The only reason I ever read a mystery novel is because of its setting and characters. That's what I liked about this one, set during the reign of Henry VIII in a monastery near Sussex, England and featuring people and historical facts I'm familiar with from lots of other books I've read. In this case, the suppression of the monasteries by Thomas Cromwell provided the backdrop to the mystery itself. Our sleuthing hero, Matthew Shardlake has been sent by Thomas Cromwell to investigate a foul murder that had taken place in one of the monasteries that's scheduled to be dismantled in order to provide lands and riches to the king's coffers. As usual I wasn't the least bit interested in trying to solve the mystery and so most of the clues went right over my head. What I enjoyed was the flavor of the book - especially the details about the monastery and the monks who lived there, and the conflicts and abuses that were going on during that time. It was light but enjoyable reading and I was happy to discover that C.J.Sanson has written a whole series of mysteries that take place during the same time period. So I'll definitely be back for more.
While the basic plot of this book was nothing new (two sisters in love with the same man who happens to be married to one of them) what stands out about this book are the characterizations, the setting (England around the time of WWII) and the way the author develops the plot by dipping back and forth between time intervals, thus giving us a chance to view events, circumstances,relationships and consequences from a variety of different perspectives - depending on who is remembering what happened. The book was published in the early fifties and may have even seemed a bit racy for the times since so much of the story involves marital infidelity and deception, coupled with more than just a hint of sexual promiscuity. The clandestine sexual relationship between Dinah and Rickie is the thread that weaves the story line together, along with the way Madeline (his wife and her sister) reacts to it. However, it's the impact that relationship has on all of the characters whose lives are being affected by it that makes this such compelling novel. I've never read anything by Rosamond Lehmann before, but intend to track down more of her work because she seems to write with a great deal of insight. What I found most moving about this book is that Lehmann invited us to get to know each of her main characters in depth. We came to recognize the complex motivation behind what led them to behave the way they did and to value the things that were unique about each of them. So it was difficult to be critical of them - despite the fact that their behaviors often seemed to merit it. Instead, I found myself sympathizing with each one of them because of what they were going through as a result of the complicated way their lives had become entangled. Ultimately I think this was a novel about the difficult burden of loving people, the pain that is so often and so unintentionally a part of it, and the fact that in the end what often matters the most about love is the ability to forgive -- something that so many people in relationships today are unable (or perhaps unwilling) to do.
My guess is that unless youre in the mood for something entirely zany this book will leave you cold. Fortunately I was and so I had a great time reading it, laughing all the way and insisting on reciting entire sections to my poor husband who didn't always appreciate being interrupted. It probably also helped to have majored in English literature and to enjoy occasional forays into the realm of speculative fiction where alternative universes and time travel are commonplace. In this case what made for the most fun was the fact that in this version of London circa 1985, life revolved around literature even for the crooks and criminals who go around kidnapping major characters from classic books which is what happened here when Jane Eyre is suddenly snatched from the famous Bronte novel. Its a world where people can literally get lost in a good book, running the risk of changing important plot lines forever, or being stuck in literary landscapes as did one unlucky character who found herself wandering around for days looking at daffodils with William Wordsworth. Naturally this kind of world requires extra vigilance on the part of the authorities responsible for keeping plot lines intact and so someone like literary detective Thursday Next has her work cut out for her. Fortunately shes up to the task and thanks to Ffordes imagination its a hoot following along as she hunts down the villain responsible for stealing the original manuscript of Charles Dickens Martin Chuzzlewit before the book is altered forever.
from the cover: "this resonant first novel has a mythic quality that allows dark, half-buried secrets to be gracefully and chillingly revealed." I was mesmerized by this book - despite its heavy theme it's beautifully and artfully written. But it's not for the faint of heart.
Of the many WWII novels Ive read, this is one of the best possibly because it encompasses whats going on from multiple narrative points of view and covers the war from many angles. The novel intertwines the stories of at least eight major characters all of whom are dealing with the uncertainty and danger of the war but in different places and from different perspectives. Because the action continually shifts back and forth from one location to the other - the War in the Pacific, the fate of the Jews in Amsterdam, the tension mounting in Great Britain, the atrocities taking place at the concentration camps throughout Germany, the plan for the invasion of Europe, as well as what it was like for those back home who were working in factories and coping with shortages, rationing, etc. - the reader is often left in suspense, waiting to find out the fate of one set of characters, while engrossed in whats happening somewhere else. While Piercy has invented her fictional characters and the kinds of situations in which they find themselves, she clearly has done a great deal of research about the Second World War and so the novel is filled with historical details that provide the reader with information about the war itself. But like most historical novels, its the human element the suffering, the courage, the sorrow and heartbreak -- that makes this book so hard to put down. Its hard to imagine what it must have been like to live through the period from 1939 -1945. But GONE TO SOLDIERS makes it quite clear that were it not for the sacrifices and the pain thousands and thousands of people endured our lives today would be very different.
This 1935 Pulitzer Prize winner is a good example of why we miss out on some fantastic reading if the only books we read are those that have been published recently!Written over 70 years ago, this novel begins a generation before the Chinese revolution and centers around the life of an impoverished peasant, Wang Lung and his attempts to rise above poverty and live a respectable life as a land-owner. As his story unfolds we feel like were invisible observers peeking over his shoulder as he goes about doing the things that people like him had been doing for centuries. We first meet him as he prepares to go into the village and bring home the slave woman who his father has arranged for him to marry. Were also shown what life was like for Chinese peasant women at that time a time when women were not allowed to walk alongside their husbands, and mothers were congratulated for bearing sons but criticized if the baby happened to be a girl in which case she was frequently killed, sold into slavery, or subjected to the painful prospect of having her feet bound which was still being done at that time (because tiny little feet were considered to be an asset especially when men were looking for concubines.) I found it interesting that while the major characters in this novel were vividly portrayed especially Wang Lung, O-Lan his wife, Lotus his Concubine and her slave Cuckoo, many of the others were very rarely even referred to by name even though they were equally important to the narrative and just as well developed. Children were spoken of as first son and second son, siblings were older brother and younger brother and characters often referred to each other as that one or the son of your fathers brother, rather than by name. In fact, several important characters in the novel remained nameless to the reader all the way through. It seemed to underscore the importance of kinship relationships and the strict social norms that revolved around them. And so we watch the events and circumstances of Wang-Lungs life unfold within the cultural context of the late 19th century, but at the same time we are being reminded that the major themes of the book courage and conviction, the will to survive, family responsibilities and conflicts, hard work and the love of the land are universal.
Such a thoroughly unsentimental book about what love is really all about especially how much it can hurt. The story unfolds in the voices of the most important characters and moves back and forth among them giving us glimpses into why they behave the way they do as well as how they view each other. Two of them, Bobby and Jonathan, have grown up together needing to depend on each other to deal with the residue of circumstances that have left them wounded and vulnerable. By the time they reach young adulthood and are re-united once again after having gone their separate ways for a while, their relationship is both complicated and strengthened by the presence of a third person, the quirky and somewhat jaded Clare whom they both love but in very different ways. The three of them are bonded together in what appears to the rest of the world to be the most unconventional of relationships which is further complicated when Clare gives birth to the baby that both Bobby and Jonathan consider to be theirs even though its obvious to the reader who the real father is. It is this dimension of the story that I found to be the most poignant since its so clear that the family the three of them have created is such a loving one. In fact if I were pressed to name the major theme of this deeply moving novel, Id say its all about what it really means to be a family especially when life makes it so difficult. All three of the characters in this novel are carrying heavy burdens that make it almost impossible for them to be who the others need them to be. In the hands of a less skillful author this book could easily have become pathetically maudlin especially the episodes that touch upon the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic. But Cunningham is a masterful writer who treats his characters with sensitivity and respect and gives them some wonderfully insightful lines, like this one: Our lives are full of things we cant control so letting little things happen is good practice.
This is an early novel by the author of Gilead and most recently, Home. It's a mesmerizing book, possibly because the writing is absolutely beautiful. I keep finding passages I want to re-read simply because of the way Robinson uses language. This is a book to be read slowly and thoughtfully not only because of the prose style but also because it deals with some pretty heavy issues like loss, grief, abandonment, suicide, transcience and lonliness. Obviously this is not "light" reading! It also forces us to think about what it means to be "normal" and why families - in whatever shape or size they happen to be - are so important. [close]
This is the remarkable, true-life account of Jack and Rochelle Sutin, two Polish Jews who fled the Nazi labor camps and escaped the holocaust by hiding out the war in the deeply wooded forests of Poland. Narrated alternately between the two of them, their story has been carefully and faithfully captured by their son Laurence as it was told to him in a series of interviews. It is filled with harrowing and gruesome details familiar to readers of holocaust literature, but unlike many other books in this genre, there are few references to what actually occurred in the death camps and gas chambers. Instead this is a story that includes a determination to fight back and survive at all costs, including armed resistance and revenge on Nazi perpetrators and their Polish sympathizers. Jack and Rochelle were among thousands of other Polish Jews who found a sanctuary deep in the forest where they managed to survive despite hunger, inhuman living conditions and the constant threat of danger. It is a story of courage, resiliency and the willingness put up with unspeakable deprivation in the midst of great pain and suffering.
I discovered this book thanks to my book loving friend Emma and now I cant wait to continue reading the rest of the Saxon Series by Bernard Cornwell. Historical novels about England have always enchanted me but this one goes back further than I usually go -- way back to the 9th century during the time the Danes were on the rampage and King Alfred (later to be dubbed the Great) was struggling to hang on to Wessex the only kingdom that hadnt been defeated by the invaders. The story is told through the eyes of Uhtred an English boy born to be a lord but orphaned and captured at the age of 10 by the Danish warrior Ragnar who raises him like his own son. As Uhtred grows into manhood, he is quickly assimilated into the wild and war-loving pagan world of his surrogate father whom he grows to love and emulate. But at heart he is still English and much of the books conflict centers around Uhtreds uncertainties when it comes to deciding where his loyalties lie. Naturally, a book whose central characters are 9th century Danish warriors is going to be full of blood and gore. The battle scenes are extremely graphic and so are the descriptions of what happened when the Vikings raided villages and settlements. Cornwell is a great story teller and as far as I can tell he researches his subject matter quite thoroughly. It was interesting to learn for instance that the term "viking" referred to the Danes only when they were raiding and not when they were engaged in battle. And I was fascinated by the descriptions of the Danish ships that struck terror into the hearts of the English, and the kind of battle strategies that were used at the time. It reminded me of an old Irish poem said to be written by a monk: "Bitter is the wind tonight/It ruffles the deep seas grizzled locks/I do not fear a crossing of the clear waves/By a band of greedy warriors from the North" Those greedy warriors from the North are front and center in this book that had me hooked from the first chapter. I couldn't wait to get back to it each time I had to put it down, and now I can't wait to get my hands on the next book in the series.
I had a difficult time staying with this book even though I've read most all of Erdrich's other novels that feature these same characters. She is a wonderful writer and her books, set in a fictional North Dakota Ojibwe reservation beginning in the early part of the 20th century up until the present day, have been favorites of mine. Her characters are rich and complex and they show up again and again in her books at different points in their lives as well as at different points in their family's complicated histories. So it's not always easy trying to keep track of them and for some reason I found it especially difficult in this novel. Like most of her books, Erdrich uses a non-linear storyline in this one in order to weave back and forth between 1910 and 1997. The narrative unfolds from the point of view of characters whose relationships with each other aren't always easy to trace. What kept me reading was the fascinating story of Father Damien, the priest who has been a peripheral but beloved character in the other novels. This time it is his story that unfolds and as it does we also learn the truth about the enigmatic and sadistic Sister Leopolda who many believe could be a saint despite her cruelty. Since whoever picks up this book will have already learned the truth about Fr. Damien's gender because it's revealed in the jacket blurb as well as early on in the novel, I don't have to worry about spoilers. That's good because the whole novel is based on the fact that Damien is really Agnes and she's spent her life fulfilling her vocation to the priesthood. It's what I found most beautiful and touching about the novel because it raised important questions about the nature of faith and the function of religion as well as the many forms that love takes in people's lives. These are especially provocative questions these days as the Catholic Church continues to cling to outdated notions about who can be ordained to the priesthood. In Father Damien, Erdrich is asking us to consider that ordination and gender aren't what matters. Mercy, compassion and forgiveness are what a priest needs if he or she is to minister to the needs of those who look to him or her for guidance and insight. Those are qualities that arise in the depths of the heart and not from the hands of a bishop during an ordination rite. Nor is a person's sexuality a factor. In fact, Erdrich seems to be suggesting that to experience the fullness of human love can only deepen a priest's understanding of what genuine love entails. I can't help wishing that the Catholic Church would model its concept of the priesthood on what Louise Erdrich has given us in her portrait of Father Damien.
This falls into the not particularly outstanding, but a good read, nonetheless category -- mainly because of the setting and time period (Dublin, London, and Italy before and during WWII). I wasnt particularly drawn to either of the characters, though, because they seemed so hard to get close to: Bella, a middle aged, mousey woman whose overbearing father arranges for her to take a job as a governess in Italy; Edward, the little boys enigmatic piano teacher whos ended up in Italy to escape being convicted of a murder. This is also a story within a story and so the action jumps back and forth between time periods and locations, introducing readers to a third major character Bellas grand-daughter Anna as she pieces together bits and pieces of her grandmothers mysterious past. What kept me reading had less to do with the plot and much more to do with the details and descriptions of life in Fascist Italy during WWII.