This beefy volume of articles about British history, ranging from pre-Roman to 20th century, is drawn from the fabulous English Historical Fiction AutThis beefy volume of articles about British history, ranging from pre-Roman to 20th century, is drawn from the fabulous English Historical Fiction Authors blog.
I love books that come from blogs. At first blush, it seems counter-intuitive, buying a book with content from a free blog, but this volume proves how awesome the idea is.
At close to 600 pages, this book anthologizes a whole year's content from nearly fifty authors, compiling their intriguing blog posts in chronological order. It's a welcoming format: I can dip into and out at my leisure, and a book like this begs that kind of languid reading.
In her introduction, Brown writes this volume is meant to evoke "the soul of the past with personal stories and strange happenings", and it does just that. Each piece has a warm, conversational tone (so those expecting something deeply academic should look elsewhere). What I most enjoyed about these pieces is that they make up a love letter to the genre of historical fiction, as well as a behind-the-curtain expose of hard work and miraculous, plot-affirming surprises that bolster writers.
It is that tone, excited and nerdy, that hooked me and kept me paging through these pieces. Even for eras I'm not typically fascinated by, there were still essays that intrigued me (like Nancy Bilyeau's article on Mary Shipton, Tudor prophetess).
The group of participating authors is impressive; some of the names that I'm familiar with include Sandra Byrd, Anna Belfrage, Nancy Bilyeau, Patricia Bracewell, Stephanie Cowell, Christy English, and Deborah Swift. (You can see a complete list of participating authors at the blog.)
Fans of British historical fiction will want this book; it's a bit like the extras on a DVD, loaded with trivia that helped me have a better sense of life for the characters of many of the books I love to read. Keep bedside or even loaded on your smartphone for when you need a few minutes of reading (and be prepared to look up and see an hour or two has passed!)....more
I wanted to like this book so much. I've somehow never read Maguire before, despite loving retellings, and given the slavish devotion so many have toI wanted to like this book so much. I've somehow never read Maguire before, despite loving retellings, and given the slavish devotion so many have to Wicked, figured I finally needed to hop on the Maguire bandwagon. This book, however, was a massive fail for me, and I'm not entirely sure I'm going to attempt Maguire again.
This take on Alice in Wonderland follows Ada, an awkward and ungraceful playmate of Alice's, who stumbles into Wonderland, as well as Alice's older sister Lydia, who stays in the equally confusing real world.
Ada's story line -- a long bumble through the Wonderland -- was agonizingly slow for me. Maguire spoofs on Carroll's classic, and after a handful of pages, it triggered in me the same impatience with the nonsensical world that the original does. Worse, it felt as if it were going nowhere -- just cameo after cameo from the classic -- and in the end, I'm still not sure what the purpose of Ada's story was.
Lydia's story line was more intriguing, and I wish she had claim to the entire novel. A 15-year-old girl, now mistress of her home after her mother's death, floats uncertainly in her home. Her father is hosting the famous Darwin and a handsome American man. She imagines a courtship between them, but is treated by her father and the household staff as a child, tasked with keeping an eye on her sister, and the American's ward, a freed slave child named Siam.
In Lydia's story, there's an exploration of Victorian life for women, that challenging place between child and adult, the scars of slavery, and the clash of faith and science. But those exciting themes are only briefly tackled in the last 30ish percent of the novel.
I think I was frustrated with this book because I also found Maguire's style to be clunky to the extreme:
To a deity lolling overhead on bolsters of zephyr, however, the city rises as if out of some underground sea, like Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie, that fantasia about the submerged Breton cathedral rising once ever hundred years off the island of Ys. (Yes, Debusys is early twentieth century, but time means nothing to Himself.)
or bits like "sky could aspire to eternal bucholia" or "A vitality in the clouds suggested muscular air". I love me some tangled language but this felt so ornate and unnecessary.
Bottom-line: not a read for me, but maybe for others who love Maguire (and know what his style is like) and those who enjoy novels inspired by classic literature.
*** *** ***
Update 11/6: Okay, I actually finished the whole book, all chapters. The end was better than the start, and I wish he'd just written a book about slavery and freedom and all those themes he randomly lifted up in the last five chapters, rather than the 60% dumb homage to Carroll's wonderland that is this book. The only thing that I was really rocking was Maguire's take on the Jabberwock, which occurred, like, five pages from the end. Otherwise, the rest was serious ho-hum.
First thoughts: Ugh. I don't even know what this book was. Story follows Ada, an awkward and weird girl, playmate to Lewis Carroll's Alice, who ends up in Wonderland. Much like Alice's adventure, Maguire's Wonderland is nonsensical and, frankly, tiresome. Clunky narrative that just plops vocab words without any snaky playfulness. Alternating chapters with Alice's older sister Lydia, who manages a more intriguing storyline featuring Darwin, an American man who intrigues her, and the American's freed slave ward. The two chapters read so differently they might as well be by different authors. I basically DNF'd this after getting halfway through -- I started skipping Ada's sections and just skimming through Lucy's....more
If you've ever harbored the suspicion or opinion that historical fiction is a genre just of corsets, heaving bodies, and royal bedhopping, this book wIf you've ever harbored the suspicion or opinion that historical fiction is a genre just of corsets, heaving bodies, and royal bedhopping, this book will change your opinion. If you know how rich, violent, and disturbing historical fiction can be, this book will make you cackle with delight.
Set in 60 AD, this episodic novel follows the rebellion of Boudica and the native peoples of the UK against the Romans. Despite the fact that this book is penned by seven authors -- each chapter follows a different point of view -- this book has a cohesive feel, and the absolutely gutting story of Boudica, her daughters, and the Romans fighting against her are presented in raw, hard, and unapologetic prose.
I loved this book for all the reasons I adore historical fiction: it illuminated a foreign era for me and each author created a vibrant human I couldn't help but relate to (even if I didn't want to!). The arc of the story is chronological, but the story is pushed along by each new character. Previous characters aren't forgotten, but each -- whether Briton or Roman -- are articulated so well, I actually found my loyalties waffling! (And I say this as an unabashed Boudica fangirl!)
The participating authors are fabulous, and the writing here is top notch. There's enormous emotion, cinematic battles, and darkly hilarious moments to punctuate the gut-punching sorrow. The characters are deliciously wide ranging -- from queens to servant girl, Druid priest to lowly Roman soldier -- and I loved that I found myself viewing this conflict from 360 degrees.
The brutality of this campaign is presented unapologetic detail, which meant I was gasping, wincing, and squinting my eyes closed more than once. It very nearly verged on too gruesome for me but I appreciated that -- there's nothing whitewashed about war in this era. As I said, the characters are so fully realized that each time I thought -- oh, I'm for the Britons -- I'd find myself melting in sympathy toward the Romans. (Well, maybe not sympathy, but you know...)
This is a fav read for 2015, and another knockout for the H Team (the loose collection of historical fiction authors who are penning collaborative novels together). I never thought I'd be so devoted to the collaborative novel, but I'm already impatiently awaiting their next endeavor!...more
This chunky non-fiction book about four women who worked undercover during the American Civil War made numerous top ten listsMy one word review: WOW.
This chunky non-fiction book about four women who worked undercover during the American Civil War made numerous top ten lists when it was released last year; it has a ringing endorsement from Erik Larson, among others. It reads like a novel, featuring women doing some jaw-dropping stuff, and renders the Civil War and the world of that era vibrantly.
I don't often read non-fiction -- too dry for me, and it takes me forever to finish -- but in this case, I finished reading this in about a month, and it was anything but dry.
Abbott details the adventures of four women who took a particularly active role in the Civil War: there's Belle Boyd, a teenager who decides to become a spy for the Confederacy and who does so with great panache; Emma Edmonds, a woman who disguises herself as Frank Thompson, and joins the Union army; Rose O'Neal Greenhow, a Confederate widow who ruins her reputation among the upper class in order to help her beloved Confederacy; and Elizabeth Van Lew, a Richmond abolitionist whose spy network includes her former slave Mary Bowser, a plant in the Jefferson Davis household.
Their stories are told chronologically, which further creates a novelistic feel to this book, and by focusing on women with such different aims and lives, plunges the reader deeply into battle, besieged cities, and jail (among other locales and challenges).
Through the lens of these four women, especially Emma Edmonds, we also learn about how the war was fought, especially by Union General George McClellan. I'm personally not keen on battlefield strategy and all that, but Abbott had me gripped -- helped, no doubt, by the drama of McClellan's choices. The gruesome reality of 19th century combat, too, was unshakably portrayed.
The most vibrant figure is Belle Boyd, the teenaged spy nicknamed the "Secesh Cleopatra"; her giant personality and firm conviction in herself bounces off the pages.
Belle could feel Eliza trembling beside her. The motion set her off and she too began shaking, their bodies meeting in quick and nearly imperceptible collisions. (p202)
If, like me, you thought how could she possibly know that?, the pages and pages of notes and resources cited attest to the wealth of sources Abbott consulted in the building of this book. It's breathtakingly detailed without being ponderous to read, and this book deserves the accolades it's gotten.
Whether you're a fan of the US Civil War or not, pick this up if you enjoy reading about women's lives, especially during conflict and war. The pluck, verve, and commitment shared by these women is inspiring, too, and their commitment toward their values forced me to reconsider my own opinions about the Civil War. ...more
Very charming production of very charming book. Brief, just under two hours, and as I haven't read the actual book, can't speak to what's been edited.Very charming production of very charming book. Brief, just under two hours, and as I haven't read the actual book, can't speak to what's been edited. But just what I needed while cleaning house -- fairly good actors (although there was a little too much exaggerated gruffness at some points), good production values, and Bertie Wooster and Jeeves just delightful....more
This lovely, slender novels imagines a friendship between poet Emily Dickinson and their Irish maid Ada Concannon.
I was immediately taken with this boThis lovely, slender novels imagines a friendship between poet Emily Dickinson and their Irish maid Ada Concannon.
I was immediately taken with this book, as both Ada and Emily are charming and captivating. The chapters alternate between their viewpoints, as the story of their friendship and the dramas around them unfold.
O'Connor's Emily grabbed me immediately, an intellectually curious woman happy to be in her home, moved by the wilds of nature and the passions of the heart. She hovers in the kitchen for sweets and bakes as a way to shower love on those around her; she composes in secret and doles out her poems carefully.
Ada is a willing audience, a teenager fresh from Ireland, bemused by Emily. The Dickinsons are a kind family to work for, and she thrives in their home, yet heartache still hits her. It is Emily who rallies to defend her and who helps her gain some measure of happiness despite tragedy. O'Connor puts away any imaginary idea of Emily Dickinson as a pallid, passive ghost hiding in the rafters; the complicated and curious woman emerges from her pages, immediate and intriguing.
It goes without saying that a novel featuring Emily Dickinson should read poetically; in this case, O'Connor manages lyrical prose that doesn't emulate Dickinson's yet still offers the passion and boldness the poet captured in her spare lines. My copy is heavily dog-eared from the various quotes that caught me up and gave me pause, like
I look at her words, one by one. Love. Thee. Breath. Smiles. Tears. It pleases me that each word is solitary, a loner. Side by side, their staccato nature blends with others, but in the end they stand alone. Each word is a fence post -- upright, demanding, shrill -- but each one holds the fence erect, and as such, is indispensable. (p119)
From now on I shall be candle-white. Dove-, bread-, swan-, shroud-, ice-, extraordinary-white. I shall be blanched, bleached and bloodless to look at; my very whiteness will be my mark. But inside, of course, I will roar and soar and flash with color. (p121)
The more I write or talk about this book, the greater my affection for it grows, and it is one of my top ten reads for 2015.
I think this would make a fabulous book club read -- zippy yet bursting with wonderful discussion topics -- as well as those who love historical fiction featuring well-known historical figures. And of course, fans of Irish fiction and Irish authors must get this one!
Purcell's previous novel, Queen of Bedlam, made my top ten of 2014; it was a compelling, sympathetic look at a royal family not often featured in fiPurcell's previous novel, Queen of Bedlam, made my top ten of 2014; it was a compelling, sympathetic look at a royal family not often featured in fiction, and it kindled in me a renewed interest (and sympathy) for royal women.
In this book, Purcell tells the story of Henrietta Howard, courtier in the Hanover court of George II and Caroline. Trapped in a violent marriage, Henrietta moves her abusive, gambling husband to Germany in hopes of bettering their lives. Her obvious plight touches Caroline, and the two develop an intimate friendship of sorts.
So loyal is Henrietta that when asked by Caroline, she becomes the King's mistress. And from there, Henrietta is plunged into even more emotional tumult. What privilege and comfort she got from that romance was countered by the loss of her friendship with Caroline as well as access to her only child.
I was gripped by this novel from the first page. Despite the scandalous plot, it's a deeply melancholy novel -- so much loss, so much sacrifice -- and I loved that Purcell focused on the darkly pragmatic nature of royal mistresses. The point of view switches between Henrietta and Caroline (occasionally in the same paragraph, which was confusing!), allowing the rich, complicated relationship between these two women to come into full view. I liked and felt for both of them, two women battling the unfair power wielded by the men in their lives.
The characters are all vibrant and unforgettable. In some ways, Henrietta could be seen as a passive puppet ("...she had given and given of herself until she was nothing but a limp rag rung through a mangle." p 290) and yet, Purcell articulates such tender affection for her, I felt the same way. George I, Caroline's father-in-law, is a manipulative, villainous man I loathed -- fun, since in her Author's Note, Purcell comments that she wrote him from the view of George II and Caroline and plans to feature him in a future novel -- one I will undoubtedly get because I cannot wait to see how she makes me care for him!
The world of the Hanover court is also portrayed with evocative detail, small dashes of description that linger in my mind -- the mushrooms growing from the walls in the dank rooms of one palace, the glittering splendor of another -- as well as other tidbits about life in this time. (For a behind-the-curtain look at writing historical fiction, I recommend Purcell's blog post about wrestling with the historical stuff that readers think aren't historical!)
Moms will appreciate this endorsement for what it means, but this book was so good, I read it in bed (under my pillow, to keep from waking the baby!).
With this read, Purcell can count me a devoted fangirl. She does historical fiction beautifully, taking people and places foreign and unfamiliar, and rendering them warm, real, and approachable. ...more
I'm a ginormous Diener fangirl, having read something like six of her novels, all of which are historical fiction -- so this is an unusual foray for I'm a ginormous Diener fangirl, having read something like six of her novels, all of which are historical fiction -- so this is an unusual foray for her. Straight up scifi, this novel is a delicious mix of romance, adventure, and friendship that I inhaled in a few days.
Our heroine, Rose, was kidnapped three months back by an alien race known as the Tecran. At the novel's open, she has escaped thanks to the help of Sazo, an artificial intelligence, and launched into Grih territory, another species of alien who resemble humans.
Part of a collective of alien races who have committed to protecting (rather than experimenting on/torturing sentient species), her rescuers are horrified at what Rose has lived through and adamant at giving her life -- once they figure out just who was responsible for capturing her and just how dangerous she might be. Rose's liberator Sazo is learning how to live, guided by Rose, but just as she has some success in teaching him morals, she learns he's deeply unwelcome among her rescuers.
There were lots of ways this novel could have gone south for me -- an overly victimized heroine, aliens with Earth-like cultures, the artificial intelligence coming off as echoes of Hal, coincidences and easy ways out -- but Diener expertly unrolls a light sci-fi story that has emotional impact without melodrama, a little romance, and plenty of action.
Most refreshingly, and characteristic of Diener's heroines, is that Rose does the action stuff. Rescuing? She does it. Seducing? She does it. Being vulnerable, being wise? She does it. And she does it without being so good at it you want to roll your eyes.
Fans of shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Gallatica will enjoy this one; if you're on the fence about sci-fi, this might be one to try. Longtime Diener fans will see in this the elements so enjoyable from her previous novels -- wonderful heroine, great sense of place, and brisk storytelling -- so give this a try even if you're dubious!...more
Oh.My.God. I loooooooooooved this book. The ill-fated expedition of two 18th century French ships, each chapter from the viewpoint of a different crewOh.My.God. I loooooooooooved this book. The ill-fated expedition of two 18th century French ships, each chapter from the viewpoint of a different crew member. Real review to come but I've got a major book hangover. A top ten read of 2015....more
I've been an enormous fan of Waldherr for years, thanks to her tarot decks, and I'd been so intrigued by this novel. Unbelievably, it's been ten yearsI've been an enormous fan of Waldherr for years, thanks to her tarot decks, and I'd been so intrigued by this novel. Unbelievably, it's been ten years since this was originally released, and Waldherr is releasing this as an enhanced e-book.
This novel is a 16th century memoir, framed by notes from museum curators. The pages are richly illustrated, decorated with portraits, ephemera, illuminated caps, and other small notions that make the experience magical. (And had/has me wishing still that this manuscript, and the associated museum, were real!)
Filamena Ziani, singer and aspiring composer, is kept tightly hidden by her older sister Tullia, a reknown Venetian courtesan. But a chance encounter introduces Filamena to love, and her amour gifts her with a plum and his mother's journal, which details the lover's path -- lovers from history and mythology who act as guardians, guides, and icons for the young couple.
In addition to being an immensely gifted illustrator, Waldherr's narrative is wonderfully evocative. The set up of this novel immediately made me think of other medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, as Filomena addresses her patroness. Her story is a classic coming-of-age tale, sympathetically told, in a lyrical manner that is rich with detail without feeling bloated or overly ornate. The historical details and setting provide flavor and a strong sense of moody romance (how can it not -- it's Renaissance Venice!).
I read this on my Kobo Glo HD and it was a thing of beauty, even in black and white (iPad and Kindle Fire editions are in color and yowza!). The first few chapters are available as a PDF preview in sumptuous full color.
I've got nothing but swoony, swoony love for this one -- get it and indulge in some lush escapist reading! With the playful and charming illustrated elements, this book drew out that sense of wonderment I get from reading, the visceral joy of being plunged into a story. These days, being so frazzled and overtired (and impatient and dopey and etc etc etc) it was really a gift to feel so immersed in another world. ...more
We are enormous Louisa May Alcott fans in my house -- so much so, my son's middle name is Alcott!
When I saw mention of this book, a novel about LouisaWe are enormous Louisa May Alcott fans in my house -- so much so, my son's middle name is Alcott!
When I saw mention of this book, a novel about Louisa's sister Abigail May (or Amy in Little Women), I was consumed with need for it. I knew a little of May from our visits to Orchard House, and my wife and I tripped over an exhibit of May's art at the Concord Public Library by accident some years ago. But I never thought more about her; I just assumed the girl portrayed by Louisa was more or less that vain and silly.
Yeah, I'm the silly one.
I inhaled this novel in a matter of days. The May portrayed here is an ambitious young woman who wants more than her family expects; and worse, she's made to feel bad for wanting it all -- a husband, a family, an artistic career, money, a home. Teaching art to young women who do it out of obligation, May yearns to go to Europe to learn from the masters. Conservative New England mores combined with her family's poverty means she struggles for access to materials, classes, and inspiration yet the fierce hunger we see in Louisa's Jo (from Little Women) is just as urgent in May.
Atkins reveals a less appealing side to Louisa May Alcott, but she offers it with such respect for the Alcott family that I appreciated her unvarnished story. In Atkins' hands, Louisa's determination comes off callous and brusque, cruel even, and suddenly the bratty Amy I had written off most of my life seemed less selfish and more sympathetic.
In fact, May's life is rife with tragedy and full of unexpected encounters with the luminaries of her time. She makes it to Europe where, for a while, she has professional praise, income, and even love. For those unfamiliar with how her life proceeds, I'll not say more, but it reads like the best kind of novel, and I heaved a big, teary sigh at the end.
Atkins' writing style is lovely, mixing wonderfully evocative details with brisk dialogue, and I don't think one need be familiar with the Alcotts or the world of mid-19th century Concord to enjoy this story. It's a kind of coming-of-age story, an exploration of the obligations of family and the wishes of personal fulfillment. As a new mother trying to work on my novel, I appreciated the tension the Alcott women faced, from angry Marmee to impatient May, in trying to balance family life with vocation.
Fascinating and delightful, this is a marvelous novel for those who enjoy biographical fiction that focuses on figures less well-known. And of course, any fan of Little Women will want this one -- it'll invite a rereading of that classic with a new eye!...more
I love this woman. Funny, and handy. I might someday work my way through the patterns (dated as some of them are) because I've no doubt I'll learn somI love this woman. Funny, and handy. I might someday work my way through the patterns (dated as some of them are) because I've no doubt I'll learn some mad skills....more
A leeeeeeeeeeeeeeetle uneven, but otherwise, a fabulous collection of short stories. Creepy, chilly, emotional. Refreshing to read so much fiction feaA leeeeeeeeeeeeeeetle uneven, but otherwise, a fabulous collection of short stories. Creepy, chilly, emotional. Refreshing to read so much fiction featuring characters of color, queer folks, etc. Full review to come....more
Another book from my teen years in South Dakota, from the magically rich YA section of the base library. Shamefully, all that sticks to me from this bAnother book from my teen years in South Dakota, from the magically rich YA section of the base library. Shamefully, all that sticks to me from this book is the sex (I was astounded there was a sex scene!) so I can't say how nuanced the story was -- but it deeply fascinated me and spurred an obsessive interest in apartheid in South Africa....more
I'd been dying to get my hands on this book solely because I adored Jefferson's debut novel, Girl on the Golden Coin. And while I loved that book, I tI'd been dying to get my hands on this book solely because I adored Jefferson's debut novel, Girl on the Golden Coin. And while I loved that book, I think I might love this one more. It has another charming, convincing heroine whose voice sealed my adoration from the first page, evocative historical details, and a dramatic plot that made me race to the last page.
Set during the reign of the young Louis XIV, the titular enchantress is Marie Mancini, an Italian noblewoman and niece of the powerful Cardinal Mazarin. She and her beautiful sisters are better known as the Mazarinettes for their obedience to their ambitious uncle, who is the close personal adviser to King Louis.
Mazarin has no qualms about throwing his nieces into the king's arms to keep the monarch's attention, and Marie's older sister Olympia is Louis' current mistress. But Marie and Louis have an immediate, intense connection, and Mazarin doesn't hesitate to encourage Marie's relationship with Louis when Olympia becomes pregnant. But Mazarin doesn't count on the true passion between Marie and Louis, nor Marie's intense desire to free the young monarch from her uncle's clutches.
As with Jefferson's debut, it's the heroine that so seduces me, and in this case, Marie -- clever, smitten, and conflicted -- won me immediately. She's from an intensely ambitious family and has no delusions about the expectations of herself and her sisters, yet in Jefferson's hands, Marie manages to hold onto youthful wistfulness, optimism, and naivete. I was so caught up in Marie's dream that found myself hoping Jefferson managed to change history to give Marie her happy ending.
There's a complicated swirl of plot surrounding Marie and Louis -- war with Spain, the Mancini's family connection to witchcraft and astrology, marriage contracts and other noble concerns -- and Jefferson manages to make these elements effortlessly connect without bogging down the story and narrative flow. And even with the strong romantic thread in the novel, Marie's story is really that of freedom -- from her uncle's tyranny, from imprisonment in a convent or a forced marriage -- and coming-of-age when one's value was assigned, not seen.
This is a Top Ten of 2015 read for me, and cinches my status as a Marci Jefferson fangirl. Francophiles and fans of royal hist fic, get this immediately! For anyone wanting a splashy summer read, enjoy this one on the beach (perhaps with a few macarons!)....more
Review out in July. Just loved this one even though McLain's articulation of Beryl is quite different from the woman I'd previous read about -- in McLReview out in July. Just loved this one even though McLain's articulation of Beryl is quite different from the woman I'd previous read about -- in McLain's hands, Beryl is tender and uneasy, a motherless girl who stumbles into love affairs rather than aggressively bed hops. ...more
I'm a huuuuuuuge fangirl for Harrison's first novel, Our Man in the Dark and I've been on pins-and-needles for his next release. I inhaled this readI'm a huuuuuuuge fangirl for Harrison's first novel, Our Man in the Dark and I've been on pins-and-needles for his next release. I inhaled this read -- it's a dramatic, plotty, swashbuckling-ish yarn -- but am a little conflicted about how I feel!
Set just after the Civil War has ended, the novel follows Jupiter Archer, a former slave who fought for the Union Army, now living as a "crimper" in San Francisco. A crimper, as it turns out, is someone who essentially kidnaps -- or Shanghais -- men to work on ships. It's not the job he wanted, but he's frantically searching for his wife. He's also being pursued by Archer Smith, the son of his former owner; Archer also happens to be his half-brother. Theirs is a complicated relationship (no surprise, right?) made even more complicated when they both are crimped themselves and tossed onto a ship with the cagey, charismatic Captain Barrett. From there, the novel goes on a dramatic, action-filled journey halfway around the world while Jupiter and Archer struggle to get what they each desire.
As with his previous novel, the characters are evocative and compelling. Jupiter is a deeply sympathetic figure, but everyone in this book is complicated and shaded in gray. Archer seems, on the surface, to be one-note -- simply after revenge -- but as the novel goes on, we see the damage he suffered at the hand of his parents. Even the bombastic Captain Barrett, who has shades of Ahab and the Terminator to him, is a fascinating figure.
Harrison perfectly balances the adventurous plot with lovely ruminations; my copy is dogeared from all the delightful quotes I wanted to remember and note.
"I'm going to fight for my freedom," said Jupiter. So earnest, he was. Did he believe it? What did he know about fighting? Honor. Valor. Those were things he overheard the sons of plantation owners talk about as they played soldier with their wooden swords. What did he know of it? He was simply a mockingbird with his wings clipped, singing a song in which he mimicked the sounds but couldn't grasp their context. (p40)
My only complaint about the book is that it had an episodic feel, almost like a screenplay that had been filled out. A character might think of something -- a memory, for example -- and then Harrison would immediately whoosh to that scene in a slightly awkward way. Occasionally, events happened so quickly I felt like I was being rushed out the door, and I wouldn't have minded a longer novel to spend more time with Harrison's intriguing cast.
I'm once more excited for Harrison's next offering (if there is one, I don't know!). A quick read that has the sort of feel of a "rip-roaring yarn" with a contemporary understanding of slavery, servitude, and family, this novel is worth picking up this summer for those who enjoy historical fiction, nautical tales, and stories that touch on what happens after war and other bloody conflicts....more
This is a reissue of a 2012 self-published novel that went through some rewrites and plot changes. Sadly, it still read like a self-pubbed novel to meThis is a reissue of a 2012 self-published novel that went through some rewrites and plot changes. Sadly, it still read like a self-pubbed novel to me, so I DNF'd at 50ish pages.
Writing style and plotting reminded me of M.L. Malcolm, who isn't my tastes, but has lots of rabid fans. Dialogue felt weak to me and there's so much melodrama it lost its impact after the first chapters....more
Inspired by the classic story of Antigone, this stark collection of poetry is both an homage to a story of rebellion and an original exploration of aInspired by the classic story of Antigone, this stark collection of poetry is both an homage to a story of rebellion and an original exploration of a woman's fiery outrage.
Beautifully bound, holding this slender volume -- 104 pages -- is a treat, and the spare layout gives room to the explosive language Slaight uses.Written between 1972 - 1981, the pieces have a kind of '70s Second-wave feminist feel, but I don't mean that badly. This is the kind of stuff I cut my teeth on in college: violent, unabashed, pagan and passionate. I was reminded of Margaret Atwood, Barbara Walker, and Sharon Olds.
Whether one is familiar with the story of Antigone or not, the poems are easy to understand and appreciate. Slaight's "heroine" is by turns angry, quiet, and resigned, and the brevity only emphasizes the punch of her sentiments.
In this grey dawn Only The debauched loneliness Of your thigh Flung Across mine
My favorite piece has to be the closing, in which our heroine declares: "I wanted everything./To live all lives, all deaths, encompass all women." I can empathize with that enormous, dramatic sentiment; the mundane end to that poem is positively bittersweet.
The pieces are punctuated throughout by illustrations from Terrence Tasker. I don't know if they were intentionally created to pair with Slaight's pieces or if Slaight and Tasker decided simply to pair the two, but the haunting images are perfect. They give me the sense of Greek theater, further connecting Slaight's heroine to Antigone.
A lovely, dramatic volume for fans of poetry and those who enjoy classics, as well as anyone who enjoys feminist lit and poetry.
I have to give a shout out to this review from Kahakai Kitchen, which includes a delicious sounding recipe for Greek salad with halloumi....more
I am woefully late with this review. I finished reading it quite a while ago and am having to write this review from what lingers, more than a month lI am woefully late with this review. I finished reading it quite a while ago and am having to write this review from what lingers, more than a month later.
The novel alternates between Jeremy Best, a trusts and estates attorney who writes poetry under a pen name, and Spaulding Simonson, a 19-year old aspiring writer fresh from a stint in a mental hospital, as a friendship develops between them. In the span of about 250 pages, Greenland tackles unlikely love, work versus vocation, poetry, mortality, and the complicated tangle of family in a quirky, bright, and occasionally snarky manner.
Jeremy wants to write but he's also very good at his job. When the pretty and appealingly odd Spaulding -- daughter of his boss -- shows up in his doorway, his natural inclination is to put her off. But Spaulding -- who has been put off by everyone in her life -- is determined to get Jeremy's attention, especially when she discovers he's a well-regarded poet.
I will admit, when it became clear there was to be a romance between our 30-something hero and the 19-year old heroine, I initially couldn't stop a Liz Lemon-esque eye roll and "Oh, brother!". But once I got that out of my system, I found I didn't mind the burgeoning, awkward will-they-won't-they; both Jeremy and Spaulding were flawed creatures and faced intriguing obstacles, both of their own invention and from the people around them.
Greenland is a playwright and novelist who is also the producer and writer for HBO's Big Love, and the kind of bittersweet, dark humor that I've seen in the show also permeates (delightfully) this novel. His writing style differs between Jeremy and Spaulding, and while I didn't completely buy his articulation of a 19-year old woman, I loved his sheepish, creative, and conflicted Jeremy:
The field of trusts and estates presents ample opportunity for outright larceny. As clients are overtaken by the myriad indignities of age their minds will often cloud and the wily attorney, if endowed with a soupcon of unscrupulousness, can, with the mere adjustment of a comma, redirect amounts of money the size of the night sky. This was never my approach because greed is the lease attractive of the deadly sins. The truth is, I had never done anything that could remotely be construed as unethical much less illicit. (p146)
A fast read, accessible and fun, and perfect for the summer. A little knowing, a little sad, a lovely mix of literary and fluffy. For those new to Europa Editions, this is a great introduction to the kind of sophisticated, compelling stuff they release....more
May 2015: Am going to just DNF this and move on. Am at about 73% and while I'm liking it a smidgen more, I'm just exhausted by the encyclopedic focusMay 2015: Am going to just DNF this and move on. Am at about 73% and while I'm liking it a smidgen more, I'm just exhausted by the encyclopedic focus on Sand's life (to the detriment of the story, I feel), and the dual story lines (I do not see a difference in young Sand and older Sand, and it just makes the story drag on and on and on...).
Berg's articulation of a writer, however, was interesting (I love writers on writers). It's obvious she likes and admires Sand, for all her flaws, but despite the amount of words dedicated to Sand, I actually didn't feel like I knew her.
April 2015: I just cannot get into this book. Every time I mention it, everyone talks about how much the love Berg's novels, so I keep trying (this is my first time reading her) but the story is agonizingly slow. The split narrative -- her childhood, and then her adulthood -- just slows things down even more....more
Webb's second novel focuses on a less well known figure, French Belle Époque sculptor Camille Claudel, and this novel surpasses her first (which was pWebb's second novel focuses on a less well known figure, French Belle Époque sculptor Camille Claudel, and this novel surpasses her first (which was pretty fabulous!).
Camille is a bit of a savant, a self-taught sculptor with immense talent and a matching ego. Driven to pursue her art, she receives tutoring in Paris from one of France's preeminent sculptors, but her family is split in their support of her passion. Camille's father supports her while her mother rages against the unorthodox behavior of her daughter. While her mother tries to arrange a marriage, Camille is instead drawn to her newest tutor, the much lauded Auguste Rodin.
Lest you fear this is just another hist fic focusing on a lady with a famous lover, let me reassure you this is a far more complicated, rich, and eventful story. Camille is a hard heroine to love: prickly, confident to the point of obnoxious, and single-minded. In Webb's hands, she isn't softened nor does she turn flat the moment she falls into her lover's arms.
In fact, Webb's emotional sensitivity is something I've come to admire in her books as the dramatic events unfold without veering into melodrama. Webb doesn't shy from the hard, heartbreaking parts of Camille's life (I'm being vague about these parts for those unfamiliar with Camille's story, but there's nothing fluffy here!) and intense moments are touched with humor, bittersweet sadness, or irony, making it impossible for this reader to shake Camille's story.
I sometimes find books about artists tricky; it can be hard to render into compelling narrative endeavors that depend on other senses. But Webb managed to evoke the tactile experience of sculpting as well as describing the various sculptures and pieces of art without sounding like a text book. I "saw" the works even without having to google them (although google I did!). I have to give a particular shout out to Joshua DeLillo, who sketched three of Camille's works for use in this novel. They look like photographs, they're so finely rendered, and were a welcome addition to the story.
This is the second novel I read since having my baby (and the second for 2015), and it was a knockout -- well worth stealing time to read. It's a fabulous read for those who enjoy biographical novels; I'm particularly reminded of Melanie Benjamin, who I also think takes shocking, notorious lives and renders them realistically, tenderly, and with empathy. Enjoy this one with espresso or cocoa over a snowy weekend. ...more