The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane

Walking People

When I read the back book summary of this book, I expected something a little different than what I got. Sure, I knew it would on the literary side. That there would be discussion of families, immigration, destiny by geography and some family secret. The back cover made it seem like there would be some aftermath to when the secret was revealed. Book cover summaries are usually not the best, but I had not heard about this book at all. It was slow to get into, and I don’t think I really got into it until halfway through the book. I didn’t find anything shocking, but I went back on forth on how I felt about Greta. Ultimately, I found most of the characters realistic. I really liked Michael and wanted to hear more about him and his point of view. Overall, I found some nice moments in this book. It was not the most exciting book, but now that I am reviewing it, I do think it was well written. I think it would interest people of Irish American background, but also those like me to have experienced immigration in their families.

Read May 6-7th, 2012.

A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer

A Civil Contract

On the heels of Devil’s Cub, this book is different in tone, characterization, and pacing. It is Jane Austen like and actually three of Austen novels are referred in the book. The set up is also akin to an Austen novel where there is a poor family and marriage as a way out of that. There are some really amusing supporting characters as well which is reminiscent of Austen. Unlike Austen, the protagonist is a Viscount in need of a rich wife.

This book is about a subtle romance or rather should I say, it’s about two people getting to know each other in a marriage of convenience. It was fascinating to watch two generally good young people enter in a marriage of convenience and grow accustomed to one another. I just can’t think of many stories where that happens and of course, it’s no as prevalent as today so modern stories don’t really feature this kind of theme. Though this kind of contrivance and the novel’s love triangle remind me a lot of Korean dramas.

The narration kept referring to how plain, homelely and down right unpretty Jenny the female lead was. She could not have been that bad. Honestly, one can overlook that sort of thing readily, but I guess it is a accurate to that society that they cared so much for her looks and mien. Still, she couldn’t have been that ugly, I’m surprised Heyer didn’t give her some redeeming physical feature other than her smile.

In any case, I don’t think people expecting passionate romance like that of Devil’s Cub will be pleased with this novel. It’s more serious, historically rooted (set at the time of Waterloo) and real. The dialogue and the conflict felt very real between the characters at times. A Civil Contract was published in 1961 some thirty years after Devil’s Club so the author herself had matured.

I liked this novel. It was more slow paced, but it was still interesting. I grew fond of the characters; they were all realistically flawed, but good people. I also like unconventional romances so this was right up my alley. I was impressed with the range Heyer showed in both these novels and it has made me a fan. I am now going to go through the rest of her novels.

Read April 24th-25th 2012.

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer

Devil's Club

This is my first Georgette Heyer novel. I have been curious about Heyer for awhile now. Since I started blogging about books a few years ago, her name kept coming up on the blogosphere. It was inevitable especially since I adore Jane Austen’s novels. Austen and Heyer are not exactly the same of course. Heyer is detailed and must elucidate on historical details such as fashion and dress.

I don’t really read a lot of romance books or whatever is considered typical romantic novels now. I do read some chicklit, but not a lot. The premise of this story is classic good girl ‘tames’ bad boy. I found the book a bit slow to like. There was a little too much showing how rakish (almost sociopathic) Vidal was at the beginning. The whole premise of him kidnapping Mary makes them both look ridiculous. I found his initial threats to her distasteful; it’s not very romantic to me how they began their relationship.

When the leads started bantering, it got better. The book became even more addictive and engaging once they reached Paris (isn’t that usually the case?). Heyer is very good at pacing. There were many characters in this book and many misunderstandings. It was a comedy of errors almost. There was a lot of dramatic irony for the reader and made it a page turner.

I only wish we had more of the two protagonists and their time together, but still, it was a good escapist, light read. I have another Heyer after this which I am looking forward to as well.

Read April 22nd 2012.

Girl Reading by Katie Ward

girl reading

Girl Reading by Katie Ward is another 2012 “TV Book Club” pick. As often is the case, I saw the episode before I read the book.

The premise is that this novel is really a series of short stories based on artwork featuring women’s reading. Each chapter is one standalone story with characters and often incorporating the creator or artist.

There are almost no quotation marks in this novel. The dialogue is written without them. I’ve read other books that employs this literally technique, notably Jose Saramago. It’s not my favourite thing in the world, but generally the books I read can get away with it because the editors realize the authors are decent enough otherwise to not employ them. Still, I generally won’t recommend a book such as this to everyone because that kind of technique can be warying to most readers if they are not use to it or have the patience for it.

The stories are all very different, but they all feature female characters. I found it was easy to be involved and interested in the characters; the author gave a good sense of them in less than 50 pages. There’s an element of art history in this along the lines of Girl with a pearl earring, and I would recommend it to be people who enjoy art, history, and female literature. I liked almost all the stories except the one taking place in 1914. I didn’t really care for any of the characters in that and it seemed even more aimless than the others.

Aside from that, I liked this book. If you have read it, I’d like to know your thoughts.

Read April 2nd-3rd, 2012.

Here is a snippet from the segment on “TV Book Club” featuring the author as well:

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes & Booker Reading Update

The Sense of Ending

This was my first Julian Barnes book, and I don’t think it will be my last. I’m curious about his other works now. I think I rather enjoyed myself even though there were few real characters and a perplexing ending.

The themes of the novel are those of memory, history, self-awareness, and mortality. I think given the shortness of this novella, Barnes tackled a lot in a short period of time. An excerpt from the book:

I certainly believe we all suffer damage, one way or another. How could we not, except in a world of perfect parents, siblings, neighbours, companions? And then there is the question, on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others. Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it: some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and then there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of. (p 44)

As I read this book, I didn’t expect much in the way of plot movement and so when the plot did move by Tony, the narrator and protagonist, receiving a money from the will of an ex-girlfriend’s mother, I was intrigued. From then on, I chased the novel’s ending for more on the mysterious Adrian and the full story about him, Veronica, and Sarah. I kept waiting for the twist; there was such a build up to it.

I wasn’t annoyed with any of the characters even though it seemed there was not much to give them credit for. Tony is self-obsessed, but I didn’t mind his take on things. He’s analyzing himself and the whole story seemed to be about him thinking back on his life so I could understood the self-reflection. I was irked with Veronica who kept saying, “You don’t get it and you never will!” and I just kept thinking, then tell him about it! She seems to have regressed since young Veronica was about to communicate to Tony about somethings, but not about ‘this’ (or whatever it is he needs to get) even after their meetings?

When I reached the last two pages, I was perplexed with the ending. Tony said he understood, but I felt dumb because I didn’t. I had to go online and read other reviews and blogs to realize that I was suppose to question the ending and what had really happened. Did Tony block out so much of his memory? Why the money from Sarah? Lots of questions. It did make me think which is good enough for any book. I wasn’t irked by the lack of ending though.

Books this reminded me of: You Deserve Nothing (which was the last book I read and fit with the earlier chapters of this book), Ian McEwan works such as Atonement, Amsterdam and Solaris, and Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea (not sure why other than it’s a Booker by an English person – perhaps it was the self-obsession). Barnes and McEwan have the dry and philosophical English contemporary literature that the Booker panel seems to love. I don’t hate McEwan, but I actually think I was less annoyed with Tony in The Sense of Ending than I have been with any of McEwan’s narrators. Makes me wonder why I’ve already read three McEwan novels, but I digress.

I think Barnes has said that you must read the book at least twice to get it. I doubt I will even though I did enjoy this book for the most part. I wasn’t as annoyed or irked with the ending or the seeming plot holes as other readers, but I’m not that involved. Maybe I am just use to literary novels (specifically, Booker winners) having these kind of endings. At least I didn’t want to throw this one across the room like I did God of Small Things.

Have you read this book and what did you think of it? What are your theories on what really happened? Or did you not care at all?

Here are a couple of links on what other readers thought of the book:

The Man Booker Prize forum thread on the book
The Aslyum Book Review with lots of comments on it

Read on March 28th, 2012.

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The Man Booker Prize Reading List Update

Since this blog was defunct for three years, I know I’ve read at least five Booker prize winners in that time. Here is an updated list of of all the Booker Prize winners I’ve read so far. I’ll do a Pulitzer post in the future.
Continue reading “The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes & Booker Reading Update”

You deserve nothing by Alexander Maksik

you deserve nothing

This book is on this series “Tv Book Club”. Since I read at least a couple of books from each series of the show, I have decided to put it as a tag. As of this review, I have not seen the show’s segment on it and may never so I can’t speculate on what the panel said or thought.

When I heard about the premise of the book, I was interested by the setting of Paris and the illicit nature of the relationship between two of the main characters. When I first started the book, I found the prose is a bit strange and clipped, cool. There was a bit of second person narrative or rather the main characters seem to talk to themselves and refer to ‘you’ a lot. Still, after the initial pages, it was mostly first person.

I went through this book much quicker than I thought. It was an easy read though it had some darker issues about growing up, isolation, and ultimately, loneliness. The author is good at describing loneliness. There were some very Paris moments in the book which I enjoyed as that is one of my favourite cities.

You deserve nothing is adult fiction, but allegedly the author based it on his own experiences. I can see that because a lot of the feelings in the book and the situations seemed real. I could see how people at the age were and remembered it. Though, these kids had vastly different issues than I did. I didn’t relate to their disillusionment of Will the main character, but I understood it.

There is one sex scene in this novel that is actually well written. I find most sex scenes in novels either badly written or unremarkable. In this novel, it was well done and fitting for the characters and the scene.

The ending and a lot of the novel reminded me of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I’m not sure I actually liked the ending of this book; it just seemed to be just there. Maybe that was the point. I did want more from the characters.

Read March 16th, 2012.

I’ve got your number by Sophie Kinsella

I've got your number by sophie kinsella

There are moments in every book by Sophie Kinsella where I become annoyed by the female protagonist. Then I wonder momentarily why I keep reading her books since I’ve read almost all of them. I find the Shopaholic series’s protagonist the most annoying, and yet, I still continue to read those books. I don’t read a lot of chick lit, but there are a couple of chick lit authors who I tend to read. Kinsella is one of them because as annoying and unrelatable as her protagonists tend to be, I always feel satisfied by the end of her books. In this novel, Poppy, the protagonist, steals a phone and is ridiculously nosy and intrusive. There’s always silliness in Kinsella’s plots. In this one, she even employs footnotes which I ignored a lot of the time because I was reading it on Kindle which meant I had to stop and move my rudimentary cursor to click on the hyperlink. The protagonist goes head long into situations, makes a mess of things, and in the end, everything turns out ok. Somehow every time, Kinsella manages to charm me with some of the dialogue and the ending. I think there are genuinely cute and humorous lines in her books especially when it is used in dialogue for the bantering between the female and male leads. I always get swept up in and slightly irked by the mess the character makes, but feel good when everything turns out alright for her (after she learns some things about herself of course) and she gets the guy. The books are nice and easy reads. They are short and in my case, somewhat addictive. Even though Kinsella’s books are based in reality (except Twenties Girl), I often feel they are taking place in a parallel universe. The female protagonists are such a disarray at the beginning, but in a short amount of time, they gain a lot of self-growth and a very good looking, successful (and usually wealthy) partner to boot. If only life were like that! That’s what escapist female literature is for I guess. I’ll still read Kinsella’s books; I liked this one as much as the others. They are reliable in their ability to make me feel a bit better.

Read on Kindle February 25th, 2012.

The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon

The Scottish Prisoner
I think only fans of the Outlander series will care about this review. This is actually my first Lord John book. I meant to read more of them around Christmas, but I got distracted. Lord John Grey is one of my favourite characters from the Outlander universe. Jamie Fraser is also featured heavily in this book too. I adore the relationship John Grey and Jamie have; it’s strange but also good relationship in many ways. The unrequited love that John has for Jamie is touching and kind of adorable actually.

In contrast to the regular Outlander books, thee is just one or two rather self-contained mysteries. In the main series book, there are usually several threads going through the book itself or across books. In some ways, this book felt less intense than reading a regular Outlander novel. It had less narrative perspective, less characters and less things to keep track of. It was noticeably shorter. I still enjoyed myself and there was a snippet of the next Outlander book and it was nice to be teased.

Read February 24th, 2012.

Diana Gabaldon Outlander Series Books 5-7

Outlander the novel

In 2008, I listened to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon on audiobook and liked it. The audiobooks are excellent; they are narrated by Davina Porter. She does such a great job that sometimes when I am reading the books, I hear her voice for the character’s. Back in November 2011, I decided to finish what I started with this series. I read Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn, books 2-4 of the Outlander series, and listened to some of it on audiobook too in a very short amount of time. I also read The Exile – an Outlander graphic novel in December.
I was up to chapter 22 of The Fiery Cross (Book 5) but didn’t pick it up again until this month. It was in my Kindle which never helps since I get distracted by books from the library, by movies/tv, or life.

Since I have The Scottish Prisoner from the library, I decided I should at least finish TFC before starting another Outlander universe book.

I try not to be too spoilery in my book reviews, but with a book series, it’s even harder. I have put my thoughts on the three books under the cut, but the spoilers are very mild.

As a general review of the series, the books usually start off slowly and build up momentum so they can be hard to put down. This series’ time travel aspects appeals to me greatly, and I tend to like books about characters transplanted from one era to another in fiction. It makes for fascinating drama.

I also think there was a lot of good character and historical developments at this period of the books. The characters were in Scotland, France, the Caribbean and colonial America. I find this series to be one of the better ones I have read in the last few years. They are detail-oriented, well researched, and long. Also, I really enjoy the characters; I’ve grown quite attached to almost all of them.

There are a lot of characters in this series, but they are all mostly well written. Gabaldon also has a way of balancing her five or so main characters. Giving them each perspective. I also like how flawed each of them are, but weirdly relatable even though all of them are from a different time than I have experienced.

Unlike some books in other series, Gabaldon’s endings aren’t edge of the seat cliffhangers, but they do make you intrigued about what will happen next. The endings usually prove satisfying and also set up for future things.

Onto my mini reviews of books 5 to 7.

Continue reading “Diana Gabaldon Outlander Series Books 5-7”

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot

I have read both of Eugenides other books: The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. In fact, I liked the latter so much, I even own after having it seen it discounted at Chapters. I don’t really buy new books often. I have enjoyed his work. It’s really in the characters, prose and to a certain extent, how good Eugenides is about writing about gender and relationships. With TVS, the characters seem both real and mythical. That worked was definitely filled with nostalgia and a surreality. But it was in Middlesex in which I found him to be a very good writer. The characters in it were believable, good and real. In the Marriage Plot and in Middlesex especially, he deals with sex, gender, feminism, and these ideas in Western society. I don’t mean to say he is very political about it, but he shows an understanding of these topics or the awareness of it between cultures. There’s a moment in Paris where one of the main characters sees a woman (p.157):

When Mitchell looked at her; the girl did an amazing thing: she looked back. She met his gaze with frank meaning. Not that she wanted to have sex with him, necessarily. Only that she was happy to acknowledge, on this late-summer evening, that he was a man and she was a woman, and if he found her attractive, that was all right with her. No American girl had ever looked at Mitchell like that.

The book is one largely about relationships, desire, unrequited love and being in love, both good and bad: “What was interesting about being the needy one was how much in love you felt” (p 25) Which isn’t all about how love is, but it does describe the early rush of it and that neediness you feel to be with the other person.

Furthermore, Eugenides has touched on mental illness lightly before, but he tackles it much more in this book as one of the characters seems clinically depressed and the consequences on the other characters, both direct and indirect.

There isn’t a lot of plot in Eugenides books, but it’s not as slow moving as some other novels. I think like many good stories, there is actual growth or movement for all the characters, but like life, it’s not perfect. The ending was sort of meta and fitting. Maybe a bit abrupt, but somewhat realistic and showed a lot of growth in all the characters.

Read on January 3rd, 2012.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden

A friend recommended this to me, and another friend told me that it was making its way round her workplace at library too. I hadn’t really heard about this book until they mentioned it to me. I was told that it was very layered and well constructed. For the most part, I agree. There are personal mysteries to it and unlike in real life, there are pieces of the puzzle that give you almost a full picture of what happened. I’ve read so many books and seen so many movies and TV shows that I saw the “twist” coming. But that doesn’t necessarily make things bad. Even when you predict things in fiction, you can still appreciate the journey and how it makes you feel. In this case, I felt satisfied with the ending. It was a decent book. The prose was not particularly unique or provocative, but I think the strength is in the plot and construction. I didn’t feel I knew many of the characters particularly well except perhaps Cassandra. Again, it feels more plot oriented in that way. It’s not a short read, but I would recommend it to those who like reading about personal history and mysteries.

Read January 22-23, 2011.

House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

House of SIlk
I have read or listened in audiobook all the Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle canon. I really enjoy the Holmes and Watson partnership. Watson humanizes Holmes and the pacing and the writing of some of the Holmes stories are fun and very good. I admit some of the later stories seem a bit forced and Study in Scarlet is a bit odd at times, but all in all, I really like the Holmes stories and their adaptations.

House of Silk is the first novel authorized by the Conan Doyle estate. I think it’s a very good adaptation of the original novels. The characterization, the atmosphere and the plotting evoke the original stories. I enjoyed myself and I think casual Holmes fans would.

It’s not a particularly long novel, but there were a number of murders before hitting the climax and the denouement. It was quite dire at times for Holmes and Watson, but it made for addictive reading. I read this book quickly which is good because it was unrenewable and due the next day.

The only thing that is markedly different is that there is slightly more social commentary about the times and the climax is much darker than Conan Doyle would ever written. It’s not unrealistic per se, but the darkness of the plot revealed at the end is more common in modern books. I did not mind this because I could have seen this happening in Holmes’s setting but Doyle probably couldn’t have gotten it published in his time.

On a lighter note, I’ll end with quotation from the book said by Holmes reflecting on what he could do if he didn’t do detective work: “I have always had a fancy to keep bees.”

Read on January 16th, 2012.