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review 2018-12-10 03:06
Howard End by E.M. Forster
Howards End - E.M. Forster

These days I often find myself appreciating classics more than contemporary fiction – but not all classics; there are still books whose quality doesn’t quite live up to their reputation. This is one of those.

Set in early 20th century England, this book follows the adventures of Margaret and her younger sister Helen; these two are certainly appealing characters to a modern audience, being intelligent, thoughtful, socially-conscious youngish women who inherited sufficient funds from their now-deceased parents to live independently and comfortably for life. So they travel and enjoy social and intellectual pursuits and worry about what they should be doing for those less fortunate than themselves. Their liberal guilt is dramatized through two families they encounter: the wealthy Wilcoxes, a sporty family whose focus on their own financial interests lives little room for even basic politeness to anyone else, and the lower-middle-class Leonard Bast, a clerk struggling on the edge of poverty, and his unfortunate wife.

It’s an interesting premise, and the issues of the role of money in people’s lives and of liberal guilt are fairly well-developed. It’s also a reasonably interesting portrayal of England before the First World War; the sisters’ father was German and the determination of both their German and English relatives that their own country is meant to rule the world is treated with gentle irony. Unfortunately, the first half of the book – after a strong opening – loses momentum fast and is almost entirely lacking in plot. Nothing much happens to these characters for a long time; Margaret, our protagonist, glides through the story without struggle; there’s nothing she needs or wants and doesn’t have. The true plot appears around the halfway point, but unfortunately so many character decisions lacked believability that I can’t say much for it in the end. Meanwhile, while some of the issues Margaret ponders remain interesting and relevant today, its philosophical maunderings often left me underwhelmed, and the ideas about the superiority of England haven’t aged well. The rest of my criticism contains a lot of SPOILERS, so beware.

The second half of the book rests on two big eyebrow-raising decisions, and the story finally wraps up with a third. Margaret receives a marriage proposal from Henry Wilcox, and the book never gives any particular reason that she should marry him, aside from the fact that he expresses a liking for her: he’s a smug, self-satisfied conservative old enough to be her father, who embraces self-serving platitudes on both gender and economic inequality and has a nasty tendency to use Margaret’s moments of weakness as evidence of the inferiority of all women. And in the single scene portraying their physical relationship, he leaves Margaret disappointed and confused. And then it turns out that his track record for fidelity is not great. Margaret doesn’t need Henry, yet she gives up her autonomy to be with him – why?

Helen’s encounter with Leonard is equally baffling: she’s presumably a virgin, living in a society where women who have premarital sex are shunned; he’s probably never slept with anyone other than his wife, who is asleep in the next room at the time; he’s in awe of her as his benefactor, and he’s probably none too clean or well-fed; at no point in the story does there appear to be any romantic or sexual attraction between the two. And yet they have sex?

All of which leads to the final confrontation, which is believable enough – and then Forster skips right to the aftermath, perhaps knowing that tracing out these events would strain credibility too much. Helen decides to stay in England even though she’d enjoy more social acceptance in Germany; Henry abruptly loses all concern about Helen’s wayward behavior; Margaret’s magical influence apparently convinces everyone to live together happily every after. Um, okay.

So I didn’t really buy this one. The writing is fine, and many of the issues it raises are important and remain timely. But Forster’s plotting and ability to get the characters to the places where he needs them to be in a believable way left something to be desired.

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review 2018-12-10 02:47
The War Between Us
The War Between Us - Sarah Creviston Lee

Six months ago the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and life changed for many people. Alex Moon, a California native with Korean Ancestry is encouraged by his father to join up immediately to fight the Japanese. But Alex has seen what the American people have done to the Japanese-American citizens and refuses his father's request. Because of this, Alex's father sends him on a train to his uncle in Washington, DC. Alex gets off on a train stop in the small town of River Bluff, Indiana only to be accosted and beaten up by locals who see the enemy in Alex's skin color. After being shipped to the police station, Reverend Hicks and his niece, Lonnie Hamilton come to check on Alex and offer him some kindness. Alex finds himself stuck in River Bluff and seeks out a friendship Lonnie. However, the rest of the town is determined to see Alex as one of the men that is fighting their sons overseas. Tensions mount in the small town as Alex and Lonnie's friendship grows into something more. Alex must face his identity as a Korean and American as well as his family's wishes for him. 

The War Between Us is a wartime romance that will sweep you off your feet. This is a sweet and clean romance that develops into something much more as the prejudices of an entire town are brought to light. Alex and Lonnie's characters are what brought me into the story and kept me interested. On the surface, this is a simple love story. However, both Lonnie and Alex are complex characters with intriguing stories. From Alex I learned about the feelings and prejudices that Korean and Chinese Americans went through after the Pearl Harbor as well as the complexity of emotions he faced when dealing with people who despised him for what they believed him to be. I did enjoy learning about some Korean customs and food as Alex introduced his culture to Lonnie. Lonnie was also an amazing character who faced a different adversity of not living up to what others had planned for her. Lonnie's grows a lot during the story as her mind shifts and realizes that you can not choose who you love. 

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

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review 2018-12-08 16:34
Tombland
Tombland - C.J. Sansom

by C. J. Sansom

 

Book 7 of the Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery series.

 

Set in the rebellions of 1549 during the reign of Edward VI, two years after the death of Henry VIII. The nominal king is eleven years old and his uncle, Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Edward's regent and Protector. Catholics and Protestants are at odds and the Lady Elizabeth has a personal interest in a murder of the wife of one of her distant relatives that she sends Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer in her service, to investigate.

 

Medieval intrigue and mystery mostly keep attention through over 800 pages that cover among other things, Kett's Rebellion in the Tombland area of historic Norwich. These are real places and the history has been well researched. I did, however, think it was overly long. The books in this series contain a lot of detail of every move and I think it was asking a bit much to carry on with so much scrutiny for so long.

 

On one hand it's a good Historical Fiction, but it's also a murder mystery. I'll admit I'm not a big fan of murder mysteries in general and making me wait so long to find out who did it was torment! It is well done in the end though.

 

Those who do enjoy murder mysteries will have a great time trying to sift through the plentiful suspects and possible motives, both political and personal. The author leads us through a merry chase through all the possibilities. I did think that the final reveal was a little forced and not quite realistic, but by then I was just glad to have answers.

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review 2018-12-08 04:12
I Will Never Leave Thee Nor Forsake Thee
Woman of Courage: Collector's Edition Continues the Story of Little Fawn - Wanda E. Brunstetter

“I am a woman of faith who is trusting in the Lord to give her courage.”

“Woman of Courage” has been on my reading list for a few years now, and I am glad that I was able to read this collector’s edition, which includes the sequel novella “Woman of Hope.” Expecting “Woman of Courage” to be a travel novel and an Oregon Trail-like experience, I was surprised to discover that it fell more into the genre of wilderness survival and mountain living. Traveling was still a part of the tale, but most of the narrative was focused on the characters’ experiences and interactions with each other rather than on the trek itself. Fraught with omnipresent danger, this story did not have any lulls or tedious sections and proved to be a quick read, even taking into consideration the appended novella. The situations seemed realistic and not contrived, and there were several twists that I did not expect, which I always appreciate. Amanda, the eponymous heroine, was a sweet character, and I would have liked to have more of her background; other than being unerringly Christian and using quaint language (“thee” and “thou”), there were no other indications that she was a Quaker. It would have been worthwhile to add more information about this particular religious group to the story, in my opinion. However, I did appreciate the author’s use of Native American and mixed-race characters.

Despite very much enjoying this story, there were a few points with which I had issues, and I wavered between a four and a five-star rating. Some of the language and slang used in the narrative was not period-appropriate, and several of the characters were stereotypical, including Amanda. She was too perfect and therefore did not seem to grow or change throughout the course of the story, whereas Jim Breck’s attitudes and place in the story shifted too quickly. Yellow Bird and Buck McFadden were my favorite characters, as they were the most dynamic and realistic, given their pasts and what became of them. Because Amanda was a missionary, the Christian underpinning of the novel did come across as preachy, but not overbearingly so. Amanda’s story dovetailed well into that of Little Fawn’s in “Woman of Hope”, and this novella is what ultimately bumped up my rating. Little Fawn’s story was not as idealistic and yet it was still hopeful and inspiring. Amanda’s character was also more realistic, and all of the characters’ actions were credible. The story was well written for its short length, as well, and it did not seem like it was too abrupt. Being able to see how circumstances changed for the characters from “Woman of Courage” in the approximately seventeen-year time gap and being introduced to the next generation of characters was a fitting way to end the saga.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

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review 2018-12-07 03:43
Review: Master And Commander
Master and Commander (Aubrey/Maturin, #1) - Patrick O'Brian

This book is the beginning of Jack Aubrey's captaincy, and the start of physician Stephen Maturin's tenor as a naval surgeon.

 

Jack is made captain of the Sloop, Sophie.  In his excitement at finally being made captain, Aubrey seeks out Maturin, with whom he had an unpleasant meeting with the previous evening, to apologize and invite to share a meal.  During this time he learns that Stephen is a physician in need of employment as his current patient had recently died.  Jack was in the market for a ship surgeon.  It was kismet.

 

The Sophie engages in several battles, takes several prizes and Jack begins to make a name for himself; especially with what he has accomplished with such a small ship.  We see the start of the Aubrey/Maturin great friendship, and meet fun characters that will stick with him through his captaincy like Pullings, Bondin and Mowett.  All-in-all it was an interesting start to the long story f Aubrey/Maturin and I look forward to seeing how many books it takes for Jack to inherit the Surprise.

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