Interesting setting (California, mainly in the first half of the 20th century), interesting time frame (covering from the end of the gunfighter era to...moreInteresting setting (California, mainly in the first half of the 20th century), interesting time frame (covering from the end of the gunfighter era to the end of WWII), somewhat interesting characters, if rather too perfect (this is an issue I have with Diehl in other books too - see, Martin Vail in Primal Fear/Show of Evil/Reign in Hell.) Everyone is heroic, or fantastically attractive, or dazzlingly good at what they do. (Except the bad guys, who drop before the heroes' hail of bullets just like they'd read the script in advance.)(less)
Not as good as The Professor and the Madman, IMHO - some portions seemed oddly disjointed with regard to chronology, and some information was duplicat...moreNot as good as The Professor and the Madman, IMHO - some portions seemed oddly disjointed with regard to chronology, and some information was duplicated in later sections in almost the same words. An interesting story for the most part, about another one of those "hidden heroes" of the Age of Enlightenment whose names and accomplishments are largely lost to time.(less)
**spoiler alert** Awful, terrible, wretched book. How bad is it? Let me count the ways.
First off, a charming, handsome man shows up saying he is with...more**spoiler alert** Awful, terrible, wretched book. How bad is it? Let me count the ways.
First off, a charming, handsome man shows up saying he is with the law firm for a rich guy who just was murdered, although he had never had the opportunity to meet the deceased himself (very convenient to explain his lack of direct knowledge about the dead guy. Also a handy, if clumsy, way for the author to reveal his bad-guy-ness when he later mentions some supposed personal interaction, which the heroine totally misses. The moron.) So of course the heroine is instantly attracted to him and accepts his story at face value, revealing pretty much all her secret inside information about what might have precipitated the murder, which she keeps hidden even from the police. Even when things start happening to her in places where only he knew she was going, she doesn't seem to question his involvement. Apparently this woman has never seen a thriller movie or read a mystery.
Secondly, a mysterious caller gives her a warning, and when she meets the guy and realizes he is also the person who previously broke into her apartment and lurked around there waiting for her, she goes ahead and makes plans to take a little road trip and investigate a historical site with him. And when someone takes several shots at her, she initially assumes it's coincidental, because no one could possibly be trying to kill her, even though she's already been warned that her life is in danger. The woman is portrayed as MONUMENTALLY dense. No 21st century woman with any sense would get in a car alone with a complete stranger, let alone one who she already knows is shady.
Big surprise, the one person she trusts turns out to be the bad guy, people she distrusts turn out to be her strongest allies. Along the way Mr. Hartley churns out plot complication after plot complication, until I just couldn't wait for it to be all over. I have to confess that at one point I was hoping the main character would get killed off. She was an embarrassment to modern women everywhere.
Oh, and the set-ups were ridiculously telegraphed. "She cleaned up her nails and slipped the file into her back pocket..." so she can fortuitously recall its presence a little while later and use it to escape from the bad guys. Yeah, it was really that transparent. Blergh.
A tiny picky detail - I mean, there are so many BIG reasons to hate this one - Hartley uses a phrase THREE TIMES that instantly told me he was a Brit: "finish up", meaning not "complete" but more like "arrive" -- the phrase an American would use in the same context would be either "end up" or "wind up." No clue why he would put this story in an American setting. Dude, write what you know. Like, not about women, for one thing. I also could really have done without the repeated flogging of the platitude about "handsome men don't go for marginally-attractive women like [Deborah Miller]." (less)
*sigh* My recent luck with picking books has not been good - most recently that piece of crap, The Mask of Atreus, and now this. Note to self: pay att...more*sigh* My recent luck with picking books has not been good - most recently that piece of crap, The Mask of Atreus, and now this. Note to self: pay attention to who writes the blurbs. Nicholas Sparks should have clued me in right away that this was going to be more schmaltz and less suspense. (less)
I don't remember whether I officially put Heir to the Glimmering World on my to-be-read list when I read a review from Powell's (if you're a big reade...moreI don't remember whether I officially put Heir to the Glimmering World on my to-be-read list when I read a review from Powell's (if you're a big reader and you need new suggestions for reading material, get on the powells.com review-a-day email. They cull reviews from good periodical sources like Esquire, Vanity Fair, Atlantic Monthly, etc. and I probably end up with several new must-reads every month, and forward others to people I think would be interested), but I remembered the title when I saw it on the library bookstore's shelf, which indicates I was at least intrigued by the review.
Regardless of the absence of a compelling plotline, Cynthia Ozick's writing grabs you and pulls you into this tale of displaced people in 1930s New York - primarily the narrator, a young woman badly raised by a ne'er-do-well father and eventually fobbed off on a relative, who does right by her until his own choices squeeze her out, sending her off to a questionable and ill-defined position in the household of an immigrant family of scholars. They have been forced from their homeland by the Nazi regime and now depend on the largesse of an unseen (at least for the first third of the book) and erratic benefactor who as a little boy was the unwitting and eventually unwilling star of his father's series of children's books.
The book is about choices (often the lack of them), and obsessions, and denial, and the freedom money gives you, and caretakers, and ultimately I can't say I really *liked* it. Once the framework of the story had been laid down, I found too much repetition of particular themes: the benefactor's resentment of his twisted childhood; the mother's ebb and flow from function to dysfunction to function again, fed by different characters' willingness or ability to coddle her; the poorly fleshed-out, nearly interchangeable sons who dash through the scene and make inappropriate and pointless comments to the narrator. Ultimately, all are left in a sort of limbo, subject to the influence of next person who is injected into this motley group, and not really going anywhere.(less)
I had to keep reminding myself while reading this book that it was written right at that time, i.e., during the first two years of the German occupati...moreI had to keep reminding myself while reading this book that it was written right at that time, i.e., during the first two years of the German occupation of France. Nemirovsky had planned three more sections in addition to "Storm in June" (during and immediately following the German invasion, as most Parisians evacuated the city) and "Dolce" (focused on one small town's occupation.) Sadly, in mid-1942 she was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, where she was put to death in August of that year.
For me, the most moving parts were the appendices, which consist of her notes on the book and correspondence from 1939 to the mid-1940s, regarding the increasing constraints under which she and her family were living, her husband's attempts to find her after her arrest and get her released from the camp, and briefly following the woman who cared for their two children after Nemirovsky's husband Michael Epstein was himself transported and executed.(less)
I'm really of two minds about this book - the info about Shakespeare and all of the possible candidates for the "Who was Shakespeare?" sweepstakes was...moreI'm really of two minds about this book - the info about Shakespeare and all of the possible candidates for the "Who was Shakespeare?" sweepstakes was absolutely fascinating, and I really appreciated the author's note at the end, which outlines which parts are fact, which are somewhat fictionalized for purposes of her story, and which are entirely made up. However, the modern mystery was fairly predictable and reminded me in places of a Gothic romance - i.e., is the mysterious man who helps Kate Stanley someone to be trusted, or is he actually a Bad Guy who is using her? The answer was uncovered with a bit of a twist, which was sort of nice, but still - it seemed that much less thought went into that aspect. Still, I'm a sucker for books about books, and this was a fun read.
There's a second Kate Stanley book out (of course, because it seems no one can write a damn stand-alone book any more), which I will probably read if I come across it for cheap. (less)
Let me say right off the bat, I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. Some truly cringe-worthy scenes, more gawdawful phrasing than I car...moreLet me say right off the bat, I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. Some truly cringe-worthy scenes, more gawdawful phrasing than I care for, but... I got caught up in the story and enjoyed the hell out of it.(less)
It's been a long while since I've felt this conflicted about a book. Let's just say that about halfway thru it I was so irritated that I nearly quit r...moreIt's been a long while since I've felt this conflicted about a book. Let's just say that about halfway thru it I was so irritated that I nearly quit right then, but the last 50-or-so pages grabbed me so hard that I was completely riveted.
First off - this is the middle volume of an apparent trilogy (which is NOT noted anywhere on the cover/title page), beginning with The Vanished Child and culminating with A Citizen of the Country. That said, I was able to enjoy The Knowledge of Water completely without having read the first (or, unless I happen to run across a copy, planning to read the third.)
The Knowledge of Water is set in 1910 Paris, amid the expressive explosion of the day that challenged commonly-held ideas about what constitutes "art", while conventional restrictions on behavior still dominated the lives of most average citizens.
The main characters are Perdita Halley, a young, virtually blind American woman studying piano and dreaming of a career as a concert performer, and Alexander von Reisden, owner of a psychiatric hospital, who has a mysterious background. Having met in Boston (events covered in the The Vanished Child), Perdita has made the shocking choice to travel unchaperoned with Alexander to the continent, in order to study at the famed Conservatoire de Paris. Perdita loves Alexander, but has seen demonstrated all too clearly that the demands of marriage and family are impossible, in the standards of that age, to reconcile with the life of a touring performer, or even the continued development of one's skills. Alexander's needs are likewise in conflict - although he loves Perdita and would never want to deny her the music she pursues so passionately, he wants a conventional home life, with a wife and children waiting for him when he comes home at night.
Into this apparently superficial romance are drawn characters who embody the changing times: the Vicomtesse de Gresniere, known as "Dotty" to her cousin Alexander, who sees Perdita as a completely unsuitable match; Millie Xico, Perdita's bohemian writer and journalist friend, who has been robbed of the publishing rights to her own work by her estranged husband; Madame Mallais, one-time laundress and widow of a famed Impressionist painter, and her grandson Jean-Jacques, who spends his days at the Louvre making copies of the Mona Lisa to sell to tourists; Daugherty, who has been sent to Paris by Perdita's guardian to look into the nature of her relationship with Reisden; and various art dealers, artists, poets, and other less-than-reputable members of Parisian society.
Throughout there is the mystery of who killed the homeless woman known only as the Mona Lisa, and why her murderer insists that Alexander help him give her a proper burial; questions of the legitimacy of several pieces of art, including one owned by Dotty and scheduled to be displayed in public for the first time at the Winter Salon; and on-going musings on the rights of women to be recognized as equals with men in their artistic endeavors. Add to that the endless rains that gradually saturate the ground and fill Paris's notorious sewers, culminating in a record-breaking flood that reduces all classes to refugees. It's a fascinating history lesson, although sometimes the extended navel-gazing made it a bit hard to swallow.(less)
This was a tough book to rate, and writing a review may be even tougher.
My four-star rating is largely weighted by my fond remembrance of having read...moreThis was a tough book to rate, and writing a review may be even tougher.
My four-star rating is largely weighted by my fond remembrance of having read it as a kid. We had a hardcover copy that may have been the original 1947 edition; it was probably "borrowed" from the home of one of our older relatives, and has long since disappeared. What really struck me, re-reading it 30+ years later, was how much of it had stayed with me, even down to the very words. "Oh be joyful, Mamotowatom."
What also struck me, reading this later edition, was the confirmation that (as I had always suspected) this was a true story. According to the notes in the Berkeley paperback, Benedict and Nancy Freeman met Katherine O'Fallon Flannigan, the real "Mrs. Mike", in California in the 1940s, when she would have been in her late 50s or early 60s, and were inspired to set down her story to share with others.
Mrs. Mike is the story of 16 year old Katherine, who in 1907 was sent from her home in Boston to live with her uncle John in Alberta, Canada, in hopes that the cold, dry climate would help with her chronic pleurisy. Shortly after arriving, she met, fell in love with and married Mountie Mike Flannigan, whose post was in remote and sparsely populated Hudson's Hope, British Columbia, nearly 1000 miles northwest of her uncle's home outside Calgary (they would later move to Grouard, about 300 miles north of Edmonton.) Mrs. Mike portrays an unimaginably harsh existence where many settlers raised multiple families, only to lose each them in successive waves of the kinds of devastating illnesses (like influenza and diptheria) immunization and other modern medical treatments have long since conquered. Its depiction of their subsistence living (through trapping, hunting, and cultivation of small gardens) is haunting, yet often beautiful.
My main frustration with the book, as an adult, is the horrible level of racism and sexism it contains. Repeated, often disparaging reference to "'breeds" (half-breeds, meaning people of mixed European and Native parentage), the casual treatment of violence against Indian women - I realize that it is probably depicted accurately, and that such attitudes were typical of the time, but while it's clear that Kathy spoke out against it and tried in individual cases to intervene, it's still difficult to read, and I hesitate to "recommend" it to others without that disclaimer.(less)