HNS Review of The Last Banquet and upcoming reviews…

The Europa rep at BEA raved about this novel, therefore I simply had to read it…how could I not?  And here are my conclusions:

the-last-banquet-jonathan-grimwood-143x200Jean-Marie d’Aumout’s sharply distinctive and intelligent voice narrates his life story spanning 18th-century France, from desperate poverty to the viciousness of boarding school for destitute aristocratic boys, to military academy, marriage that brings fortune and titles, and beyond, to face his own demise. “Our lives are built almost entirely on a foundation of events colliding,” D’Aumout philosophically states, as he ponders the unlikely chain of events that comprise his life.

D’Aumont rises to fame guided by his exceptional sense of taste and eagerness to explore flavors without regard to social taboos. A primal desire to sample all the world offers guides him in his journey through the rise of the Enlightenment, the war with Corsica, and the fall of the aristocracy in the French Revolution. He is a man of great intellect, with an undisguised disdain for the degenerative decadence of Versailles, comparing the “underlying sourness” of the food at the palace with its corruption; corresponding with the likes of other great minds of the time – Voltaire, de Sade, and Benjamin Franklin, for example. But he is also lover, husband, and father, with a fondness for rescuing exotic creatures that earned him the title Lord Master of the Menagerie.

The Last Banquet is a bold gastronomic adventure (one not for the squeamish, however), a quest to fully live before the passage of time and history stamps out the flame. Written with just the right combination of rumination, contemplation, and startling – at times shocking – action, the prose is seductive and sophisticated. Jean-Marie D’Aumont is an ingenious human embodiment of the age of reason, with an at times morbid streak of scientific and intellectual curiosity, matched by a profound and masterful understanding of the human condition. Another fine work of literary fiction from Europa Editions. Highly recommended.

 

The next two books I’ve taken on for the HNS (to help reduce the orphan pile!) are Escape from Paris by Carolyn Hart, a reprint–sort of because it includes the entire text, some of which had to be cut for the first edition–of her 1986 WW2 thriller; and The Daring Ladies of Lowell, a drama set in the mid-ninteenth-century Massachusetts textile mills. I have also received Liza Perrat’s second novel, Wolfsangel, set in the French village of Lucie-sur-Vionne, this time during the German occupation of France in 1943. I am excited for this one, and will write a full review here.

 

Happy reading!

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Never make a promise

I give up. Life has become so hectic as a parent and full-time employee, as well as doing my volunteer job for the HNS, that I can’t keep up with this blog. I don’t expect to have followers when I am unable to post regularly. Rather than trying to be a professional blogger, I am just blogging on a personal basis. Blah, blah, blah.

My book collection has gotten larger recently, but I haven’t been reading very fast. I did review Godiva by Nicole Galland for the August 2013 issue of the Historical Novels Review and here it is:

Set in Anglo-Saxon England, this is a reimagining of the legend of Lady Godiva, Countess of Mercia, an 11th-century noblewoman well-known for riding au naturel through Coventry to relieve her people of unfair and oppressive taxation. Godiva’s unlikely friendship with Abbess Edgiva of Leominster, who has her own troubles, and her playful relationship with her husband, Leofric, also play major roles.

The novel is well-written with colorful description and detail; however, this reader chafed at elements of predictable and clichéd plotlines, such as the abbess’s pregnancy resulting from a one-night stand, and Earl Sweyn’s attempt to “abduct” her from the abbey. The notion of a countess playing matchmaker for an abbess, in the first place, pushes the limits of believability.

The most troublesome aspect, however, is the difficulty sympathizing with Godiva’s plight, as the countess is not portrayed as a sympathetic character—she is a woman who outspokenly prides herself on her ability to manipulate men for personal gain and expresses no remorse about doing so. Therefore, when the king offers her a choice of punishments, either to literally bare herself to the people of her town, or surrender the lucrative holding of Coventry, this reader could not summon up sympathy for her dilemma. Godiva engages in a game against a crafty opponent, and King Edward gets the best of her. The plot’s power to engage hinges on the reader’s sympathy for Godiva, which is simply absent in this case.

As much as I want to be able to recommend this book, unfortunately I found Godiva uninspiring.

Obviously, I wasn’t very taken by the book, and I hope my review explains why well enough.

After returning from the HNS conference, I dove right into one of the books that was given away in our gift bags, Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole. I was in the mood for a good old-fashioned WW2 tear-jerker of a romance, and that’s exactly what I got. I loved it. A multigeneraltional tale of love and loss (to put it simply), it was smoothy written, fast-flowing, and engaging.

Right now I am working on another two review books, Jonathan Grimwood’s The Last Banquet (the Europa publicist raved about this one) and The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott. The latter novel struck my interest because when I lived in Boston, I was exposed to the fascinating history of the Lowell textile mills, and the class struggles that ensued in the factory towns. The smell of textiles is still pungent when you tour one of these mills. Many have been turned into condos and there is still that eerie smell when you walk inside- talk about living history! THIS is the reason I love historical fiction.