Reading, Reviews

A Reading Worm Hole

Claimer: There are a lot of links in this post, but none of them are affiliates. I’m linking to them for your convenience.

I’ve unintentionally fallen into a worm hole in my reading in the past few weeks. Apparently, it’s a  worm hole that leads directly into 1930s Britain. I don’t know why I enjoy this setting so much, because I’m pretty sure I’d hate to live in it. The food, the weather, the drafty homes, the Great Depression, it all sounds pretty bleak when looked at as a whole. But for whatever reason, judging by the books I’ve randomly selected over the past two weeks, I really enjoy books set in 1930s Britain.

The Young ClementinaThe worm hole opened with D. E. Stevenson’s book The Young Clementina. Stevenson is one of my new old favorites, as I’ve mentioned before. This one popped up on my Riffle book email last week for only $2.99. Clementina was just what I would have expected of Stevenson, though not much like the cover. I enjoyed it thoroughly. With the misunderstood love plot and the resigned spinster theme, it was actually kind of reminiscent of Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, one of my favorite books ever.

Diary Of A Provincial LadyThen Diary of A Provincial Lady finally came available through my library. E.M. Delafield is always on my list of recommendations on Goodreads.com, but her work is hard to come by around here. Rachel over at Book Snob often mentions Delafield and I usually enjoy her recommendations, so I was excited to finally get my hands on this one. On the surface, it seemed kind of boring to read about the everyday housewife details of a British woman in the 1930s, but it was actually witty and sometimes hilarious. Think Bridget Jones’s Diary tones but on totally different subject matters. I thought it was amusing and fun to read. Today I downloaded a free copy of The Provincial Lady in Russia, so we’ll see if The Provincial Lady remains amusing or if one book by her is enough.

Her Royal Spyness (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #1)Though the book I read next isn’t written in the 1930s, it is set in that time. Her Royal Spyness is about Lady Georgiana, 34th in line for the throne, penniless, and skill-less. She decides to provide for herself by being an undercover house cleaner, but finds herself an undercover spy. Written by Rhys Bowen, it is a fast paced mystery with some pretty likable characters. I thought the plot was a bit too easy to figure out. I knew who had committed the crime by about 1/4 through the book. But it was still a good, light read, without any of the gory details I’m not too fond of in mystery novels. I could have done without all the “you’re still a virgin, what’s wrong with you?” talk included between Lady Georgie and her best friend, but I guess that’s par for the course in a modern novel. This is the first book in a long series. I may give one more a try, but I wouldn’t say that I’m hooked. I’m much more likely to go for something actually written in the 1930s, as I’ve mentioned before in a post about Downton Abbey Look Alikes.

The Daisy ChainNow, I’m climbing out (or falling further in?) the worm hole and reading The Daisy Chain, a book written in the 1850s that was very popular in its day but is neglected now in lists of classics. I hope I can get into it and write a review when I’m done, but the fact that the author apologizes for its length before the first chapter has me a little worried. =)

 

 

Reading, Reviews

Blackberry Winter, by Sarah Jio

Blackberry WinterA few nights ago I looked up from a book and said to my husband, “Remind me to never read sad books about children when I’m pregnant.” He looked at me in exasperation and said, “Gah! When is it ever a good time for you to read sad books about children?” That’s a fair question. But I chose to read Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio because I loved her writing and story telling style in The Violets of March. Somehow, I trusted Jio not to plunge me too deeply into the depths of despair. Yes, it was a mostly blind decision, but it turned out to be a good one in the end.

Here’s the synopsis of the book:

Seattle, 1933. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May-Day snow has blanketed the city, and that her son has vanished. Outside, she finds his beloved teddy bear lying face-down on an icy street, the snow covering up any trace of his tracks, or the perpetrator’s.
Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge, assigned to cover the May 1 “blackberry winter” storm and its twin, learns of the unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth. In the process, she finds that she and Vera may be linked in unexpected ways. -Goodreads.com

If you’ve read many of my posts, you know I’m not a big fan of the back-and-forth between history and present day narrative. However, I think there are some writers who do a good job with it and Sarah Jio is one of them. The difference maker is Jio’s ability to make both times and all characters involved come to life. Each character in the two books I’ve read by her faces circumstances that are really, really, hard. Jio brings in the everyday tragedies of the human experience – miscarriages, losing a parent, unhappy marriages- the things that are always happening to someone, somewhere, into her writing and still manages to leave readers with a brightened outlook on life. I also appreciate how Jio can deal with some messy, true-to-life themes in her writing without feeling the need to drag readers through the muck of every detail. In other words, there is no hint of erotica or violence in her writing. That’s something I really appreciate.

When I finished Blackberry Winter, I wanted it to keep going. That odd friendship between a reader and book characters formed that only really good books can create. I’m eagerly awaiting Jio’s latest book, Goodnight June, to become available at my library. Until then, you might find me at the library in the J Fiction section, because apparently I’ve missed quite a few Jio novels in the last few years. Perfect for summer reading!

So whatchya’ reading this summer?

Reviews

The Daring Ladies of Lowell Review

I am a fan of Kate Alcott. I’m afraid I was predisposed to be a fan because of her last name…but I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than that. Her first book, The Dressmaker, is one of the most enjoyable historical fiction novels I’ve read as an adult. As soon as I noticed Alcott had a new book out, I snatched it up.

The Daring Ladies of Lowell The Daring Ladies of Lowelltells the story of several factory girls in the 1830s. Alice Barrow, the main character, comes to Lowell, Massachusetts to make a new life for herself. She joins many girls who are part of this shiny, new industry. Reading about their boarding house camaraderie reminded me of Little Women. As Alice lives and works longer in Lowell, however, she becomes aware of the troubles rising between the mill owners, The Fiskes, and the workers. Not only that, but she becomes entangled with the Fiske family in a way she never would have expected.

I have to admit that Alcott’s strength is in her story telling and her characters. The writing in this book and some of the plot developments seems a little trite at times. This is especially true when it comes to the romantic parts…”he couldn’t help but notice her hair…” yes, that’s going to get an eye roll. But I enjoyed the story, and the fact that much of the plot is based on actual events in Lowell. I appreciate a writer who does her research.  And there were some glimpses of brilliance in Alcott’s wording at times -playing on words related to the textile industry, such as weaving and threads.  Once again, I appreciate how Alcott has put out another book without feeling the need to include any sex scenes. Can you call it a scene if it’s in a book? Well, you know what I mean.

Also, this book is a modern American counterpart to one of my favorite classics, North and South. Written by Elizabeth Gaskell, it centers on the industrial revolution in England and the strikes between workers and owners. There is romance, a strong heroine, tragedies…besides the writing styles being from different eras, North and South and The Daring Ladies of Lowell are like international twins.  I prefer Gaskell’s  genre (Victorian British Lit) to almost any other, but The Daring Ladies of Lowell is a great literature companion in the topic of industrial revolution. I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.Put The Daring Ladies of Lowell on your TBR list if you like historical fiction and are in the mood for a light read.

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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