A popular topic of discussion while I was at a writing course this summer was reviewing classic and/or prize-winning literature and how most of us felt unqualified to do so. Oh sure, it’s easy to review literature when you love it. When you don’t? Eek! How dare I say I didn’t like a novel that has won one of the most prestigous literature prizes for the English language? Who do I think I am? My inner voice can be quite insecure.
With those thoughts in my mind, I will endeavor to review The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I have never been a Donna Tartt fan. But I’ve previously blamed that on language as – for reasons too boring to go into – I read The Secret History in Dutch. Let me assure you, I did read The Goldfinch in English. Unfortunately, reading in my native language did not improve my view of the novel. (Perhaps I should have read it in German?)
Reading The Goldfinch is like watching a train wreck happen – in slow motion. What’s slower than slow motion because this novel creeped along at the pace of traffic in Istanbul on a Sunday afternoon? Unfortunately, I’ve never been one for rubbernecking at accidents. Everything and anything that could possibly go wrong in the narrator’s (Theo) life did. It was painful to watch. I know this is literature and a saga to boot – but couldn’t Theo have something go right in his life?
There is no doubt that the characters were well developed, although there were so many that I sometimes lost track of who’s who. My goodness does Theo know a lot of people! And some associates disappear for hundreds of pages before coming back. I had to flip back and forth a bit at times, although that’s probably my fault as I took freaking forever to read this book. Personally, I want Hobie to adopt me. I don’t know anything about antiques, but I’m willing to learn. I also loved Boris’s character. I wouldn’t trust him any further than I could throw him, but it was fun to watch the guy wiggle his way around. That said, I don’t think I’d trust Theo either.
Disappointedly, the novel fell apart in Amsterdam. The unfortunate part of knowing a foreign city intimately is that no one who is not native to the city can write about it well enough. I could write a list of mistakes, but only I care about that, so I won’t bore you. Suffice it to say that I had an incredibly hard time not throwing the book across the room. At least my husband found my snorting at the book amusing. (Although as a native Amsterdammer, he did sympathize with me. Or at least he pretended to – he’s not stupid.)
Nobody said I had to prize-winning literature, right? I’m giving the novel three stars as it is obviously well-written, the character development is unrivaled, and the story is unique.
Title: Tossed Into Love
Series: Fluke My Life
Author: Aurora Rose Reynolds
~ Blurb ~
Libby Reed is over it. Or that’s what she tells herself. She’s lusted after one of New York’s bravest for years, but firefighter Antonio Moretti has doused her interest for the last time. As much as she wants the arrogant jerk (in a bad, bad way), they can’t even be in the same room without setting each other off…which might be a problem now that she’s volunteered to help out in his family’s restaurant.
Antonio’s been burned before. Now he knows better than to trust a pretty face and follow another pair of long, beautiful legs into heartbreak. But while Libby might rub him the wrong way, he can’t deny the heat between them. And it only burns hotter when she steps up in his time of need. The closer they get, the more he realizes he may have misjudged her. Then again, he doesn’t know the secret Libby’s keeping that could send their relationship up in flames before it’s even begun.
~ Review ~
I nabbed this book from NetGalley as I’m a fan of Aurora Rose Reynolds’ Until series. I do love me some instalove. I don’t care how unrealistic it may seem. I was somewhat leery about this story as the description makes it clear this is not an instalove situation. Antonio actually sounded like a jerk from the description. I decided to give it a try anyway.
Although I liked Libby, I didn’t love her. I didn’t care for the descriptions of clothing, and Libby’s life is fashion. Something I’m not interested in – at all. I also found her successfulness at her age unrealistic. The details about her new business endeavor were missing. How in the world did she manage to do a renovation in so little time? I need her construction crew!
I liked Antonio more than I thought I would. He did have a reason for his judgmental behavior. He could have opened up his eyes a little sooner, though.
Overall, I enjoyed the story. It’s a quick, fluffy read for when you just want to relax. Nothing wrong with that. But figuring out a star rating wasn’t easy. Although the story is exactly as advertised – a light love story with a guaranteed HEA, there were quite a few things that annoyed me and the story followed a typical romance formula making it feel somewhat cliched.
~ About the Author ~
Aurora Rose Reynolds is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author whose wildly popular series include Until, Until Him, Until Her, and Underground Kings.
Her writing career started in an attempt to get the outrageously alpha men who resided in her head to leave her alone, and it has blossomed into an opportunity to share her stories with readers all over the world.
Title: The Beast of London
Series: Mina Murry Series
Author: L.D. Goffigan
Published: April 17, 2017
~ Blurb ~
An electrifying retelling of a classic tale, THE BEAST OF LONDON is the first book of the Mina Murray series.
Mina Murray once lived an adventurous life, but after a tragedy in the forests of Transylvania, she left it all behind. Now she has settled into a quiet routine as a schoolteacher in London, engaged to the respectable solicitor Jonathan Harker, attempting to fit into the stuffy upper class London society to which he belongs.
Her dark past comes careening into her present when Jonathan is abducted by a group of vampires from a society ball. Determined to rescue him, she teams up with her former paramour Abraham Van Helsing and his colleague, Scotland Yard Inspector John Seward.
As they pursue Jonathan’s abductors from England to the Low Countries and beyond, Mina realizes that Jonathan’s abduction is tied to a larger threat against humanity…
~ Review ~
I was given a review copy of this novel from the author a while ago, and I finally managed to read it this past week while I was looking for something light to read. Although the novel started off slow, once the characters are introduced the action grows and it became hard to put down. I have forgotten the novel was a re-telling of a classic tale and didn’t know what I wasn’t getting myself into.
The story is told from Mina’s point of view. I enjoy reading novels written in first person and Mina was likeable and relatable. She was strong, yet damaged. I’m not sure how believable her character is for the era (would a woman in that time period gone off with two men on an adventure???), but this is a fantasy novel after all. I think I’m in love with Abraham and hope Mina opens her eyes to see what he has to offer her. *Fingers crossed for the next book in the series*
Although I enjoyed the story and would continue to read the series, I had a few problems with the novel itself. My biggest problem was the Dutch. No one would have spoken in informal Dutch in that time period, and the word choice was often incorrect. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what university she’s referring to as the Municipal University of Amsterdam (The University of Amsterdam, The VU, I don’t know). There were also quite a few editing mistakes.
I hate cliffhanger endings! I didn’t realize this book was the first of a series. I am not a big fan of series that are composed of novels that are not standalones.
All in all, an enjoyable read. I’ll definitely continue with the series.
~ About the Author ~
L.D. Goffigan writes paranormal fantasy novels. She studied film and dramatic writing at New York University. She grew up on the East Coast but now resides in a large city by the sea on the West Coast. When not writing, she enjoys traveling and dreaming of new fantastical tales to tell. Her novel, THE BEAST OF LONDON, is the first book of the Mina Murray series.
I know I said I’d be offline this week while I’m at Swanwick Summer School, but I’m skipping breakfast this morning to quickly write a blog post because I’m an introvert (a loud-mouthed introvert, but an introvert nonetheless) and I could use a break from the other 300 plus delegates. So, I’m hiding in my room and drinking a coffee and eating a meergranen biscuit I brought from home for breakfast. Do I know how to live or what?
Between preparing for summer school and working on the marketing to launch Finders, Not Keepers next week (whose brilliant idea was it to launch a book days after returning from an intensive course, anyway?), I haven’t managed to finish The Goldfinch yet. To be perfectly, painfully honest, I haven’t made much progress at all. I planned to read in the plane on the way over here, but we had a 3 ½ hour delay due to a bird strike. Normally, that’s lots of extra reading time, right? Um, not if you are Dena. Dena heads to the Irish bar and has a pint (or 2… no one’s counting, right?). BUT the book is on my nightstand and I will try to get a few chapters in here and there. I will finish this book eventually. I will.
In the meantime, a quick update on The Writers’ Summer School. So far, it’s living up to my expectations. I went to two courses yesterday: crime doesn’t pay and sitcom writing. I’m not sure I can use much from the crime doesn’t pay lecture as I don’t get into forensic evidence much with my cozy mysteries, but it did get my creative juices flowing on the next book in the Not So Reluctant Detective Series. Melly is in for some serious trouble on that one. Sitcom writing is not something I’ve considered doing, but I went along to get some tips for writing funny stuff. I do try to write funny stuff, after all. The lecturer was quite good. I must admit I didn’t enjoy the group writing activity. When you’ve only just met someone, it’s awful hard to work together. #NotATeamPlayer
On the agenda today is another lecture in the crime doesn’t pay series and a short course in creating characters. I may even put on my dancing shoes and go to the disco this evening, although after last night’s horrible result in the quiz (resulting in that second ill-advised bottle of wine), I’m unsure.
Signing off …
I’m back on track this week with my Pulitzer Prize Challenge. I’ve just finished the 2015 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, All The Light We Cannot See from Anthony Doerr. This book absolutely destroyed me – in a good way. I loved this book. Loved! Loved! Loved! I’m obsessed with WWII on the European Front, so it’s not such a surprise I would enjoy Doerr’s novel, which takes place in France and Germany in the years leading up to the war and the war itself. But this novel is so much more than a novel about the war. It is an epic story that explores the very depths of human nature.
When people ruminate about the great American novel, this is the type of book to which they are referring. Doerr doesn’t just describe Europe before and during the war. He opens the door for us to view that world through the eyes of Marie-Laure and Werner. He transports the reader to the streets of Paris and Saint Malo. You can almost taste the salt water from the sea in the air as you read. Then, he jumps to Germany and the coal mines where I could practically feel Werner’s desperate desire to find an escape from the mines awaiting him.
After we fall in love with Marie-Laure and Werner (and I dare you to say you didn’t fall in love with these two), he slowly builds suspense as the war machine that was Nazi Germany revs its engines. My heart was in my throat as Marie-Laure fled Paris with her father. Werner’s journey was no less perilous. His exceptional skills with radios have allowed him to escape the mines, but what other horrors await him? Doerr jumps back and forth through time building and building suspense until a reader is forced to pull up a chair and turn the pages until the final culmination of the Battle for Brest and the occupation of Saint Malo.
Doerr connects the stories of the various characters in ways a reader would never suspect, but with the result that the story is interwoven in such a way as to remind us that humanity is not only made up of different tribes and cultures, but at its base we are all the same – We are all just human beings trying to survive in a sometimes extremely harsh world.
Everyone should read this novel. If nothing else to remind us of the damage caused to civilians during war.
Coming up: I’m now reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I’ve been working on this book for months! The likelihood of finishing before next week is therefore low. Not to worry! Living just minutes from the actual painting, I can share some stories about it with you.
A peculiar explorer and downtrodden acrobat span the globe on a building-sized hot air balloon, in search of a precious artifact and the murderous treasure hunter who seeks it.
Title: The Colonel and the Bee
Author: Patrick Canning
Genre: Adventure/Coming of Age
~ Blurb ~
Beatrix, a spirited but abused acrobat in a traveling circus, seeks more than her prison-like employment offers. More than anything, she wants to know her place in the world of the halcyon 19th century, a time when the last dark corners of the map were being sketched out and travel still possessed a kind of magic.
One night in Switzerland, the mysterious Colonel James Bacchus attends Beatrix’s show. This larger-than-life English gentleman, reputed to have a voracious appetite for female conquests, is most notable for traveling the world in a four-story hot air balloon called The Ox.
Beatrix flees that night to join the Colonel, and the two of them make a narrow escape—Beatrix from her abusive ringleader, the Colonel from a freshly-made cuckold. Beatrix, feeling the Colonel may have the answers to her problems, pledges to help him catch the criminal he seeks in exchange for passage on his magnificent balloon.
The criminal seeks a precious figurine, The Blue Star Sphinx, but he’s not alone. The Sphinx’s immense value has also drawn the attention of the world’s most deadly treasure hunters. A murder in Antwerp begins a path of mystery that leads all the way to the most isolated island on Earth.
Grab a copy!
~ Excerpt ~
“Flying the Ox is much more akin to playing an instrument than operating a machine. Approach the challenge less formally, do so with confidence, and the craft’s perfect obedience will be your reward.”
I lost sight of the burner strap and by accident pulled a vent on the main balloon. We began to rotate and descend with great rapidity. The Colonel allowed me to find the correct cord on my own, and I did so just in time as the Ox nearly scraped a rolling pasture hill, startling a herd of brown Belgian cows enough to sour their milk.
Taking care to avoid the ripping line, I continued to bring the Ox up, searching for the northwest wind. To my chagrin, I sent us southeast, and it took a deft intervention from the Colonel to set us right. Applying the correct pressure on the correct combination of cords in the correct sequence did indeed give him the appearance of an accomplished maestro.
“Skill comes with practice, and northwest can be elusive. Northeast can be downright tempestuous,” he said as if recalling a talented snooker rival.
I readied another question, but the Colonel anticipated me. He held up a gentle hand to stay the incoming query, motioned with both hands downward, indicating I should relax, then gestured to the edge of the Ox.
So worried I’d been about that morning’s lesson, I’d hardly taken a moment to observe our environment. I joined the Colonel at the railing, and became lightheaded with wonder. The full effect of flight had been disguised by darkness the previous night, and now, in the maturing light of dawn, I beheld a world transformed by perspective: rivers and mountains were maps come to life, trees were seas of leaves that shimmered emerald in the breeze, even birds flew at a height far below the Ox, moving like schools of fish in currents of wind.
“Toast my bloomin’ eyebrows,” I mumbled, forgoing any attempt at eloquence. “I didn’t know… I couldn’t have imagined…”
“Wonderful, isn’t it? From this height, we’re permitted to see plainly the orchestrations of daily life, rank with crisscrossing motives and the clutter of needless haste. Up here in the rarefied air we are weightless in cool æther, unspoiled by the odour and noise of man’s desires far below.”
We stood side by side, watching the scene in silence, until something in the distance stole the Colonel’s gaze.
“There. Antwerp on the horizon. Drink your leaf juice if you must.”
By now, all of the Manx were flying in a loose halo about the Ox, gently displacing the Belgian mist we floated in as they dove and twisted as birds in play.
“They have such charm and spirit,” I said.
“They detect my excitement. This visit could prove fruitful in our search for the criminal. He’s been most elusive thus far.”
“Do you know the murdered party?”
The Colonel’s face fell a note, but he recovered quickly.
“I’m interested in the criminal.”
“To bring him to justice?” I gulped my tea. “For this or a past transgression?”
“There is plenty to choose from. It is enough for you to know I seek an audience with the man.”
“He has committed other crimes?”
“Is he dangerous?”
I finished my tea as the green vegetation and black soil of tilled fields shifted to the red brick and grey stone of buildings. Antwerp’s harbour introduced itself to the nose long before the eyes.
The Colonel inhaled deeply.
“Have you been?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“A bastion of crime and seafood, how I adore this city. I apologise as it’s unlikely we’ll have time for a proper tour. Perhaps a return under less harried circumstances. Unfurl those ropes there, won’t you?”
The spiderweb of roadways below passed ever faster as we descended. I let drop a collection of heavy ropes over the side of the Ox as the Colonel set her down in a rather regal park. Despite the posh surroundings, there was an air of danger. Apparently, the Colonel felt it too.
“No chance we’re deflating here,” he said. “Down the steps with you. Help secure us.”
~ About the Author ~
Patrick spends as much time as possible turning coffee into words that look like books, shorts, and screenplays. Most of his stories attempt to look for the meaning of life in an adventurous way, and often employ humor, important since the search usually doesn’t turn up much.
Connect with the author at: My Website