This book has been on the shelf for ages. I picked it up at an antique shop for a quarter. I thought it might have some monetary value because it's co...moreThis book has been on the shelf for ages. I picked it up at an antique shop for a quarter. I thought it might have some monetary value because it's copyright 1970 and illustrated by Henri Matisse but, no, you can buy it on Amazon for a penny. Maugham's Of Human Bondage is one of my favorite books, though, so I figured I would enjoy this slim volume of short stories even if I hadn't found a treasure for Antiques Roadshow. It was an enjoyable read, but unremarkable and forgettable. (less)
Set in Victorian England, “Tipping the Velvet” is about the sexual awakening of Nancy Astley/Nan King. The book follows her journey from an innocent y...moreSet in Victorian England, “Tipping the Velvet” is about the sexual awakening of Nancy Astley/Nan King. The book follows her journey from an innocent young woman falling in love with a cross-dressing music hall performer, to her escapades as a transvestite prostitute, to her experience as an s&m slave of a wealthy woman.
Two things bothered me greatly about “Tipping the Velvet.” One, women are often only attracted to other women if they are dressed as men, and men are only attracted to other men if they are young boys (or women pretending to be young boys). Two, the vast majority of the sexual encounters are perverse, vulgar, and selfish. Not to get on a soapbox about this, but don’t straight people already have enough of a skewed perspective about homosexuality without giving them the kind of evidence provided in this book? I really don’t understand what Sarah Waters was trying to accomplish (or why this book won the Lambda Literary Award for lesbian fiction).
Also, the story arch and the character development are not well done. You know that game where you try to keep a balloon aloft, with each player tapping the balloon to prevent it from hitting the ground? Nan King’s life is like that balloon. She floats through life, continually batted to and fro by circumstances. She seems to have no will, no personality….she just bounces from one thing to the next as situations present themselves.
The author does have talent - she’s a gifted storyteller and she does well at creating a sense of time and place. Despite being mostly annoyed the whole time I was reading, I enjoyed the book….if that makes any sense. I like Sarah Waters' writing style, and I certainly plan to read more of her work. But I wouldn’t recommend “Tipping the Velvet” to anyone. (less)
The Mistress of Silence by Belgian author Jacqueline Harpman is a sci-fi/dystopia/post-apocalypse novella about a group of women who have been impriso...moreThe Mistress of Silence by Belgian author Jacqueline Harpman is a sci-fi/dystopia/post-apocalypse novella about a group of women who have been imprisoned underground for many years and how they survive when they manage to escape. The premise is interesting and Harpman creates a vivid and believable scenario. The pacing is suspenseful and the characters believable (especially considering the very strange circumstances in which they find themselves). I think I missed most of the philosophical importance of this book, however, and though I'm not certain why (my fault? author's fault? cultural barrier?) I only gave the book 3.5 Stars.(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)](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)
WHY I READ THIS BOOK When I first heard about this book, which was just published last month, I got a bad case of "I want." The author's "The Lost Gard...moreWHY I READ THIS BOOK When I first heard about this book, which was just published last month, I got a bad case of "I want." The author's "The Lost Garden" is one of my favorite books, and "The Reinvention of Love" is about Victor Hugo, the author of another favorite book, "Les Misérables."
ABOUT THE BOOK "The Reinvention of Love" is set in France in the 1800s, and is based on real people and historical facts. Charles Sainte-Beuve is a book critic, and after reviewing the work of Victor Hugo, he is invited to the author's home. Charles and Victor become friends...and Charles begins an affair with Victor's wife, Adèle. The book explores the lives and complicated relationships of these three characters.
MY THOUGHTS "The Reinvention of Love" is much more a character study than a plot-driven novel.
It is told almost exclusively from the viewpoint of Charles, who is not a very likable character. He's arrogant, pompous, selfish, vain, and critical. He's also irrationally jealous of Victor, who has all that Charles wants - a successful writing career and a beautiful wife.
A few chapters are told in Adèle's voice. She seems like such a lonely sad woman who is a victim of the time period, when women could do little more than live in the shadow of a man. Victor is a background character, and is portrayed as having many of the same character defects as Charles - arrogant and selfish. Is this accurate, or is Charles projecting his own faults?
Jealously, identity, and sexuality are all themes in "The Reinvention of Love" and the author explores each of these in intriguing and thought-provoking ways. Motives and actions are not explained but are left open for interpretation.
The book is well-crafted, and the author employs various writing styles as fits the situation. Sometimes it is beautiful and philosophical; at others times, it is terse and spare.
"The Reinvention of Love" is a unique book that was a complete enjoyment to read. It is a book I would like to re-read to more fully explore the character development and the technique used by the author to present the story.
One word to describe how I felt about this book: frustrated.
First, I knew nothing about the historical events on which this is based, and I didn't fe...moreOne word to describe how I felt about this book: frustrated.
First, I knew nothing about the historical events on which this is based, and I didn't feel the author made any of it clear. There was some kind of conflict between Egypt and Sudan, so a British general went there to fix things but he made a holy mess of everything. The book begins in 1884 when Britain sends more military to rescue him and his troops. The back story and political complications were a confusing muddle to me.
Second, the characters were totally unlikable. John Clarke, a young doctor who decides to go with the troops to the Sudan, comes across as superior and condescending. The general is stark raving mad with a God complex. John’s wife Mary is weak and needy and insecure, and becomes an opiate addict to deal with her loneliness. And then there’s the manipulative power-hungry journalist who’s campaigning for the general.
Third, the book reads like a rough draft. I don’t think an editor even glanced at the manuscript. Sentences like, “He was talking as if Will was a fellow general Will knew that he was really talking to himself.” (Wha?) and “The train juddered and champagne frothed out, some of it making it into the glass.” (The construction of that sentence implies that the champagne frothed out of the train.) It’s just quite dreadful.
I’ll use that clichéd review sentence: I really wanted to like this book. The author was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2004 for “Ice Road.” I haven’t read that book, but I assumed that the prize nomination was indicative of her writing talent. And the events on which this story is based are wonderful material for a novel. But all in all, I really did not like this book and I only made it to the last page by sheer determination. (less)
The style of "Rebecca" has echoes of Austen and the Brontës, yet it is also remarkably modern and it is apparent the influence du Maurier had on futur...moreThe style of "Rebecca" has echoes of Austen and the Brontës, yet it is also remarkably modern and it is apparent the influence du Maurier had on future writers and the evolution of the novel. Du Maurier excelled at adhering to the gothic formula and the writing is descriptive and evocative. However, I was not as enamored with “Rebecca” as many readers are, and I only gave the book 3.5 Stars.
My primary problem with the novel is how intensely I disliked the unnamed narrator. While I understand that, in the gothic tradition, she needed to be naïve and helpless, I thought that du Maurier took this to extremes. The narrator is timid, pessimistic, fretful, and insecure. She constantly daydreams about what could have been and what might be, and does so with the gloomiest of perspectives. And she remains this way throughout the book, without evolving and maturing at all.
The other fault I found in the novel was lack of character motivation. From the very beginning, with the courtship and proposal, I was baffled. I never sensed that they were falling in love, and there really wasn’t any logical reason for Max to propose or for the narrator to accept. And when it is finally revealed what happened to Rebecca, Max’s role in that event seemed totally out of character. Throughout the book, he was cold and stuffy, so it was difficult to accept that he did something so furiously passionate.
Although “Rebecca” did not make my list of all-time favorites, du Maurier is obviously a talented writer whose works have stood the test of time, so I do plan to read more of her books. (less)
“Bel Canto” is poorly written and sweeter than cotton candy. The only reason I bothered to finish it was because it won the Orange Prize for Fiction....more“Bel Canto” is poorly written and sweeter than cotton candy. The only reason I bothered to finish it was because it won the Orange Prize for Fiction. Otherwise, I would have tossed it on the Did Not Finish trash heap.
Based on a real event that happened in Peru in 1996, this could have been a suspenseful novel exploring the history and socio-political climate of the country and the back-stories of the characters who are involved. Instead, Patchett created a story with no forward momentum that is laced with romanticism and lacks depth.
The opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the book. The lights go out, the terrorists arrive, and what people remember about the moment is a kiss. No screams, no fear, no violence, no insurrection. The tone of the book is sentimental and dreamy, and it put me off.
There is absolutely no background about the politics of the country or the motive for the terrorists’ attempted kidnapping. Why are there all these guerilla groups? What are they fighting against? Why (and how) do they recruit teenage boys (and girls) to join? It made it all seem so pointless and was a huge hole in the plot. I really don’t care if one of the leaders has shingles and another is missing fingers (which is mentioned over and over and over again). I want to know what they are so angry about.
It’s written in third person omniscient, a narrative mode that drives me utterly batty because it makes everything feel cold and removed. I felt that I didn’t know the characters or understand them at all, and since the book is very much about the characters, this was a huge fail. This could have a much stronger book told in first person from multiple viewpoints.
The grammar made me want to hurl the book across the room. Stringing together phrases and clauses with commas is a comma splice; it is NOT a sentence. Please read “The Elements of Style,” Ms. Patchett.
The whole adoration of opera is utterly ridiculous. I understand the emotive power of music. I appreciate opera. But to believe that everyone involved in the story loves opera, and will do things totally out-of-character for it and because of it is absurd.
Roxane Coss. Gah, how I hated her. She’s a self-centered self-important bitch. And the way all the men swoon over her because she’s a petite and beautiful opera singer…good grief! Would they still have been falling at her feet if she’d been an ugly Amazonian who sounds like a dying cow if she sings?
Speaking of Roxane…how on earth does she not know that her accompanist is a fragile diabetic? They’ve worked together for years and are traveling the world together, so it is completely impossible to accept that she is unaware of his illness. If his condition is so grave that he could die within 12 hours without medical treatment, it is only logical that this is information he would share with the people in his life.
And there are other “That is not even remotely probable” things. When the terrorists arrived and the electricity was cut, why did the flames on all the candles go out? Why was the Japanese piano player still wearing a tuxedo two weeks after being taken hostage? Why were the negotiators willing to procure the most ridiculous of items for the hostages, like expensive eye cream from France, gourmet orange chocolates, lemon shampoo from Italy?
Finally, the epilogue. Oh my stars, the epilogue made me gag. What kind of romantic nonsense is that?!?
What I liked:
At one point in the story, the negotiators stop sending prepared foods and instead send groceries that Thibault, a French ambassador, uses to prepare meals for the hostages and their captors. And then there is this: “Ignacio, Gaudalupe, and Humberto were at the breakfast table cleaning guns, a puzzle of disconnected metal spreading out on newspapers before them as they rubbed oil into each part. Thibault sat at the table with them, reading cookbooks.”
Oh, that’s just perfection. It completely captures the dichotomy and incongruity of the situation. It says so much without saying too much. The 75 pages or so after this are also reasonably good, and feature a glimpse into the lifestyle that the hostages and captors develop, and how blurred the line between them becomes. It’s clean and simple, with almost no flowery prose or fawning over Roxane or rhapsodizing about music. It sets the stage well for the resolution (although that felt rushed and anticlimactic). (hide spoiler)]
“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)
"The Promise of Zandra," the first book in the So Many Secrets series, tells the story of Piper and Nina, two young girls from New Jersey who travel t...more"The Promise of Zandra," the first book in the So Many Secrets series, tells the story of Piper and Nina, two young girls from New Jersey who travel to the mystical underground Kingdom of Galacia. The goblins and trolls are at war in Galacia and a princess has been abducted, and Piper and Nina have been recruited to rescue her.
Koehler's world building skill and technique is reminiscent of Tolkien. The Kingdom of Galacia is well-thought out and complex, with its own political system and language. For me, this made the book especially captivating, as I felt I was fully immersed in this magical world.
The writing style is very strong with well-constructed sentences and rich vocabulary. The plot of the book will certainly appeal to the age of the target audience (fifth to eighth graders) while the writing style will challenge them to read something a bit more complex than what is usually expected of them. The writing style also gives the book appeal for an adult audience as well.
Piper and Nina are well-developed characters with strong personalities and understandable motivations. Piper is brave and curious while Nina is more cautious, and the two personalities create an intriguing contrast. Readers can relate to one or the other, while also identifying with the struggles and questions that are typical for a 12 year old.
The book starts out a bit slow. Piper has been to Galacia before "The Promise of Zandra" begins, which necessitates quite a bit of backstory. And there are few transitional passages at the beginning that are awkward. However, when Piper and Nina arrive in Galacia and begin their quest to rescue the princess, the clunkiness that is evident at first vanishes, and the author proceeds with strong self-assurance. At this point, the book becomes one of those that you don't want to put down.
"The Promise of Zandra" has echoes of Tolkien, as well as of Narnia, but is wholly its own unique thing. It is a compelling book that I enjoyed immensely, and I eagerly anticipate the release of the next book in the series.
It's difficult to put a rating on this book. Compared to the typical self-published first novel, "The Promise of Zandra" easily deserves 5 Stars. It is vastly better than what I have come to expect from these types of books. When compared to books by masters like Tolkien and Lewis, it only earns 2 Stars, but that's true for almost any fantasy book. Held up against other books in the same genre, though, "The Promise of Zandra" is worthy of 3 Stars, so this is the rating I will go with. It's a strong, solid book that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend. And I suspect that as the series progresses, the future books could merit 4 Stars.(less)