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Search tags: 2018-mount-tbr
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review 2018-09-05 20:49
The Expendable Man
The Expendable Man - Dorothy Hughes

Venner departed with the hate still ugly in his eyes, with more hate for an innocent Hugh than for a guilty. The Venners would not be changed in their generation.

I'm not going to provide many plot details for this book as I found it hugely beneficial to know next to nothing about this book. 

Every reveal, every additional detail that Hughes affords the reader changed the context of the story and how I read this. She did this masterfully. 

 

It is very much a story of telling you the facts, then changing one little thing, and suddenly the same facts appear different, more complex, more ... prone to consequence. 

 

Suddenly we get to understand why Hugh, our MC, is eager to keep his head down, does not want to engage, does not want to stand up for himself. It's because he can't. The Expendable Man tells a story of oppression (in more ways than one as we learn throughout the story) taking place in broad daylight. 

 

I was angry for Hugh, for his helplessness. And, yet, there are glimpses of hope in this book, too. These glimpses might just be individual characters but they were there and if we have learned anything it is that it only takes a few good people to inspire others.

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review 2018-08-21 16:22
Imperial Woman
Imperial Woman - Pearl S. Buck

My friend sent me this book without warning. She thought I might like it, and she was right. 

 

Imperial Woman was a fascinating story of the Chinese Dowager Empress Cixi, or Tsu-Hsi as she's called in the book. Cixi joins the court of the Emperor as a concubine and manages to become the main influence over the Emperor, and eventually Empress - by means that are sometimes ruthless, sometimes kind, but always with the goal in sight of extrapolating herself from a position of servitude. 

 

Buck's portrayal of Cixi was fascinating. It cannot have been easy to create even a fictional character in such a lifelike fashion when the characters life depended on her keeping her thoughts and feelings to herself, and whose legend is blurred by rumours and superstitions that were rife during her reign, and where a breach of confidentiality or a breach of loyalty may well have carried a death sentence.

 

I had some issues with the book after the first half, where the story dragged a little and where I got a bit lost in trying to figure out how and why Buck wanted to force a love story into a plot that was already filled with political intrigue, suspense, historical events, and fascinating tidbits about life at the Chinese court during the late Qing dynasty. It just didn't need a love story that may or may not be based on historical fact. To me this just distracted from Cixi's mission to restore China as a respected, economically autonomous country, free from the colonial grip of the 8 Nation Alliance.

 

This historical setting, the discussion of China's struggle against the powers that tried to claim China as their own, was what made the book stand out for me.

Buck challenged the notions of colonialism from an unusual perspective. She does not paint China, or the Chinese court in any case, through a romanticised view by any stretch - there were plenty of descriptions that made me wince - but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story from a point of view that does not presume the respectability and civility of the Western European governments as part of the story. The issues of colonialism were fascinating in this book. The only other aspect that eclipsed this for me was Buck's portrayal of a woman in a man's world, trying to save a bankrupt empire from disaster. Even though some of the historical events are given in general terms rather than details, this was an informative, entertaining, and though-provoking work of historical fiction. 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-14 22:18
Unspeakable
Unspeakable - Dilys Rose

What a disappointment.

 

Here was a book with a great premise: a historical fiction story set in Edinburgh and telling the story of the last man to be trialled for blasphemy in the UK. 

 

Unfortunately, the book turned out to be less of an investigation into the historical details of Thomas Aikenhead's life and trial, and more of a study of missed chances. Missed chances for the storyteller, that is.

 

If you're setting out to write a story that has a charge of blasphemy at its heart, don't forget to discuss what blasphemy is and how it was viewed in the time the story is set. Or, if this was a fairly recent law (which it was in this case) how it came about. I want to know these things. This is what I came here for together with this next aspect:

 

The trial. Surely, if the premise of the book is that it is about the last person put to trial for blasphemy, it is not too much to expect at least an attempt at a 17th century version of a court room drama?! 

 

But no, we basically got that young Thomas was arrested, put in jail, had a brief private exchange with the people who accused him (this part had to be made up by the author as this certainly would not have been in the official records), then his charge is read in court, and a couple of pages later the judges put on their black caps... Ugh.

 

I need more than this. I need to know how the trial was handled. Did he have a defense? Did the legal system at the time allow for a legal aide to be provided? What considerations were made by the court? How come the prosecution ask for a penalty that should only have been available for a third offence, but not a first as this was? How come the court followed through with this? What was the public reaction? 

 

I have so many questions. But, yet again, we get only a very few pages right at the end of the book. 

 

Btw, I marked this review as containing spoilers, but really since the author and the publishers have decided to give away the outcome of the trial in the very first line on the back-cover of the book, I might not have given a damn about the spoiler warning.

 

Just as I really could not give a damn about the first 75% of the book which were all building up to the offence, the prosecution, trial, and punishment. 

 

So, apart from a book of missed chances, this also was a book of misunderstanding between me and the author - I skipped much of the book between pages 99 and 158, and the author somehow managed to skip writing a story worth reading.

 

Oh, well.

 

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review 2018-08-14 18:31
Bonjour Tristesse & A Certain Smile
Bonjour Tristesse & A Certain Smile - Fran├žoise Sagan

Bonjour Tristesse & A Certain Smile, both novellas by Sagan have been on my TBR for years, and I am so glad I finally read them. 

There was no particular reason I wanted to read them other than that I heard so many readers speak of them, tho not about them. I was intrigued.

 

I had no idea that Sagan was only 18 when she wrote Bonjour Tristesse, but reading the novella I had been wondering what age group the author was writing for. You see, I didn't connect with the main character. She was quite young mentally and I was wondering if this was a novel that would now be found in the YA/NA section, except the writing is far too accomplished for NA. 

On the other hand, there are far more issues and layers to the stories than I'd probably expect from a YA (never even mind NA...) book. So, even if the novellas fit on either of those shelves - both certainly feature the angsty young people pursuing love interests as their main plot - the novellas are also more than they appear. I'm just not sure, that the reader is given much of a chance to explore the additional issues before the main plots - the romances in both novellas - end.  

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review 2018-08-11 12:41
Noel & Cole: The Sophisticates
Noel and Cole: The Sophisticates - Stephen Citron

DNF @ 24%

 

Enough.

 

This is not a great biography of either of its subjects. It's not even a good or tolerable biography... I weep for the trees that had to die for this waste of paper.

 

I should have stopped after the introduction which included the following clanger:

"Kate Porter and Violet Coward steered their young sons early into creative and performing lives. Kate did so because she was a frustrated singer and Violet because she hoped to rise above the penny-pinching boarding-house-keeper life she had been born into. Because of this interdependence, each youth was to revere his mother, have night terrors about losing her while writing off his milquetoast father who left breadwinning and discipline to the distaff side. Coming from such a classically twisted psychological situation it is not surprising that both Noel and Cole were homosexual. With their raising of women, especially strong, determined and opinionated women, to such an exalted pedestal, perhaps bisexual would be a more apt description of their libidinous behaviour."

The author clearly has issues. He also, clearly, is full of crap.

 

And yet, I hoped he may have something insightful to say about the work of either of his subjects. Unfortunately, of the part of the book I managed to read, I believe I have learned more about the author's personality (and his many, many issues) from his gossipy, presumptive, speculative, condescending statements than I learned anything of impact about about Coward or Porter.

 

I finally drew the line when reading this about Coward's The Vortex:

"The idea for the play, whose controversial theme was one of the main reasons for the queues at the box office, came to Noel when he was invited to a party by his friend Stewart Foster. Across the room he glimpsed Stewart's beautiful and seductive mother, Grace, sharing a banquette with a young admirer. As soon as the party was seated one of the young girls blurted out, "Look at that old hag over there with the young man in tow; she's old enough to be his mother."

The Freudian Oedipus complex, the Hamlet-Gertrude relationship and perhaps Stewart Forster's own attentions to his seductive mother at the soiree immediately propelled Coward's dramaturgical mind into the concept of weaving the plot of a play wherein both a son and her young lover would vie for the love of the mother."

It's a good thing for the author that you can't libel the dead. Did I mention that there are little to no references to sources in this book?

 

I should have DNF'd this at the introduction.

 

On the plus side, it's another one off Mt. TBR.

 

I'm going to put on some Cole and make another cup of coffee.

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