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review 2018-06-19 07:58
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson

A pleasant, well-written, if sometimes heavy-handed, story of love and romance after 60.  That sounds a bit milquetoast, but that's not what the book is; it may not have stirred my soul, but it was easy to pick up and hard to put down.  

 

Small village, small minds, race relations and a dying class system set the scene for a plot that is not unpredictable. But Simonson excels at writing rich characters that come alive on the page; the only time she failed for me was Roger.  Roger had no redeeming qualities and should have been disinherited posthaste.  Otherwise, the characters are what make the story.

 

A very solid 4 stars.

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review 2018-06-11 00:14
Book: A Novel
Book: A Novel - Robert Grudin

This book is super weird.  I can't describe it, so I'm including the book's description:

 

The English department at the University of Washagon is in a uproar. Professor Adam Snell - humanist, scholar, gadfly and faculty pariah - has disappeared without a trace.

 

Stranger still, all copies of his obscure but brilliant novel, Sovrana Sostrata, also seem to be missing.

 

Has Snell been murdered? Has his book been murdered? And, more important, if Snell is not dead, does his department have the power to fire him at his upcoming post-tenure review?

 

So begins Book, a hilarious academic caper that lampoons clever critical theorists, spoofs the New York book-publishing scene, parodies at least seventeen separate literary forms and unleashes Frank Underwood, a deranged theorist with a high-powered target pistol - and a pathological hatred for Adam Snell.

 

And that's just for starters.

 

Book also contains [...], a genetically engineered garden weed, a power-crazed, sexually dazed chairwoman, a novel accused of rape and a revolt of footnotes that halts the text.

 

Honestly, the footnotes are the BEST part of this book.  For too short a time, they are the Aeslin mice of weird academic satire.  They alone are responsible for the extra 1/2 star.  1/2 star was deducted because of violence against animals - the scene was abrupt, short and shocking.  It was over before I realised it happened; otherwise, I'd have DNF'd on the spot.  Grudin didn't need to include it to make the story work, so I'm left with feeling like a brilliant, funny book is badly dinged by the gratuitous violence.  I'm also rating 1/2 star generously, because satire does not always come easy to me, so some of the things that felt off to me, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt; I might have just missed the point.

 

Otherwise, the book was just weird.  Weird and fun.  The third person narrator is Grudin himself, telling the story about Adam Snell, who also interacts directly with the reader.  The chapters of narrative are interspersed with chapters of what can only be described as randomness, but I found if I just went with it, it worked.  The randomness was often amusing, sometimes pertinent to the story, and provided a nice breather - much like putting a book down would do, but without losing your sense of place.  Between each chapter are small sections relating the history of books and bookselling, excerpted from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  

 

I really don't know how to describe it with any accuracy, but it's a great read, especially if you have spent any time working in higher education; the university politics and personalities are spot-on.  But if you don't like, or are not in the mood for, non-traditional story structure, you might want to give this book a pass.  The author plays with the story's structure, makes it part of the satire and humor, and if a loosey-goosey structure isn't your thing, Book: A Novel is going to irritate you.

 

And really, this might be the only book you'll find a footnote proclaiming: "Call me Ishmael. I was once Melville's footnote."

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review 2018-04-16 08:45
The Essex Serpent
The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

What an odd book.  I liked it, but I'm struggling to say why.  I suspect I've just been fed literary fiction disguised as something more palatable and mainstream, wrapped in an irresistible cover.

 

The two most overwhelming impressions I took away from the book are poetry and allegory.  Poetry in the form of the prose in the opening pages of the story, where it's so heavy with lyrical verse as to be cloying, and again in the opening pages of each section, where it's dialled down but still more melody than verse.  Allegory, because the story feels like the author's way of working out the balance between faith and empiricism, if not for the reader, then perhaps as an exercise for herself.

 

On a literal level, the story is, as I said, odd.  The reader is held at such a remove from the characters, it's hard to feel any emotional investment in any of them.  I liked Cora and Will and Stella, but the rest?  I'm afraid I really don't understand the point of Luke's part, and for me, Perry utterly failed to convince me that Frankie was anything more or less than a selfish and spoiled boy.  Martha, too, struck me as nothing more than a narcissist, caring more about her duty than the people she is fighting for.  For me, the most convincing character of the lot was the pan-handler, Taylor.

 

Still, it's a beautiful, richly told story, if one is willing to experience it as the distance the author holds it.  Looked at too closely, it's flawed, but hold it back far enough to fuzz the edges and it's gorgeous.

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review 2018-04-13 05:37
How to Find Love in a Bookshop
How to Find Love in a Bookshop - Veronica Henry

The title's a pretty strong implication of romance, but it's not, strictly speaking, a romance novel.  Left to standard categorical labels, I'd call this more a blend of contemporary and chick-lit with a strong thread of love throughout.

 

The story follows the lives of half a dozen people, 4 of whom have their lives altered by their connection to the village bookshop, Nightingale Books.  Emilia is the only daughter of the recently passed owner, determined to carry on and keep the doors open in spite of the uphill battle.  Sarah is the lady of the manor house and is the poster child for silent suffering; her daughter Alice is lightness personified but dreadfully naive.  Jackson is a man with a good heart and the victim of his own lack of courage and conviction, who gets himself stuck doing something distasteful.  Thomasina is a painfully shy introvert who crushes on the cheese monger she met in the cookbook section.

 

They all have different stories, and their stories involve the stories of others.  Some are painfully predictable (mostly the falling-in-love ones) but some are more complicated, with the author choosing to take the story in an unexpected, or at least atypical, direction. For me, Emilie's story was the most compelling and the reason I kept reading - I wanted to know about the bookshop!  It sounded magical, perfect and I wanted to know what happened to it.  But everyone else's story was good too.  ;-)

 

It was an easy, enjoyable read.  Almost a beach read, but not.  There are a lot of painful moments scattered throughout, especially at the start when there are a few chapters that take place in the past, building up the world that's crashing down in the present; sniffly moments.  Maybe good for the beach if you remember to pack tissues in your beach bag.  Just in case.

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review 2018-03-30 11:19
The House of the Cats: and other traditional tales from Europe
The House of the Cats: And Other Traditional Tales from Europe - Maggie Pearson

I wasn't sure about this one in the beginning; the first story was from Austria, called The Soldier's Bride, and it creeped me right the hell out.  No way would I read it to my nieces until they were old enough to show a ghoulish delight in scary stories.

 

The rest of the collection was fantastic, a few real gems and no real clunkers.  Some had clearly recognisable elements, but none of them tales I'd ever heard before.

 

A great find.


This fits the Suspect: Arthur Conan Doyle card, as it's a collection of short-stories.

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