Couldn't finish this one. Two-dimensional characters, adolescent dialogue - I can't remember what else. What I do remember is feeling suckered by theCouldn't finish this one. Two-dimensional characters, adolescent dialogue - I can't remember what else. What I do remember is feeling suckered by the good reviews on Amazon. I posted a negative review that somehow disappeared within days. Only time that's ever happened to me there. How do you make a negative review disappear?...more
This is a book for anyone who loves Africa (even if you've never been there!), and for anyone who loves family sagas. I'd read the third book in this sThis is a book for anyone who loves Africa (even if you've never been there!), and for anyone who loves family sagas. I'd read the third book in this series, and had kept this volume at bay, knowing that once I opened it I would be up until three in the morning finishing it. Yep. It is plot-driven, but it's a great story, good enough to pull you through. And it's got plenty of emotional insights as well. I don't know how you can finish this book without having been seriously reminded that being emotionally sensitive, holding back, and allowing hurt feelings to justify walling yourself off is a waste of time and a waste of life. There's plenty of substance here. It's just such a great story that you may be getting that substance subconsciously, instead of having to labor over it. ...more
Nora’s best friend, Chris, has been murdered; Chris’s girlfriend, Adriane, leftI reviewed this teen paranormal book for the Historical Novel Society.
Nora’s best friend, Chris, has been murdered; Chris’s girlfriend, Adriane, left catatonic amidst the gore; and Nora’s own boyfriend, Max, has disappeared. Did Max do it? Max and Chris had been working for an eccentric history professor on translating a mysterious sixteenth century book of secret knowledge. Nora, a Latin prodigy, has been translating the associated letters of Elizabeth Weston. The teens end up in a desperate scavenger hunt in the churches, ancient libraries, and ruined castles of Prague. It seems unlikely they’ll escape a murderous cult searching for the same ancient prize, a machine that may be a direct conduit to God.
If it sounds like all the real action is in the present day, that’s because it is. The old letters that Nora translates never bring an actual immersion in that previous era. This isn’t historical fiction—unless The Da Vinci Code is historical fiction, simply because its subject is a mystery from the ages. Wasserman is an accomplished, fluid writer, but this book was a third longer than it should have been. I wish I’d begun with the author’s note and known that Elizabeth Weston and the mysterious book were historical; they felt made up. The old letters were confusing and overly long, and the protagonists’ dialogue oh so snarky. (“There was another clue, wasn’t there? It’s the only reason you’d risk leaving.” “Maybe I’m out of conditioner. It’s a mistake to overlook the value of moisturizing.”) Sarcasm ad nauseam isn’t witty; bitchiness isn’t spunkiness; and Mad Magazine shouldn’t meet The Da Vinci Code. ...more
When her father kicks a pushy Yankee realtor off their Florida swampland property and the guy later turns uMy review for the Historical Novel Society:
When her father kicks a pushy Yankee realtor off their Florida swampland property and the guy later turns up dead, it turns out to be the opening of a life-changing season for 10-year-old Bones. This children’s book, set in 1949, is a stroll through a time when the color line was drawn with a knife, when kids scrubbed the house screens with DDT, when Florida had never heard of Disney, and when children prefaced every statement to adults with a “yes sir” or a “no ma’am.”
Ashley-Hollinger, who grew up in Florida, nicely evokes the era. Bones and her family and friends are as likable as the bad guys are despicable. I had a tougher time with sometimes awkward dialogue; the fact that much of the action happens offstage; a stretch when it came to Bones’s solving the crime… kind of; and a resolution that didn’t do the characters justice. That said, I enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the Florida, town life, all Bones’s pets, the family’s visit to the Seminole village, and the important role of a brain-injured vet. Bones’ good-hearted struggles to mature were believable and moving. ...more
Beautiful book, beginning in 1848 Rome, with an American missionary bishop urging several cardinals to appoint a priest he works with as bishop of theBeautiful book, beginning in 1848 Rome, with an American missionary bishop urging several cardinals to appoint a priest he works with as bishop of the area around Santa Fe. The territory has been part of the Diocese of Durango, 1,500 miles away across rough, roadless country. As a result of the brief war with Mexico, it's now part of the United States.
This is the fictionalized story of the great Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, 1814-'88, who built the cathedral in Santa Fe, ended corruption amongst the priesthood in the area, and was beloved by the people. That's quite a feat, following as he did on the heels of several massacres of priests and other Europeans. ...more
When my daughter was three, she used to ask me what the classical music we were listening to was about. I'd tell her stories (usually involving horsesWhen my daughter was three, she used to ask me what the classical music we were listening to was about. I'd tell her stories (usually involving horses and beaches, I'm afraid). When we'd go to art museums, it was the same thing with the paintings we looked at. What was happening?
Katie Ward does this on a larger and more thoughtful scale with Girl Reading. (Strike the horses and beaches.)
The first chapter is based on Simone Martini's "Annunciation," painted in 1333. Another chapter is a story of an artist's servant in seventeenth century Amsterdam, surreptitiously reading between chores. In the nineteenth century, it's a medium, posing for an early photograph as she reads. And so on, for seven well written stories, all loosely tied together by their theme of a girl reading and the revelation that comes in the last chapter, which takes place in 2060, and people are able to live in a virtual world, interacting with the people and places of their choosing.
Don't read this expecting a narrative that actually links the seven stories; it's not there. Just enjoy the excellent writing and its glimpses into seven different worlds....more
I reviewed this book for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a great organization if you love historical novels and history.
It's aI reviewed this book for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a great organization if you love historical novels and history.
It's a good read, a history (non-fiction) about Benedictine Brother Peter Morrone (1210-1296), who took his last name from a mountain in the rough Italian Abruzzi. He lived there as a hermit—but not just any hermit. Morrone was a rock star hermit, attracting crowds of followers and fans. He even founded a strict but popular religious order, the Celestines. When the pope died in 1292, the College of Cardinals spent two years bickering over who would be the next pope. Peter sent them a message to hurry it up. To his horror, they immediately chose him. He was consecrated Pope Celestine V in August 1294 and resigned, the only pope ever to have done so, five months later. His successor imprisoned him and he soon died, a suspicious hole in his skull. That’s the bare outline of a story that’s rife with self-flagellation, hermitic visions of naked seductress demons, murdered and murderous popes—even the Franciscans are divided and torturing one another. It turns out St. Thomas Aquinas’s death, en route to the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, was also suspicious.
I didn’t find much mystery (as the title promised) surrounding the elderly Celestine’s abdication. The book is all the same an enjoyable albeit blood-curdling read, filled with marvelous details. ...more
Red Plenty is first-rate historical fiction for economists - and if that sounds like a niche market, well, it explains why the author needed and receiRed Plenty is first-rate historical fiction for economists - and if that sounds like a niche market, well, it explains why the author needed and received a grant for its writing. It also explains the page notes at the book's end.
I love historical fiction - and write it - and I understand all the research that goes into it. This book is fabulous in that it give the reader the actual source for the information listed at the novel's end; i.e., a note for 219 reads, "The original shortfall leaping from commodity to commodity: for the classic analysis of the reasons for inevitable, permanent shortage in 'unreformed' planned economies, see Janos Kornai, Economics of Shortage, vol. A (Amsterdam/Oxford/New York, 1980). Kornai points out that, as well as the 'vegetative process' by which in such a system every actor sensibly overstates wheir needs, the system's own insistence on perpetual growth ensures that any given supply of a material is going to be too little for what its users would want to do with it."
Or earlier, when Khrushchev is booed in the United States, he wonders on page 29 "what is that ooo-ooo sound": "despite forty years in politics, Khrushchev had genuinely never heard booing till he encountered it abroad. But I have relocated his first encounter with 'the ooo-ooo noise' to New York in 1959 from London in 1956. See Taubman, Khrushchev, p. 357." The book chronicles the failure of the Soviet system, sure, but it also brings to life the utopian hopes of the people trying to make it work. Here is one of those believers, thinking through a problem as he stands amidst a smelly mass of humanity squeezed onto a bus in Leningrad (St. Petersburg):
"If you could maximise, minimise, optimise the collection of machines at the Plywood Trust, why couldn't you optimise a collection of factories, treating each of them one level up, as an equation? You could tune a factory, then, then tune a group of factories, till they hummed, till they purred. And that meant... 'Watch what you're doing!' cried the short woman. 'Take your head out of your arse and watch what you're doing, why don't you?" The big man had seized the chance, the last time they all shuffled up the tram, to free his hand and light a cigarette. But as it hung at the corner of his mouth, cardboard holder pinched in two dimensions to act as a filter, a jolt from the track had knocked the whole burning load of tobacco out of the paper tube at the end, and it had fallen, smouldering, onto her shoulder. Her arms were pinned. 'Sorry Sister," said Big Chin, trying to flap the embers off her and down.
Economics never weighs down the story here, and you can ignore those last pages of sources and explanations if you want to just stick with the story (which takes place from 1938 to 1970) of hope and disillusionment. Even though I'm married to an economist, I have to admit I never would have picked up this book, which came to me via the Goodreads First Reads program. I'd recommend it to anyone open to its eccentric mix of economics and fiction - and even suggest it's an important book, as it shows how people were caught up in a doomed system that seems oddly familiar. ...more
In the first paragraph of this fabulous book, Taras Grescoe writes, about the Shanghai Auto Show, biggest in the world: "Throughout the cavernous showIn the first paragraph of this fabulous book, Taras Grescoe writes, about the Shanghai Auto Show, biggest in the world: "Throughout the cavernous showrooms, lithe motor-showgirls in shimmering nylon evening gowns and leatherette miniskirts drape themselves over aerodynamic fenders, like molten watches drizzled over branches in a Dali landscape. On rotating platforms, surrealistic concept cars languidly pirouette…"
Wow. Beyond absolutely jaw-dropping writing, so good you want to linger over it, Grescoe can pack in more information in a paragraph than you can get in an entire newspaper article. Try this one:
Only twenty-five years ago, automobile traffic in Shanghai was limited to chauffeur-driven Hongqi limousines for Communist Party officials. Such was China's isolation that, during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards floated a proposal to make red stoplights signify "Go." Today, there are two million cars on the streets of Shanghai. to ease congestion, a high price has been set on car registration, and bicycles have been banned from main streets. Backups in China can make even Los Angeles traffic look positively bucolic: in 2010, drivers northwest of Beijing were stuck for ten days in a jam that stretched 60 miles across two provinces. To increase mobility, China has built a 33,000-mile system of expressways in the last twenty years. Already larger than the network that connects the European Union, it will be more extensive than the United States' freeway system, by 2035. By then, carbon dioxide emissions from China's transport sector will easily be the highest in the world.
Later, in a chapter on my heart's hometown, Portland, Oregon, Grescoe gives a great description, then, ominously, writes, "Yet something is missing from downtown Portland."
Oh! My hackles slightly up, I read on…
It was only as I crossed Burnside Avenue toward Union Station and heard a train whistle ricocheting between the steel bridges spanning the Willamette River, that I realized what Portland was lacking. I'd been strolling downtown for over two hours and had yet to encounter that bane of the North American metropolis: the neighborhood-killing, blight-inducing, multilaned freeway.
All in all, this is an entertaining, fact-filled travelogue. Admittedly, I share Grescoe's absolute disdain for automobiles, highways, and suburbs. I'm pretty sure, though, that I would have loved it even if I thought cars were great.
Thanks to Goodreads Firstreads program for this first-rate book. Everyone should read it. (And get rid of their cars and start commuting by bike, train, bus, or ferry.)...more
If you liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you'll like The Girl Who Played with Fire.
I liked it not quite as much - perhaps Larsson was at his besIf you liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you'll like The Girl Who Played with Fire.
I liked it not quite as much - perhaps Larsson was at his best with the first novel, which is a page-turner needing editing. Dragon Tattoo was more political, had great sections describing how Lisbeth hacked into computer accounts, and a love story both wrenching and hopeful beyond the thriller.
This book has some of the same; it feels very much a second book leading to a third... and fourth and fifth. From what I've read, Larsson had much of a fourth already written when he died; if his longtime lover and his father and brother can resolve their differences, that fourth book might come out. He may have had even more outlined. But his father and brother have garnered all the financial benefits of the books' success -- a father and brother Larsson had been estranged from, leaving the partner out in the cold. Or so the story goes. Does she have possession of the fourth manuscript? The sketched-out plots of the fifth and sixth book?
Whatever the story of the future books, The Girl Who Played with Fire is a much shorter, quicker read than Dragon Tattoo. I had a harder time suspending my disbelief regarding some plot elements, and although I had a hard time putting it down, I'm not running out to get a copy of the third book, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Then again, in the past couple weeks I've read , seen both the Swedish and the American films, and read Fire. Maybe I'm just satiated for now....more
Author Sarah Rayner has that marvelous ability to bring characters to life, to see into the human heart and share her vision with readers, and to catcAuthor Sarah Rayner has that marvelous ability to bring characters to life, to see into the human heart and share her vision with readers, and to catch readers with a story that they can't put down.
Like many great books, the plot of One Moment, One Morning sounds a bit simple when boiled down to explain "what is it about?" The story follows three people: Karen, her best friend Anne, and social worker Lou, on the commuter train from Brighton to London. Karen's husband, also on the train, has a heart attack and dies during the morning commute. The book is about the three women (plus Karen's now fatherless children and assorted others) as they live through the reverberations of loss.
So that's what it's about. Eh. But what it's really about is the fact that we have one life. That's it. So we need to grab it and live it well. It's really about the fact that stories tell the truth better than anything else. It's really about the blessing of a well-told story.
Thanks to Goodreads' First Reads program for this book. ...more
John Estem is an accountant apprenticing with one of the few black CPAs in the country in the 1960s. Even bMy review for the Historical Novel Society:
John Estem is an accountant apprenticing with one of the few black CPAs in the country in the 1960s. Even better, he’s working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with Dr. Martin Luther King. On the downside, his CPA boss is a bully, making fun of his brace and limp (the result of childhood polio) in front of Estem’s heroes—including Dr. King, Andrew Young, and Ralph Abernathy. Estem pilfers $10,000 and suddenly two white guys are tailing him. Next thing Estem knows he’s patriotically informing on his hated CPA boss to the FBI. Estem so wants to believe the agents, that his boss is a communist, a danger to the country and to Dr. King. If that were true, Estem would be a star. Except that’s not the way it plays out, of course. Estem passes on information that allows the FBI to potentially sabotage the civil rights movement.
The book is a noir thriller, and so in addition to the FBI, corrruption, and civil rights heroes, there’s also seedy nightlife, gangsters, and beautiful women. The core of the story, though, is Estem’s understanding that he’s in the company of giants. “I never believed in humanity as he did,” Estem says of Dr. King.
Author Harrison couldn’t have been braver in his choice of a (fictitious) protagonist: a self-pitying, traitorous accountant—not an obvious candidate for a hero’s journey. Neither would a literary agent likely recommend writing about Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggles to stay faithful to his wife. That Harrison pulls it off—and with a debut novel, no less—is truly a testament both to his heart and to his writerly talents. ...more
I loved this novel and reviewed it for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a great organization if you love historical novels and I loved this novel and reviewed it for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a great organization if you love historical novels and history.
It's set in 1956, a time when Ben MacCarthy traveled around Ireland collecting stories for the Folklore Commission. His own life story is a mess — he didn’t rescue his beloved wife, Venetia, after she was kidnapped. She and the twins Ben fathered but never met are now back in Ireland, she under the abusive hand of the man who grabbed her. Ben’s story is shot through with Irish legend and IRA gunrunning; Brian Boru and Michael Collins; mythic Finn MacCool and Ben’s new mentor, master storyteller John Jacob O’Neill.
Ben learns how stories come true, that they’re where you go to look for the truth of your own life, and that, most importantly, “there’s no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one’s own. So if we’re to live good lives, we have to tell ourselves our own story. In a good way. A way that’s decent to ourselves.”
That’s a piece of advice worth holding on to, and Delaney demonstrates how to do it, to bring back “the warriors and princesses and heroes and maidens and druids and wizards and chieftains and bards … returned from the shadows of time and the universe to help their descendants to a better life.” Those figures belong in our own stories (and the rapparees too, those Irish bandits and highwaymen). This is the third book of a trilogy, but I never missed not having read the first two, although they’re on my to-read list now. I was completely drawn in, trusting Delaney’s authority to tell this story, and loving his way of addressing me. Google “the most eloquent man in the world” and Delaney’s name appears. Read The Last Storyteller and you’ll know why. Recommended. ...more
Here's my review of this novel for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a great organization if you love historical novels and histHere's my review of this novel for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a great organization if you love historical novels and history.
German anti-fascists in Berlin in the 1920s and ’30s felt the weight of history on their shoulders; it was up to them to expose and stop the Nazis. When they failed, many managed to escape to England, where they desperately warned a deaf world about Hitler. The Gestapo, equally earnest, worked to stop them—by murder if need be.
Funder, author of the bestselling nonfiction Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, based this new book, her first novel, on real people and events, most notably Dora Fabian, a brave, beautiful, and charismatic feminist-socialist. Dora’s memory haunts both Ernst Toller (1893-1939, a German playwright, revolutionary, and poet), and Ruth Wesemann, Dora’s cousin, who became a real-life friend of the author. A fourth important character is Ruth’s husband, Hans Wesemann, a pundit who lampooned Hitler and his thuggish crew.
Its subject matter is both important and meaningful, dealing with injustice and decency, and also life’s unexpected demands for courage, which we may or may not live up to. It’s an ambitious novel that builds upon a compelling drama—but with a dry, documentarian sensibility. I sometimes returned to it out of duty. Part of that may be because of the distancing inherent in telling the story from the remove of Toller and Ruth’s viewpoints, years and decades after Dora’s death. Still, Funder’s writing is often insightful and the story is gripping. Here’s Toller, shell-shocked in a sanatorium among the physically maimed of World War I. “All is calm, apart from the Christ hanging at the end of the room, naked and dying,” he observes. “He looks familiar — like a relative? So far as I can tell, he and I are the only Jews here.” ...more
I reviewed this book for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a great organization if you love historical novels and history.
In thiI reviewed this book for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a great organization if you love historical novels and history.
In this novel’s afterward, author Harrison explains that as an 11-year-old she latched onto Robert Massie’s masterful biography, Nicholas and Alexandra. It became part of her, and later, when Harrison learned that a bear mauled Rasputin’s daughter in the 1930s in Maria Rasputin’s circus act in Peru, Indiana, Harrison knew she had to write the story.
Enchantments begins with the “mad monk” Grigory Rasputin’s body being pulled from the frozen Neva River in 1917. Now the forces that would destroy old Russia gather an unstoppable momentum. Masha and Varya, his daughters, are momentarily cocooned from the upheaval, for the Tsarina has brought them to Tsarskoe Selo, the Romanovs’ royal residence 15 miles outside St. Petersburg. Varya, 16, spends her time with OTMA (the grand duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia), while Masha, 18, Rasputin’s favorite, becomes the 14-year-old Tsarevich’s only true friend. As their world collapses, Masha tells Alyosha stories of her childhood in Siberia, and of her father’s miracles and escapades. Alyosha lives and breathes in these pages as a boy who, alone among his family, has no illusions about what will befall them. Harrison’s Rasputin, seen through his daughter’s eyes, is a sympathetic force of nature. This is a dazzling, haunting novel, a love story that balances magic and the sweat of history, our compulsion to understand “how it really happened,” and our human love of the mysterious.
“We don’t need narratives that rationalize human experience so much as those that enlarge it with the breath of mystery,” wrote Harrison in a recent op-ed for the New York Times. She surely succeeded in doing that with Enchantments. Highly recommended. ...more
My review of first appeared in the November 2011 issue of Historical Novels Review:
Veteran author Lynn Cullen, author of The Creation of Eve, chose JuMy review of first appeared in the November 2011 issue of Historical Novels Review:
Veteran author Lynn Cullen, author of The Creation of Eve, chose Juana la Loca, middle child of Spain’s Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, to bring to life in this tragic cautionary tale. C.W. Gortner also wrote about Juana the Mad in his recent novel, The Last Queen. Interestingly, both Gortner and Cullen, after doing the research, decided that Juana’s diagnosis and 50-year confinement (at the hands of her husband, father, and son, all of whom preferred ruling without her) was specious. Cullen’s Juana wasn’t mad, as in psychotic or schizophrenic, at all. She was rather a victim of the manipulating and grasping men in her life. (It could however be argued that Cullen’s Juana exhibits symptoms of depression.)
Cullen presents her as a woman without a voice. As a child Juana is in awe of her mother and in love with her father; as a young woman, sent to a foreign land to marry a handsome stranger, she is consumed by her desire for him; and as a widow, now understanding how her husband betrayed her and how her father was not the man she had imagined, she agrees to sign away her rights to the throne—back to her father. Cullen shows Juana as kind-hearted, passive, and childlike. She is a woman watching, not acting, not speaking out. Juana’s two sources of joy come from her secret love for Diego Colon, Christopher Columbus’s son, and her love for her children.
Not everyone can be Eleanor or Elizabeth, it’s true, even if she is born to the throne. Readers of well-told tale risk feeling depressed for Juana – ironically the very mental ailment that so many historians ascribe to her. ...more
Here's my review that appeared in the November 2011 issue of Historical Novel Review:
This mystery is the latest in a series, Bones in the Belfry, A LoHere's my review that appeared in the November 2011 issue of Historical Novel Review:
This mystery is the latest in a series, Bones in the Belfry, A Load of Old Bones, Bone Idle, and Bones in High Places being the earlier installments. The books have a charming premise: some chapters are told from points of view of the protagonist reverend’s dog and cat, Bouncer and Maurice. There’s a dead-on Miss Marple British village setting complete with eccentric characters; and the author’s style is cheeky, chirpy, and witty. She’s also got a nice plot, a tale of a blackmailed bishop amidst treacle tarts, waistcoats, and buggery.
I finished it with some relief, weary of feeling perplexed about what was going on. I have read a fair amount of British fiction, but this was hard work. The glib repartee here is evidently graduate level British English, and it turns out I’m a dull American sophomore. More confounding yet was that instead of a backstory the book has 25 footnotes. “First mentioned in A Load of Old Bones,” “Dumont appears in Bones in High Places,” “See A Load of Old Bones.” I puzzled over the story’s era; my guess is the 1930s. The reverend drives an old Singer. Maybe the ’50s. It was as though the first third—or more—of the book were missing. See Bones in the Belfry indeed. ...more
Between the easy-to-read prose, the clever plot, and the intriguing characters, One Blood feels like a solid new offering in a long line-up of mysteriBetween the easy-to-read prose, the clever plot, and the intriguing characters, One Blood feels like a solid new offering in a long line-up of mysteries featuring Sister Conchita and Sergeant Kella. I was surprised to see it's only the second.
Kella is on the Solomon Islands Police Force in 1960. He's caught between whitey's culture and his own island culture, both a cop and an aofia, that is a hereditary spiritual peacekeeper. While it's true that an exotic location and a cop or detective caught between two cultures is a well-worn set-up in the mystery genre, it's also true that it's often used because it can work really well. Kent makes it work, especially with the addition of the feisty Sister Conchita into the mix. Sister Conchita is the new leader of a mission that's become inward rather than outward looking, and she's got to shake up three elderly nuns who would prefer things stay the same.
Sergeant Kella is investigating sabotage at a logging camp, while Sister Conchita wants to know the truth about the death of an American who died suspiciously at an open house at the mission. He died soon after reaching out to Sister Conchita, and she knows she should have slowed down long enough to talk with him. The two cases are connected, of course. The fact that these were the islands where President John F. Kennedy's PT boat sank, leaving the future president and his crew to hide in the jungle from the Japanese, also plays a role in the story.
Another great book through the Goodreads firstreads program!...more
Here's my review of this strikingly good novel, one that's literary yet so readable, for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a greHere's my review of this strikingly good novel, one that's literary yet so readable, for the Historical Novel Society's review magazine. They're a great organization if you love historical novels and history.
This beautifully imagined and written novel, which feels more like a literary biography than a fiction, tells the story of Vladimir Nabokov’s younger brother, a brother who followed too soon—11 months—after the 1899 birth of his bullying, brilliant sibling. Author Russell heard about Sergey Nabokov in an essay in Salon.com, and now has conjured him back to life with this many-layered, readable page-turner. The story begins with Sergey trapped in 1943 Berlin. An arrest seeming inevitable, Sergey is writing the story of his life, “without knowing how much time remains.” The chapters of the memoir then take their turns with 1943’s events.
Russell has succeeded in the impressive feat of making vivid and compelling the story of a vulnerable hanger-on, a person Vladimir Nabokov described as a “shadow in the background.” Sergey, an affectionate child in a liberal, wealthy Russian family that celebrated the gregarious Vladimir, was mostly overlooked. An effeminate, stuttering adolescent, Sergey was pitied and scorned. As an adult, he drifted for years, opium making him even more shadowlike as he searched for love and meaning. The shimmering world he lived in, though!—the tables he ate at, and the beds he slept in! After graduating from Cambridge, Sergey moved with the glitterati of between-the-wars Paris. Here are Cocteau, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, and Vladimir Nabokov himself, all of them written with wit. There are fireworks of detail that would overwhelm a reader in the hands of a less adept writer. (Details pulled off in part, it turns out, by a cadre of research assistants!)
This is a book that ends all too quickly, and calls to be reread and enjoyed again. Absolutely recommended. ...more
The Invisible Bridge is an amazing story, peppered with just enough brilliant toss-offs - like the hero feeling "carbonated joy" rising in his chest uThe Invisible Bridge is an amazing story, peppered with just enough brilliant toss-offs - like the hero feeling "carbonated joy" rising in his chest upon seeing his brother - to let a reader know that the writer is masterful without feeling as though Orringer is showing off. Her research is also impeccable - how on earth did this American write so convincingly about Paris just prior to World War II through the eyes of her young Hungarian protagonist?
I picked this up at the library, read the first couple pages, just to make sure I wanted to read it, and could put it down. I was reading it at 4 a.m.
Yes, it's yet another book about the grim situation of Jews in World War II Europe, but Orringer is writing about her own ancestors, so you know that at least a couple of these people will survive. It is mostly a love story, and the story of survival in the face of terrible evil. Wonderful writing, plotting, and characters set against the landscape of World War II. Magnificent....more
If you like Agatha Christie you'll like Carola Dunn, who writes with the dame's ease. This mystery has a classic feel to it that invites a reader to lIf you like Agatha Christie you'll like Carola Dunn, who writes with the dame's ease. This mystery has a classic feel to it that invites a reader to light a fire in the study and retreat to that easy chair next to it, cup of tea in hand and the little Jack Russell terrier at your feet. The story is a "who done it" puzzle as easy to enjoy as a drift down one of England's canals.
Writer Dunn is an expat Brit living in Eugene, Oregon. If you're English and land in the United States, it's hard to imagine a more copacetic place than Eugene -- maybe Corvallis, up the road, or Ashland, just south with its Shakespeare Festival, or even Portland... but all of them share a green rolling landscape and cultural sensibility that must have helped Dunn settle in. Even so, her nostalgia for England, rural Dorset in this case, had me wanting to book tickets. Gone West, set in the 1920s, has the requisite yet-to-be-electrified manse; country folk both dour and genial; a clever detective, Daisy Fletcher, a writer whose husband works for Scotland Yard -- a real detective, who is in turns appreciative of Daisy's help and exasperated by her meddling.
Daisy has driven from London out to the wilds of southwest England at the request of an old school acquaintance, a widow Daisy doesn't know well. The woman is secretary to a sickly author of Western pulp fiction -- he puts out three books a year, books that have become much better sellers since his long and worsening illness necessitated Daisy's old friend taking on the writing. Is someone in the household dosing him, keeping him sick so the secretary can keep up the writing?
The writer dies a bit more than halfway through the book, and now it's up to Daisy to make certain the killer doesn't go free.
Gone West has a great cast of characters, memorable insights into human nature scattered throughout, and a spot-on evocation of 1920s England, complete with obscure card games and the best description of how difficult automobile driving used to be that I've ever read. ...more
This book put me off a few months ago - I read the first dozen pages and set it back on my shelf. Then came all those movie trailers of Daniel Craig aThis book put me off a few months ago - I read the first dozen pages and set it back on my shelf. Then came all those movie trailers of Daniel Craig and I was inspired to give it another try.
Thanks Mr. Craig. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a lot of fun - and it's lasting fun. So many good books end all too soon, but Dragon Tattoo is a hefty 590 pages leading a reader on. And on. And on. Just when the main mystery wraps up, around page 490, the other one kicks in.
The characters feel enjoyably real and multi-faceted (including Sweden itself); the plot is well twisted; and the writing is invisible... you're simply there. The book also offers great insights into the best and worst of journalism, and its hero is a journalist - hooray!
I still haven't seen the movie, and a friend tells me that it's the Swedish version that's better. Hollywood prettified the characters, she complained, explaining that Daniel Craig isn't a good fit for the journalist hero.
Mmm. Maybe. I've been picturing him as the hero, however, and it hasn't hurt my enjoyment of the book one whit....more