Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

Another lovely reading experience, brought to you by Georgette Heyer. I think that this one is my favorite so far by her. It had all of the components of her other historical romances, but this one managed to pull them all off flawlessly. It is a slightly different story than seems typical for her books, but maybe that's why I liked it so much.
The Duke of Sale, known as Gilly to most people (his full name and titles are amusingly very long), is an orphan, raised by his uncle until he reaches his majority at age 25. We meet him at 24, and see in him a man who has been so sheltered and cared for all of his life, that he practically cannot stand up for himself. He wants to speak for himself, and live his own life, but he knows that those responsible for his extreme disconnection from the world, his uncle and servants, only treat him so because they love him so much. And he does not have the heart to cause strife among his household. However, we see that this "mollycoddling" has begun to be simply too much for him, and he begins to show signs of breaking free. When his cousin finds himself in some trouble, Gilly volunteers to solve the problem. His first step? Tricking his servants and informing absolutely no one, not even his closest friend Gideon (another cousin), of his intentions, he sets out to have himself an adventure, to prove to himself whether he is "a man, or only a duke."
Gilly is a fantastic character, one whose strength the reader can see through all of the sheltering he has grown up with. The other male characters are equally well-drawn; I especially love Gideon, and his attitude towards Gilly, who he insists on calling Adolphus (his true first name). The two main female characters are also likeable, and Heyer does a terrific job of making us love the foundling Belinda, while being just as annoyed with her as the rest of the cast of characters most of the time. The romance in this book is more subtle than in the others, but I found it perhaps even more satisfying. Like I said, this is my favorite of the Heyer books I have read so far, and I would definitely recommend it to fans of historical fiction and romance.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fade to Blue by Sean Beaudoin

This is definitely one of the strangest books that I have read in a while, and I'm not really sure if I liked it. It was a fascinating read, and I kept thinking about the book after I was done. But overall, I think it missed the mark in a few ways.
Fade to Blue is the story of Sophie Blue, who decided to start wearing all black, including her lipstick, on her last birthday, which was also the last time she saw her father. Sophie is pretty sure that she is losing her mind, and the scary dreams and creepy popsicle truck that seems to be following her don't really help things. The book also seems to be the story of Kenny Fade, the school basketball star for whom everything seems to go exactly right. But he may be going crazy too. Their stories begin to intertwine in a way that makes you scratch your head, that makes you go, "Okay, this book is totally not what I thought it was about." The other main characters of the story, Sophie's best friend Lake and her brother O.S., are also not quite what they seem.
As the plot twists and turns, I found myself getting a little bit lost, which I don't think was entirely my fault as a reader. Beaudoin seems to want to take this story somewhere that he can't quite get to. But it really is a fascinating read, nonetheless. Also, I couldn't read about the creepy popsicle truck without picturing the ice cream truck from that old Play Station video game, Twisted Metal. If you know what I'm talking about, you'll know what I mean when I say it's creepy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Lie by Fredrica Wagman

This book was totally not what I expected it to be. Honestly, I really had no expectations, it's been in my to-read pile forever and I finally just got to it. But even with no expectations, it completely surprised me. This review may contain spoilers, it is incredibly difficult to talk about without giving away plot. But I think it will be okay, if you plan on reading the book - I don't think anything I discuss will ruin the story in any way.
Ramona Smollens is seventeen when she meets the man she will marry, just one month after meeting him. Their meeting is very strange, and sets the tone for the rest of their relationship. The entire novel takes place inside Ramona's head, with her as a narrator. And what an unreliable narrator she is! The "Lie" of the title is complicated - Ramona's entire life seems to be a lie, as she has lied to herself and others for so long. But really, the Lie for Ramona seems to be that love and sex and marriage can bring happiness and fulfillment to life. Ramona has believed in the promise that she was told by the sirens of the silver screen, Rita Hayworth in particular, that she will be swept off her feet with passion, and sex will come easy to her, and she will be happy. But none of this happens. And so Ramona lies, to her parents, to her husband, to herself. And she lives within the lies that society has told her, and the lies she believes that her husband is telling her. And within her narration, it is sometimes impossible to tell the truth from the fiction.
The writing itself is not what I was used to. Wagman uses a sort of stream of consciousness style, with sentences that seems to go on forever, broken up by elipses and dashes. But it always makes sense, and the style never distracts from the story. It only adds to the sense of madness that we get from Ramona. She is entirely obsessed with Rita Hayworth, and entirely obsessed with the idea of herself as a woman. She grew up in a household that destroyed her soul, and made her seemingly incapable of real feeling. This book was really a fascinating read, and would be a terrific choice for a book club. There is so much here to discuss! I read it in a few hours, it just flies by. If this review has made the book sound interesting at all, I would definitely say go pick it up. You may not like the story, or Ramona, but you won't forget it, and you won't regret picking up this book for a glimpse into the way the Lies of our society can alter a life.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

This is the first book that I have read by Malcolm Gladwell, but if his other two books (The Tipping Point and Blink) are anything like this one, the man is a genius when it comes to synthesizing information. Synthesizing is not the exact word that I want, but what I mean is he has an incredible ability to bring together information from all sorts of studies, creating a pattern that he shows to his readers to make his point. His point in Outliers is that our notion of success is flawed. We love to believe in the self-made man, the super successful genius who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, came from nothing or nowhere, and became an icon of success. However, Gladwell shows that this myth is simply not true; for every super successful person, he can show examples of people who are just as talented, and could have been just as successful, but for whom life did not provide the lucky breaks it did for the success stories. (This is not meant to lessen the genius of those successes in any way - it just gives a different perspective on their lives.)
Gladwell's examples range from the Beatles to Bill Gates, from Jewish lawyers in New York to Chinese children and mathematics. In every single chapter there was something that I absolutely had to share with my husband while I was reading - really, I would have just read the whole book to him if I had the chance. The most fascinating information I found was his description of cultural legacies, and how those continue to affect us on all levels.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I was unable to provide a category for it in my labels, but anyone who enjoys reading will enjoy this book. It is fascinating, especially if you are a non-fiction reader. But even fiction readers will find themselves hooked!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Lord John by Georgette Heyer

My Lord John was Heyer's last novel, and is actually unfinished, with the manuscript ending right in the middle of a sentence. She had planned on writing the life story of Lord John, Duke of Bedford, son of King Henry IV and younger brother to King Henry V, but this book ends right before the death of his father. It covers his life from childhood through to 1413, when he was in his early twenties. Heyer did an enormous amount of research to write this book, and this becomes very obvious throughout the story. In addition to discussing the life of one man, we learn about the entire world during that time period, from details of the lives of the princes, to the struggles on the world stage.
I found this book to be incredibly difficult to read. For fans of Heyer's light romances, which are also excellent historical fiction, this book might be a bit daunting. It is very different from the others I've read by her. What made it most frustrating for me was the fact that I could not for the life of me keep all the names and titles straight, even with the help of the cast of characters at the front of the book and the family tree in the back. The problem comes from Heyer's use of not only the character's given names, but also their titles, which seem to be constantly changing, and even their nicknames, if the characters have them. Most historical fiction authors that I have read try to keep things a little bit more in order for their readers, as though they understand that this can be confusing. Heyer also uses language from the time, and she helpfully includes a glossary, so that her readers will not be further mystified about what is going on. Still, this use of language tended to add to my difficulty with the book.
Overall, the historical detail is incredible, and the reader can learn a tremendous amount about this time period from the book. It would have been good to read the entire thing, no matter how difficult I found it. However, I hesitate to recommend this one, simply because the constant name switching and use of language were for me very distracting.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

When I first read about The Year of the Flood, and that it takes place in the same world as Oryx and Crake, I was intrigued. The world of these two books is a future of our world, around fifty years in the future, I think. So much of it is very similar, and what isn't the same as our world is still recognizable. I read Oryx and Crake when it came out a few years ago. I liked it, but it did not become a favorite of mine. It stuck with me, and yet it did not mean very much to me. As a result, I did not remember many details.
As a result, it took me a while to recognize that The Year of the Flood not only takes place in the same world as Oryx and Crake, but it also takes place over pretty much the exact same time period. The Year of the Flood is not a sequel, nor is Oryx and Crake a prequel - they are more like companion novels. I may have to go back and reread Oryx and Crake now, as I feel like I may see it in a different light.
I love Margaret Atwood's writing style. The Handmaid's Tale is my favorite book, and I have read many of her other books over the years. In this book, as in all of her others, Atwood simply drops you right into the story, and begins to describe the world from the point of view of one or more of the characters. In a science fiction-like story such as this one, this makes things a bit disorienting at first. Atwood leaves it up to her readers to piece together the meanings of many words - although the world is very similar to ours, many things exist in it that do not in our time, and so there are new words for many objects and ideas. But Atwood is an excellent writer, allowing the reader to pick up on these things as she goes along.
The Year of the Flood is told from the points of view of two different characters, Toby and Ren, who have both survived the plague that wiped out humanity, known as the Waterless Flood. Interspersed between their chapters are sermons given by the leader of the Gods Gardeners, Adam One. Toby and Ren give us a picture of what their life is in the present tense, as well as telling us about their past. The stories of their pasts move forward until at the end of the book, they meet with the present. I always really enjoy this novel structure, as it is suspenseful in a way, but you also know the ending.
I would have to say that I liked this book a lot better than Oryx and Crake, but it would be really interesting to reread that one now that I've read this one. They are incredibly different books, told by characters who are vastly different from each other, and experience the world in a very different way. Atwood's views of the future are always interesting, and are critical of many aspects of our present societies. I highly recommend this book to everyone, not just fans of her work.