Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell

This is a pleasant read, of a humble town and it's gossiping, but true ladies in residence. It's a delicately written, economic collection of anecdotes. From Lady Glenmire to the tragic spinster Miss Matty, Miss Smith narrates her long running acquaintance with country life.

There's all the versatility and characters that would make a small community, with just the subtle dramas that made the day to day life of the women, all along the scale from servant class to lady spinsters. It's all bound together by their locality. Unlike Dickens, Gaskell does not segregate or polarize the ladies by class. That doesn't mean they can't gossip between themselves, though; and that element of the narrative, their gossip and conversation makes for the most telling. Not to mention the most fun! Next on my docket by this author is Wives and Daughters, so I'll be interested to see how Gaskell keeps such a brick paced after this novella.

Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell
ISBN: 0486426815 

I'll be at the beach this weekend, so there may not be a lot of posts going on... having said that, I'm excited to announce a guest post in the near future! Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Emmuska Orczy

This is a classic I was never assigned in school, and only vaguely knew about (thanks to BBC comedy Blackadder, if I'm honest). I'm so grateful to the folks at Should Have Read Classics for suggesting this for our May read!

I love campy action stories with intrigue and romance! I was attracted to this story because of it's dangerous setting, yes; who doesn't find France's Reign of Terror years interesting? I also enjoyed this story because it's a love story. Not your typical 'young girl meets dashing man' love story in the vein of Dumas, no... but husband and wife realizing how they've misjudged each other. There's something special about what happens to Percy and Marguerite's relationship as the story unfolds!

Yes, the plot is awfully predictable, but this isn't the sort of novel that should leave you feeling shocked or overworked. It's entertaining and theatrical for fun's sake! I don't know that I'll brave the other sixteen or so League of the Scarlet Pimpernel novels; maybe I'll get around to reading books like Kidnapped and Robinson Crusoe now!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


My books from the gals of the Bookswap I joined arrived! It's the first month of our swap, and I'm super excited about the three titles that came in! Thanks to Little Life of Mine for organizing this, and providing me with these three reads! Should be perfect summer reading fair!

The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson

Holy wow I loved this book. It took me about fifty pages to utterly fall in love with Jacobson's writing, but once I was into it, I loved it. There's so much witty banter and truly deep insight into the characters; even the less frequently mentioned characters (Treslove's sons and their respective mothers; the deceased Tyler) are incredibly well developed. 

The dialogue between Libor and Treslove is brilliant, heart wrenching even. The loyal yet heated rivalry between Treslove and Finkler was a little reminiscent of the lead two in McEwan's Booker winner (I recommend that book, too). 

Jacobson's sensitivity about stereotyping, racism, and cultural identities (belonging, as well as not) reminded me of Junot Diaz. I've made a lot of comparisons to really great books/writers because Jacobson is in good company when writing about cultural identity and relationships; but Jacobson gives you a larger scale perspective with his inclusion of the greater political issues; ie, the internal arguments within Judaism regarding Israel. Not only does it stamp the novel with a timely context, but it makes the discussion so much more universal than just the neighborhood in London this novel occupies. 

Jacobson covers all sides of the conversation with the tactfulness of an anthropologist, yet keeps the novel well paced with witty dialogue and character analysis. As guffaw-worthy as some of Nick Hornby's creations, but with more of Chang Rae Lee's wisdom; this book is one of my favorite releases from last year. 

The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson
ISBN: 1408808870 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Luna, Julie Anne Peters

My review of this book is going to make a few of my socio-political opinions way too blatant, but I'm not ashamed of those views. My enjoyment of this novel comes from my having great empathy and compassion for all of the LGBT community. It breaks my heart that anyone could feel so afraid to just be who God made them to be.

Peters' novel of a transsexual high school boy is heart wrenching; the narrative is spotted with revealing flashbacks of a childhood that should have told his loved ones so much, had they been paying attention or strong enough to see the truth. Not only is Liam/Luna's truth unimaginable to his relatively sheltered community, but he and his sister are troubled by a work obsessed, absent mother and insecure father. Luna lives completely closeted from all, except her sister, the narrator: Regan.

Regan seems like a selfless best friend to her brother; braving trips to the mall for her first public appearance as "Luna" and even side stepping parent's questions to protect Luna. Regan's confused support bridges the gap between the readers' own experiences and Liam/Luna's struggle, making this young adult novel really accessible to young readers. It's a novel fraught with lessons in tolerance, and bittersweet in it's realistic depiction of the varying reactions; anger, fear, violence, sadness, apathy.

This novel hit home to me on so many levels. I kept hoping the parents would come together for their child, transsexual or not. Luna's confiding in her father made for an unsettling scene to read. I felt so sympathetic for Regan; she's not perfect, but she's young and inexperienced, carrying a very heavy load for someone she loves so deeply.

It was an important book for me to read, and I'm so glad it found it's way to me. I will absolutely read other titles by this author, and recommend it highly!

Luna, Julie Anne Peters
ISBN: 0316011274 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chalice, Robin McKinley

McKinley's novel is slow moving and smooth, yes. It's got a lovely flow in her words. It is also uneventful and dry. It reads like an introduction to politics and intrigue for young adults, set in a fantastical land that isn't really fleshed out.

McKinley's protagonist will be presented with a suggestion or hint at what may be on the horizon, and then proceeds to spend fifteen pages speculating about ALL possible motives, reasons, and results of said issue, while NONE of this really moves the plot along or fleshes out the story! Through Mirasol's speculations though, it shows young readers how to start inferring political drama from various characters and their behaviors.

Admittedly I've come off of this big Le Guin fix as far as recent fantasy reads are concerned. I know it's not at all realistic to compare, but even for a one shot I don't quite understand why this novel was so painfully slow moving. I appreciate that the realm McKinley presents us with was not dripping in fantastical elements (because some authors over do it pretty massively), and that magic and nature were so deeply connected; it was interesting to read that the powers in this world were so important to the every day existence of the people. However, there wasn't even a hint of the spectacle in the magic that makes a fantasty novel... fantastic. This book really didn't have a wow factor for me.

Chalice, Robin McKinley
ISBN: 9780399246760

Friday, May 6, 2011

Stormy Weather, Paulette Jiles

This book is lilting yet tough; it's a modern girl's Scarlett O'Hara battling the 1930s Dust Bowl for the sake of her two sisters and widowed mother. Through bad investments, dire poverty, and loneliness, this book reminds us that bad economies and personal loss can be overcome with hard work and family togetherness.

I won't say that this is the most cleverly constructed novel; it's heartfelt and poetic at times, but the metaphors (Smoky Joe the racehorse) felt a tad weak. I don't think novels like this need to be anything more than good stories, though. The middle sibling, Jeanine, is a determined, lonely young woman trying to make best for her family. The characterizations may feel quite simple at first, but this novel develops its characters through their struggles slowly, like aging and weathering a person... through a violent storm. Yah, that might be the most cliche comment I've ever made in a review. Jiles does this well, though.

I thoroughly enjoyed that Jiles included information about the social welfare organizations that attempted to serve the farm families afflicted by drought during the Depression. I also enjoyed reading the subtle exploration of changing gender-roles during this era. The time period didn't make for a lot of comments such as "women wouldn't have been doing jobs like that;" Jeanine's farming, roofing, and race horse antics wouldn't have been questioned much amidst such sad circumstances as the Depression. Her strength rises up and rarely falters; she's an excellent heroine. A drama queen like Scarlett should take lessons!

There were a handful of chapters and segments in this novel that came from the other characters' perspectives, too. I liked that the novel was fleshed out from all the Stoddard's viewpoints, and later on even Everett's and the neighbors! You see it all coming together as a family struggle that way.

I highly recommend this novel. It's a simple, genuine story of determination and endurance; one that should probably speak to many people during our own economic hardships.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What are you reading this week?!

I may never get to post about every single book I read, namely because of time! Sometimes I read something that leaves me so affected that I can't articulate it, and others feel so simple that nothing more needs be said. I really mean to encourage followers/readers/passers by to leave me a comment about what YOU are reading today, this week, this month. Share the wealth of your recommendations! The community of readers is a lovely place, and we should always want to share our passion!

1) I'm still battling through the samplings provided by the head I was mailed... McSweeney's #36! It's not that it isn't enjoyable; I just keep getting distracted by other books. I'm still learning to have the patience for collections of short stories, so McSweeney's is a valuable teaching device!

2) Cranford; expect a Movie Monday post or something similar once I watch the BBC drama with Dame Judi Dench! Could be a while before I post that, but I'm excited as this will be my first Gaskell read.


Monday, May 2, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

2011's Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction caught me off guard. It's a generous sampling of names loosely affiliated within the music industry; publicists, producers, musicians, journalists, etc, all battling  themselves and the biggest goon of all, time.

Egan's novel has a genius formatting: it's versatile in it's 'short stories as a novel' of the Olive Kitteridge or The Imperfectionists variety, certainly. Throw in a magazine article and the slideshow chapter, and you have a concise example of post-modern fiction less intimidating than the likes of Danieleski and his House of Leaves.

The shaping of so many characters stories is done so artfully, that until the final segment, you still aren't positive of where it's all going. You see them interacting within the different circuits, and watch it come together, yet returning to the spot it began at... it's tricky and brilliant!

I loved that so much of the novel was about perseverance and adapting to time's changes. I won't try to articulate how special that is.

Alex imagined walking into her apartment and finding himself still there- his young self, full of schemes and high standards, with nothing decided yet. The fantasy imbued him with careening hope. He pushed the buzzer again, and as more seconds passed, Alex felt a gradual draining loss. The whole crazy pantomime collapsed and blew away.

By the end of this novel, you're amazed by what has been painted of the music industry, individuals, and the passage of time. It's deeply affecting.

A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
ISBN: 0307477479