Reading, Reviews

Novellas for Your Beach Bag (Or Nightstand)

This week was a successful reading week, finally! The previous weeks were filled with book busts. I’ve discovered one of the best things ever for a beach reader, weekend reader, or a busy mom: novellas. The novella, a short novel or long short story, is a great form of literature because it gives a succinct plot, fewer characters to get to know, and the opportunity to be powerful and poignant without getting bogged down in details. I finished two last week.

The Uncommon ReaderThe Uncommon Reader was delightful. It’s written by Alan Bennett, much better known for his plays and screenplays than his novellas, but I wouldn’t mind if he writes more literary fiction. The Uncommon Reader is an imaginary account of Queen Elizabeth’s discovery that reading is a pleasure. From the beginning when she steps into the travelling library (we call those bookmobiles here in SC) parked at Buckingham Palace, to the end of the book, Bennett gives his readers a fun and witty glimpse into how books and reading changes lives, even uncommon ones. Of course, it’s all made up. But it’s still a fun read and even insightful at times into how reading widens a person’s ability to empathize or notice the small things.

Stella BainIn Stella Bain, a very short novel that I am classifying as a novella, author Anita Shreve ventures into the historical fiction realm, and does a decent job of telling the story of an American woman in World War I. Stella Bain wakes up in an army hospital in Marne, France in the middle of The Great War, not knowing how she got there or who she actually is. All she knows at the beginning is that she has the abilities of a nurse and ambulance driver. Going only on a strong feeling that she needs to make her way to London, she unravels the mystery of her past and finds the strength to put together her present. Warning: this plot is implausible. If you read books because you want them to be as close to real life as possible, don’t read this book. But if you read because it’s fun to go on an imaginary adventure and maybe learn a thing or two, this is a good book. I liked it better than Shreve’s other novels I’ve read, though I can see by the reviews that most of her fans prefer her other work. I was reminded strongly of the book Maisie Dobbs while reading Stella Bain. There were many similarities in themes relating to the horrors of the field hospitals and soldiers’ recoveries during The Great War. When I’m immersed in a book or even movie (Downton Abbey, Season 2, for example) set during that time, I actually get nightmares about it. May trench warfare never occur again. But that’s only a small piece of Stella Bain. If you enjoy historical fiction, it’s a good read written by a good author.

Other notable novellas I’ve enjoyed:

Ethan Fromme – not so much in a “what a delightful book sense” but in a “that is a fine piece of art” sense

The Blue Castle – a “grown up” book from the author of Anne of Green Gables

Breakfast At Tiffany’s – yes, it’s as good as the movie

Happy Summer reading!

 

 

 

 

Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

Recent Book Busts

A friend asked me last week, “What are you reading lately? You haven’t posted much.” Sigh. She is right. I haven’t posted much about what I’ve been reading because apparently my selections have been pretty sub par lately. I’ve started and not finished three books in the last three weeks that were maybe not my type of books or maybe just awful books.

Lost, Jacqueline DaviesThe first book I started and didn’t finish is Lost by Jacqueline Davies. I haven’t completely given up on this book, which is set in 1911 around the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The idea behind the book still intrigues me:

Essie can tell from the moment she lays eyes on Harriet Abbott: this is a woman who has taken a wrong turn in life. Why else would an educated, well-dressed, clearly upper-crust girl end up in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory setting sleeves for six dollars a day? As the unlikely friendship between Essie and Harriet grows, so does the weight of the question hanging between them: Who is lost? And who will be found?

(goodreads.com)

The plot seems good but it starts off very confused, with Essie having delusions about her baby sister and chaotic thoughts about what is real and what is not, including whether she herself is still real. I wasn’t expecting such a psychological experience when I checked this book out at the library from the Young Adult display table. I may go back to it at some point, but usually once it’s back at the library, I’m not checking it out again. =)

When Audrey Met AliceThe other book I picked up off the YA table was a complete bust. When Audrey Met Alice drew me in with the promise of including snippets of Alice Roosevelt’s diary. I’ve always thought her an interesting person in American History. However, the now-and-then setting of this book was terrible–Audrey is the current First Daughter and her mother is President. She is struggling with some petty teenage troubles and when she finds Alice’s diary, she turns to it for comfort and ideas on how to cope. I held out hope that the book would get better when Alice’s part came in, but as soon as excerpts from Alice’s diary became part of the story, it was clear that the diary was all made up. The language was all wrong, the opinions were far fetched, and the writing style was not at all what it would have been if Alice Roosevelt had actually written it. I turned to the back of the book and, sure enough, there was the disclaimer stating that the diary was actually written by the author. I would have been spared a lot of wasted reading time if that disclaimer had been at the beginning. I wouldn’t recommend this book for adults or young adults.

Still Life with Bread CrumbsFinally, I tried out my first Anna Quindlen book and downloaded Still Life With Bread Crumbs from my library’s eBook site. Quindlen is clearly a writer whose strength is imagery. I thoroughly enjoyed her word pictures and the way she describes her main character’s renowned photography. However, this character driven novel didn’t really have characters that grabbed me. Still, it was an enjoyable read until about halfway through, when the two main characters become love interests. I realize that happens in a lot of books and is often a very good thing, but I couldn’t handle it in this book. It seemed all wrong for the characters and some parts of it were actually wrong. But I can’t say anything bad about Quindlen’s ability to write, because her prose is beautiful. If her book hadn’t included so much infidelity, I probably would be raving about it. I just can’t enjoy books centered on extramarital affairs, or really unhappy marriages. Still, I wish the photographs described in the book really existed–I would probably buy the calendar based on them to hang in my kitchen.

So, right now I’m not reading anything. And it’s not a terrible way to live. Any suggestions? Fiction or non-fiction, I’ll take any ideas.

 

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