I'm not usually one for historical novels, mainly because I'm worried I won't know enough about the time period to be able to follow along. But when J...moreI'm not usually one for historical novels, mainly because I'm worried I won't know enough about the time period to be able to follow along. But when Jennifer's prologue appeared in the selection of submissions for the critique group I was in, I was pulled into this rich world on page one (I fell in love with her writing before I ever knew her as a person. She's a pretty spiffy person, too). I was lucky enough to read most of this book in it's manuscript form, and I was always struck by how accessible the book was, despite me having virtually no knowledge of Russian history, or even knowing much about the Romanovs themselves. When I finally got to read an official copy of it, the end was still a mystery to me. I'm glad I was able to read it all at once in a few days!
The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is told from the POV of three very different women, in three very different time periods. Surprisingly for me, while I loved all three, I alternated between Lena and Charlotte being my favorites. Lena is a servant in the Romanov household who befriends the lonely and desperate-for-a-son (and heir) Alexandra (in 1901), and Charlotte is a ballerina living in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1941. Then we have present-day Veronica, an academic whose career teeters on the balance if she doesn't make tenure (she's working on a book about Alexandra Romanov with little support from her department).
It's not immediately clear how these women (and the men in their lives!) are all connected, but that's where the fun of the novel lies. It has a The DaVinci Code-like quality to it; it's a fast-paced, fun, conspiracy theory come to life. Even if you figure out where it's all ultimately heading on a grand scale, the characters and their individual side-stories are all so intriguing, you're sure to keep flipping the pages to see how everyone is tied together in the end.
The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is recommended for fans of Dan Brown and Russian history, and highly recommended to anyone who has wanted to read more historical fiction but found themselves a little intimidated (read: people like me). It's a fun ride!(less)
A friend won this from Goodreads, but she handed it over to me, as she's not a fan of audiobooks.
I listened to Love's Encore on a mini vacation to the...moreA friend won this from Goodreads, but she handed it over to me, as she's not a fan of audiobooks.
I listened to Love's Encore on a mini vacation to the beach. This is not the type of thing I usually "read," and I was a little leery to give it a go. It ended up being a really fun way to pass the time.
The plot is just... silly. There's really not another word for it. Most of Camille's reasoning for things didn't make much sense. Zach saved it for the most part.
As for the performance of the reader, Natalie Ross, I give it a 4 out of 5. Hearing it is what kept the whole thing fun. As is always the case, it's a little hard to adjust to one person providing the dialogue for all the characters, regardless of gender. I giggled like a loon when I first heard Ross's voice for Zach, but I got used to it pretty quickly. She did a pretty good job of making all the southern men sound different, too, even making Rayburn sound sufficiently elderly.
If you're looking for a fluffy romance (a guilty pleasure, really), to listen to on a short trip (it's only 3 hours and 26 minutes), this one is pretty entertaining. Just try to ignore how terribly silly Camille can be ;)(less)
I received a copy of Monarch Beach from a Goodreads giveaway.
I realized while reading this one that unless there is a zany main character, or a unique...moreI received a copy of Monarch Beach from a Goodreads giveaway.
I realized while reading this one that unless there is a zany main character, or a unique situation, chick lit isn't really for me. (I really enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries, for example.) If it's mainly just about real-life struggles women go through, I start to get antsy. Maybe because these types of books are too realistic and not enough of an escape for me.
So take this review with a grain of salt.
When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kindhearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuild it. The opportunity falls into her lap when her (very lovable) mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max, spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach. With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life—and escaping the drama. But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention… and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple. This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about the mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turned upside down.
This is one of those lazy Sunday afternoon books. It has the expected drama (I gasped during the first page), the hot new guy, and a few sexy scenes. It's enjoyable the way romantic comedies are enjoyable: you go in pretty much knowing what you're going to get. So, in that sense, I would say this book for the most part fulfills all those desired elements.
My three-star rating is mainly due to Amanda herself. She didn't really have any flaws. When bad things happened, they happened to her. Too much of a victim, maybe. The first chapter (the chapters are long in this book--sometimes as long as 40 pages) is essentially the backstory of her relationship with sexy but lecherous Andre, her husband of ten years. The chapter is bookended by Amanda catching Andre in the act. She had my sympathy in the beginning. What woman wouldn't side with another woman who just caught her husband cheating on her? All the backstory actually hurt her case for me. Red flags popped up all over the place, and I found myself thinking she was an idiot for falling for someone who even admitted that the concept of monogamy was "foreign" to Frenchmen. Hello, Amanda! Run away now!
The fact that he had been cheating on her for years and that she had no idea was a little unbelievable, too. She didn't even have her suspicions. I found it hard to feel for her the more I knew about her past. And, again, maybe this is how things really are. Maybe lots of women marry the "wrong" men and want to believe so badly that they're happy that they're blind to even their own suspicions. But in fiction? In fiction, I want the woman to have some inkling, to have some plan of action when the sh*t hits the fan, to be stronger than the rest of us out here in the real world. To give those of us in this type of situation a role model for how to stand up for ourselves and get out.
Amanda constantly asked her best friend what she should do, but she never had any plans of her own. Then her mom swoops in and offers her an all-expense paid summer vacation in Laguna Beach so Amanda and her son Max can spend some time away from Andre.
Amanda's family is incredibly rich, so money is not even a thought for them. Amanda often tells us about the luxuries of the St. Regis, from the chauffeured Bentley that drove them all over town, to ordering exorbitant amounts of room service. Beyond having a cad of a husband, she doesn't suffer from or struggle with... anything, really. Aside from raising Max, she doesn't work and has never had to. And she very well could now, at this point in her life, since Max is in school all day. Her life is pretty uncomplicated and a bit decadent. A completely different world from mine.
If the first chapter had been reduced to a few key things (Andre is a pig; Amanda's friend from prep school, Stephanie, is Andre's silent partner in his restaurant; Amanda has an eight-year-old son), and the details of their marriage left out (to be sprinkled in periodically later), I probably could have gotten past the brand-name-dropping. With my sympathy for her already waning, her lack-of-life-struggles only made it worse.
But this might just be another example of why I'm not the target audience for this book. Shows like Sex in the City never appealed to me. But for others, the rich life style might be something they can relate to, or something they want to live vicariously through. I'm not a brand name kind of girl, so mentioning her Manolo's or her Theory sundresses didn't impress me.
See what I mean about the grain of salt?
All that said, I was able to read the book with relative ease. The ending was actually a bit unexpected, which I appreciated.
If you're looking for a beach-book, with a bit of a vicarious-woman's-fantasy vibe, you'll probably really enjoy Monarch Beach.(less)
In The Age of Miracles, Earth's rotation has inexplicably slowed down. At first, days gain an extra few minutes. As the novel progresses, days swell t...moreIn The Age of Miracles, Earth's rotation has inexplicably slowed down. At first, days gain an extra few minutes. As the novel progresses, days swell to 50+ hours. Our narrator is twelve year old Julia, who, on top of dealing with the horrors of a changing planet, is dealing with the horrors of sixth grade. (I'm not sure which genre box this one falls into. It's not quite YA, it's not quite sci-fi. But just calling it "general fiction" doesn't quite feel right, either.)
I'll state first that I did enjoy this book. A lot of thought went into this novel, which I greatly appreciated. It's beautifully told, and I was easily able to finish it in a few days.
That said, I had a few issues with it. For one, the science doesn't really hold up. It's a little hard to believe that scientists wouldn't have seen such a big change coming, and that, years later, they still don't have an explanation as to what caused "the slowing" in the first place. While I know that this is one of those messages-wrapped-in-science-fiction type of stories (like Signs or District 9--the latter being far more effective), I still believe the science fiction part of it has to be strong. It has to be solid enough to allow me to get lost in the surface plot, so I can then delve into the message. (Signs was about faith?! Really? I was too busy being livid that aliens who have mastered space travel can be thwarted by wooden doors and glasses of water...)
Running parallel to the story of what's happening to Earth is Julia's coming-of-age story. We get to experience her first attempt at buying a bra, with falling for a boy, with finding out that her parents aren't as infallible and resilient as she once thought. I felt a connection to Julia to an extent. I think most girls can remember how awful middle school could be. Especially middle school boys! Okay, the girls were pretty awful, too.
Our storyteller is a reflective one--looking back on her twelfth year and on the beginning of the slowing. (Think of Kevin's narration in Wonder Years.) We know from her storytelling that even though there's been a drastic change to Earth, the world didn't end, as she's still around to reflect on how things used to be. This left me feeling a little detached--from both Julia's story and the urgency of Earth's. The pages kept turning, but not because I was desperate to know what happened next. It felt more like I stumbled upon someone's diary, and I kept reading out of mild curiosity.
That, and hoping something would happen. I wanted Julia to crawl out of her shell a little, to become less casual. I wanted her to take a more active role in her own story, to do something rash or exciting because there was no way to know how much longer Earth would still be around. But the Earth's days just slowly got longer, and Julia's life just slowly carried on. I wanted her to venture out into the world so we could see more of what was happening beyond her little suburban street. While the details of people choosing to live on real-time versus clock-time, how flocks of birds fell from the sky, how whales beached themselves by the hundreds, was all fascinating, I wanted more of it. I wanted to see how it played out in other neighborhoods and cities. I wanted more examples of how this change divided humanity.
This isn't the type of book I would necessarily recommend, but I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it, either. It's definitely an enjoyable read. And when you suspend disbelief, the concept really is rather unnerving.
I probably won't wish for more hours in the day ever again!(less)
I'm a sucker for dystopian stories, so I happily gobbled this up in one sitting.
I was worried that something...moreI won this one from a Goodreads giveaway.
I'm a sucker for dystopian stories, so I happily gobbled this up in one sitting.
I was worried that something as complicated as a dystopian world wouldn't translate well in a short story, but it worked for me. We're given just enough information to know what's going on, and we can fill in the rest of the details ourselves. The jumps in time were easy to follow.
(view spoiler)[The end threw me for a loop! In Wool, we get the reverse of what you'd expect in a dystopia: instead of the salvation being on the outside, our MC (and those before him), get tricked into going outside. It wasn't something I saw coming until I only had a few pages left! (hide spoiler)] It reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode.
It's a quick fun read--and it's written really well, too!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I really wasn't sure how I would feel about this book when I started. I was frankly bored during the first five or so chapters.
Part of my aversion wa...moreI really wasn't sure how I would feel about this book when I started. I was frankly bored during the first five or so chapters.
Part of my aversion was due to the main character himself. Major Ernest Pettigrew is, essentially, a grumpy old man. He's 68, retired from the military, widowed, and grouchy. I found myself rolling my eyes at him. Wondering how in the world I would be able to stand a book starring such an unlikable man. He’s sarcastic (to the point of being covertly rude), elitist, and his sense of propriety is so absolute that I often found myself wanting to give him a good hard shake, tell him to lighten up.
The pace of the book is much slower than anything I've read lately, too, and it took me a while to find my rhythm. Which is not a reflection on Simonson's storytelling. The main characters are all older people, living in a small village, with a "slow" lifestyle. The storytelling reflects that pace of life. It was actually refreshing, after a while, to be reading a story from the point of view of an "elderly" person that had nothing to do with the end of life, with illness, with the aches and pains of growing older. There are elements of the latter mixed in, but if anything it helped endear us to the Major more.
Mrs. Ali, a 58-year-old Pakistani shopkeeper, swoops into the Major's life just when he thinks his is over. Just when he thinks he's all alone in the world. It's through her that we really get to know the Major. He grows on you. His sarcasm loses some of its bite, and we start to see the humor in his observations and sarcastic retorts. We rejoice when he finally lets some of his decorum slip. Mrs. Ali doesn’t change him, just opens his eyes. He's still gruff, still mildly elitist, but she’s able to soften his edges. And I loved her for that.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand instills a kind of hope. A hope that people are never too old to learn something new, to change their perspective. That it's never too late to take a risk, and that it's never too late to fall in love. (less)
This review has been forming in my head since the day I started reading the book. The would-be review has changed a lot, so much so that I don't even...moreThis review has been forming in my head since the day I started reading the book. The would-be review has changed a lot, so much so that I don't even know where to begin anymore. I went from hating this book with a fiery passion, to sort of liking it, to hating it even more than I did before, to utter indifference, to annoyance so intense I almost couldn’t finish it, and then, finally, back to indifference.
I will start with the positive (the reason why this has two stars instead of one): the writing. The language is beautiful, full of detail so vivid you can practically taste and smell New England. (Though Tartt’s abundance of detail is simultaneously a major flaw. But we’ll get to that later.)
The Secret History starts off incredibly strong; the prologue is fantastic. In two short pages, we have the whole setup of the novel: five college kids murder one of their own. We know who gets killed and who dunnit. What we don’t know is why. And the novel, presumably, is about finding out. About delving into the hearts and minds of these five twenty-somethings to figure out what lead them to murder. The story is told through the eyes of Richard Papen. "I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell." I was hooked.
By page three, I was bored out of my mind.
If I had picked this book up of my own accord (it was a selection for a book club), I wouldn’t have made it past that third page. I would have given up, stuck it back on the shelf and walked away, never to think of it again. But I "had" to read it.
The first thirty or so pages are flat out painful. This is where the "too much detail" thing starts to come into play. In those first thirty pages we are inundated with details about Richard before we’re made to care about him. Imagine being trapped in a really long line. Say at the DMV. You can't leave. And there is a mopey, depressed twenty-something standing behind you. Telling you his life story, complaining about his parents. You can sympathize to a degree, but mainly you’re just irritated.
Richard decides to transfer to a new school in those first painful pages. He chooses Hampden College. Why? Because the brochure was pretty. (No, I'm not kidding.) Once there, he finds his way into an elite Classics group made up of five other students: Francis (the gay one); Charles and Camilla (the twins), Henry (the uber-smart, uber-socially inept, "dead inside" one); Bunny (the one who meets his untimely demise) and Richard (the mouthpiece). The small, exclusive group is headed by an eccentric little man named Julian.
The book is broken into two parts: pre-Bunny's murder and post-Bunny's murder. When I had one hundred or so pages left, I was sure that I hated the second half more than the first. Now I think it's a toss-up.
In the first part, we get to know all the characters. Francis is a nice guy, but he’s a bit of a hypochondriac. Charles and Camilla are aloof, for the most part. It's easy to confuse Francis and Charles for a while, to be honest. Henry is stoic, has a quiet superiority complex, and may or may not have a too-close relationship with Julian. Bunny is big and full of life and a bit of a mooch. Richard doesn’t have much of a personality at all. They all drink and smoke too much. I hated all of them right from the start. Bratty, pretentious, and self-absorbed. Which is how Tartt wanted us to see them, I think. Characters we love to hate. But I think she went overboard. I didn’t find any of them compelling. I wasn’t curious about their stories. Bunny was the most likable of the original six. Which was unfortunate, given the fact that I knew it was only a matter of time before he was going to wind up dead.
One of my biggest gripes with this book is that even though Richard is our narrator, the majority of his information is secondhand. A lot of the book, the second half especially, is full of dialogue where one character is basically just relaying information to Richard. All the true action happens off-screen. (Richard seems to sleep through all the good stuff!) And, even more infuriating, is that when things happen off-screen, and Richard asks about them, sometimes the characters won’t even tell him about it!
"...I asked Francis what happened over the weekend.
"Too upsetting. [Francis said.] I don’t want to talk about it now."
Really? You’re just not going to tell us?
Throughout the novel, we get huge chunks of information that are completely irrelevant to the plot. As the narrator, Richard is telling us what he remembers from this time in his life. He can fully recount conversations from years past, can recall large chunks of Julian’s lectures, but when it comes to other things, things that would otherwise seem not only vitally important, but of most interest to the reader (namely what specifically happened when Bunny died), he conveniently doesn't remember or finds it too painful to talk about. What we do get, more often than not, are details about things that never come up again and do not enhance the story at all. Like a page and a half discussion about Montblanc pens!
The Big Reveal in the first half of the book involves an incident in the woods when Francis, Charles, Camilla and Henry partake in a bacchanal. Finding out what happens during the ritual is what ultimately leads to Bunny's death. And the only reason we know about it is because Henry recounts the events over the course of about fifty pages of dialogue to Richard. Henry never says this much in one sitting about anything before or after.
I will admit that Bunny's behavior got increasingly irritating, and I was slightly comforted by the knowledge that soon he'd be at the bottom of a ravine. Not necessarily because I believed he should die, but because the way the five soon-to-be murderers were acting was twice as annoying, and I wanted this section of the book to end. I figured too, that once Bunny was killed, over two hundred pages in, mind you, that, you know, something would start happening. Because while all the language that got us to page 270+ was beautiful, it was devoid of any real driving plot. I felt no curiosity about what was going to happen next, I wasn't wondering about what the characters were doing when they weren't with Richard. I was just... waiting.
The Incident in the Woods got a fifty page retelling, so I figured, "Man! The detail about Bunny’s death must take up at least twice as much! Here comes the plot!"
Bunny's actual death covered maybe three pages.
And there was no detail at all, really. "That’s okay," I told myself. "We'll get to see how this murder effects them all. We’ll see the consequences of their actions, the systematic unraveling of these pretentious, unfeeling little snots!"
But there's no remorse, either. Richard calls it a "terrible thing" a few times, but he never once wishes to take it back. He never regrets his involvement. Never considers how this will affect Bunny's girlfriend or his parents. None of them do. Their unraveling is solely based on their selfish fear of getting caught. Their only concern is not going to jail because it would ruin their lives.
The second half of the book could have been captivating and enthralling. But, instead, it’s so dragged out, all hope of a thriller-pace dies even faster than Bunny did (which isn't saying much). It takes dozens and dozens (and dozens) of pages for the search party to even find Bunny's body. It was so maddening (not in the way it was for the characters; I was so incredibly bored that I wanted to tear my eyelashes out, one by one), I almost gave up.
Then there was the funeral. "Bun, I thought, oh, Bun, I’m sorry." Richard isn’t mentally apologizing to Bunny for participating in his murder. No, he’s apologizing for how “unspeakably horrible” the grave was. Being dumped in a hole, covered in dirt and forgotten. Never once acknowledging that he's part of the reason why Bunny was dumped in that "unspeakably horrible" grave to begin with!
"The Corcorans sat very quietly, hands in laps: how can they just sit there? I thought, by that awful pit, do nothing?" There were times when I honestly forgot that these five even killed Bunny. The urgency, the fear, the guilt, the flashbacks of memory were all missing. If Bunny had committed suicide, had died after a long battle with an illness, had been hit by a car, this funeral would have felt the same. Maybe I would have hated the characters less if that had been the case. If they had all come unglued in the face of their own mortality, if they'd been once-pretentious youths who were now forced to reevaluate their lives when someone their age died before their time was due. But this death was their fault and I never once felt like they cared.
Of Henry (the most responsible for Bunny's death), Richard says: "He’d been almost inexplicably fond of Bunny, but strong emotion was distasteful to him... I was fairly sure this death had affected him more than he let show." Oh, c'mon! He murdered one of his closest friends and you’re just "fairly certain" it affected him? I get that a certain level of stoicism is in order because of the whole Greek/Classics thing. But studying Classics does not completely strip one of their humanity. They’re all apathetic to the point that it's not only alarming, but completely unbelievable.
Ultimately, Richard gets depressed and is plagued by nightmares, Francis becomes a hypochondriac, Charles turns into an alcoholic, Camilla detaches from her brother (for the first time ever), Henry retreats into himself. However, based on where they were before Bunny's death, who's to say Bunny's death was what caused these things to happen? It just heightened what was already there. And, again, it kept being referred to as Bunny's "death" rather than his "murder." Grief alone could have driven all these "changes" in these people. They could have just as easily been grieving a natural death. The fact that he was killed is almost an afterthought.
Charles has the biggest breakdown, but it was due to what he went through with the police, being upset with Henry for making him the figurehead. Not that he felt guilt or shame. The book could have been far more interesting if everything that happened to Charles happened to Richard instead. If Richard, our narrator for over five-hundred pages, had been an active player in his own story, just once. If he made something happen himself, rather than everything happening to him. And, I'm sorry, but Richard telling us that he's a bystander, and always has been, did not mollify me in the slightest. That's not justification enough for me to accept that having a completely passive narrative with no direct action equates to a compelling novel.
As I rounded the corner on the last fifty pages, I was no longer fueled by hatred. I just felt cheated. What was Tartt trying to teach her readers, what lesson did she want us to come away with? Not to be a Classics major because it will turn you an apathetic sociopath? I think not. But it's certainly not about sin or remorse or owning up to your own actions, either.
In the end, I'm not even sure I would recommend it to anyone. It's an enjoyable experience, to an extent; the journey was decent but the destination left something to be desired. Because it ultimately felt pointless. Like none of it mattered. I hope that wasn't Tartt's intention.