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review 2018-06-19 17:15
Dora Doralina / Rachel de Queiroz
Dora Doralina - Rachel de Queiroz

"What kills you today is forgotten tomorrow. I don't know if this is true or false because all that's real for me is remembrance." In her old age, Dora reflects on the major influences in her life: her mother, her career in the theater, and her one true love. Set in Brazil in the early part of the century, Dora, Doralina is a story about power. Through her fierce resistance to her mother and her later life as a working woman and widow, Doralina attempts to define herself in a time and culture which places formidable obstacles before women. Married off by her mother to a man she does not love, told what to wear and eat, Dora's reclaiming of herself is full of both discovery and rage. For her, independence is the right to protect herself and make her own choices. From a life confined by religion and "respectability," even her passionate attachment to a hard-drinking smuggler contains an act of free will previously unavailable to her. Dora, Doralina is an intimate, realistic, and vivid glimpse of one woman's struggle for independence, for a life in which she owns her actions, her pleasure, and her pain.

 

I read this book to fill the Q position in my quest to read women authors A-Z in 2018. I will honestly tell you that it is not a novel that I would naturally pick up so I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as someone who regularly reads literary fiction.

This is a character driven story which reads very much like an autobiography. It is basically a window into the world of women in Brazil in the first half of the twentieth century. Brazilian society, as in many societies at the time, is extremely macho and women don’t have all that much latitude.

The book is divided into three sections, representing three stages in the life of our narrator, Dora. The first section is Dora growing up and struggling with the control of her domineering mother. Dora refers to her as Senhora, not mother, and seems to be one of the only people in the household who longs for freedom. Dora ends up in a marriage which was more-or-less engineered by Senhora, and while she doesn’t mind her husband, she’s not desperately fond of him either. When he is killed, Dora takes a page from her mother’s playbook and uses her widowhood to give herself more freedom in the world.

The second section is Dora’s adventures in the world outside her mother’s farm. She finds employment and eventually ends up on stage, despite her shyness. She is both fiercely independent and highly reliant on her friends in the acting company, a duality that she freely acknowledges. And it is during her travels with the company that she meets the love of her life.

Part three is her life with The Captain. He reminded me of her first husband in several ways (his drinking, his macho possessiveness) but Dora’s feelings for him make the marriage an altogether different experience from the first.

Documenting women’s lives is an important pursuit, filling in the blanks of previously ignored reality. The novel also shows the particular barriers that many South American women are up against culturally.

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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 2018-06-17 09:35
Elizabeth and Her German Garden
Elizabeth and Her German Garden (The Penguin English Library) - Elizabeth von Arnim

I loved this - I think I first heard about it from a mention by Themis-Athena, but had to await its publication here before reading it.  It's a slim tome, but packed; at 104 pages, what I originally thought would be a fast read instead took me a couple of days, despite my being absorbed in it.

 

Mostly, it's a celebration of gardens, the outdoors, and nature, as written by one new to all of it.  But buried in the narrative, structured loosely like a diary, are moments of scathing wit, social commentary, and on the part of her husband, not a little misogyny.  Elizabeth and her German Garden was originally published in 1898 and though its language is of the time, Elizabeth is refreshingly modern.  Her thoughts, attitude, and personality are in almost all ways indistinguishable from the average 21st century woman's voice.  I loved her and her scathing, dry wit.

 

My only complaint about the book is it was slightly too short.  After lamenting two years of summer droughts that kept her in suspense of her garden's potential, the book ends at the very start of April and spring; I desperately want to know if she finally got to see her garden in all its glory!  Did the yellow border work out?  Enquiring minds are left hanging!

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review 2018-06-16 08:25
The Science of Everyday Life
The Science of Everyday Life - Marty Jopson

Upfront, this book suffers from my bias a bit:  I're previously read Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski.  Both books have the same goals, and both are effective and interesting, but Czerski's writes a more cohesive narrative and her writing is somehow more seductive: she makes physics seem magical.  Fortunately, there's very little overlap in what both books cover, so this was by no means a wasted effort.

 

BUT, if I'd read this first, I'd have rated it higher; it's a very good book and Jopson actually includes a lot more 'things' and the science behind them.  The chapters are divided by category:  Food and Drink, Home and Kitchen, Science Around the House, Science in the World and Science in the Wild.  I had favorites from each section, as I've mentioned in previous reading updates, but right now the one that sticks the most is why leaves turn colours in the autumn.  Turns out this is a very deliberate process and he explains it so clearly - I have a whole new outlook on all those yellow and orange leaves I raked up this morning.

 

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book - especially for readers who are interested in science but might find a running narrative challenging to their attention span - Jopson's explanations are all separated within each chapter, making it very easy to pick up and put down, or refer to for specific reasons (solid index at the back too) as a reference.

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review 2018-06-15 16:47
Darkwalker / E.L. Tettensor
Darkwalker - E.L. Tettensor

He used to be the best detective on the job. Until he became the hunted...
 
Once a legendary police inspector, Nicolas Lenoir is now a disillusioned and broken man who spends his days going through the motions and his evenings drinking away the nightmares of his past. Ten years ago, Lenoir barely escaped the grasp of the Darkwalker, a vengeful spirit who demands a terrible toll on those who have offended the dead. But the Darkwalker does not give up on his prey so easily, and Lenoir has always known his debt would come due one day.
 
When Lenoir is assigned to a disturbing new case, he treats the job with his usual apathy—until his best informant, a street savvy orphan, is kidnapped. Desperate to find his young friend before the worst befalls him, Lenoir will do anything catch the monster responsible for the crimes, even if it means walking willingly into the arms of his own doomÂ…...

 

I didn’t connect with this character as much as I did the characters in the author’s other series (The Bloodbound, Erin Lindsey), but I still enjoyed the reading experience. I’m not gonna lie, I found many of the plot points to be a bit predictable, but the writing was good enough that I was willing to forgive that. I do like a paranormal detective story, even if Nicolas Lenoir is a moody, often drunken jerk. There’s a bit too much lingering (without details) on the big bad awful thing that happened in his past that left him in this detached state.

He may initially remind the reader of Sherlock Holmes, but there are significant differences. His alcohol dependence resembles Holmes’ drug habit, but the reasons behind them are different. Holmes indulges occasionally when he’s bored, Lenoir drinks every night to forget the dark event in his past. Holmes, for all his disdain for regular people, is pretty honest & upright. Lenoir is open to bribery and willing to slack on investigations that he doesn’t consider particularly important. With his snarly, detached demeanour, Lenoir is certainly lacking a sidekick like Watson, although he has Sergeant Kody waiting in the wings to fill the position. In this volume, Lenoir has Zach, a wily orphan boy, who stands in for all the Baker Street Irregulars, to help him with his inquiries.

The setting is Victorian without being set in London. This world is obviously not ours and we learn the differences as the story progresses. Magic is very much a thing in this reality and has to be taken into account. The Adali people are very Romany-like and provide an exotic source of tension.

This author will be at the August conference that I’ll be attending. I think I’ll have read all of her books by then! She has attended before and I enjoyed her perspectives on fiction and writing, so I’m looking forward to more of the same.

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