Upcoming reviews

Now that I’ve finished one of the novels on my immediate-read list, this is what is coming up next:

Gillian Badshaw’s Hawk of May

Suzy Witten’s The Afflicted Girls

And then I will start on the collection I brought home from BEA.

All guarded over by my ever-faithful and sleepy Siamese:

Until I am ready to review my latest reads, I will continue to post selections from my reading journal. I hope you are enjoying what you read here, and feel free to leave comments.

Review: Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

Since it may take me awhile to post reviews of the most current HF novels, I will reach back to my reading diary from 2001-forward and post some of the highlights.

Today, I will tackle Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings:

(From 2001) It took three tries and two years to plow my way through this monster of a book. I persevered because I believe one is not fully rounded in the historical fiction genre without having read at least one of Dunnett’s works–she is said to be the master of the genre and quite brilliant.

I did not enjoy this book, however.

First of all, I personally disliked the writing style: dry, unemotional, filled with archaic words and foreign phrases. Even with a dictionary by my side, I would say that I missed at least forty percent of the storyline.

Secondly, I felt that the reader is never properly introduced to the characters, rather the characters are thrust directly, forcefully, and without subtlety, into the reader’s view. It is, therefore, difficult to connect with them and to care about their fate, unlike the characters portrayed in Sharon Kay Penman’s books, with whom the reader is intimately involved from start to finish.

The plot was overly political and too lacking in sufficient character development for my taste–simply not the type of story I am normally drawn to; however, I did find redeeming features: a few breathtaking rescues, a brief enjoyable interplay between brothers near the conclusion of the novel, where the reader is offered a miniscule glimpse into depth of the relationship, as well as an intriguing duel scene.

I consider myself to be fairly well educated and intelligent, and overall, I felt insulted and offended by the pretentiousness displayed here. An a fit of anger and frustration, I told myself that this novel was the essence of academic snobbery. I’ve mellowed quite a bit since then, and have concluded  that Game of Kings was a worthwhile, if painful, read, and I am proud that I managed to complete this monster, for I proved to myself that I still have the patience necessary to read difficult, time-consuming pieces of literature.

Classics reading, Part 2 (November 20, 2008)

November 20, 2008

Well, my classics group has not been such a success either. After My Antonia we chose Dr. Zhivago with high hopes, which were completely dashed in short order. I think one of the four of us made it through. Our conclusion: heavy on philosophy and light on plot, and dull at that. Where was the story of Dr. Zhivago and his two women? Only in the movie version, which we watched at our meeting. Onward and upward then to something completely different – Kidnapped by Robert Lewis Stevenson. Ahhh, finally, a rousing pick. A rollicking, swaggering, pirating, outlaw-being-hunted-through-the-mountains-and-moors-of-Scotland adventure. I love Stevenson’s writing: sophisticated, vivid, and readable. And half of the fun was reading some of the accent-laden sentences out loud–all the sudden I found myself speaking in a Scottish brogue!  I (and the other members) enjoyed this book and Kidnapped proved that classics need not be DULL.

The Time Traveler’s Wife (from 12/4/2007)

December 4, 2007

Our book club pick for November was this novel by Audrey Niffeneger, and it made for a very lively discussion. We may not have “fallen in love” with the story itself or any particular character, but we thought it was an imaginative and complex novel.

I became too emotionally involved in feeling Henry’s pain and fear during my reading. Perhaps this speaks to the author’s ability to pull the reader in and connect, but I have trouble separating myself from fictional characters sometimes–my own boundary issue, I guess.  However, the view of time travel as being something dangerous and frightening rather than being a positive experience was a surprise to me. Isn’t time travel supposed to be a miraculous cure-all for present troubles? <note the hint of sarcasm here> A quote I’ve often heard, “Your mind is a dangerous place, don’t go in there alone” could have been Henry’s mantra. When he traveled, he could take nothing with him, and I mean NOTHING- not clothes, not food, not the basic means for survival. He was completely and utterly vulnerable. He couldn’t chose where or when he went or who he met there. A pervasive, underlying sense of  melancholy and  doom permeated this novel.

The premise–that Henry has a genetic disorder that causes random time travel and that he represents an evolution of the human species- seemed plausible to me. Some reviewers didn’t think this premise was necessary and that it even detracted from the story. I have to respectfully disagree. I think the premise is the thread that weaved the the story together and culminated in mear-believable science fiction. I can think of ways that we “time travel” in our heads, for example, when we see, smell, touch, or taste something that reminds us of our past. The sense leads us back to a specific time and place, a specific memory. When we have an anxiety or panic attack or feel overwhelming fear–these  emotions are generated by past traumas and take us out of the present moment.

Henry’s travels WERE  life threatening. If he had time traveled for no apparent reason, I don’t think I could have continued through to the final page of the book.

I can’t say that I “enjoyed” this book because I felt overpowered by the bleakness that permeated the story, but it was an eye-opening reading experience and a definite conversation starter, and I would recommend it for book clubs.