Part of my "English Invasion" May/June 2010 theme. ______________________
Wolf Hall covers one of the most turbulent history-altering periods in English...morePart of my "English Invasion" May/June 2010 theme. ______________________
Wolf Hall covers one of the most turbulent history-altering periods in English History. Henry VIII has grown impatient for not having a male heir. Queen Katherine of Aragon is out, Henry desperately wants the Pope to annul his marriage so he can quickly marry Anne Boleyn and hopefully produce the son that will bring security to his position. Henry decides to make a break with the Holy See in Rome and get Parliament to declare him the head of the Church in England.
Through all this history is the commoner Thomas Cromwell. A lawyer, good with money, but from a poor background, Cromwell works for years for Cardinal Wolsey then deftly becomes King Henry's right hand man. Wolf Hall is told from Cromwell's point of view (although in the 3rd person?), and is almost a triangle of struggles between Cromwell, Thomas More, and King Henry. It's a brilliant way to tell an old famous story in a new way.
What's more, Mantel mostly confines herself to just 8 years of Tudor history, 1527-1535, and leaves the story at Cromwell's peak of power and fortune. I won't be surprised if we see a sequel, taking us through Jane Seymour and the downfall of Cromwell.
However, like many others here, I found it quite hard to get into the flow of Wolf Hall. Ack, all the pronouns without antecedents! Inconsistent use of quotation marks! Having a book effectively in the first person but told in the third person! A rambling somewhat stream-of-consciousness style that jumps around in time! Sadly, I get the impression that Hilary Mantel forcefully injected these "devices" into Wolf Hall in an attempt to be literary.
I think there's a tiny hint to some of this madness in "The Novelist's Arithmetic," an appendix at the end of my edition of the book.
But then, our memories never quite fit together either, and I have tried to suggest in this book how incomplete and sporadic our inner record of our life is apt to be.
I read this in 1992 when I was a very bored, unchallenged high school student. I got lost in the epic, sweeping tale and the history of the region. Th...moreI read this in 1992 when I was a very bored, unchallenged high school student. I got lost in the epic, sweeping tale and the history of the region. This book, above all other influences, is what propelled me to become an exchange student. Thanks to The Next Best Book Club in the thread, What books do you miss, for reminding me how much I wish I could recapture that complete absorption that happens when you read the right book at the right time.(less)
A fun, fantastical YA story about standing your ground especially when you are at a crossroads, and a strong analytical girl who needs to be brave eno...moreA fun, fantastical YA story about standing your ground especially when you are at a crossroads, and a strong analytical girl who needs to be brave enough to help the people she loves. _________________
Thirteen year old Natalie Minks loves bicycles, clockwork gadgets, solving puzzles and listening to her mother's endless stories about their town. Growing up in rural Missouri in 1913, she lives near a major crossroads with the ruins of the former town left perplexingly in-tact down the road. One day a travelling medicine show arrives and Natalie is both fascinated and perplexed. She senses that something just isn't right at the Doctor Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show. Can she work it out in time to save the town and her family?
One of the best things about The Boneshaker is Milford's detailed descriptions of the settings:
A Nostrum Fair, it turned out, was very similar to a Technological Medicine Show: frying foods, syrupy sugar smells, penny amusements. Bursts of odd, discordant music from the One-Man Band. Sudden appearances and disappearances of the harlequin in its costume of velvet triangles and bells, capering and somersaulting and then vanishing in a flash of tarnish and motley.
A quick note about the genre: Most of The Boneshaker is historical fiction with supernatural elements with a big helping of mystery and tiny dash of scary ghost story. What's even more fun is that Milford has included lots of steampunk details in the various clockwork machines that pepper the story. It's really fun to imagine the old-fashioned gadgetry.
There are several mysteries happening simultaneously in the story, which makes this an unexpectedly fun, complex read for a young-adult book. (The official recommendation is ages 10 and up, but a book-nerd might do okay with this at 8 or 9 as long as they don't mind slightly scary stories.) The mystery doesn't end with the perplexing charlaitans at the Nostrum Fair. There are also strange happenings in her town, unusual old residents and travelers, Natalie's weird visions, and difficulties in her own family. What's very clever is that Milford gives you just enough clues to solve a few mysteries on your own before they are revealed while others are left as little twists. As a reader, you feel clever while being entertained with surprises.
Each character has unusual quirks. Natalie's mother is absentminded and burning food in the kitchen while her dad is clumsy but mechanically gifted. Doctor Limberleg has fascinating red-peppered-with-gray hair that sticks up and appears to move about on it's own. Natalie herself is simultaneously afraid and brave while she works out how best to confront difficult situations.
My only little nit-pick is that a few characters that were important at the beginning of the story disappear by the end. A couple of those are ancillary characters, but without spoiling anything, one is a fairly major character.
Finally, the line-drawing art in the book is lovely. Make sure you look at a large version of the cover. I could imagine my child-like self examining and re-examining all the details looking for clues. Oh wait, my adult-like self already did that! The handful of full-page images that pepper the book are as rich and detailed as Milford's prose. It's a lovely accompaniment.(less)
I can't say this enough: I love stories that start with a simple premise (e.g. in Eifelheim aliens crash-land near a small 14th century German village...moreI can't say this enough: I love stories that start with a simple premise (e.g. in Eifelheim aliens crash-land near a small 14th century German village) then follow the characters as they react and interact with the situation.
I'm really wavering between 4 and 5 stars for Eifelheim. Yet another conundrum due to the Quantized GoodReads Ratings. Let's lay out the case for each:
Five Stars: I was really mourning the end of this book because I felt like I was so thoroughly immersed in the 14th century German village. I loved the characters, and even the minor ones had back stories. I wanted to share a mug of beer and natural sciences discussion with Dietrich on Frau Honig's porch and have Theresia blend me some herbs for my headache. I wanted to go to one of Herr Manfred's fetes and dance and laugh with Mannfred, Max, Gregor, Lorentz and Trude.
The aliens were well and truly alien: from their way of speaking, their systems of logic, their mating and their sense of justice. It made for a rich first-contact story.
I found the occasional use of German (and alien-translated German) really natural and entertaining. I spent a year in a German-speaking Kantonschule in Switzerland, so Tom's Germanglish felt amusing and natural. When Flynn literally translated German words into English, it made the Krenken really sound translated and foreign. One example was "to oversit" was used for "to translate", where the German term is Übersetzen.
Final evidence for giving 5-stars is Tom and Judy's modern day historical research fit the 14th century pieces nicely together.
The evidence to drop a star: Sharon and Tom's relationship in the modern-day interludes. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Why are these two together if they have so little respect for the other person and their life's work? I was so excited to read this knowing there was a female theoretical physicist (rock on!), but Sharon was self-centered, shrill and rude. OK, she's brilliant, but I'm shocked someone hasn't smacked her in the face sooner. This cosmologist emphatically does not want to be friends with Sharon.
Also, I was hoping for a little more stitching of Sharon's sci-fi discoveries with the alien race. The sci-fi end of the modern-day pieces felt wildly disconnected to the overall story until the last possible moment.
Since my gripes really are about a fraction of the modern-day pieces, I'm going to give Eifelheim the benefit of Quantized GoodReads Ratings.
This was just announced as an Arthur C Clarke award 2010 finalist. I've never heard of the book, and with only 47 ratings not many GR folks have heard...moreThis was just announced as an Arthur C Clarke award 2010 finalist. I've never heard of the book, and with only 47 ratings not many GR folks have heard of it either. The premise sounds like an interesting intersection of historical fiction and sci-fi.(less)
Wherein I attempt to write a review using all the new words I learned whilst reading the book. My made-up-on-the-spot rule is one per sentence, to mak...moreWherein I attempt to write a review using all the new words I learned whilst reading the book. My made-up-on-the-spot rule is one per sentence, to make it a challenge. (Glossary at end of review.)
I hope you won’t look upon my review as mere folderol, but the most interesting things to be said about Gone With the Wind have been said over and over: it’s breathtaking, sweeping, American, but also racist and exacerbating. Everyone needs to read the story of one of literature’s best tragic heroines: Scarlett O’Hara, a Southern hoyden who Mitchell has managed to make complex, despite Scarlett's shallow ways. Scarlett normally has pinchbeck pretensions, even towards people she loves. She could inveigle even the most reluctant of men, just to get her way, particularly in marriage. When the reader watches her associate with carpetbaggers and parvenus, forsaking her friends, it’s hard not to cheer when she gets her just rewards. She’s frequently a hypocrite; she criticizes old County farmers who never manumitted a single slave, yet she complains later about the freed slaves in Atlanta.
And then we have Rhett, that dashing scalawag, and the only person who can call Scarlett’s bluffs. He’s a man who has approbation for others with strong morals without pretension. He coolly presents verbal zingers, even against his lover, foe, and termagant. Even though Rhett can be rapacious, he has a strong inner code that endears him to the reader. His sibling-like relationship with Melly, a sometimes pusillanimous character, is especially touching.
Finally, there is the South: Tara and Atlanta, belles and gentlemen, slaves and cotton, portieres and hoop-skirts. Scarlett, as representation of the South, is a product of her parents: her Irish immigrant, stentor father Gerald, and kindhearted but stoic stalwart mother, Ellen. And as the South rapidly changes and leaves behind it’s old ways, so too is Scarlett able to adapt to her new positions – and this is what helps the reader somewhat forgive some of her rankling, vituperative ways.
It was hard not to become lachrymose at the end of Gone With the Wind – I am mourning the loss of these characters in my life.
Word List: * approbation: approval; commendation. * carpetbagger: U.S. History . a Northerner who went to the South after the civil war and became active in Republican politics, especially so as to profiteer from the unsettled social and political conditions of the area during Reconstruction. * folderol: mere nonsense; foolish talk or ideas. Also, falderal * hoyden: a boisterous, bold, and carefree girl; a tomboy * inveigle: to entice, lure, or ensnare by flattery or artful talk or inducements (usually followed by into) * lachrymose: given to shedding tears readily; tearful. * manumitted: to release from slavery or servitude. * portieres: a curtain hung in a doorway, either to replace the door or for decoration. * pinchbeck: sham, spurious, or counterfeit * parvenu: a person who has recently or suddenly acquired wealth, importance, position, or the like, but has not yet developed the conventionally appropriate manners, dress, surroundings, etc. * pusillanimous: lacking courage or resolution; cowardly; faint-hearted; timid. * rapacious: inordinately greedy; predatory; extortionate * scalawag: 1. a scamp; rascal. 2. U.S. History . a native white Southerner who collaborated with the occupying forces during Reconstruction, often for personal gain. * stentor: a person having a very loud or powerful voice. * termagant: a violent, turbulent, or brawling woman. * vituperative: characterized by the nature of verbal abuse or castigation (less)
I freaked out last weekend when I found out that David Mitchell is doing a reading in town tonight for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Which is...moreI freaked out last weekend when I found out that David Mitchell is doing a reading in town tonight for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Which is kind of funny on paper, because Cloud Atlas was the single work of his I'd read, and only gave it 4-stars. I liked it, but didn't fall in love with it, so why all the David Mitchell fan-fare? Ah, you see I heard a most excellent interview & discussion with Mitchell on the BBC World Service when they picked Cloud Atlas for their Book of the Month Club. (Link is here, thanks to Ken-Ichi for pointing it out!) Holy Crud, I have an author crush. He was funny, insightful, self-deprecating and engaging.
It just didn't feel right to rush off to Hollywood for the reading with only one Mitchell book under my belt. So I started searching around for another title to read. He must really be popular here in Pasadena, because ALL of his books at every branch of the library are checked out, most with waiting lists. Luckily I have an 'in' at a university library, but this was the only non-Cloud Atlas title they carried.
Hoo boy, am I glad this is the book that landed in my lap! Black Swan Green is funny, touching, sad, and just plain entertaining. Yes, yes, it's a coming-of-age story of a 13 year old boy living in a Worcestershire village in Thatcherite Britain. But it's also a series of short-stories, each a vignette of an important event happening in what's the most important, pivotal year in the life of young, stammering Jason Taylor.
What's also fun for the reader is the shout-outs Mitchell gives to his previous books & characters. He mentions the song, "#9 Dream" by John Lennon, also the title of his second novel. What's funnier is that an elderly Eva van Crommelynck (last seen in Cloud Atlas as a young woman) makes a significant appearance, as well as Robert Frobisher's Cloud Atlas composition. In the BBC interview, Mitchell explains that he likes to do cross-over characters partly to show readers that the character lives on.
I'll say up-front that I'm quite biased. Not to mention my newly budding Mitchell fandom, many of the stories in the book parallel my husband's life.
At any rate, I'll leave you with a few quotes:
"She'd probably love to have my stammer if she could have her leg back, and I wondered if being happy's about other people's misery."
"Eavesdropping's sort of thrilling 'cause you learn what people really think, but eavesdropping makes you miserable for exactly the same reason."
"Gravestones mostly flake away after a couple of centuries. Even death sort of dies. The saddest sentence I ever found was in a graveyard on Bredon Hill. 'Her abundant virtues would have adorned a longer life.'"(less)
An alternate-history detective story. The novel is set in 1949 in an England that negotiated a peace agreement with the Third Reich just 9 years previ...moreAn alternate-history detective story. The novel is set in 1949 in an England that negotiated a peace agreement with the Third Reich just 9 years previously. An aristocrat is murdered at the Farthing estate on the eve of an election and in the midst of social change in democratic Britain.
This was feeling like a 3-star book until the last handful of chapters. Also, this excellent review from BunWat gives me much more respect for the book and the setting.