Having indulged in a Heyer on my outbound trip from Iceland to Maine, I decided to keep things symmetrical and read another on the way home. But whileHaving indulged in a Heyer on my outbound trip from Iceland to Maine, I decided to keep things symmetrical and read another on the way home. But while The Convenient Marriage has some of Heyer's typical delights, this one really didn't do it for me. Maybe it's just a matter of over-exposure at this point, but it didn't feel as fresh as some of her other works, and a good deal of the novel (maybe even the last third) is imminently skim-able. A lesser version of These Old Shades (not itself my favorite, but still better), with some rather tired Shakespearean-style comic relief. ...more
Years ago, in preparation for a class project in a YA Lit class in library school, my professor asked me who my hero was. (The having of a hero appareYears ago, in preparation for a class project in a YA Lit class in library school, my professor asked me who my hero was. (The having of a hero apparently being a given.) I told her that I didn't really have heroes and she was aghast. "No heroes?" she asked sadly, before brightening just as quickly and asking, "What about Elenore Roosevelt?"
After reading My Life in France, however, I am happy to report that I am as close to having a hero as I've ever been. Julia Child: left-leaning, wayward daughter to her conservative parents, left home to pursue work with the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA), lived in multiple countries in South Asia. Met the love of her life, with whom she shared a love of travel and good food, never had kids. Stumbled upon her life's work in her late thirties, learned a foreign language fluently (and several others semi-conversantly) in her late thirties, made a splendid success of herself in her forties. Had a wacky high-pitched voice to match her wacky, high-pitched personality. Could make fun of her height (over six feet) and her 'gargoyle feet' without seeming to feel secretly bad about those qualities. Clearly enjoyed her wine. Not embarrassed to be goofy. All about making a refined or otherwise inaccessible medium/field (French cuisine) accessible and interesting to a general audience without talking down to them. Self-motivated, ambitious, curious, unapologetic, and a big fan of making mistakes in public (that is to say, on air) and then learning to live with them.
Yes, I'd say that Julia Child is at the very least going to be my emotional-professional-spiritual guide going forward, if not simply being referred to as my absolute most favorite person I've never met ev-er.
Following a rather grueling month of translating projects at school and facing a very long journey from Iceland to Maine, I decided it was obviously tFollowing a rather grueling month of translating projects at school and facing a very long journey from Iceland to Maine, I decided it was obviously time for a 'fun read' and was persuaded, by thisvery enjoyable and informative post about Georgette Heyer's inadvertent creation of the Regency Romance genre, to pick up The Corinthian.
As with many of Heyer's books, this one presents a number of variations on themes and characters that she would pick up again and again throughout her career (although it was, to be fair, the originator of many of these themes). Here, our May-December romance is comprised of a large, "sleepy" hero who favors dandy-ish fashion and yet is no one to be trifled with; Richard, we're told, is apparently a renowned "whip" (he's good with horses), a fearsome boxer, and is very handy with his pistols—although we never see the latter two talents in action. We also have his young(er), plucky heroine who has a knack for getting into trouble, who rallies the hero out of his boredom and staid habits, and who favors boys' clothing. There are also stolen jewels, murder, masked bandits, and Bow Street Runners in the mix. It's all a lot of fun, although not nearly as sharp with the dialog or as delightfully convoluted as The Masqueraders, for instance. But it was a great way to while away a long journey, and it's interesting, I think, to see how Heyer got started in a genre she'd go on to perfect. ...more
There's a Muriel Sparkesque quality to The Heart of the Country which I've felt simmering beneath the surface of a couple of Weldon's other novels, alThere's a Muriel Sparkesque quality to The Heart of the Country which I've felt simmering beneath the surface of a couple of Weldon's other novels, although it isn't always fully articulated. Here, however, you have much of the same interrupted tension, the same subtext of 'let me just tell you what happens now, so that we can dig into how it happens instead.' It's a habit in Spark's novels that I just love and I think Weldon also uses it to great effect. What's interesting, however, is that while Spark usually still has a huge jolt in store for the reader (often in the form of an untimely, unexpected, and somehow unfair or just totally random death) at the moment of her 'spoilered' climax, Weldon seems to allow the tension to build up and then just sort of peter out without ever really boiling over. This isn't true in all of her novels (see Puffball, a study in climactic 'oh-my-god'ness), but I think it's definitely present here, and I do recall a similar fading out in The Spa.
If this sounds like a criticism, it isn't. Weldon's conclusions, or anti-conclusions, as the case may be, challenge our readerly desire for closure, I think—our tendency to want to see things wrapped up and tidy and settled. But sometimes, the story just ends. It isn't a pat, done-deal, and it isn't necessarily 'satisfying' in the way that maybe we want our narratives to satisfy. It's all about being in the moment with Weldon.
There was another aspect to this novel that really stuck out to me. Namely, in certain of her novels, it is difficult to separate Weldon the author from her narrators, even if her narrators seem to be rather different from her in their circumstances (convicted arsonists in psychiatric wards, for instance). And I tend to think that it becomes the hardest to differentiate between authorial commentary and narrator POV when the subject at hand is women—specifically women who are not doing better for themselves. Women who have been conned in love, taken advantage of, or haven't learned to fight their inevitably unfair circumstances tooth and nail. Weldon (and/or her characters, I suppose) just has no sympathy for these women and she allows terrible, unjust, cosmic sorts of things to happen to them as a seeming punishment for their foolishness. It can be caustic and darkly funny, and it can be rather scathing and brutal.
I'm not taking her to task for her feminism or lack thereof because firstly, plenty of others have gone down that path before me. But leaving that aside, I don't actually think she's obligated to be subtle (good thing, because she definitely isn't), and moreover, I believe that her grandiose judginess can be read with a dose of irony and satire and is also being manipulated in the service of very salient points. She wields a hell of a wrecking ball, Ms. Weldon, and god help you if you're caught within its reach. ...more
This is my fourth Kate Atkinson book this summer (third Jackson Brodie). The last time I went on a read-a-bunch-of-books-by-the-same-author kick was wThis is my fourth Kate Atkinson book this summer (third Jackson Brodie). The last time I went on a read-a-bunch-of-books-by-the-same-author kick was when I first started reading Muriel Spark, although even then, I spaced them out a little more.
Reading a bunch of Atkinson's books in succession hasn't taken away from their charm, although I have started to spot her recurrent themes, characterizations, and devices. I don't think these are egregious enough to hold against her—every author has their own ticks and tendencies toward repetition—but she does, for instance, really love characters who are somehow charmed by the romantic, stoical picture of Britain during WWII. (She's admitted as much about herself in interviews.)
I've been reading the Brodie books a bit out of order. I started with the last installment—Started Early, Took My Dog—simply because it was the one that I found on the shelf at the library and I liked the title. And so far, that one is still my favorite of the series, although I've enjoyed both Case Histories and now One Good Turn (which gives us some pretty nice descriptions of Edinburgh in the background, too). But in all these novels, I love the flagrant (and commented-upon) repetitions and revisions and conscious overlappings of storylines and images and characters. Normally, such 'what a coincidence!' or 'small-world' tropes in crime stories irritate me, but there's such self-awareness in Atkinson's books that it instead comes across as clever and ironic and twisty and very, very satisfying. ...more
It had been a long time since I'd read a romance novel and when I was packing for a four day camping trip, it seemed like a good time to pick up one oIt had been a long time since I'd read a romance novel and when I was packing for a four day camping trip, it seemed like a good time to pick up one of the ones I brought back with me from a used bookshop in Scottsdale last Christmas. This one isn't just the Best Ev-er (actually, the longer I think about it, the worse it stands with me), but it was a quick read and it worked for me, while I was reading it, at least. I actually kind of liked that the book started with the steamy sexual encounter and then had you wait for the reprise, rather than vice versa, as has been typical in most of the romances I've read. That may have been my favorite twist, however, given that thinking back on it now, Ican say that neither of the main characters really popped for me, the actual diary conceit was a bit thin, the is-she-isn't-she ghost was giggle-worthy, and I wasn't really taken with the whole dad-gone-mad subplot, either. (Also, 'June' just bothers me for the name of a baby in the late 19th century...maybe it was super common at the time, but it feels like the name of a 50s housewife in suburban Ohio.) Take all that out and you're left with good pacing and a functional plot and writing, minus some silly lines about relieving "the heated tensions of [Cassandra's] womanly urges" and men smelling of "musk and leather" etc. So, end of the day, probably not coming back for another of MacLean's books, but this was nevertheless a fun book for the road. ...more
I've been a big fan of E. Lockhart books before (namely the imminently re-readable Frankie Landau-Banks), but this one wasn't quite as 'wow' for me. II've been a big fan of E. Lockhart books before (namely the imminently re-readable Frankie Landau-Banks), but this one wasn't quite as 'wow' for me. In terms of atmosphere and milieu, it had a lot going for it, and I actually quite liked that there seemed to be a lot of story and history that existed outside of this particular story (the origin of the Liars' nickname, for instance). There's a nice build-up of tension and drama, but the whole 'twist' ending is not so much of a twist (and really, with all the hinting, I don't totally think it was meant to be), but it resolves a bit like a M. Night Shyamalan film and I'm not sure that's really an effect I'm ever looking for in a novel. ...more
Other than re-reading Music for Chameleons every few years—that probably being my all-time favorite book—I have purposefully spaced out my other CapotOther than re-reading Music for Chameleons every few years—that probably being my all-time favorite book—I have purposefully spaced out my other Capote readings to extend my reading pleasure. Answered Prayers, however, was likely a pleasure I could have forgone. I appreciate some of the characteristic snark and bitchiness (some grade A Capote zingers like "...she looked as if she wore tweed brassieres and played a lot of golf"), and concede that there are some really entertaining scenes (the dinner party with Monty Clift, Dorothy Parker, and Tallulah Bankhead, for instance). Moreover, the book is not without those moments of incisive observation and characterization that even at his most sarcastic and derisive, Capote really excelled at.
Nevertheless, this is, by and large, a cynical, mean-spirited, self-indulgent, and almost self-loathing sort of book. It's a fast read, but it's never quite a fun read, which a novel based on gossip really should be. Instead, he's too self-satisfied when he thinks he's being shocking, too pleased to have ferreted out nasty stories about famous people, and too convinced of his genius to realize that adding the vague patina of fiction wouldn't make this good art.
He could have done better—so much better—and it's frustrating that this is basically the book that tanked his career. More frustrating is that he seemed to believe that it was actually a work of genius.
It's telling, however, that the long chapter/short story "Mojave", which was published in Music for Chameleons, was supposed to have been a part of this book. It's my least favorite part of MforC and I often skip over it. That makes all the more sense now....more
**spoiler alert** I picked this up on a whim at the library because I was in the mood for a quick crime read and all the jacket quotes about it having**spoiler alert** I picked this up on a whim at the library because I was in the mood for a quick crime read and all the jacket quotes about it having "one of the most stomach-churningly fatalistic noir endings of any crime novel published [in 2011]" etc. were rather compelling. In the end, I was a little less taken with the result, although I do have to admit that I read it through rather speedily—three or four sittings spread over a little over a week.
I suppose my main complaints are two-fold. Firstly, this book is the fifth in a series and feels distinctly transitional, as though it is kind of a road stop between other, more developed stories. It works fine as a standalone—all the back story that you need about the characters is woven through the narrative—and yet, it seems pretty clear that having prior context about Doctor Quirke's orphan past, his decision to pretend that his daughter had a different father, and his relationships with his assistant and Detective Hackett would probably make this particular story feel more significant. I've read crime novels where the plot of one is really contingent on the one before it (Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead, for instance), but those are rare. Typically with a series, you can expect to step into it pretty much anywhere and feel as though you're right in it, even if the secondary plot line about the detective has developed over the course of multiple books. But here, there are an awful lot of references to past cases, past circumstances, etc. and in many instances, those cases sound a more compelling. A Death in Summer hones in on the femme fatale element, but only seems to occasionally dip into the crime itself, most of which is resolved in one fell sweep at the end.
To that end, I might add that the conclusion (specifically the child abuse at the orphanage), though most certainly serious in its tone and subject matter, is one that has been telegraphed quite clearly from early on. Its final reveal is a little disappointing, however, because it feels pretty cursory. I would definitely not enjoy reading vivid descriptions of child abuse, but I do think the psychological fall-out, as you might call it, is pretty glossed over here. Sure, Francoise immediately shoots her husband in the face when she discovers that he has been abusing her daughter, but, for one example, the way that the child behaves throughout the book doesn't seem at all consistent with the idea that she's been repeatedly raped by her father. Neither does the idea that Richard Jewell could just up and "corrupt" a twenty year old man and convince him to repeatedly take part in the systematic sexual abuse of children really make any sense. I appreciate the delicacy that the author had in explaining the crimes themselves—the circumstances are horrific enough without having to go into visceral specifics—but the psychology of the victims could have been dealt with in a less vague manner. ...more