Putting aside this book's multiple crazy (but typical Susan Elizabeth Phillips) portrayals of threatened sexual assault, the way it plays with faith h...morePutting aside this book's multiple crazy (but typical Susan Elizabeth Phillips) portrayals of threatened sexual assault, the way it plays with faith healing and TV evangelicansim, and the fact that the heroine's prize at the end is she gets to stay in Salvation and live among all the small-minded people who shunned (yes, shunned) her, I compulsively re-read this book once or twice a year.
Why, you ask? I am a glutton for big, meaty angst, and this book is filled to the brim with angst. Single mother trying to support her sick kid? Woman wronged by a judgmental, small-minded community? Heroine a willing martyr to the hero's deep psychological disturbances? Anne Stuart cruelty imported into a zany SEP setting? All of the above.(less)
Rich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's cour...moreRich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's courtesan, learns at once a series of martial arts from a washed up gambling addict as well as her own vulnerability and isolation due to her gender, birth, and half-racial identify. On the other side of the world, Leighton learns of the secrets lurking beneath his idyllic, privileged childhood. Too good to be true, as a child he sacrifices repeatedly to help the (somewhat hapless, if loving and kind) adults of his remaining family.
This full-length book reads as story in its own right, not as the set up of two characters who meet only once before the end. I'm so happy I read it, and do look forward to My Beautiful Enemy.(less)
This was filled with all of the small details and strange quirks that can really place you on the margins of someone else's life. What I remember most...moreThis was filled with all of the small details and strange quirks that can really place you on the margins of someone else's life. What I remember most clearly was the passion, loss, and drama that defined Joe's war years and carousing 20s. The 30s continued to compel with a certain charm and drama, but the remainder of the book was a sad slide away from all that possibility into a bizarre colonialism in miniature and a decent into irrelevance. (less)
I resented having to place this book down and exit the world that Sara and Gerald Murphy invented for themselves. It was all too easy to slip into the...moreI resented having to place this book down and exit the world that Sara and Gerald Murphy invented for themselves. It was all too easy to slip into the grace and charm of Villa America, or to envision the full-tilt excitement of painting backdrops for Parade and hosting the Ballets Russes set for a drunken soiree in honor of Les Noces ending with Stravinsky jumping through a laurel wreath. (Seeing the 'Misia, Queen of Paris' exhibit at the Musee de Orsay and the Paul Guilliame collection at the Orangerie provided gorgeous visuals for these passages!) Even the china, the end tables, and Sara's filmy dresses and pearls provided the sense of a life painstakingly crafted, constantly reimagined, and ultimately fragile.
Of course, the back to back tragedies of the 1930s tarnish the golden prince-and-princess nature of their story. Despite flashes of warmth (Dorothy Parker camping out at the sanatorium with them, Leger coming to sketch with Patrick, Hemingway arranging a wild west foray for the kids) it was striking how selfish, small, and mean many of their 'great man and woman' friends were. Despite the art, the dinners, the conversation, the modernity and the daring, these were just people making (lousy) choices and trying but all too often failing to lead lives congruent with their senses of self. Try Scott Fitzgerald: "When I like men I want to be like them. I want to lose the outer qualities that give me my individuality and be like them. I don't want the man; I want to absorb into myself all the qualities that make him attractive and leave him out." But also: "...you'll let me have my little corner of you where I know you better than anybody- yes, even better than Gerald. And if it should perhaps be your left ear (you hate anyone to examine any single part of your person, no matter how appreciatively- that's why you wore bright clothes) on June evenings on Thursday from 11:00 to 11:15 here's what I'd say: That not one thing you've done has been for nothing.... The people whose lives you've touched directly or indirectly have reacted to the corporate bundle of atoms that's you in a good way. I have seen you again & again at a time of confusion take the hard course almost blindly because long after your powers of ratiocination were exhausted you clung to the idea of dauntless courage." How to reconcile the cruelty, selfishness, and love?
The open question of Gerald's sexuality was particularly compelling. There was his unnamed anguish over the falseness of his public persona and his insistence that his love for Sara was true and necessary but also lacking a certain vitality/honesty: "terribly, terribly sorry that I am as I am... only one thing would be awful and that is that you might not know that I love only you. We both know it's inadequate (that's where 'life' comes in);- but such as it is it certainly is the best this poor fish can offer,- and it's the realest thing I know." The narrative presents an unsettling and unanswered question- does sexual incompatability or infidelities of the mind and heart (if not the body) make romantic love any less 'real' or 'true'? Or is the ultimate proof commitment- the daily choice to remain with one's partner and invest in them? Is such a choice sad, pitible, noble, tragic, beautiful, all of the above? Disturbing and bittersweet...(less)
So maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of Wi...moreSo maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of Witness between the murder victim and a mysterious Viennese mistress. The high drama, rigid social rules, and hopelessly destructive passion always struck a certain chord and I wanted more...
'Letter from an Unknown Woman' is claustrophobic and laden with risible angst. I am glad I did not stop there, however, as the opening of 'A Story Told in Twilight' is gorgeous and the quiet dignity of the matron in 'The Debt Paid Late' is an excellent rebuke of the pointless tragedy of the unknown woman. All of the stories focus on obsessive first love, embraced in three cases and absent in the fourth. What is now mocked and trivialized (weeping hysterical girls thrusting arms out to the Beatles, Bieber, whomever) is given a rich inner life, heavy with opportunity and danger that is incarnated in two cases by a sexually potent older male artist.
The translation is well done, with simple, clear, and intimate prose:
My husband was greatly surprised to see me back from my holiday so soon, and even more surprised to find how happy and reinvigorated those two days away had left me. He described it as a miracle cure. But I see nothing miraculous about it. Nothing makes one as healthy as happiness, and there is no greater happiness than making someone else happy.
Has rain been sweeping over the city again in the wind? Is that what suddenly makes it so dim in our room? No. The air is silvery clear and still, as it seldom is on these summer days, but it is getting late, and we didn't notice. Only the dormer windows opposite still smile with a faint glow, and the sky above the roof ridge is veiled by golden mist. In an hour's time it will be night. That will be a wonderful hour, for there is no lovelier sight than the slow fading of sunset colour into shadow, to be followed by darkness rising from the ground below, until finally its black tide engulfs the walls, carrying us away into its obscurity. If we sit opposite one another, looking at each other without a word, it will seem, at that hour, as if our familiar faces in the shadows were older and stranger and farther away, as if we had never known them like that, and each of use was now seeing the other across a wide space and over many years. But you say you don't want silence now, because in silence one hears, apprehensively, the clock breaking time into a hundred tiny splinters, and our breathing will sound as loud as the breathing of a sick man. You want me to tell you a story. Willingly. But not about me, for our life in these big cities is short of experience, or so it seems to us, because we do not yet know what is really our own in them. However, I will tell you a story fit for this hour that really loves only silence, and I would wish it to have something about it of the warm, soft, flowing twilight now hovering mistily outside our window.
Upfront, I have to say that I did not particularly enjoy this book. I think it's me, not the book. I never fully engaged with the plot; the book did n...moreUpfront, I have to say that I did not particularly enjoy this book. I think it's me, not the book. I never fully engaged with the plot; the book did not sweep me away into hours of reading. Instead I read this book dutifully, bit by bit. I am not sure what is wrong with me. For all her many strengths, Mosca was never a vehicle for me to slip in and explore this fabulous world.
Hardinge is indisputably a fantastic writer. My copy is dogeared from all of the times I was especially caught by a strange but compelling turn of phrase- Mosca's "peppery" eyes were a particular favorite of mine. In addition, the book is thoughtful about the power of the written word to manipulate, inform, delight, and terrify. The analogy of the Clamouring Hour was particularly well done.
Perhaps someday I will have a reason to return to this book. I hope I will be in a more receptive frame of mind when I do.(less)
I went on a Nalini Singh bender- I think I'm still in mourning over how bad Heart of Obsidian was. Faith and Vaughn have never been my favorite couple...moreI went on a Nalini Singh bender- I think I'm still in mourning over how bad Heart of Obsidian was. Faith and Vaughn have never been my favorite couple, but I love how immersive Singh's earlier books are, and how completely they draw you into a fully fleshed-out community of friends, lovers, enemies, and families. It's all Virgin River- esque, except with shapeshifting leopards instead of Marines...(less)
I have been in make-soup-and-tea-and-snuggle-up comfort reading mode since 2013 rolled in. Carla Kelly (especially classic Carla Kelly) generally make...moreI have been in make-soup-and-tea-and-snuggle-up comfort reading mode since 2013 rolled in. Carla Kelly (especially classic Carla Kelly) generally makes the top of my comfort read list.
Jesse was my favorite medical lead until he was knocked off by Jonas in A Kiss For Midwinter. Nell is less sharply drawn, a sweet 18 year old whistfully looking into the window of warm family life from the outside a la A Little Princess. Much of the poignancy is Jesse's knowledge that a much more secure and loving life awaits Nell if they can only make it to British lines.
Funder did a fantastic job of conveying not only the immediate trauma of her subjects' experiences in the GDR but also their continuing relationships...moreFunder did a fantastic job of conveying not only the immediate trauma of her subjects' experiences in the GDR but also their continuing relationships to their pasts; the book's major theme is the individual and collective response to past trauma: remember or forget? Can we escape our pasts? Does a refusal to forget also impede one's ability to live for the present, and have hope for the future? Why do we sanitize the past, and how do we try to silence those who insist on excavating it?
The stories of Miriam, Julia, and Frau Paul broke my heart.(less)
Balance of Trade was never my favorite Liaden book and I had rather forgotten all about it when I picked it up for a re-read in advance of starting Tr...moreBalance of Trade was never my favorite Liaden book and I had rather forgotten all about it when I picked it up for a re-read in advance of starting Trade Secret. Lee and Miller have an extraordinary ability to construct an obviously alien but understandable world through the smallest of dialogue quirks and casual details. They then use these extraordinary worlds to explore characters, rather than the other way around- my favorite mode of storytelling!
Jethri spends the majority of this book knowing much less about events then everyone around him, leaving the reader to scramble along side him to pick up on clues and discern the strange behavior of those around him, from his kin to the 'alien' Liaden. Truly lovely.(less)
I was turned on to Eastern Approaches while reading about the Soviet purges of 1937-1938. MacLean was a young British diplomat who requested transfer...moreI was turned on to Eastern Approaches while reading about the Soviet purges of 1937-1938. MacLean was a young British diplomat who requested transfer from Embassy Paris to the embassy in Moscow; while there, he attended each day of the Bukharin show trial which receives detailed description and analysis in the book. MacLean also used his leave time to strike out on unofficial, NKVD-dodging trips through the Caucuses and Central Asia, with Samarkand and Bokhara as chief destinations for his journeys.
Once WWII broke out, MacLean got out of the foreign service by running for and winning a seat as MP. He then went into the ranks and climbed quickly to Brigadier (?!?), engaging in action on the North African front, much of it clandestine. After an interesting kidnapping mission in Iran, MacLean was handed the military cum diplomatic mission to Tito and the Partisans, then scrambling through the wilds of Bosnia ahead of Nazi troops and local collaborators.
The book was entirely worth the read, if only for the slightly self-conscious but hugely entertaining voice of MacLean. There is a certain boyish enthusiasm in his prose where even long and desperate marches with guerilla forces or terrifying drives through endless desert without water take on the flavor of a Boy Scout adventure. His political analysis also shines through as measured, pragmatic, and with an eye to the unexpected opportunity.
It was disappointing to see a mind sharp as MacLean's descend into trite stereotypes and occasionally, more virulently racist depictions (as seen in an encounter with an Italian Somali soldier in Benghazi). His laziness in attributing behavior to the inherent nature of the Russian "race" muddied up otherwise clear-eyed observation of ordinary Soviet people's way of coping with extraordinary oppression. For the most part, however, for a man of his background and class, he clearly had an ability to relate to people on their own terms and plunge into new environments and relationships with enthusiasm. His extraordinary linguistic skills left me sighing in envy, as well- dropped behind enemy lines and he still takes to Serbo-Croatian like a duck to water...
There was an interesting silence in his chapters on his time in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia- he writes very little on atrocities committed against civilian populations and the little he does write is sanitized (for example, the story of the unfortunate child Ginger). Given the ferocity of the Ustashe regime's commitment to final solution-style ethnic cleansing, it was strange to find MacLean's narrative largely devoid of information on the subject (at least until the end and the capture of Belgrade). At the close of his narrative he casually mentions a conversation with a Red Army soldier on the Soviet man's plan to execute captured German and collaborationist soldiers, a conversation later confirmed by piles of soldiers shot execution style. I cannot begin to guess what such narrative silences indicate- lack of knowledge at the British mission to the Partisans on the full extent of the situation? Hesitancy or inability to write about the carnage? Certainly the grim reality of life for many in the former kingdom of Yugoslavia would have been an awkward fit with MacLean's witty, breezy, detached narration.
The cameos of places I have visited, such as the large fresh water stone cistern in Siwa, Egypt, where I spent an afternoon tossing lemons back and forth with local kids while splashing around, were arresting in how little had changed. The depiction of places still unknown to me were tempting- do I have time to learn Russian?
Despite his repeated disparagement of the slow and grinding inevitability of a diplomatic career, MacLean clearly always retained the framework and approach of a Foreign Office type. Despite his relish in knocking out tactical victories one after the other, it was in his strategic vision and his rather amusing access to people no less than Churchill that clearly left its mark on the course of the war in the Balkans. Still, MacLean's love of action for the sake of adventure was clearly a defining personality trait- apparently he and his wife were driving relief supplies into the former Yugoslavia in a pause in the Balkan wars of the 90s, despite being in their 70s at the time.
Well worth the read:
"On the evening of March 12th Bukharin rose to speak for the last time. Once more, by sheer force of personality and intellect, he compelled attention. Staring up at him, row upon row, smug, self-satisfied, and hostile, sat the new generation of Communists, revolutionaries no longer in the old sense, but worshippers of the established order, deeply suspicious of dangerous thoughts. Watching him standing there, frail and defiant, one had the feeling that here, facing destruction, was the last survivor of a vanished race, of the men who had made the Revolution, who had fought and toiled all their lives for an ideal, and who now, rather than betray it, were letting themselves be crushed by their own creation."
"In the General's bedroom I found a collection of automatic weapons of German manufacture, a good deal of silk underwear, some opium, an illustrated register of the prostitutes of Isfahan, and a large number of letters and papers which I took back with me to the Consulate."
"Mr. Churchill's reply left me in no doubt as to the answer to my problem. So long, he said, as the whole of Western civilization was threatened by the Nazi menace, we could not afford to let our attention be diverted from the immediate issue by considerations of long-term policy. We were as loyal to our Soviet Allies as we hoped they were to us. My task was simply to find out who was killing the most Germans and suggest means by which we could help them to kill more. Politics must be a secondary consideration."
"Entering the cave in a small boat, we all stripped and bathed, our bodies glistening bluish and ghastly. Almost everyone there was a Cabinet Minister in one or other of the two Jugoslav Governments, and there was much shouting and laughter as one blue and phosphorescent Excellency cannoned into another, bobbing about in that caerulean twilight. Then we emerged once more into the sunlight and sea breezes and lunched off of lobsters and white wine. It was choppy going home and several of the party were sick."(less)
I read this back in 2005 or 2006 for the first time and it left a deep impression. Returning to it eight years later I was captivated all over again.
A...moreI read this back in 2005 or 2006 for the first time and it left a deep impression. Returning to it eight years later I was captivated all over again.
Allen draws from the integration of Central High in Little Rock, Ralph Ellison (especially the enigmatic Invisible Man), Aristotle, and Thomas Hobbes among others to construct her argument. In sum, Allen argues that the everyday practices of individual citizens are the bedrock of a functioning democracy and lays out the practices that constitute political friendship, a way of being that generates trust among citizens in preparation for equitably sharing and compensating the sacrifices necessary to keep the community whole.
Someone below noted that the chapters feel like a series of lectures- this is very true. Each chapter, focused on a few core texts, builds upon the one before, taking up questions that the previous text could not answer. My favorite is chapter 8, a lovely and compelling reading of Invisible Man.
In her last chapter Allen applies her conclusions to the operations of her home institution of the time, the University of Chicago, in a (still-unrealized) call for the university to engage its neighbors through practices that build trust and a sense of community.
This book exerted great influence over me, especially in the thought that in our democracy ordinary people every day are asked to make sacrifices for the good of the whole. The problem is not sacrifice per se, but rather when things fall out of balance- we should ask (per Ellison) "Who sacrifices for whom? Are sacrifices voluntary? Are they honored? And are they reciprocated?" If things are in balance then sacrifices are gifts a citizen gives to the broader whole; without balance we fall into patterns of domination and subjugation.
"Citizens' distrust not of government but of each other leads the way to democratic disintegration."(less)
My favorite book? Possibly. My favorite romance? Definitely.
How can you not love watching two brainy, awkward, wounded people resist honest love for...moreMy favorite book? Possibly. My favorite romance? Definitely.
How can you not love watching two brainy, awkward, wounded people resist honest love for years before finally giving way: "'I have been facing one fact for some time,' said Harriet, staring out with unseeing eyes into the quad, 'and that is, that if I once gave way to Peter, I should go up like straw.'"
And the letters? "Dear Harriet,
I send in my demand notes with the brutal regularity of the income-tax commissioners; and probably you say when you see the envelopes, 'Oh God! I know what this is.' The only difference is that, some time or other, one has to take notice of the income tax.
Will you marry me?- It's beginning to look like one of those lines in a farce- merely boring till it's said often enough; and after that, you get a bigger laugh every time it comes.
I should like to write you the kind of words that burn the paper they are written on- but words like that have a way of being not only unforgettable but unforgivable. You will burn the paper in any case; and I would rather there should be nothing in it you cannot forget if you want to."
And the recognition that a relationship worth having recognizes and cherishes the beloved on its own terms- it is not a socially-constructed prison of gendered expectations: "Harriet; I have have nothing much in the way of religion, or even morality, but I do recognize a code of behaviour of sorts. I do know that the worst sin- perhaps the only sin- passion can commit, is to be joyless. It must lie down with laughter or make its bed in hell- there is no middle way... Don't misunderstand me. I have bought it, often- but never by forced sale or at 'stupendous sacrifice'... Don't, for God's sake, ever think you owe me anything. If I can't have the real thing, I can make do with the imitation. But I will not have surrenders or crucifixions..."
Plus, of course, a mystery that exposes still-unanswered anxieties on how to reconcile the intellectual potential of women (not to mention their individual wants and dreams) with the social architecture built upon the neutral fact of biological reproduction. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead indeed.
Oh Peter- our diplomat, spy, soldier, and detective extraordinaire: "God! how I loathe haste and violence and all that ghastly, slippery cleverness. Unsound, unscholarly, insincere- nothing but propaganda and special pleading and 'what do we get out of this?' No time, no peace, no silence; nothing but conferences and newspapers and public speeches till one can't hear one's self think... If only one could root one's self in here among the grass and stones and do something worth doing, even if it was only restoring a lost breathing for the love of the job and nothing else."
As for Harriet: "She went to bed thinking more about another person than about herself. This goes to prove that even minor poetry may have its practical uses," and, "Could there ever be any alliance between the intellect and the flesh? It was this business of asking questions and analyzing everything that sterilized and stultified all one's passions Experience perhaps had a formula to get over this difficulty: one kept the bitter, tormenting brain on one side of the wall and the languorous, sweet body on the other, and never let them meet. So that if you were made that way, you could argue about loyalties in an Oxford common-room and refresh yourself elsewhere with- say- Viennese singers, presenting an unruffled surface on both sides of yourself. Easy for a man, and possible even for a woman, if one avoided foolish accidents like being tried for murder."
And finally, "H: Do you find it easy to get drunk on words?
P: So easy that, to tell you the truth, I am seldom perfectly sober. Which accounts for my talking so much.
H: And yet, if anybody had asked me, I should have said you had a passion for balance and order- no beauty without measure.
P: One may have a passion for the unattainable.
H: But you do attain it. At least, you appear to attain it.
P: The perfect Augustan? No; I'm afraid it's at most a balance of opposing forces..."
Who can turn up their noses at Oxford, feminism, love, and John Donne? Not I.(less)
Hands down my favorite book by Singh, I think Judd Larsen is one of my favorite romantic leads of all times. The prototype for all of her later Psy he...moreHands down my favorite book by Singh, I think Judd Larsen is one of my favorite romantic leads of all times. The prototype for all of her later Psy heroes, he is just the right balance between tortured and human to make the romance believable. Brenna is believable, and the family dynamics with her brothers make for excellent conflict.(less)
So- As a vehicle for much angst, wandering hungry and cold over the moors a la Jane Eyre, and being pregnant and alone in the world, Lily rocks. And I am not knocking any of these tropes- in fact, they are some of my favorites. The drama/melodrama was delicious. I was a little worried that the book might turn too slapstick 'meta' for me, given that it features Lily Troublefield and Devon Darkwell; however, these heavy handed "gothic ahoy" signs aside, the book actually functioned as a serious old-school romance.
That said, I can no longer escape into these glorious angst-o-thons anymore when the hero crosses the red line of douchiness more than once or twice. Devon did a silly little hopscotch back and forth for the entire book- coercing sex, forgetting there was a brain attached to that vag he was so fond of, enacting all sorts of outlandish revenge schemes, and ect. As a more satisfying and honest ending, once Lily's refuge on the moors goes up in smoke (you'll know the scene) I would have someone entirely new and delicious ride to the rescue. He would earn Lily's trust and learn all her secrets, marry her, and whisk her off to a lovely and pastoral neighborhood somewhere. Devon would come to his senses, find Lily, and cast himself down for a class A drama. Lily, no fool she, would realize that her unhealthy Cathy-Heathcliff bond-of-angst has entirely disappeared after having known the love of a non-douchy man and would send Devon packing. Devon would crawl back to his oceanside hideout and drink himself silly- serves him right, the ass.
This book was an absolute delight to read, but is for romance novel angst aficionados only.(less)
One of my less favorite Dorothy L. Sayers books, which still makes it a pretty fabulous piece of sly characterization married with brisk, tight plotti...moreOne of my less favorite Dorothy L. Sayers books, which still makes it a pretty fabulous piece of sly characterization married with brisk, tight plotting. This is pre-Harriet Peter (aka shallow and whimsical Peter) with a nice characterization nugget strewn late in the book when he chats up a priest on ethical responsibility.
Unnatural Death is a rare Sayers spoiled somewhat by the prejudices of her time. Even my beloved Parker not only uses racially fraught language- he *thinks* and speaks along those lines as well. Be prepared.(less)