Flat Water Tuesday by Ron Irwin is a sweet little novel that did not get the attention it deserved. Floated right under the radar. But for me it had all the ingredients of a sure fire winner: middle-aged guy returns to the boarding he school where he rowed to confront some difficult memories. Yes to boarding school tale, yes to rowing and yes to difficult memories. Continue reading
I know what you’re thinking … where have i been? Well, that’s another story (hint: Canary Islands), but I’m back with a bundle full of reviews to write. First up – A House Called Askival by Merryn Glover. It’s published by a small Scottish press, so you may not have heard of it, but it is well worth searching for it. Continue reading
I’ve been hearing great things about Anton Disclafani‘s The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls for a couple of months now. It has been touted as one of the books to watch this summer in places like the The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly. So obviously I came to it expecting a lot. It was a good read, and I am sure it will be loved by a great many, but it just wasn’t for me. It be a case of the wrong book at the wrong time.
Let me lay out for you from the outset the reasons why it did not particularly rock my world:
- Some girls growing up love horses. I was not one of them. There are lots of horse riding sections in Yonahlossee, most of which I skimmed, but I think I was supposed to feel passion and beauty.
- The story is told in such a way as to give increasingly more information about a past indiscretion. Normally I like this style, but Golden Boy, the book I read previous to this one, is told in the same manner and I was bored of that style. I just wanted the information!!
- I did not find the protagonist, Thea, to be sympathetic and I think for this particular story that is crucial.
All these reasons for not liking the novel ultimately reveal more about me than Disclafani or The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls.
The story revolves around the teenage Thea, who is suddenly sent away to Yonahlossee after committing some indiscretion involving her twin brother and their cousin. What did she do that was so horrible? Her story is revealed in a series of flashbacks that are interspersed with the travails of her new life at the Riding Camp. One thing that becomes clear is that she did not necessarily learn from her past mistakes. All of this is set against the back drop of the increasing financial strain that the Great Depression has brought to other well off girls at this riding camp-cum-finishing school.
Who would like this book? There are a lot of people out there who are going to love this book. In fact I have already recommended it as a ‘must read’ to one friend. She likes historical fiction and rode horses when she was growing up. This book is definitely up her alley. In spite of my personal feelings about the book, I do thing Yonahlossee is a great book for summer. It is a page turner. You feel compelled to go on to find out why Thea has been sent away and how her actions could have had such a devastating effect on her family.
The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont has been out for a year in hardcover and has just made an appearance in paperback. I am embarrassed to say that it has taken me this long to get to it, but that’s what happens when you have an ever growing To Be Read list. I also have to admit that I read the UK version, which makes no difference but I think it has a better cover.
I have admitted my love of the boarding school novel before so it should come as no surprise that the reason I was originally drawn to The Starboard Sea was because it is set in an elite New England boarding school. It also received great reviews all over the place. These reviews are certainly warranted, but it does feel like a first novel. For some reason, it seems to me that a lot of teenage angst and tragedy tend to get thrown into first novels.
The angst begins when Jason Prosper has to transfer to Bellingham Academy for his senior year after Cal, his best friend and roommate, commits suicide. Like layers of an onion, as the story proceeds we learn more about the events leading up to Cal’s death and what may have precipitated it. Tragedy begets tragedy, and as the story proceeds Jason encounters more adversity. This is where the story becomes a little too much for me. There is just too much that happens to Jason. Not only that, he blames himself for most of it.
Now I’ve made it sound like The Starboard Sea is a sad or depressing tale, which it is not. It is a coming of age story and is a genuinely enjoyable read. I look forward to reading more by Dermont in the future.
Who would like this book? The heart of the story lies in male friendships and for that reason I think The Starboard Sea can easily be recommended to men (though women would also enjoy ita0 . A large component of the novel also has to do with sailing, which Dermont writes about masterfully. I would recommend it along side other boarding school novels, though A Separate Peace by John Knowles stands out as a particularly good companion piece since both deal with male friendships and untimely deaths.
I don’t know what rock I was living under back in February 2011 when Carol Goodman‘s Arcadia Falls came out, but somehow i missed it. You see, I’ve been a fan of Goodman ever since The Lake of Dead Languages came out way back in 2002. Goodman’s novels may not always be terribly original, but they fall into a genre I love: Boarding School mysteries. Even when she strays from this tried and true genre, her novels still take place in rather closed, academic settings. The Night Villa (2008), which I loved, takes place on the Isle of Capri among a group of scholars searching for a long lost secret.
Arcadia Falls, unsurprisingly, is set at a private art school in Up State New York. The recently widowed Meg flees there with her daughter in hopes of finding some stability, financial and otherwise, after the unexpected death of her husband. But because this is a novel by Goodman, a death on campus upsets the idyll she is hoping to find. A mystery unravels which places the history of the school at its core.
Overall the writing is solid and the story intriguing. I am a fan, I can’t help but like Goodman’s work. She weaves the history of the school and the heritage of various students into a compelling mystery set in the present.
Who would like this book? I am a sucker for boarding school mysteries and stories set in closed academic communities. If you are too then this book will not disappoint. I would put it along side other books such as The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon and even The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood. Of course standing at the pinnacle of boarding school novels is The Secret History by Donna Tartt. If you haven’t read this, then you must.
And as an aside for fans of YA and fantasy, Goodman has recently published The Demon Lover under the name Juliet Dark. Everything you want out of a boarding school novel, plus a demon lover thrown in. I haven’t read it and probably won’t, but it is sure to appeal to a large audience.