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Showing posts from April, 2013

Review: The Home-Maker, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Pages: 268 Original date of publication: 1924 My copy: 2008 (Persephone) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, November 2011
Set in small-town America around the time it was written, this novel explores gender roles and how they affect families, and one family in particular. Lester Knapp is an accountant for a department store; his wife, Evangeline, is a housewife raising their three children. They both perform the roles expected of them by society, yet neither is suited to their role and neither is particularly happy. When Lester is injured in an accident that leaves him home-bound, his wife goes to work—to the benefit of everyone in the family.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher gets her reader deep into the heads of her characters, so we can understand exactly what they’re like and so that we get a three-dimensional view of the situation. Even the children’s point of view is well represented—especially Stephen, aged 5, who fears having his Teddy taken away to be…

Review: Blood and Beauty, by Sarah Dunant

Pages: 506 Original date of publication: July, 2013 My copy: 2013 (Random House; ARC) Why I decided to read: Offered through Amazon Vine program How I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine program, march 2013
I’ve loved Sarah Dunant’s novels for years, so when I saw that Blood and Beauty was available for review before publication, I jumped at the chance to read it. It tells the story of the Borgia family, specifically Lucrezia, and follows them from Rodrigo Borgia’s ascension to the papacy (and pope Alexander) in 1492 to Lucrezia’s third marriage to Alfonso d’Este in 1502. Rodrigo Borgia’s rise to power was much in keeping with the mores of the time period in which his lived. He even Italianized his name from Borja to Borgia. He and his four children, as well as his mistresses, became symbols of the power, splendor, and decadence of the Papal court in the late 15th century.
It’s really, really hard to write fiction about the Borgia family without completely vilifying or vindicating them, but Dun…

Review: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Pages: 378 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Norton) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine program, March 2013
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is set during WWII, and specifically focuses on the American firebombing of Tokyo in 1942 and 1945. We are introduced to Yoshi Kobayashi, the daughter of an expansionist; Cam, a bomber pilot taken prisoner by the Japanese; and Anton, an American architect, who had helped build some of Tokyo’s modern buildings in the 1920s and ‘30s but is enlisted to build test structures for the American air force to practice.
Epstein has chosen an event that rarely gets written about in fiction, yet caused so much devastation at the same time; in the Operation Meetinghouse attack of 1945, 16 square miles of Tokyo were destroyed, approximately 100,000 people were killed, and over a million lost their homes. It was the deadliest air raid of WWII. So I was very interested to read about this lesser-known period of history and witne…

Review: The Persephone Book of Short Stories

Pages: 473 Original date of publication: 1909-1986 My copy: 2012 (Persephone) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, January 2013
The Persephone Book of Short Stories is a collection of thirty short stories—some that have been previously published in other Persephone books (crowd pleasers such as Minnie Panter-Downes’s “Good Evening, Mrs Craven” and Irene Nemirovsky’s “Dimanche”)—some that have been published in the Persephone Post, and others that appear here for the first time. The earliest story in the collection, Susan Glaspell’s“A to Z,” was published in 1909 and the last, Georgina Hammick’s “A Few Cases in the Day Case Unit,” in 1986.
My favorite story in the collection is the first: Susan Glaspell’s “A to Z,’ in which a young college graduate gets a job as a dictionary copyist at a publisher’s office. She strikes up a friendship with a young man at the office; the irony of the story being that while these characters’ bread and butter revolves around …

Review: The Wild Rose, by Jennifer Donnelly

Pages: 640 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 Why I decided to read: received a copy from the publisher for review How I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine program, 2011
Although I wasn’t too keen on the first two books in this trilogy—The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose—I picked this one up hoping my mind had changed. Each book in the story offers a different perspective on one family at the turn of the century; this book begins just before WWI and focuses on Seamie and Willa. I think the story is meant to be fast-paced and give the reader a good overview of early 20th century history, but the story lines were so unrealistic and predictable that I had a hard time finishing the book. There were so many characters and coincidences that the book got pretty convoluted after a while. The characters’ dialogue also didn’t seem era-appropriate. This might be a good book if you’re looking for a period romance, but be prepared to suspend disbelief at the plot and characters.

Review: Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, by Patrick Hamilton

Pages: 511 Original date of publication: 1935 My copy: 2008 (NYRB Classics) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Joseph Fox Books, January 2012
Patrick Hamilton covers very similar themes in his books. His plots are comprised of characters from the lowest strata of London society: drunks, prostitutes, etc. Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky is set in and around a central London pub called The Midnight Bell. Bob is a waiter who falls in love with a young prostitute named Jenny and loses all his money in the process; Ella is a barmaid in love with Bob who nonetheless begins a relationship with an older man.
The story consists of three novellas, each of which takes you on a tour of the characters’ stories, offering, as it does so, alternate looks at the same situation within the same time frame. The shape shifting is what makes the plot of the book interesting, and each of these characters is unique in their own right. Hamilton is skilled at depicting the nuances of each charac…

Review: A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

Pages: Original date of publication: 1929 My copy: 2000 Why I decided to read: Re-read How I acquired my copy: Borders, 2000.
A Farewell to Arms has been called one of the best books to come out of WWI. In it, Hemingway loosely fictionalizes his experience working as an ambulance driver on the Italian front, as well as his relationship with Agnes von Kurowsky, a Red Cross nurse he met while recuperating from shrapnel wounds. In A Farewell to Arms, Lieutenant (Tenente) Frederick Henry is a driver in the Italian ambulance corps who develops a relationship with a Scottish VAD nurse, Catherine Barkley.
Hemingway’s themes deal with death, women, war and love, all of which of course are present here. There’s a kind of detached unemotionalism about A Farewell to Arms; even death doesn’t see to faze Henry. Yes, it’s brutal, but the tone of the book reflects the overall themes that play out here. Hemingway’s style is sparse, laconic; he doesn’t use flowery language to describe anything. In all, a …

Review: The Montana Stories, by Katherine Mansfield

Pages: 327 Original date of publication: 1921-1928 My copy: 2007 (Persephone) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, October 2012
Katherine Mansfield wrote the 25 stories in this collection during the 9 months she spent at Montana sur Sierre in Switzerland, seriously ill with tuberculosis. The stories are arranged in the order she wrote them, and many were left unfinished. Some characters are recurring; Mansfield also gained inspiration from other writers, including Chekhov, Louisa May Alcott, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, and DH Lawrence.
Mansfield chastised herself for writing “lowbrow” stories and made jokes about them (“the Mercury is bringing out that very long seaweedy story of mine ‘At the Bay.’ I feel inclined to suggest to them to give away a spade an’ bucket with each copy…”); but as the publisher’s note at the end says, “what choice did she have?” Mansfield wrote herself that she did not consider herself a good writer. But what we see in Mansfie…