Saturday, February 6, 2016

(Review) Only The Stones Survive by Morgan Llywelyn

Publication Date: January 5, 2016.
Publisher: Forge, A Tom Doherty Associates Book.
Genre: Fiction, Irish Myth and Legend, Fantasy.
Pages: 304.
Source: Free copy from Forge in exchange for a review.
Rating: 2 stars for okay.

Link at Forge for more information.

Amazon 

Barnes and Noble










Summary:
A people group named Tuatha De' Danann live a closeted peaceful existence on an island. They worship nature. They are targeted for extermination by the Gaels.
A youth named Joss is a survivor. His goal is to bring the remnant together and escape to survive.
Only The Stones Survive is part Irish history and part legend.
The story has elements of training for war, war, survival, and magic.

My Thoughts:
I loved the premise of the story. I love the front cover. I love the main character Joss. I love the fantasy fiction element. I love Irish history. However, I felt the book fell flat. Two things I felt is needed.
1. I want to "feel" Joss's pain and determination to survive. Instead, he comes across as a stoic fellow.
2. To have a book with an emphasis on preparing for battle and war itself, leaves out an element and even a texture that is less bristly. This element is passionate love. At the end of the story there is a hint of this. War is a passionate endeavor, but add an arousing love element, and this gives the two a balance affect, two fibers intermingling in story. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

(Review) Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Publication Date: First published 1891. My edition published 1966.
Publisher: My copy is an old Washington Square Press.
Genre: Fiction.
Pages: 446.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Summary:
When the book begins Tess is 16. She is the oldest child in the family. Her siblings look to her as a mother figure. Their mother is foolish and unwise. She encourages Tess to live with a "relative," who has shown he is a scoundrel. Tess is reluctant but obedient. The results are life-altering.
In the opening pages, Tess is described as having, "large innocent eyes," and "a mere vessel of emotion untinctured by experience."
Her character reminds me of a young innocent lamb. She perceives danger, yet is unable to protect herself; and the people who are her parents and protectors are negligent. While the shepherds are not watching, the wolf overcomes his prey.

My Thoughts:
Tess is a sensitive girl, and this is shown in an opening story when she blames herself for an accident. Tess is sensitive to her peer's words, criticism, and response. She is sensitive to her parents, in how their foolishness is seen by neighbors. She is thrust into an impossible situation. She is a character who I found easy to form an attachment and investment. Tess desperately needed a friend and an advocate. I wanted to be her friend and advocate.
One of the saddest scenes in Tess of the D'Ubervilles is the story of Sorrow. I have read the book Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell. Ruth reminds me a little of Tess of the D'Ubervilles. Both stories are of young women who were thrust into impossible situations. The era in which they lived was harsh towards women in trouble. The men went on their merry way to another conquest. The women were left with the consequences.
I did not care for a comment Thomas Hardy wrote in regards to the "situation." It came across to me as trifle.
Let the truth be told-women do as a rule live through such humiliations, and regain their spirits, and again look about them with an interested eye. While there's life there's hope is a conviction not so entirely unknown to the "betrayed" as some amiable theorists would have us believe. Page 112. 
I have lived through a "humiliation," and I did not regain my spirits for a long time. It's a lengthy process and requires a life-time of work. It is not something that can just be gotten over, as if it's a case of the flu. However, building a new life after the incident is possible.
I was sorely disappointed in the character Angel Clare. Angel had the opportunity to be Tess's loving advocate. He did not love unconditionally. He did not reflect a Christian. However, he did reflect the era, its culture and society.

How do I compare Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D'Ubervilles?
Jude sought knowledge but needed wisdom. Whereas, Tess sought love but was given ashes.
Jude made unwise decisions. Whereas, Tess was pushed into an impossible situation by her mother.
Jude chose his relationships. Whereas, Tess at first had no choice, and later the choice pursued her but fell flat.
Jude's story reflected his choices. Tess's story was a domino affect after a tragic situation.
Both characters are tragic. Both characters are memorable.






Wednesday, January 27, 2016

(Review) The Essential Hardy, Selected and with an Introduction by Joseph Brodsky

Publication Date: 1995.
Publisher: Ecco Press.
Genre: Poetry.
Pages: 192.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.

Summary:
Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) was a Russian poet and essayist. He wrote the 63 page introduction. The later 117 pages are selected poems from Thomas Hardy (1840-1928.)
There are 101 poems in the book.
Link to read the biography of Joseph Brodsky.
After Thomas Hardy received negative reviews from his last novels, he concentrated on poetry.
The last two novels Hardy wrote were Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895).
Links to read further information on Thomas Hardy.
Britannica 
Poetry Foundation  
Poets
Poem Hunter

My Thoughts:
Reviewing poetry is not something I do often, and I'm never sure exactly where to start.
What I can do is state what I like and don't like, and post lines from the poems that speak to me.
This seems rather elementary, but I hope it will suffice.

The first poem that I like/love and spoke to me (my mind and emotion.)
The second poem listed is "Neutral Tones." I've read this poem several times and each time something new stands out. For example: "The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing/ Alive enough to have strength to die;" A smile is compared to something dead. This is shocking to me. It's also tragic, and a stunning comparison. A smile is happiness and joy. A smile is inviting and kind. Hardy compares the smile to death. So, what is Hardy really saying? I believe the person smiling is superficial, deceptive, conniving, and cruel.

The second poem of my two favorites.

"Going and Staying"

I
"The moving sun-shapes on the spray,
The sparkles where the brook was glowing,
Pink faces, plighting, moonlit May,
These were the things we wished would stay;
        But they were going.

II
Seasons of blankness as of snow,
The silent bleed of a world decaying,
The moan of multitudes in woe,
These were the things we wished would go;
       But they were staying.

III
Then we looked closelier at Time,
And saw his ghostly arms revolving
To sweep off woeful things with prime,
Things sinister with things sublime
      Alike dissolving.

I don't believe this is a poem about nature or weather.
This is a poem about life. May is a month in late spring. It's a month of freshness and fragrance. It's a month filled with growth and promise and hope. Snow means winter, but it can also mean the winter of one's life. Winter can mean of a senior age, or it can mean how a person feels about their life regardless of age. Winter is a dormant season. There is no growth, only a frigid quiet period.
"Ghostly arms revolving" reminds me of the mystery of death.
The words "woeful" and "dissolving" remind me of death.
Hardy may be referring to a physical death at the prime of life, as compared to vibrant "glowing" May, or he may be speaking of the death of a dream. A dream of something that will never become fruit bearing, it has died in winter.

(Review) My Brilliant Friend: Book One of the Neapolitan Novels, Childhood, Adolescence by Elena Ferrante

Publication Date: 2012.
Publisher: Europa Editions.
Genre: Fiction,
Pages: 331.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: 3 Stars for good.

Amazon

Summary:
My Brilliant Friend is book one in a four part series covering the lives of two girls who grow up best friends. Their names are Lina or Lila, and Elena. They meet in the first grade. They live in a neighborhood in Naples, Italy. The time period is the 1950s. Lila has an older brother. Elena has younger siblings. Lila is a beautiful and delicate looking girl, but with nerves of steal. Elena is an avid reader and intelligent, she easily promotes in school.
Their friendship develops and continues through the trials of: family problems, neighborhood kids, puberty, boys, higher learning or work, and decisions about future lives.
The story is told by the character Elena.

My Thoughts:
This is the second book I've read by Elena Ferrante. The previous book was The Days of Abandonment. 
I've noticed in both books a strong element is emotion; it's raw, transparent, and at times difficult to digest.
There were moments while reading the book when I was exhausted by the constant state of Elena's every thought. Her over-thinking and analyzing is propelled by an obsession with her friend Lila. She worries about Lila. She wonders if Lila has made the right decisions. She compares her body and face to the thinner and beautiful Lila. She realizes boys notice Lila more.
Their relationship is complicated, and dependent on one another. It appears more so on the part of Elena.
Elena has the ability because of her intelligence and hard work, to be independent of men and a life most females traditionally choose, marriage and family. Whereas Lila does not have this option.
There is an undertone Lila's home life is hiding a secret. I wonder if future books will reveal this?
I might read more books by Elena Ferrante, but at this time I'm going to pass. I need a breather. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

(Review) Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Publication Date: 2013.
Publisher: St. Martin's Press.
Genre: Fiction, Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald.
Pages: 384.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: 3 stars for good.

Amazon



1900-1948
"Look closer and you'll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed." Page 5.

Summary:
Zelda Sayre is the youngest child in a respected Montgomery, Alabama family. When the book begins, she is 17. Her mother wears the Edwardian style clothing, but Zelda is apart of the emerging change that came at the end of World War I and progressed into 1920's. The hemlines raised, hairstyles became short and bobbed; and women became more assertive after the right to vote had passed.
Culture and society during the Jazz Age of the 1920's, changed remarkably since the previous Victorian and Edwardian times. From clothing to music, from literature to decorating style, everything reflected the staunch difference.
Zelda met handsome F. Scott Fitzgerald at a party. She is immediately taken with his military uniform and "angelic face." A relationship begins, but the war places a damper on its development. Fitzgerald never sees combat, and returns to the states to begin a career as a paid writer. Eventually, he sends for Zelda to become his wife.

My Thoughts:
The main reason I gave Z 3 stars for good is I did not feel a strong investment in Zelda's portrayal. I believe it's because she is depicted as superficial and with little depth of character. It is possible the author captured the exact Zelda, because she was not a deep person, and in this case I can understand the struggle to write about a person who is thin-skinned.
A secondary reason is Zelda struggled with a mental illness (possibly schizophrenic.) I wanted to see more of the mental illness displayed, as well as the affects on F. Scott. Her illness is not to the depth I wanted it to be told. Zelda also suffered from colitis. In reflecting back on the story, I remember more about her intestinal disease than the mental illness.
Z does give a chronological view of the life of Zelda and F. Scott. It shows the important people they knew (for example, Ernest Hemingway), and the places where they traveled and lived. The book gave me a solid view of F. Scott's writing career, their marriage problems, and love despite hardships.
The book stops short of the ending of Zelda's life. The book does not show the relationship troubles she had with Scottie, the only child of Zelda and F. Scott.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

(Review) Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Publication Date: 1999. A magazine series in 1894. First published in book form 1895.
Publisher: Signet Classic.
Genre: Classic literature, fiction.
Pages: 448.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.

Amazon .99 cents for the Kindle.

Free @ Project Gutenberg

According to the The Guardian, Jude the Obscure is number 29 on the top 100 list.

Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928. 
Summary:
Victorian era, 19th century.
Jude Fawley is an eleven year old boy living with his "crusty maiden aunt." They live in (fictional) Marygreen, North Wessex, England. As a youth, Jude is fixated on higher education. He dreams of knowledge and career beyond menial labor in a small town. At age 19, Jude met cold and calculating Arabella Donn. Whereas Jude seeks to escape his common world through education, Arabella seeks to escape her common world through a man. In an unwise decision, Jude become entangled in Arabella's teasing embrace.
Jude the Obscure is not a happy novel. It's a sad view of the destruction of people's lives caused by selfish gain, religious toxicity, miscommunication, poverty, exclusion, and despair.

My Thoughts:
I loved this story. Not a five star excellent type of love, but 4 stars for very good.
I can relate to Jude. I have empathy and sympathy for his plight. I too made unwise decisions as a youth, life altering decisions.
It's easy to be a reader who judges characters without thinking about our own past poor judgment; and we might even pass up a book, because book characters can prick our heart and make us squirm.
I love fictional characters, because they bring me out of my small world and into another world, which maybe reminiscent of my world, or perhaps another world all together, either way I can learn, grow, and see life through a different lens. I feel this is one of the marvelous aspects of fiction stories.
On page 25 there is a quote which stood out to me. I feel it is a story theme.
"The tree of knowledge grows there." 
In the book of Genesis, and in the middle of the Garden, "were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
I have learned that knowledge without wisdom is going to cause heartache and strife. Jude sought knowledge but what he needed was wisdom.
Jude needed a mentor, a strong father or brother who could take him aside and speak to him about life and relationships. As a result of not having strong guidance, he struggles, guesses, and flounders. (However, even people who have strong guidance sometimes make poor judgment.)
The two female leads in the story are Arabella Donn and Sue Bridehead. The women are as different as night and day. One is part fox and part spider. The other struggles with sexual hang-ups, and vacillates between sensuous feelings and sexual revulsion.
The intermingled relationships between Jude, Arabella, and Sue cause trouble in the towns they live in and with employment. The time period is the Victorian age. People did not divorce or live together without gossip and ostracizing. The consenting adults suffered as well as their children.
Jude the Obscure is the last novel Thomas Hardy wrote. He received criticism for the (so called) filth of the story-line. Hardy focused on writing poetry. He is considered one of the great 20th century poets.

I have a book of poetry by Thomas Hardy that I've decided to re-read.
The Essential Hardy Selected by Joseph Brodsky.




Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My goal in 2016 is to read 15 books-Medieval.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.

The below post is from the original, courtesy of Passages to the Past. 
Each month, a new post dedicated to the HF Challenge will be created. To participate, you only have to follow the rules:
  • Everyone can participate, even those who don't have a blog (you can add your book title and thoughts in the comment section if you wish)
  • Add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll be adding to our monthly post (please, do not add your blog link, but the correct address that will guide us directly to your review)
  • Any sub-genre of historical fiction is accepted (Historical Romance, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Young Adult, etc.)

During the following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels:

20th century Reader - 2 books
Victorian Reader - 5 books
Renaissance Reader - 10 books
Medieval - 15 books
Ancient History - 25 books
Prehistoric - 50+ books

To join the challenge you only need to make a post about it, add your link in Mr. Linky below or just leave a link to your blog if you are not yet ready to post about it yet. If you don't have a blog you can just leave a comment for this post saying that you are joining.

The challenge runs from January 1st to December 31st, 2016.

I look forward to having you join me in readi
ng and enjoying the best in historical fiction over the 12 months.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2016 Southern Literature Reading Challenge

Southern Literature Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader

I'm signing up for 1-2 books----C'mon In The House.

The first book I will be reading for this challenge is a collection of short stories by Eudora Welty.
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty


The following is from the original post:

I'm hosting the Southern Literature Reading Challenge again this year. I love reading Southern Literature and I hope you do too!

The rules:

Read a book(s)--non-fiction or fiction of any genre, for any age group--written by an author from the South and set mostly in the South.

Definitions of the South are flexible, so I've decided to define it the way I want. That's the fun of hosting your own challenge, right? :-)

The states:
South Carolina
Georgia
Alabama
North Carolina
Virginia
Tennessee 
Mississippi
Louisiana
Kentucky 
West Virginia
Texas
Arkansas
Florida

Please keep in mind that this is a Southern literature challenge. It's possible to find books set in each of these states that are not Southern in nature or feeling. Use your best judgment when choosing your books. 

Levels:

Level 1--C'mon in the house! Read 1-2 books.

Level 2--Pull up a seat and stay a while! Read 3-4 books

Level 3--Have a glass of sweet iced tea, honey. Read 5-6 books

Level 4--Y'all come back now, y'hear! Read 7-8 books

The challenge will run from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016. You can join in anytime throughout the year.

I am not limiting the challenge to bloggers.  You can also link to a review you wrote on another site, such as GoodReads or LibraryThing. 

Crossovers with other challenges are acceptable, and feel free to read your books in any format you choose.