I'm going to try and write a review this week. I read it within days of its publication but was too busy writing another collective biography to do thI'm going to try and write a review this week. I read it within days of its publication but was too busy writing another collective biography to do this one justice. ...more
I read this book over an especially hectic three-day period because it's that kind of book -- impossible to put down for long.
Even though Ashley R-CI read this book over an especially hectic three-day period because it's that kind of book -- impossible to put down for long.
Even though Ashley R-C was a particularly tough child, she was badly damaged by the myopic foster system in which she spent nearly a decade. As I read the book, it especially sickened me to consider the fate of other mismanaged, abused foster children who lacked Ashley's intelligence and survival instincts, such as her own younger brother, "who could never play by the rules."
At the center of the book is an ogre foster couple who lie and manipulate their way out of complaint after complaint. One of the main reasons I found the book compelling, aside from the excellent writing, is that I developed an intense hope that the monster couple would get some serious jail time. Really serious jail time.
The humor in Suzanne Davis very Seinfeld-esque in that it involves an admittedly flawed single person looking for love in NYC and does a hilarious spiThe humor in Suzanne Davis very Seinfeld-esque in that it involves an admittedly flawed single person looking for love in NYC and does a hilarious spin on some of that individual's more depressing situations.
Insightful, well-written and laugh-out-loud hilarious. ...more
As a fan of the Harry Potter series I probably should have attempted to read JK Rowling's foray into adult literature long before last fall when a felAs a fan of the Harry Potter series I probably should have attempted to read JK Rowling's foray into adult literature long before last fall when a fellow bibliophile gave me a copy for my birthday. I jumped in eagerly, not only because of my friendship with said bibliophile, but because the reviews were so varied -- running the gamut between disgust and delight -- and I wondered what my opinion would be. Here it is.
After the main character -- a good little man who casts an enormous shadow -- dies on the second page, the reader is introduced to a diverse cast of characters, all of whom are affected in some way by this death. How many characters? Quite a few. It got so that I felt compelled to print out a character sheet just to keep everyone straight. Turns out I didn't need it for long: all the characters eventually became quite distinct as their stories intertwined brilliantly all the way to a denouement that must be the most bittersweet I've ever read.
An author who creates a long list of detailed characters that intertwine along a plotline centering on bitter class warfare and who has no problem killing off the good, the good-hearted, and the innocent: hmmm, let's see...what other novelist did this book bring to mind? I was about halfway through when I realized I was reading a 21st-century Dickens novel. The 21st-century bit must be what many found so offensive. Rowling writes, um, very descriptively in sections that I must admit to having skimmed over: unless we're talking about what Quentin Tarantino does to fictitious Nazis, I'm what is known as a sensitive viewer.
So I won't be rereading The Casual Vacancy anytime soon, even though it would be a great opportunity for a closer look at the novel's brilliant construction. For one thing, excepting the dead man, there are no characters in this book who I'd care to meet again. To see the effect that one good person can have on a community is almost inspiring here, in an "It's a Wonderful Life" sort of way, but as there's no one to fill the dead man's shoes, this inspiration factor is bittersweet at most. And, as many have said before me, there is a lot of grim realism to wade through, realism that was never thrust so graphically upon the readers of Dickens.
All this being said, the plot structure, characterizations, and writing found in The Casual Vacancy should cement J.K. Rowling's reputation as a genius, even if so much about her novel gives little Dickens-like pleasure to the reader. Didn't Dickens give us at least a few likeable, living characters? ...more
Most Americans know little about the Pacific Theater of WWII aside from three bombings: the one that began the US involvement and the two that ended tMost Americans know little about the Pacific Theater of WWII aside from three bombings: the one that began the US involvement and the two that ended the war. Little is also generally known about the role of U.S. women, outside of their working on the home front in munitions factories. Reading Pure Grit, which contains a plethora of archival photographs, has the potential of remedying this lack of information perfectly for both young people and adults.
The title is well-chosen; these women never seemed to flinch or loose their professionalism through the grueling difficulties created by the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines. As the excellent narrative unfolded to me and the situation of these nurses went from bad to worse, I was on the edge of my seat, wondering when these women were going to crack. A few were able to escape before things got really bad but most of them soldiered on through tremendous difficulties, not crumbling until their twilight years when some of them understandably fell victim to post traumatic stress.
Longbourn contains some beautiful writing and a compelling plot. No, it wouldn't work without the P&P story overarching it, but still,The pluses:
Longbourn contains some beautiful writing and a compelling plot. No, it wouldn't work without the P&P story overarching it, but still, the "below stairs" story manages to be as independently interesting as possible, which is quite an achievement.
I also thought Baker's take on some of Austen's characters was well done and felt that her portrayals of Mr. Collins, Wickham, and Elizabeth Bennet were particularly spot-on.
And James, the footman, one of Baker's original creations, is as noble and likeable as any of Austen's own heroes; more so, in my opinion, since his lack of money could easily have made him desperate and unscrupulous. He's like an impoverished Mr. Knightly with a dark secret.
The dirty details. How many scenes involving the lugging of chamber pots, scraping mud off of boots, or cleaning dirty diapers (soiled by the Gardiner kids) do the readers need before we get the point that, yes, the maids were given tasks that no one else wanted to do? There are several scenes having nothing to do with excrement or mud where the ick level goes absolutely off the charts, making Baker's quest to bring realism to the original story seem extremely heavy-handed.
Most of this, it seems, is to illustrate how difficult life was for the servants of this time period. Point taken -- again and again and again -- but in my opinion Baker's chief error is having protagonist Sarah constantly complaining internally about her grueling tasks while endlessly comparing her life with those she serves. I don't think many 18th/19th century people in service would have done much of either. Twenty-first century people transported back in time? Definitely. But there's no time travel going on here except for the reader who, though appreciative of the time Baker took to research what life was like for servants in Jane Austen's day, might have liked a more accurate depiction of their thought processes as well.
Although this book is aimed at young adults I couldn't put it down. Maybe it was because most of the women featured -- war reporters from WWI to the pAlthough this book is aimed at young adults I couldn't put it down. Maybe it was because most of the women featured -- war reporters from WWI to the present -- had to risk serious personal danger in order to get their scoops. Or perhaps it was a fascination with these intense personalities and a curiosity about where their ambition would next land them.
Hollihan's biographies of these compelling women are concise but thorough and the reader cannot help getting a close-up view of the events the women were determined to cover; there's a plethora of well-researched history here and you see it through the reporters' eyes as it unfolded. Exciting stuff.
This is obviously a great read for teens or for those who study women's history or journalism but it deserves a much broader audience....more
I paid nearly full price for this book (something I rarely do) and it was worth every penny. I'm a musician/poetry lover and I thoroughly enjoyed seeiI paid nearly full price for this book (something I rarely do) and it was worth every penny. I'm a musician/poetry lover and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how various authors from different time periods tried to put music into words. Not easily accomplished but the various attempts are well worth taking the time to read....more
I bought a used copy of this coffee table photo book at AbeBooks.com and a few things hit me upside the head as I read it. First, the sad contrast betI bought a used copy of this coffee table photo book at AbeBooks.com and a few things hit me upside the head as I read it. First, the sad contrast between this young -- and apparently happy -- royal couple and the current one, knowing that the former's union was doomed from the start whereas Will & Kate are obviously here to stay.
The following is probably a bit of hindsighted psychoanalysis but it seems to me that Charles possibly considered, in these photographs that were snapped during very public functions, that all the attention being lavished on the two of them was for him. Or at least most of it. I'm sure it didn't take him long to catch on.
Diana, on the other hand, is absolutely glowing and her happiness seems to stem from the fact that she has taken on an exciting new role -- and the reader/viewer can see her growing into it as the photos progress -- because she's in love with her Prince Charming.
So I found the book heartbreaking but insightful. The narrative is full of details regarding the historical implications of the marriage but though it is well-written it is jarringly out of sequence with the photos. Not necessarily a big issue but it does seem odd at times....more
I've always thought the Solzhenitsyn course I took in college was all I'd ever need for an insider's perspective of Stalinist Russia. But although it'I've always thought the Solzhenitsyn course I took in college was all I'd ever need for an insider's perspective of Stalinist Russia. But although it's been decades since took that course, I don't recall being quite as thoroughly chilled by Solzhenitsyn's novels as I was with Rupert Colley's The Black Maria.
Perhaps this is because 1) Solzhenitsyn came to understand the evil of the system not as a civilian but as a respected military man before he was arrested and sent to a labor camp for criticizing, in a private letter, Stalin's handling of World War II; and 2) his most powerful works deal with imprisonment: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, In the First Circle, The Gulag Archipelago, for example.
Colley's protagonist, Maria Radekovna, on the other hand, is a civilian who is relatively free (although arrest and imprisonment are constant threats) and perhaps that is why I found her to be a more relatable character than many of those found in Solzhenitsyn's great works.
When her story begins, the reader finds Maria tightly bound by the tentacles of the secret police. Her brother Victor -- having recently returned from a labor camp an emotional vegetable -- is the reason she has been forced into a job that requires her to "out" someone every two weeks, someone who is (or isn't -- it really doesn't matter) being ever so slightly disloyal to the State. Victor's sad life would be over if Maria didn't keep making her twice-monthly reports against her fellow-citizens, most of whom haven't uttered a disloyal syllable. Their lives for her brother's.
Maria is also trapped in a loveless marriage with an insipid Party official because he knows something about her history. And in this real-life dystopia items in one's past that would be considered inconsequential from a western perspective could be absolutely devastating for those who were attempting to survive during this time and place.
On the horizon of Maria's bleak world there suddenly appears a handsome, independently-minded artist who is, for the moment, enjoying state-sponsored patronage only because Stalin can see the propaganda value in art -- "The artist is the engineer of the soul."
Passion, loyalty, love, betrayal, and death play out between a small cast of finely crafted characters within a page-turning plotline, as they always do in Colley's historical fiction. But this book kept me turning (er, clicking) the pages a bit faster than the others. Perhaps this has something to do with the book's construction or else because The Black Maria takes place in Moscow, in the heart of Soviet Russia (as opposed to a satellite Iron Curtain country like Hungary, the setting of Colley's My Brother, the Enemy). Moscow in the 1930's was Communism exactly as Stalin desired it to be and this book gives a close-up view of the constant terror Muscovites were forced to endure as Stalin's secret police waged their ideological war on their own people via purge after endless purge, denunciation after endless denunciation.
Colley, a former librarian, wrote The Black Maria after wading through multiple accounts of those who had witnessed the Soviet terror. It shows. He even -- quite chillingly -- is able to get into the mindset of those orchestrating this "war", phrasing it like this:
"We are fighting a war, and our enemy is an internal one, one that doesn’t wear a uniform. We must always be vigilant; we can’t afford to spare the rod, not until our work is done.’
They were, most unfortunately, true to their aims and the way in which Colley captures this piece of history will stay with the reader perhaps longer than they wish it to.