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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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review 2018-03-29 10:57
Einstein's Dreams
Einstein's Dreams - Alan Lightman

Not quite what I thought it was going to be, but interesting and thought-provoking nonetheless.  

 

My expectations were more along the lines of a fictional re-creation of Einstein's musings concerning the physics of time as depicted through his daydreams.  I was almost right.

 

Instead, each entry is more akin to a thought experiment, where the character Einstein draws out every idiom concerning time to it's farthest conclusion.  What would the world be like if time were frozen?  If we lived in the past?  Only for today?  Only looked ahead?

 

Some of the entries come closer to aspects of his theory of general relativity than others.  Some are far more philosophical than empirical.  Some had, to my way of thinking, fundamental flaws in their logic, making the entry impossible (although I attribute this to the author, not the character).   But all of them are thought provoking and each would serve as fodder for endless debates and conversations, given the right two or more people.

 

I'm glad I've read it, although I think Please, Mr. Einstein a far more compelling and meaningful fictional exercise.  Definitely worth a read if you're in a philosophical mood but don't want to be weighted down under anything too heavy.

 

This book works for the Murder Your Darlings game card: Crime Scene: the Hob, District 12.  (The cover is half black and the title is in white letters.)

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review 2018-03-18 05:12
The Uncommon Reader
The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

A short novella on the joys, growth and enlightenment reading can bring, even to the most enlightened, at any time in life.  It's also an accurate portrayal of the consuming obsession reading can become (truth, as we all well know).  

 

Layered atop this testimony of the power of the word is another accurate portrayal of the divide that exists between those who read and those that don't.  Those who don't read should be forced to read this book, so that they know just how stupid they are relative to those that do.  When empathy for others and a focus on inner reflection over sartorial splendour are confused with senility and deterioration ... well at least senility is honourable; nothing honourable about ignorance.  But boy, do the readers get their revenge at the end - few books I've read ended with a better closing line.

 

My only complaint about this wonderful, brilliant little book is the author's conclusion that the natural outgrowth of reading must be to write.  This conceit leaves a rather large ding in my enjoyment of the book.  So is his assertion that to merely read is to be merely a spectator.  Both are flagrantly wrong, although how an author could naturally fall into such a self-supporting perspective is obvious.  Most readers will read their entire lives without every having a moment's urge to write, and I'd bet quite a few, like myself, often read and then go out and do.  I mean, I can't be the only person who's propped a book about knot tying in the crook of a tree, simultaneously reading about how to tie a knot, while actually trying to tie said knot, am I?

 

If you share either of my complaints, don't let it stop you from reading this book given the opportunity.  It's worth the small aggravations and disagreements to experience this charming, thoughtful and beautifully written novella.  

 

One final note:  Being Queen would suck.  There are not enough books and private libraries in all the holdings of the British monarchy that would make referring always to oneself in the neutral third person worth it.  If one had to constantly refer to oneself as one, one would send oneself's own head to the chopping block.  Ho-ly hell.

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