There's a lot of Dickens influence here. It also reminds me of Gaskell's North and South with the dreary English weather and a focus on working class...moreThere's a lot of Dickens influence here. It also reminds me of Gaskell's North and South with the dreary English weather and a focus on working class and their sometimes violent clashes with the gentry. The narrative structure is interesting in that the narrator is not the hero--I'm not sure this works all the time. John Halifax fluctuates between strong hero and whiny romantic. Thankfully he grows out of the whiny and became a much more steady and interesting character later in the book. This is a long one, following John Halifax through his whole life. The heroine, like many in Dickens, is too perfect to be believed, but that is a minor gripe in a book well worth reading.(less)
Deena Stryker's memoir puts a face on historically significant events from the Cold War to the Arab Spring. This edition contains 63 photographs illus...moreDeena Stryker's memoir puts a face on historically significant events from the Cold War to the Arab Spring. This edition contains 63 photographs illustrating a journey that is not only a deeply personal one but also a professional exploration of our times.
Stryker’ narrative begins in Philadelphia in the 1930s. The defining moment of her teenage years came when she is sent to live with her father and step-mother in post-WWII France. It is here that she begins to notice something more than her personal drama; she becomes aware of a historical and political context that will play out alongside her personal life.
Her first real brush with celebrity comes when she interviews Fellini after the cinematic bombshell of La Dolce Vita. Fellini liked her style and offered her a job as press officer during the shooting of his next film, 8 1/2. She describes nostalgically the people, the feeling on the set, the sense of frustration and impatience always calmed by the appearance of Fellini himself, "a paragon of good humor and diplomacy."
By the time 8 1/2 wrapped, Stryker was planning her next coup: Cuba. In the tense period following the Cuban Missile Crisis, she was one of the first Western journalists to obtain access to the Cuban leadership. Her interactions with these revolutionaries offer insight into their politics and most interestingly, their personalities.
The two years she spent in Cuba are the most fascinating parts of Stryker's memoir. It is obvious that her persistent and open demeanor went over well with these men who were portrayed in the West as brutal troublemakers. Raul Castro and the intensely private Che Guevara are among her interviews.
"Slouched in his chair, head down, Che flipped the pages. It was the only chance I had to take a few pictures in the room shaded against the sun. Afterward, I sent him the one I liked best, a close-up that shows his uncompromising, mocking intelligence."
Stryker describes the events that lead to his picture of her that now graces the cover of this book:
"When we met on the reviewing stand during one of Fidel's speeches, [Che] said my picture of him was terrible. When I dared him to do better, he borrowed my camera and took one of me that made me look like a kindly grand-mother."
Stryker's personal narrative leads us through several marriages, two children, and numerous countries. In the 60s she spent five years behind the real Iron Curtain, then she zig-zagged between Western Europe and the U.S. In 2001 she came back to the U.S. for good, where unexpected revelations closed the circle of her journey.
Stryker's story is engrossing not only for the historical context but also for her unique perspective. Her prose is both highly readable and refreshing in its honesty--her life and loves make for fascinating reading.
I found this book while perusing the LibriVox free audiobook archives. The summary said it was "a Jane Eyre variant". Jane Eyre is one of my favorites...moreI found this book while perusing the LibriVox free audiobook archives. The summary said it was "a Jane Eyre variant". Jane Eyre is one of my favorites, so my curiosity was piqued. The main character, Olive, is not an orphan like Jane Eyre, but she suffers from a physical deformity that acts as a similar social impediment. One of my favorite things about this novel is that the characters are realistic and believably flawed. Olive's parents react with disgust that grows barely to tolerance when first confronted with their only child's deformity. While sad, this is believable.
Olive is at first sheltered by an overprotective nursemaid. She grows up thinking absolutely nothing is wrong with her. When the nursemaid dies, she is left to find her own way and eventually discovers that she is different. It is a great shock to her, foremost to know that she is not attractive to men and will therefore probably never marry. But she handles it gracefully and is determined to blaze another path in a society that left women few options.
As the plot progresses, there are other similarities to Jane Eyre, though Craik's story takes some definite twists and turns of it's own. I was reminded of another book with a deformed main character, Fanny Burney's Camilla. Camilla's sister Eugenia is deformed, but she is also an heiress. Eugenia therefore has a one-up on Olive in that should she never marry, her money will still give her a place in society.
Even though Olive is determined to support herself and be happy in spite of her hardships, she does find love in a very unlikely person. I was surprised when this love story popped out of nowhere, but not unhappily so. The last third of the book is dedicated to this romance--there is enough "he/she loves me, he/she loves me not" to make Fanny Burney proud. If annoying, it keeps the plot humming--I will say I was never bored!(less)
I've written before that I thought Kinsale could write (what I would personally consider) a 5 star book, but I hadn't yet found it. Until I read this...moreI've written before that I thought Kinsale could write (what I would personally consider) a 5 star book, but I hadn't yet found it. Until I read this one! I believe this is one of my favorite books of all time, so this is a momentous occasion. Her books are never an easy, beach read, but The Shadow and the Star had less adrenaline pumping action than the other Kinsale's I've read--which is a good thing for me. That is less adrenaline until the end, and if I had a complaint about this book, it would be that I could have done without that climactic scene (if you've read it, you know what I'm talking about). I'm sure for many, this climactic scene is what "makes" the book. I guess I like the subtler, quieter aspects of stories, and this one is full of subtle and quiet. Oh, it's wonderful, I could read it a million times and catch something new each time. Thank you Laura Kinsale!(less)
I really like Kinsale, of what I've read so far. She has an excellent writing style and her attention to detail (of what I've read) is unmatched in th...moreI really like Kinsale, of what I've read so far. She has an excellent writing style and her attention to detail (of what I've read) is unmatched in the genre. Take the ratings for what they are then--purely subjective according to one's taste.
Subjectively for me, I believe Kinsale could write a 5 star novel, though I have not come across it yet. Seize the Fire was too busy plotwise, and the heroine was too stupid and unlikeable. I loved the hero, his sardonic sense of humor, and the chemistry was A++. I couldn't shake the feeling though that these two would have many many more trials and tribulations beyond the confines of that book.
Now in Midsummer Moon, I found the plot too far-fetched and the heroine too stupid and unlikeable. The hero, again, is beautifully drawn, passionate, and complex. It seems Kinsale excels in the hero department, for me at least! And then again, by the end of the book, there have been to many comings-together and reversals to actually believe that the happy ending will stay that way.
I will keep reading Kinsale's books though, and have faith that I might find a Kinsale heroine that I like and a plot that won't be too complex or far-fetched for my tastes. But I'll also keep reading because it's pure pleasure to see such a good writer at work, no matter my personal tastes about what is being portrayed.(less)
This was recommended by Kathleen (thanks Kathleen!), and I'm so glad she found it! I knew nothing of this author with a strange name before. It turns...moreThis was recommended by Kathleen (thanks Kathleen!), and I'm so glad she found it! I knew nothing of this author with a strange name before. It turns out she used a pseudonym, her real name being Sarah Smith, and she wrote primarily children's books. Like some other children's fiction writers we've published on Girlebooks (Frances Hodgeson Burnett, E. Nesbit, LM Montgomery), Stretton also ventured into adult fiction. And like those other authors, (if this book is anything to go by) her adult fiction is very good.
The story is that of Olivia who, as the curtain opens, is in a very serious dilemma herself. She has been locked in a room, threatened, and is frantic to escape. She sees her chance, takes it, and runs as far away as possible from her captors. Her escape takes her to the Channel Islands, to the smallest one named Sark, and there she takes up residence with a fisherman named Tardiff and his mother. She lives here peacefully, under an assumed name and identity, until she has an accident and is in need of a doctor. Dr Martin Dobree comes from the neighboring island Guernsey and is instantly taken with her. Thus unfolds various circumstances that delve into Olivia's past and what will become of her future.
Told in alternating narratives--first from the point of view of Olivia, then Martin Dobree, and finally back to Olivia--we never get a fully omniscient idea of what is going on at any given point. We have no idea what Olivia has done and why she is locked in a room at the beginning. When Martin Dobree takes over is where most of the mystery starts to unfold. The story stagnates at this point slightly, going into various minor characters and their lives, but Stretton makes up for it in character development. She goes so completely into Martin's mind and motives that in the third part, it is all the more heartbreaking to view his actions and reactions from Olivia's point of view.
Culturally, this book is significant for bringing to light a part of the world not normally shown in books--that of the British Channel Islands. What a fascinating part of the world this is, with mingling Norman and British history. I found it interesting that when Martin makes a visit to rural Normandy in the book, he is surprised to find that the peasants there speak the same French Patois that he does. It is an amazing setting for a novel, tinged with mystery and romance. Highly recommended!(less)
I believe I am getting to the root of what I love and don't love about Von Arnim's writing. I love her autobiographical and first-person POV work. I l...moreI believe I am getting to the root of what I love and don't love about Von Arnim's writing. I love her autobiographical and first-person POV work. I love her insights into life, love, and nature. I love her optimism and happiness and boundless joy at small pleasures. I love that she loves to be alone with her thoughts, and she actually thinks and sees right to the bottom of things.
I don't love her third-person and omniscient POV work. I didn't know exactly why until I read The Pastor's Wife and found the dialog extremely irritating. It may be naturally the way people talk, but were I to watch a movie of people talking this way--choppily with unfinished sentences--I would wish to strangle them. I wished many times to strangle the characters in this book.
I believe the choppy dialog is Von Arnim's way of getting across the frustration of a situation. The characters, particularly the main character herself, can never finish a sentence without being interrupted. From reading Von Arnim's biography, it is clear that many times in her life she felt things were out of her control; that she was being controlled by other people, especially by the husbands in her two (mostly) unhappy marriages.
That is what this book is about. A girl grows up being pushed around by her father. In a reckless, thoughtless moment--the first moment she is ever alone and left to her own devices--she decides to take a trip to Switzerland. She is alone for only a few hours, however, and then the next overpowering man comes into her life. He is a pastor from Germany (East Prussia to be exact), and she somehow--through no effort or even desire of her own--becomes his wife.
The basis of the story seems to be that this woman is utterly lacking in consciousness of herself. She is utterly unconscious of what others think of her. And she is even more unconscious that she can will her own destiny, much less rebel again what others have planned for her. She has been meticulously trained, while growing up, to bend to her father's will. And that is what she does in this new marriage, bends to her husband's will until it almost kills her and zaps the spirit right out of her. Almost instantly upon recovery, the next overpowering man comes into her life...
I give this three stars. One for simply being by Von Arnim whom I mostly adore. Two more for some beautiful passages and insights that on their own are worth reading. The story is depressing, however, and I failed to see the larger purpose of it. It was possibly a product of the time, also possibly a product of a bout of depression following the death of her first husband.
This text was a produced through the Girlebooks proofreading project with freeliterature.org(less)
I loved the interaction of the characters, loved the writing. But I couldn't help wishing that Kinsale had made the plot a little less exciting and co...moreI loved the interaction of the characters, loved the writing. But I couldn't help wishing that Kinsale had made the plot a little less exciting and convoluted. They travel halfway across the globe, are stranded on an island, kidnapped by pirates and convicts and sultans wishing to enslave them. If the action had been a little less intense, we could have appreciated much more the beautiful chemistry and depth of the characters. Neither of the protagonists are very likable at first. I may be going against the grain to say that I was personally more empathetic with Sheridan's lying, cheating and stealing (given his past) than with Olympia's spite and idiocy. But they were meant for each other, and that's the point, right? This is what Kinsale is driving at. The pointlessness of high ideals and even morals when faced with survival; the pointlessness of it all, really, when you just want peace and to be near someone you love. This book had some truly beautiful moments, mostly when Sheridan was able to overcome his brutal past and discard the brutal person it had made him and open his heart. All that nonsense about Princesses and Revolutions is just that, nonsense, in comparison to the moving story between these two characters.(less)
Excellent overview of Von Arnim's life for Von Arnim junkies, written by her daughter under a pseudonym. It starts off well (with perhaps a little too...moreExcellent overview of Von Arnim's life for Von Arnim junkies, written by her daughter under a pseudonym. It starts off well (with perhaps a little too much backstory into various relatives). Her life in Prussia is the best and most interesting part. And then it drags a bit after that with the back and forth between England, Switzerland and America. If you like Von Arnim and can find this book (currently out of print, so good luck!), then I recommend it.(less)
After what I think is my favorite Von Arnim so far, Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther, this one was a bit anti-climactic. But it's Von Arnim, so stil...moreAfter what I think is my favorite Von Arnim so far, Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther, this one was a bit anti-climactic. But it's Von Arnim, so still very good.
The premise is a tired English woman (I'm not sure if we ever know her name) after WWI escapes some personal troubles in London (we never know exactly what) and goes to her house among the Swiss mountains that has been vacant during the whole of the war. It is the start of summer, and at first our narrator spends her time sporadically writing in her journal (which we are reading) and lying in the grass, trying to get back her energy to face the world again. As she gains strength, she starts to notice that she is lonely, and almost immediately two English women, also of ambiguous personal circumstances, show up literally on her doorstep. The hostess takes them in, and they embark on a strange and endearing path to helping each other.
The plot has a lot in common with other Von Arnim novels--I would say something like a sequel to Vera and Fraulein Schmidt and a prequel to The Enchanted April. I do highly recommend this for other Von Arnim fans since there seem to be more and more of us out there. Others may like this one for it's original narrative technique and highly readable prose.
This should be just out at Gutenberg and soon out at Girlebooks--the text was a proofreading project I did with Marc at freeliterature.org.(less)
Despite the horrid title, this is one of the loveliest books I've read. Really, Von Arnim (or her publisher) came up with some nice titles--The Enchan...moreDespite the horrid title, this is one of the loveliest books I've read. Really, Von Arnim (or her publisher) came up with some nice titles--The Enchanted April, The Solitary Summer--to name a couple. But they must have not put forth the effort on this one, which is a shame.
But the title is at least descriptive. It is an epistolary novel containing the correspondence from Fraulein Schmidt to Mr Anstruther. What makes it different from most other epistolary novels is that you read only the letters from one person, Fraulein Schmidt. Which is just as well, because you will immediately gather that Fraulein Schmidt's letters are some of the most beautiful pieces of prose recorded on paper while Mr Anstruther's letters must be much less worthy of praise.
Before reading this, I had decided that I didn't like Von Arnim's fiction as well as her autobiographical work. I was wrong. It is more her first person voice that I am in love with. I'm sure this novel contains items of autobiographical nature, however it is undoubtedly fiction. But what a joy! I can't recommend this one highly enough.
Be forewarned that there are some terribly frustrating parts, full of heartache and heartbreak. But in the end, one is happy to have felt it and lived through it and possibly even look back with gratitude after time as healed one's wounds, than to never have felt anything at all.
This should be just out at Gutenberg and soon out at Girlebooks--the text was a proofreading project I did with Marc at freeliterature.org.(less)
This is a unique story about Elnora Comstock who lives a reclusive life with her mother in the woody swamps of Indiana called the Limberlost. Elnora l...moreThis is a unique story about Elnora Comstock who lives a reclusive life with her mother in the woody swamps of Indiana called the Limberlost. Elnora longs to go to school like the city children, but hasn't enough money. One day she discovers that a hobby she has cultivated all her life, collecting moth and other insect specimens from the swamps near her home, can actually finance the education she longs for. Helped by the Bird Woman and various other colorful characters that pop into the swamp from time to time, Elnora starts toward her goal.
The first part is a family tale, where Elnora grapples with her mother's moody, crotchety ways. The second part is a romance. There is much to admire about Elnora. She shows spirit, is resourceful, is honest and sympathetic. Most importantly, she values the surroundings in which she was brought up and makes the most of them.
My one complaint of the novel is there is tendency to overestimate appearances throughout. For example, in one episode Elnora is preparing for graduation and commissions her mother to get new dresses for her. Come time for graduation, her mother presents the "new" dresses which are just cleaned and ironed dresses that Elnora wore last year. This is terribly problematic for Elnora, and everyone is aghast that her mother could do such a thing! Maybe I don't understand the cultural significance of new dresses, and of course the episode was written to show us how selfish and clueless her mother was. But I would have loved to see Elnora put on those old dresses and march down to graduation with her head held high and not given a thought to her appearance.
Apparently there is prequel to this book called Freckles, and it might do one well to check that out first. I was confused in many parts when the narrator mentions Elnora's past interactions with Freckles as if I was supposed to know what she was talking about. I'm off to read Freckles! (less)
I read Daddy Long Legs by the fireside last Christmas, the memory of which was so pleasant that I decided to read it's sequel, Dear Enemy, in the same...moreI read Daddy Long Legs by the fireside last Christmas, the memory of which was so pleasant that I decided to read it's sequel, Dear Enemy, in the same manner this year. What a delightful book! I like this one even better than the first. Yes, there are some problematic mentions of eugenics and "idiocy", so be forewarned! But at heart is a lovely, endearing story.
Judy Abbott, whose letters to her anonymous benefactor made up the first novel, hardly makes an appearance in this one. The main character is Judy's pal from college, Sallie McBride, who Judy recruits from her frivolous life to run the John Grier orphan asylum. Sallie accepts the challenge, mainly to anger her politician suitor who doesn't think she's up to the task. And so the adventure begins. This time the letters are from Sallie mostly to Judy, but letters to others including to the home's moody Scottish doctor--her "enemy"--add some variation.
What makes the novel work is Sallie's open temperament as well as tendency to put her foot in her mouth. I was again reminded of that other book about orphans and red-heads with a tendency for pitfalls, Anne of Green Gables. Some hilarious episodes occur, as do some tearful ones. The love story is one of the better and more believable ones I've come across, with the two characters well-matched, likable, and deserving of their eventual happiness. I highly recommend this one!(less)
Emma McChesney has a clear head on her shoulders. She has a straightforwardness that I find lacking in popular fiction/movies these days. Speaking of...moreEmma McChesney has a clear head on her shoulders. She has a straightforwardness that I find lacking in popular fiction/movies these days. Speaking of movies, while reading this I couldn't help being reminded of a movie I saw recently, Up In the Air with George Clooney. His experiences of living airports and hotel rooms--loving the life but at the same time longing for the kind of normalcy that stationary people live-reminded me a lot Emma's experiences 100 years ago.(less)