A coming of age story, with lots of detail about the ups and downs of a hormonal teenager. Johanna starts out as a 14-year-old goofball, always makingA coming of age story, with lots of detail about the ups and downs of a hormonal teenager. Johanna starts out as a 14-year-old goofball, always making jokes with references that nobody around her understands ("We must away, to pastures new"). By 17, she's still not fooling anyone about her underlying goofiness, but now she's very sexually active. (extended descriptions of the sex; except for a bizarre episode of cystitis (??), it's pretty funny reading.)
Her sexual escapades make her seem sort of liberated (she rejects partners who live too far away from the train station, all the easier to commute home in the morning), and sort of low-self-esteem/martyr-ish-pleaser-girl. On the plus side, she never feels guilty or gets mopey about any of these encounters.
Curiously, Johanna does not have any relationships at all with women. Her mother is a half-presence, because she's deeply in post-partum depression. Johanna's other relationships are with her father, her older brother, the music critics she hangs out with, and a musician she falls in love with. Whatever the feminist message is here, it's not the "sisterhood is powerful" type.
The plot is a little predictable, but I enjoyed many flashes of interesting writing, especially about England's working class.
"In later years, I can always recognize someones else who received this shot of fear at an early age--other kids from frangible houses: kids who felt the sand collapsing under their feet; kids who sat awake in the dark, imagining their whole families burning down, and planning planning planning who to save first from the future, and the flames. Children raised on cortisol. Children who think too fast."
"All my life, I've thought that if I couldn't say anything boys found interesting, I might as well shut up. But now I realize that there was that whole other, invisible half of the world--girls--that I could speak to instead. A whole other half equally silent and frustrated, just waiting to be given the smallest starting signal--the tiniest starter culture--and they would explode into words, and song, and action . . . ."
"[N]ow I've lost my virginity, I use it as the springboard to go on what is basically a massive Shag Quest. I wish to be like James Bond, who never leaves a party without either shagging someone or blowing something up. That is my role model here."
"[T]he [posh people at the country house party] come and ask you to play in paradise, but you do not know how to board their caravel, and you do not know how to ride their swans. They call out their names--"Emilia! Will! Sophie! Frances!" Names that do not have to bear heavy weights, or be written on benefit application forms--pleading. Names that will always be just a joyous signature on a birthday card, or check--and never called out in a room full of anxious people."...more
I have no idea why I picked this up expecting some charming, heartwarming dog story. It's not, at least not for the first half. But I stuck with it anI have no idea why I picked this up expecting some charming, heartwarming dog story. It's not, at least not for the first half. But I stuck with it anyway b/c I liked the writing and b/c I like when a book so strongly conveys a sense of time and place. Then I put it aside, b/c I didn't feel like reading about depression, and never got back to it....more
This is cute, with no real plot or character development (though Mary-Kay is a fascinating woman-of-few-words presence"Mardy" is my new favorite word.
This is cute, with no real plot or character development (though Mary-Kay is a fascinating woman-of-few-words presence). But there's lots of funny dialogue. It's an easy read that transported me back to a time when you had to explain what cous-cous were and roasting your own red peppers was a big thing....more
Made me laugh enough to bump up a star. A band-of-brothers story about the rough world of restaurant kitchens, specifically, the kitchen at the Swan.Made me laugh enough to bump up a star. A band-of-brothers story about the rough world of restaurant kitchens, specifically, the kitchen at the Swan. I couldn't quite picture the Swan--seems like a kind of upscale place in a downscale part of London? But I definitely could picture the chaos of its kitchen.
There is a parallel story about the main character's relationship with his good-for-nothing father. I enjoyed the kitchen world aspects more, even when the plot became a little implausible, because the writing was so fun and lively. These are the (stereotypical) used car salesmen of chefs. Makes me wonder how many of today's polished celebrity chefs started out in places like the Swan....more
Another 3.5. I loved the writing, and many aspects of the book (I love a book where the setting is itself another character). But the ending was suchAnother 3.5. I loved the writing, and many aspects of the book (I love a book where the setting is itself another character). But the ending was such a bizarre mush, and the supernatural/hallucinatory bits seemed so out of place, that I'm left kind of scratching my head. The author is either paying homage to Dickens et al or skewering them--not sure which. The book feels very much like a 19th century London tale with all its melodrama (mists and fallen women and downtrodden poor) and morality lessons (about love, greed, power). Question is: does that fit in today's world?
At the beginning of the book, the boys' mother abandons them, and they're left to raise themselves while their father works night shifts and drives long-distance trucking routes. You'd think, from people you know who've had tough childhoods or simply from the cover of the book, that this would be a story of the brothers helping each other along through life.
But no. There are at most two scenes where all three brothers appear together. For most of the book, they pretend not to know each other. But because of London's unique mysteries of interconnectedness and chance, they keep popping up unexpectedly in each others' lives.
One of the brothers becomes a Cambridge academic. Plenty of scenes of professors being insecure, jealous, hypocritical, pompous, etc. If you like academic satire, this is not quite it. But it's entertaining in a caricature sort of way.
The two older brothers are far from sympathetic characters. At first, I liked that they were flawed but still vulnerable. But after a while, they became more like cartoon villains. The youngest brother was hard to figure out. For most of the book, he seemed to suffer from some mental illness that made him delusional. Then for no apparent reason, he became the wise man, a sort of enlightened boddhisattva type.
So I felt like the characters were jammed and wedged into the plot, instead of the plot evolving from characters who change and grow more organically. And that may have been exactly what the author intended. Maybe one of his points is that the London of Dickens doesn't exist anymore (and the literary style of that era doesn't exist anymore), and if it did, look at how silly it would be....more
3.5 stars really. The writing is gorgeous. Sentences like the following went over well with me, maybe because I was reading them during a kind of hect3.5 stars really. The writing is gorgeous. Sentences like the following went over well with me, maybe because I was reading them during a kind of hectic time:
"Slowness was needed, so as not to alarm the bees and make them swarm, as was patience. . . . She felt not much could go wrong in a world that was slow and patient."
And there's a sense of place, specifically far western Wales, between WWI and WWII. "Popping their clogs" is a euphemism for death. A tree half on fire and half in full leaf is an image from an ancient Welsh book (but seems like a Zen koan).
And the characters are enjoyable. Reminded me a lot of the "All Creatures Great and Small" series that I loved as a kid. But with some much more serious dynamics in the background....more
Good enough to make me interested in the Plantagenets, but not good enough for me to read more than halfway through. This is fine as a beach read (I jGood enough to make me interested in the Plantagenets, but not good enough for me to read more than halfway through. This is fine as a beach read (I just wasn't in the mood for a beach read).
"We're descended from a water goddess"--apparently not a weird thing to say back in the Middle Ages. ...more
Ronit goes back to the Orthodox community in suburban London that her father led as Rav. Frustrations abound. She can't find her mother's Shabbat candRonit goes back to the Orthodox community in suburban London that her father led as Rav. Frustrations abound. She can't find her mother's Shabbat candlesticks, the only memento she really wants of her life there. Esti, the schoolfriend she had a very forbidden affair with, still carries a torch for her. And the rich and bossy Hartog tells Ronit she's such a disgrace, for having left, and is making everyone so uncomfortable, for having returned, that he pays her to not attend her father's memorial service.
I liked the book's structure, even though it was a bit clunky at times. Each chapter began with a short piece of religious teaching/reflection, something Catholics might call a homily. I took these not as little "Chicken Soup for the Soul" snippets but as a way to explain the community on its own terms. These parts of the book suggested that everyone in the community struggles with the rules somehow, that there is a lot of deep thinking and constant choosing, more than one sees on the surface.
Stories about people who leave extremely tight-knit religious groups--I have no idea why I keep reading them. Compared to others, "Disobedience" is pretty soft in its criticism. Ronit, and Esti (and Esti's husband), could rage about how the Hendon community forces homosexuality into the closet. But they seem to come down to accepting a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and Ronit muses that all the repressed communication in the community is due not to being Orthodox but to being British. Whatever I think of those conclusions, "Disobedience" adds something to the discussion of these types of communities.
More 3 1/2 stars than 4, but I'd read more by this author. ...more
Small town politics take a tragic turn. This one started slow, developing about a dozen characters in full. The heroin-addicted mother and her childreSmall town politics take a tragic turn. This one started slow, developing about a dozen characters in full. The heroin-addicted mother and her children were the most interesting to me.
I thought the book could have been tightened up, and there was an uneven patch here and there in the writing. But I liked Rowling's shift from a fantasy world to a world of extremely ordinary, even predictable power struggles. ...more
Didn't get halfway in this one and probably will not try it again. Didn't care about the characters. Felt no special sense of place or time. Felt mostDidn't get halfway in this one and probably will not try it again. Didn't care about the characters. Felt no special sense of place or time. Felt mostly irritated.
Why did it take me 70 pages to learn how to pronounce a key character's name (Aoife)? What is this big Event, big Blowout that Aoife had with her older sister four years ago? When I realized I no longer cared what happened between those two sisters, I took the book back to the library.
On the plus side, Aoife apparently has what seems to be an undiagnosed learning disability/dyslexia/something like that. She has never been able to learn to read. I was interested in her experiences of words scrambling before her eyes and in her strategies to keep people from finding out....more
A romance novel with some smarts. Hetty and her true love Allenham bond over their love of reading, especially Goethe. When Allenham suddenly and mystA romance novel with some smarts. Hetty and her true love Allenham bond over their love of reading, especially Goethe. When Allenham suddenly and mysteriously disappears, Hetty survives in the demi-monde world of Georgian London. The book starts off a bit slow--country manors and society events in Bath--but by the end we've had carriage races, Vauxhall drunkenness, and hints that the French Revolution will be a big part of book two in the series.
This is historical fiction on the lighter side, but it's not silly. Hetty is very likable, the women look out for each other, and the secondary characters are all real people from the time. It's nice to read something entertaining and light, a romance without emotionally abusive vampires. I'm looking forward to the next one....more