Reading List by Jennie for March, April and May
I’m toying with reviewing this. I didn’t know that much about this classic 19th century novel before starting it; I vaguely remember watching part of a British adaptation of it years ago, on A&E, I think. All I knew was that Becky Sharp was sort of an anti-heroine and that the novel took place at least partly around Waterloo (I remembered the scene set at the ball the night before the battle, a ball that has been depicted in countless romances over the years). Anyway, I’m not quite done with the book yet, but I’ve enjoyed it thus far. The focus is not on Becky alone and her machinations, but on the family she marries into and her erstwhile friend Amelia (who is honestly a drip personified, but whatever) who is loved from afar by the hapless Dobbin. I prefer the Becky bits though her story turns kind of dark towards the end. I shouldn’t grade a book I haven’t finished but so far it’s a solid B.
I got this free through the Daily Deals; the novella pairs a plain, even mousy widow who is dependent on relatives with a bad boy (of course) hero who happens to be her late husband’s cousin. She witnesses him seducing a maid in the family library, and subsequently he offers to tutor in the carnal arts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this unlikely, porno-esque scenario over the years; I pretty much roll my eyes automatically the minute it’s presented in a romance. That said, even though I don’t remember much about the rest of the story (though I only read it a month or so ago), I did give it a B, so I guess that the trite set-up aside, it wasn’t a bad story.
Joint review with Janine here.
I vividly remember the H Block hunger strikes of 1981. I think it’s a combination of being at an age for which I have especially strong memories – between 11 and 12 – and the fact that my mother was a supporter (albeit from America) of Sinn Fein and, to a degree, the IRA. I have much more ambivalent feelings today, especially about the latter organization, but that era in Northern Ireland is still very much of interest to me. Anyway, this book didn’t end up working for me, in small part because it’s strongly slanted in favor of the British government and against the prisoners. I may not be pro-IRA, but I’m definitely not pro-Thatcher, and Hennessey is, rather unabashedly. The larger problem was that I was hoping for a more human, personal story and this was a very dry, academic work, focused on recently released government reports rather than on-the-ground first person accounts from the time. I gave it a D.
Also got from the Daily Deals, I think? I would say I should stay away from those but actually I’ve had decent success with the books I’ve snagged there. This book was a little uneven but still very compelling. There were things I didn’t like about the h/h characterizations – the depiction of his mental illness felt superficial, as did the treatment of her past as a child star and betrayal by her mother. But they came alive as characters nonetheless, and that counts for a lot with me. He’s Come Undone was reviewed by Jayne here – my grade was an A-.
I was out of non-fiction to read (at least any non-fiction I wanted to read, since an 800-page biography of William Randolph Hearst that was actually in hardcover form rather than electronic wasn’t exactly calling my name). I hadn’t read this author’s previous celebrated book, Seabiscuit, but this one sounded interesting and the reviews were great. It’s a true story (more on that in a moment) about Louis Zamperini, who grew up in Southern California, became an Olympic runner almost out of nowhere, went to World War II, was shot down and marooned on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for over a month, and then spent years in a Japanese prison camp, enduring almost unimaginable torture. It’s very compellingly written – I was drawn into the story immediately. But after a while I started to question the veracity of some of the details. The larger facts are indisputable – Zamperini WAS an Olympian, was shot down in the Pacific, did endure brutal treatment as a POW. All of these facts are remarkable enough. But the little details pile up and begin to feel outlandish – just about everything, every moment of Zamperini’s life was apparently remarkable. It just became too much for me and affected my enjoyment of the book. It didn’t help that the middle third was pretty unpleasant to read, dealing as it did with pretty much unending suffering and degradation in the prison camp in Japan. I’m not sure how to grade this because I did find it really readable and involving in parts; I’d probably give it a C+.HQN
I saw and really liked the movie when it came out, even though I had some reservations about the portrayal of the protagonist’s mental illness, which seemed a little superficial (weird that this is the second book in this roundup that I had that specific problem with). It’s even clearer in the book that Pat is pretty profoundly mentally ill – for one thing, he’s been in a mental hospital for four years (a detail I don’t recall being addressed in the movie), and is apparently unaware of that fact. When asked how long he thinks it’s been since he’s seen his estranged wife, he guesses a few months, when in fact he apparently hasn’t seen her in all the years he’s been away at what he calls “the bad place.” The way that Pat’s mind seems to work is strangely childlike (in addition to calling the the psychiatric hospital “the bad place” he refers to his estrangement from his wife as “apart time” and believes that it is temporary and sure to end soon). All of it adds up to a story and a romance that are kind of unsettling. Again, I felt this was all hinted at in the movie – Pat is delusional and given to bouts of rage and at times refuses to take his medication, but he’s somehow healed (at least enough for a happy ending) by love, dancing and Jennifer Lawrence. Since I kind of adore Jennifer Lawrence and like Bradley Cooper and the rest of the cast as well, it worked for me in spite of my hesitancy. It’s a lot harder to make it an HEA in the book. I still have about a 1/3 to go and I’m not sure how closely the book will follow the movie – the stories are largely the same but the emphasis is different. Different events happen at different times and we’re just now getting to the part where Tiffany makes the deal with Pat to do the dance competition. I can’t say I’m loving it but I’m keeping an open mind; if it weren’t for the fact that I’d seen the movie I think I’d be a lot more concerned about how the story might end (I mean, it might end differently from the movie but I doubt it will be horribly depressing or negative; I hope not, at least).HQN