Reading List by Jennie for June through August
Besides the books below, I’ve also read and reviewed The Trouble with Being Wicked by Emma Locke and Fading by E.K. Blair.
Reading My Father by Alexandra Styron
Sometimes I’m more interested in reading about famous authors than in actually reading their works; I’ve read a biography of Jack Kerouac but still have On the Road tbr (and have had it for years). I read a bio of Upton Sinclair, but I’ve never read The Jungle (nor do I plan to, honestly). I’ve never read Sophie’s Choice, or any of William Styron’s other works, but when I saw that his daughter had a memoir out about him and life with him I snapped it up. It’s a fairly interesting depiction of growing up in an intellectual New England household in the 1960s and ’70s, one where famous literary guests were the norm, but also one ruled by her bipolar father’s inexplicable rages and deep depressions. Alexandra Styron is a competent writer but somehow her voice is never quite lovable; maybe her ambivalence about her father, however understandable (and it is understandable) made her a bit less appealing as a narrator. Still, if you’re interested in Styron or even just in literary bios, this is worth a read. My grade for it was a B.
Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh
This took me a while to read, and I continue to find Singh’s writing rather overwrought. Still, the series and the world that Singh creates is very compelling. I think I was a little happier with this book than some of the previous ones because it featured a Psy couple; I can do with seeing less of the changelings. Janine’s review is here. I gave it a B.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
I was a little surprised, reading the foreword to this classic, at how dismissive the foreword’s author was of Anne’s talents compared to those of her sisters. I realize that Charlotte and Emily Bronte are commonly viewed as the literary stars of the family, but still I felt a faint indignation on Anne’s behalf; surely the foreword to a book isn’t the place to carp, “Why can’t you be more like your sisters?” Anyway, I’m only a quarter of the way through The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I’m liking it fine. Sure, it doesn’t feature crazed disinterments like some books, but it’s holding my interest and the narrator, so far, is less irritating than the martyrish governess heroine of Agnes Grey.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
I’m not sure that I really got what all this book was about. For those who don’t know, it’s a short novel (famously adapted and reset in Vietnam during the war in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) in which a man, Marlow, recounts his trip into Africa in search of an elusive and near legendary ivory trader named Kurtz. It’s “an exploration of hypocrisy, ambiguity, and moral confusion” (thanks, SparkNotes!). Also it’s about the evils of colonialism, which isn’t’ something I really needed a moral lesson on, but I’m guessing it was forward-thinking for its time? It’s not that I didn’t really “get it” (I mean, I was able to follow along with the plot, though again there I had some help from SparkNotes). The story just that it never really came alive for me. It would probably be a good book for a class or book group discussion; reading it on my own was a sort of hollow experience. I gave it a B, figuring any deficiencies in my reading experience were my fault and not Conrad’s.
The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan
I think I’ve only read one previous book by this author – her novella Unlocked. I remember literally nothing about that book; I gave it a B but noted that it was “nothing special”, so I’m guessing it was a low B. I gave this book a B as well, but I would say it’s a high B, and it’s possible I’ve become a tougher grader in the intervening years. I actually liked The Heiress Effect quite well. I agree with much of Janine’s review.
Escaping Reality: The Secret Life of Amy Benson by Lisa Renee Jones
Kati reviewed this here and I largely agreed with her review; I also felt that the book had some annoying 50 Shades of Gray elements (super young super rich controlling hero, faux BDSM lite), of which I’m already tired. Still, I ultimately gave the book a B because I found it to be a compelling, fast read and I like the atmospheric sense of menace the author creates; the heroine really doesn’t know who to trust, and characters keep popping up who could be totally benign and yet their words and actions all have a sinister whiff to them. I’ll likely read the second book in the series.
I am not a fan of Emily Bronte, though I have enjoyed some of Charlotte’s books. But The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is by far my favourite of the family oeuvre. There is also, for those who like that kind of thing, a very good BBC adaptation of it starring Toby Stephens and Tara Fitzgerald.
I love The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (and that BBC adaptation really is great).
I will have to catch the BBC adaptation of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall!
I heartily third the recommendation of BBC’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall! It’s really beautiful and tremendously evocative.
I had to read Heart of Darkness for a first year English class in university, and I HATED it. Sometimes one can admire the skill of the writer and still dislike the book and characters; this was not the case here. I just abhorred the whole thing.
I love Courtney Milan. She is Mistress of the Novella, in my opinion. If you want to try another one, try The Governess Affair or A Kiss for Midwinter.
I have to agree that Heart of Darkness was terrible. I read it in high school and it was the least favorite of any English assignment. I was glad it wasn’t also manditory in college. The movie, Apocolypse Now is based on it and I didn’t care for that either. I haven’t read Anne Bronte yet, only her sisters.
I just borrowed Tenant of Wildfell Hall from the library! Great minds think alike, I guess.
Courtney Milan is the only het romance writer who’s an autobuy for me, although The Heiress Effect wasn’t one of my favorites of hers. I liked The Duchess Wars (the first full novel in the same series) and the prequel novella The Governess Affair better.
I enthusiastically recommend reading SOPHIE’S CHOICE. Yes, it’s not a comfortable read, but it is a beautifully written story, one that has stayed with me all these years.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is by far my favorite Bronte book, but it was equally dismissed in its own time by Charlotte Bronte even though or perhaps because it sold out both its first and second printings. Helen is a remarkable Victorian-era heroine. The preface to the second edition is written by Anne Bronte under her male penname, Acton Bell, and eloquently explains why the gender of an author has nothing to do with whether or not a woman can write a male character (such as that bastard Arthur Huntington), when men wrote so many female characters. Couldn’t stand Agnes Grey, either, though!
I hated Heart of Darkness each time I was required to slog through that sucker starting in high school. I seriously felt like I was being dragged through that hot, humid, miserable jungle every time I read it and would promptly fall asleep!
Sounds like you’ve had a good reading summer. Thanks for sharing:)
Re. William Styron, I know I’ve recommended it to you before, but his book Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness is the best thing I’ve ever read on the subject of depression. It’s novella length, eighty-some pages.
Glad you liked Heart of Obsidian but I’d love to know more of your thoughts on it. What did you think of Kaleb and Sahara’s relationship?
I haven’t read Anne Bronte, so can’t comment on that one.
I loved Heart of Darkness when I read it long ago, but it’s justly notorious for its racism. Very much of its period. I think what I liked about it so much was the way its intensity ramped up, as well as the use of the frame device — both things that made an impression on me as a young writer. I was also impressed to learn (via Wiki) that Conrad didn’t even speak English fluently until his twenties. I suspect I would have a much tougher time with this novel today.
Really glad you enjoyed The Heiress Effect; it’s the best 2013 historical romance I’ve read so far.
Re Heart of Darkness, I didn’t hate it the way a lot of people seem to have. It just felt kind of flat and incomplete to me. I wasn’t bothered so much by the racism because I understood that Conrad was actually ahead of the curve in terms of decrying colonialism; I wouldn’t expect a nuanced portrayal of people whom I’m pretty sure 99% of Westerners saw as savages then. I can see some readers finding it disturbing to read, though.
Re the William Styron memoir, I hadn’t realized it was so short; that intensifies my interest in it. I should read Sophie’s Choice at some point, too; it’s just so terribly sad that it’s hard to psych myself up for it.
Janine, I should probably re-read your review of Heart of Obsidian and respond there; I’ve already forgotten some details. I’m terrible with remembering books these days.