Book in a Minute: Jane Eyre’s Sisters

I know, I know. It’s been a minute. What can I say? New job for me, husband who’s starting up his own new business, shoulder injury, moving — you name it, I’ve got the excuse. I can’t promise a lot more reviews in the future, but this was a fascinating book, so I thought it’d be worth taking a minute to break my long silence!

Jane Eyre's Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine's StoryJane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story by Jody Gentian Bower

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A little slow and ponderous in places–kind of reads like it might have begun life as a doctoral thesis. But what an excellent, under-discussed topic!

As a writer, I’ve sat through countless workshops that try to stuff women’s lives into the “hero’s journey” format laid out by Joseph Campbell. The format was picked up by Hollywood script doctor Christopher Vogler and is widely touted as the only story worth telling.

Personally, I’m not entirely sure I buy the theory that all great stories must fit Campbell’s hero’s journey in the first place. I definitely don’t believe that all great stories about women fit that mold. So Jane Eyre’s Sisters by Jody Bower was a welcome discovery. I’m not sure I agree with all her conclusions, either, but I’m just thrilled that SOMEONE finally decided to analyze the great works of literature that resonate more with women than with men!

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Book in a Minute – Library Edition: The Clairvoyants

The ClairvoyantsThe Clairvoyants by Karen Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Karen Brown won acclaim for her debut The Longings of Wayward Girls, a suspenseful novel about two missing girls. Although her new book, The Clairvoyants, is also billed as psychological suspense, it’s really more accurate to describe it as a coming-of-age story with dark, supernatural overtones.

Martha and her sister Del grow up on a farm in Connecticut. When Martha is only 7 years old, she has a vision of her great aunt. Unfortunately, her great aunt has already been dead for many years when they “meet.” As a child, Martha is only mildly disconcerted by the event. It seems to be an isolated, intriguing fluke. But in her late teens, a harrowing incident triggers her strange gift again. She begins experiencing more visions of the dead — most not as pleasant as her great aunt.

Hoping to leave the dead behind, Martha flees to college in Ithaca. There she finds romance with a brooding photographer named William. But her idyll is disrupted when the past comes calling in the form of her impulsive sister Del. Just as Martha tries to reconcile herself to being her unstable sister’s caretaker, a fellow student on campus vanishes. Martha’s visions return with a vengeance.

Although the missing girl is pivotal to the plot of The Clairvoyants, Brown’s story is too leisurely paced to feel like suspense. Her focus is less on finding the missing girl and more on understanding Martha’s unwillingness to use her “gift.” Indeed, Martha’s reluctance to get involved in the case becomes a symbol for her reluctance to take charge of her own life.

Readers who enjoy women’s fiction with a dash of magical realism, such as Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and Sarah Addison Allen’s The Peach Keeper should enjoy The Clairvoyants. Like these authors, Brown uses the suspense genre to explore the rivalries that shape women and their relationships with one another.

This review originally appeared at “Between the Covers,” the book review blog for the Baltimore County Public Library. For more great reading ideas, check out all the reviews there.

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Book in a Minute – Library Edition: Born a Crime

This book is getting so much buzz, it hardly needs my little review. But here it is anyway. A confession not included in my review at the library’s website: I was really pissed at Noah for becoming the next host of The Daily Show, since I (like many women) fully expected it to be Samantha Bee. But he has grown on me over time–and Samantha’s doing okay for herself too, so all’s forgiven. But more than that, this book has really transformed my opinion of him. Not because of the hardships he faced (although there were plenty) – more because of the grace and humor with which he has approached those hardships, and the gift he seems to have for relating his personal experiences to the wider world and its struggles with racism, sexism, and all the other  “-isms” that plague our age.

 

Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trevor Noah leapt to prominence in the U.S. when he succeeded Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show. Now, at age 32, he’s published his memoir. If that seems premature, it’s only because you haven’t read it yet. The title of Noah’s book, Born a Crime, is an indictment of the apartheid system into which the South African comedian was born.

More than an autobiography, Born a Crime is a child’s eyewitness account of life under apartheid and the upheaval that followed when that regime ended. The book’s also a tribute to Noah’s feisty, outspoken mother, Patricia. A member of the Xhosa tribe, Patricia defied the law by having a relationship with white businessman Robert Noah. Once Trevor was born, the couple couldn’t be seen in public as his parents. They enlisted a mixed race neighbor to pose with Robert and Trevor for “family” photos. The Black woman standing in the background of those photos, pretending to be the nanny, was Trevor’s real mother.

Noah finds humor and pathos in this bizarre upbringing. On a more serious note, he also speaks out strongly against domestic violence. Many years after her relationship with Noah’s father, Patricia married Ngisaveni Shingange. Noah recounts in chilling detail the gradual escalation of violence in the household and his mother’s struggle to leave Shingange. The decision almost led to her death. His stepfather’s threats against Trevor’s own life were one of the reasons the comedian turned his sights to a career in America.

Clearly, Noah has packed a lot of living into his short life — and this book only covers the first 25 years. Fans of books by The Daily Show alumni Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart will enjoy reading Noah’s autobiography, but it will also be of interest to anyone curious about life under apartheid.

Reviewed published at “Between the Covers,” the Baltimore County Public Library’s book review blog [http://www.bcpl.info/between-the-cove…] on December 20, 2016.

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Book in a Minute: Another Library Edition

Dr. Knox: A novelDr. Knox: A novel by Peter Spiegelman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A tale of human trafficking and refugees masquerades convincingly as an L.A. noir thriller in Dr. Knox, the latest novel from Shamus Award-winning author Peter Spiegelman. In three previous books featuring banker-turned-detective John March, Spiegelman pretty much created the genre of “Wall Street noir.” Now, he takes that same grim sensibility and applies it to Dr. Adam Knox, a man whose apparent death wish is constantly at war with his desire to save the world. These conflicting goals lead to lots of trouble, not only for Knox, but for his employees and the few friends he has.

In Dr. Knox, a woman fleeing Russian mobsters leaves her little boy at Knox’s shabby clinic in L.A.’s Skid Row. Rather than turn the child over to Social Services, Knox becomes convinced he can save both child and mother. He sets out to do so with the help of his buddy Ben Sutter, a former Special Forces operative. The vibe between these two was very reminiscent of the relationship between Robert Parker’s detective, Spenser, and his sidekick, Hawk.

Like that master of L.A. noir, Raymond Chandler, Spiegelman keeps much of the real story bobbing just below the surface throughout this tale. As Knox searches for the boy’s missing mother and runs afoul of mobsters and corrupt American business tycoons, readers get unsettling glimpses into Knox’s own messy backstory. It becomes clear that while the doctor’s heart is in the right place, his penchant for self-destruction could hurt the very people he seeks to help.

Fans of classic noir fiction and old-fashioned “hard-boiled” detective stories should enjoy Dr. Knox.

This review originally appeared at “Between the Covers,” the book review blog for the Baltimore County Public Library. For more great reading ideas, check out all the reviews there. We cover everything from fiction to nonfiction, children’s books to adult graphic novels. And if you’re in a spendy mood, here’s the buy link at Amazon.

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Book in a Minute: Library Edition

27246115-_uy400_ss400_ I’m doing book reviews for the Baltimore County Public Library‘s Between the Covers blog under my real life name now. At some point in the indefinite future, I’m planning to merge the “real me” website with this site. In the meantime, it seemed to make more sense to post a link to my first review for the library blog here, since this is where I’ve posted all my other book reviews. So here you go, a little review of Delia Ephron’s Siracusa. Enjoy!

Delia Ephron is best-known for her humorous writing and for lighthearted screenplays like You’ve Got Mail and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But her latest novel, Siracusa, displays a decidedly more cynical view of relationships.

Siracusa begins with Lizzie, who thinks a vacation in Italy is just what she and her husband David need to revive their flagging writing careers and their dwindling passion for one another. They’re joined on the trip by another couple — Finn, Lizzie’s fun-loving old flame from college, and his uptight wife Taylor. Dragged along for the fun is Snow, Finn and Taylor’s sullen preteen daughter. If bringing an old boyfriend and his family along for a vacation sounds like a bad idea to you, you’d be right. In fact, few vacation disasters can rival the nightmarish results when this group makes its way to the ancient island of Siracusa.

Each main character takes a turn recounting the trip’s gradual descent into tragedy.  Without exception, all of them are breathtakingly self-involved or delusional (or both). Thus none of them can see what the reader sees — the huge disaster heading straight for them.

Like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, Siracusa presents readers with difficult to like protagonists who never tell the whole truth. The crumbling city of Siracusa provides an excellent symbolic backdrop for Ephron’s well-written blend of dark domestic drama and deadly suspense.

And if you aren’t anywhere near the Baltimore County Public Library, find your own library here. Or if you’re in a spendy mood, here’s the Amazon link.

Book in a Minute: City of the Lost

City of the Lost (Casey Duncan, #1)City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is really more like a 2.5 star rating. I loved the concept of a city where people can go completely off the grid and disappear (victims of domestic abuse, witnesses to crimes, etc.) The pace was fabulous – even when the story started to come apart, I couldn’t put it down. And I mostly liked the heroine, Casey Duncan. The city has a creepy, insular feel that reminded me of the Village in the old “Prisoner” TV Series. However, all these elements were wasted for me when this whodunnit came apart in the big reveal.

Casey committed a murder in a moment of passion about twenty years earlier (not a spoiler, she reveals this in chapter one) and is basically atoning for it by being a cop. When her youthful crime catches up to her, she’s happy to disappear into this invisible city in the Canadian wilderness, and the town is eager to have her since it turns out there might be a grisly serial killer in their midst.

Unfortunately, a good heroine and a great setting are wasted late in the story when our heroine engages in a painfully ill-conceived romantic interlude and falls into bed with her strong silent stereotype of a boss. Said romance also includes some really uncomfortable “I said no but I didn’t really mean no exactly” chatter that made me like Casey a LOT less and wonder if E.L. James had stepped in to write a couple of chapters. From there, the story degenerates into a batsh*t crazy three-way girlfight, and of course, the reason for all that girl crazy is (you guessed it) those terrible menz and all the hearts they be a-breakin’.

Disappointing.

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Book in a Minute: The Pier Falls

The Pier Falls: And Other StoriesThe Pier Falls: And Other Stories by Mark Haddon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Relentlessly dark and disturbing, but so well-written, I kept reading anyway.

The first story, “The Pier Falls” is almost Hemingway-like in its straightforward, moment-by-moment description of a freakish tragedy at a beach resort.

“The Island” retells the myth of Ariadne with a gritty, heartbreaking realism.

But my personal favorite has to be “The Woodpecker and the Wolf,” which reads like the jaded, cynical flip side of Andy Weir’s The Martian. A female astronaut is part of a team stationed on Mars when things go horribly wrong. And then they get worse. Does she emerge triumphant, a la Mark Watney in Weir’s story? Read the book and find out.

But maybe don’t read it too close to bedtime. These are the kinds of stories that trouble the mind and plague the soul long after you’ve finished reading.

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