Upton Sinclair became famous for his muckraking or reform-minded journalism, but while most folks scramble for The Jungle, I prefer this drilling look...moreUpton Sinclair became famous for his muckraking or reform-minded journalism, but while most folks scramble for The Jungle, I prefer this drilling look at the nascent petroleum industry of California. The movie, There Will Be Blood was based upon this novel, although this was originally published in the 1920s.
The Roaring Twenties...think President Warren Harding and the Teapot Dome Scandal. A nation starts to move away from farms and the simple life as greed takes center place. If you've ever driven through Southern California, you will still see some of the original oil grasshoppers that are described in this novel, while the larger derricks once dominated the previously tranquil land.
If you liked the movie, be prepared for so much more in this great novel. Here, the main character is the son and the lessons learned about the pursuit of power and the exploitation of the land will resonate after the read is completed. The 1920s must have been an amazing era with so many progressive inventions and silent screen idols and orchards of oranges shimmering in the California sun. Most folks run to Fitzgerald for a review of that notorious decade, but for me, this book does the trick all by its lonesome.
This was a book I picked up while working in a bookstore many years ago, and I still have dreams about it. Rather, I don't have dreams about picking u...moreThis was a book I picked up while working in a bookstore many years ago, and I still have dreams about it. Rather, I don't have dreams about picking up the book but dreams about the story and the water in the story, always the water, which is dark purple or plum. A boy finds a ledge leading to an underwater world and adventure ensues.
The book earned its place on my bookshelf (yes, each book must earn a spot) because of its inventive story and for the lovely understated drawings by Muriel Nasser, which begin each chapter. Published in the 1980s, it was a book that was written for the young adult crowd, who didn't have Harry Potter yet. However, parents who bought it always told me their little ones loved it also, so I took their word for it. Teen, pre-teen, and child will all enjoy this tale.
And when I wake up and see the water on "Quake Days" (humid and still), I know it will be Plum.
Sometimes we find the end of the rainbow in secondhand bookshops. This little (literally) jewel found me when I was browsing books in Gloucester. I wa...moreSometimes we find the end of the rainbow in secondhand bookshops. This little (literally) jewel found me when I was browsing books in Gloucester. I was on my way to view the magnificent effigy of Robert II in the cathedral, so it seemed fitting to have some Robert Louis Stevenson in my hand when I did so.
When you have read, you carry away with you a memory of the man himself; it is as though you had touched a loyal hand, looked into brave eyes, and made a noble friend; there is another bond on you thenceforward, binding you to life and to the love of virtue.
If you're going to visit royalty, bring some with you.
Book Season = Summer (flower of the hedgerow)(less)
Although this is the first volume in the Harry Potter series, it was not the first title I happened to read. That honor belonged to Harry Potter and t...moreAlthough this is the first volume in the Harry Potter series, it was not the first title I happened to read. That honor belonged to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was lucky as it led me to start the series from the beginning. Perhaps it's because the book is not altogether too big, and the characters involved me, but I certainly enjoyed the read. The premise was fun, the introduction to Hogwarts was fun, the Sorting Hat was fun...easy to like whether adult or child. Good stuff.
There are pure horror stories and then there are ghostly supernatural tales, of which Le Fanu was a specialist. These are the tales which make me sing...moreThere are pure horror stories and then there are ghostly supernatural tales, of which Le Fanu was a specialist. These are the tales which make me sing and whistle as I walk deserted streets alone at night, for I was once told that spirits will stay away if one keeps a steady tune. These are the tales requiring a flashlight at night, because one is hiding beneath the covers in case a ghostly apparition makes an appearance.
The Child That Went With The Fairies and Dickon The Devil had me jumpy, and the rest of the stories thankfully adhere to Victorian decorum. For those who want ghosts but not a bunch of gore, this book is a good fit.
Here is a winter tale for the young adult set, evoking magic and gothic melodrama in a fairly easy read. The timeframe of the story takes place during...moreHere is a winter tale for the young adult set, evoking magic and gothic melodrama in a fairly easy read. The timeframe of the story takes place during the Dead Days, that sargasso sea of time between Christmas and New Year's Day, when 'spirits roam'. This would be a perfect read for pre-teens and younger adults who yearn for more magic-infused tales, post-Harry Potter.
I enjoyed the plot and the main characters, particularly Valerian. Any story lead named after a long-dead (and stuffed) Roman emperor will always have my attention.
Book Season = Winter (but with an October feel)(less)
JAMES BOND the indestructible agent who thrives on trouble--both violent and voluptuous--pits his devastating wiles and deadly charm against the most b...moreJAMES BOND the indestructible agent who thrives on trouble--both violent and voluptuous--pits his devastating wiles and deadly charm against the most bizarre fiends he's ever encountered in these high-voltage exploits taken direct from the files of IAN FLEMING master of murder, mystery, and incredible suspense.
Aahh, you have to love the way the original Bond novels were marketed in the early 1960s...a time of Cold War served with martinis, timeless clothing, and British spies who could swing with the best. Unlike Fleming's other Bond books, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY is actually a collection of Bond short stories. All-in-all, these stories are great reads, fluid and snazzy.
She was the sort of woman who always belongs to somebody else.
Fleming wrote two of the stories in a different style than the usual 007 thrillers, with one story focusing on the responsibilities of M. However, the quintessential essence remains. Most importantly, I finally understand the whole reason for THE QUANTUM OF SOLACE (a better tale than a movie).
Bond didn't like Nassau. Everyone was too rich. They didn't even gossip well.
The premise for this book hooked me immediately. A Jewish Golem meets a Jinni from Arabia in the New York of 1899. Great starting point. Throw in a lo...moreThe premise for this book hooked me immediately. A Jewish Golem meets a Jinni from Arabia in the New York of 1899. Great starting point. Throw in a long selection of characters from Syria and Eastern Europe and one has the quintessential immigrant experience to the New World.
...a city of strivings and lusts and heartaches.
If the historical Big Apple could have been portrayed with a bit more detail, I would have been happier as a reader. The potential is there, as Wecker describes the gaping maw of the New, yet characters seemingly find each other easily in the densely packed city and I never felt that sense of displacement, which any immigrant feels upon entering a new land. Also, there was a stretch just past the mid-point when everything started to be sewed up too quickly. It needed a Dickensian touch instead.
But, I enjoyed the story itself (imaginative), I loved the descriptions of the Jinni's abode in the desert, but especially I enjoyed the character of Malik/Schaalman. A very good debut.
Book Season = Winter (Central Park with snow)(less)
This Borrow novel begins suddenly and ends suddenly. Since I've never read Lavengro, the first autobiographical account of the author's experience wit...moreThis Borrow novel begins suddenly and ends suddenly. Since I've never read Lavengro, the first autobiographical account of the author's experience with the English Romani, I found myself trying to play catch-up (they really should be read one after the other). However, the journey is interesting, as he introduces characters with an empathy for the nomadic gypsy.
George Borrow led quite a life, one of travel and language. Along with publishing a dictionary of Anglo-Romany, he also did a Manchu translation of the bible. A true character, very eccentric.
I enjoyed this book for its historical skippy-hoppy into 19th-century America. Longfellow, Lowell, and Oliver Wendall Holmes all play characters in th...moreI enjoyed this book for its historical skippy-hoppy into 19th-century America. Longfellow, Lowell, and Oliver Wendall Holmes all play characters in this murderous thriller, and I actually started believing some of their cud chewing. Mix that with Dante's Inferno and you have a rather original novel.
Matthew Pearl's writing had me eagerly tagging along until the 2/3 mark, and then I started to flag a bit, just as I flagged when first reading Dante. There are only so many Circles of Hell I can endure in one reading. Still, it's inventive and meant for October afternoons when the sun sets earlier and the dark comes on quicker.
Thankfully, I wasn't of the Sean Connery James Bond generation. Not anything against the original movie spy, but it meant I was able to actually read...moreThankfully, I wasn't of the Sean Connery James Bond generation. Not anything against the original movie spy, but it meant I was able to actually read this book before I ever saw the old films. In other words, this was a treat! Since I wasn't conversant with the Ian Fleming style, this book quickly became a page-turner, and what a joy it was. 007 on a Caribbean island of death, when Caribbean islands of death weren't over-developed. Most cool.
Tottensea Burrows. This is the name of the village where some very enterprising mice live. These are mice of the merchant persuasion, running bookstor...moreTottensea Burrows. This is the name of the village where some very enterprising mice live. These are mice of the merchant persuasion, running bookstores, tea shops, and boardinghouses. Their story is told by a bird who has been adopted by the little rodent community and it makes for a charming read.
The introductions of each mouse family goes on a bit, but it all comes together in the final third act, as pirates and hidden treasures come into play. The story zooms along from there, as the danger of living close to humans elevates the sense of urgency for the characters and the reader. I particularly liked the final lesson learned about nature and how we all look at possessions.
Book Season = Year Round (perfect for afternoon tea)(less)
This is a collection of short stories with a theme of dogs. Very basic and very Southern American. I must admit I did approach this with a bit of appr...moreThis is a collection of short stories with a theme of dogs. Very basic and very Southern American. I must admit I did approach this with a bit of apprehension, as I feared the worst for the doggies, but some of the stories were captivating and the writing was fluid.
You never hear of dogs named Bill.
My favourite story was called BILL. It's a simple tale of an elderly woman who lives with a "trembling poodle" advanced in years, as is Wilhelmina. She doesn't have much connection to anything or anyone and doesn't expect much, either. She and Bill the dog share a wordless bond, her still-living husband no more than a vegetable in a nursing home.
Howard had courted her in a horse-drawn wagon. An entire world of souls had disappeared in their time, and other nameless souls had filled their spaces. Some one of them had taken Howard's soul.
The other story which hit me was AGNES OF BOB. Agnes is a widow living with Bob, her departed husband's dog. Humor abounds, but so does a trace of wistfulness and the knowledge that time has its own schedule to keep for all of us. All in all, a good collection of short fiction with two standouts. ...light bends to greater forces, and so does fate...
I still love the power of words. They dispel my loneliness.
Kate Horsley uses the journey of language to create a tale of Druids, the coming of Christi...moreI still love the power of words. They dispel my loneliness.
Kate Horsley uses the journey of language to create a tale of Druids, the coming of Christianity, and the loss of nature/innocence in this historical fiction read (sixth-century Ireland). It is a time of transition, as the Druids give way to the worship of Saint Patrick and Saint Brigit. Towards the end, we see the monastic movement take over, as male abbots use control to eliminate female pagans.
The chieftains who used to know the earth as their wife now use her as a mistress.
Each chapter alternates from past remembrances of the heroine (Gwynneve) and her love of nature to her present circumstances in a female cloister. The descriptions of her pagan life were, to me, rather mesmerizing. The 'barbarians' are closer to nature, more respectful of wildlife, trees, rivers, and themselves. As she discovers the foreigners (Christian missionaries), she learns that they have little love of the land, except to use it to gain power. Always wondering how a new religion could so quickly overwhelm ancient beliefs, Gwynneve describes how the priests teach land clearance and better crop yields to win tribes to their power.
Power does not willingly give up its place to truth.
In the alternate chapters, the story revolves around the sisters in the cloister who combine old Druid ways with a yearning to know more about the one God. But as the Christians infiltrate the Irish clans, abbots take over the sisterhoods and turn them into male-dominated monasteries. Reading rather like a modern tale of corporate life, the men in power manipulate the women below the glass ceiling to achieve their goals. Queen Bee women do not hesitate to sacrifice their fellow females.
The wind whips the world outside as though to strike at a beast who will not carry its burden.
I enjoyed this book, perhaps because I had little intel on Druids and especially Pelagians (the libertarians of their time). Changed my Augustinian views a bit. If the author were more strident this would have been a soapbox slog, but instead it was a fey re-telling of perhaps the most important period in Irish history, as the island embraced its first Christian King. There are also highlighted Gaelic words plus a glossary of the definitions at the end.
The answer is always silence.
Book Season = Winter (in Ireland, the gods still whisper on your shoulders)(less)
'This place' is an isolated spot in Wales, where the Watchers wait. The speaker is Clare, a wonderful play on u...more"This place is too far from the shops."
'This place' is an isolated spot in Wales, where the Watchers wait. The speaker is Clare, a wonderful play on upper-middle-class women who believe a man and money (the money would come with the man) make a life. Clare is my favorite character in this novel, as her self-centered remarks bring a bite of humor to the book's structure, which revolves around three disparate women, one clueless male, and one why-are-we-here feline.
The Kings' women had been lost, taken, long ago before time or words could tell, before the forests fell or the mists lifted.
I loved Miriam and Clare and the Gamekeeper and the Cat...and the Welsh-i-ness of it all. If anything the book ended too quickly, as I yearned for a bit more of the lore of Wales and the Kings of the Heights. The dialogue is believable, especially when the two older women are trying to figure out the countryside and what it lacks versus Fortnum and Mason.
She was a rare spirit who was generous in her life, inspirational in her writing, and whose death is a reminder of what has been lost in publishing today.
The Guardian's obituary for the author certainly got it right. Based on the loveliness of this novel, I will be adding A Welsh Childhood to my wish list.
Book Season = Autumn (the season for sacrifices)(less)
Young wife leaves her elderly parents behind in said Jewish ghetto in Poland.
Young wife goes to work...moreYoung wife must flee the Jewish ghetto in Poland.
Young wife leaves her elderly parents behind in said Jewish ghetto in Poland.
Young wife goes to work for the senior Nazi leader of Krakow.
Young wife has sex with the senior Nazi leader of Krakow.
Young wife works with Jewish resistance to steal documents from the senior Nazi leader of Krakow.
Young wife has sex with her Jewish Resistance husband.
Young wife has sex with the senior Nazi leader of Krakow.
This was NOT a character I could get behind. She's written more as an insipid, self-entitled modern-day American Jewish princess than a frightened Polish Jewish mid-century woman. The ending is a quick resolution of everything, with several "coincidences" neatly appearing. I kept waiting for her to say, "OMG".
This was a strange duck of a read. Using the factual history of the real Cooperstown in New York, Lauren Groff weaves a tale of personal ghosts, lonel...moreThis was a strange duck of a read. Using the factual history of the real Cooperstown in New York, Lauren Groff weaves a tale of personal ghosts, lonely lake monsters, and hippie fantasies to bring an imaginative spin to the fantasy world of the town of Templeton.
I enjoyed the ride, as she gets the reader involved quickly with the introduction of Glimmey the Monster, who comes across as a shy creature from Lake Glimmerglass. She includes old photos and portraits to illustrate the heroine's ancestors, which is spot-on inventive. Groff's style is easy to handle and she sent me running to my James Fennimore Cooper collection, as suddenly I wanted to learn more about his connection to the backend link of this novel.
Inventive and fun to read, I only felt the drag hit around the 3/4 mark. Nevertheless, it picked up again as the end came into view, but I sure wish I had more time with Glimmey.
Book Season = Autumn (monsters, ghosts, East Coast)(less)
A lifelong bachelor farmer deals with sudden changes in his life, and it becomes quickly obvious he is not a man who would be called a change agent. B...moreA lifelong bachelor farmer deals with sudden changes in his life, and it becomes quickly obvious he is not a man who would be called a change agent. Bitter but patient, the protagonist in this story lives his life amid the vagaries of Dutch weather, always yearning to see Denmark, symbol of his need for breaking the bonds of a life he never wanted.
Drizzle isn't much more than mist with delusions of grandeur...
Spare. Modest. Melancholy. Affirming. Clear. Concise. This is a book that made me frequently turn back the pages to get a better feel for Helmer, who grows into a new man by the time he sorts out his world. Farm life is portrayed through the winter and spring, and I became completely absorbed in the simple but straightforward sentence structure, as I woke up each day to time my reading with the farmer's early morning feeding of his donkeys and milking of the cows.
The English translation by David Colmer is spot-on...I felt the drizzle on my face and the warm breath of the sheep on my neck. And that, my friend, is writing.
Book Season = Winter (don't know what we want)(less)
This was a book I picked up many years ago because of the cover (Keith Sheridan gets a shout out for the design). Aventura trade editions are always s...moreThis was a book I picked up many years ago because of the cover (Keith Sheridan gets a shout out for the design). Aventura trade editions are always such cool books that I didn't realize I had been duped into reading a fantastical tale of a 19th Century family obsessed with some really heavy...doings.
The South America country is un-named, but yeah, it's Chile and Donoso is writing to portray Pinochet's reign. Latin American literature of the last decades of the 20th Century always has the experimental escapist edge and this book is no different. Cannibals and incest and murder, oh my.
Book Season = Winter (when it's summer in Chile)(less)
This book puzzled me. How can you screw up the Titanic story? But it just did nothing for me, which seems to put my review in the minority. Lots of bl...moreThis book puzzled me. How can you screw up the Titanic story? But it just did nothing for me, which seems to put my review in the minority. Lots of bland talk, blah blah blah blah. Yup, way to make the greatest maritime incident in history bee-oar-ing...with three syllables. I had to smack myself awake.
Book Season = Winter (maybe the cold will lead you to a gentle sleep)(less)
This was a real summer book, the kind you can read on a beach and then quickly forget. It's not a badly written book at all, I just couldn't get into...moreThis was a real summer book, the kind you can read on a beach and then quickly forget. It's not a badly written book at all, I just couldn't get into the main character, who is a young man without a whole lot of anything. Just lazy and self-entitled and self-pitying. Oh right, your typical American male.