Everyone should read Siobhan Dowd. This book is gripping, funny, tragic and touching. It is set in Belfast in 1981, as the IRA prisoners in the Maze aEveryone should read Siobhan Dowd. This book is gripping, funny, tragic and touching. It is set in Belfast in 1981, as the IRA prisoners in the Maze are engaged in the hunger strike for recognition as political prisoners. The story brings together past and present when 18-year-old Finn discovers the Bog Child, an Iron Age child buried near the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. What he discovers about the child's death in the first century CE parallels the story of his brother, Joe, also a prisoner, who embarks on hunger strike after the death of Bobby Sands. Finn's strongly characterized family and friends, and his brief acquaintance with the "squaddie", Owen, give the novel depth and richness. You certainly feel like you know these characters, and their fate matters.
The book was published after the author's untimely death at forty-seven years of age, which may explain some thinner plot lines, like Finn's romantic involvement with an archaeologist's daughter, but none of that interfered with my enjoyment of this book. I'm just sad such a talented writer is no longer with us, and writing at the peak of her powers....more
I was blown away by two things in this book. The first was the voice. Matt is so real! And that cover is ridiculous (generic gorgeous girl) -- gives yI was blown away by two things in this book. The first was the voice. Matt is so real! And that cover is ridiculous (generic gorgeous girl) -- gives you no sense at all of what this book or the main character is about. It's gritty, funny, heart-breaking, smart and very exciting. The other thing that blew me away was the historical research. OK, so I'm a history geek! The author did an amazing job. Every little detail convinced me. ...more
This was a wonderful book. Edmund de Waal tells the story of his family, from the late nineteenth century to the present, using a collection of netsukThis was a wonderful book. Edmund de Waal tells the story of his family, from the late nineteenth century to the present, using a collection of netsuke (very small carved objects from Japan)which are passed down from one member of the family to another, as the connecting link between different parts of the story. I have to say it started slowly, and I wasn't as interested when the narrative focused on the first collector in France during the Impressionist period, because it seemed to be so entirely about art collecting and felt a bit distanced from the characters. When the scene shifted to fin-de-siecle Vienna,I was instantly caught up in it, however, as the focus broadened and the author cast his net more widely in terms of people and history and culture. I was interested in the way in which such an assimilated Jewish family navigated the stormy seas of this time period. Though I have to say I wondered at the lack of information about their actual religious lives. Were they so assimilated that they just didn't connect to their Judaism except in terms of their social world? I'm guessing this was the case. As we moved into World War I and II it became even more compelling, especially the account of how this fabulously rich family's personal lives and financial empire crumbled as Nazism took hold. At this point the characters, always a bit distant, became real and terribly sympathetic to me, particularly the maid, Ana, and the daughter of the family, Elizabeth, who becomes a lawyer and a fiercely independent woman. I especially loved the story of his Uncle Iggy who moves to Japan after the war and makes a long-term commitment to a Japanese man named Jiro: their story felt really touching, perhaps because the author knew and loved them both. Definitely a lovely and original family portrait....more
I love Hilary Mantel. I love the way she writes, and I love how unexpectedly she turns phrases. She takes history seriously, and lightly at the same tI love Hilary Mantel. I love the way she writes, and I love how unexpectedly she turns phrases. She takes history seriously, and lightly at the same time. Her Thomas Cromwell is extremely funny, and touching, as well as someone who can really get things done -- oh, and a bully as well -- a position in which we, as readers, are complicit, as we are almost always on his side.
Now, my vision of the real Thomas Cromwell was that he went around siphoning off the wealth of monasteries for the benefit of an autocratic, misogynist ruler bent on getting his own way -- Henry VIII. Though then again, maybe Henry used the wealth to benefit his people -- well, maybe not. And I had thought Cromwell was also was in charge of throwing people in jail for persistently observing their Catholic faith, so I have to say that as I read this I wondered if Mantel was just a bit too interested in building a case for his rehabilitation. She also has a lot of fun turning the popular view of Thomas Moore upside down -- from heroic victim of Henry VIII to religious bigot and practically Grand Inquisitor. He really comes off as a creep. Since I'm a big fan of Moore's castigation of the unequal distribution of wealth in his Utopia, I kept finding myself reacting against her characterization. And yet, it's probably a good corrective to the way we tend to place halos on the heads of certain historical figures and little devil horns on the heads of others.
So, one thing I loved about this book was that it made me think -- about how history is constructed, about how we choose and create our own heroes out of perhaps (in my case) limited historical evidence.
But I also loved that it was a fully realized portrayal of Cromwell's age, with living, breathing, sharp, intelligent characters. Anne Boleyn is flat-out scary, while all of Cromwell's family (except his appalling father) come off as flawed, delightful people you would want to meet. It was very long, but I was never bored. Bravo! ...more
Joni Sensel’s The Farwalker’s Quest has much to recommend it: a likable and engaging heroine, strong supporting characters and a satisfying theme of fJoni Sensel’s The Farwalker’s Quest has much to recommend it: a likable and engaging heroine, strong supporting characters and a satisfying theme of finding your mission in an intriguing but imperfect world. Ariel, her central character, is spunky, sometimes grumpy, but kind and empathic and intelligent as well. She lives in a future world in which technology has all but disappeared as the result of a cataclysmic war (even bicycles are mythical mechanisms!) and communication is limited between the small, village-bound communities. Part of what becomes Ariel’s mission is the discovery of “The Vault” a near-mythical place where it is hoped, the secrets of the lost technology may be found. In its development of this theme, the book reminded me of Peter Dickinson’s series from the 1970s (or 1960s?) called “The Changes” (including Children of the Devil, Heartsease and The Weathermonger) though Dickinson paints a darker world than Sensel. Sensel introduces several nasty villains – all excellently creepy – while Dickinson shows us a world of fear and ignorance, where ordinary people lose their critical powers and empathy. In contrast, most of the inhabitants of Sensel’s world are warmhearted though loath to adventure. The exception is Ariel, the Farwalker, who learns that she is to break through the parochialism and isolation of her world, bringing messages of hope to its inhabitants. She is joined in her quest by her friend Zeke, who, like her, discovers an unexpected gift, and the mysterious Scarl, who is nicely multi-faceted. The action can be violent at times; there is heartbreak, as well as heart-mending, and those who enjoy fantasy and adventure will doubtless embrace this imaginative story....more
A beautiful book! I love the way the story is integrated with colorful modern illustrations juxtaposed with Rembrandt’s own moody, emotive work. BlaisA beautiful book! I love the way the story is integrated with colorful modern illustrations juxtaposed with Rembrandt’s own moody, emotive work. Blaisdell renders the world of this artist an inviting one by allowing us to view it through the eyes of Rembrandt’s young son Titus. On one hand, Titus contends with a household of rambunctious pets who make a mess his father’s studio, and on the other, struggles with his desire to win his father’s approval. The gentle story-telling brings to life not only the world of a great artist, but the enduring warmth of a son’s relationship with his father. It’s clear that the mission of the book is to introduce kids to art – especially art that they may not appreciate on their own, and the book definitely succeeds in this. Highly recommended....more
I adore this writer. That's all there is to it. As far as I can see, she can do no wrong. This is set in Russia, a few years before the Revolution, anI adore this writer. That's all there is to it. As far as I can see, she can do no wrong. This is set in Russia, a few years before the Revolution, and begins with a man who finds that his wife has left him , taking their children, and then, inexplicably, sending them back by train several days later. Of course, there are revolutionaries, reactionaries, wise peasants, fools, etc. but somehow nothing matters as much as how Fitzgerald brings every moment to life in the most dazzling and unexpected ways. Oh my goodness, she's amazing....more
I read this book for the ancient history class I teach. If you love ancient history, it's definitely for you, and if you don't, it might be a bit of aI read this book for the ancient history class I teach. If you love ancient history, it's definitely for you, and if you don't, it might be a bit of a slog. But what I loved about it was that Heather has really clear and interesting ideas about what pushed Rome to collapse (it doesn't involve large banquets or orgies or even, really, bad governance)and he's prepared to explain his ideas in detail and show you the evidence in a very clear and systematic way. He also specializes in "groaners" -- those jokes so obvious or cheesy that you just have to laugh, even while groaning....more
I re-read this book last summer and loved it just as much as the first time. It was first published in 1929 and I hope it's not out of print. It's a rI re-read this book last summer and loved it just as much as the first time. It was first published in 1929 and I hope it's not out of print. It's a road book, which I love, and involves a cast of memorable characters all drawn together into one traveling theatrical company. It probably helps to be able to decipher Yorkshire and cockney accents, but once you can do that, it's as full of good things as a plum pudding (hmmm... full of plums?) I recently read in Private Battles (a selection of first hand accounts of England and Scotland during the Blitz)that Priestly was much loved at the time for his radio broadcasts, and seen as the voice of the working people. If anyone knows more about this, let me know....more
I'm not a huge fan of fairies, elves and other critters of that nature. But I am a fan of great writing, strong atmosphere, great characters and dialoI'm not a huge fan of fairies, elves and other critters of that nature. But I am a fan of great writing, strong atmosphere, great characters and dialogue, and this book has all of that in spades. When Midge goes to her uncle's farm in Somerset for the summer and first encounters the fields and tangled forests, the old house and dilapidated (and dangerous) out-buildings, it really is magical -- because of Augarde's beautiful evocation of place and character. Her bumbling uncle, mother in career overdrive, and her two cousins: sweet George, and, my favorite, the completely obnoxious 13-year-old Katie are wonderful, believable characters. When she encounters the Various (here's where the fairies come in), the tribes are brought to life in specific, fascinating ways, and of course the quest begins. I liked that there was nothing precious about these people, and in fact a lot of them were quite fierce, and all of them were well-drawn. However, once Midge encountered them, I was a bit less enthralled with the plot than I'd hoped because following the many threads thinned out the drive a bit, but there certainly is a lot of action in the second half of the book, some terrifying, some humorous. And just when I thought it was taking a bit long to end, Augarde ended it with really eye-popping panache. ...more