This beautiful book is both a coming-of-age story of Eden, an American woman of color, and an homage to the Paris that Americans flocked to in the '20...moreThis beautiful book is both a coming-of-age story of Eden, an American woman of color, and an homage to the Paris that Americans flocked to in the '20s and 30s. Eden goes through a series of low paying (and occasionally humiliating) jobs in her search for James Baldwin. Eden reflects on Baldwin's life and his writing as well as her own life as a woman of color in late '80s Paris. Facing violence -- from Parisians, foreign terrorists -- she still finds friends and lovers, and eventually, some of herself. As someone who has always dreamed of escaping to Paris to find myself, living through Eden was an uncomfortable but revealing experience. (less)
This absorbing novel is fascinating, sweet, and sensuously detailed! I developed such a crush on the main character -- between her and her cooking, I...moreThis absorbing novel is fascinating, sweet, and sensuously detailed! I developed such a crush on the main character -- between her and her cooking, I was in love! (less)
How have I never reviewed this? Review to come. In short, I really loved this one although it got very maddening when the characters couldn't just spi...moreHow have I never reviewed this? Review to come. In short, I really loved this one although it got very maddening when the characters couldn't just spit out a few key pieces of info.(less)
I really can't form complete sentences about this book, mostly because I'm still squeeing over it. Carriger has the complete package: fun premise, gre...moreI really can't form complete sentences about this book, mostly because I'm still squeeing over it. Carriger has the complete package: fun premise, great heroine, delicious characters, wonderful setting, and outrageous plot. I couldn't put this book down, and I'm so grateful there's a sequel. I so deeply appreciated that Alexia wasn't a preternaturally beautiful woman; she had a kind of Austenian air to her -- smart and resigned -- and I found her very believable and very likable. Lord Maccon might be my new literary boyfriend. (less)
This was my first time ever reading Apex Magazine and I wasn't sure what to expect. This issue was almost solely dedicated to Mary Robinette Kowal's w...moreThis was my first time ever reading Apex Magazine and I wasn't sure what to expect. This issue was almost solely dedicated to Mary Robinette Kowal's work, an author I was unfamiliar with -- but I can now say I'm a fan. The three stories are wildly different from each other but each is so well-written was I immediately sucked in.
My favorite has to be "The Bride Replete" which blew me away -- Kowal's world-building is marvelous, and she does it in a way that is effortless, easy, and ... sneaky. I say sneaky because even though the story is set on an alien world with an alien race, I was able to get into the story without feeling lost or confused.
My second favorite story was "Scenting the Dark" -- it had a kind of 'Pitch Black' feel to it, in a fabulous way.
Kowal's other two stories were wonderful, but these were the standouts for me. This issue is definitely worth owning -- I'll be rereading these stories often! (less)
This fabulous and inventive take on time travel charmed me from the first moment. When has sci-fi featured a mature heroine? (Mature in age, not in ra...moreThis fabulous and inventive take on time travel charmed me from the first moment. When has sci-fi featured a mature heroine? (Mature in age, not in rating.) I couldn't imagine what was ahead of me when I started this too-brief story; again, I'm unsurprised this was an award-nominated piece. (less)
This is the first of four novels tracking the life of winsome, clever Claudine. The story opens with the famously familiar sentence: My name is Claudi...more This is the first of four novels tracking the life of winsome, clever Claudine. The story opens with the famously familiar sentence: My name is Claudine, I live in Montigny; I was born there in 1884; I shall probably not die there. Claudine's certitude and confidence propels her through her life, and in Colette's hands, tells her story with vivacious detail. Claudine's school life is full of intrigues, and even the seemingly simple task of passing exams is lush with drama and excitement. Speaking with a voice wiser than her years, Claudine is a critical observer, and she uses her gifts of beauty and wit to further herself as needed.
Although the Claudine novels were originally penned at the invitation of Colette's unscrupulous first husband, who was hoping for something scandalous to publish under his name, they do not lack depth, character development, or lyrical narrative. This is the kind of novel that deserves frequent rereading, and for those who haven't read it yet: do so now!(less)
Did this book make me wish my commute were longer?: YES. Or that I should have no commute and could sit around a read all day.
Did this book require a...moreDid this book make me wish my commute were longer?: YES. Or that I should have no commute and could sit around a read all day.
Did this book require a dictionary?: YES: éclaircissement (the clearing up of anything which is obscure or not easily understood; an explanation), and weirdly enough, retrench, only because I thought I knew what it meant, but decided to double check.
Did I eventually have to quit dog earring any page with a quote I liked because I was going to end up simply retyping the novel?: YES
Review: How do you review Jane Austen if you're not Harold Bloom or Margaret Drabble? I can't even, so I'll discuss this particular edition: Signet Classic (2008), with an introduction by Margaret Drabble (from 1964) and an afterward by Diane Johnson (of Le Mariage/Le Divorce fame).
I feel like I also should come clean and say straight out that Pride & Prejudice is not my favorite Austen (seriously, I don't get the Darcy love). My favorite Austen is Northanger Abbey. I cut my teeth on Gothics like Mysteries of Udolpho and have always felt rather affectionately toward Catherine Morland. After that, Persuasion tops my list. So despite any flaws this book might have in terms of plot or characters, I really love this book.
Diane Johnson's Afterword was an enjoyable addition. As an aspiring novelist, I read for enjoyment -- but also, to learn. Johnson reviews Austen's techniques and highlights her skillful writing. I rather wish it was offered at the beginning -- Johnson's notes inspire a close reading.(less)
Did... I find this one more enjoyable than Changeless?: YES, blessedly. Very little Ivy and no Angelique, although still too much Madame Lefoux and no...moreDid... I find this one more enjoyable than Changeless?: YES, blessedly. Very little Ivy and no Angelique, although still too much Madame Lefoux and not nearly enough Akeldama.
Did... I discover I have a burgeoning crush on Professor Lyall?: YES. Why is he so adorable? I don't have words.
Did... I find the entire side plot with Biffy and Akeldama to be deliciously poignant?: YES. I'm getting teary just remembering.
Review: I was pretty unhappy with Changeless as I just adored -- literally, top ten of 2010 -- Soulless; needless to say, I was apprehensive about Blameless. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised and muchly relieved to find this book felt more like the first than the second: funny, breezy, quick moving, with fewer new side characters jostling for the lead. Like Alexia herself, I found my attitude toward Changeless' cliffhanger warming as the book went on; however, I thought Conall got off too easy for his really unbelievable response to the cliffhanger. (Pet peeve: when seemingly reasonable characters become completely idiotic for the sake of plot.)
In terms of plot, this story advances a great deal of science about the preternaturals, which sort of went over my head. Now that the series has been extended into two more books, I suppose Carriger has to explain Alexia's powers and, of course, the implication of the Changeless cliffhanger, but to be honest the how has bored me so far. Perhaps if I didn't hate the scientists -- like Madame Lefoux -- I would care a little more, but such is life.
I should add, despite my intense loathing for Madame Lefoux, I'm actually pleased by the number of queer characters that Carriger offers. Of course, the actual sex so far has been limited to Alexia and Conall, but there are romantic and sexual implications of all stripes for a variety of the side characters, and I appreciate that. Speaking of queer, I'm pretty sure Professor Lyall is family, and that he has a raging crush on Biffy.
In the end, my hopes for the rest of this series are lifted. I'm especially eager for the next two books to follow the formula from the first book, namely, the sexy back-and-forth between Alexia and Conall. Alexia is lovely on her own, but so far, no one has been an interesting enough foil for her wit and that's what hooked me from the start. (less)
Did... I find Benjamin's handling of Alice and Dogdson's 'relationship' to be nuanced and deft?: YES. She articulates, without judgment (or permission...moreDid... I find Benjamin's handling of Alice and Dogdson's 'relationship' to be nuanced and deft?: YES. She articulates, without judgment (or permission), the possible reality of what occurred between them, allowing the reader to formulate their own opinion.
Did... I shed tears once I finished this book?: YES. Ohemgee, the entire book has this sort of bittersweet note to it, but the end, the end! Perfection!
Did... I wish, for a moment, Benjamin would fudge history and give Alice the ending she should have had?: YES. I don't mean to be vague, but you want to talk about heartbreaking?!
Review: I picked up this book by accident; I had intended to get What Alice Knew and didn't look closely at the title. However, I'm pleased about the mistake: I opened the book last evening and was hooked by the very first line. Benjamin fleshes out the Liddells quickly but easily, and paints the world that Alice -- the daughter of a dean at Oxford -- grew up in.
Then there is Charles Dodgson, the man who would eventually publish Alice in Wonderland. Personally I have always found Dodgson to be a creepy person, but Benjamin's characterization allows space for discomfort and understanding. The story is told mostly chronologically, beginning with seven-year old Alice, and through her eyes, we watch her burgeoning crush on Charles Dogdson, her sister's crush, and his odd but appealing-to-Alice behavior. Because of that, there's space, in some ways, for sympathy and understanding.
Of course, as Dogdson's behavior comes to negatively affect Alice's life, I couldn't help but feel a kind of anger toward him -- but also toward the other men in Alice's life, such as John Ruskin and Prince Leopold. Their selfish desires and unfair expectations of Alice and women like her -- innocence, purity, virginity, adult desire hidden in child bodies -- cause heartbreak, anxiety, misery, and alienation. Benjamin again expresses these moments -- and Alice's feelings about them -- in a way I found to be very authentic. Her frustration wasn't modern or anachronistic and it took her a lifetime to articulate: Why, then, did I always feel as if his happiness was my responsibility? It wasn't fair for him to burden me with that. It had never been fair.
In the end, Dodgson's "gift" essentially cursed Alice her entire life; and yet, this isn't a story of rancor or bitterness. Over and over I was struck by Benjamin's skill in portraying Alice so fully, so compassionately, and so poignantly. (less)
Did... I find everyone but the hero to be appealing and engaging?: YES. Finn was sadly one-dimensional; a recurrent tertiary character had more heft t...moreDid... I find everyone but the hero to be appealing and engaging?: YES. Finn was sadly one-dimensional; a recurrent tertiary character had more heft than he did.
Did... I like, admire, and cheer for Teagan, our heroine?: YES. Much like Aislinn from Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely, Teagan problem solved and kicked butt, cried and felt fear, fell in love and kept her spunk.
Did... the end of the book wrap up in a totally satisfying and yet awesomely cliff-hanger-y way?: YES. I put it down with a laugh and a shriek!
Review: The subtitle of this book -- Goblin Wars -- almost made me pass on reading it, but I really couldn't resist the Blake reference. I'm so glad I gave it try, because this was an unexpectedly engrossing paranormal adventure. Paranormal novels with a mythological basis are hardly new, but Hamilton's focus on the truly dark aspects of Celtic mythology is what made this story so interesting. That, and her really interesting characters!
I had gotten myself into a snit near the start of the novel, when it was revealed that heroine Tegan's mother was an artist. I wasn't sure I could sit through another book with a throwaway parent so I was deeply pleased to discover mama Aileen's career choice was quite deliberate and plot relevant. Whew! In fact, I found the characters -- even the most slight -- to be vibrant and thoughtfully fleshed out. Our heroine Teagan, is smart and funny, tough and emotional, empathetic and interesting. Despite the chemistry she feels for Finn, she remains true to her character and behaves admirably through the book. She didn't turn into a wilting wallflower the moment Finn arrived; she fought goblins and college-aged jerks with guts. Some of the funniest lines in the book came from her! The half star I took off comes solely because our hero, Finn, is the flattest of the bunch. To be fair, he had tough competition, but as the romantic lead and demigod of the bunch, he really should have been more than a Brad Pitt lookalike with an Irish accent.
That tiny quibble aside, I can honestly say I'm hooked!(less)
Did...I find I could understand this novel despite being totally ignorant about philosophy?: YES. There's a philosopher as a character and some lovely...moreDid...I find I could understand this novel despite being totally ignorant about philosophy?: YES. There's a philosopher as a character and some lovely passages that have a sort of philosophical bent to them, but the writing and the plot grab you immediately.
Was...I reminded a little of Michael Ondaatje and Jeanette Winterson?: YES. The book is delicate without being precious or overwrought; the essence of the story is there without being too thin or leaving the reader at arm's length.
Did...this book make me sad?: YES. BUT IN THE BEST WAY. I've been telling friends the feel of this book is a kind of poignant, bittersweet sadness that you want to savor a little -- not the kind of misery that ruins your weekend. I promise.
Review: Some where in my childhood, I remember seeing a PSA-style poster extolling the awesomeness of reading by saying you'll always remember the first time something you read made you cry. Even though I'm a softie, I do still recall -- quite vividly -- the pieces that have moved me deeply: Kurt Schork's Reuters piece about 'Romeo and Juliet' killed on Sarajevo's Vrbana Bridge; Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body; a breakup letter from my first adult love; and now, Thaisa Frank's gorgeous novel.
That said, please, please don't let the possibility of sorrow or sadness scare you away from picking up this book. Books about the Holocaust promise unhappiness and I steeled myself for some passages that would disgust or scare or horrify me; instead, Frank presents a story of the Holocaust in a delicate, deft way that allows pain and fear and deep sadness without making one want to jump off a bridge upon finishing. (In fact, when I finished, I just wanted to sit with a cup of tea and sniff with a cat in my lap. I wanted to savor the bittersweet, heartbreaking poignancy. I'm getting teary again just recalling it!)
The premise of the story is unbelievable and fascinating: the 'Scribes', sixty translators plucked from death or trips to the camps due only to chance and their ability to speak more than one language, live in an underground compound designed to resemble a bucolic village, tasked with writing letters to the living relatives of those killed at the camps. Managed by three SS officers who are more a part of the community than separate from it, the novel follows the events put into motion when Martin Heidegger's wife makes a ruckus about wanting to hear from a family friend, a man who was taken to Auschwitz.
Frank very quickly evokes the world of late World War II Germany, with it's mixture of grim efficiency and slavish devotion to the occult. Heidegger and his philosophical musings stick out as cruelly self-introspective and even inappropriate (there's a particularly moving scene in which he wants to discuss Being with a man just recently escaped from Auschwitz). What makes the story touching and human is that within this huge, horrible, sad event, she presents the small, every day battles and victories of the 'Scribes': loneliness, fear, desire, jealousy, the wish to belong, the awareness of what has been lost, surviving, finding love, human connection.(less)
Did... I fall in love with India Black after the first page?: YES. The first ten sentences had me hooked.
Did... I develop a bit of a crush on the hero...moreDid... I fall in love with India Black after the first page?: YES. The first ten sentences had me hooked.
Did... I develop a bit of a crush on the heroine and the hero?: YES. This isn't a romance in the slightest but both leads killed me with their hot.
Am... I going to die waiting for the second book?: YES. This one is coming out Jan 4th, FYI.
Review: There's nothing like being hooked by a book on the first page. It's kind of exhilarating, really. All you need do is settle back and greedily read on; and in this case, I guzzled this book like it was orange soda and I was five.
Despite the heroine being a madam, this isn't a risque book. Carr opens the novel with India Black shooing away anyone who wants to read "a young woman's schooling in the arts of love" as well as the overly pious and easily shocked. It was then I realized India and I would get along just smashingly.
I love action films and spy thrillers for lots of reasons, but a biggie is that there's usually a strong woman as a companion -- or better, colleague. Smart, gorgeous, calculating, tough, the woman is as interesting as the spy hero but gets less back story and screentime. Those women always intrigue me: how did they end up where they did? What's their deal?
Reading India Black is a bit like having a Victorian Bond Girl be the star of our film. She's used as bait and saves the day, is wined and dined and kidnapped and locked up; she kicks butt and gets abused in equal part. There's a company man, French, who is enigmatic and dreamy. A ruffian sidekick. Intrigue iced with witty comebacks and droll retorts. There are even chase scenes and fight scenes and a hint of naughtiness just to keep things fresh -- and addictive-ly readable. I am so looking forward to the next India Black book; I anticipate being a vocal Carol K. Carr fangirl.(less)
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Definitely absolutely buy -- and borrow if you can't!
Review: I just loved this book. Straight out loved it. The story is seemi...moreBuy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Definitely absolutely buy -- and borrow if you can't!
Review: I just loved this book. Straight out loved it. The story is seemingly simple -- widower meets widow, develop late in life romance, obstacles get in the way -- but the engaging writing and endearing characters turn this simple story into a delicious treat of a novel.
I'm reminded of many Persephone Books; there's a cozy, English village feel to the novel that is, as I've heard others say, charming. What made this book so compelling for me was the exploration of identity. Major Pettigrew, the upstanding Englishman, is actually Indian-born; Mrs. Ali, the 'foreigner' Pakistani, is actually British-born. And yet, their outward appearance -- how they 'pass', so to speak -- is the basis for how their small village regards them. Simonson explores the legacy of imperialism and race through Mrs. Ali and the Major's relationship in expected and surprising ways. Nothing is whitewashed and yet, this isn't a contemporary drama that leaves the reader stripped or raw or scared.
And ultimately, at the heart of the story is a truly wonderful romance. I teared up a little at the end -- ohmygod, the last line! --and I was wholly invested in the Major and Mrs. Ali. The obstacles faced are Austen-esque in feel and the pay off just as satisfying. (less)
I was pretty head-over-heels for this book after the first page but by the time our heroine Bathsheba Everdene appeared, my love was sealed. (How fabu...moreI was pretty head-over-heels for this book after the first page but by the time our heroine Bathsheba Everdene appeared, my love was sealed. (How fabulous is that name?!)
Of this book, Virginia Woolf said: "The subject was right; the method was right; the poet and the countryman, the sensual man, the somber reflective man, the man of learning, all enlisted to produce a book which, however fashions may chop and change, must hold its place among the great English novels." Amen, sister. There's a vaguely soap opera feel to the story, with the mix of rural drama (honestly, I had no idea there were so many ways sheep could die!) and a love pentagon (two women, three men) and yet, this isn't some fluffy pastoral farce.
The setting is described with poetic loveliness, but as we see with Farmer Oak's constantly imperiled sheep, rural life is hardly peaceful and bucolic. At times, it is nearly savage, and pretty, clever, fiery, passionate Bathsheba seems to be the personification of the lovely-yet-wild (and fickle!) landscape. She captivates, frightens, and mystifies the men around her, and despite her sometimes over-the-top emotional fits, she manages her own farm and her own courtships with savvy determination.
Still, the romance in this book is hardly romantic: even the passionate points feel a bit grim, as we and the characters understand the implications of each overture and pass. Someone will be hurt, someone else buoyed, and one night makes all the difference in a life. (Same goes for sheep. Go to sleep, sheep alive; wake up, sheep dead. It's crazy.)
There's also some comedy in the rustic townfolk and farm hands, but honestly, I sort of tuned them out. I was more keen on Bathsheba and her relationships with the men in her life. At times, I felt like Hardy painted her a little garishly, as if to punish her for being so fabulous and feisty, but I also appreciated the cracks in her armor. She was a woman I could relate to and if I had read her as a teen, I would have been all about channeling my inner Bathsheba Everdene. As it is, I'm ready for a reread already, so I can sit back and savor Hardy's storytelling.(less)
This book is like a divine dessert: decadent, delicious, and portioned just enough to make you wish there was another mouthful. Lukas' writing style i...moreThis book is like a divine dessert: decadent, delicious, and portioned just enough to make you wish there was another mouthful. Lukas' writing style is playful without being ridiculous (see my Teaser Tuesday for a taste); it's really straight up enjoyable. Pleasurable!
The setting is an era that I'm unfamiliar with but find wholly appealing -- 19th century Turkey -- and Lukas offers gorgeous passages that place the reader squarely in Stamboul. There's international intrigue and a host of characters but at no point was I overwhelmed by the story; like young Eleonora, we learn as we go, and Lukas' writing makes it so very easy.
This isn't a plot heavy book and I found I kept bracing myself for the expected action movie onslaught -- evil machinations by her stepmother or the Sultan's advisers, manipulation by her guardian Moncef Bey or Rev James Meuhler -- but the story followed a more subtle even ambiguous thread. Is Eleonora's genius really a gift? Who is 'good' and who is 'bad'?
At the end, I honestly stared at the book a moment, astounded I had finished. The story had to go on, I was sure; probably one of the first times I actually wished a piece of literary fiction would make a sequel. I am hungering -- yearning! -- for more of Eleonora's world and Lukas' delicious writing. I am desperately excited for his forthcoming novel - consider me a rabid Michael David Lukas fan.(less)
This is the kind of historical novel that reminds me why I love the genre. It's meaty, it's exciting, it's engrossing, it's romantic, it's chilling, a...moreThis is the kind of historical novel that reminds me why I love the genre. It's meaty, it's exciting, it's engrossing, it's romantic, it's chilling, and it's absolutely un-put-down-able. This era (reign of Henry VII) is one I'm wholly unfamiliar with but Worth sets up the story and characters so well, I didn't find myself lost or confused or in need of an encyclopedia.
The novel tells the story of Catherine Gordon, a Scottish noblewoman who is married to the man said to be the true King of England, Richard Plantagenet/Perkin Warbeck, even though he is branded an imposter by the reigning monarch, Henry VII. The plot covered in this novel is exciting enough, but I found Worth's characters to be so interesting and real, I cared about all of them -- even the horrible Henry VII.
The romantic, clearly loving marriage between Catherine and Richard anchored the story for me; in an era when (I imagine) love matches were rare, Worth's depiction of these two made me fall in love with them -- and made me deeply invested in the survival of their marriage and family. At many times, I wished Worth would just lie and give me a few chapters of their bucolic happiness in a country estate, I liked them so much. This novel, however, encompasses so much more than just their marriage, and is really about Catherine Gordon -- not the Tudors nor Perkin Warbeck.
Worth's skill as an author really shows in the development of Catherine. I imagine it must be challenging to imagining a historical figure wholly and envision why they responded or acted the way they did in a way that remains true to history and true to the author's conception of them. Worth's Catherine is a complicated woman who responds to the circumstances around her and does what she deems most moral and true to herself, and I found I genuinely liked her (even if I didn't agree with her opinions or life choices).
I can't recommend this novel enough -- I just loved it and resented having to work rather than read! And, happily, Worth has published five other books for me to go back and devour while I wait for her newest! (less)
Just reread this in anticipation of the sequel; found it even more upsetting than I remembered! So much so, I was anxious about startin...moreNov 2013 reread
Just reread this in anticipation of the sequel; found it even more upsetting than I remembered! So much so, I was anxious about starting the sequel, unsure I could cope with what was ahead of me. I'm particularly taken with Dray's transformation of her heroine from a child to an adult -- the Selene in this book is clearly the same girl from the first book, but in the course of this one, grows up fast amid and subject to real brutality.
Review from Oct 2011 (read 10/19/11 - 10/31/11)
Earlier this year I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Lily of the Nile and I've been wiggling with anticipation for this book. I'm thrilled to say that everything I loved in the first book -- Selene, the historical setting, the magical elements, the compelling detail -- is in this one as well, only amped up more.
This is a darker novel that doesn't shy away from the grim reality of ancient Roman life (around 25BC-ish or so). Selene, Cleopatra's daughter, has been married and sent to Mauritania, but from the start of this book, our heroine isn't a passive pawn. As with the first novel, Dray mixes history with magic, but the fantastical elements don't dampen or soften the historical aspects, which I so appreciate. Dray doesn't age up Selene, for example, who is 14 at the start of this novel, nor does she whitewash what imperial life was like.
As with the first novel, this book features a teenaged heroine but isn't a YA story; it is decidedly mature and probably not something all readers will like. I hesitate to say I enjoyed it, because some of what transpired made me feel ill, but Dray makes all the characters quite human and quite real, to the point that I loved, hated, empathized with and dismissed everyone at some point, even Selene. It's a maddening, wonderful feeling, and for me, it felt like an accurate representation of what life would have been like for Cleopatra's daughter. You want royal intrigue, this is your book!
I was sad when the book ended -- I could have used another 300 pages -- and I'm not sure if there's another book coming or not, but I'm desperate for more of Selene and her world. I loved Mists of Avalon but found rest of Bradley's series to be very thin. In this case, Dray's books get better and better; her world-building and character-development is nuanced and compelling. This is tawdry hist fic with a little more steel in the spine, and I mean that in the best way. Get Lily of the Nile first then grab this one!(less)