review shortly; in the meantime, this is an ARC and it needs a new home. Anyone in the US who wants it can have it ... just be the first to comment. I...morereview shortly; in the meantime, this is an ARC and it needs a new home. Anyone in the US who wants it can have it ... just be the first to comment. I'll even pay postage. (less)
Frog Music is a novel of historical fiction set in the streets of San Francisco in 1876. At its southern boundary is San Miguel Station, where as...more3.8
Frog Music is a novel of historical fiction set in the streets of San Francisco in 1876. At its southern boundary is San Miguel Station, where as the novel opens, two women are sharing a room. One of them, Blanche, bends down to untangle a knot on the gaiter clinging to her calf; the other, Jenny, has her head down on the pillow half asleep. At that moment, someone decides to fire a gun into the room from outside and Jenny is dead. This very real crime was never officially solved, but in Frog Music, Emma Donoghue offers her readers a possible and plausible solution to this unsolved mystery. However, the crime aspect of this book just wasn't that big of a deal for me -- it was more about how Jenny's chance meeting and resulting friendship with Blanche had a major impact on both of their lives.
The main character in this book is definitely Blanche. Formerly a circus acrobat in France, now, a year and half later, she's a dancer and a high-class prostitute. When Blanche and Jenny meet during a chance accident, Blanche is taken by this strange, secretive woman who sings little ditties, likes stories, dresses in men's clothing and catches frogs for her livelihood. As she notes, she hasn't had as much fun with "a stranger" since before leaving France. Jenny also has a "talent for putting her nose in other people's business. And her finger on sore points," one of which is Blanche's baby P'tit Arthur, named after Blanche's lover. P'tit, now about a year old, was sent out to a "farm, for his health," and Blanche's visits with him have become fewer and fewer. She's bored, the visits are routine, and she's waiting for a time "till he's got some spark in him, till he could be said to be thriving." Jenny's questions, however, prompt her to visit her baby at the farm, and what Blanche witnesses there causes her to take her baby with her, a decision that will lead Blanche to some pretty harsh realizations about herself, her trade and the people who supposedly care about her. The story starts with Jenny's murder and part of it follows Blanche after that event; the other part focuses on what is happening in the characters' lives up to the moment of Jenny's death, most especially the major impact of Blanche's friendship with Jenny.
I loved all of the rich historical descriptions, and I appreciated all of the research that went into this novel. Throughout the book, the author vividly immerses the reader in the historical setting -- beyond the blazing heat, she also includes the sordidness of life in parts of the city where the virginity of young girls is auctioned off, where baby farming (read warehousing) is a perfect solution for unwanted babies and a great business for brothel owners, and where smallpox can run rampant due to unsanitary and crowded conditions. And, of course, there's the music of the time -- entertaining songs which are given in small bursts throughout the book, then discussed in an appendix at the back of the novel. I love historical fiction that is well written, and Frog Music definitely falls into that category. Having said all of that, for me the novel succeeds less as a mystery/crime novel (a frame I thought sort of gimmicky) and more as a look at how a woman with very little in the way of maternal instinct and very little understanding about the needs of others discovers exactly what she's capable of in the worst of circumstances -- and just what her life until then has cost her. Blanche's quest to find both the killer and some amount of justice for Jenny seemed a little forced and frankly, I just wasn't that interested, although as I noted earlier that the author's solution is entirely plausible.
Some caveats for other readers: lots of graphic detail in terms of sex and smallpox, the baby farm scene is just downright gutwrenching, and the callousness of people in this novel was just infuriating at times. Overall, while I found the crime component to be a big "meh," there is a lot I liked about this book. I won't say I loved it because I didn't, but it was one I didn't want to put down. I recommend it, maybe not so much to crime fiction fans or historical mystery fans, but as a work of historical fiction in general; I also predict that Frog Music, like Room, (which I wasn't gaga over either) will be a huge bestseller. (less)
First: if you're thinking a) that this is a book about a group like TAPS or some other paranormal investigation group, or b) that it's a full-on ghost...moreFirst: if you're thinking a) that this is a book about a group like TAPS or some other paranormal investigation group, or b) that it's a full-on ghost story, you may be a little disappointed. However, if you can get past those two obstacles, and you don't mind a little melodrama here and there, you may enjoy it. I absolutely hate giving ratings, but I'll give a 3.8 rounded up to a 4.
The Ghost Hunters is really several stories meshed into one -- first, there is the story of Sarah Grey, a young woman living with her mother who in this book became confidential secretary to Harry Price, the subject of the second story, a "psychical researcher" and debunker of fake mediums during a time when spiritualism was at its heyday. The third story focuses on the "most haunted house in England," Borley Rectory. When I first bought this book I thought I was getting a horror story, and even though it didn't completely turn out that way, I was totally amazed at just how good this book is. While there is a bit of overdo on some parts of the drama, the novel as a whole is highly atmospheric,and there are definitely parts that will send shivers up your spine here and there, and parts that will satisfy any ghost-story lover's craving for a solid ghostly tale.
The narrative is related mainly by Sarah Grey, looking back over her life and career from 1955. Her story begins in 1926, two weeks before she turned 22. Her widowed mother, having lost her husband during the war, is very much into spiritualism, and on this particular day in January, Sarah is reluctantly accompanying her to the gala opening of Harry Price's new laboratory. Sarah disapproves of her mother's interest in mediums and seances, thinking spiritualism to be in "poor taste," and also believing that instead of focusing on the dead, people should be thinking about moving on. The laboratory is paid for by funds from the Society for Psychical Research, "equipped with the necessary scientific equipment," and is a place where "men and women with open minds can test the mediums unhindered by preconceived prejudices." On this night, the two women witness the testing of a medium whose powers seem so real, only to be followed by Price's denunciation of her work as a trick. Price also announces that he does not believe in ghosts, and notes that his "science, psychical research," will leave behind the "cheap mummery of the seance rooms." His comments are objected to by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a member of the Society for Psychical Research, famous for his belief in spiritualism, making for an exciting evening. Harry himself is rather at odds with the Society, and makes no bones about his stance on their methods. Eventually, this gala opening turns into a position for Sarah as Price's confidential secretary, as well as his eventual assistant in his debunking activities. It isn't long until Sarah comes across a letter from a Dr. David Chipp, who also attended Harry's lab opening, and who finds that his own experiences are "at odds" with what Harry had to say. The letter goes on to tell about several eerie things that happened to him during a visit at the family home of a colleague and friend, Borley Rectory. Chipp tells Harry that perhaps he should investigate the place for himself. Sarah alerts Price, who is not at all interested, and the matter drops until sometime later when a story is written in the newspaper about Borley Rectory and the experiences of the new tenants of the place. As it turns out, the reporter who wrote the piece, Vernon Wall, is eager for Harry to visit, because he himself had traveled there and witnessed some things that "confounded all reason." With Sarah in tow, Harry meets Wall at the rectory, and what happens during this investigation will have an impact on the remainder of Sarah's life.
While, as I noted earlier, this isn't a horror story per se, there are some spine-tingling moments in this book that aficionados of ghost stories and haunted house stories would love. Mr. Spring details each and every event so well that I got totally immersed in the Borley scenes and didn't want them to end. The author incorporates actual sources into Sarah's account; in fact, to be really honest, since this was the first time I'd ever heard of Borley Rectory, I thought they were all fake until my post-read curiosity got the better of me and I discovered that there really is a place called Borley Rectory, and that there really was a person named Harry Price. The book also provides an atmospheric quality that gets under your skin as you read; whether or not you are in the Rectory, you can't help but wait for that next little jolt of fear to hit. On top of all of this, the author also sets up a running theme of deception and its costs.
When all is said and done, Harry Price turns out to be a character loaded with irony, and the author sets things up so that it isn't up to the last that we discover exactly what that irony entails. The "secret" Sarah carries around with her isn't so earth shattering when revealed, but even with this little bit of drama (a tad bit overdone, imho), she is also an interesting person both with and without Harry Price. There are many side characters who also come to life here -- most notably, the tenants of Borley Rectory, past and present.
Overall, considering I went into this book with the wrong expectations, I really enjoyed it ... just the perfect thing for a windy/stormy night's read. (less)
My thanks to LT early reviewers and to the publisher for my copy.
On June 10, 1967, a thirty-five foot boat named "The Rambler" left the island of Angu...moreMy thanks to LT early reviewers and to the publisher for my copy.
On June 10, 1967, a thirty-five foot boat named "The Rambler" left the island of Anguilla for St. Kitts carrying 16 passengers (including three American mercenaries), a minimum of provisions, and 500 pounds of guns and ammunition. The group was going to be part of an effort to establish a coup to get rid of Robert L. Bradshaw, the premier of the new "state" of St. Kitts/Nevis/Anguilla. Only his ouster, did the Anguillans involved in the operation believe, would call international attention to Bradshaw's neglect of Anguilla and its people. The mission failed and failed badly, but oddly enough, the results of that day actually led the way toward Anguilla's independence. Night of the Rambler reimagines the events leading up to that night and what drove a mere handful of people to make such a gutsy move. While there are a couple of issues that nagged at me while reading, overall, the author tells a really good fictional story behind some real events that I never knew took place.
One of the things that strikes me as some of the best work here is the author's focus on his two main characters Alwyn Cooke and Rude Thompson. While it may not be easy at first to fathom why the author seems to jump around in time and place, he's actually setting up the backstories of these characters, which reveal much about their present lives. Thompson was working in Aruba during the time of the protests against Venezuelan dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez and learned a great deal from a young anti-Perez-Jimenez engineer fresh from university as well as a kind of patriotism where you "step back, see things from a distance, and ask what can be done ..." He comes to realize that sometimes violence might be necessary when peaceful solutions don't work. Alwyn Cooke, who lucked out and received part of a prosperous estate as an inheritance, loves Anguilla and its people, but unlike Thompson, hopes for a nonviolent solution for the sake of the island's future. When they finally come together, Cooke and Thompson are what the author calls "two of the most important ingredients necessary for change blended into one," and as the story progresses, he clearly reveals how these two people with very different responses to their collective predicament finally realize there's much more at stake than individual personalities. Another important character, Solomon Carter, has an interesting backstory as well: he was a sugar-cane worker in the Dominican Republic who saw firsthand the attacks on Haitian and other black immigrants during Trujillo's "Parsley Massacre," and saw the blood of thousands of victims run like a river. Since then, he's sworn that he would do everything in his power to see that nothing like that could ever happen in Anguilla, taking a stance against the use of extreme violence.
Another positive: the author sets the action of his story within the context of the British-speaking Caribbean of the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, when the area was a "hotbed of insurrections and revolts," and carefully sets out why the Anguillans would reach the point of aiding a coup on St. Kitts. By 1966, when the individual countries wanted internal self-governance, they first became "associated states" of the UK, and plans for the full "statehood" for St. Kitts/Nevis/Anguilla were in the works -- but the Anguillans wanted no part of it. They were neglected by their nominal leader, Bradshaw of St. Kitts, who didn't even bother to help after Hurricane Donna of 1960 decimated houses, buildings, & livestock. There was no hospital on Anguilla, no running water, no telephone service and not even a harbor. It was like these people were stuck there to fend for themselves -- you can sense the Anguillans' frustration throughout the book.
What I didn't care for so much was the narrator's interjection into a story where he played no role except as omniscient observer -- sometimes the smart-alecky remarks were annoying, or once he even notes that it's "well past" his bedtime. It totally interrupts the flow and pulls the reader right out of the historical setting. However, the story is so good, and in the long run well told, so I can sort of overlook this annoyance. I would most certainly recommend Night of the Rambler, especially to people who are interested in the Caribbean islands and their histories.(less)
I pre-purchased this novel before its UK publication date; when searching out new books last year I took one look at the blurb and...moreread December, 2013
I pre-purchased this novel before its UK publication date; when searching out new books last year I took one look at the blurb and instantly fell in love with the premise. Once I cracked open this massive tome, I fell into one of the most intriguing reads ever and I remember thinking at the outset that it reminded me quite a bit of the work of Wilkie Collins by way of Charles Dickens, two writers whose works I continue to read over and over. However, the more I got into it, the more I realized that this was something very different. Two things stood out for me here: first, the novel's originality; second, the author's incredible storytelling ability.
There is absolutely no very good way of describing the plot, so I will offer only a brief look. Arriving by ship in a small goldrush town in New Zealand in 1866, young Walter Moody has seen something that shakes him to his core. He takes up residence in one of the town's hotels, and one night wanders into a group of twelve men who have the strangest stories to tell. At first all but one are reluctant; as time goes on, however, a startling tale emerges that has to do with a hermit who dies leaving an estate being contested by a previously-unknown wife; a missing man, an opium-addicted prostitute who has, it seems, tried to kill herself, and a sea captain with a habit of taking on other people's identities. As their respective stories capture Moody's attention, he realizes that his own shipboard experience may have a connection to this fantastic collage of stories. But wait -- as soon as the reader thinks he or she has some or most of this crazy puzzle figured out, things have a way of transforming into something completely different. Like the era, the goldfields and the people who inhabit this novel, your sense of stability while reading this book often finds itself in a bit of turmoil.
I noticed in particular one major theme running throughout this novel: fortune. While there are others as well, this one for me was the most visible. It's here in gold mining, chance, and fate; here fortunes are won, fortunes are lost, and fortune works as an agent of transformation. There's so much in this book, none the least of which is a fine old-fashioned, Victorian-style mystery and adventure story at the novel's heart; there's also a look at a volatile, wild-westish period in New Zealand's history. The sense of time and place that accompanies this peek into the gold-rush era is well crafted, starting with the first page. And along with the story, there's the innovative structure: it took me a while to figure out what was going on, but once I figured it out, I was absolutely delighted with the author's innovation and originality. You can read other reviews if you want to know ahead of time; my suggestion would be to pay close attention to all of the little charts at the beginning of each section. Part of the fun, I think, is in realizing exactly how clever the author is here. And that's clever in a good way, unlike some books where sometimes clever is a turn off.
I loved, absolutely LOVED this book -- it's probably one of the few times in my reading life that after the end of the last page, instead of breathing a sigh of relief that an 800+ page novel had finally come to an end, I wanted more. Reader responses have been from "best book I've ever read," to "snoozefest, couldn't get past the first chapter," so they vary. It is the perfect book, even for the casual reader -- here, the story itself will sweep you up and take you along for an incredible and rollicking ride. (less)
The dustjacket description of this lovely novel of historical fiction doesn't quite do it justice. Burial Rites is based on true events that happened...moreThe dustjacket description of this lovely novel of historical fiction doesn't quite do it justice. Burial Rites is based on true events that happened in Iceland in 1828, when Natan Ketilsson and Petur Jónsson were both murdered at Ketilsson's farm in North Iceland. Agnes Magnúsdóttir and Friðrik Sigurðsson were charged with the crimes and sentenced to be executed by Ketilsson's brother. There was a third person involved, Sigríður Guðmundsdóttir, who was also arrested, sentenced to death but then had her sentence commuted to life in prison. Agnes was first held at Stóra-Borg, and then the authorities moved her to Kornsá, where she stayed with a family until she was taken to be executed in January of 1830. According to the author's note, some of the historical accounts of Agnes Magnúsdóttir view her as "an inhumane witch, stirring up murder," but in Burial Rites, Kent sets out to provide Agnes with a more "ambiguous portrayal." While the blurb inside the cover gives you a taste of the story to come, it doesn't begin to cover just how good a writer Hannah Kent really is. She has filled this book with so much more than the story of a murder. Through her excellent use of language, she brings out how nature, the seasons, and the Icelandic landscape not only defined the way that people lived and survived in this time and in this place, but also how people were often left helpless, stranded and in the dark when nature was less than cooperative. Above all, her writing brings out the psychological damage caused by isolation, loneliness and abandonment in an unforgiving environment. If I had to describe this book in one word it would be this one: haunting.
Agnes Magnúsdóttir, abandoned at an early age, spent most of her life moving farm to farm, working as a servant. As the novel opens, she has been sentenced to die along with two others for her part in killing two men at a farm along the sea in Northern Iceland. She'd been kept in irons and chains at the first place after her trial, but then the District Commissioner decided she should be moved to the farm of Kornsá to spend her last days, and the family will be compensated for taking her in. The family at Kornsá is shaken by the news; Margrét, the farmer's wife, protests that she does not want to share her home with "the Devil's children." As Agnes comes to her final home, it upsets the family dynamic, but Margrét puts her foot down, telling Agnes that she will be put to work, and if there is any "violence, lazing, cheek, idleness" or theft, Agnes is gone. A young assistant reverend, Thorvardur Jónsson nicknamed Tóti, also receives official word -- he will be Agnes' spiritual advisor during her final days of life, and is urged to get Agnes to repent and confess before she dies.Tóti, who is inexperienced and counseled by his father not to take Agnes on, becomes the vehicle through which Agnes first starts to unspool her tale, and the rest of the book takes the reader through Agnes' story from her childhood through the fateful day at the farm of Illugastadir, and on to Agnes' last day of life. Each chapter begins with some form of real official document, or a poem, or in one case, an Icelandic saga, all of which have relevance to what's happening in that particular section.
Alternating voices, dreams and portents, superstitions, haunting imagery, and seasonal routines also help to shape this story. It is filled with descriptions of the rhythms of farm life, from communal harvesting and slaughter to living in cramped quarters in a turf-walled croft. But standing above everything that the author writes about is the way she writes it. It's a book that didn't let go of me until the very end, and even then I wasn't finished thinking about what I'd just read. You may be tempted to zip through it for the murder story, but don't. Definitely recommended. Considering that Burial Rites is the author's first novel, it is highly intelligent, sophisticated, and a novel that readers across the spectrum will enjoy. (less)
I never added a review here (or if I did, couldn't find it). So here it is, from June 2013.
I have to be rather honest here. This is the third book I'v...moreI never added a review here (or if I did, couldn't find it). So here it is, from June 2013.
I have to be rather honest here. This is the third book I've read by John Harwood -- I loved his The Ghost Writer, which was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Prize in 2005, and I also enjoyed The Seance, his second book. Compared to those two, this one is not as good, and for me, not so mysterious as I feel a gothic-style novel should be. Having said that, let me just say that it's getting multi-star ratings so it's one you need to try on your own.
As is my usual habit, I first read the dust-cover blurb:
"Confused and disoriented, Georgina Ferrars awakens in Tregannon House, a private asylum in a remote corner of England. She has no memory of the past few weeks. The doctor, Maynard Straker, tells her that she admitted herself under the name Lucy Ashton the day before, then suffered a seizure. When she insists he has mistaken her for someone else, Dr. Straker sends a telegram to her uncle, who replies that Georgina Ferrars is at home with him in London... Suddenly her voluntary confinement becomes involuntary."
Oooh! oooh! I'm thinking, I can't wait to get into this one! I love Gothic novels and I like Gothic-style novels, and I'm a sucker for historical novels where people end up in an asylum, so this seemed right up my alley. For a while it was.
Related in three parts, the novel starts with Georgina/Lucy's arrival and her stay at Tregannon House. She can't help but wonder why she picked the name Lucy Ashton, and starts wondering if whether or not there was some "strain of madness" in her family. Telling herself "not to think about it," she thinks instead about her childhood with her mother and great-aunt, another interesting story, set on a cottage about fifty yards from a cliff on the Isle of Wight. An escape only leads to more questions, as she sees Georgina Ferrars in her uncle's home and then returned to Tregannon House. As she's considering a second attempt, she stumbles upon her old writing case, leading to Part Two, which helps in some ways to clear up the mystery of what's going on, by going back in time to when her own mother was a young girl.
While Part One held my interest completely; Part Two also intrigued for a while until the story started to become so obvious that I figured out most of what had happened and what was going to happen, so by Part Three, I just wanted to finish the book. Certainly no mystery there -- and the transparency of it all sidelined my enjoyment. There were also so many implausible things happening here that it stopped being fun. What I did like very much was the atmosphere the author created from the contemporary present in Tregannon House to a cottage on the Isle of Wight and even further back in time, to the realm of Victorian high society. He sets up his story so that you don't know who you can trust in this book, which is a plus -- I love dubious characters and trying to sort them all out vis-a-vis their relationship with the main characters in this novel. But overall, I wasn't that fond of this novel, and felt let down, which is a shame, since I liked his other two books so much.
The Asylum has received good reviews from several readers so maybe they see something in it that I didn't. It just didn't do it for me.