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review 2018-08-09 00:40
The Adventures of Elizabeth in Ruegen
The Adventures of Elizabeth in Ruegen - Elizabeth von Arnim

I can't believe how long it took me to read this book.  It was my second Elizabeth von Arnim book, after reading Elizabeth and Her German Garden, and i have to say it was harder going at first.  Her Adventures in Rügen start off in a much more florid style of writing than she used in German Garden; her verbosity was challenging, to say the least, and I found myself putting the book down and passing it by for days on end.  I was determined though, because I had to believe the writing I loved in German Garden would be in there somewhere.

 

And it was.  By the fourth day (page 87), the Elizabeth I had expected started showing up. Coincidentally it was about this time that her idyllic trip round Rügen started to become less idyllic and more comic.  By the fifth day (page 115) I was pretty well hooked, and where as the first 115 pages took me three weeks to read, the remaining 185 took just a few days.  As the book, and her trip,  progress, the writing becomes more concise and the pace ratchets up higher and higher until it reaches its final, devious, and hilarious conclusion.  I loved the last two chapters, they had me chuckling regularly, and the ending was absolutely perfect.  

 

A few notes about my copy of this book: I was lucky to find a 1904 copy in beautiful condition that includes a pristine pull out map of Elizabeth's trip.  A few things about it made me smile though: the cover title spells the island's name as Ruegen, but everything else in the book uses Rügen.  Both are correct (as ue is the alternate for ü), but the inconsistency left me curious about why.  Also, my edition's copyright is in the USA, but it states that it is strictly intended for circulation in "India and the British Colonies" only, and the publisher is Macmillan, London.  So we have a book written in Germany, printed by a London publisher, copyrighted in the USA, for circulation in India and the colonies.

 

This is why I love old books.  

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review 2018-08-01 02:33
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

This is my RL's book club selection for August, and seeing as how I skipped the last two (one of which I genuinely forgot about), I felt obliged to give this a chance.  Luckily a friend and fellow BC member loaned me her copy.

 

I actually DNFd it at the end of chapter 2.  Put it down and actually said out loud, 'no, I'm not reading this crap'.  Scenarios of possible book club meeting outcomes played through my head and my inner voice said 'you really haven't read enough to justify your ire'.  So, I made myself pick it up again.

 

Is this a compelling story?  Yes, it absolutely is.  I tore through the book in one sitting yesterday.  There's a lot of talent in the writing and the telling.  

 

There were just two problems for me:  1. I just didn't like a lot of it.  This is subjective, of course; the story just isn't my thing.   2. The story was fundamentally flawed because there were a number of basic inconsistencies to Eleanor's character.  These inconsistencies aren't subjective and can't be explained away by story events, even though the story events are horrific enough to allow for plenty of inconsistent behaviour.

 

Eleanor is, from the beginning, framed as a super-rational, automaton-like woman with a very expansive vocabulary, a formality of speech that approaches legalese, a scrupulously balanced diet, and a perfectly timed, strictly adhered to routine.  She hoards prescription pain meds, and goes through 2 full bottles of vodka every weekend.  Fine so far in terms of consistency.  

 

But then she meets Raymond, who smokes, and she wastes no time telling him in detail why smoking is vile and unhealthy; when he comments on her knowledge, she tells him its because she considered taking up smoking but as she always researches everything before trying anything, she discarded the idea.  Now, if she researches everything, and discarded smoking because it's detrimental to health, then a personality such as Elenor's would also research alcohol and likewise refrain from systematically drinking 2 large bottles every weekend.

 

I understand cracks in the facade, but really, Eleanor is so rigid at the start you question whether she's on the autistic spectrum; it implies a level of personal discipline that doesn't allow for vodka flavoured cracks.

 

Eleanor's past is a dark and pretty horrific one (Trigger warnings for physical and emotional abuse), but she wasn't raised in isolation.  In fact she's in the foster system from the age of 10, so it's stretching the bounds of incredulity when she visits a McDonalds for the first time and describes a filet o' fish sandwich as though she were an alien visitor to this planet, saying it was her very first visit to a fast food establishment and how she finds fast food repellent and unhealthy.  Hard to believe when you've spent 7 years in a Foster care system that you've never experienced fast food, but, ok.  Where the real inconsistency lies is when she goes home and has spaghetti hoops for dinner, which I'm assuming are the British version of spaghetti-o's, a particularly vile nutritional wasteland in a can.  

 

At one point later on, she comments on someone wearing jeans and jean jacket, saying she never knew you could turn denim in to a suit.  A small thing I'd not have noticed, except I was already inclined to rack up inconsistencies.  She grew up in London and she's now living in a large Scottish city and she finds someone wearing jeans and a jean jacket odd?  I'd have said on any random night in any metropolitan city, a denim ensemble would be amongst the least of the outstanding sartorial choices.  There's no way you walk through a major city for 7 years and find jeans and denim jacket weird.

 

At the end - and this is purely an outright editing error - there are two news articles dated about 6 weeks apart.  The first one says something along the lines of "the victim, aged 10, cannot be named because of privacy laws" (she said it better, but I don't have the book at hand).  The very next article proceeds to name her - first and last name - multiple times.  Guess that underage privacy law was repealed in those 6 weeks.

 

There's a massive plot twist (this is a HUGE spoiler - you've been warned):

Sixth-sense style, which I caught early on and had confirmed halfway through when someone asked Eleanor where her mother was and she said "I don't know".

(spoiler show)

 

So it's a compelling story, but a very inconsistent one.  A book that relies as heavily as this one does on emotional extremes deserved to have had a much more pedantic editor, as befits a pedantic character.  Eleanor had a horrific childhood and is broken in more than a few places, but she lived in the world; participated in it, yet we're presented with a character who might as well be a newly arrived visitor to planet Earth.  Even though I liked Eleanor, and found her funny, and agreed with her views on text-speak, I just couldn't buy into her reality.  Like Eleanor, I value consistency, and this story just wasn't.

 

Your mileage may vary.

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review 2018-07-05 06:45
Ain't She a Peach (Southern Eclectic Novel)
Ain't She a Peach - Molly Harper

I can't think of a single book Molly Harper has written that I haven't enjoyed on some level; even if the plots aren't always solid, the snarky humor and solid character dynamics that revolve around family and friends makes up for it.

 

This was the case with Ain't She a Peach.  It's part of a series of books that aren't serial, called Southern Eclectic; they share a common setting and characters, but act as stand alone reads.  Comparing story structures between this one and Sweet Tea and SympathyAin't She a Peach lacks the central plot that pulled ST&S together.  Here, Frankie's story is far more focused on her struggle for maturity and autonomy, as the only-child/cancer survivor to older parents.  The romance is secondary, and the resolving the break-ins to the family mortuary tertiary, and by far the weakest link in the plot.

 

Still, any fan of Molly Harper's will find a lot to like here.  Few authors I read come close to the engaging and engrossing dialog Harper spills across her pages and she creates characters that are likeable, hilarious, strong and noble - characters that really are the people you wish your friends and family could be - without making them into after-school-special paper constructs.

 

Not her best, but still enjoyable, and exactly what I've been needed to read the last few weeks.

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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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