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Showing posts from August, 2008

Review: The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day is a hard book to describes. Ostensibly about an aging butler who’s given a few days off to tour the English countryside, there are many, many layers to this complicated novel. Stevens is the prototype of the repressed butler who has a preoccupation with maintaining one’s “dignity.” Being a butler is not simply a job; it’s a way of life. Stevens’s relationship with the lively housekeeper Miss Kenton is shaky, and Stevens prides himself on the way he deals with her. His obsession with being the “perfect” servant is a little unsettling at times, and there was nothing in his behavior that I could sympathize with, but in all this is a wonderful psychological study of a man who essentially doesn’t have a life of his own. I've never seen the movie, but as soon as I read this book, I added it to my Netflix queue.

Also reviewed by: Semicolon, Books 'N Border Collies, A Guy's Moleskin Notebook, Books I Done Read

Friday Finds

Two weeks of Friday Finds in one post... Company of Liars, by Karen Maitland. Heard about this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program and requested one through the publisher. Historical fiction set in England during the 1348 plague (sounds right up my alley, considering I wrote my thesis in college on the plague).

East of the Sun, by Julia Gregson. Historical fiction I snagged from Amazon UK, about a few women who go to India in 1928.

Girl in a Blue Dress, by Gaynor Arnold. Historical fiction about the wife of a famous author who sort of resembles Dickens. To be published in December.

The Glass of Time, by Michael Cox. Heard about this book, too, through LTER; and while I didn’t get it, I’m planning on pre-ordering, since I loved The Meaning of Night.

Murder on the Eiffel Tower, by Claude Izner. Am receiving this through LTER; murder mystery set in Paris in the late 19th century.

The Private Patient, by PD James. The latest in the Adam Dalgliesh series (seriously, the man does…

Review: Casanova in Bolzano, by Sandor Marai

Venice, the 18th century: The days when Venice controlled trade by the sea are long over, and the city has descended into decadence. Carnivale, the annual event celebrated by Venetians, lasts half the year; the elite of Venetian society gamble and drink behind the anonymity of masks. In 1756, Venice was home to the infamous Casanova, a rake who lived the high life to the hilt. Born in obscurity, Casanova managed to befriend a duke and move himself through the ranks of Venetian society. Although not by accounts a physically attractive man, he captivated all kinds of women with his charm and flair.

With a kind of poetical language which is all his own, Sandor Marai wrote this practically perfect novel which attempts to recreate the period immediately following Casanova's escape from a Venetian prison, in which he hid out in a room in the ton of Bolzano on the mainland. A surprisingly passionate man, one tiny event or word from someone brings on a torrent of passionate words from the …

Review: The Best of Everything, by Rona Jaffe

The Best of Everything is a pretty intriguing novel. Set in New York City in the 1950s, the story focuses on five career women: Caroline, the Radcliffe graduate who still lives with her parents; April, the naive girl from Colorado; Gregg, the actress; Barbara, the single mom, and Mary Agnes, the young woman who anticipates her wedding. There’s also Miss Fawcett, an editor who’s sort of a Miranda-Priestly-in-training. They all work at Fabian Publishing while dreaming of something bigger and better.

Jaffe intended her book to be a kind of cautionary tale, but oddly enough, it’s had the opposite effect on young women everywhere; many decide to go into publishing or to work in New York because of this book. Like many other first novels, Jaffe’s book is largely autobiographical; she too went to Radcliffe and worked for a while in publishing as a file clerk and then as an editor. One wonders if Jaffe's romantic relationships were anything like the relationships in the novel.

Though the pu…

Review: The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers

On New Year’s Eve, Lord Peter Wimsey is driving through the East Anglia countryside, when a flat tire causes him to stop in a local village. The village bell ringers are about to perform, and Wimsey fills in for one of the ringers who can come down with the flu. The nine tailors of the title are the nine bells that are rung upon someone’s death; you can tell that Sayers did her research on bell ringing for this book, since most of the beginning of the novel focuses on campanology.

When a local man dies several months later, and his grave is dug, it’s discovered that there’s already a dead body in that grave—the body of an unknown man who was seen tramping about the countryside in January by Lord Peter himself. Who is the strange man?

It’s a mystery that stumps even Lord Peter, and it’s pretty ingenious—read it and see for yourself. Dorothy Sayers’s novels are such a treat because she really knew how to pull a mystery together—she won’t kill off one of her characters simply because she c…

Help me write a review: The Remains of the Day

Again, I'm at a loss for words over this one. So, as with Atonement, ask me some questions about the book!

In un-book-related news, my move is ALMOST finished! (at least, the books are all unpacked :)). I've been scheduling reviews and other posts lately, so I should get back to live-blogging sometime soon.

Review: A Great Deliverance, by Elizabeth George

A Great Deliverance, Elizabeth George’s first novel, introduces its reader to Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers, two London detectives who couldn’t be more different. Lynley is Lord Peter Wimsey type, while Barbara Havers is brusque, angry at the hand life has given her. But the two are thrown together when a murder in Yorkshire occurs; a local man named William Teys is found with his neck severed, apparently murdered by his daughter, Roberta.

Elizabeth George is exceptionally good at character development. This is especially true in a mystery series; after all, if you’re going to keep reading about a group of characters, you want to feel some kind of connection with them from the beginning. She's also wonderful at characterizations, as well as pop culture references. George does a wonderful job setting up these characters’ personalities and relationships. As for the murder mystery itself, there’s not much new or surprising, but George puts a nice twist in the ending which I didn’t …

Review: East Lynne, by Ellen Wood

If Danielle Steele had lived in the 1860s, East Lynne is probably the type of novel she would have written. Murder, disguise, adultery, divorce, illigitmate children—and oh, yeah, a horde of bats—are at the center of this sensationalist novel that was in and of itself a reflection of the time period in which it was written.

When William Vane, Earl of Mount Severn, dies, destroyed by debt, his daughter, the Lady Isabel, marries a country solicitor, Archibald Carlyle. Later, she abandons her husband and children in favor of a well-known rake, Francis Levison. When he abandons her with her illigitimate child, Lady Isabel becomes, in an ironic twist of fate, governess at East Lynne.

It’s a pretty far-fetched book, all things considering, and the foreshadowing is laid on pretty thick. In one scene, a horde of bats appears at East Lynne one night; next thing you know, the Lady Isabel’s father is dead. The novel is full of people “screaming,” “crying,” “sobbing,” and “raving,” instead of simpl…

Review: Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, by Linda Berdoll

I read this book with a little bit of skepticism, since I've mentioned recently that I'm not a fan of Pride and Prejudice spin-offs. After all, how could anything ever match up? However, I'm interested in how other people think the story should continue (if at all), and so I picked this book up. There were many things that were wrong with this book, not the least of which was the stilted language the author used. Believe me, this is even worse than Mr. Darcy's Daughters.

The book opens in a carriage. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet have just gotten married, and Mr. Darcy is laughably preoccupied with the comfort of his wife's "nether end." For the next two hundred pages or so, the author concerns herself with the conjugal activities of the couple. Some readers have suggested here that the book is rather like porn; soft-core porn, as a matter of fact. Based on the original, I would have expected the Darcys to have had a passionate marriage; but not to the ex…

I'm on LibraryThing!

I just joined a few days days ago, and I'm still playing around with it a bit. Any of you out there Library Thingers? If so, got any tips for a newbie? I've joined a few groups and edited my profile to make it more "me." Feel free to send me a friend invite. I'm also curious about the Library Thing Early Review program--I saw a few things on the list that look interesting. What's your experience been with it, if at all? (ie, how long have you been doing it, how often do you receive what you request, how much do you like/ dislike them?).

Review: The Serpent in the Garden, by Janet Gleeson

The author of The Serpent in the Garden, Janet Gleeson was trained in art, and has worked at Sotheby's in London-so it should come as no surprise that the protagonist of this book is an artist who pays attention to the small details. Although Janet Gleeson does indeed pay attention to detail, she tends to skimp on the plot, especially the mystery itself. However, this is a highly original book, and it was fun to read.

Joshua Pope is a fictional artist living in 18th- century London. Commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Sir Herbert Bentnick and his bride Sabine Mercier at their estate Astley, Pope immediately encounters a mystery of a singular kind: the death of a man purported to be a Mr. Cobb, in a greenhouse on the estate. Sabine Mercier, originally hailing from Barbados, is an avid cultivator of pineapples, a fruit that was in vogue in the mid-18th century in Europe. The death allegedly was by poison; since poison is thought to be the weapon of choice by women, could Sabi…

Friday Finds

The Murders of Richard III, by Elizabeth Peters. From the author of the Amelia Peabody series, this is a mystery that centers around a group of Ricardians, who gather for a house party, where a prankster begins to emulate Shakespeare’s account of Richard’s crimes.

The Needle in the Blood, by Sarah Bowers. Historical fiction set around the Bayeaux Tapestry. Recommendation comes to me courtesy of A Work in Progress.

The following are from the list of 100 Favorite Mysteries from the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association:

A Broken Vessel, by Kate Ross. Mystery set in 1820s London.

The Circular Staircase, by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Published in 1908, the book features a spinster who takes a house in the country. Soon, a murder occurs.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie King. Historical whodunit featuring Sherlock Holmes and his new apprentice.

An English Murder, by Cyril Hare. “Warbeck Hall is an old-fashioned English country house and the scene of equally English murders. All the classi…

Review: A Venetian Affair, by Andrea Di Robilant

This is a captivating love story, one that shouldn't be missed. Andrea Di Robilant weaves a superb tale of his ancestor, based upon the letters passed between the two lovers. What seemed amazing to me was that the letters remained for years and years in the library of Randolph-Macon College. (I was also surprised to learn that, incidentally, the author's mother went to the same college I went to, no big feat since it is relatively unknown).

It is the story of the illicit love affair between Andrea and Giustiniana, which began in 1754. Banned from seeing one another, they must communicate surreptitiously, stealing embraces and kisses whenever they can. They must hide especially from the eagle eyes of Giustiniana's Greek- English mother, Anna, who won't allow her daughter to marry a member of the Venetian aristocracy. Di Robilant also puts in excerpts from the two lovers' letters, giving the reader a sense of proximity to this book, which reads more like a novel than …

In which I pack and prepare to move...

Here's a picture of boxes and boxes of books as I pack up for my move on Sunday... yes, I'm really that anal that all these boxes are labelled with such things as "Fiction, A-C." There are twelve boxes stacked up against the wall, which you can't see here, and the boxes on the table contain my TBR pile, plus some I've read but haven't reviewed yet. If you look closely at the Fiction, P-S box, you'll see part of the cover of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (this box is also very, very heavy; it contains my Penguin edition of the complete works of Shakespeare. How pretentious do I sound when I say that?)

Review: Life Mask, by Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue has an amazing talent for portraying the lives of women. From lesbians to 18th- century murderers and actresses, Donoghue captures the imagination of her readers with her vivid prose and insightful, intelligent comments about society. The women she puts on paper are enchanting; their lives (fact or fiction) become real when Donoghue puts them to paper. Her sense of history is dead-on accurate, leading the reader to feel as if he or she has been catapulted unexpectedly into the world of 18th- century England.

Life Mask is the story of three famous Londoners in 1787: Anne Damer, the most famous female sculptor of the time; the Earl of Derby; and Eliza Farren, actress. The three, along with friends, meet together often to put on plays at the Earl of Rochester's mansion, Strawberry Hill. The tale follows these three protagonists as they move through London Bon Ton, or High Society.

As in Slammerkin, Donoghue is intensely conscious of the fashion of the time; but here, as w…

Review: Mr. Darcy's Daughters, by Elizabeth Aston

I'm a Jane Austen purist, so perhaps I shouldn't be reading books that rip apeart great novels like Pride and Prejudice. While it's intriguing to wonder "whatever happened to Elizabeth and Darcy?", I was appalled that neither character made an appearance here, the author conveniently dispatching them off to Constantinople. Apparently, she was not able to re-create the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy as well as the original. Why would two sensible people leave their five eligible daughters to go running around?

I found myself disliking the Daughters of the title. They are entirely too much like the Bennet sisters, and I refuse myself to believe that the Darcys would raise such silly, narrowminded girls. Even Camilla, the "sensible" one of the family, finds herself making the same mistakes her mother did, by falling in love with someone not entirely suitable for her.

As for the rest of London society, I found that they were too concerned with how everybod…

Review: The House on the Strand, by Daphne Du Maurier

The House on the Strand is a lesser-known book by Daphne DuMaurier, the woman who gave us Rebecca and Jamaica Inn. Here she interweaves past and present together in a novel that is just as rich as anything she has ever written.

Magnus Lane is a professor at the University of London, who has created a potion that can send you back in time. He uses his friend Dick Young as a "human guinea pig" to test its effects. Dick finds himself thrust back into the days of the 14th century, in the days of Isolda Carminowe and Henry and Otto Bodrugan, who lived in the exact place in which Dick has decided to vacation. Dick follows the knight Roger Kylmerth, and finds himself becoming more and more involved with the manor lords of the 1320's- with an almost disastrous effect upon himself and his family in the present time.

It is a novel in which past and present run at parallels with one another, and even almost collide. Its a haunting book, sinister in fact, in which time matters a great…

Review: So Many Books, So Little Time, by Sarah Nelson

Sarah Nelson explores a wide range of books in her quasi-essay about a year of reading. She is so much like me in so many ways, but so different in so many others. How do you even begin to talk about books? The impact that some of them have had upon your life? A book that changed your ideas of something? These are questions that Nelson tackles in her long essay about what it means to be a reader.

Nelson found that she couldn't meet her goal. She basically read whatever she felt like reading, whenever she felt like reading it. Sure, she had "must-read" books, and books that had been recommended to her; but they all came in the course of time- whatever felt "right" was the book she read at that particular time. The thing is, you can't just sit down and read a book a week for fifty-two weeks! It may take two days to read one book, but then two years to finish another book. I go through phases of reading, and its good to know that I'm not the only one who do…

A Mystery Meme

The 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century, as selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association's online members (compiled in 2000).

In bold are the ones I've read; books I'd like to read are in italics. Feel free to use this list yourself! (and maybe I'll make this list into a challenge sometime).

Allingham, Margery. The Tiger in the Smoke
Ambler, Eric. A Coffin for Dimitrios
Armstrong, Charlotte. A Dram of Poison
Atherton, Nancy. Aunt Dimity's Death
Ball, John. In the Heat of the Night
Barnard, Robert. Death by Sheer Torture
Barr, Nevada. Track of the Cat
Blake, Nicholas. The Beast Must Die
Block, Lawrence. When the Sacred Ginmill Closes
Brand, Christianna. Green for Danger
Brown, Frederic. The Fabulous Clipjoint
Buchan, John. The 39 Steps
Burke, James Lee. Black Cherry Blues
Cain, James M.. The Postman Always Rings Twice
Cannell, Dorothy. The Thin Woman
Carr, John Dickson. The Three Coffins
Caudwell, Sarah. Thus Was Adonis Murdered
Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep
Ch…

Review: Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynne Truss

This book is more than just a bunch of punctuation rules strung together, or a manual on English grammar: its a book made for the people who are sticklers to the (proper) rules of punctuation. Many of the things Lynne Truss said in this book ring true for me, though it made me pay attention to marks of punctuation that normally I would just let go. I realized that I am NOT the only crazy, punctuation-obsessed person on the planet. She might not be the best writer I've ever read, but she makes her subject interesting in the way that very few people can, by being sarcastic and humorous.

Some quotes: "They regard us as freaks. When we point out illiterate mistakes we are often aggressively instructed to 'get a life' but people who, interestingly, display no evidence of having lives themselves" (p.4)

"Punctuation has been defined in many ways. Some grammarians use the analogy of stitching: punctuation as the basting that holds the fabric of language in shape"…

Friday Finds

Daphne, by Justine Picardie. In the 1950s, Daphne Du Maurier writes a monograph on the life of Branwell Bronte and has a relationship with a Bronte scholar; in the present, a graduate student becomes increasingly obsessed with Du Maurier.

Indian Summer, by Alex Von Tunzelmann. Nonfiction; about the transfer of power in India at the end of British occupation.

The Man in the Picture, by Susan Hill. Suspense/ mystery, coming out next month. A book apparently about "a sinister painting imbued with the vengeful spirit of a former owner." I've loved Susan Hill's novels ever since I saw the play version of The Woman in Black in London's West End... and then read the book. Her books are full of creepy deliciousness.

The Best of Everything, by Rona Jaffe. 1950s novel about five career women in New York.

Die With Me, by Elena Forbes. First book in the Barnes Murder Squad series. The Thomas Lynley/ Barbara Havers mysteries, by Elizabeth George. Someone, knowing I liked British m…

Review: Wintering, by Kate Moses

This is a wonderful semi-biographical novel about the last few months of Sylvia Plath's life. For me, I've always had a small fascination with the great American poet. While this book doesn't even begin to give reasons for her suicide, it does give us a brutally honest look at the emotions and thoughts that were running through Plath's mind, based on her diary entries. The disintegration of her marriage, the composing of her poetry, and the trials and tribulations of caring for her two children are documented here in surprisingly intimate detail.

Many readers will be familiar with the story of Plath, if not her works. Before reading Wintering, I'd read The Bell Jar, and so had a pretty good idea of who she was. Here, Moses gives Sylvia a voice of her own, and the poems serve as a catalyst for each chapter, in which Sylvia expresses herself.

Other reviewers have called this exceptional novel depressing, or even boring, I would disagree. True, a story about death, espe…

Review: The Milagro Beanfield War, by John Nichols

This book tells the struggle of a lower-class New Mexico town as it tries to regain back lost land and, inevitably, a heritage. It begins with the farmer Joe Mondragon, as he proceeds to irrigate one of his fields, contrary to regulation. The characters are vibrant and alive, and even though I could not sympathize with their plight, I felt sympathetic towards them.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny. I read this book for the first time a few years ago; in a waiting room I couldn't stop laughing and I got a few stares from some other people. But its a book that you won't forget; each time I've read it, I come away with something new. And I always feel as if I have read it for the first time, even though I know what will happen. Its a wonderful innovation of characters and plot that always keeps me turning pages.

There are some characters in this book that you simply cannot put out of your mind. There is, of course, Joe Mondragon, the farmer who irrigates his field. I also love…

Review: Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding

This book is a classic of the "chick lit" genre- a book which no others has been able to touch. Bridget Jones, in a hectic year, experiences many of the things that real women face--work problems, men problems, friend problems, problems at home. But somehow Fielding manages to make all of it funny. Bridget is one of the wittiest, funniest characters I've run into in a long time. If you can believe it, in college, I read Bridget Jones's Diary for a Women Writers class!

This book is, of course, a takeoff of the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice. However, by bringing her characters to a modern setting, Fielding somehow manages not to loose the original air that P&P possessed. The are the obvious Elizabeth and Darcy/Bridget and Darcy comparisons; the mother in Bridget Jones is a combination between Mrs. Bennet and Lydia (even down to running away with unsavory characters); and Daniel Cleaver as Mr. Wickham. Helen Fielding does not write at all like Jane Austen;…

Review: The Toss of a Lemon, by Padma Viswanathan

The Toss of a Lemon opens up in India at the turn of the nineteenth century, when Sivakami, the youngest daughter of a Brahmin family, is ten. Married to Hanumarathnam, a healer, she learns that, upon the birth of a son, he will die two years after. Sivakami has two children: Thangam, the beloved “golden child,” whose life follows a more traditional path, and Vairum, who embraces the traditions of the west as he grows older. As the twentieth century progresses, the two children have families of their own, and Sivakami becomes a respected matriarch in their village. Attached to this family is their servant, Muchami, who comes to them at age 13 and becomes almost a part of the family—even though he is from a different caste. This book is very much about the power that family plays in each character’s life.

The underlying theme of this book, however, is fate, and the title reflects this: lemons are seen as an innocuous instrument of a person's fate (I'm paraphrasing the author her…

Review: Righting the Mother Tongue, by David Wolman

Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling, is, as the title suggests, the humorous, condensed story of the development of English spelling.

The study of English spelling, or orthography, is complicated; our language has influences from many different languages and dialects (apparently 80-90% of our words come from other languages which, as you read, will turn out to be not so surprising). David Wolman, a less-than-stellar speller himself, takes his reader back 1500 years, to Wessex, to the time when Alfred the Great ruled. Jump forward five hundred years, to the invasion of England by the Normans and the infusion of Norman French into upper-class speech... and forward again, to the invention of the printing press... again, to the creation of Webster's dictionary and the invention of modern American spelling... and eventually to the modern inventions of spell-check, Google, e-mail, and text message. Oh, what a long way English spel…

Review: Atonement, by Ian McEwan

So many people have written a review of this book already that I think it would be a little redundant of me to do another plot summary (yawn). Suffice it to say that the plot really revolves around three characters: Briony Tallis, who’s thirteen in the summer of 1935, her sister Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the charlady’s son, who conducts an illicit romance with her. The novel is written in four parts, taking place in 1935, the Battle of Dunkirk during WWII, at a hospital in London, and then in 1999 when Briony turns 77.

I have to say that I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I’d heard that the book was slow to begin with, but for me that wasn’t the case at all. Rather, it was when the novel got to WWII where my interest began to flag a bit (I’m sorry, but endless descriptions of warfare are uninteresting to me). The novel is all about perspective: that of thirteen-year-old Briony as she truly doesn’t understand what was going on at the fountain that day; that of Robb…

What should I read next?

Advice is needed! I've just finished an ARC of The Toss of a Lemon, by Padma Viswanathan, and I've got a stack of books on my nightstand. Also, its the perfect day for starting a new book; it's raining, and so dark outside (at one pm) that it feels like night. Here it is:
Unnatural Death, by Dorothy Sayers. The third book in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. Been on my nightstand for forever. The Best of Everything, by Rona Jaffe. 1950s novel about working girls in New York City. Bought this yesterday on impulse. The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Bought this for the 1% Well Read Challenge. Evelina, by Fanny Burney. Another 1% book. It's been sitting on my nightstand for quite a while now. The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton. Author of Hangover Square. East Lynne, by Ellen Wood. 1860s sensationalist novel in the style of Mary Elizabeth Braddon. The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers. Another 1% book. Christine Falls, by Benjamin Black. Irish mystery. The Bird Fall Do…

Review: Our Lady of Pain, by Elena Forbes

When a well-known London art dealer is found murdered in Holland Park, the members of the Barnes Murder Squad are called in to investigate. The victim, Rachel Tenison, was an introverted young woman who had complicated relationships with her brother and best friend. Later, the squad gets a tip from the journalist that this murder might be connected with the murder of a university lecturer more than a year previously. There are a number of similarities between the two murders: both women were discovered lying in the same position, and both had experimented with S&M. In addition, Rachel was found with an excerpt from a Swinburne poem in her mouth, while Catherine Watson was a Swinburne scholar. I cringe to use the words "police procedural," but that's essentially what this novel is.

The Squad is an eclectic group: there's Sam Donovan, who lives with her sister; Mark Tartaglia, whose sister keeps trying to set him up with her friends; and Simon Turner, who's havi…