Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte – Book Review

I’m usually not one for spoilers but be warned, I don’t really hold anything back here.  If you haven’t read Jane Eyre, you might want to stop here.

Orphaned and packed off to a charitable educational institution by an indifferent relative and benefactress, Jane Eyre has rarely experienced feelings of belonging or having the comfort of a home. When she comes of age and advertises for a place as governess, circumstances bring her to Thornfield Hall where she finds friendship among the staff and with her young charge, Adele Varens. The arrival of the master of the house, Edward Rochester, introduces Jane (with some difficulty) to the pleasures of requited love, but there are sinister and unexplained happenings at Thornfield Hall. Rochester’s enigmatic behavior and past threatens not only their burgeoning relationship, but Jane’s emotional health and safety.

In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte’s writing is immediately compelling and accessible. Right away she establishes an unshakable relationship with and sympathy for Jane through the justness of all the she endures with the Reeds and at Lowood, and through Jane’s decidedly temperamental personality which reaches for justice. I had a hard time putting it down because I wanted to see what Jane would do next and what outcome fate had in store for her. While I didn’t find that there was much depth to her character, her random outbursts and passionate nature gave her just enough edge for me to be intensely curious about her progression through life.

In spite of my intense interest and curiosity, there is no doubt that this is not a book to which I see myself returning anytime soon. I would have to let it rest for a few years before seeing whether I would find it to be less frustrating and with more to offer, but I did read it at pretty much break neck speed. In a book where I could vaguely sense what was coming next from a prior reading and popular culture, the story held surprises in the details, and for the most part held my attention.

My issues with Jane Eyre are not the storytelling (well, most of it), but that Bronte fails to set up more than a minimum motivation for  her main character. I get that Jane craves love and a home life because of the circumstances in which she was raised, but I never really got any more than that from her. She spends most of her time in a corner watching Rochester, and the rest running from him. I almost want to just say that even though she wants to confirm and be sure of Rochester’s love for her (and they are both a little nauseating in that respect), hers for him seems to be a result of the fact that he is the first interested man who had been put before her. Sure, she is able to reject St. John later on, because in his own way he is also a crazy person, but it is only by comparison with the way Rochester needs her and communicates love to her that that she finds him lacking. Had she not had that comparison, I think that she would have thought St. John perfectly acceptable.

Earlier in the year, some poll or another indicated that Rochester was the romantic hero over Darcy (from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice). I didn’t really understand it then with only a vague recollection of Jane Eyre, and I certainly do not understand it now.  I was very skeptical of their relationship, just like poor Mrs Fairfax. Beauty is, after all in the eye of the beholder, so pushing aside that Rochester is not attractive, I was at a loss to see what else he had to offer. He was overbearing, had a violent temper, was deceptive and a bully, and when he can’t come to terms with his wife’s mental instability he locks her in an attic with only a drunk to watch over her. And, on top of that, he feels totally justified in carving out a life that is more acceptable than the one he is obligated to and blithely plans to make his “beloved” a bigamist, after she escapes his first wife’s attack in the night unharmed. Can you see signing a girlfriend up for that? Encouraging her to be with him? I failed to get the romance. It’s crazy. Darcy was handsome, rich and a little conceited but he didn’t lie to Elizabeth or have any crazy attic wives coming after her either.

As tightly written and sensible as the first sections of the book are, the last third drifts off into coincidence and cliché. Jane is a very smart cookie yet she suddenly runs off in the night with almost no money, and spends every last shilling that she has on coach fare to the middle of nowhere. She couldn’t save a few shillings for some food or a room at an inn, or look up the long lost relative that was just waiting to die and give her money? She then  goes on to “starve” for two or three days before being welcomed into the bosom of a family who coincidentally turns out to be her long lost relations, whom of course, she adores. Within the space of six weeks she finds a job at the same salary that Rochester paid her, and a week after that she is an heiress. Really Charlotte Bronte? You can do better than that, can’t you? I just got the feeling that this story needed to be over when Bertha Mason was unveiled – either leave or stay with him. The wandering around the countryside to magically become Rochester’s equal, well – after he has been blinded and maimed,  just struck me as ridiculous and a little lazy.

And, I get that both Bronte and Jane were both totally radical and badass back in the day, but I was never able to get over the fact that Jane was an emotionally sheltered child with ZERO experience with men, painfully out of her depth. Nothing would ever be able to even out her relationship with Rochester. Even by 1847 standards Mrs Fairfax thought he was to old for her, and I agree, though it wasn’t the actual age difference that bothered me, so much as that she was not a match for him in any real way, in any way shape or form. It was just gross. Bronte knew that she was out of her league, and so did Jane on some level, otherwise they both wouldn’t have had to work so hard to bring Jane up while pulling Rochester down to her level. Like I said, totally compelling but equally WTF? by the end.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Merry Christmas!

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On My Shelves: New Book Releases – February 1 to 15, 2011

Hardcover Releases

Delirious, by Daniel Palmer – February 1, 2011
Delirium, by Lauren Oliver – February 1, 2011
Haunted, by Joy Preble – February 1, 2011

The Fates Will Find There, by Hannah Pittard – February 1, 2011
Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L’Oréal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good, by Ruth Brandon – February 1, 2011
13 rue Thérèse: A Novel, by Elena Mauli Shapiro – February 2, 2011

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, by Benjamin Hale – February 2, 2011
West of Here, by Jonathan Evison – February 7, 2011
A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness – February 8, 2011

How the Government Got in Your Backyard: Superweeds, Frankenfoods, Lawn Wars, and the (Nonpartisan) Truth About Environmental Policies, by Jeff Gilman & Eric Heberlig – February 15, 2011

Paperback Releases

666 Park Avenue, by Gabrielle Pierce – February 1, 2011
The Irish Princess, by Karen Harper – February 1, 2011
The Last Brother, by Nathacha Appanah – February 1, 2011

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson – February 8, 2011
Paris Was Ours, by Penelope Rowlands – February 8, 2011

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Book Club Pick: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

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Thor – Movie Trailer

I watched the trailer for Thor a few times because quite frankly I had no idea what was going on. First it seemed to be modern and possibly having something to do with present day Afghanistan, and then it seemed ancient.  I finally figured out that it will probably exploring Norse god Thor being kicked out of his homeland and cast down to Earth to suffer us humans.

Natalie Portman is in the mix.  She seems to be everywhere lately.  Right now this looks too confusing for me to say that I would want to see it.  It looks slightly bad, but then cast is decent and Kenneth Branagh directed. Hmm…

May 2011. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Natalie PortmanChris HemsworthIdris Elba, Rene Russo.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 On My Shelves: New Book Releases – February 1 to 15, 2011

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Finding Comfort While Crossing The Heart of Africa, by Julian Smith

Last year I really enjoyed reading Crossing The Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure, by Julian Smith.  The story of two men (Julian Smith retraced the steps of Ewart Grogan, the first man to walk from the southern to the northern tip of Africa) traveling across a continent a little over 100 years apart was fascinating as much for how different both they and their experiences were, but also the similarities.  I was struck in both stories by the lack of personal comfort that they both experienced in terms of the different cultures and food.  Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading as an escape and comfort, and so I asked Julian to share where he was able to find comfort during his extensive travels. I, of course, was particularly interested in books and food.

Traveling alone through developing countries, like I did for Crossing the Heart of Africa, can be overwhelming on almost every level. The sights, sounds, and smells—especially the smells—are different from home, of course. But one subtle thing that’s easy to overlook, until it changes completely, is our generous concept of personal space.

In most of the developed world, and America in particular, I think, we just don’t touch each other all that much. We go through life surrounded by an invisible bubble of empty space, especially when it comes to strangers. Just think—when you brush up against someone at the supermarket or on the subway, what do you do? You apologize.

In other cultures, particularly in the developing world, this hand-off approach simply doesn’t exist. People touch each other all the time, friends and strangers, both on purpose—a hand on your arm while talking, friends (male and female) casually holding hands as they walk down the street—and accidentally. When people come together in groups, they don’t carefully steer clear of each other. They often mash together, each man (or woman, or child) or him- or herself.

I can’t count the number of times I was bumped, grabbed, stomped, or hip-checked aside by complete strangers in Africa, mostly on public transport. It’s almost a Darwinian approach to space: if you don’t guard your area, someone else will take it. That’s just how it is. A mad scrum on the gangplank of a ferry. A father drops his son in your lap on a minibus without a word of explanation. Two sacks of potatoes where your feet just were a minute ago. Arms, elbow, knees, hips, shoulders, all put into action to claim space and keep it.

Whatever the cultural or socioeconomic explanation, it can take some adjustment. It seems rude at first, all this jostling, but consider how it can seem in reverse: people who steer through life hardly ever coming into contact with each other, isolated like islands.

I won’t say I ever completely got used to it, but I did notice I breathed a sigh of relief whenever I found a hotel or boarding house and was able to close the door of my room behind me. A nightly ritual of privacy: This is now my space.

Reading was another way to gain the illusion of a little privacy. Talking to strangers is the best way to get to know a place, but everyone has his limits. Used books become a sort of alternate currency; finding a good one, especially in, say, the backwoods of Burundi, was cause for celebration. Sometimes I’d catch myself unconsciously calculating if I had enough pages left for a long bus or ferry journey.

A few of the books I read on this trip couldn’t have taken me farther, mentally, from my surroundings (which was part of the point): Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey’s rollicking tale of Oregon lumberjacks; Miracle in the Andes, about the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed, forcing them to eat each other; Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell’s mind-bending Matryoshka doll of a sci-fi novel. One book, A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon, was the perfect length for a four-hour bus ride. I started it when we left, and finished it five minutes before we arrived. Perfect—now where are we?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Virgin Widow, by Anne O’Brien – Book Review

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The Virgin Widow, by Anne O’Brien – Book Review

The Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien book cover

Anne Neville is the younger daughter of the Earl of Warwick, the kingmaker responsible for putting English King Edward IV on the throne. Always knowing that she would marry to form an alliance and as her father decreed, she is nonetheless pleased to be betrothed to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, a favored cousin with whom she has grown up.  The betrothal doesn’t last long, though.  The Earl of Warwick, feeling slighted by the King, plays again at king-making and tries to put the King’s younger brother on the throne.  The plot fails and the family has to flee, but in an act of strategy the Earl marries Anne to Edward, Prince of Wales thus thwarting Anne’s growing passion for Richard.

O’Brien does an admirable job immersing the reader into the world inhabited by Anne Neville.   The War of the Roses, with the competing houses of Lancaster and York, and this time period in general, when English royalty was constantly duking it out for supremacy and the throne, is very confusing.  O’Brien manages to paint a vivid picture while clearly delineating the limited choices dealt to daughters of the nobility.  Anne is the daughter of extreme strategists, and she grows up steeped in their ambitious plans.  The very act of being their daughter places her in danger, that she hasn’t necessarily chosen, when their schemes go awry.  I chafed for her when she was at the mercy of all the power mongering, greed and poor decision making. The first two thirds of the book are incredibly engrossing, and O’Brien is a skilled writer  whose storytelling I enjoyed.

However, the last third of book was problematic for me in that it veered from the historical to the romantic, straining credibility and undermining the carefully laid foundation of my prior understanding of Anne, and Anne’s understanding of the place she held in the world.  When Anne is again placed in Richard’s sphere her feelings for him are capricious, fickle – hinging on whether he was capable of violence to maintain his power (which of course he was, they all used all kinds of shenanigans up to and including murder!) and quibbles over him being engaged to another woman.  This just didn’t fall in  line with either the author’s (or history’s) early portrayal of an Anne who would have understood this as the daughter of powerful nobility.  Anne was developing into a powerful and perceptive woman in her own right, and I was baffled  by the changes love wrought in her and, the questions she thought important to pursue with Richard.

I haven’t read deeply into the War of the Roses, and didn’t know much about Anne Neville, so O’Brien did a good job of making me aware of Anne’s story in an engaging and enjoyable way.  This novel mostly concentrates on Anne and Richard’s convoluted courtship, so Anne’s life isn’t covered much once she marries Richard. We don’t really see her life when he becomes King Richard III and she his Queen, but there is a brief mention of how she turned out.  Some random incest, and out of character behavior for Anne in love at the end of The Virgin Widow threw me for a loop, but those looking for some romance while learning more about Anne Neville, the War of the Roses, and Richard III should give this a try.

Read More Reviews At: Medieval Bookworm

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Snow Globe, by Sheila Roberts   Book Review

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A Geography of Secrets, by Frederick Reuss – Book Review

A Geography of Secrets, by Frederick Reuss is a thought-provoking novel exploring a world that most of us know is in existence, but to which we give little thought.  An unnamed narrator, a mapmaker whose father worked in foreign service.  A careless comment heard at his father’s funeral leads him on a search for clues to the truth of his father’s identity and the secrets that he may have held. Then we have Noel Leonard. Noel works in a covert government office determining bomb coordinates for airstrikes, among other things.  When a set of coordinates result in the destruction of a school in Afghanistan, Noel is deeply affected, causing his already fragile home life to begin unraveling at an astonishing rate.

This was a difficult novel for me to get into at first, mostly because of its construction and my own biases as a reader, but I am glad that I persevered for the perspective that it offered.  The initial barrier that I had was the confusion in following an unnamed first person narrator and the myriad people with whom he was interacting, and then jumping to the third person narrative of the very detached Noel.  It took me a minute to get my bearings and figure out that they were indeed different people, both searching, though looking for the answers to different questions.  Noel is trying to find out whether he can have a place in his community and with his family when the secrets that he has kept over lifetime are a liability to his humanity and ability to relate, especially in the wake of the school bombing. The unnamed narrator is determined to figure out his father’s secrets that so affected the lives of he and his mother, who still holds bitterness feelings over the failure of her marriage.

Ruess’ novel is very well written and focuses on the high price of carrying burdens that cannot be shared.  The world that he builds of government agencies and covert operations is convincing and filled with authentic acronyms and relevant jargon. Ruess excels in revealing the interior lives of these men, the unraveling of Noel’s marriage, his tentative efforts toward building deeper faith, and the unnamed narrator’s relationship with his mother are detailed and painful to experience at times.  I cringed at the way Noel handled his marriage, but I understood the roots of clumsiness and hesitancy as well.  The anwers that these men find in the search for their own truths are not easy, but definitely provide a lot to mull over regarding how much we can ever really know those who inhabit our lives.

Those who have been looking for for more depth in novels exploring the world of covert government service and the interior lives of difficult men, will find a lot to enjoy in A Geography of Secrets.

Read More Reviews At: Rundpinne – The Year In Books

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Book Club Pick   Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly

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BOOK CLUB – A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear

Welcome to the inaugural BOOK CLUB, a joint venture between me and Jen from Devourer of Books.  Today we are going to be chatting about A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear, by Atiq Rahimi  which was published this month by Other Press.

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear tells the story of Farhad, a young Afghani man living in Kabul who is brutally beaten by soldiers after returning home from drinks with a friend.  After being left in the street (presumably to die from his injuries), he is taken in by a woman living in the neighborhood.  In and out of consciousness, Farhad considers the influences and decisions that have shaped his life, as he has comes to face the fact that he might have to leave behind the only world and home that he has ever known.

Before we get started, I would like to share the reviews of some of the readers who will be participating in today’s discussion.  Please feel free to leave your link in the comments section if I have missed it here.

Caribousmom
my books. my life.
Linus’s Blanket
Devourer of Books
Indie Houston Reader
Hey, I Want To Read That
Word Lily

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page.  I will be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.

So…

  • First off, what were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • Did you choose to do any research on Afghanistan before you started, or did you read it cold?
  • What kinds of questions did you have during your reading?
  • Were they answered?
  • Did the fact that the book is translated change the way you read it or felt about it?
  • What questions did you have for the group?
  • What exactly happened at the end of the book? (Michelle)

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Strain, by  Chuck Hogan & Guillermo del Toro – Book Review

12 review copies of A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear were provided by Other Press in order to facilitate this discussion.  Thank you!

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The Strain, by Chuck Hogan & Guillermo del Toro – Book Review

When a plane lands at JFK with all the crew and passengers apparently dead but with no indications as to what could be the cause, the CDC is mystified.  Nervous government officials would like to pretend that all is okay, but Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, head of the biological threat team, knows that something is terribly wrong and that it can’t be ignored.  Within the next few days the city is turned on its head as passengers from that fateful flight start turning up all over the city, trying to make their way to their loved ones – only they aren’t quite the same people they were when they left home.

What The Strain lacks in literary gravitas is more than redeemed in the absorbing nature of its storytelling. Opening with a sinister folk tale told to entertain a young child, a feeling of dread was present from the very first pages as I pondered the many awful ways this myth could have burgeoned into the horrible mess unfolding in the present day. Del Toro and Hogan deftly move the story along, quickly  providing just enough information to outline the attributes of the characters and to hint at the battle lines that might be explored and come to fruition with further development of the series.  Dr.  Goodweather stays on the move but you are aware of the situation that is shaping the custody battle for his son, and the conflict that his feelings for his sometime lover and his ex-wife engender. Similar character tensions are highlighted as the story progresses.

Along with being super suspenseful, The Strain is also extremely descriptive and gross.  If you have the slightest bit of imagination you will literally be able to see everything unfold in front of your eyes – after all one of the writers is an acclaimed filmmaker.  It’s no secret that this book is about some “strain” of disease/organism which spreads vampirism, but these vampires and the transmission process are like nothing you have ever experienced, and it is all very well-documented. While the book is in and of itself creepy, I could barely read it at times (and often tried to keep it as far away from me as possible, like that would help) for being equal parts creeped and grossed out.  This book is not for the squeamish, and without giving anything away, you should avoid it like the plague (a little pun for you :-)) if you don’t like rats, worms, blood and generally anything that oozes or that might one day aspire ooze.  It was seriously gross.  I did wonder whether I would be able to make it through.

If I haven’t scared you away, and you are still reading, I did very much enjoy the developing vampire mythology and am curious to see how it will play out in future installments.  This definitely fits the bill for a suspenseful, thrilling and horrifying read that ably sets that stage for an engrossing trilogy.

Read More Reviews At:  That’s What She ReadDevourer of BooksMedieval BookwormFarm Lane Books BlogThe Book Smugglers

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Some Months In Review – September, October, November 2010

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The Water Wars, by Cameron Stracher – Book Review

Vera and her brother, Will, live in the Republic of Illinowa – what is left of what was once the midwestern United States.  The country has been dissolved into six self governing republics with strict borders. Food is quasi-real, of questionable quality, and expensive, while money and employment are hard to come by. Water is carefully collected, strictly rationed and a resource worthy of  perpetrating criminal activity for, or even risking death. When siblings Vera and Will befriend Kai, a wealthy and enigmatic teenager with seemingly unlimited access to water, they relentlessly try to prise from him the secrets of his source, little realizing the danger about to descend upon them through their association with him.

The world building that starts off Cameron Stracher’s highly anticipated debut YA novel, The Water Wars is fantastic. I truly believed in the picture that he painted of thirsty people with dry skin, living in deteriorating conditions and fearful of violence.  If you never considered just how vital water is and how much it impacts daily life, then you definitely will after reading the first pages of this book.  Stracher also conveyed how politics, secret allegiances and fighting amongst the governments were at best at the expense of the people, and at the worst perpetrated in an effort to control them.  The plot moves along at a brisk pace, and there is a lot of adventure and action as Vera and Will attempt to locate Kai, who goes missing under dubious circumstances.

While the aspects of this novel concerning water and politics were well researched and constructed, thin characterizations, lack of detail or sometimes conflicting details, made this a shaky read for me after the excitement over the initial world-building. A big part of the problem is that the relationship between Vera and Kai happened much too quickly, they meet once – suddenly the family is spending a fortune they don’t have in food to invite him over for dinner, and then after a few vague visits traded back and forth, Vera is risking her life, and forcing her brother to risk his, for a stranger they are not even remotely prepared to help.  There just wasn’t enough between them to convince me that this was rational on her part, so I spent the rest of the time distracted by how little sense it made.  The search for Kai happens in almost episodic chapters, barely connected to each other, when the kids are passed along from one set of bad guys to the next – some of whom they inexplicably manage to bond with.

The makings of a good story were here, but something went wrong for me in the details and execution.

Read More Reviews At:  Presenting Lenore – Voracious Yappetite – Reading AddictReading With Tequila
1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Happy New Year!

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Hanna – Movie Trailer

The trailer for Hanna reminds me of The Bourne Identity, where one person, in this case a little girl, can take down entire departments of the government.  It looks like a movie that I have seen many times with many different actors, but I like the combination of  Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana here.

I do wonder what the angle is here. Government program gone wrong? Trained assassin?  Obviously, but to what purpose? Oh…and that woman should have totally known better than to go in and sit all close to Hanna and let her hug her.  Nothing good can come from sidling up to someone locked away in a facility that is more secure than a supermax prison.  I mean, really.

April 2011. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Source Code   Movie Trailer

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