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review 2020-09-09 17:26
The Captain's Daughter and Other Stories by Alexander Pushkin
The Captain's Daughter: And Other Stories - Alexander Pushkin

There’s a little sense of dissonance when I read a classic and my response is “huh, okay.” This is especially true when I read the classic in translation; in this case, the translation is very smooth, contemporary, and easy to read, which causes its own form of dissonance. These now feel like contemporary stories rather than something written in the early 19th century, and compared to contemporary stories they don’t particularly stand out to me, but then I neither read them in their original language nor am familiar with the history of Russian literature so as to appreciate the ways in which Pushkin was blazing a new trail.

The stories:

“The Captain’s Daughter”: This novella occupies almost half of the book. It involves a romance between a young officer and the angelic daughter of the captain, set during the time of Pugachev’s rebellion, and Pugachev himself is the most vibrant character in it. The story moves along briskly and is fairly satisfying, though the characters are not particularly complex. This edition also includes an omitted chapter, which is interesting in that Pushkin ditched a bunch of melodrama and overt paternalism.

“The Tales of Ivan Petrovich Belkin”: These five stories, mostly around 15 pages each, are given a framing device in that they were all collected by a fictional young dead man, but they aren’t actually linked, so I’ll discuss them separately.

“The Shot”: The narrator pieces together the story of a multi-episode duel from others. It’s a bleak world in which men are expected to kill and die in duels over the most mundane insults, and those who refuse lose all respect from their fellows. (Pushkin, sadly, died himself in a duel at age 37.)

“The Snowstorm”: A prank disrupts a love affair. This is a cleverly structured story, in which after reading the end you go back and read over the earlier parts with fresh eyes, something I love in a short story. It made me uncomfortable in that I didn’t find Burmin’s behavior deserving of a happy ending.

“The Undertaker”: A man has ungenerous thoughts and is punished with a nightmare. Um, okay.

“The Postmaster”: Another narrator piecing together someone else’s story, this time of a postmaster and his prodigal daughter. This didn’t do much for me.

“Mistress Into Maid”: A sweet little story about a forbidden romance, also involving some pranking, but this time harmless. I enjoyed this one.

“The Queen of Spades”: This is a somewhat longer story about gambling and obsession, in which a calculating young man will go to almost any length for a guaranteed win at cards. I found this one pretty good and with a satisfying ending.

“Kirdjali”: Eight pages about the legend of an Eastern European bandit. Okay.

“The Negro of Peter the Great”: This is an unfinished fragment, around 40 pages long, of what was perhaps intended to be a novel. The title isn’t politically correct these days but the “Negro” in question is a (lightly fictionalized?) version of Pushkin’s own maternal great-grandfather, Abram or Ibrahim Gannibal, who was brought to Russia as a boy, adopted by Peter the Great as his godson, sent to France to study military engineering, and later returned to Russia to be an important figure in the military and the court. The fragment deals largely with Ibrahim’s love troubles, as well as his relationship with Peter the Great, who’s presented in a very positive light. This is interesting from a historical perspective though a fragment is unlikely to satisfy in a storytelling sense.

Overall, I’m glad to have read some work by a classic author I hadn’t been exposed to before, and appreciated the window into 18th and early 19th century Russia. But while the writing is perfectly fine, I can’t say any of it blew me away. I also have the sense that this collection doesn’t represent Pushkin’s best work, much of which was poetry and plays.

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review 2020-08-23 12:50
The Lost Queen
The Lost Queen - Signe Pike

by Signe Pike

 

Once in a while you start reading a book and the author's voice draws you right into a magical world. This was one of those.

 

It is the untold story of Languoreth—a forgotten queen of sixth-century Scotland—twin sister of the man who inspired the legend of Merlin, according to the blurb. I checked and there really is such a legend of Languoreth with Arthurian overtones, though the details might vary a little.

 

Regardless, the story drew me in quickly and put me right into the Dark Ages, a historical period I love reading about. The writing is excellent and I've put the author on my watch list! I've also requested the sequel to this one. Apparently it's to be a trilogy.

 

The story has everything you would expect from such a tale. Battles, an illicit romance, and an interesting take on healers called Keepers that I haven't seen elsewhere. There's a touch of magic and fantasy elements in just the right amount. It is told from Languoreth's point of view and I found her an easy character to love.

 

Forget comparing this to other series. It will be one future novels will aspire to be compared to!

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review 2020-08-20 11:19
She Wears the Mask
She Wears the Mask - Shelly Stratton

Angelique Bixby is braving the streets of 1950's Chicago.  After her husband Daniel's death Angelique has had trouble supporting herself and newborn, Ella Jean.  Living on Chicago's South Side as a white woman married to a black man has not been easy.  Feeling she has no other choice, Angelique leaves her child with a respected family and tries to move on with life.  Years later, Angelique has remarried into a family of privilege.  She has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer and wants to amend her  will to include the daughter she left behind.  Angelique hires Jasmine Stanley, an ambitious, rising star at her law firm.  Jasmine's has been asked to keep strict confidentiality with Angelique's task.  At first, Jasmine believes that Angelique is another stuck up debutante, however as she digs into Angelique's past, she realizes that they are more alike than they seem; both women hold onto life altering secrets.

She Wears the Mask is a story about secrets, identity and family.  The characters were well developed and I could feel the heartbreak as Angelique made the most difficult decision of her life as well as the emotional weight of the secret Jasmine carried.  The writing skillfully worked across dual timelines divulging bits of Angelique's history as we learn about her present circumstance as well as unraveling the history of pain in Jasmine's family without giving everything away early on. I do wish we got to see a little more of Angelique's story at the end. Along with the themes of reconciling the past are themes of  gender, race and the perceptions and weight that the color of your skin can carry.  Overall, She Wears the Mask is an intense and absorbing plot and interesting characters.


This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

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review 2020-08-19 17:25
The Moon Is Down
The Moon Is Down - John Steinbeck

Soldiers loyally following their Leader act on the advice of a small coal mining town’s traitor to take it over for the benefit of their ongoing war.  The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck is wartime novella about a how occupying soldiers learn that peaceful townspeople do not like being told what to do.

 

Taken by surprise, a small coastal town is overrun by an invading army with little resistance. The town is important because it is a port that serves a large coal mine. Colonel Lanser, the head of the invading battalion, along with his staff establishes their HQ in the house of Orden, the democratically elected and popular Mayor.  As the reality of occupation sinks in and the weather turns bleak, with the snows beginning earlier than usual, the townspeople are getting angry and confused. Lanser, a veteran of many wars, tries to operate under a veil of civility and law, but knows that amongst those whose freedom has been taken away by force there are no peaceful people. A miner quits and when kills an officer who orders him back to work in the mine. After a summary trial, the man is executed by a firing squad, but the incident catalyzes the people of the town to begin resisting. Transportation and communication lines are taken out, mine machinery breaks down often, and whenever soldiers get comfortable, they are killed including a young lieutenant infatuated with the widow of the miner who stabs him to death before escaping to the hills.  The cold weather and the constant fear destroy the occupying force’s morale, many of whom wish the war to end so that they can return home. Members of the resistance escape to England and ask the English for explosives so that the townspeople can intensify their efforts. English planes parachute-drop small packages containing dynamite sticks and chocolates all around the town. In a state of panic, Lanser takes the Mayor and his friend Dr. Winter, the town doctor and historian, hostage and lets it be known that any guerilla action will lead to their execution. Mayor Orden knows his people will not stop active resistance and accept his imminent death.  Knowing that the townspeople will use the dynamite any moment, Orden and Winter discuss Socrates in front of a stunned Lanser until the first explosion.  Orden calmly walks out the door before Lanser can verbally order his execution.

 

Published in the spring of 1942, Steinbeck wrote this obvious propogandist novella to inspire the Allied war effort and through clandestine publishing in occupied Europe to inspire resistance fighters against their German occupiers as well as collaborators.  While the town and country are unnamed, it was not hard to tell it was Norway given the clues Steinbeck sprinkled throughout the text.

 

The Moon Is Down is also a wonder example of John Steinbeck’s writing that is a quick read for anyone deciding if they want to read his more famous works to learn his style. While written for more political than literary purposes that does not diminish the impact of the narrative nor does Steinbeck not put in his best work.

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review 2020-08-11 16:18
STOKER'S WILDE WEST by Steven Hopstaken and Melissa Prusi
Stoker's Wilde West - Stephen Hopstaken,Melissa Prusi

STOKER'S WILDE WEST is a follow-up to last year's STOKER'S WILDE. I think this book is even better than the first.

 

Bram Stoker is about to take the theatrical group he manages for Henry Irving to play NYC. He plans to bring his wife Florence and their new son, Noel, along for the ride. Oscar Wilde has recently returned from touring the states and has developed a bit of fame there. When Stoker is asked by Robert Roosevelt to help the Americans in sussing out a nest of vampires, Wilde joins him and we're off for a Wilde ride!

 

Like Dracula, this book is in epistolary form, which I love. Culled from the characters' journals, reports to the White Worm Society, (a group which formed to investigate the occult, among other things), and diary entries, we are treated to different viewpoints of several events. These are really what makes the book, because these entries are often hilarious as Stoker and Wilde do not really care for each other.

 

All kinds of famous people from that time in history show up or are otherwise mentioned. Personalities such as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, the Roosevelt family, and Arthur Conan Doyle, to name just a few. All of which contribute to make this book as funny and interesting as it is.

 

The historical fiction, a respect for the original works of these authors, and a great sense of humor all combine with some amazing storytelling in this fun wild west story. Highly recommended!

 

Available today, here: STOKER'S WILDE WEST

 

*Thank you to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press for the ARC of this book in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it!*

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