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Showing posts from November, 2009

Review: Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving

Spanning the course of over fifty years, Last Night in Twisted River is the story of Danny Baciagalpo/Angel, the son of a logging camp cook. One evening, he and his father are forced to flee Twisted River, and they spend pretty much the rest of their lives on the run from a crazy and (as it turns out) a not-so-dumb sheriff. The novel takes us from New England in the ‘50s, to Iowa in the ‘60s, then to New England again, and Toronto in 2005.

The quirky plot and characters are pure John Irving. There’s a lot here that he’s visited before (there are the ghosts of boarding schools, bears, and wrestlers in Last Night in Twisted River), but Irving delves into new territory with his latest novel. I’ve always thought of John Irving’s books are being somewhat autobiographical—with embellishments. Danny Angel is a famous author; the plot of one of his novels even sounds suspiciously like parts of The Cider House Rules. As Irving says:

“In the media, real life was more important than fiction; those…

The Sunday Salon

It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving here in the United States, and it’s hard to believe that a four-day weekend is already drawing to a close. It was a pretty busy reading week for me—after my last Sunday Salon post, I read Silk, by Alessandro Baricco. After that I read the first book in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, The Wreath; Fire From Heaven, by Mary Renault (I guess ancient Greece isn’t really my thing); Tracy Chevalier’s new book, Remarkable Creatures (coming out here in the US on January 5th); and The Victorian Chaise-Lounge, by Mrghanita Laski. How did I get so much reading in? Well, to be honest, two of these books were novellas; and I spent about nine hours total in the backseat of a car on Friday and Saturday going to and from Pittsburgh to visit family.

Thanksgiving itself was spent here in Philly, with my family and (nutty) grandmother. Thanksgiving dinner is always really good, but I always feel gross after eating, you know?

I’m currently reading the 11th book in the M…

Booking Through Thursday

It’s Thanksgiving in the U.S.A. today, so I know at least some of you are going to be as busy with turkey and family as I will be, so this week’s question is a simple one.

What books and authors are you particularly thankful for this year?

I’m thankful for a lot of books and authors, some of which are new to me and some of which are old favorites. Elizabeth Chadwick is an author I “discovered” about a year ago, and since then I’ve read nine of her well-written and researched novels. This year I also discovered the books by Susanna Kearsley, which are always good, creepy reads for a rainy fall afternoon. Along the same lines are the novels of Mary Stewart; a bit trashy, but good fun nonetheless. I’m also thankful for the Morland Dynasty series, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, which I discovered this year as well. And, last but not least, the beautiful books that are published by Persephone: excellent women’s fiction and nonfiction, presented in those beautiful dove-gray covers and endpaper (be…

Review: Mary Reilly, by Valerie Martin

Mary Reilly is an alternate telling of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s told from the point of view of Dr. Jekyll’s housemaid, Mary, an observant young woman who is nonetheless somewhat blind to what’s going on around her. She keeps a journal of her observations, in which she chronicles the increasingly bizarre behavior of the man she calls Master; and her encounters with his new assistant, Edward Hyde.

It’s not a long book, only about 250 pages, but there’s a lot packed in. At first glance, it would seem odd that Dr. Jekyll seeks out the company of a lowly housemaid; but they really have a lot in common, both having gone through, or going through, periods of darkness in their lives—Mary with the demon her father, and Dr. Jekyll with his demon Mr. Hyde.

The tension in this novel, especially in Mary’s encounters with Mr. Hyde, is palpable, as is the London fog, which seems to surround everything. Right from the opening scene (which I won’t describe; you have to read it for your…

Pre-Thanksgiving Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

--Grab your current read
--Let the book open to a random page.
Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from… that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“Kristin was standing in the bow of the boat with her father and Gyrid, Aasmund’s wife. She turned her gaze toward to the town, with all of its light-colored churches and stone buildings rising up above the multitudes of grayish-brown wooden houses and the bare crowns of trees.”

--From Kristin Lavransdatter I: The Wreath, by Sigrid Undset

Weekly Geeks: Best Of

The Weekly Geeks post
Here were some of my favorite reads from this year, alphabetically:
1. Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant (historical fiction)
2. The Glassblower of Murano, by Marina Fiorato (historical fiction)
3. The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, by Syrie James (historical fiction)
4. The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver (historical fiction)
5. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Martin (historical fiction)
6. Cleopatra’s Daughter, by Michelle Moran (historical fiction)
7. Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger (contemporary fiction)
8. The Street Philosopher, by Matthew Plampin (historical fiction; not out in the US—at least, yet)
9. Bleeding Heart Square, by Andrew Taylor (historical fiction)
10. The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (historical fiction)
There are a lot more, but these were the most memorable.

Review: The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England is just that—a comprehensive traveler’s guide to the fourteenth century in England. It covers pretty much anything and everything of day-to-day life, from the people you would have encountered, to the clothes you would have worn, to the kind of medical treatment you would have received if you had gotten sick, and much, much more.

There’s a lot here I already knew, but a lot I didn’t—for example, that pockets were introduced during this century, as were differentiated shoes (left foot versus right, in other words). It’s details like this, that you wouldn’t normally think are important, that really are important in daily life. At first, the present-tense writing threw me off; but, as Mortimer says in his introduction, once you begin understanding history as happening rather than as has happened, then you’ll better understand the complexities of fourteenth-century life.

As the back of the book paraphrases LP Hartley, “the past is a foreign cou…

The Sunday Salon

Another quiet Sunday here (what else is new?). I’ve spent most of the weekend on the couch, read Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Champion, set among the jousting tournaments of the late 12th century. Very good, as always from Elizabeth Chadwick. Also read this week were Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving, and The Scapegoat, by Daphne Du Maurier.

This weekend I’ve also been watching the BBC production of Lark Rise to Candleford (based on the Flora Thompson book from the 1940s), Season 1. I’ve only watched two episodes thus far, but it’s a lovely, bucolic look at a girl’s childhood and the turn of the last century. I've not read the book, but I have it on order from Amazon as we speak.

Other than that, I don’t have much to report. How was your week?

2010 A to Z Challenge

I’ve decided to participate in the 2010 A to Z Challenge. This past year, I read authors from A to Z. I’m not yet done with 2009’s challenge, but I’m having a lot of fun doing this challenge. I’ve decided to stretch myself even further in 2010 and do the Authors and Titles option. Both authors and titles are to be determined. I don't want to commit to anything at this point, as my reading is often subject to change:

Authors:
A: Alexander, Vanessa: The Love Knot
B: Barnes, Margaret Campbell: Within the Hollow Crown
C: Chadwick, Elizabeth: The Love Knot
D: Dickason, Christie: The Lady Tree
E: Elliott, Anna: Twilight of Avalon
F: Ferguson, Rachel: The Brontes Went to Woolworths
G: Glaspell, Susan: Fidelity
H: Harrod-Eagles, Cynthia: The Regency
I: Ingham, Penny: The King's Daughter
J: James, Syrie: Dracula, My Love
K: Kearsley, Susanna: The Splendour Falls
L: Lofts, Nora: The Lute Player
M: McCammon, Robert: Mister Slaughter
N: Norman, Diana: Fitzempress' Law
O: Oliphant, Margaret: Miss Marj…

Friday Finds

So much to read, so little time to do it in, you know? Here’s what’s been added to my TBR list recently:

Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier. Historical fiction that’s coming out in the first week of the new year. I’m receiving this through Amazon Vine and I’ll be excited when it gets here—I’ve loved some of her other novels.

The Kristen Lavransdatter books, by Sigrid Unset. Actually, I think I heard about it through one of you bloggers, but I can’t remember who—sorry! Historical fiction set in 14th century Scandinavia, written about 75 years ago. This week I bought a copy of the new translation.

The Glass Blowers, by Daphne Du Maurier. This has been floating around on my TBR list for a while, actually; but while at the library looking for a copy of The Scapegoat (also a Daphne book), I came across this one, written about some of Du Maurier’s ancestors in the 18th century.

The King Must Die, by Mary Renault. Bought this cheaply at my library’s fall sale last weekend. Historical ficti…

Review: The Russian Concubine, by Kate Furnivall

I probably shouldn’t even be writing this review, as I didn’t finish it. Well, I got through 350 pages before throwing in the towel, but only because I had nothing else to read with me at the time. I was intrigued by the premise, about a young Russian girl in China in the 1920s, and her relationship with a native Chinese. But from there, it quickly went downhill.

First of all, the prose is pretty overwrought, littered with one-word, repetitive sentences that were very choppy. There were lots of writing clichés (of the “he could feel into her soul” variety”). The writing actually gave me a headache at some places.

There were also problems with the plot and characters. I simply didn’t feel emotionally invested in any of these characters’ stories, particularly Lydia, who grated on my nerves (and if the author mentioned her flame-red hair one more time, I thought I was going to throw the book at the wall!). She didn’t ever seem to be her age, and I didn’t find her relationship with Chang to…

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

--Grab your current read
--Let the book open to a random page.
Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from… that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“Nothing was on a grand scale, as it had been in Le Mans. Here were no beasts, no cattle, but trestle tables crammed together in a small space, spilling over with aprons, jackets, mackintoshes, sabots; and the child and I moved leisurely between them, our eyes caught foolishly by the same objects—by spotted handkerchiefs, scarves, a china jug shaped to a cock’s head, pink rubber balls, chunky coloured pencils, red one end and blue the other.”

--From The Scapegoat, by Daphne Du Maurier

Review: Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson

Miss Buncle is a pretty average, middle age woman living in an English country village. One day, she decides to write a novel about Silverstream, the village she lives in. The books is published, and instantly becomes a bestseller—with adverse effects in Silverstream, for its inhabitants are furious that someone has dared to write about—caricature—their lives.

This is an extremely funny book, poking fun at the provincialism of the average English country village in the 1930s. The characters are a howl: Mrs. Featherstone Hogg, who of all the inhabitants of the village is the most enraged; Mr. Hathaway the vicar; Mrs. Greensleeves, the widow who only chases after the vicar because she thinks he has money; Miss King and Miss Pretty; Colonel Weatherhead, the town’s confirmed bachelor; and others, including Doctor Walker and his wife, and Sally Carter, who seem to be the only people not offended by Disturber of the Peace (sounds like the title of a mystery, but no matter). Miss Buncle’s des…

The Sunday Salon

It’s always a little sad when Sunday comes around. I always feel as though the weekend goes by way too fast, you know? My parents are out in Arizona, enjoying 80 degree weather; and I’ve spent the week here in rainy, cold Pennsylvania. So I’ve been dogsitting this weekend. Amazing to think that last week I broke out my winter coat; and that I go to work in the mornings when it’s completely dark out, and come home after the gym, when it’s nearly dark again (granted, I start work at 7:00 am, and come home around 5:00).

The weather has been better today; beautiful, in fact, so I took the dog out for a long walk on this trail near the house. In the afternoon, I went to the semiannual book sale that my library has, and walked away with: The King Must Die, by Mary Renault; The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett; and Vile Bodies, by Evelyn Waugh. It was the second day of the sale, so there wasn’t much left, but I did manage to pick up some books that have been on my TBR list for ages. It was my…

Review: The Fraud, by Barbara Ewing

The Fraud is a novel with a complicated plot. It opens in 1735, and closes in the 1780s, so it covers a lot of ground. Growing up, Grace Marshall had every intention of becoming a Painter; but her brother Philip was the one who was permitted to take his Grand Tour to Europe to study art. Many years later, he comes back from Grace—as Filipo de Vecellio, conquering the world of portrait painting in London. He enlists his sister’s help in his deception, and Grace becomes Francesca, housekeeper to the famous portrait painter. It’s a remarkable self-sacrifice that Grace makes, but she does it for love of her brother—who, in time, she ends up hating.

There’s a whole lot going on in this novel, some of it crucial to the plot, some of it not (I won’t go into specifics, but sometimes I felt as though the author thought “what’s the worst thing that can happen in this situation?” and made it happen to her characters). I also didn’t really believe in Grace’s relationship with James Burke (because …

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

--Grab your current read
--Let the book open to a random page.
Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from… that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“Writing on the day of her execution, her chaplain, Matthew Parker, had no doubt that her soul was in ‘blessed felicity with God.’ Her body, however, had been consigned to oblivion, for no provision was made for any stone or memorial tablet to mark the place where she lay.”

--From The Lady in the Tower, by Alison Weir

Review: New York: The Novel, by Edward Rutherfurd

New York: The Novel is an ambitious book. Covering nearly 350 years of New York, and by extension American history, this book is the story of about a half a dozen families living in the city at various points throughout its history: the Dutch van Dycks, English Masters, Irish O’Donnells, German Kellers, southern Italian Carusos, Jewish Adlers, and the descendants of the slave Quash, who are given the last name River. The novel opens in 1664, when New Amsterdam is bought from the Dutch by the English and becomes New York, and ends in the summer of 2009.

New York is the third of Rutherfurd’s books I’ve read, after Sarum and London. His previous two books covered all of English history, from prehistory to the present; New York only covers about 350 years. There are good and bad things about focusing on such a (relatively) short period of history. On one hand, it’s a lot easier to keep track of the generations through the years, and there’s a lot more room for character development. On the…

The Sunday Salon

Ah, Sunday again. It’s been a busy week, so it’s amazing that I got a surprising amount of reading done. I finished New York: The Novel (coming out on Tuesday), and got about 350 pages in to The Russian Concubine before it became a wallbanger (you know, the kind of book that’s so awful that you throw it against a wall). I’ll still post a review, but it won’t be pretty.

I spent the rest of the week reading The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, which is coming out in the US at the end of next month. It’s a fascinating look at the fourteenth century.

Then yesterday morning I started Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, a first novel which is coming out in March. I received it through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer’s Program, which is why I’m reading it so soon. It's good, but the Americanizations are a bit distracting.

In addition I’ve got several other ARCs in the pipeline to read, inclusing Elizabeth Kostova’s new book, The Swan Thieves, and Alison’s Weir’s new book on Anne Boleyn…

Cover Deja-Vu #16

Here are two more: one is the cover of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Shuttle (ReadHowYouWant large print edition); the other is Tasha Alexander's A Poisoned Season. They're not exactly the same, but close enough!

Review: Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle, by Manda Scott

Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle is the fantastic story of Boudica, warrior queen of the Iceni tribe (or Eceni, according to Manda Scott). This novel is the first in a series, and covers Boudica’s (called Breaca) early years, from the age of eight to 21, when she faced the Romans in battle. Other major characters in the novel are Ban, who later goes to the Continent and experiences a sort of rebirth as a Roman citizen; and Caradoc (Caractatus), leader of the Catuvellauni, with whom Breaca has a tentative alliance.

You could say this book is divided into two parts, with the first half devoted to the struggle between the Iceni and Catuvellauni, and the second to the struggle between the native Britons and the Romans.

It must be very tough to write a novel about a people whose culture was oral and not written. The Romans wrote about Boudica, but their opinions were hardly objective. Not much is known about Boudica, and even less is known about her childhood, so a lot of this novel is, as the au…

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

--Grab your current read
--Let the book open to a random page.
Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from… that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“’Your description marked him out quite clearly as a Russian. They’ll search around here in the Russian quarter until they find a man who fits.’”

--From The Russian Concubine, by Kate Furnivall

Review: The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna is an extremely difficult novel to explain. It covers a lot of territory, and a lot of topics. It’s difficult to know where to start. It’s a novel about a young man named Harrison Shepherd, a Mexican-American who grows up in Mexico and later lives in North Carolina. From the age of thirteen, when Harrison finds himself mixing plaster and cooking food for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, up through his thirties, when he is a famous author and suspected Communist, this novel is, as the back of the book states, a coming of age story. But it’s much more than that as well.

As I’ve said, this is a tough novel to describe. In high school (about 10 years ago), I read everything Kingsolver had written up to that point, and I can say that this book is very much unlike any of her other novels, both in subject matter and style. But just the same, I loved this novel. Lacunae are voids, pieces that are missing; and it’s hard for me to grasp exactly what this means. It’s because of this that …

The Sunday Salon

Ah, yes, another Sunday. Hard to believe it’s November already. I was a little thrown off by the clocks changing this morning. Yesterday I went out to lunch with my mom, sister (who’s in town for the weekend) and grandmother. I bought a new handbag at the mall, and spent most of the afternoon reading.

Currently I’m 700 pages in to Edward Rutherfurd’s new book, New York: The Novel (coming out next week). Like his other books, it’s absolutely mammoth-sized (860 pages), but enjoyable. He only covers New York history since 1664, so there’s much more room for character development. He skips out on a lot of events in New York City’s history, but what he does cover, he covers very well. It’s taken a while to get through; I started reading it on Monday. My review will be up on the 19th, when it comes out.

Also finished this week was Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, which is EXCELLENT, by the way. Not to be missed, and probably one of the best books I’ve read all year. My review of this exceptiona…