Thursday, March 23, 2017

(Review) Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Publication Date: 1998, copyright 1966
Publisher: W. W. Norton and Company
Genre: Fiction, West Indies, British
Edition: Paperback
Source: Self-purchase
Rating: Very Good


I was intrigued by this book before I ever began reading the first page. I am a Jane Eyre fan. I've read this book a few times. I've read a few other books by Charlotte Bronte and her sisters. Jean Rhys took the story of Jane Eyre, and shifted the focus to the first wife of Rochester who was considered the mad woman hidden away. He called her Bertha. Her name was Antoinette. In the story Jane Eyre, Jane is the protagonist. We feel empathy for Jane. We want the best outcome for Jane. However, Antoinette has a story too. And Rochester is not all he seems to Jane.
The story is in three parts. In the first part, Antoinette is the voice. In part two, Richard is the voice. In part three, Antoinette is the narrator again.
The second half of the book is filled with criticism of the story, letters written by Rhys, an excerpt from Jane Eyre, and a definition of the ecosystem of the Sargasso Sea.
What is the Wide Sargasso Sea about? The time period is 1840s. For most of the story it is in the West Indies. In brief, it is the sad tale of Antoinette. The dynamics of her family and the affects on the family after her father died. Her mother's sad life and illness. The culture of the West Indies and its affects on Antoinette as opposed to the British way of life. A marriage made under false pretenses that affected both people. Life's cruel blows tatter the life of Antoinette; and the reader is left wondering if she already had a propensity towards mental illness, or was it the people in her life that drove her to the tragic end?
The Wide Sargasso Sea is a story that the reader can pick apart until it becomes crumbs. It is a story used by literary majors to study and discuss. My copy is a Norton Critical Edition and it states it can be used by teaching instructors.
I am not a literary major. I am a reader and blogger.
The first point in my review is this is a story that made me think and analyze the characters, and it is a story that is thought provoking.
Antoinette was born and raised in another world. The West Indies was a society and culture in stark contrast to England. She was also living in the turmoil of people who were slaves and hold hatred toward any whites. Her family was once wealthy but now they live in poverty. In the story, it is remarked upon that she drank from the leaves of plants. She had few items of clothing. Antoinette did not have security in family nor where she lived. However, this place is all she has ever known. She spent time in a convent (another odd pseudo-sheltered life.) As a young beautiful girl she became an inheritor of wealth; and because she is a woman, she is thrust into a marriage not of her choice. She is a pawn, an object of desire and money.
My favorite quote in reference to the above:
She is representative of our constant, long struggle against suppression in a society that still persists in perceiving woman as object and not as subject and continues to tell its tale without her sound and fury, signifying nothing. Page 239.
I enjoyed reading the several criticism writings as much as the story itself.

Other notable points in the story:
  • Abuse towards whites. Abuse towards blacks. Both sets of people were fearful of one another and it is displayed in anger, hatred, and abuse. 
  • Mental illness and how this was dealt with in the mid 1800s.
  • A Catholic convent that did not teach the Bible or Christian teachings. I'm still scratching my head as to what exactly they did teach. 
  • Sexual abuse. The dynamics of sex in marriage. Relationships between men and women. 
I debated on whether to rank the book as good or very good. My defining points in awarding it very good is it is extremely thought provoking in regards to men and women, as well as the culture and society of Antoinette and Richard's homelands. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

(Review) A Ring of Truth, A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel, #2 by Michelle Cox

Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: She Writes Press, SparkPoint Studio, LLC
Genre: Fiction
Edition: Paperback, Advanced Reader Copy
Pages:313 printed pages
Source: Free copy from SparkPoint Studio, LLC
Rating: Good


Book #1, A Girl Like You

Henrietta Von Harmon, age 19, and Inspector Clive Howard, age 36, are newly engaged. Clive is a Chicago detective. The time period is the 1930s. The main theme of the book is the couple meeting each other's families and coming to terms with their polar differences. In addition, a minor mystery over a ring is introduced in the story, and family secrets are exposed in the Von Harmon family. 
I consider the story to be a family saga and less of a mystery or focus on Clive's detective work.
His detective work is brought out in a few scenes. At the end of the story, a significant surprise brings excitement before its conclusion.

A Ring of Truth is a book that holds stories behind the main story. It is apparent from the opening pages something is terribly wrong in the Von Harmon household, and I am not referring to their poverty. Mrs. Von Harmon is an angry bitter woman. The logical question is why? Henrietta as the eldest child of the large family feels a responsibility to provide support, and this includes financial support. She worries about her younger siblings and feels guilty if she is not there to "fix things."
I love family stories. In A Ring of Truth, only a couple of the siblings are given any kind of spotlight. One brother has a secondary story. I love reading about personalities of family members and their "role" in the family. I love reading about their own stories among the main story. I am hoping in future novels of this series the siblings of Henrietta will have more of their lives exposed.
The mystery behind Mrs. Von Harmon's anger is hinted at in the beginning and explained by her later. I am hoping in future books in this series Mrs. Von Harmon will make peace with her past.
Henrietta and Clive, as all couples, have decisions to make regarding their role as husband and wife. A big problem is their differences in upbringing and economic status. Clive's family is the "upper crust" of society. His mother is a snob. A polished icy snob. His father is a more civil.
When the story begins Henrietta is left to have a long visit with Clive's family at their estate. If she is to be Mrs. Clive Howard, she must learn to handle the estate affairs. I enjoyed this part of the story best. How are Henrietta and Clive going to handle their differences? Will the engagement continue? How will they compromise?
I loved reading about 1930s culture and standards, music, clothing, and language.
The affects of World War I is included in the characters stories.
What I did not see is the strength of Henrietta as an astute solver of crimes. I did see Clive's role as detective in brief. In this book, his focus is on Henrietta and not so much on his job. I want to bring out this last point, because I feel it needs to be explained, this story is more about them as a couple and less about any mystery or crime. Yes, a mystery and crime is in this story but minor.
I enjoyed reading this story but was not swept away.

Friday, February 24, 2017

(Review) Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Genre: Nonfiction
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 324
Source: Library
Rating: Excellent

Billy O'Reilly's The Killing of Historical Figures a Goodreads list


The book begins on Saturday, March 4, 1865. President Abraham Lincoln has taken the oath of office as president for a second term. His vice president is Andrew Johnson. While Lincoln is being sworn in to office, the Civil War is still raging, and John Wilks Booth is furious and anxious for revenge. Booth is sympathetic to the Confederate cause to the point of frenzy. While Booth wants to take a murderous action against Lincoln. Lincoln's face is set to reunify the nation of America.
We are reminded that Lincoln has six weeks to live.
Killing Lincoln is a solid study of the last six weeks of Abraham Lincoln's life. O'Reilly and Dugard have captured this period with a close-up view of Lincoln, but also his family. Other characters are also studied: John Wilkes Booth, Lucy Hale, General Ulysses S. Grant, General Robert E. Lee, Andrew Johnson, Frederick W. Seward, and the co-conspirators of Booth.
The lengthy Civil War battle near Petersburg, Virginia has worn down General Lee's army. General Grant has the upper hand and Lee is in retreat. The war soon ended with Lee surrendering. I can't say I enjoyed reading about this sad chapter in American history. The war weary men. Soldiers who were so hungry they were willing to eat tree bark. However, to understand this period in American history is important. The actual event of the surrender I found interesting. The conversation between Lee and Grant, because Grant was so swept up in conversation with Lee that he forgot what he was there for. It is facts like this that make this book wonderful. Small moments of humanity, either between characters or an individual, that brings the book to life.
A few points I was unaware until reading this book:
1. Lincoln was a hated man.
"He is by far the most despised and reviled president in American history." Page 99.
I had not known there were other people who had wanted to kill Lincoln.
Lincoln was revered by freed blacks. But, white people on both sides of the war, were weary of the war and its cost.
2. John Wilkes Booth is examined to the point I understood him a bit better, and related him to other people who have became assassinators. He was psychotic in his frenzy of believing he had to commit the act of murder. He was obsessed with ending Lincoln's life, and those who were on the cabinet with Lincoln. He had a huge ego. He was a narcissist. He perceived himself to be godlike. He did not go down alone, but made sure his conspirators were found.
3. The grim details of Lincoln's death. What position Lincoln was in when he was shot, how long it took him to die, and those who were present with him during his death process.
I read this book in one day! I was unable to place it down. I even read while eating.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

(Review) The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company. A trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 291
Source: Library
Rating: Very Good

Mid 1800s. Ireland.

Lib Wright, age 29, is an English nurse. Lib travels to the center area of the country of Ireland. She has taken a nursing duty to observe an Irish female child who is fasting. After the child turned 11, she stopped eating. It has been four months. Lib is Protestant. She is surrounded by Catholics. The child's family, village, and church believe the fasting is a miracle. Lib decides she will discover the reason the child is fasting and if she really is indeed fasting.
What I did not like is Lib's snarky attitude and words against the Irish people. Lib comes across as prejudice, judgmental, and haughty. However, the author uses this as a form of opposition. The main opposition is of course the child not eating.
The young girl is Anna O'Donnell. She is a "quiet pious girl." It is easy to believe this child is an innocent victim, but who is the perpetrator?
Lib and another nurse take shifts watching Anna. While watching Anna, their eyes do not stray.
The doctor who sent for Lib in England often visits the child. He is as perplexed as Lib.
I found it interesting what Lib as a nurse (during this time period) understood about the human body. She had trained under Florence Nightingale. Lib is a person of science. She has a good eye and sharp mind; plus a strong sense of loyalty.
I'm not shocked at the revealing of the mystery. Anna had contact with few people.
What I loved most about the story is the unusual nature of the situation: a female child, on the cusp of adolescence, who has stopped eating. A secondary reason is the Irish characters have a mix of Catholicism and superstition. Their rationalizing of the child's situation left me scratching my head.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

(Review) Galveston: A History of The Island by Gary Cartwright

Publication Date: 1991
Publisher: Atheneum, Macmillan Publishing Company
Genre: Nonfiction, History of Galveston, Texas
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 344
Source: Library
Rating: Very good


I was born and raised in Houston. I've only been to Galveston Island a few times. On one of those visits I remember touring the historic Moody Mansion. My dad was not interested in any beach, worry over his freckled skin kept him away. At one time my mother loved it, and during her youth she spent many days sunbathing on the beach. However, on September 1, 1957, my mother's first husband went wade fishing at San Luis Pass early in the morning. While fishing he stepped off into a sink hole and drowned. After this horrible event, my mother was not as interested in Galveston.
My husband's family has roots in Galveston. My father-in-law was born in Galveston. My husband's paternal grandmother grew up there. Her father was an engineer. He helped build the seawall. He also helped build the Panama Canal. My father-in-law has a large architectural drawing of the Panama Canal.
My husband's aunt Lily, and her late husband Lloyd, have lived at West Bay, on the Island, since the late 50s or early 60s. They were Galveston Island fishing guides. She was the first woman fishing guide in the state of Texas. Lloyd Pepper built custom fishing rods. Uncle Lloyd passed away last December.
The following links are on this well-known couple of Galveston:
West Bay Guides Have Seen Changes
Gulf Coast Closeup

Gary Cartwright begins the account of the history of Galveston with a grand tour of the Island. This tour is from what the Island looked like in the early 90s. I don't know what has changed since Hurricane Ike in 2008. This chapter is interesting, he gave a personalized tour, from one side of the Island to the other.
Further chapters are on the earliest known history of the Island, the Karankawas, Cabeza de Vaca, Spanish pirates, Jean Lafitte, African slaves, Sam Houston, the war of Texas Independence, the Civil War, the Great Hurricane of 1900, the building of the seawall, a new city government, gambling, prostitution, the revitalization of Galveston in the 1970s; and the main families who were the wealthy influencers of the Island. These families were the Moodys, Sealys, and Kempners.

A few things I learned.
  • The people who live on Galveston Island simply call the place the Island.
  • Bolivar Roads is where the ships pass through. However, I wonder if the name has changed since the writing of this book.
  • Galveston survived the Great Depression without problems.
  • Details of the Great Hurricane of 1900 and its aftermath I'd not known. This includes a 2 story pile of debris that was as wide as 6-8 city blocks. This debris was caused by the enormous push of the water on the Island. When the water retreated, the debris was left.
A few places in the book Cartwright shares gossipy information about the three main families, and the prostitution and gambling rackets. For me, this was interesting, because people are interesting. This information whether it is nice or not is apart of the history of the Island.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

(Review) A Man Without Breath, A Bernie Gunther Novel, Book #9 by Philip Kerr

Publication Date: 2013
Publisher: A Marian Wood Book, G.P. Putnam's Sons
Genre: Fiction, Investigator
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 480
Source: Library
Rating: Very good


Spring 1943, Berlin, Germany

Bernie Gunther is an investigator for the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau. He had been a Berlin police investigator.
He has a sarcastic, stubborn, bull-headed personality. He is a character that is difficult to not like, because he has this raw charm, not to mention the ability to solve crimes with a strong gut instinct.
In A Man Without Breath, Gunther investigates an incident of dead bodies found buried in a forest. The remains are those of Polish officers.
This is the first story I've read in the Bernie Gunther books. I've heard about the books but until now had not read any of them.
What I loved most about the book is the character of Bernie Gunther. At times, he reminded me a bit of Humphrey Bogart's character, Sam Spade, in the film The Maltese Falcon. Gunther shows wit with a bite, and sarcasm with charm. These are also Sam Spade's traits. In addition, both characters show an "ah shucks" persona. They minimize situations with their wit.
Gunther works to solve the murder case, but is deterred, detained, and apprehended by the Nazi government. Gunther has to juggle the case and not stir up trouble with the Nazi's, which is something he seems to fall into easy.
Even Gunther is taken back, when he witnesses a hanging, or other murderous atrocities from the Nazi's.
Through Gunther's eyes I was shown a German man who is not in the military. He gave me a view of life in Germany while the war is in process.
I'm anxious to read another book in this series.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

(Review) The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman

Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Berkley, Penguin Random House
Genre: Fiction
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 384
Source: Self-purchase
Rating: Excellent

I remember reading about and seeing the photographs of an apartment in Paris that had been entombed since 1940. I wondered then if an author would pick up this true story and write their own story piece. At the time of the news story, I imagined who must have lived in the apartment? I wondered why they left and never returned?
Link to read information on the real Marthe de Florian and the abandoned apartment.

Marthe de Florian, painted in 1888 by Giovanni Boldini
Solange Beaugiron, lives with her father in Paris, France. Her father is Henri Beaugiron, a pharmacist. Solange met her grandmother, Marthe de Florian, in 1938. Her father had not mentioned this grandmother until Hitler was advancing through Europe. He had little to do with Marthe. He had been raised by another women, whom he'd known as his mother. His world, and the world of Marthe, were opposite in every way, and he was never interested in her kind of life.
During the time Solange and Marthe spent together, Solange wrote down Marthe's life story. Marthe was born in the 1800's. She was born into a humble existence. She worked for a while as a seamstress. She dreamed of wearing the beautiful clothing she'd seen. She went to work as a chorus girl and this brought the attention of an admirer. Marthe's life dramatically changed.
Solange is intrigued by the mysterious grandmother who shares stories from her life.
It wasn't that I found the two women to be similar, but I did find them to compliment one another. Solange did not hold a grudge against Marthe. She did not judge Marthe. She found her to be fascinating and full of life. Marthe was a curiosity, and Solange made the most of this opportunity to "interview" her remarkable grandmother.
What I loved most about this story is the bond between the two women. There was a surprise for both of them at their relationship. Solange had not known about Marthe. Marthe never intended to be an active grandmother.
I loved their joy in being together.
I loved Solange learning about life and love through her grandmother's life story.
I loved it that Solange and Marthe had each other during a difficult time in their lives.
I quickly fell in pace with the story at the first page. Marthe took a chance at a life many women of her time would harshly condemn. By making the choice at this different kind of life, she gave up the chance to have the set standard. However, later in life she was given a chance to have family. For this aspect, the story is endearing.
After reading The Velvet Hours, the emphasis of love is on romance. A larger than life, swept-away romantic type love. Another type of love is in this story too: the love between a grandmother and her granddaughter.

Monday, February 6, 2017

(Review) The Pagan Lord (The Saxon Stories #7) by Bernard Cornwell

Publication Date: 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Historical fiction
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 303
Source: Self-purchase
Rating: 5 stars for excellent

It is Anglo-Saxon England, the early 900s. Alfred the Great died in 899. His son, Edward the Elder reigns as king of Wessex.
The main character of the story is Lord Uhtred. He is not in favor with the new king.
Uhtred wants to reclaim his family home in Bebbanburg, Northumbria.
The Danes are controlling all of the northern areas of England. Uhtred will have to win battles just to get to his home in Bebbanburg and reclaim.
In the opening pages, Uhtred is accompanied by his youngest son Osbert, and Aethelstan, the illegitimate son of King Edward of Wessex. He has other men riding with him and they are placed a mile back, while Lord Uhtred takes care of business of a personal nature. His eldest son is going to become a priest. Lord Uhtred wanted to stop his son, also called Uhtred, from becoming a wizard Christian priest.
Lord Uhtred is not a Christian, he is a pagan, he favors the ancient ways. He is a battle hardened man. In a fit of rage, he renames his sons. Demonstrating his hate of Christianity and anything that is not harsh. He renames this eldest son, Judas.
While Lord Uhtred is gone, the Danes raid his home.
Bernard Cornwell tells a dramatic story through Lord Uhtred. This is the second novel I've read from Cornwell. I loved it!

Several things led me to give this book an excellent rating.
  • The description of scenery to increase the drama of a scene's moment. For example: "A dark sky. The gods make the sky; it reflects their moods and they were dark that day. It was high summer and a bitter rain was spitting from the east. It felt like winter." Page 3.
  • Word usage encouraging tension and excitement.
  • Lord Uhtred is not a likable fellow. He is though exactly what I'd expect from a warrior who lived in Anglo-Saxon times. I love strong characters. I don't have to like them, but I do want them to have strong attributes that give them flesh and bone in the story.
  • Small moments in the story that seem insignificant, but on second thought they are readable and breathable. For example: Lord Uhtred is watching Finan at the prow of a ship. It is remarked he has "the best eyes of any man I ever knew...." Small moments like this in a story show me the humanity of the characters, it is also a breather in an action adventure story. Example from page 150.
  • Lord Uhtred is a pagan. I am shown through the story how pagan's felt about Christianity. Uhtred's feelings are more about his own inability to understand what he believes is weak. I love seeing through another person's lens the growing religion of Christianity.
  • Page 285 is expressed from Uhtred's feelings of "the joy of a battle." This seems to be an odd statement, but his perspective is fascinating.
The Pagan Lord is number seven in the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell. I highly recommend this book!