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review 2017-08-18 19:14
A Writer's Diary, Virginia Woolf
A Writer's Diary - Virginia Woolf,Leonard Woolf

For lovers of Virginia Woolf, but also those interested in writing itself, as well as history (Woolf details the approach and beginning of World War II, including the bombing of her home in London). This "writer's diary," edited by husband and first reader, Leonard Woolf, comprises those entries where Woolf discusses her writing and reading as well as encounters with literary acquaintances.

 

There is a pattern to her writing process whereby she's excited about a new idea (which sometimes comes while she's working on another project) and rides a sort of high until she completes it. This is followed by depression and ambivalent feelings about reviews. Some books come easier than others, but the overall pattern remains the same. Every one feels like it might be a failure or badly reviewed, and she attempts to convince herself she doesn't care. The ups and downs in her mood suggest bipolar disorder, which contemporary psychologists believe afflicted her. Knowing her fate (she drowned herself not long after the last entry of this diary) made reading portions very sad.

 

On the other hand, Woolf felt she had just begun to know her own mind in her 40s, which gives me hope! Elements of her process and the way one negative review overrode all the positive responses created a sense of affinity for me as a writer. Woolf changed literature, and I'm glad she kept such a diary.

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review 2017-07-06 18:35
My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

I thought to read this, my second du Maurier novel, after recently seeing the film adaptation with Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin. The story balances upon the question of whether or not Rachel is a villain. I was interested to know if the novel might be more definitive about the answer, and it seems to me it is. (Also, I enjoyed reading Rebecca.)

 

Perhaps because I saw the film first, it felt more like a mystery than the novel. The novel illuminates even more the influence of perspective, as it's written from Philip's (English, young, male landowner) first person point of view. I was most engaged with the novel in those moments when I questioned his perspective and instead considered Rachel's. I've started keeping a reading diary, and many of my notes focus on the ways in which Philip is ignorant: for example, he finds Rachel (like all women) to be mercurial and emotionally manipulative while he himself is often moody and simply ignorant of the effect his words and actions can have. Though almost 25, he's childish, and like a child, grows churlish when his immaturity is pointed out to him.

 

I was also interested by the character of Louise, the daughter of Philip's godfather. She's clearly interested in marrying Philip, and the whole county, including Rachel, is behind the idea. Philip is resistant; he at first wants to remain a bachelor as his beloved cousin and guardian Ambrose was for so long. He's also unused to the company of women and has a narrow view of them and marriage. What interested me most was that Louise is the first character to voice suspicions about Rachel; later in the story, at a key moment, she once again wonders about Rachel's character and possible misdeeds. This novel is not one in which all the men or all the women are wrong; it's more nuanced, thankfully.

 

My Cousin Rachel low-key critiques privileged male perspectives and women's roles through its storytelling techniques. The writing and narrative are engaging as well, and I look forward to my next du Maurier.

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review 2017-06-03 17:32
Unspoken: The Lynburn Legacy, by Sarah Rees Brennan
Unspoken - Sarah Rees Brennan

Kami Glass lives in a small town in the Cotswolds of England where the Lynburns, an old family with deep and mysterious roots in the community, have just returned. People are unhappy about it, including Kami's mother, but Kami doesn't care: she's an aspiring reporter on the trail of a story for her high school paper (founded by herself and reluctant best friend, Angela), which becomes even more fascinating (and dangerous) when she comes across an animal sacrifice in the woods.

 

Kami has a secret of her own: she has a sort of imaginary friend with whom she communicates in her mind. This (male) friend has his own problems, and the two "reach" for each other psychically in times of need. This friend, of course, turns out to be real and a Lynburn. I anticipated as much but was still surprised by whom it turned out to be and when the reveal was made. The two struggle with the reality that the other is an actual person; their strange intimacy is not always welcome. Their bond turns out to be magical in nature and tied to the Lynburns and Kami's family.

 

Threats in town escalate, and Kami's at the center. In the meantime, she's also at the center of love triangle involving the two Lynburn boys. The triangle isn't terribly emphasized, but Kami's relationship with her former imaginary companion yo-yos between easy repartee and angsty denial of feelings. It got old.

 

Somehow I didn't feel involved enough in the mystery, and the tension didn't come across as it should. In part this may be because, as in other YA I've read, the story is somewhat rushed or condensed, including the quicksilver of the characters' changing emotions.

 

There's some fine prose, one of the book's saving graces, and lots of banter. It's not quite as successful as Whedon dialog or Veronica Mars, but it can be funny. It also got to be a bit much.

 

Kami's also one of those typical YA heroines whose friends are gorgeous, and she's supposedly less pretty but still somehow at the center of a love triangle involving the new hot guy. One of the most sincere moments is when Kami observes how each of her younger brothers is a favorite of her parents', leaving her odd person out.

 

I like YA but am coming to find it has to be exceptional to even be okay for me. Or maybe I just wasn't in the mood!

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review 2016-08-17 16:22
My Man Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
My Man Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse

When I was a freshman in college, a professor assigned Right Ho, Jeeves as our last book of the semester for a class on 20th Century Fiction. I'd never heard of the series, though clearly it's had a big influence on depictions of butlers/valets and hapless masters (among other things) in popular culture. Reading the novel, I quickly understood why my prof had assigned it when he had; it was an easy, impossibly fun and funny book. My friend and roommate shot me a lot of looks as I chuckled or cracked up while reading it on my loft bed.

 

I'd always figured I'd read more Jeeves someday, and a free kindle book of My Man Jeeves proved a perfect opportunity. However, I didn't realize at first that it's a collection of short stories rather than a novel, and not all the stories feature Jeeves and his "master," Bertie Wooster. All the stories are set in America, or begin there, since Bertie is spending time abroad.

 

The Jeeves stories are, as usual, full of Bertie--or, I should say, Bertie's friends--getting into fixes that Jeeves inevitably gets him out of. Bertie is completely conscious of the fact that Jeeves is The Man at these things, though Bertie himself is a good chap who wants to help his friends. Bertie's voice, the language generally, is at least half the pleasure. As an example, here are a few ways he describes Jeeves's physicality:

 

Jeeves trickled in with the tray, like some silent stream meandering over its mossy bed...

 

He moves from point to point with as little uproar as a jelly fish.

 

Encountering these characters again, I was reminded of Sebastian from the manga and anime, Black Butler/Kuroshitsuji, clearly Jeeves's descendant in terms of skill and smoothness, if not devilry (though Ciel is more Sebastian's equal than Bertie is Jeeves's; one would never describe Ciel as "hapless.").

 

If one wanted, the Jeeves stories can be read as a portrait and satire of upperclass, male, British layabouts and their silly pursuits and problems, often involving allowances being cut off by stiff, older relations. It's a pleasant, pre-WWII world, and though the young men getting into scrapes are the butt of jokes, you still like everyone rather than sneer at them.

 

I do find that reading story after story rather than one bigger narrative made the stories feel same-y, and after the first non-Jeeves story, I skipped the others. But reading the book was still a damn fun time.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-03-06 00:33
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Dziewczyna z pociągu - Paula Hawkins

Everything that plays with unreliable narration and somewhat fancy structure that features a woman protagonist is likely to be compared to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Really it's unfair, but it's hard to resist comparisons to a book that made such a huge impact in the recent past. So, acknowledging the unfairness, I can't help but think about The Girl on the Train in the shadow of Gone Girl.

 

Although I was curious about what happened to Megan and who was responsible, I was less than compelled because I didn't come to care about her until the last third of the book (beyond, you know, she's a human being and killing or abducting one is wrong), and then not much. No one's likable in this book, and I can't explain why sometimes I love and am drawn to unlikable characters, and sometimes I just plain don't like or care about them. Voice is likely a factor; Amy's voice in GG is sharp and charismatic. Rachel, Megan, and Anna's voices feel familiar and not particularly striking.

 

I appreciate that by the end it turns out Tom, Rachel's ex, Anna's current husband, and Megan's former lover (and father of her unborn child) is the guilty party in more ways than one. He not only cheated on two wives and killed Megan, he made both Rachel and Anna feel responsible for things which may or may not have happened. By book's end, Anna and Rachel aren't exactly allies despite their shared traumas. Despite this, the book's not saying anything terribly original about gender. One woman accidentally let her baby drown (and later became pregnant again and vowed to do it right this time), one is a mother of a baby, and another's life fell apart because she couldn't have children. Having or not having (and being capable of taking care of) children defines these characters and drives the narrative in subtle ways.

 

Mysteries and thrillers are not my favorite genre, though when one hits, it hits (like GG). Still, I occasionally try one that seems less beholden to its genre, and I think The Girl on the Train sticks to the form more than I prefer.

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