In the spring of 2012, I read Anthony Capella‘s debut novel, The Food of Love. I enjoyed it qu...moreReview from Elizabeth Editorializes, my book review blog
In the spring of 2012, I read Anthony Capella‘s debut novel, The Food of Love. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and have been meaning to read more of his work since then. My last trip to the library included The Various Flavors of Coffee, which promised more of the heady, mouth-watering descriptions of smell and taste that I love, and which were abundant in The Food of Love. I finished it this morning.
(For the record, the cover of my copy has “Flavors” spelled the American way, as I have used it in this post, although Goodreads has the British spelling, which is how the author spells it on his website. Why it should need to be spelled differently in the American release, when ultimately it’s the same language, is beyond me, but they did that with the Harry Potter books as well. That’s another rant for another day, however.)
As for sensory descriptions, this book absolutely delivered. I had no idea coffee could have so many variations, and reading this made me want to become more of a connoisseur. There was less food than coffee, which is to be expected, but it was still there. Mainly, it was being eaten, and not cooked, but one can’t have everything.
The narrator of The Various Flavors of Coffee is a self-professed foolish and vain young man, who spends a great deal of the book having sex, thinking about sex, paying for sex, and trying to convince women to have sex with him.
There is rather more description of those acts than I typically prefer, and somewhat crudely depicted at times, but I suppose not exactly vulgar. While I was put off a bit by the slang terms used by the narrator, they seemed to fit the character, as well as the time and place of the scenes in which they were used, and it was a colorful insight into the colloquialisms of the era in that part of London.
Though I felt that it had a great deal of potential, the plot of this book became somewhat convoluted as it progressed, and is difficult to describe. Robert Wallis, the narrator, begins his journey in London as an unsuccessful poet, is discovered in a café by a coffee merchant, and enters the merchant’s employ as an assistant in creating a system of descriptions for coffees.
This system is intended to serve as a sort of universal guide to, well, the various flavors of coffee, making it easier for folks to buy and sell the stuff over long distances with certainty that they will be getting what they expect.
During the course of this project, Robert falls in love with the daughter of the coffee merchant, who is in fact the brains behind the idea. It seems to be partially this interest that prompts Mr. Pinker, the merchant and father, to send Robert to Africa, to source and hopefully grow a particular type of coffee bean.
Soon enough, Robert is bumbling around Africa, making quite a few errors in judgment, among them finding himself infatuated with the slave of another merchant. Meanwhile, Emily, Mr. Pinker’s daughter, is getting herself embroiled in the suffragist movement in London.
This is partly where I find fault with the story. In my mind, it’s tricky to infuse a story with a strong sociopolitical message, and Mr. Capella has, with this book, tried to get the reader involved in not just one, but three (at least) issues. We have slavery and indentured servitude in Africa, and intermingled with that, we have the women’s rights movement in England — not just suffrage, but domestic issues, and that fun period of time when doctors liked to diagnose women who had emotions and thoughts of their own as “hysterical,” and proceeded to give them all sorts of weird treatments that would cause an uproar in this day and age.
There is a side dish of the conflict between pure capitalism, government regulation of commerce, and the manipulation of the stock market by both federal and private agencies. There is also a brief discussion of abolition in South America. I may have missed something, but I believe that covers the main points.
This all gets rather confusing, and for me, it detracted from the plot, and gave the reader less opportunity to become invested in each of the characters. It seemed that the author was simply trying to do too much in one book. Where one or two social causes can be enriching for a story, the addition of so many was distracting. It gave the entire story a rather unfocused feeling, which was a shame, because until these issues began piling on, I was enthralled.
The first third of the book was excellent. I was hooked within the first thirty pages, and very eager to continue reading. When the plot went into so many directions, it felt as though the story was disintegrating somewhat, and I was disappointed. It never fully recovered from that fragmentation.
The book is well-written in the technical sense, and the language is truly lovely at times, even though often quite randy. I don’t have a problem with that, but it was more fun in The Food of Love, which also had better character development. I enjoyed both books enough to pursue Mr. Capella’s other works. His novel The Wedding Officer seems to have been popular and successful, so I will likely try that next.
Between the two I’ve read so far, I’d have to recommend The Food of Love, unless you’re feeling very political, and interested in learning some new words for a woman’s nether regions that were used in the Victorian era.(less)
The Lonesome Gods is the first full-length book I’ve read from Louis L’Amour. His s...more(Originally posted on Elizabeth Editorializes, my book review blog)
The Lonesome Gods is the first full-length book I’ve read from Louis L’Amour. His short stories are thrilling and often heart-warming, so I expected a L’Amour novel to be the same, but more fully developed and thorough. I was not disappointed.
Johannes Verne is the hero of this story, a boy who comes west across America with his father, Zachary Verne. It is a dangerous journey, for they travel across a desert filled with hostile natives and bandits, in a lone wagon with strangers for companions. Zachary is ill and dying, but determined to get his son to Los Angeles.
The destination is just as dangerous, for it is to Don Isidro, Zachary’s father-in-law, that he hopes to transfer care of 5-year-old Johannes – a man who tried to kill Zachary for marrying his daughter, who pursued the couple into the desert and forced them to go into hiding, and who might still hold a grudge. Zachary knows that Don Isidro may wish his grandson dead as well, but he is the only family left to a boy who has already lost his mother and will soon lose his father as well.
Just as in his short stories, L’Amour has packed this novel with gunfights, chases on horseback, friendship and enmity with native peoples, and un-flowery romance. Without page limitation, there is an increase in the number of characters, as well as a more in-depth development of those central to the story. The length of the novel also allowed the author to span a great deal of years, so that the reader witnesses young Johannes growing from a child to a man, with the aid of loyal friends and some harrowing experiences.
Looking at the book from a technical perspective, there are some passages that are a touch unpolished, and the author has a slight tendency to repeat himself during certain scenes. The examples that come to mind are the few times when a character has a thought that he then repeats nearly verbatim to a companion. These instances don’t amount to much, and likely wouldn’t fill more than a page altogether, but it is sloppy and perhaps a bit distracting.
The only other criticism I have in terms of nuts-and-bolts writing technique is repetitious word usage. I tend to notice this in others’ writing because I am vigilant of it in my own. One of the first things I look for is how often and how recently I’ve used a particular word, and I try to use synonyms whenever possible. This was apparently not a concern for Mr. L’Amour or his editors, but it is a small complaint in the grand scheme of a very successful book.
What really counts in The Lonesome Gods is the story. L’Amour was such a marvelous storyteller, that anything else takes a distant second place in importance. The narrative has an ideal pace, keeping the reader involved on every page, emotionally invested and wide-eyed for much of the book.
There are scenes that are so enthralling, reality completely slips away. At one point, during a silent standoff that was sure to explode in gunfire at any moment (or any sentence, really), I found myself jumping at the sound of my husband scraping a chair leg on the floor. I was so fully inside the story that I startled as though one of the characters had made a sudden move.
Not many authors can write like that, can make you feel entirely present in the story in that way. The text fades away, and all you see is action, as though the page in front of you were a movie screen. The alertness of the narrator becomes your own alertness, his fear your fear. It is quite an accomplishment. Louis L’Amour was a true entertainer of the highest degree.
The Lonesome Gods is such a beautiful melding of history, culture, and adventure, that it should be recommended reading in American public schools. It is a fascinating portrait of the formative years of the United States’s western cities, a purely great story about a very admirable young man, and it is chock full of moral fiber and freedom-loving sentiment.
If I had read this book in my high school English classes, I would have taken much more interest in American history, but at least I have read it now. I am so pleased to have my own copy of it, and would recommend it to absolutely anyone, without reservation.(less)
spotted a copy of The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan on the new fiction shelf at the library, and it looked interesting enough to give it a go, since I...more spotted a copy of The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan on the new fiction shelf at the library, and it looked interesting enough to give it a go, since I didn’t have anything else in mind. I started it on Tuesday the 26th and finished it this morning, but I wasn’t reading it in a very dedicated manner, and for me, it wasn’t one of those book that you just “can’t put down.”
Initially, I did not realize it was a period piece. I was surprised when I encountered the description of the main character wearing a corset and petticoats. I looked back at the first few pages to see if it was written anachronistically, but I didn’t see any particular words or phrasing that would indicate that. I just hadn’t picked up on the time period from the writing, which I think just means that the style was subtle. Sometimes a historical fiction novel is written with a very forced “old-fashioned” rhetoric, and this book was not like that. It was easy to slip in and out of the book, so I guess the writing style was comfortable – I want to say it was neutral, in regards to time period, but I can’t quite think of the way to put it. ”Chronologically neutral” is what keeps popping into my head, so I think I’ll go with that.
I like the mechanism of bringing the reader up to speed gradually by starting off in the present day in a prologue, then backtracking to an earlier point in the sequence of events. The prologue was just vague enough to worry me initially that I would not be given enough information and that it would be intentionally withheld just to keep the reader interested, but enough details were cleared up to satisfy me while still leaving a bit of mystery as to how we got to the events in the prologue. I was drawn in rather quickly, and the balance of giving/withholding was nicely managed throughout the book.
The journal entry style of the book results in the timeline being a bit jumbled, but rather than this being a bad thing, I think it adds more realism to the narrator’s account of her experience. It’s a more organic telling of the story than a chronological one (there’s that word again), with one recollection leading to another memory that is related, but not necessarily next in the succession of events.
Since the author reveals early on the purpose of the narrator’s attempts to record what she remembers of her time in the lifeboat, I got a slight impression that I’m meant to question the accuracy and trustworthiness of the narrator’s account – and I did question it. I found myself wondering not exactly if her memory is to be relied upon, but rather if perhaps she has tweaked the details (a little or a lot) in order to paint herself in a more forgiving light, given the circumstances in which she finds herself in the prologue of the book. It’s very interesting to doubt a narrator in this way. I don’t often come across this technique (if in fact it is intentional), but I do enjoy it, as it lends an unusual element of suspense to a plot that might otherwise have seemed straightforward. That sense of uncertainty continues throughout the book – is the narrator portraying herself honestly? Is she being honest with herself? It’s difficult to tell, and I enjoyed that.
The portions of the book that were the narrator’s journal entries fit nicely into the context of the rest of the book – I mean that there was not a noticeable difference between the language of those chapters that were memories and those that were more current events in the story. There was a difference in another way, which is that the chapters that took place in the lifeboat were absolutely riveting for me, and the parts of the story that took place outside the lifeboat were far less interesting. Possibly the reason for the lack of interest was because of the contrast; when you know that scenes with far more urgency and excitement might lay in store (since the journal and non-journal chapters were intermixed), it is tempting to speed-read through in order to get to the next lifeboat scene. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the non-lifeboat scenes weren’t written well and weren’t also interesting, but they simply couldn’t compete.
The author writes about being in a lifeboat for days as though she has experienced it. There is not only thrill and danger, but Ms. Rogan expresses the monotony of the endless, unchanging hours in a way that induces empathy without a corresponding ennui for the reader. I was fascinated by the narrator’s accounts of the interpersonal dynamics of the other passengers, which seemed utterly believable in the context. I would guess that this indicates a deep understanding of human nature on the author’s part. Adding to the intrigue was that ever-present undercurrent of ambiguity, that small voice of doubt regarding the accuracy of those accounts, given that human memory is fallible at the best of times, and also knowing that the narrator has a great deal of motivation to draw a sympathetic portrait of herself to those who might read her journal.
I enjoyed this quite a bit. It was a captivating story, and one that gets the reader to think about some tough questions of what can be considered moral in some extreme situations. It’s just unsettling enough to be thought-provoking, without being disturbing, although it occasionally ventures close to that territory. This is the author’s debut novel, and I feel confident in saying that I’d read more from her if I stumbled upon another book of hers in the future, but in all honesty, I don’t think I would seek her out. The book sort of petered out for me toward the end, and I wasn’t very motivated to finish it and write a review, since I didn’t feel strongly about it one way or another. It was a rather quick read, though, so probably worth the time I invested in it.(less)
This is the second one I've read of these, and it is chronologically much earlier in the series than the first one I've read, so now I feel I must sta...moreThis is the second one I've read of these, and it is chronologically much earlier in the series than the first one I've read, so now I feel I must start the series from the beginning... since I'm really enjoying them!(less)
This was really good, but didn't quite live up to the high standard set by Girl With A Pearl Earring, at least for me. Her characters in this book wer...moreThis was really good, but didn't quite live up to the high standard set by Girl With A Pearl Earring, at least for me. Her characters in this book were interesting and enjoyable, but in my opinion, there were a couple too many. I did not think that she allowed the reader to spend enough time with each character, and so I did not feel as close to any of the young women as I did with Griet in GWAPE.
Even so, there was enough emotional depth, wit, and irony to keep me happy, plus the added bonus of the author's continued skillful use of subtle feminist undertones.
All in all, I thought it was very well written and quite enjoyable. (less)
I'm a sucker for a Salem witch trial book, and this was a fresh take on it - switching between modern day and colonial times, delving into the occult/...moreI'm a sucker for a Salem witch trial book, and this was a fresh take on it - switching between modern day and colonial times, delving into the occult/supernatural, and throwing in a few twists along the way. I really enjoyed it - I'm glad I picked it up at that garage sale!(less)
This was absolutely outstanding. I loved everything about it. There was only one story in this collection that I did not thoroughly enjoy, which unfor...moreThis was absolutely outstanding. I loved everything about it. There was only one story in this collection that I did not thoroughly enjoy, which unfortunately was the last story in the book, but that by no means ruined it for me.
I was enthralled by every page, and the action was so vivid and intense that at times, it was like watching a movie. The characters were believable and likable (or detestable when that was called for), and somehow Mr L'Amour managed to convey the entire essence of a man without spending more than a few sentences describing him.
I was reluctant to finish the book because I did not want to be done with it, but I discovered a huge treasure trove of Louis L'Amour paperbacks at the library, and I will be haunting that western section for some time to come.
I highly recommend these stories to anyone who considers himself an American. I was transported back in time, in the midst of one of American history's most important eras, fully engrossed in each adventure, itching to jump into the action. This man can really craft a story. They are tales of love, retribution, revenge, justice, survival, and moral victories. They are wonderful.
I am so excited to have discovered Louis L'Amour's writing, even more so since I know I can really read my fill of them before I ever run out, since his canon is extensive. (less)
This one almost didn't make it to 3 stars, because it really was just mediocre in my opinion, but some parts of it were enjoyable. Any of the characte...moreThis one almost didn't make it to 3 stars, because it really was just mediocre in my opinion, but some parts of it were enjoyable. Any of the characters who were interesting, though, didn't get enough development, and everyone else seemed very two- (or even one-) dimensional.
This was a disappointment to me, because I'm always on the lookout for more American frontier/pioneer historical fiction (that isn't juvenile or young adult, though sometimes I'll take what I can get) because it's one of my very favorite genres. there just isn't enough out there within that genre, so when I find one of those rare books and it's not a thrilling, adventurous page-turner, I feel cheated.(less)