Audrey Niffennegger's new novel begins with the death from cancer of one of its main point-of-view characters, Elspeth. After Elspeth dies she watches...moreAudrey Niffennegger's new novel begins with the death from cancer of one of its main point-of-view characters, Elspeth. After Elspeth dies she watches from above as her lover, Robert, curls his body around hers on the hospital bed - immediately telling the reader that in this story consciousness doesn't end with death.
This novel is about letting go - or not letting go. When does that turn into OCD? How far do you go with loyalty?
I disagree with readers who found the book sophomoric. It's difficult to write about dysfunctional and immature characters, but Niffenegger pulled it off. This is actually a more challenging novel than Time Traveler's Wife - not in that it's more difficult to read, but in that the relational issues are darker and more complex.
Niffenegger's writing is seamless and beautiful; her ability to bring her characters to life - and life after death - is skillful; and her plotting is classic.
So why the huge variety of reader responses?
I'm guessing that it's because The Time Traveler's Wife was, in the end, such a feel-good novel, about a beautiful and doomed yet not doomed relationship - there the couple's love was open-eyed, no one tricked the other, and their love was consummated and completed with their child.
Like everyone else I cried throughout that book, but they were good tears. As long as you could follow the back-and-forth in time, The Time Traveler's Wife didn't ask terribly much of its readers other than to sit back and enjoy a great love story. Not the case for Her Fearful Symmetry, which I finished at 1:30 in the morning last night, turning off the light feeling at loose ends - and unable to exactly put my finger on why the novel left me unsatisfied, although I have some theories, at least half of which have to do with me, as a mainstream American reader rather than the book itself. I think too that the title is questionable. "Tyger, tyger burning bright" was not at the heart of this tale.
A book group would be the place to talk about the novel's shortcomings - if any! - rather than an Amazon review, since that discussion would inevitably involve plot spoilers, and the novel does have well done twists.
I'd recommend it, with the understanding that it's a different, darker book than Time Traveler's Wife.(less)
A nearly perfect novel, Cape of Storms is the story of three Russian half sisters finding their way in a world that constantly threatens to tear us do...moreA nearly perfect novel, Cape of Storms is the story of three Russian half sisters finding their way in a world that constantly threatens to tear us down. The youngest sister, Zai, has a stark choice - to go the way of her sister Dasha, who has chosen happiness, or the way of sister Sonia, who has chosen unhappiness. Sonia would today be diagnosed as clinically depressed - and some readers may rebel at Berberova's depiction of her life as a "choice." That is, after all, part of the definition of mental illness - that depressed or schizophrenic have no choice. Here's Dasha, in the opening lines of the novel: "It often seemed to Dasha that inside herself it was like a starry sky. And in fact, when she looked inward she4 seemed to be standing at the brink of a great chasm. There, at her very core, deep down, where her thoughts were anchored, reigned calm, quiet, and clarity... Sometimes Dasha felt as if she were sitting above a precipice with the stars beneath her; often she would linger with them for a long while..." Later on, Dasha thinks, "the world was carved up a long time ago, not length-wise, between good and evil, but cross-wise, between happiness and unhappiness..." (less)
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 s...moreThis 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. (less)
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 catc...moreAuthor 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. (less)
This book epitomizes for me what's so great about the giveaways on Goodreads. It's a book I never would have bought myself. It's a romance, it's light...moreThis book epitomizes for me what's so great about the giveaways on Goodreads. It's a book I never would have bought myself. It's a romance, it's lightweight, and I'm serious and literary.
Hmmmm. Time to rethink that whole bit, evidently.
What a sweet and smart book! It had been waiting for a day (week, month...) when I needed cheering up, and it was what the doctor ordered.
It's a paced-just-right love story, between commitment-adverse Joe, who needs a house-sitter, and Tess, a single mom who needs a home. Set on the coast of North Britain, the story offers a sweet look into the manners and life of those exotic Brits, and there's also a nice amount of sensual build-up. It explores how secrets get in the way of love, and how forgiveness is so crucial - including forgiving yourself. One of my favorite insights was how empty living without loving leaves a person, on down the road, how we have to open up and to trust.
Saints' stories once were used to show people how to live; sometimes fiction does that too. Secrets does.
I loved that Tess was OK just as she was, as a mom and homemaker. She didn't need to be a "professional" in order to deserve respect. I loved how Joe treated baby Emmaline.
This provided a great escape on a snowy day in Denver.
by Lisa Kleypas made me rethink romance novels. It's smart, funny, fast-moving, feels plausible yet magical and has a fairy tale quality that transpo...more by Lisa Kleypas made me rethink romance novels. It's smart, funny, fast-moving, feels plausible yet magical and has a fairy tale quality that transports readers away and into its love story set in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington. It made me realize that's what romance novels should be -- fairy tales for grownups. The book begins with glass artist Lucy Marinn making her live-in boyfriend of two years a glass gift -- she's feeling grateful for the relationship, a record for her. The boyfriend arrives and breaks up with her, admitting that he's fallen for her self-centered and spoiled sister. Sam Nolan, on the other hand, would never go for a live-in relationship. He never even spends the whole night. His alcoholic parents painted an ugly picture of marriage, and he wants no part of it. Part of the book's attraction is its setting and well-crafted plot; another is that the erstwhile lovers never do anything brain-thumpingly stupid, never keep their mouths shut, for instance, when a simple, obvious word would relieve the tension (and end the story). They're nice people who should be together... and because this is a romance, readers can feel fairly certain (OK, completely certain -- it's a rule of the genre) of a happy ending. Kleypas pulls off just the right amount of suspense, just the right amount of dysfunction, and throws in some comedy in the form of Lucy's mother, who gives perfect motherly advice. I've already passed along the book, but my favorite bit of conversation between Lucy and her mother went something along these lines. "Mother, we're just friends. Sam doesn't want to be in a committed relationship." "Well, you can change his mind about that." "I'm not going to torture a perfectly nice man to try to change him." "Lucy, what do you think marriage is for?" There are a couple elements of out-and-out magic, which slightly took away from the story for me -- but I was enjoying myself so much that they were easy to pass over... and judging by the number of books about witches, vampires, etc. that I see on Goodreads, I'm thinking I'm in the minority here, and Kleypas will gain rather than lose fans with this element. There was also the carefully planted seed of another couple finding each other in the next book (this is the Friday Harbor series, after all). I look forward to it!(less)
Hilarious book, with Alison Hopkins, in her early 30s, coping with her lawyer boyfriend walking out on her at a dinner party. He was supposed to go ge...moreHilarious book, with Alison Hopkins, in her early 30s, coping with her lawyer boyfriend walking out on her at a dinner party. He was supposed to go get mustard, instead he calls to tell her he's never coming back, that he's in love with his college sweetheart instead.
This reminds me a little of Chelsea Handler's humor, but without the sleeping around. Poor Alison has slept with only three men - and one was gay.
I didn't laugh out loud, but I was genuinely amused and entertained throughout.(less)
This is a gorgeous, satisfying book. If you liked Dr. Zhivago, you'll love Alice in Exile. It's also a bit like Alan Furst's books, which also evoke a...moreThis is a gorgeous, satisfying book. If you liked Dr. Zhivago, you'll love Alice in Exile. It's also a bit like Alan Furst's books, which also evoke a tender, somewhat melancholy mood that brings to life not only a past era but a past sensibility, both good and bad.
Read is slightly notorious in Great Britain for being a Catholic anti-feminist. It doesn't show in Alice in Exile, in fact, he does a really marvelous job of giving us the world through 1913 suffragette Alice's eyes. She's young and naive, yes, but she's never less than brave and resourceful in facing them.
Alice Fry is studying languages at the university, something she's able to do because her father has a bit of money, just enough that he can be a radical publisher and take care of his family, which in those days meant servants. Alice falls in love with Edward Cobb, the heir of a baronet, that is, a man who has too much money to ignore but who is not descended from aristocracy. And he falls in love with her.
Society, though, conspires against the couple, and they break it off. Without telling Edward that she's pregnant, Alice accepts a job offer with a Russian baron - she'll be the governess to his two younger children. He is a womanizer, or rather a connoisseur of women...
All of this plays out with the coming war looming in the background, and then it's upon the characters.
One of the real pleasures of the book is its measured pace. So much is from the interior, intelligent viewpoints. It's not a book that would make it past the relentless show! don't tell! of today's agents.
Here's Edward, arguing about women getting the vote with the conservative woman his family wants him to marry (p. 56):
"So what are the intelligent arguments against it?" "Oh, there are a number. First of all, most women are simply not interested in politics and quite rightly see their proper sphere of power and influence in the home."
"But there are women like you," said Edward, "who know as much if not more than most men about what is going on in the world."
"Of course, but first of all we are a small minority and always will be, and secondly our influence is more effective if it is exercised through men.... It sounds fine to say that women should be independent of their fathers and husbands; some idiots even make it sound like the emancipation of slaves; but in reality it's a Gradgrind's and Casanova's charter that will make working-class women into wage-slaves and middle-class girls into sluts."
Elspeth spat out the word 'slut' with a particular vehemence and glanced sharply at Edward as if to say that he should know whom she had in mind. Or did he imagine it? Edward may have been sensitive to the charge that he was behaving dishonourably in sleeping with Alice Fry, but he was surprised to find in Elspeth so strong an apologist for a strict sexual morality... did he feel unmoved by Elspeth's beauty because he had been so frequently and thoroughly satisfied by Alice?
Here's sample, from page 221, about Alice's second Easter in Russia:
... during the long liturgy of the Easter Vigil, in the church packed not just with the villagers, but also with the walking wounded from the house, she did not feel the 'enlightened' superiority to the superstitions of the peasantry that she had shared with Baron Rettenberg the year before.
Quite to the contrary, the faith and hope that animated the candlelit faces struck her as more real and so, in a sense, more true than the sneer of the sceptic; it was as if the stone gargoyles or wooden carvings from the Middle Ages had come to life, drawing her into the certainties of an age of faith.
The book is about love and war, England and Russia, adultery, justice, faith, and families. It's a marvelous read. (less)
Rightfully Mine is a short book with a lot to it. It drops the reader into Moses' people's camp, at the end of their Exodus journey out of Egypt, just...moreRightfully Mine is a short book with a lot to it. It drops the reader into Moses' people's camp, at the end of their Exodus journey out of Egypt, just before they crossed the Jordan and fought the Canaanites for what would become Israel. That takes a lot of backstory, which Villanueva manages to quickly pack in.
The Israelites feel awfully similar to today's Bedouins.
Villanueva tells the story of the five daughters of Zelophehad. He had no sons. That was a big deal in this patriarchal society. What should happen to his property when he dies? Tribal law says that daughters cannot inherit—so they will have no part in the shares of the Promised Land.
Bad guys are bad - even among the Israelites - and good guys are good in Villanueva's story. Here's Zelophehad on his death bed, calling his half brothers to his side.
"Enosh and Salu, sons of my father but not my mother, come forward." The men shuffled to their half brother's bed. "Had my mother lived, you and Salu would not have, but because you were born to Father's second wife, after my brothers and I were grown, you are allowed to possess the Promised Land." Zelophehad's eyes wandered. "This is the only reason I ever had to question the wisdom of Elohim." Rizpah's uncles reddened, their eyes bulging in anger. Zelophehad returned his gaze to them. "Enosh, if the wicked beckon you to ambush the innocent without cause, keep your feet from their path. Do not walk with them, Enosh." "Salu, my youngest brother, you are as a ravenous wolf, but you will find it useless to spread the net for the righteous. You will become caught in the snare yourself." Salu's face purpled with anger, accentuating the yellowish bags beneath his eyes. He nodded, the jerky movement slinging sweat from his scraggly beard. Zelophhad closed his eyes as if to blot out all thought of his brothers. "I would bless my daughters." His eyes opened and swept over the five of them. "How you all bear the mark of your mother's beauty, each with a different shad of her hair."
Zelophehad blesses each of his daughters before he dies-leaving them destitute. His strong and headstrong daughter Rizpah, however, takes her and her sisters' case to Moses himself.
The story isn't only about justice (excluding Canaanites, of course); it's even more a love story. Rizpah, 38, loves the elderly Caleb, 79. Her cousin Hanniel, whom she has turned down before, loves her. I have to admit that I found this odd, but reminded myself that age evidently didn't work for those Israelites the way it does for us. Look at Abraham and Sarah.
Despite its subtitle, God's Equal Rights Amendment, this book takes a very traditional view of the Old Testament story—there's nothing that might offend even the most conservative reader. It might be a good choice for reading and conversation within a women's group at a church or synagogue. It does not, however, have a readers' guide.