I feel like I’m going against the grain on this one, but I’m going to have to say I wasn’t that impressed with Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai. I went into it with high expectations, but overall felt it was unevenly written. 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
Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing author Naomi Wood at the Edinburgh Book Festival. As I was waiting in line, ready to enter the auditorium, i finished her book Mrs Hemingway, but have not yet had a chance to review it. So with the image of it fading in my memory, i will now attempt to put together a few coherent thoughts. Continue reading
Naomi Wood at the Edinburgh Book Festival
I saw Naomi Wood at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday, so i’m writing this quite a few days after the fact. She was on a panel with David Park (The Poets’ Wives) talking about biographical fiction. Both have recently written novels with predominant literary figures at the heart of them. For the most part I will be sticking to Woods comments, as I have not read David Park’s book. Continue reading
The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang
Today is June 16, and if you know why that is important in the literary world, then The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang will quite likely appeal to you. If you don’t know or care about Bloomsday, there is a good chance that you will like The Sixteenth of June if you tend to like the books I like. Continue reading
The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag
The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag is a slightly more whimsical and magical book than I normally go for. It is set in a magical house in Cambridge where notable women for generations have sought refuge. Here they have 99 nights to turn their lives around, find their path and listen to the advice magically offered by previous residents including Virginia Woolfe, Emmeline Pankhurst and Florence Nightingale. Continue reading
Bad Teeth by Dustin Long
When I saw Bad Teeth by Dustin Long I thought, this is the book for me. It ticks all of my boxes: academic satire- check, Tibet writer who may be a plagiarist – interest peaked, add in a touch of a love story – oh yeah. And did I mention that it has footnotes? I love me a footnote! 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.
Guest Post by Alison McQueen author of Under the Jeweled Sky
Thanks to Sourcebooks, I had the opportunity to put some questions to Alison McQueen, author of Under the Jeweled Sky, which i reviewed last week. Her novel is set in post colonial India and deals a fair bit with Partition. As a scholar of South Asia, I was interested in the research that went into writing this novel. Also, as McQueen’s mother is Indian I was curious to know how much of her own family history went into the make up of Under the Jeweled Sky.
Under The Jeweled Sky is set during two key points in history: the 1947 run up and aftermath of India’s partition, and the 1957 lead up to the first visit to India by a serving British Prime Minister. The tangle of politics and diplomacy during both periods seemed a fitting backdrop to the disordered lives of the characters, with layers of deceit and half-truths and nothing being quite what it seems.
In the early stages of the first draft, I had it in my head that the research wouldn’t take too long, which is akin to a form of writerly denial. I should have known better. The research took months, leading me inevitably to the British National Archives where I unearthed declassified documents from the 1957 Macmillan government which would have caused a great deal of diplomatic embarrassment should they have been leaked at the time.
The archives catalogue a mire of political corruption and inaction, naming names and pointing fingers of accusation. I had started out without too much idea of what I was actually looking for, only to stumble across all manner of declassified secrets, some of which ran to hundreds of pages. Very little of it ended up in the final manuscript, but it is an absolutely necessary part of the process.
India’s partition took me back to a subject I have studied for years. My mother was 18 years old at the time, and she remembers vividly crossing the Bramahputra river on a boat, the decks groaning with refugees while she remained in a cabin down below with a chaperone. Her tales of that time are haunting. Here in the west we all know about the holocaust, yet the business of the British hauling out of the jewel in its colonial crown was a heart-stopping moment in history too in which millions of people died.
Part of the novel is set in a maharaja’s palace. Although the fictional palace and its location are anonymous, I did have an inside track into life inside an Indian palace, and I have visited several of them myself.
In her twenties, my mother was hired as the private nurse to the Maharaja of Indore’s mother-in-law. A car was sent for her every morning, but she said that she preferred to walk. So off she would go, strolling through the grounds while the car followed along a few yards behind, driving at snail’s pace in case she should change her mind. Her breakfast would be served to her on a solid silver service, with a footman standing by should she want for anything.
From what she has told me, I am not sure she handled it particularly well. She said that she didn’t want any fuss, which was quite the wrong way to go about things in a palace. There was also an incident when she was caught preparing her own boiled egg, which didn’t go down at all well. The cook was quite overcome with grief, and my mother never ventured to lift a finger again.
I don’t read fiction while I am in the writing process as I don’t want to be influenced inadvertently or blown off course. All my reading during that time tends to be research, so it is always a huge relief when the manuscript is done and I can go back to curling up with a great novel.
More information can be found at the following social media links.
Website & Blog:www.alisonmcqueen.com
Top Ten Tuesday: Best New-to-Me Authors of 2013
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the lovelies over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme: Best New-to-Me Authors of the year. Not surprisingly several of the authors mentioned hail from the UK.
1. Jenn Ashworth. The Friday Gospels is Ashworth’s third book, and yet I had never heard of her. It would appear that her talent hasn’t reached North America in any big way yet, but I can assure you that she is worth checking out.
2. Amber Dermont. She has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Need i say more? The Starboard Sea is her first novel, though she has published numerous short stories.
3. Jennifer duBois. I can’t tell you how shocked I was to find out that Cartwheel was not her first novel, and that her previous work has met with much acclaim. This is a writer I should have known and should have read. And you probably should have as well.
4. Kristopher Jansma. His debut novel The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards blew my mind. Jansma is someone I’m going to be keeping my eye on.
5. Lisa O’Donnell. Closed Doors is this Scottish writer’s second novel, and I have her first, The Death of Bees, sitting on my desk as we speak. O’Donnell is a captivating storyteller.
6. Sathnam Sanghera. He was picked as one of the Waterstone’s Eleven this year and I can understand why. Marriage Material may have been one of my favorite books of the year. People in the UK are talking about Sanghera, but I don’t think he is so well known in North America.
7. Maria Semple. She seems to be on everyone’s list. Where’d You Go Bernadette is a funny and heart felt novel that was almost impossible to put down.
8. Graeme Simsion. Simsion, and his novel The Rosie Project, have taken the world by storm. If there is one book this year that I’d recommend to just about anyone is it The Rosie Project. A perfect ray of sunshine from Australia.
9. Abigail Tarttelin. The Golden Boy was A.MAZ.ING. Tarttelin is an all around artist. This comes through in her writing as well. Unlike many of the other UK writers I’ve mentioned, Tarttelin is finding a fair amount of success on the other side of the ocean as well.
10. Mindy Quigley. An American writer with considerable ties to the UK. Her debut novel, A Murder in Mount Moriah, is highly entertaining. Light, humorous and insightful. And I guess I should mention that she is a good friend.