Drood, by Dan Simmons – Book Review

droodDrood, by Dan Simmons
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: February 9, 2009
Format: Paperback ARC, 784 pages

In June of 1865, Charles Dickens is involved in a train accident while traveling with his secret mistress and her mother.  While he helps minister to the injured, he meets a mysterious man who only goes by the name of Drood and becomes drawn into a strange and secretive underworld filled with crypts, lime pits, opium dens and the seedy side of London life.  Dickens is haunted and forever changed by the accident and his meeting with Drood, but his strange behavior doesn’t escape the attention of his friend and fellow novelist, Wilkie Collins, who is also drawn into and narrates Dickens’ mysterious behavior and nightly forays into the seedy side of life. It’s hard to tell whether Dickens is doing research for his next book or if all of his wanderings around London after dark have a more sinister meaning.

There were so many things that I enjoyed about reading this novel.  It is obvious with every careful sentence that Dan Simmons has spent a lot of time researching this topic and there were so  many wonderful details that you learn about Dickens, Wilkie Collins and the writing life. Much of the information was new to me, so it was interesting to see the way plays were adapted and staged from the books, the serialization and the editing process. I loved seeing the writing styles and the way that both authors approached their crafts and came up with their ideas.

This book made me interested to read further on the relationship between Dickens and Collins, which seems as if it were complicated and sometimes contentious, but I suspect that there were different nuances in their real life relationship.  Simmons is a vivid writer and the scenes describing London and the way that they handled sewage and the burial of their dead were hard for me to stomach.  The description and detail there was a little too vivid! Another thing I noted was the portrayal of the two men’s behavior and thoughts juxtaposed to the themes that they explored in their writing.  In this novel, neither man seemed to be as concerned in real life with the issues that concerned them on the page.

While there was much that I enjoyed about Drood, reading the book left me with a restless feeling, and much of my discomfort stemmed with the length.  There were only so many descriptions of Collins taking his laudanum that I wanted to read, and even delving into the life of Dickens started to take away from the plot.  I loved the detail but after about 400 pages I started to feel as if the information were being thrown at me and not as well integrated into the story.  Dickens life seems full and fascinating, several volumes all by itself I’m sure, but in the end a lot of it was distracting.   Enough clues were scattered throughout the book so that an intrepid reader could figure out a version of events close to what was going on, but it was wrapped up way too quickly and haphazardly for me to view it as the proper payoff for such a long book.

All in all, I liked this book more than I didn’t like it.  It is a great blend of historical fiction and thrilling suspense.  The mystery definitely kept me going and made me want to find out more about Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins and hiw closely the novel played to real events.  If it were only a few hundred pages shorter I think I would be raving about this book, and the ending, which keeps you guessing until the end..

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Mailbox Monday, 2.23.09

mailbox
To what came in other mailboxes and to play along visit Marcia at The Printed Page.

Here is what came in my mailbox last week:


The Ten Year Nap
, Meg Wolitzer.

I’ve had my eye on this for awhile and I can’t wait to read it.  Last year I read The Wife, by Meg Wolitzer and I loved it, so I can’t wait to see what she has in store this time around.


Sleepwalking In Daylight,
by Elizabeth Flock

I haven’t read anything by Elizabeth Flock but the premise of a mother struggling in her marriage and the hardship her daughter faces after learning she is adopted looked intriguing, so here it is.


Night Navigation
, by Ginnah Howard

Ginnah Howard is also a new-to-me author. In this story she tells of a mother and her manic depressive son trying to get through life.

What came in your mailbox last week?

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The Sunday Salon ~ February 22, 2009

tssbadge4I don’t know how hopeful I am about the reading that I am intending to do today or this week.  Most of the month of January and February I spent my free time in the evening and on the weekends searching for an apartment, and now I can no longer put off the fact that it is time for me to pack, move and then unpack.  Good thing I had quite a bit of time off coming my way, and can now proceed at a somewhat leisurely pace (at least more leisurely than if I were working through the day as well).  I can’t imagine doing all of this and having to work too.

Yesterday I avoided my packing duties by spending the entire day at a Best Picture Showcase at the movies.  I managed to almost make it through all five movies in one day, sort of.  The first movie starting yesterday at 10:30 a.m. was Milk, and continued with The Reader, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire and Frost/Nixon.  I probably saw about 20 minutes of Frost/Nixon.  It was the last movie played at 9:45 last night and I was just too tired after all of that sitting in the dark.  I slept for most of that one and left the theater at midnight.  All of the movies were  good and very different movies. It was a relief to see that Slumdog Millionaire had a little more action in it after sitting through three of the earlier movies, which were quieter.

I started reading American Rust, by debut author Philipp Meyer and I am happily past the midway point and thoroughly enjoying this book.  It’s the story of a murder that happens in a small and dying manufacturing community, told from multiple points of view. With each section I get thoroughly engrossed and always want to know more at the end of the chapter and can’t wait to get back with the character to see what is going to happen next, and then I get to the next character and it starts all over again.  So it’s constant cliffhangers.  A lot of interesting issues are being explored and I love to see the characters in their struggle to figure if things are predestined and set on a certain path since birth, or if it was really possible for them to have taken certain opportunities and had more of an effect on the outcomes of their lives. Because of the relationships that certain characters have to each other I am also expecting that they will make certain decisions about those situations and I am on pins and needle to see what ends up happening.

I would like to read something else but not sure how that will work out with the move.  So the main goal will be to finish reading American Rust and posting a review or two that I never got around to posting.

What are your reading plans for the week?

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Friday Finds ~ 2.20.09

friday-findsHere’s a list of what’s going on my wish list this week.

This week’s list is massive just because I haven’t been able to do this in so long. I had a lot of good stuff that I had been making notes on.  It’s like my own mini-blog carnival.

A Country Called Home, by Kim Barnes reviewed by Gwen at Literary License.  Gwen writes: “Despite her gift with landscapes, Barnes does not shortchange the human element of this story, and A Country Called Home is populated with sympathetic characters and several lively plot lines.”

The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, by Siri Hustvedt reviewed by Jill at The Magic Lasso.  Jill writes: “Part love story, part mystery, The Enchantment of Lily Dahl was aloof, mysterious and intense. With every page, I was sucked into the lives of Lily and her acquaintances.”

Good To A Fault, by Marina Endicott reviewed by Avis at She Reads and Reads.  Avis writes: “Although in one sense not much happens in this book, there is a quiet intensity about it that completely drew me in.”

Hunger: An Unnatural History
, by Sharman Apt Russell reviewed by Rebecca at  Rebbecca Reads Rebecca writes: “Then she goes beyond the science of hunger and into the social aspects by reviewing the history of how we learned to help starving people
recover and the various current worldwide issues surrounding hunger, from Anorexia Nervosa to refugees. It is an intriguing look into a social problem that everyone experiences, even to a small extent, every day.”

Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan reviewed by Sheri at A Novel Menagerie. Sheri writes: “In the early 1900’s, divorce was highly unattainable and required two years of separation from your spouse to obtain.  In most cases, the women were not granted custody of her children in the case of divorce. Consequently, leaving Edwin to pursue a life with Frank meant a high
probability of losing her kids.”

Mistress Shakespeare, by Karen Harper reviewed by Jen at Devourer of Books. Jen writes: “Generally I like my historical fiction to be about real people: kings, queens, playwrights.  This, however, worked perfectly for me and provided great insight into the world of Elizabethan England outside of the court.”

Now You See Him, by Eli Gottlieb reviewed by Lisa at Books on the Brain.  Lisa writes: “There are numerous plot twists and turns (good ones that I didn’t see coming) and there is suspense, but I would not go so far as to call Now You See Him a thriller.  It’s a psychological study of the inner life and failings of an ordinary guy in a dead end job and an unsatisfying,
lonely marriage, a man who is questioning where he has been and where he is going- kind of an early mid-life crisis.”

Roanoke, Margaret Lawrence by reviewed at The Tome Traveler’s Weblog. The Tome Traveler writes: “The novelist’s answer to the old mystery of what happened to the vanished English colony on Roanoke Island is skilfully woven into this
fascinating story. I would recommend Roanoke to anyone who likes historical fiction or mysteries.”

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins reviewed by Jessica at Both Eyes Book Blog. Jessica writes: “Wow!  I ate up The Hunger Games with a big spoon.  It was so exciting, I about lost my mind.  I actually considered taking a vacation day from work so I could finish it sooner.”

The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister was recommended to me by Kathy at Bermudaonion and Jen at Devourer of Books after read my Literary Feast post featuring People of The Book, by Geraldine Brooks.  It looks mighty good indeed.

The Triumph of Deborah
, reviewed by Sheri at A Novel Menagerie. Sheri writes: “The book
was a lengthy, detailed story that held my attention the entire time. However, there were times that I hoped it would move faster because I wanted certain outcomes to occur sooner than they did. This is of no fault of the author; rather it was my impatience that good things happen to my favorite characters.”

The Well, by Mildred D. Taylor reviewed by Natasha at Maw Books Blog.  Natasha writes: “An excellent and emotional novel that shares a powerful message about racism and character.”  I’ve read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Let The Circle Be Unbroken when I was a kid, but I didn’t know there was another one that came before.  I loved these books growing up.

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The Book of Night Women, by Marlon James – Book Review

the-book-of-night-womenThe Book of Night Women by Marlon James
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: February 19, 2009
Format: ARC, 432 pages

When I picked up The Book of Night Women, I had no intention reading it in earnest.  I intended to flip through, read a page or two as a preview, and then move on to preview the rest of books that I had stacked in front of me.  But, with Lilith’s story I was immediately drawn in and could not put the book down. James’ novel is a substantial read, yet I breezed through it in a few short days.

Lilith has grown up in a cabin on the edge of the Montpelier Estate for as long as she can remember. She has indifferent Circe for a mother, and Tantalus, a half mad slave for a father, and a life that holds few surprises.  Lilith’s life changes one morning when she kills a john jumper (a field slave who acted as assistant overseer, keeping other field slaves in check) who has attacks her in her cabin before she is to report to work.  In order to escape punishment for her crime, she is taken in and hidden in the cellar of the plantation owner’s house by Homer, who has been managing things for years.

While working alongside the women there, Lilith becomes involved in the secret meetings of the night women who want to use her in a dangerous plan to take over the island from White plantation owners.  Secrets, betrayal and complicated love affairs abound in this coming of age slave rebellion drama set against the backdrop of a sugar plantation in Jamaica.  Lilith has to make terrible decisions as she finds out the truth about her parentage, and weighs the high prices of both revenge and love.

I was  blown away by James’s novel.  I’ve never read a fictional slave narrative with as much violence, passion and bite to it.  The language was harsh. The women spoke to each other with a jarring venom and venality that was in addition to the master and slave dynamic and manner of speaking, which was of course brutal.  The Book of Night Women is filled with the patois of the island, and the story is relayed by a mysterious narrator that I kept trying to place throughout my reading.  The voice was amazing to me. It’s richness and consistency was intriguing and disturbing all at the same time.  It was a little distracting because I so wanted to know who was telling the story, and I kept looking for clues to figure it out!

Lilith is a fiercely complex character and I didn’t always like her—she was young and could be a little whiny, bratty and hard-headed, and not to mention incredibly naive at times. I was often appalled by her actions, but there were so many shades of gray that I wondered whether she could have chosen differently if her aim was to survive, or even what I would do if faced with her circumstances. So many complex and disturbing situations in the novel illustrate the inhumane results of slavery, that peculiar institution, and there was absolutely no clear right or wrong way characters could choose to deal with the devastation of their lives. I  had a lot of back and forth with myself as I was reading, and often did so with my mouth hanging open from shock, among other intense emotions.  Highly recommended, but definitely not for the faint of heart.

Read More Reviews At: Medieval Bookworm ~ Cheryl’s Book Nook

More on Marlon James and The Book of Night Women: Marlon James on The Book of Night Women click here. (It’s really interesting, and no spoilers!)

Visit his website here.

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Literary Feasts ~ Irreplaceable, by Stephen Lovely

literary-feastsI love reading about food in books.  I like to cook and I love to eat even more.  So on Friday’s I’ll be sharing the culinary delights that I have come across in my reading. What better way to start off the weekend than thinking about good food in a good book.

“That night she and Alex eat dinner in a Persian restaurant called Resa’s, just a few blocks down Clark Street from Alex’s apartment.  The atmosphere is convivial, alive with conversations and laughter, and the food- radishes and feta cheese and pita bread smothered with hummus, shish-kabobs afloat on huge beds of dill rice- is delicious. A few glasses of Syrah, a Palestinian wine Bernice has never heard of, get her talking about the costume shop, this year’s finicky prima donnas, the setbacks they’ve had getting ready for Le Nozze di Figaro.”

Have you come across any good food in your reading this week?

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Weekly Geeks ~ What’s In A Name?

weekly-geeksFor this week’s edition of Weekly Geeks, we’re going to take a closer look at character names. What are some of your favorite character names?

Go to Google or a baby name site, and look up a favorite character’s name. What does their name mean? Do you think the meaning fits the character? Why or why not?

If you’d like, look up your own name as well and share the meaning.

The character name that sticks out the most for me is from a book that I read and loved as a child.  I have always remembered the name Lucien Dobson Chilmark from the YA Novel, The Last Silk Dress.  I still have that book! And I must have been somewhere between the ages of  10 and 12 when I first got it.  I’ve been thinking of re-reading it to see if my crush on a fictional character was a well-founded one.

Lucien is the brother of the protagonist and of course he was handsome, dashing, smart, surrounded by a hint of scandal, but has a heart of gold and loved his sister very much.  I guess all the things that would stand out to an impressionable young girl (that would be me, *wink*).

Lucien means light, and it was the 844th most popular name in a census taken in 1990.  That’s rather a higher number than I thought it would be.  I wouldn’t have thought it would be so popular, and I wonder if it is more common in The South, which is where the novel is set.  Lucien is from the French language and the feminine form is Lucienne.

Nicole, by the way is from the Greek, and means victorious people. Um…okay.  Maybe it fits in some way that has yet to be revealed to me. I do believe that my mom just that it was pretty and went well with my first name.  Nicole is used in the German, English, Dutch, and the aforementioned French, languages.

Any character names stand out for you?
What does your name mean?

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Booking Through Thurday ~ The Shelves

btt button

This week’s question is suggested by Kat:

I recently got new bookshelves for my
room, and I’m just loving them. Spent the afternoon putting up my books
and sharing it on my blog . One of my friends asked a question and I
thought it would be a great BTT question. So from Tina & myself,
we’d like to know “How do you arrange your books on your shelves? Is it by author, by genre, or you just put it where it falls on?”

My books are arranged pretty haphazardly (I love this word!).  I have three bookcases and also the tops of two closets and an entire linen closet that I have devoted to books, and they are all just mixed in and laying around together.  Fiction with non-fiction, "A" authors next to "Z" authors, literary magazines next to books, hardcovers next to paperbacks.  I think we all get the idea.  The one little bookcase  that  I have in my bedroom is more exclusive since it tends to be books that have newly arrived, and that I will be reading in the next couple of months or so.  Even then they are not in any particular order, and still somehow I always know what I am looking for.  I do like my books to be about the same height next to each other, that might be the one criteria that I have.  Tallest to shortest.

How about you?  Are your shelves in any particular order?

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Wondrous Words ~ 2.18.09

wondrous-wordsKathy over at Bermudaonion is the host of Wondrous Words, a fun and educational new meme where we list  all the words that had us stumped over the last week of reading.

I had several pages floating around out there, but of course today the only one I can find is the one from taking notes on Michelle Richmond’s wonderful novel, The Year of Fog.

The words that I found were all what I think of as context words.  I know them and understand what they mean within the context of a sentence, but if you ask me to define the word out of the blue, I would probably struggle to explain it’s definition.  Well, struggle no more.

Estuary
“You get these badass saltwater crocodiles that come out into the estuary to feed on carcasses.”   ewww
In hydrologic terms, the thin zone along a coastline where freshwater
systems and rivers meet and mix with a salty ocean (such as a bay,
mouth of a river, salt marsh, lagoon)
so yeah, would not have known that one, my bad.  I did figure that it was a body of water though, so partial points?

Ubiquitous
“In Tortuguero, I rise early with the rooster.  They’re ubiquitous in this country, a nationwide alarm clock.”
Omnipresence is the ability to be present in every place at any, and/or
every, time; unbounded or universal presence. It is related to the
concept of ubiquity, the ability to be everywhere at a certain point in
time;
Refers to species that are widely distributed and generally common or abundant in a given area
… I really did know this one, no surprises here.

Esoterica
“My brain is crowded now with surfing’s strange terminology, I wonder what I’ve forgotten to make way for this new esoterica.”
Secrets known only to an initiated minority; Esoterica is an over-the-counter topical ointment applied to the skin
for the purpose of lightening freckles, age spots, chloasma, melasma,
and other skin discolorations due to a benign localized increase in the
production of melanin; Things that are esoteric; things that are impractical or specialised
…don’t you just love definitions that are explained using the word? Never would have guessed the second definition.

Sigh.  I feel smarter.  Thanks Kathy!

Happy Wednesday everyone!

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Heretic’s Daughter, by Kathleen Kent – Book Review

the-heretics-daughterThe Heretic’s Daughter, by Kathleen Kent
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: September 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages

Nine-year-old Sarah Carrier has moved with her family from Billerica to Andover, Massachusetts.  She travels with her parents, three older brothers and baby sister bringing smallpox to the small and devout town where her mother and aunt were raised by her grandmother. Although the family is immediately quarantined, Sarah’s father is able to sneak Sarah and her sister Hannah off to their aunt’s household out of town, where both girls revel in the kind of attention they don’t get at home.  Sarah, who has always had a contentious relationship with her mother, is angry and resentful when she returns to live with her family months later.

Though Sarah’s mother, Martha, tries to warn her of the importance of family and sticking together, Sarah is fixated on her uncle and his family and continues to dream of the life that she and her sister are missing out on with them, a life that she believes her mother has stolen from her.  She doesn’t pay attention to the feud that has developed between her mother and her aunt’s husband over the land that her mother has inherited upon her grandmother’s death.  This dispute escalates dramatically, and with deadly consequences, with the onset of the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials.

I loved that this novel was so rich and finely woven with detail.  There are two stories being told here, and Kent does a remarkable job with both of them. Just as compelling as the story of the Salem Witch trials and Sarah and her family’s involvement, is the story of this family struggling to make a living within a community where they are neither welcomed nor accepted, and whose beliefs they don’t fully share.  I was transported as I got to see the workings of the farm, the division of labor for the chores, and the complex relationship that Sarah has with all the members of her family.  Kent seamlessly creates a world of words where the human drama and emotion are complemented by a stunning picture of what it was like to live during this moment in history.

The tensions of the strained mother-daughter relationship are beautifully rendered, and delicately balanced so that I felt for both sides, even though Sarah is telling the story. Martha was young and trying to raise several children with the man whom she married, but was considered beneath her station.  She is also a very strong woman living in a time when strong woman were not often rewarded but likely to be punished. Each of Kent’s sentences are rich in language and history.  It was also very interesting to me to see a nine-year old portrayed as such a young adult.  I am aware that we now drag  out childhood and adolescence much longer than at any other time in history, but even knowing that it was mind-blowing to see the responsibilities that Sarah had, and the hard work that she did, not to mention the emotional component of what was required of her in her ordeal with her family.

Listen, I could go on and on about what I loved about this story.  Sarah’s relationship with her brother Tom.  Sarah’s odd relationship with her taciturn father.  The mystery that surrounds  her father and thereby the family, that makes them outcasts among their peers.  But I won’t.  You should just read this book. It was really, really , really good excellent. I’m keeping my copy to re-read!


Read More Reviews At:

Gimme More Books
Reading Room
A Bookworm’s World

She Reads and Reads

Caribousmom

Book-a-rama

Have you reviewed The Heretic’s Daughter? Please e-mail me your link or leave it in the comments, I’d love to have it here.

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