lisa's reviews

Reading is the only thing in the world I am good at. A lifetime of reading, fifteen years of working in bookstores, and libraries, and an obsession with the written word makes me qualified enough to talk someone's ear off about books.  Now I am getting more ARCs than I have room for in the house.  Let me get back to reading them!

Good story laid over a bad foundation

Land of Enchantment - Leigh Stein

I will always, always pick up any book called Land of Enchantment, and I will almost always force myself to read it no matter how bad it is. Any contemporary writer who sets a book in my home state, called The Land of Enchantment by some, will definitely get their book read by me. And then they have to deal with what I have to say about it, as I am very opinionated about books set here.

What was annoying to me about this book was that it was almost something good. A good story, with good characters was laid over a bad, bad foundation. Leigh Stein tells the story of her relationship with Jason, a boyfriend with whom she had a volatile off and on relationship for years until his death in 2011. in 2007-2008 they lived together in Albuquerque, while she worked on a novel. The plan was supposed to be that he would work to support them while she did this, but instead Jason spent most of his time drinking, getting high, flirting with girls, and losing job after job. Some part of me sympathized with Stein since I was once in a similar relationship, but her self absorbed way of telling the story turned me off to it from the start. Since I don't know the author I can't really know why her retelling of her own story was so grating to me. It could have been some combination of her immaturity, thoughtlessness, and neediness that made this story hard to read. I found myself rolling my eyes at a lot of it because I couldn't believe how stupid she sounded. I know full well that someone who has worked at The New Yorker and has had work published can't be as idiotic as Stein comes off sounding in this book, but her earnest descriptions of her depression, her brief return home to Chicago during her stay in Albuquerque, and her insistence on seeing Jason in the best light possible made the beginning, the middle, and some of the end of this book drag, and drag. By the end of the book Stein admits to her own failings, and as she gains some distance and some perspective on her relationship with Jason, she admits to realizing, one slow revelation at a time, how awful he was to her, and how dysfunctional their relationship was. I wish she had focused more on this instead of mentioning it briefly just as the book was wrapping up. If the story focused more on the final destination, and everything she learned while getting there this could have been good. Instead we have to suffer through the journey with Stein (complete with her insipid journal entries) and I was bored all the way there. I didn't care that Stein identified with Sylvia Plath and Georgia O'Keeffe, especially since she clearly wasn't as talented or as interesting as either of them.

However, the biggest disappointment of this book for me was the misleading title. Very little of the action takes place in New Mexico, although I understand that Leigh Stein developed a deep connection to the state, one that she doesn't quite understand herself, given that she was so unhappy when she lived there. In some ways this is a huge positive of the book. Instead of just dismissing New Mexico as a place that sucks because she only met the down and out while she was there, Stein returns again, and again, never writing only of her unhappiness, but of the beauty and acceptance she finds there. I loved this the most about this book. Stein writes Albuquerque completely honestly. She writes it almost exactly the way I feel about it; the gritty noir of the city, juxtaposed with the beauty of the sky, the Sandias, the sage (here we just call them weeds), and the people. She later returns to different parts of the state, Santa Fe, and Abiquiu in particular, and I like her writing of those places too, although when visiting there she is clearly a tourist, and seeing things from the eyes of a tourist. But so much of the book takes place in Chicago, and New York, and those were parts I found myself reading a little faster just to get through the book.

In the last pages of the book Stein also says something about how she's at peace with her depression and anxiety, how she likes living with the darkness it brings, as well as the light she finds. This made me like her a lot more than when she was comparing herself to Sylvia Plath and Georgia O'Keeffe. As I said, there were glimmers of a great memoir. If Leigh Stein rewrites this in twenty years it may be amazing. But for now it's somewhat annoying, grudgingly good, and mostly just OK.

A book for the opera nerd in my heart

The Queen of the Night - Alexander Chee

Thanks to this epic novel, and its author, Alexander Chee I have had every aria mentioned in this book stuck in my head for weeks. Right now I can't get Carmen's Habanera out of my head, which is kind of annoying since I know the tune, but not the words.

If I was being completely honest with myself I would give this book only four stars: the story gets a little confusing, and at times seems a little too much, and I hate HATE that there are no quotations marks. If this were a book about an ordinary topic I might demote it a star for these minor issues. However, this is a novel about no ordinary topic, it is a novel about opera, which at its perfection is a little confusing, and a little too much.

I love that someone has created a novel about opera, especially opera in the 19th century, when it was one of the only forms of entertainment. Since I grew up near Santa Fe I have developed a love for the opera that has surprised myself. Alexander Chee obviously has done a lot of work and research into it, and I appreciate the way he folded the stories of the great operas into this story of a woman with many names and disguises, whose adventures takes her from Midwest America to New York City, to Paris, to Germany, and back again. The descriptions of the clothes, and the people were amazing.

What I liked most about the book was that it focused so much on women, and the ways they survived despite their different classes, backgrounds, educations, and talents. In the pantheon of great male composers and writers of the 1800s it is easy to overlook the equally great women who not only mastered music and writing, but who were kind enough to encourage the men in their lives to do the same. George Sand, and Pauline Viardot were strong examples of this, and I enjoyed reading their fictionalized characters in this novel.

I was truly inspired to learn more about all the characters in this novel. I had never heard of Empress Eugenie, but I am obsessed with her portraits now. I had never heard of the Comtesse di Castiglione, and now I can't stop Googling and Pinning images of her in her knockout clothes. I can't believe how modern she looks, like she's got a million followers on Instagram. I recommend reading this with the ability to search for pictures of the real-life characters as you go, and the ability to stream every piece of music mentioned in this book. Listening to Chopin's nocturne as Pauline Viardot plays it in the book was haunting.

Writing a story about a woman who is determined only the survive on her terms was refreshing. Although Lilliet Berne understands the way she is trapped in her life, she makes the best of what she has. She is neither overly naive, nor overly aggressive. I would like to think I would acted like she did under those circumstances. When she makes mistakes she lives with the consequences, but her mind never seems to let go of trying to make it better. Sometimes going through life is about the ballast. How do we maintain balance to keep the boat from tipping over? The woman who becomes Lilliet Berne understand this. I wish more characters in novels did.

It is for these reasons that I give this book 5+ stars. Thanks for finally finishing it, Mr. Chee. It was well worth the wait.

 

A list of things I Googled/Pinterested/Interlibrary Loaned/listened to:

 

Comtesse de Castiglione
Pauline Viardot
George Sand
Chopin
Lucia di Lammermore by Donizetti
Operas by Viardot and Turgenev
Il Trovatore by Verdi
Norma by Faust
Liszt (composer)
Empress Eugenie
Fall of Napoleon III empire
La Sonnambula by Bellini

 

And score!!!  Lucia Di Lammermore will be performed at Santa Fe Opera for their 2017 season!  I've got my tickets already!

White Crocodile - K. T. Medina
  I was pretty disappointed with this book. I had hoped it would focus more on the people of Cambodia and their beliefs, but it was mostly about British citizens trying to de-mine a certain area of Cambodia, and who uncover a "mystery" of why-oh-why destitute, single, teenage mothers are going missing? It became a little ridiculous after awhile.

Also, although I get that Tess was a battered woman who had an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with her abusive husband, I still don't understand why she would fly around the world to go to a war-torn third world country just because her husband "sounded afraid" on the phone.

 

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness - R.A. Montgomery
  This was the first book by Sy Montgomery I had ever read, and it was good, but I don't think I'll be rushing out to read any others. I've been interested in octopuses for a few years now, and I liked reading about Montgomery's observations of them, and was especially moved by the relationships she formed with them, and how they affected her. However, I felt the book was a little bogged down by things I personally wasn't that interested it, although they would probably be fascinating to other readers. I cannot stand to read about scuba diving with burst eardrums. I know someone who burst her eardrum while scuba diving, and the vertigo that haunted her afterwards meant she had to stop working, socializing, pretty much do anything for the next four years. I also wasn't terribly interested in reading about the other fish that hang out at the aquarium. However, I did like reading about octopuses, and how amazing they are, although the subtitle of the book about the "wonder of consciousness" was a little misleading. I was hoping to read a little more about philosophy, and how we could apply it to creatures we have always thought of as being without feeling, or thought, motivated purely by instinct. The point was touched on briefly a few times, but this was mostly a memoir about falling in love with various octopuses.

 

Eileen: A Novel - Ottessa Moshfegh

  This book made me glad I didn't live in Eileen's house, but other than the horrifying descriptions of her father, and her life, it was pretty dull. The narration meandered on, and on throughout the first half, and I started skimming paragraphs to get to the action, which turned out to be very anti-climatic. I felt like the good part of the story got left behind. The last thirty pages rushed through the scene the entire book had been leading to, and then it was all over. I wanted to know what happened after, and felt the author just ran out of steam. After I read the book (which luckily, is not that long) my first thought was, "Ridiculous."

 

Year of the Short Story

Night at the Fiestas  Tsar of Love & Techno  In the Country

 

I am one of the people out there who LOVES short stories.  Not all of them obviously, not the stupid ones that try to make themselves and the writer seem really clever, but I don't immediately dismiss short story collections, and I am actually pretty intrigued by them.  Shirley Jackson's short story "After You, My Dear Alphonse" is my all-time favorite short story ever, although "The Night Face Up" by Julio Cortazar is a close second.  I am always willing to give short story collections a fighting chance, and so many of the collections I pick up end up having at least one gem in them.  The Tenth of December by George Saunders, and The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith have been pleasant surprises in the last few years.

 

In a good year, I read two or three short stories collections.  For some reason, this year almost all the new books that came out that I really, really wanted to read were short stories.  I feel like I read nothing else, but when I looked over my reading list for the year, I find I have "only" read eleven collections.  Since I have read 145 books this year, this seems like nothing, but it is more than triple the amount I usually read. 

 

Here is the list of short story collections I have read in 2015 (so far!), in order of how much I loved/liked/hated them:

 

Night at the Fiestas: Stories by Kirstin Valdez Quade

I just can't heap enough praise on this book.  It is, without a doubt, the very best book I have read this year, and the very best book I have read for many years.  I was completely captivated.  It made me wish I was still working in bookstores so that I could force as many people as possible to buy it.  Even if you end up hating it, I strongly recommend that you go out and purchase a copy for yourself, and one for each of your friends.  Give it to them and beg them to read it so you can all talk about how great it is.  I admit to only reading it because I had heard last year that it was coming out in March of 2015, and that the stories were set in Northern New Mexico, where I was born and raised.  Then I found out the author wasn't from New Mexico, but she "visited family" a lot while growing up, and my expectations plummeted.  Being as I am a true Norte New Mexicana (an Española-area raised chica, and current Burqueña to boot) I knew a lot of people who "visited" New Mexico.  Wealthy people who had a summer house in Santa Fe that they opened for opera season, or a house in Taos to use during the ski season do not get the gist of living day to day among the ancient culture of New Mexico, the mix of a million different worlds, the joy and sorrow of collective slights and sufferings.  They do not get what it is to grow up in the Land of Enchantment, in the mysticism, and realism of Northern New Mexico.  It is an impossible burden to bear, and it is an honor to carry that burden forward.  I was sure Kirstin Valdez Quade would not get that.  I was willing to read the stories anyway, if only to complain about them later.  I read them, and they were beyond anything I could have imagined.  They were phenomenal.  They were stunning, and they still bring tears to my eyes.  "Five Wounds" is definitely the story that is getting the most buzz, especially since it was previously published in The New Yorker, and it was one of my favorites, since it was about Penitentes in the Española area.  However, the stories that packed a true emotional punch for me were "Jubilee", and "Canute Commands the Tides", which is an especially astute portrait of an East Coast retiree who finds being a true New Mexican is so much harder than moving to the Santa Fe hills, buying a fancy house, and deciding to paint.  But all of these stories are incredible.  I would recommend any one of them, to anyone. I don't care if they make you uncomfortable.  Get over it, or move out of New Mexico. (Or never plan to visit.)

 

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories by Anthony Marra

Anthony Marra's first book, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was a book I picked up idly a few years ago, and then tore through in two days.  It was amazing, and I was eager to read his collection of short stories when I heard they were coming out.  I was lucky enough to snag an ARC, and I was prepared to be disappointed with his sophomore effort since I had loved his first book so much.  However, the more I read, the more I was blown away by Marra's skills as a storyteller.  These stories are gorgeous, with heartbreakingly brave characters, and as the book unfolds, so does the larger picture.  The Tsar of Love and Techno makes you realize how small and interconnected we are to our fellow humans, even if we don't realize it.  These stories are all interconnected, so skip around if you must, but do read ALL of them, or you will not understand the beauty of the final scope.  Reviewer Andrew on Goodreads said it best in the first line of his review: "It's not short stories.  It's one big story broken into scenes. And it's astounding."

 

Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken

When I heard that this collection beat Lorrie Moore's Bark, and Francesca Marciano's The Other Language, for the 2014 Story Prize, I knew I had to read it.  I had read both Moore's and Marciano's short story collections in 2014, and I detested them.  After reading Thunderstruck I was thrilled that it got the Story Prize over the other two hacks.  I felt justified in my harsh reviews of Moore and Marciano since the judges obviously agreed with me.  Thunderstruck & Other Stories was incredible, and completely deserved the prize.  I liked almost all the stories in this collection (the title story didn't leave me "Thunderstruck", ha ha).  It was "Juliet" that was the story that especially "struck" me, since it was about life at a public library.  (McCracken has a degree in library science.)

 

In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar

I was only drawn to this book because it was written by a Filipina author, and the stories were about Filipinos.  Since my husband was born in the Philippines I was excited to read this.  Most of the stories were pretty mediocre, but a few really stood out in my mind.  "Old Girl" is a story I am still thinking about, especially after my husband informed me that it is based on a real person -- Corazon Aquino, who restored democracy to the Philippines after the Marcos regime.  "Esmeralda" is another story I loved.  The very best thing about this book is that it made me understand my mother-in-law in a whole new light, and gave me a new appreciation for her.  It also made me actually research the history of the Philippines, especially the politics of the country, so that I could understand it, instead of just relying on my mother-in-law's vague recollections, and my husband's hazy memories.  I can understand why some people may not like all these stories, since it was my personal connection to the Philippines that made them worth reading all the way through, but if you have to try one or two, I really do recommend "Old Girl" or "Esmeralda". 

 

Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link

I was completely charmed by the first story in this collection, "Summer People".  When I was a child my favorite fairy tale was called "Mr Fox" which I found in my mother's old copy of English Fairy Tales, edited by Andrew Lang.  Looking back, it's kind of a creepy story for an eight year old to be obsessed with, but I think what I really, really liked about it was the warnings that are posted on the evil fiance's house: "Be bold, be bold, but not too bold, lest your heart's blood run cold."  I used to chant that little rhyme all the time, and I am now trying to get my friend to paint it on the door of my house.  Anyway, "Summer People" incorporates that warning in the story, and that same hazy, creepy, fairy tale quality.  I thought it was fantastic.  "The Lesson", about a gay couple waiting for their first child was the other story that really touched me.  The rest of the stories ranged from OK ("The New Boyfriend") to terrible ("Two Houses").

 

A Different Bed Every Time by Jac Jemc

I saw this sitting on the table of new releases at my library, and picked it up to read the first sentence, which was, "Every night I stunned myself with gin."  I had stunned myself with gin the weekend before, and decided that anyone who knew that gin was stunning, and could stun was worth reading.  Some stories were lovely, particularly the first one, "A Violence", but so many of these stories were annoyingly short.  They were more like a page of bad haiku.  However the collection itself is very small (less than 200 pages if I remember correctly) so it's over before you are really worked up about it.

 

Almost Famous Women: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman

This one I was very let down by.  I am a big fan of Emma Donoghue who also writes short stories about historical incidents you don't hear too much about, so I was hoping these would be good also.  They were not terrible, but they weren't that interesting.  The historical women characters paled in comparison to the author's supporting casts, most of whom were fictional.  When I mention it to people I tell them, "There's no reason to read this when you could read The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue instead."  It even has a better title.

 

The Wilds stories by Julia Elliott

I can't remember where I heard about this collection, but I had it on my list only a short time before I decided to read it.  My friends are assistant professors at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where Julia Elliott teaches English, so I thought if these stories were any good I could pass on a recommendation to them.  Well, I am keeping that recommendation back for now.  Although there were some great images, and some moments of beauty in these stories, on the whole they were mind-numbingly boring.  I used these stories to put myself to sleep during the month of February.  A lot of reviewers called these stories things like "modern Southern gothic", but to me they were just boring, bland, yeah, we live in the south.  In other words, to me there was nothing that made them stand out in any way, and certainly not as an example of contemporary Southern fiction.

 

Gutshot: Stories by Amelia Gray

This collection puts the "short" in short story.  Most of the stories are only a few pages long.  Some of them are ok, but I got tired of trying to keep with the different stories.  They all seemed the same after awhile.

 

Voices in the Night: Stories by Steven Millhauser

This was a collection I was really excited to read (I can't remember why) and I was on a long waiting list for it at the library.  By the time it came in I was no longer so enthused about it.  It was summer, we were in the process of buying a house, etc.  I just didn't have the concentration for it.  At some point in the future I may try to read this again.

 

Refund: Stories by Karen E Bender

If not for Voices in the Night, this would have been the very worst of all the short stories I read this year.  In fact, I will say that, yes, these are the worst stories I have read this year.  There was nothing wrong with Voices in the Night, I just wasn't in the mood for it, and so I couldn't get into it.  I wanted to read Refund after it was nominated for the National Book Award, but after reading the whole thing I could not understand how it got nominated at all.

 

I might also be willing to consider The Shore: A Novel by Sara Taylor as short stories, but since the title clearly says it's a novel, I will refrain from adding it to my list.  However I found it to be similar to The Tsar of Love and Techno because each chapter focused on separate individuals, living in the same geographic place, but in different experiences and times.  I find it interesting that The Shore sells itself as a novel, and The Tsar of Love and Techno sells itself as short stories when they essentially use the same storytelling tool.  I will say that (of course)The Tsar of Love and Techno is a million times better, but The Shore isn't bad.  I would recommend it, especially if you liked The Tsar of Love and Techno.

 

Any other good short story collections out there I should look for?  What are your favorites?

Nice info about octopuses, but little else of interest

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness - R.A. Montgomery
  This was the first book by Sy Montgomery I had ever read, and it was good, but I don't think I'll be rushing out to read any others. I've been interested in octopuses for a few years now, and I liked reading about Montgomery's observations of them, and was especially moved by the relationships she formed with them, and how they affected her. However, I felt the book was a little bogged down by things I personally wasn't that interested it, although they would probably be fascinating to other readers. I cannot stand to read about scuba diving with burst eardrums. I know someone who burst her eardrum while scuba diving, and the vertigo that haunted her afterwards meant she had to stop working, socializing, pretty much do anything for the next four years. I also wasn't terribly interested in reading about the other fish that hang out at the aquarium. However, I did like reading about octopuses, and how amazing they are, although the subtitle of the book about the "wonder of consciousness" was a little misleading. I was hoping to read a little more about philosophy, and how we could apply it to creatures we have always thought of as being without feeling, or thought, motivated purely by instinct. The point was touched on briefly a few times, but this was mostly a memoir about falling in love with various octopuses.

 

White Crocodile - K. T. Medina
  I was pretty disappointed with this book. I had hoped it would focus more on the people of Cambodia and their beliefs, but it was mostly about British citizens trying to de-mine a certain area of Cambodia, and who uncover a "mystery" of why-oh-why destitute, single, teenage mothers are going missing? It became a little ridiculous after awhile.

Also, although I get that Tess was a battered woman who had an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with her abusive husband, I still don't understand why she would fly around the world to go to a war-torn third world country just because her husband "sounded afraid" on the phone

 

Dull

Eileen: A Novel - Ottessa Moshfegh
  This book made me glad I didn't live in Eileen's house, but other than the horrifying descriptions of her father, and her life, it was pretty dull. The narration meandered on, and on throughout the first half, and I started skimming paragraphs to get to the action, which turned out to be very anti-climatic. I felt like the good part of the story got left behind. The last thirty pages rushed through the scene the entire book had been leading to, and then it was all over. I wanted to know what happened after, and felt the author just ran out of steam. After I read the book (which luckily, is not that long) my first thought was, "Ridiculous."

 

Salem judges and instigators, up close

The Witches: Salem, 1692 - Stacy Schiff

Yesterday my husband saw me with this book and said, "You can't still be reading that. You've been at it for more than a month." I was lucky enough to get an ARC from Little Brown through a giveaway listed on Shelf Awareness, making me grateful enough to read every word of this book, or I might have given up on it.

However, as I slogged my way through it, I found parts of it very interesting. I am completely, totally fascinated with the Salem witch trials. I have read a lot of books about it, and if I were to ever do a research paper that would require a lot of dusty sources, Salem would be at the top of the list. I have read a lot of books where the authors made a vague mention of the fact that court transcriptions were badly kept, and extremely confusing to piece together, but Stacy Schiff makes an emphatic point that it can difficult to piece together the tenor of the trials because of the crazy transcripts, and missing pieces of the puzzle. It made sense then, all the books that I read that left me dissatisfied because the conclusions seemed like pure speculation. It also made sense why this book was a little dull to read. So many books that use Salem as a setting, or a piece of research, tend to fill in the cracks of history, and all those missing pieces, which makes for better reading, but is not the true facts of the trials. I could appreciate The Witches: Salem 1692 for this reason. (The author's copious notes in the back were great, but in my ARC edition were a little confusing to read since they were not numbered.)

The book focused a lot on the judges, the ministers, and the outlying characters of the Salem witch trials, including Increase and Cotton Mathers who wrote a lot about the trials, even though they witnessed only a little of the action first hand. The accusers and the accused of the trials were not discussed in nearly as much detail, which was a little disappointing to me, but I can understand there is not a lot of solid sources about them, and therefore hard for a researcher to paint an accurate picture of them. (Six Women of Salem by Marilynne K. Roach is an excellent book that focuses on 6 of the accused. Stacy Schiff references this book in her notes.) Because there was not a lot of information on the people most affected by being accused, or by being accusers, I was a little bored by this. It does talk a lot about things I hadn't much considered, such as the constant fear of violent Indian raids, and the frustration the congregation of Salem must have felt over the constant turnover of ministers. There was a little information about the politics of New England while it still answered to the crown of England, and how that affected the major deciders of fate in the trials. Schiff is very careful not to draw conclusions to what may have caused the people of Massachusetts to freak out over 1692 that lead to so much destruction in a community.

On the whole, I would say this is not a bad book, but you have to be very dedicated to, or interested in the Salem witch trials to make it through this. If you are not (even if you are) this book reads like a well-written, much noted, witty textbook; a good source, but a textbook nonetheless. This is not light reading. It is not easy to get through, it is not a quick read, and there is probably more in depth research out there. Just reading Schiff's sources impressed the heck out of me, and made want to read those papers for myself.

Heartbreaking story of a recent warzone

Girl at War: A Novel - Sara Nović

This was such a devastating book, but I think the impact would have been felt more if it had been told chronologically. As it was, it bounced back and forth in time, and although I kept up with the story with no problem, I would have felt the decisions of the characters more if I knew some of their backstory. (I'm still not totally sure why Ana ended up giving a talk to the UN. Just to let them know her story?) However, the scenes that were so gut-wrenching were so well written, and I look forward to hearing more this author. She has inspired me look up some more information about that part of history, of which I know very little, even though it all took place in my life.

The (mostly) untold story of Cleopatra's sisters

Cleopatra's Shadows - Emily Holleman

I received an ARC of this book listed through a giveaway by Little, Brown on Shelf Awareness, and while I thought it was another historical novel about Cleopatra, I was pleasantly pleased to discover it was about her two sisters, Berenice (Elder), and Arisnoe (Younger). When I realized that, I especially liked the title, since it gives Cleopatra fans something to pique their interest, and Cleopatra's sisters are certainly shadows in the history we learn about Mesopotamia at that time.

I wish the book had lived up to the cleverness of the title, but for me it just didn't. It was an OK read, but it wasn't very interesting. The book begins with Cleopatra and her father suddenly sailing away from Alexandria, leaving Arisnoe behind to face Berenice after she takes the city in a coup. The chapters alternate between narration by Arisnoe, and Berenice, and they both seemed the same to me. I had trouble remembering if we were hearing from Berenice, or Arisnoe. Berenice's hatred of Cleopatra seemed pretty lukewarm, and Arisnoe's uncertainty about her fate didn't feel urgent enough. These seemed to be the driving forces of these characters, but they were written in such a halfhearted manner that I'm not sure if they actually were or not.

The most exciting parts of the book took place toward the end, and were over with very quickly. I almost wish the author would have started the book there, and written more about those situations. (Berenice's attempts at battle abroad, and Arisnoe's adventures in Alexandria.) I can't speak much to the historical accuracy of the book since I don't know many details of the reign of Cleopatra, only what I've seen acted out in plays and movies, and in some books I read as a kid. It didn't seem to match up with what I know of Berenice, but I wouldn't really know. (I keep reminding myself that this is FICTION, and the author is allowed her variations on the story.)

That being said, I know there are plenty of die-hard Cleopatra fans out there, and I think this book would be a good choice for them, despite the fact that it is not really about Cleopatra at all. Berenice, who hates Cleopatra, and Arisnoe who worships her, offer two points of view of the infamous queen whose reign almost wiped both of them off the map of history. I wish the author had written the characters a little better, and found a way to make the endless minutia of day to day life in the court of Alexandria a little more interesting, but I would probably still tell those Cleopatra/Egypt fans to take note of this book. Someone who knows more about the subject can be angry or joyful about the historical inaccuracies (or lack of them).

The first of the Hogarth Shakespeare Series shows a promising start

The Gap of Time - Jeanette Winterson

I love a good Shakespeare performance.  Some of my fondest memories are of going to see Shakespeare in the Park at St John's College in Santa Fe every summer. To this day, I will drop everything to see a local theater perform Shakespeare. However, I get tired of the constant, clever re-imaginings of Shakespeare. Sometimes I am in the mood for it, but usually I am not. When I saw that Vintage Books was putting out their Hogarth Shakespeare series that had authors rewriting Shakespeare plays as novels, I was skeptical of more clever retellings.

Luckily, the first book being published in this series is written by Jeanette Winterson, an author I am always intrigued by. Even more luckily, I received an ARC from the publisher through a giveaway listed on Shelf Awareness. When it came in I was thrilled, since the book is based on "The Winter's Tale", a play I saw performed in Santa Fe many years ago. It was always one of my favorites, since it wasn't a cut and clear tragedy where everyone ended up dead, and it wasn't a comedy, so you weren't guaranteed a happy ending.

Winterson has done an amazing job with the story. She has said in interviews that this play has been a "talisman" for her, and it shows by the thought she put into her cover version. Everything in story feels modern and fresh, not at all like a re-hashing of an old story. The characters are clearly defined, and you find yourself interested in them, even if you dislike them. In The Gap of Time, Shakespeare's Sicilia and Bohemia are reborn as a large corporation, Sicilia, and an American coast called New Bohemia that may be New Orleans. Leontes (called Leo in the book) is not a king, but the head of a huge, multi-million pound company. The Shepard is not a poor shepard, but a musician struggling with his unlucky life, named Shep. The story of the book follows the story of the play very accurately, but as I mentioned before, it doesn't feel like it's checking the boxes of every scene in the play. It feels new, and exciting to read. I am not always a fan of Jeanette Winterson's books, just because they are not always what I am in the mood for. The stream of consciousness narrative creeps into some of this book, which I did find a little annoying, but not to the point where I wanted to stop reading. I wanted to keep going, to see what she would do with the story, even though I knew how it would end.

As Winterson says in her own interpretation near the end of the book, this is an old story that even Shakespeare retold many times in different ways, yet she puts a face to it that made me want to read The Gap of Time over, and over. I would highly recommend this book to Shakespeare fans, Jeanette Winterson fans, and even people who are think Shakespeare is overrrated. I am also looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Gillian Flynn covering "Hamlet"? Margaret Atwood covering "Othello"? What literary fan could resist?

Not what I was thinking.....

The Last September - Nina de Gramont

I was sure this would be a literary thriller, and I was looking forward to it, especially since I received an unexpected ARC from a librarything.com giveaway. However, this book ended up being a disappointment for me, although it was a decent enough read. I finished it over the course of a single day, and it kept me entertained to the end. There were a lot of characters I just hated for the entire book, mostly for their selfishness, but that part didn't bother me about the book. At the end I could see it was an entire story about selfish people, and how they end up being burned by themselves, and each other. I didn't mind reading about these creeps, since I could see they deserved each other, but the story didn't really focus on a crime, or a mystery, like I thought it would. It focused on the evolution of a friendship between Eli, and Brett, who meet in college. Eventually, it moves most of the narration to focus on Brett's increasing interest, and eventual marriage to Charlie, Eli's brother. All this is just fine, but it was not what I expected from the jacket's description. While it was a lovely portrait of a marriage that is only as strong as the pretenses it was made on, I got a little tired of reading about Brett's weird possession of Charlie. Like Catherine in Wuthering Heights, it was a lot of "Oh, I hate that I love him! Send him away! No bring him back! I can't live without him! No, let me try! Oh, what can I do!" Except all the dramatics are narrated in a quiet, steady, somewhat obnoxious tone, which after awhile starts to get on the nerves, especially as Brett becomes more and more entitled as the book goes on. (Why shouldn't her ex-fiance's uncle open up his multi-million dollar beach house to accommodate her, and her daughter by another man?) While it was an OK read, I don't know that I will be recommending this to anyone.

The Gap of Time - Jeanette Winterson
  I love a good Shakespeare performance. Some of my fondest memories are of going to see Shakespeare in the Park at St John's College in Santa Fe every summer. To this day, I will drop everything to see a local theater perform Shakespeare. However, I get tired of the constant, clever re-imaginings of Shakespeare. Sometimes I am in the mood for it, but usually I am not. When I saw that Vintage Books was putting out their Hogarth Shakespeare series that had authors rewriting Shakespeare plays as novels, I was skeptical of more clever retellings.

Luckily, the first book being published in this series is written by Jeanette Winterson, an author I am always intrigued by. Even more luckily, I received an ARC from the publisher through a giveaway listed on Shelf Awareness. When it came in I was thrilled, since the book is based on "The Winter's Tale", a play I saw performed in Santa Fe many years ago. It was always one of my favorites, since it wasn't a cut and clear tragedy where everyone ended up dead, and it wasn't a comedy, so you weren't guaranteed a happy ending.

Winterson has done an amazing job with the story. She has said in interviews that this play has been a "talisman" for her, and it shows by the thought she put into her cover version. Everything in story feels modern and fresh, not at all like a re-hashing of an old story. The characters are clearly defined, and you find yourself interested in them, even if you dislike them. In The Gap of Time, Shakespeare's Sicilia and Bohemia are reborn as a large corporation, Sicilia, and an American coast called New Bohemia that may be New Orleans. Leontes (called Leo in the book) is not a king, but the head of a huge, multi-million pound company. The Shepard is not a poor shepard, but a musician struggling with his unlucky life, named Shep. The story of the book follows the story of the play very accurately, but as I mentioned before, it doesn't feel like it's checking the boxes of every scene in the play. It feels new, and exciting to read. I am not always a fan of Jeanette Winterson's books, just because they are not always what I am in the mood for. The stream of consciousness narrative creeps into some of this book, which I did find a little annoying, but not to the point where I wanted to stop reading. I wanted to keep going, to see what she would do with the story, even though I knew how it would end. As Winterson says in her own interpretation near the end of the book, this is an old story that even Shakespeare retold many times in different ways, yet she puts a face to it that made me want to read The Gap of Time over, and over. I would highly recommend this book to Shakespeare fans, Jeanette Winterson fans, and even people who are think Shakespeare is overrrated. I am also looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Gillian Flynn covering "Hamlet"? Margaret Atwood covering "Othello"? What literary fan could resist?

 

Amazing retelling of Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale"

The Gap of Time - Jeanette Winterson
 
  I love a good Shakespeare performance. Some of my fondest memories are of going to see Shakespeare in the Park at St John's College in Santa Fe every summer. To this day, I will drop everything to see a local theater perform Shakespeare. However, I get tired of the constant, clever re-imaginings of Shakespeare. Sometimes I am in the mood for it, but usually I am not. When I saw that Vintage Books was putting out their Hogarth Shakespeare series that had authors rewriting Shakespeare plays as novels, I was skeptical of more clever retellings.

Luckily, the first book being published in this series is written by Jeanette Winterson, an author I am always intrigued by. Even more luckily, I received an ARC from the publisher through a giveaway listed on Shelf Awareness. When it came in I was thrilled, since the book is based on "The Winter's Tale", a play I saw performed in Santa Fe many years ago. It was always one of my favorites, since it wasn't a cut and clear tragedy where everyone ended up dead, and it wasn't a comedy, so you weren't guaranteed a happy ending.

Winterson has done an amazing job with the story. She has said in interviews that this play has been a "talisman" for her, and it shows by the thought she put into her cover version. Everything in story feels modern and fresh, not at all like a re-hashing of an old story. The characters are clearly defined, and you find yourself interested in them, even if you dislike them. In The Gap of Time, Shakespeare's Sicilia and Bohemia are reborn as a large corporation, Sicilia, and an American coast called New Bohemia that may be New Orleans. Leontes (called Leo in the book) is not a king, but the head of a huge, multi-million pound company. The Shepard is not a poor shepard, but a musician struggling with his unlucky life, named Shep. The story of the book follows the story of the play very accurately, but as I mentioned before, it doesn't feel like it's checking the boxes of every scene in the play. It feels new, and exciting to read. I am not always a fan of Jeanette Winterson's books, just because they are not always what I am in the mood for. The stream of consciousness narrative creeps into some of this book, which I did find a little annoying, but not to the point where I wanted to stop reading. I wanted to keep going, to see what she would do with the story, even though I knew how it would end.

As Winterson says in her own interpretation near the end of the book, this is an old story that even Shakespeare retold many times in different ways, yet she puts a face to it that made me want to read The Gap of Time over, and over. I would highly recommend this book to Shakespeare fans, Jeanette Winterson fans, and even people who are think Shakespeare is overrrated. I am also looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Gillian Flynn covering "Hamlet"? Margaret Atwood covering "Othello"? What literary fan could resist
?