Some of the more exciting points were unplanned and unforeseen activities that are suddenly revealed closer to the end of the novel. One of my favorite moments was when Dr. Booshy's true personality is revealed when his relationship with Zaita, the town crippler, is revealed through some of their nefarious late-night activities. It was a surprising reveal and changed the way I viewed them and others in the alley.
The list of characters is extensive. My favorites were Hamida, the alley's beauty, Radwan Hussainy, the alley's spiritual leader and advisor, and Abbas, a young barber who loves Hamida. There is no real villain to the piece, although Zaita is the closest resemblance. He cripples people so that they can become professional beggars. There are all types of characters for every type of reader, and although all the stories don't have a finality to them, the reader is left with a realistic impression that this was just another few days in the life of one alley. There are more stories that lie in wait for those who escape the despair this time around.
There are many themes and motifs in this novel, which are tied together with the message and purpose of the author. One of the main themes that stood out to me was the affect that the British had on Egypt's development, even in such an insignificant place as this one alley. Since the novel takes place during WWII, there is the constant presence of war and fighting, which permeates the activities of the inhabitants of the alley. Many of the younger characters who are trying to leave the alley use the war as a means of escape. By serving at a trading post under the British army, they are able to live in a bigger city, save up money, and hopefully escape the poverty that is their destiny. Later in the novel, readers are introduced to a pimp that shows how the British army men want dark women who can dance a certain way to act as their "friends" during their brief stay in Cairo. There is even a school for prostitutes in which they are taught to look, act, and dress a certain way. Everything the women are taught is used to impress the seemingly rich, white soldiers.
Anger and violence is a major theme in the novel. The people in the alley feel helpless to escape their fates; everything has a fatalistic quality to it. Because of the injustices and fears the characters face everyday, they lash out at those closest to them or cheat others in order to get a small respite in their doldrum lives. Radwan Hussainy has the toughest job out of all those in the alley because he must advise all that despair. His message is usually the same: Leave everything in the hands of Allah, which is translated to God in my version of the text. People don't always listen to him, and they end up causing more harm to themselves than good. The preachings and teachings of Hussainy contrasts nicely with all the destruction the selfish people of the alley cause each other. If only they listened to what God wants rather than what they want, perhaps life would be easier and less disappointing.
By the end of the novel, situations have changed for different characters. For example, one person is now disconnected with life after having a brush with death while another has found wealth through a "career" change and a new state of mind. Whether or not these changes are for the better is asked but not answered. In the end, the truth lies with the perspective of each character, which aren't clearly defined. Midaq Alley ends with a climatic event that won't leave readers disappointed.
Since the book is written in a straight-forward manner, readers of any age would enjoy it. However, if they are unfamiliar with Egypt and the Islam religion, certain parts might seem confusing. The characters and the setting really make this book stand out, and although I was saddened by the ending, I was not disappointed by the outcome. In fact, I guessed some of the tragedies while others were still able to surprise me. I've never read a book quite like Mahfouz's, and I look forward to reading more of his novels in the future. (less)
It had been a while since I read a short historical romance, so I decided to look through the large stack of books my mother gave me. I picked one at...moreIt had been a while since I read a short historical romance, so I decided to look through the large stack of books my mother gave me. I picked one at random and was pleasantly surprised by the premise. Even if I had not read the summary on the back cover, I would have guessed parts of the book based on the Twelfth Night quotes that separated “Part I” from “Part II.”
There are two main characters, Valentine Ardsley, granddaughter of an earl, and Lord Richard Diccon Leyburn, an earl from Yorkshire. Valentine has recently lost her father in a military battle, and in an effort to remain independent, she disguises herself as a young stable boy. You can just imagine some of the mischievous adventures she has. The best part about her disguise is the ability to connect with the working class in the earl's household and the unexpected friendship between her and Diccon. Plus, who doesn't enjoy a cross-dressing heroine in a romance novel?
Although I like both Valentine and Diccon, I was disappointed by the lack of character development. The story is told through the first person perspective of Valentine, which limited my understanding of Diccon. “Part I” is too short, and Valentine doesn’t have enough antics while disguised as a boy. Additionally, the characters stay the same throughout the entire book because, as it turns out, they are perfectly suited for each other. The trials and tribulations that separate them are rather tame compared to most of the romances I read. Even though their character development is nonexistent, I still enjoyed the novel. There's something sweet about having such likable characters that remain the same.
Other supporting characters are rather superficial. There are various workers at Diccon's homestead, like Georgie and Mrs. Scone. Family relations include the earl's cousin, Ned, and Valentine's grandparents, who you meet in “Part II.” Finally, there are various suitors for Valentine's affections, many of who fall flat and are even less developed than Diccon. The only one I connected with was Lord Henry Sandcroft purely because he resembles Valentine's father. In the end, the story is about Valentine's and Diccon's relationship. Everyone else becomes part of the setting.
The setting was perfect for this type of a story. There are plenty of descriptions about the beauties of the countryside which contrast nicely with the stark city life. Valentine quickly learns that London is a place for change and fashion, emphasized with the Season, while the countryside is almost its own kingdom. Notable author Shakespeare is referenced a few times, mainly his misrepresentation of Richard III. Since England's Regency period is one of my favorites next to Medieval, I appreciated the setting.
There are no special themes or motifs in the book other than your usual "love conquers all" sentiment. "To thine own self be true," no matter how unpopular that makes you, is another sentiment expressed in the novel. Other interesting subplots include the discussions about change, especially with workers and factories in the city. One character, radically-minded Martin Wakefield, Valentine’s cousin, discusses England's government. I am rusty on the history of the Whigs and the Tories, so I glossed over these details. I wasn't compelled to research them either, which is a sign that the book is lacking. These ideas might have been explored in more depth, but then Fool's Masquerade would be too serious. In the end, it is typical escapist literature: light, fluffy, and delicious to read. It's a "feel-good" book and was what I needed after losing the diamond from my engagement/wedding ring.
This is the only book I've read by author Joan Wolf, but I was suitably impressed that I won't hesitate to read another novel by her. There are only two flaws 1) The lack of depth to characters and issues 2) The first person perspective. Of the two, the perspective is the most harmful. In terms of a romance novel, it’s uncommon to read from this point of view. In terms of Fool's Masquerade, it limits and isolates the reader even making the writing technique appear clumsy.
Despite this major flaw, the book was a refreshing break from more serious reads. I also appreciated the "teen" quality. There are no sex or explicit situations between the hero and heroine (extremely PG), which more mature readers might consider another fatal flaw to the first person point of view. I consider the characters' innocence, love, and affection for each other a refreshing change of pace. Plus, it's always sweet to have a genuine gentleman in a romance novel.
This book is a perfect read for those who enjoy historical romances and want a quick read. It's also suitable for a younger audience, like middle school or teenage readers.(less)
I had heard amazing things about David McCullough's research and writing abilities but hadn't read anything by him until John Adams. I bought it purel...moreI had heard amazing things about David McCullough's research and writing abilities but hadn't read anything by him until John Adams. I bought it purely because I was looking for some audio books to listen to during my long trips visiting family. Lucky for me, I found an unabridged copy on sale for $9.99 at Borders. Since buying this audio book, I've seen the collection sell for as much as $40+ dollars, so I'm especially elated at the price of the purchase.
I had no idea what was before me when I started this audio book. It took my husband and I almost a year to finish John Adams. That wasn't because we weren't enjoying it. On the contrary, we absolutely loved the facts, details, and personality that McCullough created in this biography of a truly prolific American and one of the finest presidents of our time. We didn't want the book to end, and I cried when it did. I'm actually glad I listened to John Adams rather than read it because it would have taken even longer to finish it. My hands would have been very occupied taking copious notes of interesting tidbits about Adams' life and his loving relationship with Abagail. I could see myself saving myriad amounts of direct quotes from Adams' own writings and letters. Eventually, I did purchase a paperback copy of this biography to track some of the data in it. John Adams was a pioneer in American history and did much more for our country and its people than the average citizen realizes.
I tried to find a favorite part from the biography, but it was very difficult to choose just one because of the massive expanse of time and data covered. If you twisted my arm until I picked just one moment from John Adams, it would have to be the letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams that never got delivered. It was written when Adams beat Jefferson and became the second president of the United States of America, right before the two really began to quarrel. Jefferson was persuaded from delivering it by the ever meddling Madison. McCullough speculates that the letter might have changed Adams' presidency. It broke my heart to hear such praise and confidence from one close friend to another get lost in a file until some historian unearthed it many years later. As for my least favorite part, it would have to be the end of the book. I was very sad to see both the biography and John Adams' life come to a close.
Honestly, I enjoyed the entire biography. The layout is chronological:
* Early Childhood * School Years * Career as a Lawyer * Marriage to Abagail * Foreign Ambassador Services * Vice President * President * Retired Years
The primary setting is America, specifically the original thirteen colonies, although there are plenty of international scenes explored thanks to John Adams' and his son's travels as American Ambassadors. The purpose of the book is to deliver a thorough biography of a relatively obscure American president (compared to such historical giants as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln). The character development presents a realistic portrayal of a complex man, husband, father, and president. There are no particular themes, motifs, and literary devices used, although McCullough emphasizes some overarching characteristics such as honor, loyalty, stubbornness, steadfastness, Christian morality, pride, and love.
A few facts that I enjoyed:
* Adams seriously courted a woman before Abagail Adams. * Adams defended the British soldiers from the Boston Massacre. * Adams played a major role in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. * Adams was an unstoppable force who called for independence when many other "brave Americans" balked at the difficulties the nation would have and did have because of the war and split with Britain. * Adams helped draft the Constitution. * Adams had a tumultuous relationship with both Franklin and Jefferson. * Adams firmly disapproved of slavery and never owned one his entire life (neither did his wife Abagail).
I could list tidbits forever, but that would take away from the joy of discovering them yourself when reading this truly fascinating piece of history.
John Adams wasn't a perfect man, and he made many mistakes:
* How Adams developed his relationships with others. * Adams' sometimes short temper * Certain actions Adams took while president * And perhaps his Achilles heel-- Adams' self-degrading attitude (He was always his worst critic.)
Though he found himself acting too proud for his own good, Adams was a man who put his nation and its people as the second most important aspect of his life (God was always first). Adams' Christian morality allowed him to lead a life that I find inspirational for his time period and even our own. As I learned more about this mysterious historical figure (for I had learned little about him in my history classes), I discovered someone that I'm proud to call an American and Founding Father. Here is a man I would love to have a philosophical, religious, or political conversation with. Adams' intelligence, caring nature, and love of literature made me fall in love with him just as his wife did. Abigail Adams' was truly a lucky woman to have known him as intimately as she did, being his true love and confidant. If I could meet any person from history, it would be John Adams.
David McCullough has a gift for exposing the careful details of a historical figure's life. Because of this talent, the book is accessible to any audience. Even if one doesn't like history, this is a great way to change that mindset. To some degree, the book reads like a novel, and John Adams takes on a fictional role of greatness akin to Macbeth or Romeo. He is larger than the contents of the book, and the audio version will probably compel many to finish this read more than the text version, which is massive and daunting for many readers.
Nelson Runger reads the book. He has an excellent voice and changes his tone/inflection when quoting from Adams' original writing, which makes it easier for the listener to acknowledge the primary sources versus the secondary sources/the researcher's commentary. The mobility of the audio books is the real draw and is very handy for anyone that travels a lot. You can listen to the book in the car, in the comfort of one's home, or even during a workout session at the gym (which is actually a lot of fun because you can stimulate both your body and mind).
The only qualms I have about Nelson Runger's voice is that sometimes it's too low and comes off as "soothing," which makes me sleepy during a nonfiction read. There were times when I found myself nodding off and dreaming that I was living in the era of the early Americans (not necessarily a bad thing). Thankfully, it was very simple to skip to the previous tracks. Still, I recommend listening to this piece when one is awake and alert to really appreciate all the information in this fantastic book.
Overall, this is a must have book for anyone who calls themselves an American. Even foreigners will appreciate this historical gem. I've never had the pleasure to read such a piece of nonfiction/biographical writing. I hope to find more like this one in the future and will especially look for some of McCullough's other biographies. Eventually, I want to watch the HBO mini-series that was adapted from this book to write a comparison/contrast piece.
There are really only two negatives about this audio book:
1. Nelson Runger's voice might make you sleepy if you're not alert when listening to the audio book.
2. There is no bibliography or footnote references of the historical research for the reader to use for further exploration.
Ultimately, there is no reason not to try this audio book and experience a new side of American history. Bring the past to life with this timeless nonfiction classic. If I ever teach an American History class, I will be sure to reference parts from this book purely because it's a treasure-trove of information with new facts for students to discover daily.
This is a surprising, quick read written for children, grades 3-6. I would classify it as a chapter book because it has chapters (ten of them), simple...moreThis is a surprising, quick read written for children, grades 3-6. I would classify it as a chapter book because it has chapters (ten of them), simple, easy to read language, and an elementary plot that children can follow.
I read Stone Fox 25th Anniversary Edition because it was selected by the teens in my Teen Reading Club that I lead. In the beginning, I was interested in the book because of its premise. My enjoyment lessened as Grandfather's situation clarified, and Doc Smith was introduced, both characters I found lacking. In fact, the teens voted them as their least favorite characters in the novel. The story picked up when Stone Fox was introduced, a Shoshone Indian who lives on a reservation with another Indian tribe, the Arapaho. Stone Fox was the teens' favorite character, second only to Willy's dog Searchlight. The ending ruined the book for me, and almost everyone agreed minus a few of the guys in the reading club.
Stone Fox 25th Anniversary Edition is based on a Rocky Mountain legend told to the author, John Reynolds Gardiner, by Bob at Hudson's Cafe in Idaho. The historical roots intrigued me. Unfortunately, everything is fictional minus the dog Searchlight and the ending. This really surprised me since the title of the book comes from Gardiner's fictional character rather than the actual historical legend. In Gardiner's version of the legend, the main action takes place on a potato farm in Wyoming and the nearby small town. The seasons change from potato harvest to winter, all important details for the plot.
The plot is a simple one-- a coming of age story for the protagonist Willy. He's a ten-year-old boy who's given more responsibilities than any boy his age should have. He has to grow up quickly, and it's his determination, strength, resilience, and hope that allows him to save the day-- that and his best friend Searchlight, a female dog. Willy conquers one obstacle after another until a climatic and unforeseeable ending, which is the only part of the story that is based on the actual legend.
I tried researching the legend, but there was very little substance available on the Internet. There could be some information in scholarly databases, or it might be an oral legend, with John Reynolds Gardiner being the first to write it down. I did wonder why he had to "spice" the legend up with all the characters that he created, especially when the title of the book is derived from one of Gardiner's fictional characters. A more apt title should have been "Searchlight" since the book is about Willy's dog.
As I already mentioned, none of the characters are based on the original Rocky Mountain legend. My favorite character was Searchlight, Willy's dog, closely tied with Stone Fox, the Shoshone Indian. The only other admirable character was Willy, but there wasn't enough character development to form an attachment to him. Characters I didn't care for were Doc Smith and Willy's Grandfather, mainly because of their "give in" attitude, which was frustrating to come up against around every turn and hardship. I did appreciate, though, that Gardiner created a woman physician for the book (a good role model for young children). Gardiner never gives a specific time period for his book, but considering it's a legend, you would think it took place around the time that dog races were extremely popular, maybe late-1800's. Some of the lesson plans and study materials for the book indicate this date as well, so it makes it more exciting that Gardiner included a female doctor when it wasn't very common in that time period.
In the end, the character development is rather simple because the book is meant for such a young audience. Likewise, there are no literary elements utilized or complex writing strategies employed because, again, it would take away from the simplicity of the story and the "easy to read" factor that parents and teachers are looking for when they give this book to children.
Despite its simplicity, there are positive and powerful themes and motifs in the story:
**Perseverance in the face of adversity. **Strength of the human and animal spirit. **Never let others tell you what you can achieve. **Take your life and future in your own hand. **Respect admirable opponents. **Friendship means more than winning.
The author's intent is a bit unclear. All I can fanthom is that he wanted to preserve the oral legend that he had heard. One aspect I would have liked was more research information about the legend, but as I already speculated, perhaps that information does not exist, or at least is not readily accessible for the everyday reader.
One of the best and most powerful aspects of this read are the illustrations, drawn by Marcia Sewall. The illustrations add the perfect amount of visualization for young children transitioning into chapter books, and they are so beautifully sketched that even adults are sure to to find a lot of enjoyment in them. Marcia Sewall uses pencil illustrations, and I'm really glad she did. It fit with the overall time period feel of the piece. Sewall's excellent illustrations is illuminated by the contributions she's made to over 40 different children's books. It's no surprise that this fantastic woman is also a celebrated author. I highly recommend reading Stone Fox 25th Anniversary Edition just to get an opportunity to see her artwork.
I can't think of other books to compare this one to. It is what I would call a "dog book," so if you like dog heroes, you might enjoy this one. One word of caution, though, for parents with sensitive children, is that the ending is quite a shock...it surprised me and most of the teen readers. I was upset over the ending, as were numerous others, and I have a feeling that some children will not appreciate the abruptness. This book is a fast read, as quick as fifteen minutes, so I highly recommend that parents concerned about their children's emotional state take the time to read this on their own. It never hurts to be cautious, especially if your children are not ready for such a sudden end. Hopefully, my little warning didn't give away too many details about the end of the book.
In the end, I recommend this book for most children, with some minor exceptions. There are also fabulous resources for teachers using this book in their classroom, including the following sites:
There are discussion questions, book recommendations for children who liked this one, and even lesson plans about the state of Wyoming, women doctors, vocabulary, and human relations, to name just a few. I especially liked how the homeschool website included a botany lesson and a potato recipe. It takes reading outside the novel, and makes the story more engaging for nontraditional learners.
Even though this book wasn't one of my favorite reads, mainly because of the lack of character development, no basis to compare this retelling to the original legend, and the distasteful ending, I still recommend it purely because of the teaching experiences instructors and parents can have with it. I'm sure the appropriate age group will enjoy Stone Fox 25th Anniversary Edition too. After all, I'm not the target audience.