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review 2015-06-20 00:04
Goodnight, Mr. Tom
Good Night, Mr. Tom - Michelle Magorian

The first half of this book is just plain sweet and cozy.  Yes, a little sappy, but I don't mind a little sap every now and then.  I think the book takes an unfortunate turn about half-way through - too jarring and melodramatic when paired with the idyllic first half. Still, overall it's a sweet story with memorable characters.  

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review 2015-06-17 15:17
The Magicians and Mrs. Quent
The Magicians and Mrs. Quent - Galen Beckett

I have had this on my to-read list for years.  The description was very enticing.  And then someone actually gifted me the book and I couldn't get over the god-awful, cheesy cover enough to give it a go.  But then I found myself in a desperate situation and decided to give it a try.  I was, at the start, pleasantly surprised.  The story starts out as a pleasant and good-enough Austen pastiche, then it abruptly shifts gears into Bronte territory with a dash of Dickens thrown in for good measure.  I enjoyed the characters and the mystery, but overall I wasn't wowed.  The pace of the first two sections is a bit leisurely, but not unenjoyable as it fit the style being mimicked.  The end, however, felt like it belonged to a different novel - a bit slap-dash and missing the 'style' of the first two parts.    I also felt the premise proposed in the description was never really delivered upon.  Perhaps it is in subsequent novels, but I just didn't love this enough to continue on with the series.

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review 2015-03-31 14:02
Return to the Willows
Return to the Willows - Jacqueline Kelly,Clint Young

Modern sequels to beloved classics are a tricky thing.  Sometimes they're really well done (Wishing for Tomorrow: The Sequel to A Little Princess) and sometimes they make me want to hurl the book across the room (The Beekeeper's Apprentice). 

 

Thankfully, this one was really quite well done which didn't surprise me all that much as this same author wrote the remarkable debut novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  We know the lady can write, but could she capture the essence of one of of the most beloved of all children's novels? 

 

Yes, mostly.  I think she gets the characters just about right.  Toad's sojourn to Cambridge and the resulting disaster was absolutely hysterical.  The overall tone is a bit lighter and sillier feeling than the first, but that's not entirely a bad thing.  I thought the story was very fun and I'm firmly in the camp of loving the footnotes, but I could see how they could be annoying.  I didn't love the addition of Matilda Rat.  It feels a bit out of character for Ratty to have a love interest and, what's more, she really seems more like a plot device than a fully fleshed out character. 

 

Overall, a very fun read for anyone who don't feel they can ever get quite enough of 'messing about in boats'.

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review 2014-11-28 03:43
A Slow and Methodical but Ultimately Rewarding Read
Middlemarch - George Eliot

Format: Audio

Narrated By: Kate Reading

Original Publication Year: 1871

Genre(s): Fiction, Classic

Series: NA

Awards: None

 

This book is on my 100 Books Project list and this is my second  in 2014!  Progress is tracked here.

 

Recommended subtitle: A saga of ill-conceived marriages in mid-nineteenth century Britain.

 

Its actual subtitle that in fact works really well also: A study in provincial life

 

I did not immediately appreciate Middlemarch. In fact, if I had been reading it in the traditional way rather than listening, I likely would have given up on it early. It’s very long, it has a rather subtle story and I found it hard to engage with the characters in the beginning (they don’t necessarily improve on further acquaintance but they do develop interesting depth). Listening to it in episodic segments, however, it slowly grew on me until I was looking forward to getting in the car and spending time listening to the crazy shenanigans of the Middlemarchians. It was initially published in a serialized form, so perhaps approaching it in this manner is the best way to enjoy. I would have missed out on a very rewarding reading experience if I had given up on it.

 

As a literary work, Middlemarch is seriously impressive. On the surface, it is an account of everyday life in a mid-sized town in mid-nineteenth century England. Within this account is also an incisive and well observed critique of many of the social conventions of the time. The roles of women, particularly in marriage, but also in society; politics; the responsibility of the rural landowner; and class issues are all addressed, hidden within the mostly mundane, sometimes sensational happenings in the town and its environs.

 

The book mostly follows the trials and travails of three couples: Dorothea Brooke /Will Ladislaw, Dr. Lydgate/Rosamond Vincy, and Fred Vincy /Mary Garth.

 

Early on Dorothea and her crazy antics fill most of the pages. Dorothea is young when we meet her, rigid in her religious zeal and naively idealistic. She’s also very beautiful. In pursuit of her idea of a perfect marriage, her as the dedicated help meet to a man accomplishing a great work, she marries a truly unfortunate choice of mate twice her age. Her husband’s nephew Will Ladislaw quickly decides he worships her. Her husband dies after a short miserable marriage and at that point Dorothea decides she returns Will’s love but her first husband’s will has a provision specifying that she loses everything if she marries Will. Scandalous! Will and Dorothea don’t really make sense as a couple considering that they misunderstand everything each other says.

 

Seemingly the best match in the book for Dorothea would be Dr. Lydgate, a thoroughly modern doctor with an interest in changing the world with his medical research. Unfortunately he only has eyes for the vain, selfish, manipulative and shallow daughter of a local merchant, Rosamond Vincy. They eventually end up married and it goes about as well as you might suppose.

 

Finally, the equally selfish and lazy, though maybe not quite as mean spirited son of said local merchant, Fred Vincy, has been in love with Mary Garth since childhood. She is actually a very hardworking, practical and intelligent young woman who doesn’t seem to take Fred too seriously. At the same time one of the only other likable characters in the book, who is much more deserving than Fred of a happy ending, Reverend Fairbrother also has feelings for Mary. So who does Mary choose to marry? It isn’t who you might expect.

 

There are many other characters and plotlines and the occasional treatise about a political happening of the day. You get the idea. It does bog down in places and, as I think came through in my description, most of the characters and relationships made me want to bang my head against a wall but it is a really impressive description and commentary on the everyday life of the time period.

 

Kate Reading, besides having the best name ever for a reader, has a lovely voice and does a great job narrating.

 

Final Verdict: Reading episodically and exercising patience were needed but in the end this was a very rewarding and enjoyable book.

 

I feel like most of the reviews I read were either effusively positive or hateful but I kind of came down in the middle. Anyone there with me?  Do you think George Eliot actually liked Dorothea?  I wasn't entirely sure...

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review 2014-11-28 03:39
Atonement - Ian McEwan

Format: Hard Copy

Narrated By: NA

Original Publication Year: 2001

Genre(s): Literary Fiction

Series: NA

Awards: A few including the National Book Critics Circle and the L.A. Times Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Man Booker

 

I’ve wanted to read a book by Ian McEwen for many years because he seems to be a literary writer that is almost universally admired and enjoyed. But I approach literary fiction with some level of caution. Sometimes I feel like it is incredibly readable and it just blows me away but sometimes I feel a bit like Gavin of The Readers podcast that it's 300 odd pages spelling out a story about a guy walking to the shop. It’s just a sketchy label for a book - what does it even mean? So I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with Atonement but I was hopeful and my hope was fulfilled many times over. This was a spectacular read.

 

The book revolves around a crime committed on an English estate in 1934. The crime is compounded and made all the more tragic because of the faulty testimony of a 13 year old girl Briony Tallis. The repercussions of these events ripple out through the years and into World War II and beyond.

 

There is so much to talk about with this book. First, I have to say that while I never found myself yearning to get back to it, once I did pick it up I had a hard time stopping. I found it completely absorbing and mesmerizing and could have read it in one sitting if I’d had the time to devote. There is an almost constant sense of suspense and tension.

 

Second, there is both so much and so little going on in this book. The first third to half covers just about one day in the life of the Tallis family. The reader floats among the different characters; Cecilia, Briony, Robbie, Emily; getting different perspectives on the events and most interestingly on each of the characters. It is all building up to something, the foreboding clear in the writing, and when it crashes it is utterly devastating. Then we’re in World War II and Robbie is crossing France to get to Dunkirk. Briony has grown up and realizing the damage she has wrought, she is attempting to atone by not taking the privileges given to her and instead signing up as a nurse. The last half of the book is spent in Robbie and then Briony’s head and the grand events unfolding are seen through their eyes. In the end McEwen provides a wallop that will break your heart and leave you wondering.

 

Finally there are all the questions. I felt like McEwen captured perfectly the attitude and brain space of a 13 year old girl. Still a child with little experience and mostly a child’s perceptions but utterly convinced that she has an adult’s judgment. I wanted to throttle her as she completely misread almost every situation with an incredibly tragic result. But she is a child and what is the culpability of the adults surrounding her? Why are they so easily able to turn against a childhood friend, someone they know well and who is practically family? How can they believe such things of him? And for that matter why is life so very unfair? I found it impossible not to feel compassion for Briony and felt she was just as much a victim as the others. I think it is a book that would be very interesting to discuss with others.

 

It probably goes without saying, considering McEwen’s stature as a writer, but the writing at the sentence and word level is also breathtaking. The structure of the book is unique - it is not a straight through narrative and it's not even what the reader thinks it is. The book's full payoff and meaning comes in the last few pages.

 

Final Verdict: I believe I will likely be joining the ranks of readers who think Ian McEwen can do little wrong. Atonement was incredibly readable and while a lot of time is spent in people’s heads thinking their thoughts, it was never boring or too noodly. It provided hours of mesmerized reading and lots of thoughtful contemplation. 4.5 stars out of 5.

 

I also very much liked the movie of the book and enjoyed picturing James McAvoy as Robbie.  Any other McEwen fans out there?  What do you think is his best book?

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