Monthly Archives: May 2014

Review Catch-up Post

It’s been a little while since I last posted, and I’ve been reading. Here’s some mini-reviews!

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

1864. Penguin Classics. Paperback. 713 pages.

I expected to like this classic novel and I did, very much. I loved its gentle atmosphere, and the characters of Molly and especially Cynthia were well-drawn. I looked forward to every appearance by Lady Harriet Cumnor, and the full circle that Molly makes regarding the Towers (the Cumnor estate) was very satisfying. Though well-realized psychologically, the scenes that featured only the Squire and his sons were not as compelling to me as the rest of the book. I think it was that the Squire and his eldest son were so locked in a stubborn emotional stalemate that those passages seemed more sluggish to me, than those with, say, Cynthia or her self-absorbed mother. As Gaskell died before quite finishing the book, I was afraid the unfinished ending would spoil the reading experience, but it didn’t. The book’s unintentional ending arrives as the narrative is staring to wind up, and my copy had an afterword that explained what the ending would have been (Gaskell had left notes).

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

2012. Little, Brown & Co. Hardcover. 330 pages.

I found this bestselling book to be interesting enough for my recent plane trip, but I didn’t find it either funny or endearing and I think the book was trying for a mixture of both. I think I was supposed to like Bernadette in spite of her flaws, but instead I found her rather insufferable. I didn’t much like the daughter for some reason either. The author was one of the writers for the show Arrested Development and I could see some semblance in humor, but I think the Bluths were more lovable than any of the Bernadette cast of characters. But the book’s structure (mostly epistolary) moves along at a good clip, and I did wonder what was going to happen, so I finished it fairly quickly.

———-

After leisurely making my way through the length of Gaskell’s novel and Taylor Branch’s history tome, I went tearing through a passel of romance novels. I read Kristan Higgans’ The Best Man (pretty good, but marred by a tasteless joke at the expense of a transgender character); Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened (refreshingly broke some of the genre cliches, but wasn’t quite seamless with the historical elements); and Julie James’ About that Night (always like that her characters act like adults, and approach their jobs like professionals – however, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Something About You). I also read three Courtney Milan novels (well one was a novella), and have become a big fan of her approach to the romance genre. The characters have dynamic, interesting relationships with their friends, families and communities, not just with their love interest. The female protagonists are not “excepto-girls” – other female characters are ‘allowed’ to be awesome and break the mold. The male protagonists aren’t forced into the ridiculous “Alpha Male” fantasy. Again, the characters act like adults, and while sometimes there is misunderstandings, it’s not the level of almost willful miscommunication that I find in other books. In The Governess Affair, my favorite of the Milan reads, the male protagonist, Hugo, cuts through the unspoken sexual tension, and just says outright: “We’re attracted to one another, and it’s inconvenient.” Woohoo! Directness! It is sexy!

———–

I also read a book by Carl Hiassen, whose name I’ve seen around but who I’d never read. My impression of his books are that they are all set in Florida, involve both suspense and comedy, and feature really colorful characters. I would have read Skinny Dip if it had been on my library’s shelves, as it’s the one I have heard of most. Instead, I picked Star Island which is about an out-of-control starlet and the actress who plays her double, when the starlet is too wasted to do it herself. The actress gets kidnapped by a crazy paparazzo, and stuff gets wacky. Other colorful characters include the starlet’s terrible entourage, a weird scary bodyguard, and a Robin Hood-esque former governor. It was a fun, forgettable read – its satirical take on celebrity reminded me a bit of I’m Losing You by Bruce Wagner, which I read ages ago.

———–

I have one DNF book I want to mention: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. Published in 2011, it is a ‘literary’ take on the werewolf story. The main character, Jake, has just found out he is the last werewolf on earth. He is kind of looking forward to being killed by the hunters who seek him, but several events work to shake him of this fatalistic mindset. Duncan’s writing style for this novel is quite dense, packed with evocative, elaborate phrasing. Justin Cronin, author of vampire novel The Passage, wrote a blurb for Duncan’s book, and I can see the similarity in their approach to genre fiction. I hated The Passage. I liked The Last Werewolf better, I think, as it could be quite clever, but the barrage of heavyweight vocabulary also kept me fairly aloof from the story.

The Last Werewolf is a very earthy novel – all frank, unsexy sex and entrails – and this fits with the werewolf mythos (the vampires in the novel look down on werewolves as unsophisticated sex-driven louts). It fits, but I didn’t much care for it: it seemed that every new situation that Jake encountered, the scene made sure to not just document Jake’s reaction but also the reaction of Jake’s penis. All the time. It just . . . wasn’t for me. I got pretty far in the book, as I had it with me on the plane, and a plot twist late in the novel almost cinched my investment. I was two-thirds of the way through the 300-page novel, thanks to the plane trip, but once I was home, I realized that I just didn’t care to spend more time in its world. I skipped to the end to find out who lived, and I’m good with that.

 

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Classics Club Spin Pick: Bab:A Sub-Deb by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Classics Club

The Classics Club Spin was announced and the number was #1, which meant that I will be reading Bab: A Sub-Deb by Mary Roberts Rinehart. I had planned on reading this book in January, as part of another bookish event, but soon realized I wasn’t quite in the mood for its comedic style, so I put it off for a better time. And now I’m quite ready for it. Earlier this evening, I picked the book up “just for a look” and ended up reading the first of its five sections (it reads very quickly).

Bab: A Sub-Deb was published in 1916 by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Let me summarize what I learned about Rinehart on Wikipedia: during a finanically difficult time, Rinehart began writing as a way to support her family (she had four children with her husband). She eventually became a very popular writer, and even went to Europe to report on the first World War. But her mysteries were her bread and butter; she was apparently called the “American Agatha Christie”. She created a caped villain called “The Bat” for a Broadway play, which was later adapted to a film called “The Bat Whispers,” and it was that incarnation of the Bat which helped inspire Bob Kane’s character, Batman. There are many other cool facts about Rinehart in that wikipedia entry, but I’ll keep myself to just that interesting piece of trivia.

Bab: A Sub-Deb, the first book I’ve ever read by Rinehart, does not fall into the author’s usual genre. It is a light comic piece about a seventeen year old girl named Barbara (called Bab) who just wants to be an adult – a debutante – like her older sister, but is instead consigned to sub-debutante purgatory (hence the “sub-deb” of the title). The book – at least the first section – is written as if for a school paper. Bab’s spelling is atrocious but the narration of her various travails is hilarious. I’m sure she’ll mature over the course of the book, but right now she’s in a certain lovable brat stage. My reaction to her so far reminds me of my reaction to Colette’s delightful creation of Claudine in Claudine at School. It’s a reaction of: I’m not sure I would want to meet this person, but am thoroughly entertained by her as a character. That said, Bab is much more naive than Claudine, and more moral, so it’s really more of a surface similarity that struck me. We’ll see what I think after I finish.

Aarti of BookLust is responsible for bringing this book to my attention. If you’re reading this, Aarti, sorry I didn’t get to this in January liked I planned, but it’s really going to happen this time!

 

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Classics Club Spin #6

Classics Club

This will be the second time I have participated in a Classics Club Spin. When I last participated, Peter Fleming’s Brazilian Adventure was the chosen book, which I read by the deadline (Dec. 31, 2013) and reviewed here. Now I will again list twenty classics, and on Monday, a number will be picked and I will have to read that book by July 7th. Since I’ve read two very long books lately, this list is going to avoid the chunkster titles of my Classics List. So here goes, alphabetically:

1. Bab: A Sub-Deb by Mary Roberts Rinehart [1916]

2. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery [1926]

3. Dispatches by Michael Herr [1977]

4. Dubliners by James Joyce [1914]

5. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym [1952]

6. Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway [1929]

7. The Good Earth by Pearl Buck [1931]

8. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux [1975]

9. High Rising by Angela Thirkell [1933]

10. A House is Not a Home by Polly Adler [1953]

11. Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau [1964]

12. Mariana by Monica Dickens [1940]

13. Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman [1947]

14. Original Letters from India by Eliza Fay [1925]

15. Penny Plain by Anna Buchan [1920]

16. Saplings by Noel Streatfeild [1945]

17. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby [1958]

18. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome [1889]

19. A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor [1977]

20. The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard [1922]

 

Of these twenty books, I am most hoping for The Blue Castle or Penny Plain. The book I am most dreading is Farewell to Arms. I haven’t read Hemingway since high school, but I did not like him then and don’t think I will like him now. If it is indeed chosen, I will try to keep an open mind, but I do not have high hopes for that book.

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