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 cand...moreRonit 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. (less)
Small town politics take a tragic turn. This one started slow, developing about a dozen characters in full. The heroin-addicted mother and her childre...moreSmall 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. (less)
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 most...moreDidn'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.(less)
A romance novel with some smarts. Hetty and her true love Allenham bond over their love of reading, especially Goethe. When Allenham suddenly and myst...moreA 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.(less)
I enjoyed the voice--a 19-year-old boy, a little jaded about his hometown, but trying hard to parent his little brother. This would be on the same she...moreI enjoyed the voice--a 19-year-old boy, a little jaded about his hometown, but trying hard to parent his little brother. This would be on the same shelf as Nick Hornby "About a Boy" or Matt Haig's books.(less)
Eddie Feathers is a famous lawyer, now retired in the English countryside. Other lawyers at the clubs and Inns still talk about him, always concluding...moreEddie Feathers is a famous lawyer, now retired in the English countryside. Other lawyers at the clubs and Inns still talk about him, always concluding that he played life rather safe and nothing ever happened to Old Filth ("Failed in London Try Hong Kong").
What they don't know is that Feathers still carries the scars of having been a "Raj orphan." He was born in colonial Malaysia/Malaya and sent back to England at age 6 or so to be brought up in foster homes and boarding schools. His younger years are full of abuse and rejection, and yet Feathers turned out to be successful, upstanding, really more like a caricature of a certain class of Englishman from a certain generation.
Along the way, we have WWII stories of Feathers surviving a dramatic sea voyage and later guarding Mary, the Queen Mother, when she was evacuated to Badminton. So, lots of things happened to Old Filth. I kept waiting to hear more about his wife, or about Hong Kong, but I enjoyed the writing.(less)
This is like "Shameless" without the humor. Marnie and Nelly have been neglected and disappointed and betrayed by everyone close to them. It's hard to...moreThis is like "Shameless" without the humor. Marnie and Nelly have been neglected and disappointed and betrayed by everyone close to them. It's hard to read about all their pain. Good voices, though--Marnie sounding tough, Nelly hiding in some weird Austen-era language. This will be a movie someday, with the little girl from "The New Normal" playing Nelly, Clint Eastwood as crazy Gramps, maybe Richard Dreyfus as Lennie the neighbor.(less)
Cozy, quirky, a send-up of upper-class Victorians with all their fads and funny manners. As mysteries go, there's not much here. But the historical ti...moreCozy, quirky, a send-up of upper-class Victorians with all their fads and funny manners. As mysteries go, there's not much here. But the historical tidbits are a treat.
Hampton Court Palace is a great setting for the "grace and favour" residents and their servants. There's an inquest, a costume ball, a maze, a butterman, a mysterious monkey, too many ferns, and a sweet bachelor physician who keeps embarrassing himself in front of the princess he loves. With characters named William Sheepshanks, Mrs. Nettleship, and Silas Sparrowgrass, this is a fun escape, like a comedy-of-manners movie from the 1930s or 40s.
Nice writing--I'll read more from this author. So, 3.5 stars.(less)
The Queen is feeling blue. She thinks maybe a visit to the old royal yacht will help because of all her happy memories of trips and parties there. Wit...moreThe Queen is feeling blue. She thinks maybe a visit to the old royal yacht will help because of all her happy memories of trips and parties there. Without any planning, she slips away from the horse stables one rainy afternoon and makes her way to Edinburgh.
Six other characters go about finding her themselves, instead of bringing in MI5, to save the Queen embarrassment. The backstories of these characters include the Iraq war, fox-hunting protests, and prejudice against people of South Asian descent.
This is a light, charming read, exactly what I expected. It's a very sympathetic treatment of the Queen. In this book, she's plucky, smart, no-nonsense, and unfailingly kind. She misses her mother, she's pained by all the monarchy's missteps in the '90s, and she's coming to terms with the fact that everything she's done her whole life really just amounts to decoration. She feels useless.
At times I couldn't believe I was supposed to feel sorry for a woman because she no longer has a yacht, a plane, and a private train all at her disposal and at taxpayer expense. But the story was too cute and fluffy to think much about it.
The six other characters kept things mostly at the level of an old-fashioned movie, like a zany comedy with Cary Grant. For example, a few scenes from Iraq turned on cultural differences between U.S. soldiers and the Grenadier Guards. Deeper issues about PTSD, etc. are handled rather awkwardly in monologues by a lady-in-waiting. But okay, this is not a book about deeper issues. There are some interesting snippets of history and how things work in royal life. Overall, a feel-good, pick-me-up read. (less)
I'll try this again someday. Slow slow slow start. All these villagers running around, and apparently I was supposed to know who was good and who was...moreI'll try this again someday. Slow slow slow start. All these villagers running around, and apparently I was supposed to know who was good and who was bad, but I couldn't keep track. It all seemed like too much set-up for what I was looking forward to more--chef/foodie stuff. (less)
This is a book to assign in an intro course on theology, like "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and Herman Hesse's "Siddhartha." It's about...moreThis is a book to assign in an intro course on theology, like "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and Herman Hesse's "Siddhartha." It's about faith and atonement, about spirituality as both an individual and communal experience. Sure, you can see that coming with "pilgrimage" in the title. Some of the most interesting parts of the book are when Harold has become a national curiosity, with a large group of followers (disciples) who don't understand him and co-opt his journey.
Three questions move the plot along. Will Queenie hang on long enough for Harold to reach her? What did she do for him in the past that he feels he must thank her for? And where is Harold and Maureen's son?
All the questions are answered in the very last two or three chapters. The answers aren't easy, and these chapters are intensely sad. For most of the book, Harold potters along through England, nattering on about the plants he sees along the roadside, listening to strangers' stories, rambling through his own memories. Mostly cozy stuff.
But the last bit of the book is not pleasant pottering. It's about anguish, suffering, grief, mortality. The cold hard landscape represents the world's indifference to whether Harold finds peace or not, or whether he even exists. Deep stuff, worth reflecting on, but not a gentle read on Christmas Day.(less)
I'm a huge fan of books about cities--what makes each city unique, what makes each city a character. And I love books that undermine stereotypes about...moreI'm a huge fan of books about cities--what makes each city unique, what makes each city a character. And I love books that undermine stereotypes about cities (Paris is not all macarons, L.A. is not all noir and drive-thru restaurants, London has changed since Dickens was around). But it's hard to find a fresh approach.
This book is a collection of interviews with a range of ordinary, not famous people. It isn't the kind of book you get to plan a trip or to study the history of a city. This is the kind of book you read when you miss a city, when you crave being there, and you want to read anything that reminds you of what it feels like to be on the ground there.
I like the book's approach and wish someone would do the same for other cities (Paris, Rome). I especially like that it includes people's criticisms, even bitterness, about London. A nice counterweight to all the gushy travel memoirs out these days. I love those too, but something about London seems to require a more grounded approach, nostalgia even for the annoying things. All those books about Paris (I moved to Paris, and met the Right One, and lost 30 pounds while eating sweets all day, and now I have perfectly behaved French babies, etc.) just would look silly in London.
The fragments in Londoners were a bit short, even for the extremely short attention span I've had these days, so I set it aside for now.