Sunday, April 29, 2012

279 (2012 # 24). Isaac: A Modern Fable

by Ivan G. Goldman

I have to confess, I didn't quite get the "modern fable" aspect of this book.  Perhaps I'm not as well-read as I should be.  Lenny is the Biblical Isaac, granted eternal life after being spared from sacrifice by his father Abraham.  This isn't as great as it might seem, as Lenny outlives those he grows to love, and so tries to avoid relationships.  Then he meets Ruth, a brilliant academic whose forte is Mary Shelley and Frankenstein.   I enjoyed Lenny and Ruth and their love affair, but I wasn't quite sure I understood Borges (who offers Ruth a job that's too good to be true) and "The Beast" characters.  The tone was witty and sarcastic and not at all preachy - worth a re-read to see if I "get it" better the next time.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[I received an advance reader edition of this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

278 (2012 #23). The Mercury Fountain

by Eliza Factor

The action in this book takes place over a 23 year period, from 1900 through 1923, in the mythical town of Pristina, supposedly in West Texas near the Mexican border.  Pristina is a utopian community built around a mercury mine.  Its charismatic leader is Owen Scraperton, and at the beginning of the book, his Mexican wife, Dolores, is giving birth to their first and only child, Victoria.  The story is told from their viewpoints, as well as that of the local doctor, Badinoe, and a young local named Ysidro.

The book explores some of the typical themes of utopian/distopian novels - initial high-minded principles being corrupted by time and change and character flaws.  Speaking of the characters - they are interesting, but very odd and quirky.  Some of the events in the book seem to happen out of the blue, with little buildup, and thus don't make a lot of sense.  Some of the events (like the attack on Victoria) are just plain weird.

The book is by a debut author, published by an independent press, and could have used some editing. (There is a glaring grammatical error on the very first page).  It held my interest enough to finish it, but it's definitely not an easy read.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program,  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Thursday, April 19, 2012

277 (2012 #22). Silver Sparrow

by Tayari Jones,
read by Heather Alicia Simms and Rosalyn Coleman Williams

I learned about this audiobook in an online webinar about new releases, and its premise was intriguing.  James Witherspoon is an African-American bigamist - in 1969 middle-class Atlanta.  His first wife, Laverne, and his second "wife," Gwen, have daughters born within a few months of each other, Chaurisse (prononunce Shaw-rees) and Dana, respectively.  Dana and Gwen, of course, know about Chaurisse and Laverne, but naturally, the latter two don't know about the former two - not at first.

The first half of the book is narrated by Dana (Heather Alicia Simms in the audiobook), and gives us most of the background to the situation, as well as Dana's point of view on being the "secret" daughter. Chaurisse takes over in the second half of the book (voiced by Rosalyn Coleman Williams), providing some more background, and continuing the story from the point where Dana makes a deliberate attempt to befriend her half-sister, which ultimately leads to confrontation and sadness.

Tayari Jones has done a marvelous job making the reader care about both girls, and their mothers.  Having Dana tell her side first was genius in that it created empathy for her situation, that I'm not sure would have happened if Chaurisse had "spoken" first.  I even had some empathy for Uncle Raleigh, caught in the middle - but none whatsoever for James.

The title is a little puzzling, although Jones explains in an interview that "silver" comes from Chaurisse's description of Dana (the prettier of the two) as a "silver girl," "a girl who is better than she is."  The "sparrow" comes "from the hymn 'His Eye Is On The Sparrow' — being the sparrow is the least among us," Jones says. "Because I think that's what Dana is, she's a silver sparrow."

I didn't care much for the cover of the hardback and audiobook, pictured above.  I think the upcoming paperback (due out by May 8), pictured at left, is much prettier and fits the story.

I would recommend this book and audiobook, and I think it would be a good one for a book club discussion.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[This audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library, respectively.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

276 (2012 #21). Captive Queen

by Alison Weir

Alison Weir is a noted historian who has written two other fictionalized accounts of women from British history, Innocent Traitor (Lady Jane Grey) and The Lady Elizabeth (the first).  While I enjoyed those, and also liked her nonfiction The Lady in the Tower, about the fall of Anne Boleyn, this novel about Eleanor of Aquitane was not quite as good as those.

On the plus side, the book introduced me to the life of this fascinating woman, whom I'd certainly heard of but knew little about.  Weir also included a seven-page author's note at the end of the book, where she identifies what is true and what is conjecture (much of the latter being due to little documentation from the late 12th century).  I also appreciated the family trees and map at the beginning of the book, that helped me keep track of who was who and what was where.

The book covers the period of Eleanor's life when she was involved with England's Henry II.  It starts at the end of her unsatisfying marriage to King Louis VII of France, when she first meets Henry, eleven years her junior, and has an affair with him (she's also apparently had affairs with Henry's father, a troubadour, and an uncle).  The Church annuls her marriage to Louis (despite having two daughters), apparently because they are too closely related, and she goes on to marry Henry.  At first their marriage is very passionate (they had eight children in thirteen years, including four sons who survive to adulthood), and in the novel, it seems they're constantly in bed (most of their conversations occur there).  Then Eleanor learns of Henry's infidelities, and Thomas Becket stirs up strife, and their sons start to fight each other and their father, and Henry "imprisons" Eleanor (hence the title) because of her support for her sons, especially her favorite, Richard.  After Henry's death in 1189, there is an epilogue (on Eleanor's deathbed in 1204) where she reflects on the last fifteen years of her life.

I could have done without much of the sex and Eleanor's lustful longings.  Not that I'm a prude, but I do think it detracted somewhat from the rest of the story.
Most of the cover pictures I found for the book were those pictured at left, in the style of Weir's other biographical novels.  I was more interested in the source for the photo on the cover of the large-print edition I read, pictured above.  I thought it might be a castle in Aquitane, perhaps one of Eleanor's, but could not find a source for the photo in the book.  Alas, an image search (with a cropping from the cover photo) proves it's not in Aquitane, it's the Ch√Ęteau de Azay-le-Rideau in France, built in the early 1500s, south of Tours, and a bit north of the old Aquitane.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]