Rating:H H H H ½ ISBN: 9780743294423 Pages: 454 Year: 2010 Publisher: Atria Books
Ellen Gowan is the only surviving child of a scholarly village minister and a charming girl disowned by her family when she married for love. Growing up in rural Norfolk, Ellen’s childhood was poor but blessed with affection. Resilience, spirit, and one great talent will carry her far from such humble beginnings. In time, she will become the witty, celebrated, and very beautiful Madame Ellen, dressmaker to the nobility of England, the Great Six Hundred.
Yet Ellen has secrets. At fifteen she falls for Raoul de Valentin, the dangerous descendant of French aristocrats. Raoul marries Ellen for her brilliance as a designer but abandons his wife when she becomes pregnant. Determined that she and her daughter will survive, Ellen begins her long climb to success. Toiling first in a clothing sweat shop, she later opens her own salon in fashionable Berkeley Square though she tells the world – and her daughter - she’s a widow. One single dress, a ballgown created for the enigmatic Countess of Hawksmoor, the leader of London society, transforms Ellen’s fortunes, and as the years pass, business thrives. But then Raoul de Valentin returns and threatens to destroy all that Ellen has achieved.
I picked this book up off of the bargain reads shelf at my local bookstore based solely on the cover. It is absolutely lovely! I have seemed to develop a weakness for historical fashion novels. I had never read a book by Ms. Graeme-Evans before and I have to say, based on this novel, I will definitely keep my eye out for more of her novels. Her details of the time period and the setting allowed for the story to jump off of the page. It was as if you were sucked into the pages, back to Victorian England. The description of the dresses created were grand enough for you to see the gorgeous creations before your very eyes. Amazing imagery!
This was not simply a story. Ms. Graeme-Evans created a life in her writing; she managed to create the life of Ellen Gowan in a time where women were often oppressed. She created a believable protagonist who faces many difficulties because of class, wealth and circumstance. The author brings Ellen Gowan to life and does not hesitate to show the real challenges of life in Victorian England for those not of the upper class. The inequalities and hardships for women in the mid-19th century are clearly put on display.
I utterly enjoyed Ellen Gowan as a protagonist. She persevered through many trials and tribulations of being a woman in such a tremulous time for such. Not only is she at a disadvantage because of her gender, but also because of her class and to some extent, her intelligence (an educated women!? What a bizarre concept!). Despite all of the challenges she must face throughout her life, she is not a victim of her circumstances. She strives to create a better life for herself and for her family. She is also not a heroine, she works hard to create her own life and to create her own happiness. Ellen never gave up, no matter how desperate her circumstances were, she simply worked with them and managed to transform her life into something as beautiful as the dresses she created.
Rating: H H ½
Publisher: Vintage Canada
Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel -- known as Pi -- has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions -- Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.
But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest of travelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.
As the days pass, Pi fights both boredom and terror by throwing himself into the practical details of surviving on the open sea -- catching fish, collecting rain water, protecting himself from the sun -- all the while ensuring that the tiger is also kept alive, and knows that Pi is the key to his survival. The castaways face gruelling pain in their brushes with starvation, illness, and the storms that lash the small boat, but there is also the solace of beauty: the rainbow hues of a dorado’s death-throes, the peaceful eye of a looming whale, the shimmering blues of the ocean’s swells. Hope is fleeting, however, and despite adapting his religious practices to his daily routine, Pi feels the constant, pressing weight of despair. It is during the most hopeless and gruelling days of his voyage that Pi whittles to the core of his beliefs, casts off his own assumptions, and faces his underlying terrors head-on.
I really, really, really wanted to like this book. I have heard so many positive things about it, there has been so much hype about the story, but unfortunately that was not the case. I found this novel to be quite tedious at times and not overly enjoyable to read. Yes, there were some good parts, the main story line wasn't half bad, but there were many problems with this book - let's start at the beginning.
Part One: Pi's childhood at the zoo in Pondicherry. In this part of the novel, I learned more than I ever thought I would about managing a zoo in India. Entire chapters were dedicated to different aspects of zoology. Then all of a sudden, it flips to Pi's unique religious beliefs. Then to his struggles in school because of his name, which I can totally relate to, but then back to some other aspect of zoology. Had the organization and the flow been better, I probably would have enjoyed this part of the novel a lot more than I did. And after 60 pages of zoology, I was beginning to wonder... when is the boat going to sink? When is the real story going to finally start?
Part Two: The boat sinks. Pi is forced onto a lifeboat with a strange collection of zoo animals: a hyena, an orang-utang, a zebra with a broken leg and a Bengal tiger. Clearly, this arrangement isn't going to last long. And yet ... it does. The actual description of Pi's life on the lifeboat and on his raft wasn't horrible, in fact it was probably one of the most interesting parts of the book. However there were times where I wished that the tiger would finally just eat him! Put the poor kid out of his misery and eat him. Especially when the tiger started to talk to Pi near the end of his voyage.
Part Three: Ugh! Apparently there was really no animals, they were really all humans. Therefore you come to the grizzly discovery that there was definitely some cannibalism going on on that lifeboat. And that notion killed the novel for me. It tied in the spiritual aspect from the first part of the novel but it just wasn't enough to redeem the novel.
Another one of my many qualms about this book - the number of freaking chapters! There were 100 chapters in a 367 page book. A little ridiculous if you ask me, especially considering one of the chapters was a whopping 3 sentences long. Was that really necessary? An the italic voice ... necessary? Really?
I get the point, there are two different versions of the same story which relates to Pi's religious beliefs that there are different religions, all serving one God, and it is up to you to decide which story to believe. Which is the better story. The novel promises us that we will believe in God, however it seems to me that the author is really saying that we will decide which story about God is best, hence choosing a religion, therefore believing in God. Using animals as metaphors, replacing people with zoo animals does make the story more pleasing to read, I would much rather read about a hyena tearing apart, then eating a zebra rather than a deranged cook committing the act of cannibalism. The story however, does nothing to enhance my beliefs in God. Instead, the message I got was to look at your own life, look at your own world views. Do you tend to believe the better but less likely story or do you tend to believe the more likely story that isn't as lovely as the first? What view of reality do you tend to hold? Are you governed by your emotions or rational?
So would I recommend this book? I'm not sure. I'm a huge believer in reading the book before seeing the movie, so that being said, if you are like me then read the book before seeing the movie. But otherwise ... either you love it or you hate it.
ISBN: 978-0312606343 Pages: 431
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Book Blurb: “In Korea in those days, newborn girls were not deemed important enough to be graced with formal names, but were instead given nicknames, which often reflected the parents’ feelings on the birth of a daughter: I knew a girl named Anger, and another called Pity. As for me, my parents named me Regret.”
Honolulu is the rich, unforgettable story of a young “picture bride” who journeys to Hawai'i in 1914 in search of a better life.
Instead of the affluent young husband and chance at an education that she has been promised, she is quickly married off to a poor, embittered laborer who takes his frustrations out on his new wife. Renaming herself Jin, she makes her own way in this strange land, finding both opportunity and prejudice. With the help of three of her fellow picture brides, Jin prospers along with her adopted city, now growing from a small territorial capital into the great multicultural city it is today. But paradise has its dark side, whether it’s the daily struggle for survival in Honolulu’s tenements, or a crime that will become the most infamous in the islands’ history...
With its passionate knowledge of people and places in Hawai'i far off the tourist track, Honolulu is most of all the spellbinding tale of four women in a new world, united by dreams, disappointment, sacrifices, and friendship.
I absolutely LOVED this novel! Once again, Alan Brennert was able to masterfully transport me to another place and time. He has a remarkable talent of transporting you to the island with his lush descriptions. I was totally hooked from start to finish - it was next to impossible for me to put this novel down! The characters were spectacularly written, both the fictitious and those based on real people, I loved how he intertwined parts of true history into this work of fiction.
I adored Regret or Jin as she called herself upon her arrival in Honolulu. She goes through so many struggles in the novel, first in her native Korea, then as a picture bride brought to the island by false promises only to find herself trapped in an abusive marriage, then finally to the struggles she faced as she set out on her own, a woman in a foreign country with little money and nowhere to go. She is brave, creative, fiercely independent and determined to make it.
Although the story is written from the point of view from one woman, it represents the struggle for all immigrants who went to Hawai'i during its territorial period. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipinos - they all came to Hawai'i to escape something, be it poverty, social oppression or simply to seek a better life. The life they imagined couldn't be further from the truth. When they arrived there was backbreaking labour on the plantations, brutal treatment from the white overseers as well as the racial hostilities they face.
Another home run for Alan Brennert! I recommend this to anyone who is looking for an amazing read!
For fans of The Paris Wife, Loving Frank, The Other Boleyn Girl and Shanghai Girls . . . a novel inspired by the true-life love affair between Sigmund Freud and his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays.
Minna Bernays is an overeducated woman with limited options. Fired yet again for speaking her mind, she finds herself out on the street and out of options. In 1895 Vienna, even though the city is aswirl with avant-garde artists and writers and revolutionary are still very few options for women besides marriage. And settling is not something Minna has ever done.
Out of desperation, Minna turns to her older sister, Martha, for help. But Martha has her own problems — six young children, a host of physical ailments, a household run with military precision, and an absent, overworked, disinterested husband who happens to be Sigmund Freud. Freud is a struggling professor, all but shunned by his peers and under attack for his theories, most of which center around sexual impulses, urges, and perversions. While Martha is shocked and repulsed by her husband’s "pornographic" work, Minna is fascinated.
Minna is everything Martha is not—intellectually curious, an avid reader, stunning. But while she and Freud embark on what is at first simply an intellectual courtship, something deeper is brewing beneath the surface, something Minna cannot escape.
This was definitely a different view of Freud from the one that I have from my psychology days. To view him as a romantic character was extremely hard for me to do. Most of my images of Sigmund Freud are of a stern, egotistical, cigar smoking man sitting beside a patient reclined on a couch. Having a degree in psychology, I spent a lot of time learning about Freud and his theories. I can honestly say after reading this novel, I still cannot see him as a romantic figure. I am however pleased with the portrayal of Freud.
As for the other characters in the book, I am torn. I couldn't stand Freud's wife - I found her annoyingly weak. Who doesn't know that your husband is having an affair with your sister in your own home! Maybe if you weren't hiding in your room, living in a drugged up world ... As for Minna, I really liked her for most of the book, that is until she completely fell apart after the realization that her lover really doesn't love her. This part of the novel was dragged out for what seemed like FOREVER! Her agonizing became tedious and quite frankly, boring.
Rating: HHHH ½
Publisher: Anchor Canada
Year Published: 2012
Book Blurb: Morocco, 1627 - a golden kingdom ruled by a tyrant.
Nus-Nus, once an African prince, now the sultan's slave, is sent to the bazaar on an errand. There, he becomes entangled in a plot that could see him executed for murder. Caught between the tyrannical sultan, his sorceress queen and the malicious Grand Vizier, Nus-Nus seems doomed.
But when young Englishwoman Alys Swann is captured during a sea crossing and sold into the sultan's harem, an unlikely alliance develops between these two outsiders - an alliance that becomes a deep an moving relationship in which Alys and Nus-Nus find sustenance and courage in the most perilous of circumstances. My Thoughts:
This is a MUST read book! I was captivated from the very beginning. I could hardly bear to put the book down!
It was very clear from page one that Jane Johnston not only adores her subject, but has also spent a great deal of time researching it. Not only does she include an extensive bibliography, but in the "about the author" blurb, it states that not only did she visit Morocco to research for the novel, but while she was there she met and later married a Berber tradesman. The Moroccan markets were brought to life - the sounds, the smells; the landscape was beautifully painted with word and I could almost feel the heat of the sun beating down on me and see the clashing of knives. And the characters ... they were fantastic! I absolutely loved the main character, an African prince turned slave to the Sultan, Nus-Nus. He was beautifully written; smart, caring, strong but not without his own personal tragedy. I really hope that there will be more books Nus-Nus - he deserves it!
The novel is marvelously written. It is full of intrigue, deceit, deception, murder, sorcery ... all superbly woven together. There is romance but also heartbreak and personal tragedy. I do have a burning question however ... why is this book called the Sultan's Wife? The wife plays a major role however she is not present for a good portion of the book. The title is a bit misleading.
Publisher: NAL Trade
Year Published: 2013
Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.”
As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entrée into a world filled with bootleg bourbon, wailing jazz, and money to burn. She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose.
The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles toward one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
I'm torn on this one - Vera Abramowitz bothered me throughout this novel. There were times where I despised her, when she was needy, dependent on others and down right childish. I couldn't stand her wishy-washy ways, her woe is me ... I'm sleeping with two guys of rival gangs ... what am I going to do?! Ugh! It became so irritating. Then there was the worrying about everybody herself, her daughter, her mother, her husband, her lover, and every other character in the book, but yet, she rarely did anything to change the circumstances and on the rare occasion that she did, she ended up in over her head and needed someone to come and bail her out. All that being said, however, there were other times were I found myself feeling sorry for her and even liking her. I found my opinion of her changing throughout the novel, I liked her more in the later third of the novel. She grew up, she became tough and independent. She was definitely a very frustrating character.
Now on to the parts I loved; I loved all of the gritty parts of the novel. The details of the time period - the dancing, the the music, the flappers ... add to that all of the bootlegging of liquor during Prohibition, the raids, the guns and of course the gangsters. I loved how the book really captured the times, the lifestyle, the dangers - clearly a lot of time and love went into the research for this novel. The details about the St. Valentine's Day massacre, the role that notorious gangster Al Capone played in it - awesome. This story made me want more of the roaring 20s!
Publisher: Press 53 Year: 2013 Pages: 190 Rating: H H HH ½
ISBN: 978-1935708834 Book Blurb: A Hero for the People: Stories of the Brazilian Backlands is Arthur Power’s debut collection of short stories set in Contemporary Brazil, where he and his wife lived for almost 30 years. “Set in the vast and sometimes violent landscape of contemporary Brazil, this book is a gorgeous collection of stories-wise, hopeful, and forgiving, but clear-eyed in its exploration of the toll taken on the human heart by greed, malice, and the lust for land.” (Debra Murphy, CatholicFiction.net). My Thoughts: I was pleasantly surprised with this novel. Normally I am not a fan of short stories, however when I was offered a copy of "A Hero for the People" through Book Junkie Promotions, I could not turn it down. I LOVE Brazil - it is on my list of places to visit, but I realized after reading this book that there is a lot more to the country and its people than I ever realized. This book is an adventure - you almost get the sense that you are traveling along through Brazil's backlands. You feel the emotions of the people in the stories - you feel their pain, their struggle, their fear. The stories were beautifully written. Each story in this is crafted and fine-tuned. They leave you satisfied and yet wanting more. Arthur Powers is a brilliant storyteller and a wonderful writer. You can clearly see his love and care for the people in his stories; it shines through every page.
About the Author
Arthur Powers went to Brazil in 1969 and lived most his adult life there. From 1985 to 1997, he and his wife served with the Franciscan Friars in the Amazon, doing pastoral work and organizing subsistence farmers and rural workers’ unions in a region of violent land conflicts. The Powers currently live in Raleigh North Carolina.
Arthur received a Fellowship in Fiction from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, three annual awards for short fiction from the Catholic Press Association, and 2nd place in the 2008 Tom Howard Fiction Contest. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in many magazines & anthologies. He is the author of A Hero For The People: Stories From The Brazilian Backlands (Press 53, 2013) and The Book of Jotham (Tuscany Press, 2013).
Publisher: Random House
In her most powerful novel yet, acclaimed author Lisa See returns to the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy. Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the Communist regime. Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.
I am a huge fan of Lisa See. I have thoroughly enjoyed her previous novels, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan", "Peony in Love", and "Shanghai Girls" and I have to say that "Dreams of Joy" definitely did not disappoint.
Ms. See is able to transport her readers effortlessly. Her history is carefully researched. Her characters are beautifully written and totally believable. I absolutely LOVE her writing!
Joy comes off as an annoying, know-it-all but I grew to love her throughout the novel. She becomes lovable and sympathetic. She's headstrong and will do whatever it is that she wants, despite her mother's and father's warnings. But it is through these decisions, and the consequences that go along with them, that we see her character grow and develop from a girl into a woman.
There were parts of the book that were deeply disturbing and heart-wrenching, however I believe that it is a true reflection of what really happened during the Great Leap Forward during Mao's rule of China in the 1950's. At times it was horrifying, but at the same time, brutally honest.
I would strongly recommend "Dreams of Joy" to anyone who loves historical drama with strong characters and authenticity. ** Read "Shanghai Girls" first! **