Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half-Blood-BluesYes, it has taken me a long time to get to Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. Sometimes too much hype about a book can keep me away. Edugyan emerged out of nowhere in 2011 and became the It girl of Canadian fiction in 2012. There is scarcely a prize for which she wasn’t nominated. This was topped of in 2014 with Canada Reads. Continue reading

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose

Lovers-at-the-chameleon-club, Paris-1932Sometimes I just don’t know how to start a review, so I will just jump in with both feet. I was not thrilled with Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. Was it because I generally really like the author, Francine Prose? Was it because I expected amazing things out of this complex novel about the years leading up to the Second World War in Paris? Was it because I wanted this novel to be so different than anything else i’ve read? I don’t really know. Continue reading

Brave Genius by Sean B. Carroll

brave-geniusI’ll admit it, the thing that attracted me to Brave Genius was a combination of the cover and the title. As far as titles go, this is a good one. My impression of the book only got better when I read that it was about Albert Camus and his involvement in the French Resistance during WWII. The book also tells the parallel story of Jacques Monod, a biologist, who like Camus worked in the French Resistance. Both Camus and Monod went on to win the Nobel Prize in their respective fields in the years following the war.

The book is basically broken into two parts: Camus and Monod during the war years and their lives and work after the war. I quite enjoyed the first part. The war in France is something I know shockingly little about and Brave Genius did a commendable job at filling that gap. In addition to relaying the lives of these two geniuses, Carroll provides ample context for their actions by really laying out what was happening throughout France in the greater theater of the war. All of the background material is wonderful, but did give me the impression that I was reading a book specifically about WWII in France.

By the time I reached the second half of the book 250 pages later, I was, quite honestly, exhausted. I dove into the second half but was quickly bogged down by the biological details of Monod’s work. Because of the thoroughness of the first part of the book I feared too much detail would follow and gave up on the book. This is not something I do lightly. I would like to stress that Brave Genius is a brilliantly researched and well written tome. As a reader who merely dabbles in non-fiction, usually of a more narrative variety, I found the book to be just a little too much for me.

Who would like this book? There a several obvious answers to this question: 1/ fans of Camus who want greater insight into his life and the effects of WWII on his writing; 2/ Fans of Monod for the same reasons; 3/ those interested int he intellectual culture of Paris and France during the Resistance and the years following the war. Another area that may be explored in the book is what exactly is it about these two men and their circumstances that propelled them to the heights of winning a Nobel Prize? As I did not finish the book I do not know whether or not this is covered, but is certainly something I would be interested in reading about. And regarding Brave Genius‘s status as a DNF – I may return to it in the future when I have more time to dedicate to it. But with the fall book season, there are just so many ¬†things I want to read right now.

I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Windsor Faction by D.J Taylor

windsor-factionI am not above mentioning that I picked up D.J. Taylor‘s The Windsor Faction for all the wrong reasons. I was truly skimming a blurb about it when the name Wallis Simpson jumped out at me. Sold. I will read just about anything about Wallis Simpson, and for some reason I am particularly drawn to fiction in which she is featured. What I failed to read was the whole sentence : What if Wallis Simpson died in 1936 and Kind Edward never had to abdicate the throne for the woman he loved?

So while I thought I was about to read a novel about Wallis Simpson, the story was in fact a rewriting of history in which Edward rules Britain in the years leading up to World War II. Once I got over the fact that Simpson dies on the first pages of the novel, it was actually quite a good tale.

The story is largely set among various members of the aristocracy, most of whom oppose intervention into the European theater where Hitler is amassing his holdings. Each chapter is told from a different point of view: daughter of a colonial official who is dating a man from the American Embassy, a writer who helps the King write his Christmas day speech, and a lower class man who works in an antique shop but becomes involved in nefarious activities. Bringing together a story told in multiple narratives and from various points of view is not always easy to achieve. Taylor pulls this off with some success. There were certainly chapters that I felt were superfluous (especially those in Ceylon), but it does come together in the end. I think some additional editing could have made it a tighter story, but who am I?

Who would like this book? This book is for those who like to ponder the ‘what ifs’ of history. In particular, what if King Edward, with rumored Nazi sympathies, remained on the throne throughout World War II. A knowledge of WWII certainly brings added enjoyment to the novel as real personages such as Captain Ramsay and Beverly Nichols are key players in the book, though it is not necessary.

This book was provided to my by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Letter From Skye by Jessica Brockmole

letters-from-skyeLetters From Skye is one of those novels that shocked me beyond belief. I thought the cover looked boring. It is an epistolary novel, which I often find to be gimmicky. And it is a love story, nay I say romance? All these things together for me do not add up to a promising book. The reason I picked it up was because it is set in Scotland and the period was somewhat interesting to me – the two world wars.

But I can honestly say that once I started reading it I found it difficult to put down. The novel starts as a correspondence between a poet living on the Isle of Skye, off the coast of Scotland and a brash young American fan. By the second or third letter between them I was hooked. In spite of the distance between them, they seemed to connect in a surprising way. I was cheering them on and wanted them to meet, to fall in love, to take things to the next level.

The other thread of the novel involves letters between the Skye poetess’s daughter and her best friend turned fiance during the second world war. In these letters Margaret seeks to learn more about her mother’s life before she was born. Of course, there is a secret there that is revealed not too long after her mother goes missing.

A novel such as this – letters between lovers – could easily slip into the sentimental.That is where Jessica Brockmole‘s great strength lays; she manages to communicate passion, love and longing through well developed characters rather than falling into the predictable tropes of romance. The reason I wanted to keep reading the novel was not because of the romance, but because the characters were so engaging. In addition to (forbidden) love, they had struggles of their own and fears to overcome.

Who would like this book? If you are travelling to Scotland, I highly recommend this book. It gives the contrasting flavors of rural island life as well as the comparatively cosmopolitan life of Edinburgh. Not to be out done, Glasgow also makes a brief appearance. This is also a great novel for those who enjoy the epistolary form. The blogosphere has recently been abuzz over Frances and Bernard, another novel of letters, but I feel that of the two Letters From Skye was more readable.