I should start by saying that I did not choose this book for myself. The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall wasn’t a book I was dying to read, or one I’d even heard of. Overall the writing is solid and the story is good, but it wasn’t my thing. Continue reading
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
Well, if The Year of Runaways isn’t a heart-breaking work of staggering genius, then I don’t know what is. To me, it was like a modern, immigrant follow-up to A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, which has long been one of my favorite books. Continue reading
The Past by Tessa Hadley
Tessa Hadley is one of those writers who is quite well known in the UK, but when I lived in Canada I’d never heard of her. For that reason alone, I was interested in reading The Past. But it also has that age-old story strain that I fall for every time: family gets together at summer home to make a decision. Continue reading
Mr. Mac and Me by Esther Freud
As you may have noticed, historical fiction based on real people’s lives is a bit of a thing for me at the moment. That’s why i turned to Mr. Mac and Me by Esther Freud. Before moving to Scotland I’m not sure if a novel about architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh would have interested me, but here is Scotland, Glasgow in particular, he is a bit of a hero.
I didn’t know anything about the novel before digging in, so I must say it came as a bit of disappointment to me that the bulk of Mr. Mac and Me is more about the titular Me than Mr. Mac. I was hoping for an entertaining overview of Mackintosh’s life, instead I was given a glimpse into Macintosh’s brief escape to the Southeast coast of England right around the time of the outbreak of World War One.
In spite of the fact that most of the story revolves around Tom Maggs and the travails of his impoverished family, I did learn some startling things about CRM.
- As much as he is revered today in Scotland, he was not all that successful during his own lifetime. This struggle is made clear in Mr. Mac and Me.
- The tall, stylized women I have always associated with CRM are, in fact, by his wife, Margaret MacDonald Macintosh.
- CRM was thought to be a spy during WWI and was rather harassed for it.
Who would like this book? Though fans of CRM may like this book, I would be more inclined to recommend it to those who are looking for an English pastoral novel set in the 1910s. As I mentioned, Mr Mac is really a secondary character and the novel’s heart lies with Maggs family and their village pub.
Adeline by Norah Vincent
And the trend of bringing writers to life through fiction continues with Adeline by Norah Vincent. In a refreshing turn, this time we have a female writer – Virginia Woolf – front and center with her husband and other members of the Bloomsbury group playing a secondary role. Continue reading
Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut
Like the title Arctic Summer, my review of said book is going to be a little bit of a contradiction in terms. There was so much about this book that I loved, and yet at times I just found it so boring. Continue reading
A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray
I picked up A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray without knowing entirely what it was about. This was both good and bad. I knew that it was set in a Mormon family and a crisis of faith. Hear that? That’s all my boxes being checked. What I didn’t know was that the daughter of the family dies near the beginning of the book. I do not read books in which children die. They are just too sad for me. But I decided to soldier forth because i do love me a crisis of faith. Continue reading
The Visitors by Sally Beauman
The Visitors by Sally Beauman was one of those books I was dying to read. It is set in 1920s Egypt during the time that Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. Being a child of the 1970s seeing the King Tut exhibit in Toronto was one of the highlights of my childhood. Put that together with the fact that I have never read anything by Beauman, who I believe is more popular in the UK than in North America, and I was dying to get started. Continue reading
Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
Under the Wide and Starry Sky is the latest novel brought to us by Nancy Horan of Loving Frank fame. As with Loving Frank (about Frank Lloyd Wright), Horan has chosen another real-life topic to explore in her latest novel. This time it is the Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, or I suppose more properly the life of his wife Fanny.
There was so much I learned in this novel about Robert Louis Stevenson. As a new immigrant to Edinburgh, I knew that he grew up here and was sickly as a child. Beyond that, aside from his major works, I knew nothing about him. He truly had an astonishing life in which battles with illness played an important role. With Fanny, he moved all over the planet seeking health – France, Switzerland, upstate New York, California, Australia and finally Samoa. I know! Samoa? And remember this was all at the end of the 19th century when travel was not as easy as it is now.
In spite of all this travel and action, I did not terribly enjoy Under the Wide and Starry Sky. The writing was superb. That is one thing we can say about Nancy Horan. But for me the main thing that separated this book from Loving Frank was the topic and the time period. Whereas I was really interested in learning more about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the turn of the century time period, I have never had an interest in RLS. I know that should have been a tip off that perhaps the book wasn’t for me, but as I say Horan is an astounding writer. And I am trying to learn more about Scottish culture and history.
Who would like this book? Really, this book is more about Fanny than Robert Louis Stevenson. As such it follows in a long line of books recounting the life of a steadfast wife supporting her artistic husband, specifically, The Paris Wife and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. I like both of those books more than this one simply because of the characters portrayed and the time period. If you are interested in RLS, Scottish literature or the time period, then Under the Wide and Starry Sky is a great book for you. It is full of great writing, fantastic tales and adventuresome journeys.
Have you read this book? What did you think? Send me a link to your review and I will include it here.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield
Bellman and Black is Diane Setterfield‘s much awaited and anticipated follow up to her debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Like her previous work, Bellman and Black is a rather dark, gothic tale. At the age of ten, William Bellman kills a rook with his catapult or sling shot in a long shot. That rook comes to haunt him for the rest of his life in various forms.
Based on such a description, Bellman and Black does not really seem like my type of book. My expectations for it were not that high. The only reason I read it was because Setterfield’s previous book was so wonderful. In spite of my lowered expectation, Bellman and Black was a surprisingly good read. To me this is due to Setterfield’s writing. From the first pages, reading Bellman and Black felt like slipping into a pair of perfectly worn in shoes. To be frank, the bare bones of the story appear to be quite boring to me, yet her writing made me keep reading. Did I need to know that much about mill work and the fabric industry of the late 1800’s? No, but I soon became as obsessed with it as William Bellman.
In fact Bellman’s character development throughout the book may have been the thread that really held this book together for me. His transformation from an underdog type character, someone who you are really rooting for, into a haunted and single minded man was convincingly depicted. And though tragedy filled his life, there was not an overly tragic feeling to the story.
Who would like this book? As I mentioned before, this is a rather dark and gothic tale. If that is what attracted you to The Thirteenth Tale, then this book will scratch that itch. I also think lovers of historical fiction will enjoy it. I found the details relating to Spanish influenza, cloth production and funerary practices to be quite enlightening. Bellman and Black would also be a good book club pick for the literary minded. It is filled with symbolism, much of which I likely missed. I really hate that some books are labelled as ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘men’s fiction’, but I do think this is one that can truly span both categories. In spite of being written by a woman, it is a story of a male world.
I was provided with the book by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.