Tag Archives: Book review

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelTitle: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Picador, 2009
Awards: 2009 Man Booker Award

Wolf Hall is soon to be aired on PBS as a highly anticipated miniseries highlight the scandals of sagas of the Tudor court as Henry VIII tries to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to wed Anne Boleyn.

That is the entire premise of the first book of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy Hilary Mantel has produced over the last six years. From reading various reviews online, this book has been met with equally vicious and loving reviews. It’s a love-it or hate-it type of book, and I fall into the love-it category. One note, any use of the pronoun “he” more often than not refers to Thomas Cromwell. This writing quirk has a bit tricky to keep up with earlier in the book when there were many men present and active in the chapters. Although once I accustomed myself to this usage, the book had a wonderfully enticing flow that seemingly transported me back to 16th Century. Although I love historical novels and Henry VIII is my favorite monarch, I have not read any historical novels set in this era. I’m glad I started with Wolf Hall. Mantel’s minute descriptions could have been boring, and dragged on. But they did not. They created wonderful visuals in my head of an impatient, intelligent and multi-layered King who wanted a male heir to the throne. While Katherine had been first married to his older brother Arthur, Henry married her upon the death of his brother. Inheriting the queen and the crown at the same time was fine and dandy, but after 20 years with only a single daughter to boast, Henry was ready to move on.

His prime confidant, Cardinal Wolsey, has already fallen out of favor with the king at the start of the book. Wolsey is Cromwell’s entryway into the royal courts and into the royal lives of King Henry, Queen Katherine and Queen-to-be Anne Boleyn. The fall of Wolsey is the rise of Cromwell. I appreciated this unique perspective on such a scandalous time of England’s history. So many of these books are written through the eyes of the royals themselves. It is nice to get an outsider’s view of the royals, although it is still such as intimate as from the Kings, queens and princesses themselves.

Mantel’s research into this era is inspiring. Her understanding of the cultural norms, fashions, religious controversies and policies is educational, and very vividly described. As I said, I felt transported back in time reading this book. It was so engrossing for me. I’ve quickly jumped into book two, Bring Up the Bodies so that I won’t be caught unawares when the mini-series starts on April 5th.

I definitely recommend this book for historical fiction readers. I’m curious to see how the adaptation of book to mini-series will pan out and if Anne Boleyn will have a meatier role in the TV production versus the book. She’s been a pretty silent character in the first book, but then again, the first book isn’t centered on her as queen.

PS

a photo of an open book with writing in it

The book showing inventory number 282 and Gamon’s signature at the bottom© Stephen Haywood. National Trust

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Book Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Source: My Copy
2015 Reading Challenge categories

  • Written by a woman
  • A book that can be read in a day
  • A book a friend recommended

Through Homer’s epic The Odyssey, what we know of Penelope is that she is the faithful and clever wife of Odysseus. She is the wife who remains loyal and devoted to her husband after a twenty-year separation. Ten years for the Trojan War, and the following ten years it takes of Odysseus to find his way back home. Throughout her time, many suitors barge into her home in the hopes of marrying her and laying claim to all of her wealth and possessions.

The Penelopiad follows the same story, but told through the eyes and voice of Penelope. The story is told by Penelope in the afterlife (Hades) centuries after her death. I”m still unsure how I feel about this. It allowed for a modern tone & colloquialisms, but it still felt out of place with when the Odyssey took place. I think I went into this book expecting is told concurrently with the Odyssey rather than a retelling many eons later. I learned that Odysseus is a charming ass, but we already knew that. But he is only one of the few people who listens to Penelope and treats her with respect. The chapters told through Penelope’s voice are separated by chapters told through the 12 maids who were murdered by Odysseus upon his return to his palace. Although they were murder under the premise of their disloyalty to Penelope, early on we find out that it was Penelope who encouraged them to mix and mingle with the suitors, to bad-mouth their mistress in order to find out their plans. Penelope didn’t reveal her plan to Odysseus before the murder, so thus, the injustice was carried out. I liked the chapters of the maid’s point of view the best I think. They varied from prose, to song, to a trial before a judge. The injustice of their deaths was very creatively done.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld

Book Review: How Paris Became Paris by Joan DeJean

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean

Source: library copy

Genre: non-fiction

How Paris Became Paris is a wonderful book for anyone interested in a brief history to the City of Light. DeJean’s book covers a lot of ground, focusing on the 17th century developments happening in the city. However, she doesn’t go in as much depth as say a history book. Her writing style is much more casual, although you’ll be inundated with interesting facts about the structuring of the city of Paris.

She starts with the Pont Neuf bridge, and from there, the chapters discuss the ripple effects of this bridge on French social society. The invention of this bridge quite literally paved the way for modern French interactions, fashion as well as development throughout the city. The widened bridge became the first in Europe to be of such a width as to allow the public to parade through the streets. It is as a result of this bridge, that the French started leaving their homes to go for walks. These walks led to the necessity of being fashionably dressed. The need for fashion led to the invention of clothing stores and the hobby known as shopping. The availability of shopping allowed for people of all class caste systems to be able to dress and intermingle with people above and below their rank. This intermingling led to many more social developments, particularly in relation to women’s freedoms.

The chapters have a very easy flow to them, picking up where the previous one concluded. I found them to be the perfect length. Neither too long, nor too short. There are a number of illustrations, photographs and maps dotted throughout the chapters to break up the text and help highlight the author’s opinions. The author has a clear love for the city, and it strongly reflected in her writing. Paris can do no wrong and had apparently been an inspiration to other European capitals over the centuries. I’d strongly recommend this to anyone planning a trip to Paris. Having some historical insight will make the tourist stops that much more meaningful.

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #1)

121 pages – Penguin Edition

Find this book at your local library

My experiences with Sherlock Holmes have been scattered and never direct. I’ve heard people talk about him, misquote the book (Its Elementary, my dear Watson), and I’ve seen many a TV show that parody or references him (Monk, and a number of Star Trek the Next Generation Episodes).  Most recently, I’ve been obsessing over the BBC’s Sherlock. Meaning, I’ve seen each episode twice and have watched all the special features that Netflix has to offer. However, there’s now going to be a nearly year-long gap until the next (and single) episode of 2015. I figured I might as well try my hand at reading the Sherlock Holmes mysteries to become better acquainted with the story, the characters and some of the mysteries. The BBC series stays ridiculously close to the books, but does an excellent job of modernizing elements of the book, and amending plot twists and character reveals to make the show its own being. It’s a very fine line to balance, especially with a work of literature as popular as the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Mark Gatiss and Stephan Moffat have done an amazing job though. The first episode is A Study in Pink, linking back to the first book, A Study in Scarlet.

The book starts with the introduction of John Watson to Sherlock Holmes. Both men looking for a flat to share. They wind up at 221B Baker street. Unlike the show, it takes a while before Watson is drawn into Sherlock’s career as a consulting detective. However, the two were a match made for each other right from the start. The book also starts with a mysterious death, the mysterious message Rache, and a set of poisonous pills. Holmes, in the book is just as arrogant as depicted on screen, but I couldn’t hold that against him. I found it kind of endearing. Well, I really found the way Watson wiggled into Holmes’ heart endearing. The two are polar opposites, but make for a great team. The book was definitely not what I was expecting though. Its broken down into two parts. Part one was the mysterious death and Holmes’ reveal of the murderer. Part two provided the back story to the murder. That part was very confusing, long-winded and bizarre. Particularly its depiction of Mormonism at its worst with power-hungry elders. Told through Watson’s point of view, we never really pick up or know what clues lead Sherlock to his great deductions. That part kind of irks me. He just announces information as facts and we, as the readers have to accept it as the gospel truth. The mystery was resolved rather neatly, but this departure from England at the beginning of part two was just plain odd. I wasn’t overly impressed with the book, but then again, I did jump from the show to the book with lots of mix-up Sherlock representations in my head, so I’m sure my expectations were higher than they should have been. I do plan on reading more of his work though. It’s so well-regarded, that it seems silly not to give them another chance. Mostly, I just want to get to Moriarty.

Book Review: The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner

The Red Necklace (French Revolution, #1)
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
Audio book: Narrator Tom Hiddleston
YA – Historical Fiction

Set during the tumultuous times of the French Revolution in the 18th century, this novel tells the tale of two unlikely teens caught up in the whirlwind of confusion, and tensions between the aristocrats and the peasants in the streets.

The publisher’s synopsis:

The story of a remarkable boy called Yann Margoza; Tetu the dwarf, his friend and mentor; Sido, unloved daughter of a foolish Marquis; and Count Kalliovski, Grand Master of a secret society, who has half the aristocracy in thrall to him, and wants Yann dead. Yann is spirited away to London but three years later, when Paris is gripped by the bloody horrors of the Revolution, he returns, charged with two missions: to find out Kalliovski’s darkest deeds and to save Sido from the guillotine.

Although this is a YA novel, I wouldn’t label it as a romance novel. Although there is a strong connection between Yann and Sido, it is definitely not at the center of the novel. The novel is more about the tensions in Paris, the fervor spreading across the city as hatred for the rich is mounting and mounting. Sido is swept up in the middle of it all due to her Marquis father, who doesn’t even want her around. Cound Kalliovski is vile, cruel, and wants Sido as a wife. But then there is the wonderous Yann. He needs to figure out a way to save Sido from two very distinct types of death. Marriage to the count and the guillotine. The book itself is a bit iffy on the facts of the revolution, but the revolution is really just a backdrop to the interwoven story between Sido, Yann and the count. There were a number of plot twists that I anticipated, but just as many that I didn’t see coming. There is a magical realism element with Yann’s ability to see threads of light hovering around objects and people around him, allowing him to telepathically move things at a whim.  The novel is well-paced and I like the variety of characters that are introduced. Gardner doesn’t dwell too long on any one element of the novel, but I didn’t feel rushed through the novel either. For reader’s advisory, I think this could be an easy sell for boys, despite the girly cover art. A book about death, revolutions, and a man who can control the entire city of Paris with blackmail and murder threats isn’t an easy book to turn down. This is also book one in a series. Book two is The Silver Blade.

Narration:

I was lucky enough to listen to the audio book narrated by Tom Hiddleston. His narration is flawless. His accents, the voices are all so unique, he really does bring the book to life. His menacing Count Kalliovski that he portrays is spine-tingling. I think he’s narrated one other audio book to date, a James Bond novel. I’m eager to listen to that one next.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Book Review: High-Rise by JG Ballard

High-Rise

High Rise by J.G. Ballard
Published 1978
Setting: London, England

In a city block sized high-rise, residents of 40 floors have access to everything they would need in this mini-city within walls. A bank, a grocery store, a junior school and a restaurant. Although the residents tolerate each other, tensions build as mechanical breakdowns start the eventual downfall of the hierarchical society and mass chaos ensues as tenants form packs and their primal instincts kick in for self-preservation.

This book is an eerie look at society falling apart & turning on each other, like packs of wild animals. Apart from being isolated in a high-rise building, it was never very clear why the society in the building decayed beyond technical malfunctions of the elevators. Of course, there was clear jealousy between the haves & have-nots with literal ties to the poor on the bottom & the rich on top. However, the actual cause was murky which bugged me for the entire duration of the book.

The women are passive and victimized in horrifying amounts and are portrayed as neglectful of their husbands and children. The men are aggressive, full of sexual frustration with urges to pee on everything to mark their territory

Did I like this book? No. Did I like how Ballard was able to dehumanize society? Yes, actually. The changes that take place over one character in particular, Wilder, were a fascinating character study to me. This transition from mild social climber to ferocious beast was gradual, frightening and seemed to mirror the entire mood of the high-rise. Most of the other lead characters (all men) where dull in compassion. Laing & Royal in particular offered very little to the book.

The book was recently adapted for the big screen. I’m curious to see what the movie will be like. There is quite a bit of violence (both physical & sexual) throughout the book as people attempt to assert their dominance & status.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Book Review: The President’s Hat

The President's Hat

The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

Find this book at your local library

Can one hat make a difference? According to this collection of loosely connected stories, it can. The book starts with Daniel Mercer. He’s an accountant with a happy marriage, and a solid but not really successful career. During a solo and indulgent dinner out, Francois Mitterrand sits down to eat at the table next to him. After the presidential party has left, Daniel discovers that Mitterrand’s black felt hat has been left behind on his chair. Daniel decides to keep the hat as a souvenir. As he leaves the restaurant, he begins to feel somehow different and soon his life takes a series of unexpected but welcome turns. Although the story doesn’t end there. The hat then finds itself belonging to a young female writer, a retired perfume designer and so on, changing the lives of all the people who pick up the hat and put it on their head.

I read this originally for Paris in July, but I never got around to reviewing it. I picked this book up as a spur of the moment decision. I was on my lunch hour at the library and I needed something to read. To that effect, the book found me as serendipitously as the hat found its owners. This book was a very enjoyable read. Each person the hat connected with had a lifetime’s worth of stories, layers and complexities. I like that no two stories followed the same path. The hat did bring a vote of confidence, a change of pattern for all these people. Its funny how much the small things in our life shape the larger aspects that we outwardly display to our friends, colleagues and family. I liked the overall message of this book as well. Although Daniel viewed the hat as a crutch for his success, he really didn’t need the hat at all. He just needed a vote of confidence, which is really what everyone needs to make better decisions in their lives.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.

Book review: All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting by Jennifer Senior

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

All Joy and No Fun: the Paradox of Modern Parenting by Jennifer Senior

Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2014]

Find this book at your local library

This book is a mix of scientific studies & personal anecdotes that gives this book a unique look into the lives if parents. It’s not an advice book. Just a heartfelt account of why and how children effect our lives so strongly from birth. It also discusses the roles of modern patenting & its evolution over time.

I listened to the audio book, narrated by the author. As a new mom, my son was a year old when I first listened to this book, the stories and science resonated sharply with me. I think this should be given to all new parents, or expecting parents. Its offers such a better and objective perspective of the strain and struggles of parenting on the parents. So much of parenting is focused on the fetus, the infant, the toddler and the teen. This book does a great job filling in that void.

Although its been a few months since I last visited this book, I think it has impacted my parenting philosophy in little ways. For one, I make sure to my relationship with my husband a priority and I really don’t stress over the small chores of daily life. I enjoy every moment I have with my family. One of Senior’s most prominent facts is that the year after a child is born, is usually the year when happiness in marriage starts its slow decline. According to the author, it happens anyway, but there’s a sharp dip right after a new child is born. New and fussy infants do put a huge strain on parents. You question things about yourself and your spouse you never even realized existed. But, I think the true test comes with handling these hurdles.

This is a funny, insightful and fairly accurate book of what happens after the kids are born. There is so much in this book that resonated with me, that helped me understand that what I was going through was normal and that I wasn’t alone in those feelings and thoughts. It is not a parenting book or a how-to manual. Just a simple analysis of different studies, polls and anecdotes of what this generation’s parents are experiencing.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.

Book Review: Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter

Perfect Scoundrels (Heist Society, #3)

Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter

Disney Hyperion Books, [2013]

Find this book at your local library

******This review may contain spoilers if you have not read books 1 or 2 of the Heist Society Series.*****

If there is any one book where I could just insert myself into the narrative and partake in all the fun and glory, it would be the Heist Society series by Ally Carter. You can click on the links to read my reviews for books 1 (Heist Society) and 2 (Uncommon Criminals).

Katerina Bishop and her crew are back in yet another heist caper. It’s another high stakes game, but this time its Hale caught in the crossfire after his grandmother passes away. At the start of book 3, Katerina and Hale have finally proclaimed their feelings for another despite their incredibly different upbringing. Katerina in a world of thieves and Hale in a world of luxury. When Hale’s grandmother dies and he is given responsibility of Hale Enterprises, Katerina’s instincts kick in, as she determines that Hale is the mark of a con. Now its up to her and her friends to figure out how to save Hale, without telling him and breaking his heart at the truth.

Just like the previous books, this one is full of wit, teenage angst and frustrations, adventure and mystery. I think of the three, this one is my favorite. They keep getting better and better. The plot never went the way I expected it to. The ending took me by surprise, and all the twists and turns were incredibly fun to keep up with. I think I read this book in an entire weekend, I really didn’t want to put it down. This one definitely delves more into the character development of Hale, and there is a lot of Uncle Eddie. It’s a nice change of pace from the previous Katerina-centric books. Either way, it’s a fun Ocean’s 11 series for teens and adults. My only question is when will we see the movie?

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.

Flirting with French by William Alexander

Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me & Nearly Broke My Heart by William Alexander

Algonquin Books, Sept 2014

Find this book at your local library

William Alexander has a desire that many, many Francophiles share with him.

Some Americans want to visit France. Some want to live in France. I want to be French.

Thus, this book chronicles his attempts at learning French, learning to play boules and understanding the people and the culture. What I appreciated the most about this book is that it totally different from every other I-want-to-be-French memoir I have read. And I have read plenty. What makes this book so different are the lessons in linguistics and the history of language that are laid out throughout the book. Alexander is an incredibly charming narrator. He has a sly, self-deprecating wit that makes this book very relatable. Its like having a conversation with a friend. He’s a happily married 57-year-old going on 58 who wants to learn French. The fact that his wife is indifferent to the whole situation is amusing to me. That most of his struggles and hardships of learning the language at home, and not in France make the book all the more approachable.

He goes through a number of obstacles in his attempts to learn French, including some very serious heart conditions and surgeries. Although he touches upon this subject lightly and with good humor. He learns the language through a number of formats. He studies by book at home, with the Rosetta Stone, with immersion classes and French pen-pals. He joins a French meet-up group in his local New York. He even goes to France for a 2-week all French immersion class with a rather random group of travelers. He covers a lot of group with pop linguistic history as well as discussing how and why human being are able to learn language. This is an interesting and informative read. Anyone learning a language can very easily relate to Alexander’s experiences, frustrations and achievements. This is a great book, and not just for Francophiles, but for anyone learning a new language.

© 2014 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld or at my Tumblr.