Tag: literary

August 29, 2015

Review | Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Review | Still Alice by Lisa GenovaStill Alice by Lisa Genova
Publisher: Gallery Books, January 6th 2009
Pages: 308

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New WritersThis may be one of the most frightening novels you'll ever read. It's certainly one of the most unforgettable. Genova's debut revolves around Alice Howland - Harvard professor, gifted researcher and lecturer, wife,and mother of three grown children. One day, Alice sets out for a run and soon realizes she has no idea how to find her way home. It's a route she has taken for years, but nothing looks familiar. She is utterly lost. Is her forgetfulness the result of menopausal symptoms? A ministroke? A neurological cancer? After a few doctors' appointments and medical tests, Alice has her diagnosis, and it's a shocker -- she has early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
What follows is the story of Alice's slow but inevitable loss of memory and connection with reality, told from her perspective. She gradually loses the ability to follow a conversational thread, the story line of a book,or to recall information she heard just moments before. To Genova's great credit, readers learn of the progression of Alice's disease through the reactions of others, as Alice does, so they feel what she feels -- a slowly building terror.
In Still Alice, Genova, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, uniquely reveals the experience of living with Alzheimer's. Hers is an unusual book -- both a moving novel and an important read.(Spring 2009 Selection)

 

Still Alice isn’t an easy read.

The language isn’t hard, despite many technical/medical terms – Genova goes out of her way to make the narration flow as simply as possible. Still Alice is a hard read because of the vast amount of emotions, each one taking the reader on an entirely different roller coaster ride.

It took me a while to fall into her story. I picked the book up and down, trying to get past the first scene as John, Alice’s husband, searches for his perpetually missing keys. It was the moment she forgets her way home on her run that got to me: such an innocent, everyday moment that marks the beginning of a significant change in her life. From that moment, Alice and John became real figures in my life, people I wanted to hug and offer any help that I could.

Each character dealt with Alice’s diagnosis differently. John searched desperately for a miracle drug, disbelieving the original diagnosis; the two older children fell into a cycle of disbelief, thinking/hoping if they just told their mother to remember, all of the missing pieces would fall into place; the younger, Lydia, became the strong pillar in her mother’s life. What truly broke my heart was Alice’s colleagues’ reactions. I understood their detachment: there were still kids to teach, essays to grade, lectures to deliver, and she couldn’t meet those qualifications (painfully revealed later in the story). The vast amount of embarrassing moments, caused by either the disease or the colleagues’ reaction to it, made me feel for her and wish, like John, that a cure would appear.

The ending, however, was completely unexpected and utterly beautiful, sealing in Still Alice with the message that I think Genova was trying to teach us all along.

Posted August 29, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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June 27, 2015

The Canon Classics | Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Title: Rebecca
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Publication Date: January 1938
Publisher: Gollancz
Source & Format: Library; hardcover

Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

After a whirlwind romance & a honeymoon in Italy, the innocent young heroine & the dashing Maxim de Winter return to his country estate, Manderley. But the unsettling memory of Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter, still lingers within. The timid bride must overcome her husband’s oppressive silences & the sullen hostility of the sinister housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, to confront the emotional horror of the past. 

Beginning with some of the most famous opening lines in literature, Rebecca is a dark, ghostly tale full of crime, intrigue, and a gorgeous house called Manderley. I fell in love with du Maurier’s famous work when I saw the movie years ago, and have yearned to read it ever since. 

Normally the gothic atmosphere and mystery are my favorite parts of a story, but I fell in love with one particular element: the unnamed narrator. Think about it for a moment: how many books have you read where the narrator is never named? Short of “my wife” and “Mrs. de Winter,” the narrator never reveals her name. Initially, I thought I was reading too fast and possibly missed it, but as she reveals more and more of her story, I realize du Maurier has utilized one of my favorite literary elements: the unreliable narrator.

The narrator, at first, sounds reliable, a woman merely remembering a dark period in her life and seeing its effects in the present. When the narration turns to the past, reliving her life at Manderley, I started to question her. Her refusal to name herself and her strange obsession with age (I couldn’t not find the actual number of her age, odd considering how often she brings it up) made me look at her recollections more closely. She focuses on certain conversations, scenery, moments, but utterly skims over the rest with a wave of the hand. She quickly paints herself as uncertain, awkward, and without confidence, a young girl completely out of her depth. Her obsession with Rebecca, a name she mentions so often that it might as well be her own, only speaks to her deep insecurity and tendency towards the dramatic

From the first sentence, foreshadowing and a certain feeling of uneasiness slips in the narration. The sun might shine down on the narrator, but everything is fringed in shadows. I felt like she constantly saw the world through a vignette photograph. I couldn’t help but question her story when she depicted the other characters’ uncertainty or hostility. However, despite the unreliable narrator, Rebecca is shadowed. The plot’s foreboding became addictive, making me feel like I had to read more to figure out what on earth would happen. 


In my opinion, Mrs. Danvers and Nurse Ratchet must be related. The amount of hostility felt by the narrator from the housekeeper is overwhelming, but is only found in her actions and tone of voice. She is the ghost haunting the hallways, and one of the three most powerful characters in the entire novel.


If you haven’t yet read Rebecca, it’s time. You must. I was astonished by the power of the narration, the intense imagery, and the slow pull of the mystery. The suspense kept me up reading and I know this is a book I will return to again and again.


Posted June 27, 2015 by Ellen in the canon classics, Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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August 15, 2014

Review | Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Title: Burial Rites
Author: Hannah Kent {website}
Publication Date: September 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. 

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard. 

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?



It’s been impossible to get this book out of my head.


I finished Burial Rites this morning, but ran out of time to write my review before my shift started. Normally I focus on work pretty quickly when I walk in the door, but Kent’s story kept wiggling its way back to the forefront of my thoughts. I imagined the landscape of Iceland, colored by the various characters’ perceptions, the strong themes of gossip, truth, betrayal and trust and wanted to read the novel all over again. It’s been a long time since I felt this way about a book


The element that spoke out to me was the language. Kent’s narration was fabulous. I loved the variation, switching between Agnes’ first person viewpoint to a third person limited with different characters. Typically I get a little confused when there isn’t a demarcation between the different narration, but the transitions flowed so well that I felt I was in the story itself. 


I loved how the descriptions and settings became part of the narration and dialogue so easily. It’s such a natural thing when done well and paints portraits of scenes in my mind. Kent’s language and descriptions made me feel like I was watching the story on a screen instead of reading words on a page. Once I fell into her world, I wanted to stay and find out what happened.  


Agnes herself was one of the most fascinating characters. I loved how her narration explained her ticks and motivations, even after other characters notice some of her stranger mannerisms. For me, Agnes was endearing because she was a girl who had fallen in love with the wrong man. It’s a story we can all sympathize with; Agnes’s fairy tale fell apart in front of her eyes. Her slow revelation of not only her side of the story but her character herself to the earnest young assistant reverend made me fall in love with her character along with the other characters in the novel.


To put it simply, there are a vast amount of minor characters in the novel, but each has a major effect on the plot itself. So many of them only put in small appearances in Burial Rites, but each’s personality, motivations, and thoughts made such an impact on me as a reader that it was nearly impossible to forget them. 


When I picked up Burial Rites, I didn’t realize Kent was giving her version of a true story. The vast amount of detail in the novel never felt like an infodump, but fascinating and engaging. I drank it all in, from the details of Anges’s life to the Icelandic countryside in the 1800s. Kent’s novel sparked a new fascination within me. 


THE RATING:


Posted August 15, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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May 15, 2014

Review | Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Title: Bring Up the Bodies
Author: Hilary Mantel 
Publication Date: May 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Series: Thomas Cromwell Trilogy {Book 2}

Source & Format: Owned; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.

At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies” follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne’s head?



THE CHARACTERS

The evolution of Cromwell’s personality in of itself is a story. I picked up this book right after reading Wolf Hall, so seeing the change in Cromwell’s person is extraordinary. He has evolved from a quiet man, a man devoted to servitude, to a man in power and well aware of it. Although Cromwell’s character occasionally strays into the unlikable, it’s the humanity that is always present in his actions, his words, that keeps him from wavering into villain territory. There are glimpses of the man from Wolf Hall, but they are woven into the complex character that has been so long overlooked in the Tudor saga. 

Cromwell’s character reigns supreme in Bring Up the Bodies, no doubt. The supporting cast of characters is strong and vibrant, providing plenty of drama for Cromwell’s character to react to. I know the story of Henry VIII, but to see how the man talked not only himself but all of England into following his actions created a character that borders upon childish. Anne herself wallows between pitiful and shrewish; the only flattering description of her is found near the end of the novel. Cromwell’s view of these major players in English history creates an unseen side of their humanity that makes these characters come alive off the page.

THE PLOT

Bring Up the Bodies follows the story of Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace to a tee. I appreciated Mantel’s focus on the particular ironies of the queen’s fall, especially in Cromwell’s observations. Mantel includes the various rumors of Anne’s presumed sorcery/witchcraft/what-have-you, and presents them all with the detached attention of a historian. Each rumor is mentioned and included in the story, but the novel’s focus remains on Cromwell and his motives.

Cromwell, for the most part, is interested in providing Henry with what he wants. The small squabble of his conscience and heart versus his head creates one of the most fascinating cases of man versus himself that I’ve seen outside of college. As the plot reaches it’s climax, the war within Cromwell intensifies, making the tension within Bring Up the Bodies even more powerful.

THE WRITING

After reading Mantel’s work, I will forever think of the main character as “he, Cromwell.” The vibrant characterization and unusual narrative style create an almost addictive quality about the book. I had a little trouble getting used to the writing style in the first novel, but the second installment in the trilogy was comfortable and familiar. I felt like I should portion this book out, like a child trying to make a candy stash last a little longer, but couldn’t help but gobble it up. 

THE VERDICT

I’m a fan. Not the fair-weather kind, but the diehard, paint on the face, all the way fan. Cromwell, a character that had previously remained in the background of my Tudor readings, finally takes charge of his part in the Tudor drama and makes a story perfect for the history buffs and drama lovers.

Posted May 15, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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May 14, 2014

The Canon’s Favorite Bookish Movies {Mystery}



I love bookish movies. It’s a bit more of a guilty pleasure for me, especially when the adaption meets my expectations/love of the book. Today’s list is one of my favorite genres: mystery! Most of these picks are older movies (black and white) and stay very true to the original plot. Growing up on the work of Humphery Bogart and Agatha Christie has made me a huge fan of the hardboiled detective mystery. So, without further ado…


The Maltese Falcon

One of my favorite guilty pleasure movies! Humphrey Bogart plays the hardboiled detective, entranced in a new mystery by his stereotypical femme fatale client. The mystery is dark, engaging, and still surprises me after all this time. 


Rebecca

Okay, so maybe this isn’t exactly a mystery, but the drama of this adaptation keeps me on my toes like I’m reading a true crime novel. I love Hitchcock’s interpretation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel most of all due to the film techniques: Hitchcock’s filming of du Maurier’s psychological thriller emphasizes all of the best elements of the plot. 


The Thin Man

Compared to the other films on this list, The Thin Man stands out as a little more lighthearted. My dad introduced me to The Thin Man years ago and the mix of witty repartee of Nick and Nora Charles and the strong mystery plot makes this story a winner.



The Da Vinci Code

Okay, no, wait – hear me out. I know there’s a battle going on about regarding facts versus fiction, science versus religion, inaccuracies versus truth…I like this movie for the story. It’s an intense mystery, but it doesn’t have the same thrill as the book does for me. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite sick day movies. 


What did you think of my favorite mystery movies? Do you have any I should add to my Netflix queue? I’m thinking that I will expand this into a series post…any other genres I should explore? 

Posted May 14, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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April 3, 2014

Book Review | Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Title: Whistling Past the Graveyard
Author: Susan Crandall {website
Publication Date: June 2013
Publisher: Gallery Books 
Source & Format: Library; Hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The summer of 1963 begins like any other for nine-year-old Starla Claudelle. Born to teenage parents in Mississippi, Starla is being raised by a strict paternal grandmother, Mamie, whose worst fear is that Starla will turn out like her mother. Starla hasn’t seen her momma since she was three, but is convinced that her mother will keep her promise to take Starla and her daddy to Nashville, where her mother hopes to become a famous singer—and that one day her family will be whole and perfect.

When Starla is grounded on the Fourth of July, she sneaks out to see the parade. After getting caught, Starla’s fear that Mamie will make good on her threats and send her to reform school cause her to panic and run away from home. Once out in the country, Starla is offered a ride by a black woman, Eula, who is traveling with a white baby. She happily accepts a ride, with the ultimate goal of reaching her mother in Nashville.

As the two unlikely companions make their long and sometimes dangerous journey, Starla’s eyes are opened to the harsh realities of 1963 southern segregation. Through talks with Eula, reconnecting with her parents, and encountering a series of surprising misadventures, Starla learns to let go of long-held dreams and realizes family is forged from those who will sacrifice all for you, no matter if bound by blood or by the heart.



I admit that I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked up this book. I saw it when I was loading up my TBR on GoodReads, using the 2013 award winners to find new books. From my brief research, I found Whistling Past the Graveyard had a quirky, colorful, original cover, an interesting premise and set in a fascinating period of American history. What I didn’t expect was how I would come to fall in love with these characters and their world. 

THE CHARACTERS

Starla, our narrator, is a stubborn, bright, imaginative and innocent little girl. All she wants in the world is to be reunited with her mama and away from her grandma, Mamie, who only believes tough love is the way to go when rearing a child. Starla is a bright character right off the bat, and her narration of the world she lives in makes the book a fantastic read. I loved how her emotional journey matched the pitfalls of the physical hero’s journey she makes in Whistling. Her perspective is especially unique when she leaves the relative safety of her grandma’s home and begins mission to find her mama in Nashville.

As a child, Starla’s perspective is especially unique: she hasn’t been overly influenced by others’ opinions (except her very conservative grandma) or the news as the Civil Rights movement begins to spread across the South. As a white girl living in a white home, she has never truly been exposed to the treatment of African Americans across the country. As she discovers the world outside of her home, she tells the tale as fairly unbiased observer.

Eula, Starla’s partner in the heroic journey, has her own story to tell. She makes the transformation from a broken woman, longing for a family, to a strong character, comfortable in her own skin and looking to make her way in the world. At first, I didn’t really care for Eula because of her rash decision and her fear to stand up for herself; but when she breaks free of that fear, her character truly begins to shine.  She has the innate kindness that Starla has been searching for, and Starla has the strength that Eula needs to start her life over. They make a perfect team.

THE PLOT

Each character, no matter how minor, makes some sort of journey or completes a transformation in Whistling Past the Graveyard. My personal favorite was the character transformation of Starla’s dad; he goes from a minor role in the background to a game-changer in the latter half of the book. Both Eula and Starla’s personal journeys were incredible to read; it was especially intriguing to watch Starla grow from a young child to a girl who knows how to stand up for herself. 

The physical journey from Mississippi to Nashville kept the tension high and the pace moving in Whistling. Moving across the South let Crandall set up this historical aspects of the story, and keep each character moving on their personal stories. 

There’s a scene in the novel where Starla explains to Eula the meaning of “whistling past the graveyard” – essentially, the phrase means to distract yourself from your worst fears. Both Starla and Eula face their worst fears in Whistling, without a doubt. They learn how to face their fears, to cope with them, and eventually, how to stand up to them. This underlying theme in the book fascinated and inspired me from page one; if they could face their fears so bravely, so could I. 

THE WRITING

One of the more unique aspects of Whistling Past the Graveyard was the language and narrative voice. The entire book is written in Starla’s personal voice, slang, accent and all. As the book progressed, Starla’s vocabulary and voice changed, just a little, to show her character’s transformation. Reading the world through Starla’s eyes and hearing her voice in my head made this book impossible to put down; I just loved living in her world. 

THE VERDICT

A winner, through and through. I loved Crandall’s Whistling Past the Graveyard – the characters, the plot, and the themes all spoke to me. Starla’s unique narration on life during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in the South was engaging and fascinating. 

Posted April 3, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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February 3, 2014

Review: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Title: Life After Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Publication Date: April 2013
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
Source & Format: Library; hardcover
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.


This book comes with such a huge reputation, I was a little spooked to read it. I avoided all reviews and possible spoilers of this book when it won the GoodReads Best Historical Fiction of 2013 award, but I knew I had to get my hands on it. 


THE CHARACTERS

The characters grabbed me right off the bat due to their powerful personalities and how quickly I learned that their actions affected the plot. Out of all, Ursula (the main character) and Sylvie (her mother) had the biggest effect on the plot. 

Sylvie was the epitome of the British stiff upper lip. She didn’t dare air any of her dirty laundry (so to say) and kept up appearances as best she could. Deep down inside, she hid her fears and nightmares, which in turn appeared in her relationships with her children. There was something strange, something off about how she began to perceive her children, especially in the chapters during World War I. Although Ursula is the character with the most recall of her past, there was something about how Sylvie began to act that gave me the feeling she knew more than she was letting on. 

Ursula. The “she-bear”. I was intrigued by the emphasis put on Ursula’s naming. Although naming any child is an momentous occasion in any family, Sylvie’s decisions behind naming her child went from a pretty name to giving her second daughter the name of a terrifying creature. Ursula’s name spoke to her character in ways that I haven’t seen in a while; the determination and will to live that I would normally associate with a bear is present in this girl’s mindset as her endless journey (somewhat reminiscent of Groundhog Day) begins.

THE PLOT

Although history plays it’s own role in Life After Life (especially the war), I was fascinated more by the characters themselves and the role of fate in their lives. At first, Ursula’s repeated experiences and slow learning curve made me think that we are meant to value the time we have because death is coming regardless of what bullets we dodge. But… my gut feeling tells me there is a deeper meaning than that. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. 

To be honest, this is where I began to hit road bumps. The novel is so breathtakingly beautiful, but I would have liked the mystery to have left me wondering. Instead, when the novel tries to explain the mystery, things began to go a little haywire, making the novel lose some of the enchantment. 

THE WRITING

Like I mentioned earlier, this book is beautiful. Darkly beautiful, but well-written. The lyric writing was gorgeous, lending to a lot of useful quotes about life, death, and the in-between. However, sometimes it got a little tedious winding my way through Atkinson’s narrative and I would have to set the book down for a while. 

I loved the play between past, present and future. Throughout the entire novel, I wasn’t entirely sure which was the present and which fell in the role of the past. Curiosity started there and continued well into the novel. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

A gorgeous book, one that really made me think about the roles of destiny and fate in everyday life. However, the overwhelming bleakness of the novel made me a little too sad. This isn’t my type of book, but I’m glad I got to experience it. 

Posted February 3, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 0 Comments
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January 9, 2014

Review: Perfect by Rachel Joyce

Title: Perfect
Author: Rachel Joyce
Publication Date: January 2014
Publisher: Random House Trade
Source & Format: Netgalley; ebook
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

A spellbinding novel that will resonate with readers of Mark Haddon, Louise Erdrich, and John Irving, Perfect tells the story of a young boy who is thrown into the murky, difficult realities of the adult world with far-reaching consequences.

Byron Hemmings wakes to a morning that looks like any other: his school uniform draped over his wooden desk chair, his sister arguing over the breakfast cereal, the click of his mother’s heels as she crosses the kitchen. But when the three of them leave home, driving into a dense summer fog, the morning takes an unmistakable turn. In one terrible moment, something happens, something completely unexpected and at odds with life as Byron understands it. While his mother seems not to have noticed, eleven-year-old Byron understands that from now on nothing can be the same.
 
What happened and who is to blame? Over the days and weeks that follow, Byron’s perfect world is shattered. Unable to trust his parents, he confides in his best friend, James, and together they concoct a plan. . . .
 
As she did in her debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce has imagined bewitching characters who find their ordinary lives unexpectedly thrown into chaos, who learn that there are times when children must become parents to their parents, and who discover that in confronting the hard truths about their pasts, they will forge unexpected relationships that have profound and surprising impacts. Brimming with love, forgiveness, and redemption, Perfect will cement Rachel Joyce’s reputation as one of fiction’s brightest talents.



Perfect is unexpected in just about every way. When I picked up the novel, I had no expectations (which is nice at times and others, completely irritating). On the surface, this is an amazingly deceiving simple book for the first few chapters. Then the mayhem begins.


THE CHARACTERS

This is truly a novel about characters. The first narration is told by the perspective of Byron, a young boy who is forced through the events of the novel to evolve from his childhood. Byron’s life is “thrown into chaos” the moment that he discovers that there will be two extra seconds added on to the year. Watching his evolution from a young boy to the responsible one in the family (near the end of his narrative, he is the one making sure his sister gets her baths and has clean clothes) is one of the more striking elements in the novel. I felt his narration was intriguing because of the slanted perspective he had on the events going on around him, especially the relationship between his mother and others.

Diana, Byron’s mother, is by far the most intriguing character in the novel for me. She is a woman caught between the old-fashioned world and the (at the time) modern one. Her relationship with her husband, Seymour, is both scary and fascinating. She is stuck in between obeying her terrifyingly controlling husband and yearning to return to the freedom she had before she was married. When Beverly walks into her life, I feel her destiny change.

Beverly is the epitome of jealousy. She is the harsh, manipulative character that we love to hate, and her manipulation of Diana is at once fascinating and terrifying. As her antics grew and grew, I couldn’t help but notice the harsh jealousy she had of what she perceived of as the “perfection” of Diana’s life.

I had a much harder time reading Jim’s story. Jim, the second narrator, tells the story of a man with mental illness, struggling with his day-to-day life and just yearning to experience the normalcy of life. It wasn’t that his story was boring; exactly the opposite. It broke my heart. In retrospect, I wish I had read his story a little closer because I noticed near the end how Joyce left plot clues and foreshadowing in his narrative. 

THE PLOT

At first, I expected the plot to be fairly dull, if we’re going to be honest about it. Joyce subtly weaved together a plot that really engaged me as a reader, leaving little clues throughout the text about the major plot twist she throws in at the end. 

I really loved the motif of secrets. Every character had a secret, from Mrs. Lowe (James’s mom) to Lucy. It was fascinating to watch how these different secrets played out in the world Joyce created when they were revealed. 

The motif of perfection stood out as well. Jim was constantly searching for a way for him to achieve the perfect life, and out of all the characters, I believe he is the only one who is satisfied at the end. Byron and James concoct their ‘Operation Perfect’ in order to protect Diana (who is James ideal of perfection) while Diana herself struggles to uphold that reputation. It’s a very subtle play on humankind and our own expectations.

THE WRITING

I had trouble sinking into this story. Joyce’s writing, while good, was so technically perfect that she didn’t make a connection with me. It took me quite a while to care about these characters, their situation… It wasn’t the instant connection I was looking for and I didn’t feel that zing with the story that made me impatient to pick it back up again. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Technically speaking, Joyce’s Perfect is good. The characters are fascinating, the plot twists intriguing. The pitfall for me was the writing. All in all, Perfect was good, but left me a little wanting. 


Posted January 9, 2014 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 2 Comments
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June 8, 2013

Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Title: Cloud Atlas 
Author: David Mitchell
Publication Date: August 2004
Source: Borrowed (from a friend)
Links: GoodReadsAmazon 
My Rating: Five Stars

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation—the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

In his captivating third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity’s dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.



I’m not entirely sure how to summarize the plot of this book. It isn’t the typical plot, like that of the Harry Potter series or Veronica Roth’s Divergent series. The plot is hidden within six short stories, complete with different sets of characters. I love how Mitchell completely erases all types of genre and the conventions that come along with them. The best way to explain these stories is to go one-by-one.


The first: The “reluctant voyager” Adam Ewing writes in the exact style so common to literature of the 1850s that it took me a long time to sink into the text. Honestly, I started this chapter and put it back down due to his language, picked it up and put it down again. My friend Holly (who lent me the book), kept pushing me to read it. “It gets better,” she promised over and over. Okay…


I liked how Ewing was constantly aware, even in this beginning chapter of the book, of the amount of humanity around him, how they were affected by his actions and how he was affected by theirs…I can’t go into any more detail than that without revealing a little plot action of his story.


The second: The “disinherited composer” was my favorite, by far. He was the biggest joy to read, transitioning from the more difficult language to a familiar one. It was hilarious! R.F., as he fondly calls himself, is the more modern version of Don Juan – he can’t help to flirt, lie and finagle his way into all sorts of situations. I love how he spoke about the connection between life and music – for him, there was no difference. Although he really does need to rein in those Don Juan tendencies…


The third: Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery begins to connect the dots. Luisa Rey, a female reporter for Spyglass magazine in the age of Hitchcock delves into a mystery that might have been better left alone. Luisa is another figure that feels humanity quite deeply…I’m not sure if that sentence makes sense, but it does in my head! Luisa Rey is the epitome of the female journalist, but Mitchell also shows the familiar side of her, the young daughter that desperately wants to please her father. I can’t help but wonder if this yearning has shaped her fate or if her fate was written regardless of her parental issues. 


The fourth: Timothy Cavendish has the worst problem: he is suddenly imprisoned in a mental institution; thinking it was a prank by his brother, Timothy constantly tries to usurp a Nurse Ratchet character, constantly thrust back down. I adored this section: Timothy’s life, his perspective and his view of the world made his section so entertaining, I read these chapters in an hour.


The fifth: Somni-459 as among the most creative characters of the world of David Mitchell. I found it fascinating that he doesn’t overload the reader in creating his setting; it’s like slipping on a different hat instead of sinking into a different book.


The sixth: To be honest, I had quite a bit of trouble with this piece. It is the most intense piece of the entire book, requiring me to read aloud to figure out what the words actually meant. I had to reread sentences a few times to figure out what they meant in order to connect back to its own plot. From what I got, a tribesman named Zachry lives in post-apocalyptic Hawaii and is consequently disturbed when a creature of a more advanced race comes to visit.


Final Thoughts: I am constantly amazed how neatly Mitchell tied the entire story together, creating connections between characters that were years, decades, sometimes even centuries apart. I found the book fascinating, but in retrospect, I can understand how it could be frustrating to read. It was easier for me, personally, to read bits and pieces of it until I finally sunk into the story; by then, I didn’t put it down!

Posted June 8, 2013 by Ellen in Uncategorized / 2 Comments
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