Category Archives: Adult Fiction

Book review: Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope (Austen Project #1)

Sense & sensibility

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope (Austen Project #1)

Source: Publisher

Publisher/ISBN: HarperCollins 2013, 9780062200464

Find this book at your local library

In this contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood women are upgraded to the modern era, with Facebook, Twitter, cell phones and modern-day analogies of their 19th century dilemmas.

After the death of Henry Dashwood, his house at Norland Park is given to his son, the next male in line. This is because he and Belle Dashwood never actually got married. After John and Fanny move into Norland Park with their young tot Harry, Fanny promptly kicks out the Dashwood family, sending them to Devon to live at Barton College. What happens next is a series of romantic flings and romantic flops as the women try to sort out their lives now that everything they know is in disarray.

I’ve read so many review of this book, and so many of them are so negative. Although I agree with a considerable sum of the complaints, I still liked the book. I thought it was a very well retelling of a story. Much of Jane Austen’s work is social satire, highlighting the restraints in freedom of women in 19th Century England. Of course those restraints don’t translate into this century. Women are free to work, the passing of property doesn’t automatically go to the next male heir (unless its written in a will) and women aren’t forced to marry for money to maintain their living standards. They can, and most do, make do on their own two feet. The retelling definitely stunted the Dashwood women, but trying to maintain a semblance to those social standards of yore. Belle Dashwood was frustrating in her ignorance and lack of maturity. Elinor took over the reigns to get the family back on its feet. Marianne was flighty, devoutly falling in love with John Willoughby (Wills!), even though why and how they fell in love so quickly was never addressed. That made that entire storyline awkward and forced. The youngest sister was here and there, never really a presence. The way Belle and Marianne were so cavalier about money and not giving it a thought after they had been effectively made homeless by Fanny was ridiculous by today’s standards.

OK, so maybe it sounds like I didn’t like the book. I did like it. I swear. I was still very much interested in the lives of the Dashwood, particularly seeing how Trollope was able to come up with modernized elements of the novel. I think she did the best with what she was given. Although I wish she left the teen slang at bay. I cringed every time I came across the word “totes.” All in all, I thought it was wonderful. Trollope is a well-regarded novelist in the UK, although this is my first experience with her works. I am interested in reading her novels though. Her language and style is very fluid and illustrative, like Jane Austen. She has a way with descriptions that pull you right into the narrative.

This is book one of the Jane Austen Project. For those who don’t know, the Austen Project is a retelling of all of Jane Austen’s books by contemporary authors, pulling the stories and characters into the modern era. This is the first retelling. Northanger Abbey, Emma and Pride and Prejudice have also been published. Look at what beautiful covers the books have too!

 

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

 

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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: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z : a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Two Roads, 2013
Find this book at your local library

This book was a totally engrossing & captivating story of Scott. & Zelda Fitzgerald’s roller coaster marriage. Fowler’s work reads with the same pacing and flow as Melanie Benjamin’s books (of which I am a huge fan). This novel follows the relationship of the Fitzgeralds through the various stages of Scott’s literary career, covering all of his published works. A majority of their nomadic marriage was spent overseas in France, drunk.

As much as I love The Great Gatsby, I have to admit that my knowledge of the Fitzgeralds is negligible. All I knew was that Scott was best friends with Hemingway and that he was drunk most of the time. I knew absolutely nothing about Zelda before this book. It was an eye-opening look at life nearly 100 years ago, and how far the woman’s independence movement has come since. I doubt Zelda would have felt the same constraints on her ambitions now as she must have felt back then.

My only complaints with the book are that ending felt rushed & choppy. The entire story was well paced, with just enough time devoted to the various stages of their lives. But then, we get to the end and Zelda’s institutional period and everything is quickly rushed through. Maybe its because these experiences were a blur for her? I don’t know, but I wished that those areas had been fleshed out a little more. Although Fowler had been making subtle statements about the latent sexism of the time throughout the novel, I felt that she really battered the reader with it during the last few chapters about Zelda’s institutional experiences and the ridiculously sexist opinions of the psychiatrists (however accurate they may have been). As an end result, I now feel extra inspired to read the rest of Scott’s work, but also to find and read Zelda’s work too. I want to know more about their lives. Fowler tried to stay neutral between the team-Zelda and team-Scott fans. Although I think there is a slight bias towards team-Zelda. I for, one, am anti-Hemingway, and at the very least, this book solidified my opinion of him as a pompous, inflated ego.

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

A Year in the Merde (Stephen Clarke) – Review

A year in the merdeA Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library copy
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2004
ISBN: 1582345910 / 276 pages

Find this book at your local library 

Paul West is sent to work in France for a one year assignment, helping develop a series of British tea rooms & cafes throughout Paris. Along the way, he encounters more  than he expecting. He finds himself dealing an apathetic group at work, an untrustworthy boss, a sea of flirtatious yet unavailable women, piles of literal and figurative merde in general throughout the city and its residents.

Although fictional, this book could quite possible pass as an actual memoir. Paul is a wonderful narrator, taking us through his frustrations, his accomplishments and failures as he tries to get through a year in Paris. This is also one of the funniest books I’ve read regarding the subject of a foreigner trying to become a local.

I thought all of the characters were well-developed and well-balanced. From the cranky administrative staff, to the negligent severs at cafes, almost everything described in this book matched every memoir I’ve read set in France. As a bachelor, much of the book is focused on Paul’s sexual exploits (of which there are a many). The rest of the book is focused on Paul’s experiences at work dealing with a staff that could care less about the project. 

Although he’s witty, Paul isn’t really a likable character, no one is actually. He’s very self-centered at times and his primary goal seems to be getting laid. His sense of humor, though, is hilarious and his exploits (sexual and the mundane) are equally entertaining as his bumbling nature keeps getting the better of him. Granted, as a fictional account, much of this book did have some exaggerated elements purely for the sake of humor. A lot of the humor and characters reminded me of Peter Mayle’s experiences in A Year in Provance. A Year in the Merde is meant to be a ribald and sarcastic take on French culture (the food, the constant strikes & protests, the relaxed work habits, etc.) and one British man’s continual attempts to get through one year of paid employment.

Adverbs (Daniel Handler) – Review

AdverbsAdverbs by Daniel Handler
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2006
ISBN: 9780060724429 / 272 pages

Find this book at your local library

This book is nearly impossible to summarize, but I’m going to try:

A bunch of people talk about love and birds, specifically magpies, and act like real selfish idiots trying to figure out what love really is.

Well…its not a perfect summary, but its the best that I can do. I was really disappointed with this collection by Daniel Handler. I love The Series of Unfortunate Events and The Basic Eight, but this book just seemed to lack the je ne se quoi  of the previous works. This is definitely not a cohesive novel. There is no intro, conflict, climax, resolution. Its more like a collection of vignettes with overlapping characters and themes.  Although I never grew attached or liked any of the characters so I didn’t recognize them when they popped up 3 stories down the line.

Quirks:

  • Handler doesn’t actually use many adverbs in the book except for the chapter titles & for one character towards the end.
  • 36 mentions of Magpies + 67 mentions of birds + 13 mentions of misc birds =  136 mentions of aviary creatures in 17 chapters. I should have kept a count of how many times love and the volcano beneath San Francisco were also mentioned because those were the four frequent concepts in all of the stories.

Handler’s writing is somewhat disjointed. It’s very “hip” and somewhat pretentious. I think I actually reacted to this book the same way I reacted to Franny and Zooey (which was not a good reaction). The writing felt smug, it didn’t feel forced, but it didn’t feel natural either. There was just something off about this novel. Its like there was a volcano underneath this novel causing a sense of urgency where there shouldn’t be one.

I did grow to enjoy the book towards the middle. Some of the chapters I really enjoyed were: Immediately, Frigidly, and Naturally. When I finished, I felt unsatisfied. I feel like this book deserves a re-read in the hopes that I may like it more not expecting a typical story progression.

Death by Cashmere (Sally Goldenbaum) – Review

Death by cashmere : a seaside knitters mysteryDeath by Cashmere (A Seaside Knitters Mystery) by Sally Goldenbaum
Age: Adult
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Obsidian, 2008
ISBN: 9780451224712
297 pages
Source – Library
Find this book at your local library  

Izzy, a young woman who owns the knitting shop in the New England coastal town of Sea Harbor is shaken by the death of Angie, the young woman renting the upstairs apartment. Izzy and her close friends, the knitting circle, put their heads together to figure out who killed Angie and why.  They get more than they bargained for as the story progresses.

As far cosy/themed mysteries go, this one was pretty decent. I love Goldenbaum’s descriptions of the town, I could almost smell the ocean air. Also, the author’s love for knitting and needles crafts is evident as it was weaved throughout the novel. 

The story itself was interesting. Somewhere in the middle it just stalled,  like when the battery of your car dies and you can’t start the car. Scenes, descriptions and the people felt repetitive and the purple prose was a little on the heavy side. There wasn’t much character development, and most of the characters fell into the typical character stereotypes: The dashing young man; the dashing young man with anger management issues; the feisty older women; the feisty young women; the conservative ball-busting women climbing to the top of the political ladder; and the town cuckoo.

There were plenty of plot twists, and all my predictions of who the murderer was were wrong. All the clues were there in the book to piece it together though. It was a little awkward in how the sleuthing worked in this book. There wasn’t a single designated character who tried to solve the mystery. I think that helped create more of a “who did it” atmosphere, especially towards the end.

This book isn’t as formulaic as the typical cosy mysteries, and I might eventually read the other books in the Seaside Knitters Mysteries. If anything, it did make me wish I had my own weekly knitting group, and all the paragraphs on yarn did finally get me to start knitting again this winter.

November Recap

November has been a busy month for me. Lots of random selections too I might add. 10 books completed in total. I’ve been busy reading a slew of children’s books for my blog @ Librarians Crossing (shameless plug, I know). Sometimes a person just needs a good picture book as a reminder for why reading is fun.

At least this month I am not behind or ahead on my reviews. What I’ve read is basically what you’ve seen, minus 1 title. Go me!

Books read and reviewed

 Adult

The most beautiful woman in town & other stories The kitchen counter cooking school : how a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks Aftertaste : a novel in five courses

The final solution : a story of detection Nine Stories All you need to be impossibly French : a witty investigation into the lives, lusts, and little secrets of French women

Falling together

  1. The Most Beautiful Woman in Town by Charles Bukowski
  2. Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
  3. Aftertaste by Meredith Mileti
  4. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
  5. Nine Stories by JD Salinger
  6. All You Need to be Impossibly French by Helena Frith Powell
  7. Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

Audio Books

Fragile things : short fictions and wonders

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

Kids

The apothecary

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy 

Finished in November but not reviewed

Why we buy : the science of shopping

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill

The Most Beautiful Woman in Town (Charles Bukowski) – Review

The most beautiful woman in town & other storiesThe Most Beautiful Woman in Town & other Stories by Charles Bukowski
Age: Adult
Genre: Short Stories, Dirty Realism
Publisher: City Lights, 1967 -1983
ISBN 0872861562
240 pages

Find this book at your local library 

I read Bukowski’s The Post Office three years ago, and I really enjoyed the honest and gritty writing style. 3 years later…and this collection of short stories really didn’t go over well with me. The stories were pretty formulaic: a man drinks, has sex, gambles, drinks some more, is constantly being put down by “the man”, and has more sex.

Some of the stories were gems and had the potential for some depth. Some of his lines were like poetry; the most beautiful woman in town was like “fluid moving fire.”  That was the first story in the collection, and incidentally my favorite one of the bunch.

For the most part, I felt that the shock factor of the stories wore off halfway through, and the rest of the stories just seemed to ramble and become repetitive.      All of these stories were written over a span of time in various newspapers, serials and magazines. You could really tell, because there was no common thread and some of the stories just felt like Bukowski didn’t have any heart in it. Most of the stories are set in Los Angeles, although even those set in other cities followed the same format.  At best this book should be read in small sections over a large span of time, rather than all at once.

Aftertaste (Meredith Mileti) – Review

Aftertaste : a novel in five coursesAftertaste: A Novel in 5 Courses by Meredith Mileti 
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction / Chick-lit
Publisher: Kensington
ISBN: 9780758259912
373 pages
Source: Publisher / LibraryThing Early Readers

Find this book at your local library 

Mira Rinaldi had it all as co-owner of the popular New York restaurant Grappa,  a spacious apartment, and brand new baby. In one night, she lost everything when she caught her husband having an affair with one of their employees. Between the anger management classes and divorce proceedings, Mira’s emotional outbursts set in motion her loss of her restaurant and her New York lifestyle. Somehow, Mira is left to pick up the pieces and find a new outlet for her passion for cooking and create a new life for herself outside of New York.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved the passages on food, and I thought Mira’s character was full of intricacies and emotional issues that didn’t make her just the victim or just the victor. The supporting staff of characters, although somewhat cliché and predictable, did a good job of balancing the crazy that engulfed Mira’s life after she found her husband cheating on her.

The book is divided into 5 sections, each named after an Italian course. One thing I noticed, and I actually sort of want to go back and do an actual count, is that it seemed like there was wine being drunk like it was water. I found it particularly odd that Mira consumed so much wine as she was still nursing baby Chloe. It felt the characters were drinking wine in nearly every chapter, whether with lunch, dinner, or a mid-night snack.

While I don’t think Mira made the best choices in the beginning of the novel, she does take accountability for her decisions and realizes the consequences of her actions. After moving back home to live with her dad, she is aware of how her behavior is hurting those around her, but is unable to stop it because she is so frustrated with her life.

The story is paced very well, its conversational, not rushed but didn’t drag either. This really gave the reader a chance to get to know the characters and see the character development in Mira. An added perk is that Mileti included a number of the recipes mentioned throughout the book.

This book would be a great read for book clubs because of the content, the recipes and the included discussion questions in the back of the book.

  Book 7

The Final Solution (Michael Chabon) – Review

The final solution : a story of detectionThe Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN 9780060777104
131 pages

Find this book at your local library 

Having retired  to the English countryside, an eighty-nine-year-old man, rumored to have once been a great detective, spends more time tending to his bees than interacting with the people in his small town. It isn’t until the day that nine-year old Linus Steinman, escaped from Nazi Germany, wanders into his life that the old man is finally pulled out of his shell. Linus is a mute with a sole companion of an African gray parrot who constantly recites a series of numbers in German. Soon after the arrival of Linus and Bruno, the bird, a viscous murder takes places in the small town, and the old man is pulled into the foray of the investigation, lending a hand towards finding the killer.

Although I’ve never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, it didn’t take long for me to figure out that the eighty-nine-year-old man, who remains nameless throughout the entire book, is most likely Sherlock Holmes. The setting, the time frame and the mannerisms, of which I’ve only heard about, all seem about right.

Although only a meager 131 pages, some of which are illustrations of certain scenes and characters, this mini-novel has the typically expected twists in a whodunnit book. Although I was fully engrossed by Chabon’s effortlessly descriptive prose, I felt that many elements were lacking in this book in regards to the plot. At times the story felt jumpy, there would be a series of progressions without any explanation. There wasn’t much character development with any of the characters other than the old man. I didn’t attach or care about any of the characters, except the old man. Even the young boy, with his tragic history, was left dull and dim in the shade of the old man’s glow. Granted, the old man was given the most attention, so maybe this was Chabon’s intention? There is a chapter at the end, told through the perspective of the parrot that I really enjoyed and felt was the best written segment of this book.

I’d say that for anyone curious about Chabon, this would be a good introduction book. Its short enough to not be a big commitment, and its a good way to get a feel for his writing style. Although I felt that this book could and should have been expanded in many ways, I still enjoyed it, particularly the sense humor and wit infused in the dialogue.