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Showing posts from July, 2008

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

During World War II, the Germans occupied Guernsey in the Channel Islands, so close to France that, apparently, you could see cars on the highway on a clear day. The Germans built heavy fortifications against the islanders, built a concentration camp on Guernsey, and Guernsey’s children were evacuated to England. Juliet Ashton is an author looking for her next great idea, when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, who lives on Guernsey, about Charles Lamb, to whose works he was introduced through the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. The Society came to be in an unusual fashion: one evening after curfew, on their way home, some of its members were stopped by German soldiers, and Elizabeth McKenna had to make something up on the spot. Over time, the members got together whenever they could to talk about what they’d read. That’s how Isola, for example, became addicted to Wuthering Heights . Juliet lives in a London that was decimated by war; her apartment by the Thames has be

Ask me anything about... Atonement

Today I finished reading Atonement , by Ian McEwan, and I'm having a little bit of trouble putting together a review. So, in the spirit of Weekly Geeks , ask me any question you want! (the only caveat being that I would ask that you refrain from general, open-ended questions such as "how did you like it?).

Review: The Pale Blue Eye, by Louis Bayard

In The Pale Blue Eye , Augustus Landor, formerly of the New York City police force, is living near West Point, when he’s called in to investigate the death of a cadet. Having strangled to death, the cadet’s heart was later removed. Landor soon comes across a young cadet named Edgar Allan Poe (he would only have been about 20 or 21 in 1830, the year this novel takes place), and enlists him to assist in the investigation. The two men find a complicated group of suspects, which leads them to believe that a satanic cult is involved. So often, inserting a real historical person into fiction can be a recipe for disaster. Not so in this book. Bayard’s Poe is real, likeable, and convincing. He even gets some say in the narrative himself; which although I thought was a nice touch, got a little too sentimental and ho-hum when Poe began to talk about his feelings for a suspect’s sister. The ending of the novel is more than slightly bizarre, but nonetheless, this book is wonderful psychological su

Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte

I finished The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (finally!) a while ago, but only until now have I managed to write a review on it, simply because I didn’t know what to say. So, thanks to a little bit of help from other bloggers, here it is: Becky asked: Did you like the Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte? Would you recommend it? Does it hold up to the more well known works by the other Bronte sisters Bybee asked: Have you read the other Bronte sisters? Have you read Agnes Grey? Does Tenant of Wildfell Hall have that Gothic feel to it? Alessandra asked: Were you able to relate to the main character? Is this a book you would recommend? Suey asked: Oh, I loved The Tenant of Wilfell Hall... but it's been awhile since I read it. I remember it bounced from a letter format... back to a more normal narrative form. Did you like that? Or did it interrupt the flow for you? I need to read this one again some day! Imani asked: Ha, ok, clearly a lot of Bronte fans here. I'm in the same boat --

Review: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie

Told from the point of view of a country doctor, James Sheppard, the novel opens when a certain Mrs. Ferrars dies. Not long afterwards, Roger Ackroyd is found murdered in his study. The local inspector immediately suspects the butler, Parker, and Ackroyd’s stepson also becomes a murder suspect, as Hercule Poirot (who’s conveniently retired to a house in the neighborhood) is called in to solve the crime. Written in the great age of crime novels—the 1920s—The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a murder mystery that threatens to puzzle even the most astute crime solver. It doesn’t come as much surprise—apparently, Agatha Christie would write each of her novels not knowing who the murderer would be, and then decided at the end who it was. Then, she’d go back and change aspects of the novel accordingly. Its very clear that she did that here. There’s some extraneous stuff that could have been left out. But its also clear that Christie is influenced by true crime stories of the past-- the Crippen cas

Friday Finds

Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to E-Mail, the Tangled Story of English Spelling , by David Wollman. A humorous story of English spelling. ARC. American Eve , by Paula Uruburu. The story of Evelyn Nesbitt, the Gilded Age’s “It Girl,” and the murder of her husband. I saw this at McNally Robinson yesterday. The Toss of a Lemon , by Padma Viswanathan. A book about a woman in India in the last days of the British Empire. ARC. The Birthday Present , by Barbara Vine . I have no clue what this is about, but it’s due to be released sometime next year. And I love this woman's writing. An Expert in Murder: A New Mystery Featuring Josephine Tey , by Nicola Upson. A woman is found murdered on a train and Tey is at hand to investigate. I saw this through someone else's blog, but I now can't remember where! If anyone can be of any help, that would be greatly appreciated.

Booking Through Thursday: Beginnings

I don't do Booking Through Tursday all that often, but this week, I couldn't resist. Here’s another idea about memorable first lines from books. What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line? One of my all-time favorite first lines is from Pride and Prejudice : "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." I also love the opening line from The Go-Between : "The past is a foreign country: the do things differently there." From Muriel Spark's The Girls of Slender Means : "Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions." And DeAnna Raybourn takes the cake for eye-grabbing first lines: "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely a

Review: No Fond Return of Love, by Barbara Pym

In No Fond Return of Love , three people converge on an academic conference at a girls’ school: Dulcie Mainwaring, a middle-aged spinster living in the London suburbs; Viola Dace, an indexer; and Aylwin Forbes, a lecturer and editor, with whom Viola is in love. Dulcie soon finds herself becoming mildly obsessed with the handsome Aylwin; and looks him up in books at the local library and even walking past his mother-in-law's house. Oh, if only the internet had been around in the 1950s, when this novel is set! Later, Dulcie’s niece, Laurel, moves in with her in order to attend a secretarial course; Viola, after an argument with her landlady, moves in not long after. Laurel soon finds herself being the object of Aylwin Forbes’s affection, even as Viola continues to be in love with him. What’s the levelheaded, eager-to-please Dulcie to do? No Fond Return of Love is a sweet, gentle romance, much in the way that Jane Austen’s works are (and indeed, this novel has been compared to Persua

Review: The Black Tower, by Louis Bayard

The Black Tower is a what-could-have-been murder mystery. Set in 1818, not long after Napoleon had been deposed and the French monarchy reinstated, the novel begins when a man is found murdered in the streets of Paris, carrying a calling card with Dr. Hector Carpentier’s name on it. Enter Eugene Francois Vidocq, one of the most legendary and feared detectives of the early 19th century (and such an influence that Victor Hugo modeled both Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert on him; a Wikipedia search on Vidocq reveals that he is credited with introducing record-keeping, criminology, and ballistics to the field of criminal investigation). Vidocq has just established the very first plainclothes police force, said to be composed of some very dangerous ex-cons. It’s into this world, where the line between the law and crime is smudged, that Dr. Hector Carpentier enters. On the surface, the dead man, Leblanc, and Carpentier have nothing in common. But the mystery soon leads Carpentier and Vidocq

The Top Ten Things An Author Should Not Do at Amazon

I read an interesting article here about the things an author shouldn't do at Amazon. Case in point, an author whose latest book I've reviewed here, and who was mentioned in the article, who has been attacking Amazon reviewers in an unprofessional way. In my case, I published my review of her book on July 4th; not long afterwards, I got a comment on the review on Amazon from the author that wasn't exactly flattering--to say the least. I really wish I'd copied the comment down, because Amazon took it down later. I never responded because, well, I didn't see the point. But I think this whole thing is rather interesting, how an author might stoop to that kind of level. My thought is that if you can't take the good with the bad, then you shouldn't publish your work. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one affected!

Book Giveaway: The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry

Over at the Boston Bibliophile , there's a book giveaway going on, for The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry . From Publishers Weekly : In Barry's captivating debut, Towner Whitney, a dazed young woman descended from a long line of mind readers and fortune tellers, has survived numerous traumas and returned to her hometown of Salem, Mass., to recover. Any tranquility in her life is short-lived when her beloved great-aunt Eva drowns under circumstances suggesting foul play. Towner's suspicions are taken with a grain of salt given her history of hallucinatory visions and self-harm. The mystery enmeshes local cop John Rafferty, who had left the pressures of big city police work for a quieter life in Salem and now finds himself falling for the enigmatic Towner as he mourns Eva and delves into the history of the eccentric Whitney clan. Barry excels at capturing the feel of smalltown life, and balances action with close looks at the characters' inner worlds. Her pacing and use

Review: The Sister, by Poppy Adams

Bulburrow Court, a sprawling, eccentric, Gothic house in the Dorset country, is the family home of the even more eccentric Stone family. Ginny, a shy and retiring lepidopterologist, has lived there for her whole life, while her younger sister Vivi went off to London at a young age. The novel begins when Vivi comes home again—perhaps to stay permanently, which unsettles Ginny, because the two parted on bad terms. The narrative is told from the point of view of Ginny, who views herself as the levelheaded, reliable one. Often Ginny slips back into remembrances of the past, which include their socialite mother Maud and their taciturn father Clive, also a lepidopterologist. The study of moths is gone into with great detail, showing that Adams has done her research. But all the same, its quite creepy. Over the course of more than 270 pages, Adams builds up a novel of suspense that, in my opinion, has no payoff. There are a lot of question that, in the end, aren’t answered, and that’s the fru

Review: The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Spark

“Long ago in 1945 all the nice people were poor , allowing for exceptions.” The “Girls of Slender Means” are single young working women, nearly all under the age of thirty, at the May of Teck Club in London. The club is more or less a boarding house or a dorm at a women's college, where women with limited incomes shares rooms while sunbathing on the roof and sharing a Schiaparelli gown. There are so many women in the house that you almost need a chart to keep track of who’s who and who does what job or dates which boy. Its summer, 1945, at the very end of WWII. The story is told primarily from the perspective of Jane Wright, an assistant at a publishing house, whose life combines pragmatism with the idealism of the literary world. She becomes acquainted with semi-famous, anarchistic author Nicholas Farringdon, “on loan to the Americans,” who’s only interested in the May of Teck Club for one of its residents. The residents of the boarding house are still very much affected by the re

Weekly Geeks 12

The rules for this week: 1. In your blog, list any books you’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet. If you’re all caught up on reviews, maybe you could try this with whatever book(s) you finish this week. 2. Ask your readers to ask you questions about any of the books they want. In your comments, not in their blogs. Most likely, people who will ask you questions will be people who have read one of the books or know something about it because they want to read it. 3. Later, take whichever questions you like from your comments and use them in a post about each book. I’ll probably turn mine into a sort of interview-review. Link to each blogger next to that blogger’s question(s). 4. Visit other Weekly Geeks and ask them some questions! Books I've read but haven't reviewed: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Spark The Sister, by Poppy Adams The Black Tower, by Louis Bayard (this is an ARC, so don't feel bad if you've never heard of

Some "Band" Banned Books

Somewhere on my trawls through the internet, I discovered this : a banned books bracelet, for sale at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City. It's a quirky, odd, and slightly tacky idea for a bracelet, but I just thought that all of you in the book-blogosphere would appreciate something off-the-wall like this!

Friday Finds

I'd never heard of Friday Finds until today! It's a kind of round-up of every book you've heard of in the past week that you'd like to read. Here's my list: The Black Tower , by Louis Bayard. Received an ARC of this book on Monday; so good that it only took me two days to finish. My review of this wonderful mystery novel will be up shortly. The Sealed Letter , by Emma Donoghue. Not out in the US yet; historical fiction set in Victorian England, featuring an infamous divorce case. Our Lady of Pain , by Elena Forbes. I received this book as an ARC as well; murder mystery set in modern-day England. Schooled , by Anisha Lakani. About a Manhattan private school teacher who earns extra money on the side tutoring. Another ARC. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society , by Mary Ann Shaffer. Also an ARC that I received this week; epistolary novel set just after WWII.

Review: The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden , the follow-up to The House at Riverton , is a muti-layered novel with complicated characters and a highly intriguing storyline. The story jumps back and forth in time, but rarely is the reader confused as to what's going on. As I mentioned here , this novel won't be out in the US until April 2009, but of course that didn't stop me from running over to Amazon Uk to purchase a copy of The Forgotten Garden ! Let me just say that I wasn't disappointed. The book opens in1913, when a young girl with no name is found on a quayside in Australia. She doesn't remember anything about herself, and all she carries with her is a white suitcase containing, among other personal items, a book of fairytales penned by a woman the girl calls the Authoress. In 1975, the girl, now a woman called Nell, goes back to England, where she attempts to find answers to questions about her identity. Her travels lead her to Blackhurst Manor, delving deep into the Mountrachet

Review: The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant

In the late 15th century, at the height of the Renaissance, Florence is undergoing a transformation in terms of thought and principles. After many years of wealth, Florence finds itself held in thrall by the charismatic Dominican monk Savonarola. At the same time, a young girl named Alessandra Cecci comes of age. She’s intelligent and free-spirited, but her life is more or less prescribed for her when she marries. Her life changes when a celebrated and unnamed painter comes to paint the ceiling of the Cecci family’s chapel. From there on out, Alessandra is torn between her desire to have the freedom to paint and the frustration she feels at having to follow the traditional path of a late-15th century Florentine woman. Dunant has a flair for writing description, and she really puts it to good use in this novel. Although Dunant, who’s also written a number of modern-day crime novels, hits the reader over the head a little too much with her erotic sex scenes, her writing and sense for lan

Book News: Kate Morton

In April, 2009, Kate Morton, author of The House at Riverton , is coming out with a new novel, called The Forgotten Garden . It's already out in the UK, and I loved its predecessor so much that I went right on over to Amazon UK to purchase a copy of it (so you'll probably see a review of this book sometime soon). Set just before WWI, its the story of a lost child who mistakenly winds up on a ship going to Australia. The novel covers the time period from 1913 to 2005, and it's gotten altogether good reviews on Amazon UK so far.

Book News: Emma Donoghue

In September, Emma Donoghue, author of Slammerkin and Life Mask , is coming out with a new novel called The Sealed Letter . Its based on a scandalous divorce case that took place in 1864, and features stained dresses (sound familiar?), accusations of rape, and more. The book has been published in Canada, and its gotten good reviews on I love Donoghue's novels, especially because her characters are so well developed and her research is always so meticulate.

A Non-Book Meme

What were you doing five years ago? Work as an overnight camp counselor in the summer between my first and sophomore years of college. Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non-weight-gaining world: Goldfish crackers (yes, I'm five years old again), bagels with cream cheese and lox, anything chocolate, nachos, popcorn. Five things I would do if I were a billionaire: Own any book I wanted to, own an apartment in Manhattan, travel the world over, can't think of anything else. I'd be a very boring billionaire. Five (non-academic) jobs that I have had: receptionist, publishing intern, camp counselor, babysitter, book store employee. And that pretty much covers my working-world experience. Five Habits: Morning showers (I wash my hair every other day), going to the gym, brushing teeth, checking my daily planner. Not everything in that order. Five places I have lived: Brooklyn, New York (where I currently live), Lynchburg, VA (where I went to college), Radnor, PA (where I grew up), Si

Review: Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres, by Ruth Brandon

The modern-day reader is most familiar with the 19th century profession of governess through the novels of the Bronte sisters. Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres is a chronicle of governessing in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Ruth Brandon follows the lives of seven highly unusual women who were either forced by circumstance or chose the solitary life of being a governess. Brandon’s subjects include Agnes Porter, a governess who held an unusual rapport with her employers; Mary Wollstonecraft, who tried her hand at governessing before finally finding her calling in writing; Anna Leonowens, whose life inspired The King And I ; and the women who made strides towards making governessing a liveable job. Eventually, their efforts would lead to the founding of Girton College at Cambridge, which had a profound effect on the profession as a whole. The governess was an unusual figure in the Victorian period. She belonged neither “upstairs” nor “downstairs,” leading those t

Another reading meme

...because everyone else is doing it, I figure I migt as well, too. According to The Big Read, the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books on this list. The instructions:Look at the list and:Bold those you have read.Italicize those you intend to read.Underline the books you LOVE. (Since I don't have an underline feature here, I'm using yellow text to indicate favorites). 1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen 2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien 3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte 4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (all but Deathly Hallows) 5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee 6. The Bible 7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte 8. 1984 - George Orwell 9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman 10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens 13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller 14. Complete Works of Shakespeare--well, not all of his works, but many of his plays 15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier 16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien 17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks 18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger 19

Review: The House at Midnight, by Lucie Whitehouse

The House at Midnight is the first novel by British author Lucie Whitehouse. Neo-Gothic in tone, the story is primarily about the relationships between seven friends from college: Joanna (the narrator), Lucas, Danny, Michael, Martha, Rachel, and Greg. When Lucas inherits Stoneborough Manor from his uncle Patrick, he encourages his friends to treat the mysterious old house as their own. Soon, Joanna finds herself in a romantic relationship with Lucas, he decides to move in with his parasitic friend Danny, and things get trickier when Joanna discovers Rachel and Greg in a compromising position on the floor one night. There’s a whole slew of interchangeable (and sticky) relationships between these seven characters, characterized by a lot of drinking and drug-taking. It took the author six years to write, and I get the feeling that she began the novel thinking that she originally intended the characters to be younger than they eventually turned out to be. Although approaching the age of t

Review: The Go-Between, by LP Hartley

In the brutally hot summer of 1900, Leo Colston, aged 12, is invited by his friend Marcus Maudsley to stay at his family’s estate, Brandham Hall. Marcus’s sister Marian enlists Leo to carry letters back and forth between herself and her lover, Ted Burgess, a local farmer. At the same time, Marian becomes engaged to Lord Trimingham who, in the eyes of “polite” society, is a much better match for her. Looking back, fifty years later, Leo’s memory tries to piece together the particulars of what happened that summer. Leo’s story is superficially a coming-of-age tale and the marking of the loss of innocence, but its also a story about perception and deception. Leo’s friendship with Marian is a lot stronger than his friendship with Marcus, who initially brought them together. There’s a lot that 12-year-old Leo can’t figure out, especially when it comes to sex and love—for example, he assumes that when Marian becomes engaged, that the notes to Ted will stop. Its clear that Leo can’t quite con

Review: The House of Stairs, by Barbara Vine

Barbara Vine (also known as Ruth Rendell) is one of my favorite authors, at least in the area of suspense. I first read The House of Stairs many years ago and loved it, and upon re-reading this book, it hasn’t changed much for me. In fact, it may just be Vine’s best book. I’m very much intrigued by stories of people and their psychological relationships with one another, and I’m especially intrigued when there’s a bunch of deep, dark secrets that are involved. It also doesn't hurt if there's a big, old, mysterious house, too. Luckily for me, The House of Stairs contains all three. The mystery is an unusual one: the murderer is revealed before the crime unfolds. The main character, Elizabeth, goes to the House of Stairs, a boarding house, to live. There she meets Mark and Belle, two people who come to have a significant impact on her life. Barbara Vine is a master at this kind of suspense, weaving together memories of the narrator's past with that of the narrator's pre

Review: Bar Flower, by Lea Jacobson

In Bar Flower: My Decadently Destructive Days and Nights as a Tokyo Nightclub Hostess , Lea Jacobson recounts the roughly two years she spent as a nightclub hostess in Tokyo’s Ginza district. After she went to Japan in 2003 to work as an English teacher, Jacobson was fired from her job after a psychiatrist spilled the beans to her employer about her fragile emotional condition. She then went to Tokyo, where she began work as a hostess, entertaining Japanese “sararimen,” even though she was psychologically unwell and unable to cope with the rigid demands of Japanese culture. Jacobson describes this underbelly of Tokyo culture as being in a “floating world,” where everything is fluid and nothing stays constant for very long. As a result, Jacobson’s identity kept changing. Along the way, we’re introduced to a variety of interesting characters, including a dragon-like mama-san, an Irish boyfriend named Nigel, who lies to her and breaks her heart; and a four-year-old girl who learned fluent

Book News: The "Lost" Book Club

Recently, The Powers That Be over at have created a “book club” of books that have appeared or been referred to on Lost —ie, in one episode, Sawyer is seen reading a copy of Are You There God? Its Me, Margaret ; in another, an orientation film is hidden behind a copy of The Turn of the Screw . Apparently there are more than 40 of them—so far. Each book is accompanied by a short synopsis, plus a short description of the book’s relevance to the show. There’s also a discussion forum for the books. Its basically the book club for Lost junkies. It’s a cute idea. See for yourself .

Review: Royal Scandals, by Leslie Carroll

Royal Scandals: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy is a compendium of just that: all the famous (and infamous) affairs the English monarchy conducted over the course of a millennium. From Edward II and his shameless promotion of his court favorites, to Henry VIII and his six wives, to Charles II and his many mistresses, to Prince Charles and his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, Leslie Carroll gives us a “tell all” about famous royals’ love lives which is absolutely fascinating to the modern American. Its in her favor that the author isn’t a professional historian; these royal affairs are related with a gossipy tone. However, there’s a caveat to this: some of Carroll’s facts are incorrect. She’s primarily a fiction writer, and she tries too hard at times to adopt the lingo—she’s fond of such terms as “heir and a spare” and “maitresse en titre.” It’s also difficult to credit an author who lists Michael Farquhar’s A Treasury of Royal Scand

Review: Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, by Paul Gallico

Paul Gallico’s delightful little (as in, its only about 150 pages, give or take) book is about Mrs. Ada Harris (or Mrs. ‘Arris, as she would say in her cockney accent), a London charwoman who finds herself coveting in the worst way imaginable a Dior dress. Never mind that she can’t afford it; never mind that she’d never have any place to wear it. After winning a bit of money, and scrimping and saving the rest, Mrs. Harris goes off to Paris to the House of Dior. But nothing turns out the way she imagines it to be—especially the people, who she’d imagined to be disgusting and dirty. Once there, Mrs. Harris becomes acquainted with a number of eccentric characters, to whom she becomes a sort of 1950s fairy-tale godmother. The book is completely charming and funny. My only criticism of the book is that Gallico could have drawn Mrs. Harris’s week-long stay in Paris out a bit more, and given the reader a bit more to chew on. But otherwise, just a magical little Cinderella story with a twist.

Review: Jack With a Twist, by Brenda Janowitz

Jack With A Twist is the cute, charming, and quirky follow-up to Scot on the Rocks. In it, Brooke Miller is about to marry Jack, the man of her dreams—but a wrench is thrown in Brooke’s plans when she finds herself representing her wedding dress designer in court—against her own fiancĂ©. Jack With a Twist is also a meet-the-parents: we meet Brooke’s champagne-influenced mother and kosher butcher father, and grandmother and great-auth Devorah, as well as Jack’s Philadelphia Main Line parents, siblings, and identical brothers-in-law. Brooke always thinks that things can’t get any worse, but keep having the proverbial pie smacked in her face. How she manages to solver her problems is all part of the fun of this novel. Brooke Miller is extremely likeable—though she grows a little tiresome saying “like” all the time. Jack With A Twist isn’t quite as funny as its precursor, and the ending is a little predictable and cheesy, but it has its merits all the same. And will somebody please get Jac