Scotland, late 1600s. Corrag’s mother, like her mother before her, has been accused of witchcraft and sentenced to die. Corrag flees into the wilderne...moreScotland, late 1600s. Corrag’s mother, like her mother before her, has been accused of witchcraft and sentenced to die. Corrag flees into the wilderness, eventually arriving in Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands. Here, among the MacDonald Clan, she finds sanctuary. No pointing fingers, no accusations of ‘witch.’ Her talent for herbal healing is accepted and utilized; her unusually solitary lifestyle and love of nature does not cause suspicion.
Yet even as Corrag finds peace, Britain is erupting with political upheaval. William of Orange, a Dutchman, has usurped the throne, and King James has fled to France. Loyalties are fiercely divided - some accept the new ruler, others battle to see King James restored as leader.
The MacDonald Clan are Jacobites, supporters of King James. Eventually, though, they are forced to sign an oath swearing allegiance to William. They do so, but miss the signing deadline by six days. And for this, they are savagely murdered by William’s armies. Corrag is aware of the impending massacre, and tries to warn the Clan to flee. A few listen, most do not. And when the soldiers become aware of Corrag’s treasonous act, they accuse her of witchcraft and condemn her to burn.
Shackled in chains in a prison cell, Corrag tells her story to Charles Leslie, an Irish minister and Jacobite. Charles is investigating the Glencoe Massacre in hopes that the truth of the event will convince James to fight for his throne. At first, he sees Corrag as what she has been accused of - a witch. But as her story unfolds, Charles begins to see her as the MacDonald clan did - a woman who looks at the world through different eyes, who is self-sacrificing and brave, and who wants only to be accepted and loved. And as Charles’ heart is changed, so is Corrag’s destiny.
I LOVED THIS BOOK! With huge love! It’s such an amazing story, all based on historical events and people. The Independent described it as “a poetic intense narrative” and it is, to the nth degree. It’s just lovely, so rich and lyrical. And Corrag may well be one of my favorite protagonists, ever. She’s just amazing, and so well depicted in this book.
Also, I truly appreciated how the author portrayed the witch-hunts that took place in Europe during this time. These women were not witches, but were looked on with suspicion and hatred because they, in some way, did not conform to society. In the afterward, the author wrote, “The last execution of a so-called witch in Britain was in 1727. The Witchcraft Act of 1735 put an end to the generations of fear and persecution. Over the previous three hundred years it is estimated that over 100,000 women - mostly knowledgeable, independent, outspoken women - stood trial, accused of witchcraft.”
This is my favorite passage from Witch Light, which summarizes the essential theme of the story. Corrag: “I think how we live our lives is our own doing, and we cannot fully hope on dreams and stars. But dreams and stars can guide us, perhaps. And the heart’s voice is a strong one. Always is. Listen to it, is my advice. Your heart’s voice is your true voice. It is easy to ignore it, for sometimes it says things we’d rather it did not - and it is so hard to risk the things we have. But what life are we living, if we don’t live by our hearts? Not a true one. And the person living is not the true you.”(less)
It is the 1920s, and Jack and Mabel have moved to Alaska to homestead and to escape the shame and sadness of being unable to bear children. And then o...moreIt is the 1920s, and Jack and Mabel have moved to Alaska to homestead and to escape the shame and sadness of being unable to bear children. And then one winter they meet Faina, a young girl who seems to have materialized from the snow and who lives in the forbidding Alaskan wilderness. The mysterious Faina alters the hearts and lives of Jack and Mabel in ways that echo a Russian fable which Mabel recalls from her youth.
Gorgeously written and richly atmospheric, ‘The Snow Child’ enthralled me. The characterizations are superb, the storytelling is utterly compelling, and the homesteading lifestyle and Alaskan landscape are vividly conveyed. The narrative weaves together strands of harsh reality and enchanting mysticism into a mosaic of wonderment. The lines dividing reality from fantasy are indistinct and the reader is swept into a mesmerizing story of hope and heartbreak.
One of the blurbs on the cover states, “If Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had collaborated on a book, ‘The Snow Child’ would be it.” That accurately conveys all that is wonderful about this novel. “The Snow Child” is complete perfection and is at the top of the list of favorite books I have read this year. (less)
I received an ARC of this book for review from Goodreads First Reads program.
“You cannot find peace by avoiding life,” wrote author Virginia Woolf.
The...moreI received an ARC of this book for review from Goodreads First Reads program.
“You cannot find peace by avoiding life,” wrote author Virginia Woolf.
The time - 1939. The place - a small village in Romania. The residents of the village are hearing news of the war that is spreading across the globe, and when a stranger washes up on the shores of their river, the villagers learn firsthand how dreadful things are “out there.” They decide to re-invent the world, to create an insular place that is safe from the war. For years, guided by the strength of their denial and their imagination, they abide peacefully. Not even the best-laid plans, though, can stop the forward march of war, and the novel crashes to a heartbreaking collision with reality.
“No One is Here Except All of Us” is a fabulist story that requires a suspension of disbelief to be fully enjoyed. It is not meant to be logical or truthful, but instead conveys a thematic moral about reality versus illusion. The writing is poetic, casting a soporific spell that captures the reader in a sea of dreaminess. The author deftly tells the story from multiple viewpoints, and the pacing is both languorous and compelling. And what reader doesn't identify with that longing to be like an ostrich with its head in the sand, ignoring a problem in the hope that it will vanish?
I enjoyed every second I spent with this book, and its profound message is one that will stay with me. Ausubel’s debut novel is unlike any other book I have ever read, and is a stunning achievement that I highly recommend. (less)
“Tom-All-Alone’s” is an atmospheric murder mystery set in Victorian London that is essentially Dickens’ “Bleak House” told from a different perspectiv...more“Tom-All-Alone’s” is an atmospheric murder mystery set in Victorian London that is essentially Dickens’ “Bleak House” told from a different perspective. (Characters from Collins’ “The Woman in White’ are featured as well.) Charles Maddox has been unjustly dismissed from the police force so he begins work as a private detective. He accepts a case from Edward Tulkinghorn, the sinister lawyer from ‘Bleak House.’ and finds himself caught up in a harrowing and nefarious investigation.
What impressed me most about “Tom-All-Alone’s” is the author’s expert and clever use of a third person omniscient narrative style. The tale is conveyed in a storytelling manner, with direct addresses to the reader, so it is as though you are sitting at the author’s feet as she tells you the story. Though the plot is intricate and often dark, by using this narrative style the author has made the story completely mesmerizing.
The sense of time and place is excellent, although I felt that at times plot got lost in the extraneous details. The author did well at mimicking the Victorian writing style, both in language and themes.
The characterizations and the plot are complex, and I appreciated how the mystery resolved in the end. Though I wasn’t completely taken by surprise when all the pieces were put into place, I also hadn’t figure everything out by page 20, which is often the epic fail of mystery novels.
The ending seemed to be a bit of a cliffhanger so I suspect Charles Maddox will be appearing in a future novel by the author. And I certainly enjoyed “Tom-All-Alone’s” well enough that I look forward to another encounter with Charles. (less)
David Mitchell is a GENIUS. That's one of my primary thoughts about Cloud Atlas.
But Mitchell never gets in his own way. So often in experimental/postm...moreDavid Mitchell is a GENIUS. That's one of my primary thoughts about Cloud Atlas.
But Mitchell never gets in his own way. So often in experimental/postmodern literature, the author seems to be center stage throughout the whole book, demanding to be noticed and congratulated for their cleverness. I never felt that way when reading Cloud Atlas.
Cloud Atlas is constructed of six vignettes. Half of each story is told and then the book moves on to the next story, and when each has been revealed, the second portion of each story is told in reverse order. Each vignette is written in a very distinctive style, in diverse time periods, with strong characterizations and plot, and Mitchell does this very very well.
What really blew my mind, though, was how each of the vignettes were linked - little pieces of other character's lives are intricately woven into other stories. This interconnectedness - how everyone and everything is somehow part of something else - is the overarching theme of Cloud Atlas. There are smaller themes that each story has in common as well...betrayal, redemption, hope, loyalty. And there is a very subtle commentary on the evolution of mankind, how communication changes but basic human personality traits remain constant.
The construction is brilliant, the storytelling superb, the message profound...all in all Cloud Atlas was a solid 5 Star book for me.
And I'm very curious to see how all of this will work in the movie adaptation which is scheduled to open in theaters in October. It looks like a fabulous film!(less)
“A Cupboard Full of Coats” is a book about domestic violence that focuses more on thoughts and actions than plot. What do you do and think and say whe...more“A Cupboard Full of Coats” is a book about domestic violence that focuses more on thoughts and actions than plot. What do you do and think and say when your best friend is an abuser? What do you do and think and say when your mother is the abused? And what do you do with all the secrets and the pain that still linger many years later?
Domestic violence is not an original topic; it has been covered in many books and movies. But Edwards has taken the ordinary and made it extraordinary. There is much about the book that is wonderful. The characters are complex and utterly believable. It is richly atmospheric with the culture and dialect of both the West Indies and East London. And perhaps what is most remarkable is the structure the author uses.
The story slips back and forth in time, with nothing in the past or in the present quite making sense, but slowly unraveling, slowly revealing, until it is fully told. It is mysterious and tense and laden with emotion. And when the author explains the cupboard full of coats of the title, it is rich with symbolism and heartbreakingly perfect.
Amazingly, “A Cupboard Full of Coats” is the author’s debut novel. She is a remarkable talent and wholly deserving of the Booker nomination.
(view spoiler)[(This isn't exactly a spoiler, but will make the most sense after you've read the book.) I'm surprised that no other reviews have commented on the symbolism of the names of the characters, which I thought was clever and added another level of richness to the story. Jinx = a person (or thing) that brings bad luck. Lemon = bittersweet. Berris is a bit of a stretch, but it could be seen as a variation on Barry, which means spear. Red = the colour of redemption. Benjamin = In the Bible, Rachel calls her son "Benoni" meaning "son of my sorrow" but his father names him Benjamin. And most beautiful of all is Joy (captial J), who remains nameless throughout the novel...until Jinx discovers joy (lowercase J). (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
“Arcadia” is scheduled for publication in March 2012. I received an ARC from Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.
Beautifully written, masterfully crafted, and deeply melancholic, “Arcadia” is a gem of a book. It is the life story of Ridley ‘Bit’ Stone, divided into four sections highlighting particular periods of his life. The story begins in the 1970s when Bit is a toddler growing up in a commune in New York State, and continues through his teenage years. The middle portions are when Bit is in his 30s, living in New York City and working as a professor while raising his daughter alone after his wife mysteriously vanishes. The final section of the book, set in 2018, is about Bit caring for his mother when she is stricken with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).
Groff’s prose is lovely and rich in imagery. Just as an example: “Pigeons sit heaped on the roofline, buttoning house to sky.” The characterizations are marvelous, slowly evolving over the course of the story until everyone in the novel has become as fully fleshed as a real person. “Arcadia” is quietly philosophical, exploring the meanings of freedom and community, and the importance of friendship, family, and love.
What I thought was especially brilliant was how Groff tied in the key points of Bit’s life with the larger world at the time. When Bit is a toddler - naïve, hopeful, trusting - this is also the attitude within the commune. Bit moves on to adolescence, a time of upheaval and confusion, and again this is what happens in the commune. Bit’s middle years are a time of loneliness and choices and loss, which is all mirrored in the yuppie culture and consumerism of the 1980s. And as Bit’s life as he knew it slowly crumbles, the world is also falling apart, from the events of 9/11 to a global pandemic. None of this is overtly stated or intrusive in the story at all. “Arcadia” remains wholly Bit’s story, with this theme of interconnectedness slowly drifting through the book.
It took me a while to become fully engaged in the story, partly because I struggled to understand the story from the viewpoint of a toddler, and partly because the pacing of the book is languorous. But when “Arcadia” finally captured me, I was spellbound. I fell in love with Bit, I cried through the last pages, and I was disappointed when the book ended and I had to let Bit go.
“Arcadia” is all I believed Groff capable of after reading her first novel “The Monsters of Templeton” and I’m already anxiously anticipating her next book. (less)
When a flood destroys his home and shatters his family, Gavin decides to run away and pursue his dream of sailing from Trinidad to the Galápagos. He,...moreWhen a flood destroys his home and shatters his family, Gavin decides to run away and pursue his dream of sailing from Trinidad to the Galápagos. He, his six-year-old daughter Océan, and their old dog Suzy climb aboard the Romany and embark on a voyage in which they battle the waves…and their grief.
Archipelago is a lovely novel filled with remarkably life-like characters (Océan is especially fabulous), beautiful imagery, and just the right amount of adventure. One thing that truly impressed me was the way in which the author revealed the circumstances and consequences of the disaster that precipitated the journey. She did so very slowly, in bits and pieces, with hints and clues, which I thought perfectly captured the nature of grief. You can’t look on the whole thing at once, but instead you steal glances at part of it and grapple with that, until you can move on to the next thing, and eventually you arrive at a place of healing. It is a sad and emotional novel, and there was more than one scene that nearly brought me to tears.
There were only two small things that prevented me from rating this 5 Stars. The first thing was the lack of quotation marks for dialogue. This is a recent trend that has been commented on by many people about several different books. I’ve never been one of those people; in fact, I rarely even notice it. But in Archipelago I thought it was glaringly obvious and made certain passages very awkward to read. The other thing was that the ending seemed anticlimactic and not quite right in some way that I can’t quite define.
All in all, though, Archipelago is a remarkable novel that I highly recommend. (And one that I’m eagerly anticipating being on the list for the 2013 Orange Prize, an award the author has been nominated for previously.) (less)
After 8-year-old Eve Green’s mother dies, she is sent to Wales to live with her grandparents whom she has never met. She experiences a calamitous year...moreAfter 8-year-old Eve Green’s mother dies, she is sent to Wales to live with her grandparents whom she has never met. She experiences a calamitous year during which she uncovers secrets about her parents while also being tragically affected by the disappearance of a young girl. This year in her life is told in retrospective when Eve is 29 years old and trying to make sense of all that happened at that time.
This is a beautiful novel filled with lyrical prose, vivid descriptions, and a compelling story. The plot unfolds in a disconnected haze that is utterly appropriate for a story told from the viewpoint of a child and the perspective of memory. It is a profound meditation on family roots and prejudice, and how essential one is and how damaging is the other.
Eve Green is quite remarkable for a debut novel, and the author is most deserving of the Costa First Novel Award that she received for this work. (less)
“There but for the” is the second book I’ve read by Ali Smith, and I must confess I’m developing a bit of a literary crush on her. Sh...moreRating: 4.5 Stars
“There but for the” is the second book I’ve read by Ali Smith, and I must confess I’m developing a bit of a literary crush on her. She’s totally in anarchy against everything your high school English teacher ever taught you…and she does it with brilliance and grace.
In “There but for the,” a man named Miles locks himself into the guest bedroom of a home where he is attending a dinner party. But that’s not really the plot. It’s more like the glue that holds the story together. The book is divided into four sections, which each focuses on one of the words in the title: “There,” “but,” “for,” and “the.” The narrator of each section is someone who in some way has a connection to Miles.
Written in stream of consciousness style, the novel is filled with clever word play and acute observations of life. It is an emotive and funny meditation on relationships and existence, memory and history. Difficult to describe and impossible not to love, “There but for the” is a masterful and unforgettable novel.(less)
How does one horrible incident redirect the trajectory of our lives? How is our character reshaped by tragedy? These are the questions that Carol Ansh...moreHow does one horrible incident redirect the trajectory of our lives? How is our character reshaped by tragedy? These are the questions that Carol Anshaw explores in “Carry the One,” a stunning novel about how a drunk driving incident influences the lives of the characters.
The novel begins on the night of Matt and Carmen’s wedding, when a car filled with sleepy and stoned wedding guests crashes into a young girl, Casey, on a dark country road. The girl dies instantly, and the specter of her memory haunts those involved in the accident.
Alice, Carmen’s sister, responds by fearing emotional commitment and drifts from relationship to relationship, including a volatile on-again-off-again affair with Maude, who was also in the car on the night of the crash. Alice is a painter who becomes increasingly well known in the art world as the story unfolds. Her best work, though, is portraits of Casey living the life she never had a chance to experience. These paintings torment Alice and she refuses to place them on exhibit. Withholding that which would bring her the most fame is her atonement for the girl’s death.
Carmen and Alice’s brother Nick, whose girlfriend Olivia was driving, is tortured by guilt - he saw the girl but was too stoned to do anything to prevent the accident. He descends further and further into drug addiction and alcoholism. His guilt prevents him from allowing himself any form of happiness and he destroys a promising career in astronomy and his relationship with Olivia. And in his awkward junkie way, he tries to make amends to Casey's parents.
Carmen’s reaction to the accident is a compulsion to save the world; she is a militant social worker and a crusading political activist. But she is helpless to save those she most wants to rescue - her sister, her brother, and the young girl who died.
“Carry the One” is subtle and understated, yet incredibly powerful. Anshaw knows just what to say and what to leave unsaid. The writing is compelling and beautiful. Every word, every phrase is perfect. The world the author creates becomes something real. The characters are complex and utterly believable. Their pain and their emotional battles are perfectly conveyed.
I was completely captivated by this novel. Even after I’ve finished, I feel the lingering presence of the characters, and my mind resounds with the questions Anshaw posed: why is my life what is it and what has made me who I am?
Caution to potential readers: If you are at all homophobic, you will not be comfortable reading this book.
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)
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)
What I find most remarkable about the stories in “Birds of a Lesser Paradise” is how memorable they are. That, for me, is the hallmark of a very well-...moreWhat I find most remarkable about the stories in “Birds of a Lesser Paradise” is how memorable they are. That, for me, is the hallmark of a very well-written short story. With each story, Bergman creates scenes and characters that are so vivid you feel that you’ve been immersed in a novel of several hundred pages. The themes running through the stories are nature and femininity, and the author explores complex moral issues in a way that is both quiet and thought-provoking. I was surprised and delighted by how much I adored this collection of stories; Bergman is definitely an author to watch. (less)
Under a Glass by Anaïs Nin is a superb collection of short stories that showcases Nin's enormous talent. This was a solid 5 Star read for me. Though s...moreUnder a Glass by Anaïs Nin is a superb collection of short stories that showcases Nin's enormous talent. This was a solid 5 Star read for me. Though some of the stories resonated with me more than others, I enjoyed them all enormously. The writing is just so exquisite and delicious! (Favorite story: The Labyrinth)(less)