Bringing howling winds and torrential rain, Hurricane Sandy provided the ideal atmosphere for reading this masterpiece by the Mistress of the Macabre,...moreBringing howling winds and torrential rain, Hurricane Sandy provided the ideal atmosphere for reading this masterpiece by the Mistress of the Macabre, Shirley Jackson. And when the power went out and I had to read the last 50 or so pages by candlelight, it was absolutely perfect.
My edition of this book (which, incidentally, has absolutely terrific cover art!) has this printed on the cover page:
How to mix a Witch’s Brew… Take...a weird tale of horror with ingredients of hate and fear and trappings of witchcraft. Add...two sisters, huddled up in psychotic solitude with an ancient uncle. Stir in...a touch of gentle madness, a very special kind of sorcery and seduction. Result...this book.
“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” tells the story of two sisters who live with their uncle in an isolated home on the edge of a village. They are hated by the villagers and haunted by a family secret, and their lives are governed by order and ritual in an attempt to bring a semblance of normality to their lives. The arrival of their cousin Charlie sets in motion events that destroy the sister’s carefully constructed illusion of safety.
It’s creepy and charming...suspenseful and sad...eerie and odd. “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is unlike anything I’ve ever read; it gave me chills and it totally captivated me. I’m more than a little in awe of the author’s imagination and talent and am already looking forward to reading this again next Halloween season. (less)
I first encountered this title when searching for fantasy novels based on Norse mythology. I rather quickly dismissed it, however, because almost no o...moreI first encountered this title when searching for fantasy novels based on Norse mythology. I rather quickly dismissed it, however, because almost no one has read it and those that have don't seem to like it.
But I decided to participate in a reading challenge in which one of the categories is: "Read a book associated with your name." *groan* Though not obscure, Dale is certainly not a common name. In fact, of the 1500 books I have cataloged, not one had an author named Dale. (And I had no idea how to search for books that contained a character named Dale.)
And then I remembered "Voima" and the author's name...Dale. To top it off, she is (like me) a FEMALE Dale (which I encounter very very rarely). So I decided to give this unknown book a chance.
According to the author's website, the setting for Voima is based on medieval Scandinavia and combines elements of Norse sagas and the Finnish Kalevala. The plot involves three characters - the warrior Roric No-man's Son, the king's son Valmar, and the princess Karin who is being held hostage by Valmar's father. The three are recruited by the Wanderers, the immortal rulers of the land, to aid them in battle against those who are attempting to usurp their authority.
In many ways, "Voima" is formula fantasy - the recruitment, the quest, the conflict, the victory. But I was impressed with the complexities of the world of "Voima" and the people that inhabit it, and the way in which the author vividly made this foreign place come alive for me. And even though the characters are in many ways drawn from the fantasy stock list, they are also complex enough to be believable and intriguing. They are faced with many situations in which there is no clear definition of which is the right or wrong choice, and this moral ambiguity added a great deal of depth to the plot.
"Voima" is a fast-paced well-written novel that not only entertained me but also prompted philosophical musings. Though I wouldn't go so far as to place it on a list of Best Fantasy Novels Ever Written, it is certainly worthy of more attention than it has received.
James Hillyer travels from Canada to England to visit his daughter, Susan, who has been diagnosed with cancer. While there he encounters Gabriel Fonta...moreJames Hillyer travels from Canada to England to visit his daughter, Susan, who has been diagnosed with cancer. While there he encounters Gabriel Fontaine, a man he knew for one summer when the two men were teenagers. Gabriel is dying of cancer and asks James to accompany him to Switzerland where he has arranged to be euthanized. These events cause James to recollect that summer sixty years in the past, and to ruminate on life and relationships and death.
My reaction to this book was, quite simply, “Meh.” It was interesting enough that I read through to the end, but the story lacked depth and emotionally poignancy. The plot rambled in many directions and nothing was ever resolved. There were some threads that were just left hanging, like what happened to the girl that both James and Gabriel fell in love with that summer. And Susan’s part of the plot is glossed over and tacked on to the end in an epilogue (which made me feel a bit cheated because it seemed so important at the beginning).
Essentially, the book had an intriguing premise that fell flat due to poor execution. (less)
Eilis Lacey, unable to find unemployment in Ireland in the 1950s, immigrates to America under the sponsorship of Father Flood. In New York Ci...more3.5 Stars
Eilis Lacey, unable to find unemployment in Ireland in the 1950s, immigrates to America under the sponsorship of Father Flood. In New York City, Eilis builds a new life, but when a family tragedy occurs she returns to Ireland where she must decide her fate and her future.
The strength of Colm Tóibín’s “Brooklyn” is his gift for storytelling. He made me feel like I was tucked up with a mug of steaming tea, listening to someone spin a yarn about an ancestor. The details of the time period, and of Ireland and New York City, are exquisite and paint such a vivid word picture that it was almost more like watching a film than reading a novel.
Because of the masterful storytelling, I was willing to forgive Tóibín for the very simplistic writing style. The sentences are short and to-the-point and he uses no literary devices. But I do begrudge him for never making me really fall in love with Eilis. He often tells rather than shows; for example, he told me Eilis cried but I never felt her pain. Also, she’s a very indecisive young woman who just lets things happen to her rather than choosing any actions of her own. And in the end, when she’s backed herself into a corner and is forced to make a choice, I thought she handled the situation very badly.
I enjoyed reading “Brooklyn” but it’s not one that I’ll ever re-read, nor is it a book that I’ll enthusiastically recommend to others. (less)
Shena Mackay is an author whom I have been curious about for awhile. She has been writing for five decades (beginning in 1968 and most recently in 200...moreShena Mackay is an author whom I have been curious about for awhile. She has been writing for five decades (beginning in 1968 and most recently in 2008) and her books have been nominated for three prestigious prizes - the Booker, the Costa, and the Orange. Yet for all that, she doesn’t seem to be an author that many people read though it certainly seems she’s worthy of attention. So, I’ve decided to read her oeuvre beginning with “The Orchard on Fire” which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1996.
“The Orchard on Fire” is set in Kent in the 1950s, and chronicles one summer in the life of a young girl named April. The story expounds on her friendship with another girl, Ruby, and her unpleasant interactions with an elderly man, Mr. Greenidge.
All the adjectives that mean I will love a book can be applied to the writing style in “The Orchard on Fire” - evocative, lyrical, vivid, lush, poetic, emotive. It is, quite simply, a beautiful written story that drew me immediately into April’s world in the English countryside in the 1950s.
Unfortunately, the plot casts a dark shadow over the pleasant idyll created by the writing quality. Mr. Greenidge is a creepy old man, and he does to April exactly what you fear a creepy old man might do. The author handles this with sensitivity and subtlety, which I appreciated, but it’s one of those storylines I’d prefer to avoid all together.
“The Orchard on Fire” is, for the most part, a fantastic book; I just wish the plot had been a bit different. (less)
“The South” tells the story of Katherine Proctor who flees an unhappy marriage and the political turmoil of 1950s Ireland. She relocates to Barcelona,...more“The South” tells the story of Katherine Proctor who flees an unhappy marriage and the political turmoil of 1950s Ireland. She relocates to Barcelona, Spain where she once again finds herself in an unfulfilling relationship and affected by the political unrest of a country.
I never felt captivated by the story, and I felt no interest in or empathy for the protagonist. The chronology is messy, and Tóibín writes in a very sparse manner that nearly defies all the rules of grammar. There are glimpses here of the author’s gift for storytelling and detail, which he perfects in later works, but all in all this is most obviously a first novel. Totally forgettable and not recommended. (less)
Taking place between WWII and the end of the 1960s, “Tigers in Red Weather” is about two cousins - Nick an...more2.5 Stars, graciously rounded up to 3 Stars.
Taking place between WWII and the end of the 1960s, “Tigers in Red Weather” is about two cousins - Nick and Helena - and their families. The novel explores how people change, how they interact with one another, and how everyone’s choices have an impact on other people.
“Tigers in Red Weather” teetered between being “just average” to “downright boring.” The characters are cardboard and unoriginal, the dialogue is uninteresting and everyone has the same voice, and the shifts in chronology are clumsy and confusing. What disappointed me most, however, was that the author never surprised me.
The book is constructed in five parts, with the story being told from the perspective of five different principle characters. This could have been an opportunity for the author to twist things up a bit by making the reader see characters and events in an entirely different way. But in each story, everything remains exactly as I had perceived in it the previous narrative(s). The best word to describe the book is: predictable.
All in all, it felt like the author was playing it safe and simply applying “how to write a novel” formulas she learned at university. I think if she is willing to be a bit more daring and edgy in her next work, she will prove to have talent that isn’t exhibited in this debut novel. (less)
The plot: Jacob de Zoet arrives at the Dutch trading port of Dejima, an island off the coast of Japan, in 1799. He has agreed to work here for five ye...moreThe plot: Jacob de Zoet arrives at the Dutch trading port of Dejima, an island off the coast of Japan, in 1799. He has agreed to work here for five years as a scribe in order to obtain a blessing of marriage from the father of Anna, a Holland girl with whom he is in love. While in Dejima, however, Jacob meets and falls in love with Orito, a Japanese girl who is studying to be a midwife.
More plot: embezzlement, kidnapping, a sinister shrine, an earthquake, potions and poisons, a secret scroll and a talismanic Psalter, a typhoon, and a naval battle.
Also included: observations on culture, language barriers, political machinations, diagrams, information on 18th century Japanese medicine, and musings on religion and faith.
My thoughts: David Mitchell lured me right into this book with vivid descriptions, complex characters, and non-stop action. His storytelling is masterful, the dialogue is superb, and there are many passages that are quite simply writing perfection. However, there were times when the book just seemed too big. There were extraneous details that could have been excluded, and sometimes the plot twists grew wearisome. It felt like Mitchell was trying too hard to say too much. “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” is well-written and quite enjoyable, but a bit of editorial tightening could have made it an even better book. (less)
I have a bit of an obsession with Fanny Kemble (1809-1893). She was an English actress and author who married Pierce Butler, a Georgian plantation own...moreI have a bit of an obsession with Fanny Kemble (1809-1893). She was an English actress and author who married Pierce Butler, a Georgian plantation owner. Fanny was horrified by the idea of slavery and by the treatment of slaves on her husband’s plantation. She became an ardent abolitionist, which led to her divorce from Butler.
I first learned about Fanny Kemble from a made-for-TV movie titled "Enslavement" starring Jane Seymour and Keith Carradine. It was totally happenstance that I ever watched this movie. My mother and I were looking through the TV listings for something to watch and decided to check out this movie because of our familiarity with Seymour as Dr. Quinn. The movie totally astounded both of us - an amazing story based on historical events, spectacular acting, perfect directing and sets. It’s probably been over ten years since we watched “Enslavement” and we still talk about it.
A few months after that, I serendipitously discovered a biography of Fanny Kemble in an antique shop. The book, “Fanny Kemble. A Passionate Victorian,” was published in 1938 and written by Margaret Armstrong. (I confess I haven’t read all of it yet, but my mother has, and her comments on the book only made me adore Fanny all the more.)
So, when I heard about “Sugar Island,” which is inspired by Fanny’s life story, I was beyond excited and purchased a copy as soon as possible. My mother read it first, and warned me that I might not like it. My expectations were high, but unfortunately, mom was right.
“Sugar Island” was a big disappointment. The sentence structure and grammar is dreadful. There is little character development and Emily (Fanny) was portrayed as a bit of an elitist snob. The plot is poorly executed and does not convey the emotionally tense story of Emily’s experience on the plantation or the difficulties in her marriage. The author does not even begin do justice to the amazing story of Fanny Kemble. Now I really want to watch the movie again….(less)
Clarissa Granville is a naïve dreamy girl who has lived an idyllic and isolated childhood at Deyning Park, the family’s estate in the English countrys...moreClarissa Granville is a naïve dreamy girl who has lived an idyllic and isolated childhood at Deyning Park, the family’s estate in the English countryside. “The Last Summer” begins in 1914 when she is sixteen years old and falling in love with Tom Cuthbert, the housekeeper’s son. An innocent summer of romance and parties ends with the beginning of World War One, when Tom and Clarissa’s brothers ship out to the battlefields.
The narrative unfolds over the next sixteen years - from the horrors of war and the crumbling of England’s class structure to a country recovering from war and a changed society with independent women. First and foremost, though, this is Clarissa and Tom’s story. The intoxicating days of first love. The reality that they cannot be together because of their different backgrounds. The miscommunications and the misunderstandings. The choices that lead them in different directions and the force of destiny that keeps bringing them together again.
“The Last Summer” is one of those odd books that floats in that grey area between literature and genre fiction. It’s well written, but really it’s a simple book with a rather predictable plot and conventional characters. There’s something compelling about that simplicity, though...something unexpectedly captivating about a happy-ever-after love story. I have to confess that the time I spent with Clarissa and Tom was an unexpected delight. (less)
Quaint and quirky….those are two good adjectives for this book. Though not as accomplished as Roffey’s later work (The White Woman on the Green Bicycl...moreQuaint and quirky….those are two good adjectives for this book. Though not as accomplished as Roffey’s later work (The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, 2009 and Archipelago, 2012) August Frost is quite good for a debut novel.
August Chalamin, the protagonist of the novel, is a shy awkward man in his 30s who works at a gourmet food delicatessen. Two events occur which cause him to begin reflecting on his childhood growing up in a commune with a promiscuous mother and a mysterious (and absent) father. The first of these events is when a former commune member moves into the neighborhood and insinuates himself into August’s life. The second thing that happens to August is quite bizarre - his body begins to change to mimic the seasons. He develops frost on his skin in winter, plants sprout from his body in spring, he looks like a parched desert in the summer, and he begins shedding hair and fingernails like trees losing leaves in autumn.
As August deals with these freakish body abnormalities, he is also searching for information about who his father really was, and falling in love, and watching his friends fall in love, and learning about the lives and secrets of the people in his neighborhood. August Frost is simply a slice of life novel, with the body/nature connection providing a light touch of magical realism while also being employed as a symbolic device of how August changes through the story.
The novel is well written and engaging but it never really wowed me to any extent. For those interested in discovering Roffey, I would suggest one of her other novels instead of this one. For those who are already fans, it’s a worthy read. (less)