Monday, December 26, 2011

BOOK REVIEWS: Q's Legacy by Helene Hanff and Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

We can call this Memoir Monday - but it won't be a recurring theme. I finished two memoirs this past week, both enjoyable pieces of writing by authors whose voices I have to admire. Still, I’m afraid memoir just isn’t my genre. I found that even though I liked pieces of the books, I wasn’t all that interested in the plot of either one. Maybe it's because memoirs don't really have plots the way novels do -- and maybe that's why I have a hard time being pulled into the stories.

The first was Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff. I suppose I was expecting a bit more of the "Q" in there – a bit more of how she taught herself to appreciate literature and to write thanks to a series of books-based-on-lectures written by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a Cambridge don. I guess I wanted more of a blow-by-blow account of what books she’d read and what lessons she’d learned. Instead, the "Q" recollection was just a bit of intro to lead us into a tale of how and why she wrote 84, Charing Cross Road and the twists and turns her life took following the book’s success.

I loved 84, Charing Cross Road. That’s how I came to be interested in this memoir in the first place. But I wasn’t looking for a simple behind-the-scenes glimpse of the writing of the book with a peek at Hanff’s peripheral involvement in the various stage adaptations that came afterward. Hanff is a charming writer, but I much preferred her interactions with her friends in her letters. This seemed more forced.

I enjoyed the second book more. This was one that a friend lent to me but I put off reading because, well...I don’t read memoirs. But, coincidentally, my book club picked it for our January meeting, so I plucked it off the shelf: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen.

This is the story of a lapsed Mennonite who, at the age of forty-three, is dealt a rapid series of blows that cause her to reevaluate her life. First - a surgery with complications. Second - her husband leaves her for a man, and finally, she’s in a car accident that results in broken bones, limiting her mobility.

Rhoda is a college professor, an intelligent, professional woman. She’s used to supporting herself and her husband. However, she can’t afford her house payments without her husband’s contribution. Devastated and at her wit’s end, she returns to the Mennonites.

More specifically, she returns to her parents’ home to recuperate with her Mennonite mother and father and with the support of the community of wonderful family and friends. In course of the book, while poking gentle fun at them and at herself, she embraces and dispenses with stereotypes about Mennonites. She also allows the story of her marriage to haltingly unfold, showing the reader how very much better off she is without the guy, no matter how much she loved him. It’s complicated.

Janzen is funny and can get the most out of an anecdote. It’s an entertaining book and I’m sure I’ll enjoy the book club discussion. Still, all-in-all, I’d rather read a novel.

Monday, December 19, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Several years ago, my sister asked me if I had ever read J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. I had not. Catcher in the Rye was quite enough for me. I read that in high school and found it hard going. But she said I would like this one and she knows me awfully well, so I thought I’d better read it.

I mentally added it to my list. I picked it up and put it down in bookstores several times. I thought about requesting it from the library. Somehow I never could quite summon up the enthusiasm to commit. Not until the Borders going-out-of-business sale. There it was on the shelf. A discounted paperback staring me in the face. What was I waiting for? I had no choice but to buy it.

And this weekend I finally read it.

Franny and Zooey is, as I understand it, two short stories woven together. They relate an incident from the lives of the two youngest Glass children. Franny is nearly finished with college when she has a nervous breakdown (in the day’s terminology.) Sickened by the phoniness and egoism of everyone around her, she is unable to stand being at school anymore. She makes a brave effort to visit her boyfriend Lane at a nearby college for the big weekend Yale football game, but he is the worst posturing phony of all. Unable to continue the charade, she haltingly confides what ails her. She tries to tell him about a book she has been reading that has been providing spiritual enlightenment. She is now attempting to follow its precepts by continually praying The Jesus Prayer. Lane doesn’t understand. He doesn’t want to understand – he wants to go to a cocktail party and then to the game. Fanny—dizzy, sweating, and ill—finally faints, bringing their weekend together to a close.

Franny goes home. This is where the reader meets Zooey, her slightly older brother. (Their mother, Bessie, is there, too.) First, Bessie tries to convince Zooey to talk to Franny. Apparently, Zooey already has talked to her. After a lengthy argument with his mother, Zooey does, in fact, go out (they were arguing in the bathroom) and talk to Franny again.

This is the story in a nutshell. The amazing thing is how bizarrely entertaining the book is, considering it is simply a prolonged gabfest. Nothing happens. The characters are arrogant, irritating, funny, and poignant. They are too intelligent for their own good. It leaves them bored with the world, cynical, and convinced of their own superiority. But being this way has made them miserable. Moreover, they’re aware that their misery is their own fault. I found myself caring for them even though I don’t think I’d want to be trapped next to one of them at a social function.

Salinger is an extraordinary writer. The characters were very real. I could see the settings precisely and watch the scenes as though I were watching a play. The humor leaped out at unpredictable moments, biting and cruel, but the love between the brother and sister was subtly sweet, and the contrast made me more aware of both.

The final verdict is I enjoyed the book so much I might just have to give Catcher in the Rye another chance.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Six Word Saturday

  Christmas is Coming! I can't wait!

Six word Saturday is a meme hosted by Show My Face. To play, you try to sum up your life, your week, or whatever in six words. (See link for details and to link your six words to the list.)

Mine are rather obvious this week, but we are in count down to Christmas mode. I'm going to see some extended family at Christmas this year so it will be particularly merry.

Enjoy your week!

Friday, December 16, 2011


I'm participating in a new meme (for me) this week -- TGIF hosted by GReads! It's a great way to recap the week and head into the weekend. This week's question is:

Most Popular: What blog post has gotten the most
comments/activity on your blog this year?
I had to go digging for that answer. I guessed it would be a giveaway post, and I was right. It was my Mailbox Monday with Giveaway post for my husband's book Cecelia and Fanny. But I was surprised to find it tied with two other Mailbox Monday posts - like this one for a new old book. 
Overall, the hops and memes get more activity than book reviews.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Today I'm being interviewed as part of the author interview series 2011-wrap-up at The Mod Podge Bookshelf.

Come have a look at my guest post and check out some of the other author interviews as well!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: A Play of Heresy by Margaret Frazer

Although this book came out at just the right time to be a perfect Christmas present (just like last year's release of A Play of Piety), I was far too impatient to wait a couple more weeks. I bought it for myself, then sat down and read it. I’m addicted to the "A Joliffe the Player Mystery" series.

Margaret Frazer’s A Play of Heresy continues the story of Joliffe, part-time player (actor) and part-time spy for the powerful Bishop Beaufort. As this instalment opens in the early summer of 1438, Joliffe is looking forward to a little well-earned respite from his spying duties. He’s returning to his company of players who are in Coventry for the Corpus Christi festival – a festival of plays. Each of the guilds sponsors a different religious-themed play and vies to put on the best production. While locals play most of the parts, they often bring in ringers to direct and perform, in order to boost their chances of outdoing the competition. Joliffe’s friends are well-employed by the tailors’ guild.

Unfortunately, as Joliffe is making his way to Coventry, he comes upon a friend of a different sort, another spy for the bishop. This man is perturbed because an informant whom he was supposed to have met in Bristol was lost somewhere between Coventry and the assigned meeting place. The spy is quite certain he’s dead and that Lollards, religious malcontents/heretics, are to blame. Since Joliffe is on his way to Coventry, he is assigned the task of investigating things at that end.

And so begins another intricately woven tale of murder, intrigue, love, and human failing. Joliffe gets to do the things he does best: work in theater and solve murders while pondering philosophical questions of life. I find Frazer’s style, the voice of her characters, to be original and pure pleasure to read. The historical details are always rich, bringing me fully into the world. And besides, I’m head-over-heels in love with the protagonist and have been since book one.

The book would stand alone as an interesting murder mystery, but I think you’re cheating yourself to read it this way. I’d really recommend starting with A Play of Isaac and reading through the series. Much of the entertainment of these books comes from the unfolding of Joliffe’s character. His interactions with his fellow players is more deeply appreciated also if you know what’s come before. What is here is fine for plotting and enough for carrying the story, but you won’t get the full emotional depth of the experience.

Now I’ll join the other "Joliffe the Player" addicts to ask: How long must we wait for book 8?

Sunday, December 11, 2011


(List of books read and links to reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.)

Although I'm watching the number of challenges I sign up for this year so that I don't get crazy in November/December 2012, this one is an easy one for me. Historical fiction is my go-to genre.

Once again, it is being hosted by the wonderful team of bloggers at Historical Tapestry. Head over to the link for futher information. Here are the basic details:

Each month, a new post dedicated to the HF Challenge will be created. To participate, you only have to follow the rules:

  • everyone can participate, even those who don't have a blog (you can add your book title and thoughts in the comment section if you wish)

  • add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll (the bloggers at Historical Tapestry) be adding to our monthly post (please, do not add your blog link, but the correct address that will guide us directly to your review)

  • any kind of historical fiction is accepted (HF fantasy, HF young adult,...)

  • During these following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels:

  1. Severe Bookaholism: 20 books
  2. Undoubtedly Obsessed: 15 books
  3. Struggling the Addiction: 10 books
  4. Daring & Curious: 5 books
  5. Out of My Comfort Zone: 2 books

To join the challenge you only need to make a post about it, grab the button there if you like and leave your link in Mr Linky at Historical Tapestry. If you don't have a blog you can just leave a comment there saying that you are joining.

The challenge will run from 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2012.

This year I'm going to bump up my level of participation to Undoubtedly Obsesssed, 15 books. If you're a historical fiction fan, or just interested in exploring the genre, come join us!

The books I've read are below. Click on the link for reviews.

1. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
2. Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout
3. I was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison
4. By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
5. The King's Mistress by Emma Campion
6. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
7. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt
8. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
9. The Rebel Wife by Taylor M. Polites
10. Trinity by Leon Uris
11. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
12. The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill
13. The Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell
14. The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower
15. Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

Saturday, December 10, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Two master illusionists/magicians have been trained from a young age to take part in a contest in which one must out-magic the other. The victor’s prize is survival. The contest will take part in a fantastical circus—one that travels from city to city on a train that defies reality, appears instantaneously, and is open to the public at nightfall, closing at dawn. The Circus of Dreams.

The contestants, Celia and Marco, build the circus, vying to show off their skill and imagination. Neither quite understands the rules of the game, not at first. Enamored of the wonders of the night circus, they collaborate with its initiators (a promoter, an engineer, a clock-maker, a costumer and a few others) and even with each other to create a magical place/event that seduces circus-goers around the world. And, not quite understanding the rules of the game, of course they fall in love.

The larger and more elaborate their game—their world—the more difficult it is to hold it together. Although they are the crucial players, innocent people are also entrapped. Celia and Marco are bound by their own masters to play it through to its conclusion no matter the consequences.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern has been receiving rave reviews that are well-earned. It is imaginative and lushly written. Her world-building is superb. It’s a gentle book, for all its threat of violence. (Two young people are forced into a contest in a created venue where they had to battle to the death for an ill-defined prize. But they defy their "superiors" by falling in love and redirecting their energies. I confess Hunger Games popped into my head as I was reading. But this is very unlike Hunger Games. It’s all very subtle and contained. They battle by creating fantasy tents in a circus of dreams and for a long time, they don’t even know they are engaged in a battle for survival.) There is a slow and dreamy quality to the book. Shifts in time added to the dreaminess—they were a bit disorienting until I gave myself over to the sliding back-and-forth. (Chapters start with a dateline so if you pay attention you shouldn’t get disoriented, but I’m not good at checking dates. I find it more distracting than I do being disoriented.) The circus itself is an addictive fantasy (what new tent would be created next?) and I was curious to see if Celia and Marco could escape their fate and if so, how.

Still, I think I had expectations for the book that were higher than could be realized. For me, it was all too surreal. I was never pulled into the world of The Night Circus because it was all too impossibly fictional. The tribulations of the characters didn’t touch me very deeply. But this could be, in part, due to the fact that I sat down and read the book on Friday night after a long work week.

So, gorgeous writing, imaginative, with a fantastical dreamlike setting. If you like fantasy and magic and love stories where superhuman soulmates must overcome obstacles like magical curses where they are doomed to have to fight one another to the death, destroying everything they love in the process – this book is spellbinding.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Blogoversary Prize Package Winner

The winner of my Blogoversary Prize Package, chosen using, is Annette. Congratulations, Annette!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE - The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Awhile back, I read A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (an interesting enough book but I liked his The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time better.) Since then, I notice I’ve been reading more books in a genre that had never appealed to me previously. I can’t explain why these books keep falling into my hands. These are literary or literary-ish explorations of the lives of middle-aged men. Not mid-life crisis age. The protagonists have weathered that. They are past the stage of the affairs or divorces or whatever else happens during that "is this all there is?" panic. These men are in a more contemplative mood and Wham! A different sort of crisis hits.

I’m not sure what drew me to Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, but it was a sweet, gentle, satisfying novel that cheered me last year. More recently, I read The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott, beautifully written but depressing. And now, even though I thought I was done with books about old men, I decided to read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending.

Why? For one, it is the winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, so it should be good, right?

Here’s another reason. When I started my adventure as a blogger and began hopping around to other book blogs a lot, I saw mention of Flaubert’s Parrot (by Julian Barnes) on a blog one day. This book is on my shelf. I read it in college and thought I remembered it. The blogger loved it and so I commented that I did too. Then I saw it mentioned on another blog later with another glowing review. As I read the review it occurred to me that I had no memory of the story. (I had mis-remembered an entirely different book.) But Flaubert’s Parrot is on my bookshelf. So I asked my husband about it. (Could it possibly have been his book?) He said that I had, in fact, read it in college. I’d loved it so much I told him to read it.

I found this disturbing, but not all that surprising –my recall for details of novels is terrible. However, now that this book has been brought back to my attention, I see it mentioned with some frequency and the fact that my mind is a blank is driving me nuts. I’ve decided that I have to re-read it. But I’ve been promising myself this for about a year now. I have a hard time re-reading books when I have so much new to read. So... when I saw that Julian Barnes’s new book had won this prestigious prize I thought I’d read it instead. Or maybe first – I’m still determined to re-read Flaubert’s Parrot. But, to make myself feel better, I bought The Sense of An Ending.

And here’s what made me read it.

I gave up on, or recognized that I needed more time for, the book I’d chosen for my "book I think might be considered a 21st century classic" for the Back-to-the-Classics Challenge. That was The Serf, the Knight and the Historian by Dominique Barthélemy. I chose it because it was so critically well received and is supposed to be representative of 21st century medieval historiography. I suspect it is as important and groundbreaking as the critics say, but I have to read it very, very slowly. Eventually I will finish reading it, but I wouldn’t dare attempt to review it.

So I needed another 21st century classic. The chair of the 2011 Man Book Prize said: "Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending has the makings of classic English literature. It is exquisitely written, subtly plotted, and reveals new depths with each reading."

So there you go. I’m not going to argue with Stella Rimington. It has the makings of classic English literature and here it is the 21st century! So my challenge is completed.

And it’s a marvelous book. I don’t want to include any spoilers, so here’s my rather discombobulated review.

Tony Webster is an older gentleman looking back on his life, reevaluating what he thought to be true. He doesn’t relate his whole life story, just the pertinent facts. He’s not a reliable narrator. He knows he’s not. He spends some time ruminating on history and memory, letting the reader know that he is perfectly aware pieces are missing from the story but he’s doing his best to reconstruct it.

Once he has presented his past succinctly, we are introduced to the current dilemma. He is then forced to reopen issues from his past and examine them again.

You may or may not be surprised by the unfolding of the plot. Tony is a somewhat difficult character. He’s not particularly likeable but I didn’t have the problem of disliking him to put me off the book. His life story is rather ordinary as he presents it. He’s downplaying the plot of his life, perhaps on purpose, but in fact, the details of his life are rather dull. He’s emotionally disconnected from people and doesn’t quite understand why. The great tragedy of his life doesn’t actually even concern his life. He lived his life and, for the most part, missed it. I didn’t care about Tony, but I was interested in him.

How can that be?

It wasn’t the plot or the characters. In this short, intense piece of literature, it is entirely the language. Julian Barnes is a masterful writer. The book teems with insight, perfectly phrased. It transcends poor Tony and the broken people around him. It’s a book to savor and (dare I say it?) re-read. But first I have to re-read Flaubert’s Parrot!

My challenges for 2011 are done. Thank you to Sarah, Sab, Stephanie, and the team at Historical Tapestry for hosting these fun experiences this year and inspiring me!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day - Next Saturday

Next Saturday is take your child to a bookstore day. I can't count the number of hours I spent in bookstores with my kids over the years. I still love to while away time in bookstores whenever we can, even though we tend to get in and out more quickly now that they're older and have more on their plates. And the number of bookstores has definitely dwindled over the past few years. Which makes it all the more important to get out and support bookstores and children's literacy. Celebrate take your child to a bookstore next Saturday by visiting your local indie bookstore or, if that isn't possible, your local big chain bookstore.

For more info visit: Take Your Child to a Bookstore.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Blogoversary Giveaway Ends November 30

Time's running out. Don't forget to enter my blogoversary giveaway. Click here for details and to sign up to win.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Paris Without End. The True Story of Hemingway's First Wife by Gioia Diliberto

I read and enjoyed The Paris Wife by Paula McLain over the summer. It was such a poignant story and so full of famous names and gorgeous places that the whole thing stuck with me. I took notice of a biography of Hadley Hemingway called Paris Without End - The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife by Gioia Diliberto and decided I wanted to read it, too.

This is a meticulously researched, well-written book. Using a great deal of information taken from letters, interviews, and Hemingway’s personal papers, Diliberto presents a rich account of Hadley and Ernest’s lives. We see their first meeting, we watch their courtship, marriage, and eventual divorce and its aftermath. In fact, it covers all the same ground as the novel but in greater detail and from a different perspective. (The biography was written first and if I remember right was one of McLain's references.)

Paris Without End is a splendid biography. While reading it, I was struck (looking back) by how closely the novel had followed the story of Hadley’s life. In some ways, I felt the books were so similar I didn’t need to have read both. The biography does have some more detailed information, but some of the interpretation began to get a bit repetitive. And while the story is compelling, it wasn’t as emotionally gripping for me as the novel. Nevertheless, Hadley’s personality is well demonstrated. As far as the famous husband– while his faults are evident, the author balances this with Hadley’s generous and loving explanations for his behavior. She forgives him so I suppose I have to. He’s not a likeable character, but he had his own demons.

If you’re interested in Hemingway’s first wife and his Paris years, I can recommend both books. If you prefer nonfiction, try Paris Without End. If you’d rather read a novel, pick up a copy of The Paris Wife.

Monday, November 21, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli

I’ve just finished The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli. Napoli is a rather prolific award-winning writer of children’s and young adult books. I should have read her work before now!

The Wager is a retelling of an old Sicilian fairy tale. Set in Sicily, beginning in 1169, it tells the story of Don Giovanni, a handsome wealthy young gentleman who is, unfortunately, an arrogant wastrel. One night, an earthquake strikes, followed by a tidal wave that washes away everything he owns. His servants abandon him. His castle is essentially repossessed by his creditors. Robbers and worse chase him from his home. He’s too proud to be seen begging where he once was lord, so he makes his way to another city where he can do a peasant’s work to survive.

Don Giovanni manages to scrape by while the weather is warm, but come winter time, he slowly starves. This is when the Devil makes his move. He offers a wager. If Don Giovanni will not bathe, change his clothes, or cut his hair for three years, three months, and three days, the Devil will provide him with a purse that will yield unlimited riches.

Don Giovanni is not a fool. He knows enough to fear a deal with the Devil. But he’s starving and sees no other way out. He thinks he can manage being dirty if he is rich. He takes the purse.

The story then follows Don Giovanni through his years of degradation and redemption.

It’s a wonderful tour of twelfth century Sicily. The nitty gritty details of life for the peasantry come across as realistic even if the political/historical details of the time are bent to fit the fairy tale. It’s not meant to be true historical fiction after all. It’s a morality tale. And watching Don Giovanni’s inward transformation for the better while he is outwardly deteriorating does make you root for Don Giovanni to win. Still, I always wonder a little about this wager-with-the-devil genre. The fool who makes the wager always seems to wiggle out somehow at the end. Rather than a warning against betting your soul, the message seems to be go ahead! You’ll suffer, sure, but in the end, you can beat the devil at his own game.

Musings about the mixed message of the genre aside, The Wager is a thought-provoking story about the importance of community and what money can and cannot buy.

This is my final book for the YA historical fiction challenge. It’s a little more in the fantasy/fairy tale realm than the historical fiction I usually read, but it was a nice change of pace. I’ve now completed three of my four challenges and have just one more book to go for the fourth challenge. Phew! I might make it, but that last book, for the Classics Challenge, is a bear!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Six Word Saturday

Hosted by Show My Face, Six Words Saturday is a fun meme where bloggers try to describe their life/week in six words. Click on the link for more details and to join in.

Want to play along? All that's necessary to participate is to describe your life (or something) in a phrase using just six words. For more information, try clicking here. Feel free to explain or not explain. Add an image, a video, a song, nothing.

This week my words are:

So much to be thankful for.

Friday, November 18, 2011


(A list of books I've read and links to reviews (if reviewed) can be found at the end of the post.)

I'm going to try not to go overboard on challenges for 2012, because I'm cutting it awfully close with my 2011 challenges. I want to keep them fun and not feel like my reading is being directed by the challenges I signed up for. So many of them sound so fun and so tempting, until I run out of hours in the day.

However, this challenge is one that I really need. It's a challenge to read down the pile of books I already own. I'm constantly acquiring books that I want to read. Books that I just have to have. Books that I imagine I'll jump right into. And then they go onto the shelf and sit there for months. Even years.

So here's the challenge. Hosted by My Reader's Block. The details and rules are:

Challenge Levels

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 25 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 40 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 50 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100+ books from your TBR pile/s

And the rules:
*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade.

*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2012.

*You may sign up anytime from now until November 30th, 2012.

*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2012. No ARCs (none), no library books. No rereads. [To clarify--based on a question raised--the intention is to reduce the stack of books that you have bought for yourself or received as presents {birthday, Christmas, "just because," etc.}. Audiobooks may count if they are yours and they are one of your primary sources of backlogged books.]

*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

*Feel free to submit your list in advance (as incentive to really get those books taken care of) or to tally them as you climb.

*A blog and reviews are not necessary to participate. If you have a blog, then please post a challenge sign up and link THAT post (not your home page) into the linky at  My Reader's Block. Non-bloggers, please leave a comment declaring your challenge level.

*A progress site for reviews will go up in January and a link will be posted in the sidebar at My Reader's Block for easy access.

I'm going to aim low -- the Pike's Peak challenge because I know I'll be continuing to acquire and read new books in the new year. I can always raise my level if I'm especially good. But if I do manage to clear 12 "old" books off my TBR list, I'll be so proud of myself.

The books I've read for the challenge are:

1. Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina Garcia
2. By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
3. Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman
4. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand
5. An Imaginary Life by David Malouf
6. The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford
7. Lost Illusions by Honore de Balzac
8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
9. Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. A Biography by Charity Cannon Willard
10. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
11. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
12. The Divine Sacrifice by Tony Hays

Monday, November 14, 2011

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE - Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos

In one of my college French classes, we were assigned Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. I don’t remember which class it was, or why we were given the English translation to read (although I’m glad I don’t have the French version or I’d never attempt a re-read now!) But I do remember being floored by the book.

It was first published in Paris in 1782. From the moment of its publication it was enormously popular. But it was also condemned as corrupt and dangerous. An epistolary novel, the book is introduced by a fictional narrator who claims to be presenting letters extracted from a larger collection. Thus, we can be misled to believe that what we are about to read is true. However a publisher’s note hastens to assure us that they don’t believe it. It’s absurd.

Settle in.

The anti-heroes of this tale are the primary letter writers, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont. At one time lovers, they are now friends and allies in a contest of sexual intrigue. Who is better at it? Valmont has seduced and ruined more women than can be counted; however, the Marquise de Merteuil has a more difficult task. She has managed to live a libertine’s life, taking a succession of lovers, while maintaining a spotless reputation.

As the story opens, the marquise has asked Valmont to help her with a new and worthwhile project – revenge. She wants him to seduce a young girl named Cecile Volanges, recently removed from the convent to marry the Comte de Gercourt. Gercourt was Madame de Merteuil’s lover but jilted her. She wants to see Gercourt humiliated.

Valmont, although generally willing to jump to his old mistress’s command, refuses this time because he is otherwise occupied. He has become obsessed with a young married woman whose virtue is known to be beyond reproach, Madame de Tourvel. He cannot rest until he can have her. He is determined that she fall in love and yield to him willingly.

Letters fly back and forth between the plotters as well as among their intended unfortunate victims. The innocent Cecile falls for an almost equally innocent young chevalier, Danceny, and Madame de Merteuil decides he will do just as well to ruin the girl.

Mercilessly, Valmont and Madame de Merteuil pursue their goals, ensnaring others along the way, goading each other to additional cruelties.

The letter are extremely well written. Each character has a distinctive voice that brings him alive even though we’re just seeing snippets through the letters. The plot moves quickly along. The story is shocking – not so much because of the subject matter -- we read much more graphic material today, but because of the cold-bloodedness of the protagonists. They delight in their own amorality and cruelty. The letters are witty and interesting to read, and when they tease each other you can almost get caught up in their fondness, except for the uncomfortable undercurrent of this is wrong!

I loved this book in college and I wanted to read it again for the Back to the Classics challenge, (the book to re-read) to see if it would still make such an impression on me. I’m more impressed with the writing this time around than I am swept away by the characters. I think back then I wanted to find some excuse for their behavior, something redeeming about them. Maybe their friendship? This time I just accepted them for what they were. They are horrible people, deserving of their fate. But they can sure write entertaining letters!

Monday, November 7, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Crusade by Linda Press Wulf

I love novels about the crusades. As much as I recognize the waste and tragedy of the crusades themselves, they make for compelling fiction. (Jerusalem by Cecelia Holland is one of my all-time favorite historical novels.)

When you read nonfiction about the crusades, you’ll generally come across a short blurb about "the Children’s Crusade." It was a short-lived and completely doomed expedition, heartbreaking to imagine. Details are sparse because the people involved were so anonymous.

Here, for example, is what Judith Bennett has to say about it in Medieval Europe. A Short History (11th edition) – In 1212 a visionary, ill-organized enterprise known as the "Children’s Crusade" ended in tragedy. Thousands of boys and girls flocked into the ports of southern Europe, gripped by religious fervor and convinced (wrongly) that the Mediterranean would dry up so that they could walk to the Holy Land. Some returned home; some were sold into slavery; some died.

(I like how Bennett sticks in the "wrongly." Just in case any of us might have been confused on that point.)

At any rate, what a horror. And yet, what a setting for a historical novel. Think of the people involved. They were individuals. Real people. Real children. These children and teens set out in a religious fervor (or for other reasons) to reach the Holy Land. Leaving everything behind. And not succeeding. Imagine what inspiring characters fictional they could be.

Linda Press Wulf also saw the potential for a remarkable YA historical novel. In Crusade, she follows two teens, Georgette and Robert. Both are extraordinarily bright and devoted to God. Georgette is a peasant, who spent time with the local priest and learned her letters. She is sweet, pious, beautiful, and strong. When the crusading children sweep through her town, led by the charismatic Stephen, she is unable to resist following, even though it’s unclear whether she follows because of God or Stephen.

Robert is a brilliant young orphan who has been taken up and taught by the Abbot of Blois. The crusading horde descends upon the abbey in need of a night’s lodging and food. Robert decides that he, too, is called to join the crusade. His motives are also mixed. He can’t understand why a mere shepherd has been given the gift of leadership while he, with all his learning, puts people off.

The children march onward. Wulf does a marvelous job of portraying the hardships the young crusaders endure. She shows that children were subject to the same conflicting motivations as crusading adults and risked falling prey to the same errors. Innocence is so easily lost.

The book succeeds best, for me, as a story of the crusade. It may be because that’s why I bought the book – that’s what I wanted to read about. There was something a bit predictable and rushed about the aftermath. Even though it was nice to see what happened to Georgette and Robert, I felt the characters were more realistic on crusade. Afterwards it was more of a wrap-up and got a bit preachy.

Still, the Children’s Crusade is an exciting and tragic historical episode, and Crusade by Linda Press Wulf does justice to the tale.

This is my eighth book read for the YA historical fiction challenge hosted by YAbliss.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


 Hosted by Show My Face, Six Words Saturday is a fun meme where bloggers try to describe their life/week in six words. Click on the link for more details and to join in.

Want to play along? All that's necessary to participate is to describe your life (or something) in a phrase using just six words. For more information, try clicking here. Feel free to explain or not explain. Add an image, a video, a song, nothing.

Here's mine:

I'm on vacation next week. Hurray!

Let's see if I can get my next chapter written.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

BACK TO THE CLASSICS- 2012: A new challlenge

Sarah at Sarah Reads Too Much will be hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge again in 2012. This was a great challenge for me this year. It's one of the most challenging challenges. I still have two books to go -- and I'm determined to get them read. It was a great way to get me to sit down and actually read books that have been on my TBR list for YEARS. I always intended to get around to them. Thanks to Sarah, I finally did. So I'll be signing up again for 2012.

Here is an explanation of the challenge. Click on the link above for more details and to join up on the linky link.

  1. Challenge runs from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012. Books started before January 1st do not count, and all links/reviews/comments for each category must be posted in the correct place by December 31st. Feel free to join in at any time, but the end date is December 31.
  2. Please feel free to use books in this Challenge toward any other Challenge you may be participating in. However, you must read a different book for each category of this challenge. Audio and e-books are allowed.
  3. Please sign up for the Challenge using the linky list (or comment section if you do not have a blog/website). If you would be so kind, please spread the word about this challenge by creating a post on your blog/website and link back to the sign up page at Sarah Reads Too Much. 
  4. Once the Challenge has begun, you will see a new bar on the left hand side of Sarah's blog. This will list the places for you to link/comment your reviews of the book you have read for each category as well as a "wrap up" page. She will not be doing monthly check-in posts this year. She will probably do a "Half Way" post in June. These will be important because....
  5. THERE IS A PRIZE THIS YEAR! People who complete the challenge will be entered into a random drawing for $30 worth of books (Book Depository will be used for an International Winner). There may be other prizes as well. Make sure you are following Sarah via GFC, Email, Twitter, or Facebook/Networked Blogs so you are in the know!

Now that is all out of the way, want to see the categories? Sure you do! Here they are:

  • Any 19th Century Classic
  • Any 20th Century Classic
  • Reread a classic of your choice
  • A Classic Play
  • Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction
  • Classic Romance
  • Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your languange - To clarify, if your native language is NOT English, you may read any classic originally written in English that has been translated into your native language.
  • Classic Award Winner - To clarify, the book should be a classic which has won any established literary award.
  • Read a Classic set in a Country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime - To Clarify, this does not have to be a country that you hope to visit either. Countries that no longer exist or have never existed count.
There are nine categories for twelve months. Hopefully you will have enough time to finish without stress, or shying away from a longer/more difficult book because of time constraints. You do not need to specify which books you plan on reading ahead of time, unless you'd like to.
So, now I have to decide what nine books to choose for next year! Sound like a fun challenge? Join us at Sarah Reads Too Much!

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE: The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Why do I do this to myself?

Every once in awhile, I can’t help myself. Even though I know it’ll tear me apart, I immerse myself once again in the immortal story of King Arthur’s Camelot. I love the fantasy and the ridiculous chivalry. Each retelling is just a little different. You can choose to see different episodes from different points of view. One author may make one character very noble while another will make him more of a churl and give the nod to his rival. Was Lancelot really the greatest knight or was it Gawaine? (Or Galahad?) And who was the wickeder witch/fairy? Morgause or Morgan Le Fay? How guilty was Guinevere, really? Was she a conniving adulteress or a poor misguided lovestruck pawn?

In the end, the variations on the theme don’t matter. I fall into the story and am swept along. I’m always heartbroken as the love triangle plays to its inevitable, wrenching conclusion. I know what’s going to happen and yet, even in this book, EVEN IN THIS ONE!- a well-established classic- I caught myself hoping for something to divert the train from its track to avoid the wreck.

This book was The Once and Future King by T.H. White. Written in parts between 1938 and 1941, it is one of the classic Arthurian tales and is regarded as one of the epic masterpieces of fantasy. I chose it for my YA classic for the Back-to-the-Classics challenge. We can debate whether it qualifies as YA. I’ve had the book sitting on my shelf for well over twenty years but never got around to reading it. Somehow, I thought of it as a book for teens, but that probably wasn’t the original audience. It was written well before YA had carved itself out as a "genre." I do think that there are many things about it that today’s YA fantasy readers would enjoy.

The book is divided into four parts. The first is The Sword in the Stone. This part reads almost as a children’s book. It tells of Arthur's (Wart’s) upbringing in the care of Sir Ector. He is tutored by Merlyn who "lives backwards" and teaches Arthur by turning him into animals. Eventually Arthur pulls Excalibur from the stone and thereby claims his rightful place as the next king of England.

But things get darker from there. In the next part we meet Queen Margause and her sons, the Orkney Clan. Morgause is an awful woman and a worse mother. Her sons are psychologically damaged by her neglect and ill-usage. We know them as Gawaine, Gaheris, Agravaine, and Gareth. Later, they will become knights of Arthur’s Round Table, but for now, they are sworn enemies of Arthur.

The third part is The Ill-Made Knight. Oddly enough, Lancelot is portrayed as an ugly knight, and one who is filled with self-loathing. To combat this, he is determined to live out Arthur’s ideals and become the greatest knight of the Round Table. He wants to be so good he can perform a miracle. He succeeds at this, but he also falls in love with Guinevere. This part of the book chronicles their love affair. (The book is definitely no longer a children’s book.) The knights also search for the Holy Grail. This part is told by the knights returning to Camelot rather than as a series of adventures, so it’s narrated rather than shown. But we’re in nostalgia mode by this time, so it’s an effective way of doing it.

And in the fourth part of the book, everything falls apart. It’s been falling apart for awhile, but now, it collapses. Arthur’s splendid Camelot dissolves back into warfare and just about everyone dies. Why doesn’t this story ever change?

T.H. White’s version is based on Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. It’s jam-packed with adventures and episodes of established Arthurian lore. White’s interpretation of the stories, often witty, often poignant or thoughtful, and tending to be heavily laced with intentional anachronisms, are what make this an accessible and thought-provoking read. In some respects, it is a little dated. For example, he compares some of the knight to cricket players that must have been contemporaries back in the 1940's. But at other times, the deliberate mixing of past, present, and a vague view of the future work to make this book and its message endure.

The story of King Arthur is timeless. I suppose that’s why I can’t get enough of it, even though it breaks my heart every time. There is a hopefulness buried in the smoking ruins.

I’ve got two books left to read for this year’s Back-to-the-Classics challenge. And now it’s time to sign up for the 2012 challenge!

Saturday, October 29, 2011


I missed my own bloggiversary. I knew it was coming up sometime in October, but then I forgot. My first official post was October 13.

So, quickly, before October disappears, I wanted to celebrate and thank everyone who has participated, commented, followed and helped me enjoy the blogging experience.

I'm going to hold a giveaway. It will be a couples' combo. One copy of my book:

and one copy of my husband's book:

The winner will receive both books and a $25.00 Barnes and Noble gift card.

 To enter, please leave a comment including your email address. You don't need to be a follower, but followers (new or old) will receive 1 extra entry. (Please let me know in the comment if you are a follower.) I'm going to have to limit this contest to US and Canadian entrants only.

The contest will run today through November 30. Thanks again for joining me in Reading World!

SIX WORD SATURDAYS: A new meme for me

Can I summarize my past week in six words?

       Busy work. Busier kids. Week gone.

What is Six Week Saturdays? This meme is hosted by Show My Face.
In order to take part, the trick is to describe your life (or something) in a phrase using just six words. For more information, try clicking here. Feel free to explain or not explain. Add an image, a video, a song, nothing. Link your blog post back to Show My Face and visit the other blogs to see what other bloggers have said.

Have fun!

Friday, October 28, 2011

BOOK BLOGGER HOP: Halloween weekend!

Book Blogger Hop

Gearing up for the weekend, it's time for the book blogger hop, hosted by Jen at Crazy for Books. This is a wonderful hop for book bloggers and book lovers. Join us and meet people with a similar passion for books. This is the last week of the hop before an indefinite hiatus so come and hop!

This week's prompt is:

“What is your favorite Halloween costume?
Even if you don’t celebrate, what kinds of costumes do you like?”

My favorite costume(s) is the combo worn by my kids a couple years ago. For several years running they would go as a matched pair of something - which, as a mom of a boy and girl approaching those middle school years, warmed my heart and gave me that bittersweet feeling of "oh, this is so precious, but it isn't going to last." But while it did last, I enjoyed it. One year my daughter wanted to be a mailbox. That's kind of bittersweet in itself. I have pangs of nostalgia as those mailboxes disappear from the landscape. My husband constructed a costume for her out of a big cardboard box. To match, we made my son into a mailman. (This is my Mailbox Monday photo.)

Anyway, Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays because it is such fun. One of the joys has been seeing my kids enjoy it together. If only there was a way to bottle that and keep it!

What is your favorite costume?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

MAILBOX MONDAY: Two new historicals

Mailbox Monday is a meme originated by Marcia at A Girl and Her Books. It's now being rotated through different blogs monthly. During October, Mailbox Monday will be hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit. Bloggers can share info about the new books that have come into their homes during the week. It's a great way to discover what everyone else is reading -- and have your own wish lists grow exponentially.

This week I bought two new books. First, Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman, was the subject of my WOW post a few weeks back. Now I have the book!

The second book is Road from the West by Rosanne E. Lortz.

The back jacket description is: You've heard of the Knights Templar, you've heard of Richard the Lionheart-- now learn the story that started it all with the adventures of the First Crusade.

Haunted by guilt from the past and nightmares of the future, a young Norman named Tancred takes the cross and vows to be the first to free Jerusalem from the infidels. As he journeys to the Holy Land, he braves vast deserts, mortal famine, and the ever-present ambushes of the enemy Turks -- but the greatest danger of all is deciding which of the Crusader lords to trust. A mysterious seer prophesies that Tancred will find great love and great sorrow on his journey, but the second seems intent on claiming him before he can find the first. Intrigues and passions grow as every battle brings the Crusaders one step closer to Jerusalem. Not all are destined to survive the perilous road from the West.

From the description, the book puts me in mind of the classic novel of the First Crusade by Alfred Duggan, Knight With Armour, a book I really enjoyed. So I'm looking forward to this one.

Friday, October 21, 2011

BOOK BLOGGER HOP 10/21-10/24: Chocolate!!!

Hurray! It's Friday! Time for the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy-for-Books. This is our weekly chance to get together with other book bloggers and share our thoughts -- usually about our love for books but sometimes other things. Like this week.

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question is Halloween themed:

What is your favorite type of candy?

I'll eat anything chocolate. My favorite is probably Butterfingers. Although...I do love Goldenberg's peanut chews even more. They're just so hard to find. Of course, some days nothing will do except a Mounds bar.

This is why, come Halloween, we're giving out fruity candies. Or maybe candy corn. We hardly get any trick-or-treaters where I live. And if we buy a bag of chocolates, I'll end up eating them all.

I'm not sure I should hop around. It's going to be too painfully tempting.

Monday, October 17, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang

This past summer, I attended the Historical Novel Society conference and spoke on a panel about YA fiction. Dori Jones Yang was on the panel too, the author of Daughter of Xanadu. I’ve wanted to read this book ever since, and I’m very pleased to add it to my books read for the YA historical fiction challenge. (Check out the challenge hosted by Sab at YA Bliss.)

Set in the late 13th century, this is the story of Emmajin, a Mongol princess, the granddaughter of the Great Khan Khubilai. Emmajin has been raised on stories of the victories of the Mongol army and the advancement of the empire. She is not only beautiful but strong; she is as good (or better) at archery as her cousin, the Khan’s heir. While her younger sister and the other girls talk of nothing but marriages and court gossip, Emmajin is interested only in conquest and military affairs. More than anything, she wants to be a soldier in her grandfather’s army.

The action begins when Emmajin is given a chance to prove herself – not so much as a warrior, but as a spy. Each of the Khan’s older grandchildren, the ones of age to become soldiers, are assigned to learn about the customs and military strength of one of the foreigners at court. Emmajin’s foreigner is a handsome, young "Latin" named Marco Polo.

Marco Polo has come all the way from Venice with his father and uncle on a trade mission. He is a merchant, not a soldier. At first, Emmajin is unimpressed with him. But as they spend time together, she comes to respect his abilities even though they are definitely not the warlike virtues she values. His talk makes her begin to question her own beliefs. And although she has never been interested in men or marriage, she finds herself drawn to Marco in a way she never anticipated.

Daughter of Xanadu is set in a time period I love, but in a completely different locale from my usual fare. The book sets the stage marvelously, making an unfamiliar, exotic location into a rich, real world. Marco Polo and "Kublai Khan" are names that I recognize, of course, but have to admit I know very little about. This novel does a wonderful job of bringing these characters to life. Emmajin is an inspiring young woman and her adventures make for a fast-paced, enjoyable read.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

WONDERFUL WEDNESDAYS: The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough

Sam at Tiny Library hosts a meme called Wonderful Wednesdays to give book bloggers a chance to spotlight wonderful books that they haven’t had a chance to talk about before. They don’t have to be recent reads. Just well-loved books. Each week has a different theme and this week’s theme is historical fiction.

This is a tough one for me. I have to take part because it’s historical fiction! I read this genre more than anything else. The problem is picking just one book to talk about. There are so many that I love.

I finally realized that Wednesday was going to end if I didn’t just pick one of my favorites and say something. So here it is. One of the best historical fiction writers of all time has got to be Colleen McCullough. She’s tackled various times and places and her books are amazing. But while many people will remember her as the author of The Thorn Birds (for those who remember when the T.V. miniseries was all the rage) I became addicted to her books because of The First Man in Rome. This is the first book in her massive Masters of Rome series, chronicling the end of the Roman Republic and the start of the Empire. I ate those books up.

The First Man in Rome is the story of Gaius Marius a wealthy, brilliant military man of low origins who becomes the most powerful man in Rome at a time when Rome was undergoing a massive (and violent) upheaval. Alongside Marius, sometimes in his footsteps, is Sulla, a poor but highborn man of questionable morals. Friends and rivals, they are ambitious men, loyal to Rome but with their own definition of loyalty.

The book, including glossary, is over 1000 pages. The history is meticulously researched. When reading the story you are thrown back into ancient Rome. For those unfamiliar with the huge cast of characters and the complexity of the political intrigues, not to mention the geography of the military endeavors, the book can be daunting. But the personalities as so forceful and the plot so compelling that I was sucked in to the story even when I couldn't keep track of all the threads. What I loved most about this book (and its sequels) is how alive the characters were and how deeply emotionally invested I became in their stories. For all the intricacy of the history and politics, for all I felt I was learning something about a pivotal time in human history, mainly, I was reading a tale of human striving, love, friendship – triumph and tragedy. The characters are larger than life and yet, they are real. Just thinking about the book makes me want to read it again!

Monday, October 10, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

The books I’ve reviewed lately have been well-written with in-depth characterizations and I’ve enjoyed them, but they haven’t exactly been...cheery. I needed a change of pace. It was time to read another book for the Georgette Heyer Challenge hosted by Stephanie at Books are a Girl's Best Friend! Although this concludes my challenge, I’m sure I’ll be reading more of Heyer in the future.

I chose Cotillion this time around. In this Regency romance, a very light-hearted romp, Miss Kitty Charing is about to be named heiress to a fortune. She is an orphan who was adopted by the grouchy old Mr. Matthew Penicuik. With no children of his own, it was expected that Mr. Penicuik would leave something to Kitty and the rest to his great-nephews – the bulk likely to his favorite, the handsome rake, Jack Westruther. But instead, Uncle Matthew summons them all to his manor to announce that Kitty will receive it all, provided she marry one of them.

Not all the nephews show up for the announcement. Jack, who does not like to dance to his uncle’s tune, has not come. Other nephews dutifully offer for Kitty and are roundly refused. Not only are the proposals painful, but Kitty  wants to marry Jack. She’s been smitten with him for a long time. But she doesn’t want to be coerced into a marriage either, or to have Jack ask for her only because of the inheritance. Still, she’s miffed by his lack of interest.

And then, there is the last of the nephews, Freddy Standen. Good-natured and generous, Freddy is a dandy, more interested in clothes than females. He has plenty of money; he doesn’t need Kitty’s inheritance. He showed up by accident, not knowing why he was supposed to be there. He’s just the one Kitty needs to help her. She begs him to pretend to offer for her. With their false engagement, she can escape Uncle Matthew’s manor and spend a short while in London – all she’s ever dreamed of. Moreover, although she doesn’t mention this to Freddy, she’ll have a chance to make Jack jealous.

Freddy reluctantly goes along with the scheme, but once they get to London, nothing goes as planned. The story delightfully goes off in several directions as Kitty tries to play matchmaker for new friends and old ones. She has run-ins with Jack that bring her closer to her goal and then make her question what she really wants. And all along Freddy sticks by her side, rescuing her from her mistakes and, at the same time, learning what he is capable of. They both grow as characters – and guess what?

It’s sweet and fun. Innocent and silly. Hooray!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott

The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott is a contemporary relationship novel, the kind of thing I usually stay away from because (except for romance) contemporary relationships tend to come across as rather bleak. (Small scale bleak - not historical fiction bleak which is grand scale and entirely different.) Nevertheless, I saw this blurbed elsewhere and I was intrigued enough to request if from the library. And once I started reading it, I really couldn’t stop.

The book opens with a short part one, a prologue really, set in 2004. Henry Cage, the wealthy, upright protagonist is reluctantly attending a funeral he cannot avoid. It’s the funeral of his eight year old grandson. As the prologue unfolds, we learn that his grandson died as the result of a grisly, violent accident, and Henry feels responsible.

We then jump back to 1999. Henry is being forcibly retired from the company—a London business consulting firm— that he helped found. The company is growing beyond Henry’s vision and Henry is tired of being the voice of restraint, so he goes without a fight. He is wealthy and respected. Life should be good, right?

But no. Through a series of flashbacks we learn of his divorce from his wife and resulting estrangement from his son. And we learn that his ex-wife is now dying of cancer. And then, late one night, through no fault of his own, Henry comes across a violent sociopath who starts stalking him.

Henry has to deal with the loss of his job and the routine that gives his life meaning, he has to confront his loneliness and the mistakes he has made throughout his life, and he has to figure out what to do about an increasingly crazy/creepy situation.

The author does a wonderful job of painting character sketches of a diverse bunch of people. Although some of the plotting hinges on coincidences that felt a bit stretched, the characters were realistic enough to make it all work.

Henry is a sympathetic protagonist. He’s flawed, but it does seem his suffering may be disproportionate to his crimes. (Particularly when contrasted with his sociopathic nemesis.) The book almost follows a redemptive arc with Henry going along a path of self-discovery, plunging to the depths, and finally finding solace and embracing his own need for humanity, for love of family, etc. etc. This was almost a book where I could have turned the final page and found a satisfying conclusion. Unfortunately, I was naggingly aware of that part one. I knew what was down the road for Henry. So I knew how futile it all was going to be for him.

If you like character-driven contemporary fiction and good writing and don’t mind having a dark cloud hanging over you for awhile after the book is done, I’d recommend this. However, as for myself, after this I’m calling a moratorium on depressing books.