Friday, August 26, 2016

March - Geraldine Brooks

Title: March
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 280
Genre: Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: I became a Geraldine Brooks fan a few years back.
Date Completed: 7/15/16

Summary: While the Little Women lived and loved back at home, Captain Robert March exists far away on the battlefields of the Civil War. He doesn't arrive on the scene until late in the famous novel. Readers are given just pieces of his life away from his little women. Brooks' Pulitzer Prize winning novel has created and shaped his own history.

What I Thought: Since being introduced to Geraldine Brooks' work back when I was in grad school, I have been an ardent fan. I'm slowly working my way through more of her litany of work. This novel, her most recognized and lauded, was an easy next step for me.

I had been a bit hesitant to read it as I normally do not enjoy authors who build upon someone else's work, world, and characters. So many do it poorly. I'm not of the mind to respect canon and let the characters lie where the original author left them. Hence, you can understand my trepidation regarding a novel of which the entire premise is filling in the blanks for one of the most famous family's in American literature.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Girl in the Dark - Anna Lyndsey

Girl in the Dark
Title: Girl in the Dark
Author: Anna Lyndsey
Publication Date: 2/26/15
Pages: 254
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 7/12/16

Summary: Anna Lyndsey is a pseudonym. Whoever she is, the women behind this memoir will likely never read these words. She suffers - and I do think that's the appropriate verb - from photo-sensitive seborrhoeic dermatitus. In layman's terms, she has an intensive sensitivity to light. After exposure to her skin, she experiencing intense burning pain. Consequentially, she has lived much of the last decade in a completely blacked out room.

What I Thought: Ever feel badly about your life? Or wish for more? Or maybe think your days are unexciting? Reading Lyndsey's powerful memoir will quickly adjust your perspective. Suddenly, sunlight itself is a gift and a privilege. After all, Lyndsey lives without the freedom to view a sunset or go to the movie theatre or even flip on a light switch when she walks into a room.

In some ways, Lyndsey seems to be living in an alternate reality than the rest of us. Her daily routine is so far removed from most people's normal that it seems distant and exotic - not in a fun way, more like a sci-fi novel way. In the book, she explores the range of emotion that naturally arises in her scenario. She details complex Games to Play in the Dark that she has created to pass the time; she writes of despair and occasional suicidal thoughts; she shares her elation at the smallest success or hint of remission. Her emotions come across as raw, potent, and powerful. Their intensity makes the reading experience almost psychologically intoxicating. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Apartment - Greg Baxter

The Apartment
Title: The Apartment
Author: Greg Baxter
Publication Date: 12/3/13
Pages: 193
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 7/11/16

Summary: On one frigid winter day, an unnamed American man searches for an apartment in which to start his new life in an unnamed European city. He is accompanied by Saskia, a new friend. Though the main plot consists only of this one day and the search for the right apartment, it is punctuated by glimpses into the American's past, including his time as a soldier and contractor in Iraq.

What I Thought: This book is one of those charming gems that, while short, will offer back as much as the reader is willing to put in. The surface story is charming and sweet, but the layers pile up beneath the apparent.

The novel is very character focused, which is always nice. Really, not much happens over the course of the story. It all takes place on one day and, really, nothing particularly spectacular happens on that day. It's a story about relationships and friendships and what makes us who we are.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Women in Love - D. H. Lawrence

Women in Love
Title: Women in Love
Author: D. H. Lawrence
Publication Date: 1920
Pages: 400
Genre: Classic / Historical / Romance / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 7/5/16

Summary: Brangwen sisters Ursula and Gudrun become involved with two local men, Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich. The relationships between the foursome ebb and flow as each wrestles with philosophical ideals and what they want from life.

What I Thought: I have enjoyed Lawrence's writing. It's in a style I can follow and enjoy and I like his characters. I think this particular work was my favorite of his thus far.

I'm understanding more and more why his writing was so very controversial. When you look at these books and their content and then think about the early 20th's not surprising they made such a stir. At one point in this book, Gerald sneaks into the Brangwen house and takes Gudrun's virginity - all while her family sleeps below. It's not explicit by modern standards, but it is certainly steamy. Lawrence's writing reminds me that sometimes less is more.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Take Tuesday: The Royal We

The Royal We
Some books are just so good, you have to read them again. And some books deserve a second chance. And some books I think about and change my opinion or have more to say. Take Tuesday is a chance to do just that. 

Title: The Royal We
Author: Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
Publication Date: 4/7/15
Pages: 454
Genre: Chick Lit / Romance / Royals / Fiction
Previous Readings: May 2015
Date Completed This Time: 7/9/16

Quick sidebar before we start - I know Take Tuesday, by its very name, belongs on a Tuesday. However, today is my birthday and I wanted to celebrate by talking about this book. It's been one of my favorites since I first read it last year and I could not think of anything I'd rather talk about with you on my special day! 

Summary: American exchange student Rebecca "Bex" Porter ends up in the same dorm hall as HRH Prince Nicholas at Oxford. Fairy tale moments, paparazzi stalking, and royal drama ensue.

What I Thought Before: I have been ruminating over and raving about this book for over a year now. The fact that I even picked it up again only a year later should say a lot. When I first reviewed the book, I commented on how pleasantly surprised I was at the writing quality and how charming the story and characters are. Cocks and Morgan balanced just the right about of fiction and fact.

What I Think Now: I still think all those things. A year later, I am still calling this one the absolutely perfect beach read. I loved it just as much the second time around. When the Cambridge clan feels like an extension of your family that you simply have not met yet, it's no surprise to love a book so inspired by their real lives.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Old Wives' Tale - Arnold Bennett

The Old Wives' Tale
Title: The Old Wives' Tale
Author: Arnold Bennett
Publication Date: 1908
Pages: 565
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 6/28/16

Summary: Two sisters, closer in age and close in heart, become separated and estranged as they enter adulthood. Each marries. Time and distance separate them. In the end, both alone again, they return to each other - companions in the start and the end of life.

What I Thought: While in many ways this book falls right in line with all the other British period novels of the Modern Library list, there is one important difference. Rather than centering on a traditional romance, Bennett shapes his story around the relationship between sisters. Consider it the Frozen of 1908.

Though the book did not necessarily feel like anything spectacular, I did enjoy it. I'm not quite sure how it made its way to the 100 Best list, but, hey, I've felt that way about a good number of the books on there. Still, this one was enjoyable. I liked both the individual tales of the sisters' lives in the years they were separated and the times they were together. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Heir Apparent - Jane Ridley

The Heir Apparent
Title: The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince
Author: Jane Ridley
Publication Date: 10/14/10
Pages: 752
How I Found It: I can't remember precisely, but is it really surprising that I did?
Date Completed: 6/25/16

Summary: Son and heir to Queen Victoria, Bertie bucked the morals and expectations of the Victorian Era. He's been painted in history as "the Playboy Prince." Yet, there is much more to his story than his extramarital dalliances. 

What I Thought: While I probably know slightly more than the average person about Queen Victoria (strictly because of my royalty obsession), before reading this book I could not have told you the name of her heir. My knowledge was a near blank between Victoria and King George VI (subject of The King's Speech and father to Queen Elizabeth II). In a way, I'd like to think of myself as working backward in British royal history. I know so much about the current crew, but I want to continue learning about their ancestry. After all, Queen Alexandra (Alix to family) was the Duchess Catherine of her day.

Before making it far into the book at all, I was struck by the similarities between Bertie, future Edward VII, and our modern Prince Charles. Particularly in young life, there were many parallels between the two. Both have extremely popular, long-reigning mothers who kept the throne from them decades longer than expected. Both had sex scandals rock their public image. This quote about Bertie's rise to the throne after Victoria's death screamed 'Charles' to me: "The accession of an overweight fifty-nine-year-old philanderer hardly thrilled the imagination." If that doesn't fall in line with the tabloid dream of Elizabeth handing the throne straight to William, I don't know what does. When Charles does take the throne, it will be very interesting to see if and how the parallels between himself and Bertie continue. He can hardly be ignorant of them. After all, he's spent his entire life being groomed for the role of monarch; he undoubtedly knows his family's history.